August 1, 2014

About Tonya Ellison

Tonya Ellison — Blog Contributor
Tonya comes to us from Rio Rancho, New Mexico where she lives with her four favorite people, three kids ages 4, 6, and 9, and her husband of seven years, Jamel. Her hobbies include writing and reading, crocheting, and spending time with her family. She earned her BS in Human Services/Management and works as a Bereavement Counselor.

The Condition of the Heart

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My heart, O God, is steadfast,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise You, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of You among the peoples.
For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let Your glory be over all the earth.
Psalms 57:7-11 NIV

The first two lines of this week’s passage struck me the hardest. It wasn’t about what God was doing for me or about my enemies or the adversities I was facing. It was about me. It was about my heart.

I looked at some other versions of this week’s selection and saw other descriptions of the condition of our heart—the word, steadfast.  Some of these other descriptions were“fixed, ready, confident.” Although they have different definitions they sum up well what we need to possess in order to be able to live out the rest of the passage.

Steadfast
• firmly fixed in place
• not subject to change
• firm in belief, determination, or adherence

Now here in other versions, ‘steadfast’ is translated a little differently:
Fixed (KJV)
• placed or attached in a way that does not move easily
Ready (MSG)
• prepared mentally or physically for some experience or action
• prepared for immediate use
• willingly disposed
• likely to do something indicated
• displayed readily and spontaneously
Confident (NLT)
• having a feeling, belief that you can do something well, succeed at something
∙ having confidence
• showing that you have confidence
• certain that something will happen or that something is true

As with most instructions God gives us, along with the directives He places on our lives, there is one thing we need to make sure of— that our hearts are where they need to be. And that the condition of our hearts allows for the task to be completed. That is an example to others of the love of God and of His influence in our lives.

This week I want to focus on my heart.

I want to focus on what it looks like…to God and to others.

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Dear Heavenly Father,
The condition of our hearts may not be something we look at on a daily basis, it may be something that we take for granted. But Lord, this week I pray that we take a closer look. I pray that we take the steps needed to have our hearts be a reflection of You. I pray that we work towards becoming steadfast, fixed, ready, and confident. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Through the Praise of Children and Infants

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Psalm 8
LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is Your name in all the earth!
You have set Your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Growing up in church, I participated a great deal in children’s programs, and my relationship with God grew and became a source of strength.  But the impact that a child’s faith could have on me changed greatly when I had my own children.  When I saw them praising God, and sharing their faith with their peers…and when I can use the Word of God to help direct their daily journey.  My own journey has a different impact and takes on a different meaning when I look at it through the eyes of my kids.

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers….”  When I look around at the beauty of the world…at the beauty of my family and my home…when I look at the wonderful people around me…I am thankful.  God has created beauty. And He has given us the gift of caring for this beauty.  There are times when my husband or kids ask to borrow something of mine, something that perhaps I treasure, I am not as willing to share as I should be.  I worry that what I lend may be lost or broken. God is not like this.  He created beauty, His most prized possessions, and He placed us in charge.  He gave us the honor of caring for what He created.

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Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for using the innocence of children to silence Your enemies. Their untarnished love and honesty can bring a clarity to situations often that we need. Thank You for the responsibility of raising these children, the responsibility of looking after Your magnificent creations—the beauty all around us. Please help us to care for these creations as You would have us care for them. In Jesus’ Name, we pray, amen.

Thank You

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Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep His statutes
and seek Him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow His ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying Your decrees!
Psalms 119:1-5

I remember growing up and receiving praise from a parent or teacher…that is one of the best feelings out there!  I see the delight in my children’s eyes when I thank them for listening, and when I let them know how much I appreciate their good behavior.  Even as adults we enjoy hearing “Way to go!” when we are recognized for doing well.  This is what God is doing here.  He is praising those who are blameless, those who follow His direction, and those that obey.  Now, He isn’t condemning those who may not be doing these things.  This is a sign of His unconditional love!  This verse wasn’t followed by a reprimand; it is a special message to those who are intentional in following Him, intentional in their obedience.

David ends this particular passage with these words:

You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!

David is stating his intentions—his desire to be obedient.  God didn’t simply tell us to listen to Him.  He has given us detailed instructions on living life.  He gave us an entire ‘how-to’ book, a manual for life.

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Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your instructions, for the ‘how-to’ guide that You have made available to us. Like David, I pray that we are steadfast in obeying Your commands and unwavering in following Your instructions. In Jesus’ Name I pray, amen.

Through It All

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I will bless the LORD at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the LORD;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
Oh, magnify the LORD with me,
And let us exalt His name together.
Psalms 34:1-3

Work…
Husband…
Home…
Soccer practice.    Dance practice.    Basketball practice.
My school…kid’s school…
Running here.   Running there.   Running everywhere.

This would make a great Dr. Seuss poem, now that I think of it, but in reality it is just part of my weekly to-do list. Constantly moving…and my brain constantly working. And I know that other women out there have this schedule and then some. We are a generation of women on the move. I say this to point out that when we are always moving we may, at times, forget to praise the Lord because the busyness takes over.

Last night I was folding laundry. I laid back, sighed, and was about to voice a complaint…as I often do when the piles are taller than my head! But this time I thanked God for the clothes I was folding and for the people who wore those clothes. The situation could be different—I could have no clothes to fold, no dishes to wash, no practices to taxi kids to, no life in me to live.

Life tends to entice us to complain, and other people motivate and model to us how to gripe and groan. But as children of the Most High we have the ability to move past this. We have the ability and the gift of being able to praise God continually—through good, bad, busy, and slow.  Through all of life.  So ladies, through life and all that it brings, let us exalt His name together, and let us praise Him for all He does in our daily comings and goings.

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Let’s Pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, through all we see in our day, we can forget to thank You for what You do. The word continually means all the time—driving, walking, drinking coffee, cheering our kids on…continually. Thank You for the gentle reminder through David. Lord, I pray that we practice intentional praise, and continual praise.  In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Handcrafted

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The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
The plans of His heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.
The LORD looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men.
From the place of His dwelling He looks
On all the inhabitants of the earth;
He fashions their hearts individually;
He considers all their works.
No king is saved by the multitude of an army;
A mighty man is not delivered by great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for safety;
Neither shall it deliver any by its great strength.
Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His mercy,
Psalms 33:11-18

How often do we see commercials advertising products that will make our appearance stand out?  We seek out hairstyles, makeup, and clothes that will make us unique and that will define our own “look.” I think about individuality in our appearance, the car we drive, our performance at work—we want to be unique.  In a quest for uniqueness, and in being our own person, this verse paints a picture:

He fashions their hearts individually…
Verse 15

Our Heavenly Father values our individuality. He values that we are all different and because of this He created our hearts differently. He is not concerned with our outside appearance, but rather with what is inside. He gave us different passions and desires, different strengths and weaknesses, different characteristics—all which make us the unique creation that we are.

They call America the melting pot, where we respect and admire others for their differences, and our differences make us who we are. It is a gift to have the ability to impact others and the world in only a way we can. It is a gift to have been handmade, crafted, and designed individually. We have had God’s hands forming who we are now and who we will continue to grow to be.

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Let’s Pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for making us one-of-a-kind. Thank You for making each of us who we are—individually and in Your image. Please give us the courage and strength we need to use our individual skills to make a difference for You. And to impact others how only we can. Thank You for the freedom to do these things as well. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.

The Safe Place

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I cry aloud to the LORD;
I lift up my voice to the LORD for mercy.
I pour out before Him my complaint;
before Him I tell my trouble.
When my spirit grows faint within me,
it is You who watch over my way.
In the path where I walk
people have hidden a snare for me.
Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.
I cry to You, LORD;
I say, “You are my Refuge,
my Portion in the land of the living.
Psalms 142:1-5

The beauty of David’s words paints the picture of where he was in that time of his life.  We see his pain and hear his cry for help.  I have never been in a cave or running for my life, but I can relate to David’s words…I think we all can to some extent.

I know that there have been times when I felt alone, unsure of what lies ahead in my next step.  Similar to David, I have felt tired and worn down by the weight of this world.  Through all of the struggles and pain of life David remembered one thing:

When my spirit grows faint within me, it is You who watch over my way. (verse 3)

When it seems as if there is no one on our side and loneliness is closing in on us, we should remember David’s words—it is God who watches over our way.

I cry to you, LORD; I say, “You are my Refuge, my Portion in the land of the living. (verse 5)

One of our basic needs in life is the feeling of safety—a place where we can breathe and release our cares.  God is that safe place; He is our Refuge.  After a stressful day at work…when the kids seem to be pushing every button you have, when that impossible situation arises and you don’t know what to do…turn to your Refuge and He will give you peace.

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Let’s Pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, life can lay snares in our path that we don’t see until it is too late.  But, despite what happens on our journey, we can take relief in knowing that You are here…You are our peace, our joy, our refuge! Thank You for this.  Thank you for being our safe place.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Only Love

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He maketh the barren woman to keep house,
and to be a joyful mother of children.
Praise ye the LORD.
Psalm 113:9

I don’t know what it is like to not have the ability to have children.  I’m a mother, I have been since I was a young woman. However, through the years I’ve learned an important lesson—you do not need to bear children to be a mom, to be a mother. I have come across many women who are mothers to their own children and to others. I’ve come across women who do not have children but who have taken on that role, nurturing and guiding others in life.

This verse doesn’t simply tell me that He will create opportunities for women to fill a void they may have from not having children of her own. What this verse tells me is that God will always meet our needs, He will always make certain that our voids are filled, but it’s not the house or the kids, or whatever it is that’s missing from your life. What He fills that void with is His love. It’s His love that brings the joy that we have as we go about our day

So yes, Praise ye the Lord! Praise Him for meeting our needs, for filling our voids, and for the joy to live out our destiny even when the circumstances don’t match our plan.

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Let’s Pray: Dear Heavenly Father, sometimes we look at our situations and see that they don’t meet our plans, we have voids; we have empty places, and there is only One Who can fill those voids—and that is You and Your love. Thank You for Your joy that allows us to live each day.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sharing His Glory

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Let them give thanks to the LORD for His unfailing love
and His wonderful deeds for mankind.
Let them exalt Him in the assembly of the people
and praise Him in the council of the elders.
Psalms 107:31-32

The elders in the church held key roles within the congregation—they would settle disputes, they were the leaders, and they would teach and govern. I was looking through different translations to get a better feel on this passage and I came across the New Living Translation (below):

Let them praise the LORD for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
Let them exalt him publicly before the congregation
and before the leaders of the nation.

The last line replaced the term “elders” with the phrase “leaders of the nation;” this helped me to see this verse differently.  I think that in these times we, as Christians, need to make our voices heard.  We need to exalt, we need to shout, we need to make sure that all He has done for us is heard and known.

Declare His glory among the nation’s, His marvelous deeds among all people.
Psalm 96:3

His gentle commands call for us to share His deeds.  By doing this we are declaring His glory.  It tells those around us how wonderful and loving our Heavenly Father truly is!

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Let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for the ability to share with others what You have done for us. In a world where an expression of faith is frowned upon in so many countries, freedom of speech is no minor gift.  I pray for courage and for the right words at the right time.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

More Than Enough

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Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving,
And declare His works with rejoicing.
Psalms 107:21-22

Thanksgiving and rejoicing…those are two beautiful words.

I think it’s wonderful that we can practice thanksgiving at any time during the year; that the act of being thankful isn’t limited to a holiday in the fall.  I’ve decided that one of the best feelings to have is when I can take a deep breath, and offer a true Thank You to my Heavenly Father.

For me, I know that the idea of these two words was somewhat intimidating.  I would wonder what thanks I could offer that would be sufficient, that would truly express the praise He deserves for all He has done in my life.  I knew that I could never meet the requirement (or that’s what I thought).  But I came to learn that He didn’t place requirements on the thanks we offer.  He just said to sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving.  And how we can—with the gifts we’ve been given, offer thanks through writing, through song, through helps, through whatever method you can.

I learned that thanksgiving and rejoicing are everyday acts.  They are things we can do when we wake up, when we’re working, when we’re talking to friends.  They are things that can become part of our character, things we can practice, and things that can become second nature.  This is definitely something that I have been working on and something that I want to continue to work on.  Daily He is by my side, helping me in these endeavors.  This week let’s focus on thanksgiving…let’s focus on rejoicing!

Let’s Pray: Dear Lord, thank You for Your love and kindness, for Your patience, and for the gifts You gave us that we can use to offer You thanks.  At times we may not know how to offer thanksgiving, it may not feel adequate, but to You it is beautiful.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

A Rare Love

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Let them give thanks to the LORD for His unfailing love
and His wonderful deeds for mankind,
for He breaks down gates of bronze
and cuts through bars of iron.
Psalms 107:15-16

Unfailing love.  I think that this is a concept that is difficult for most to understand because we don’t typically see it in action…at least not from our peers, friends, and not even from our families.  It seems that failing love sometimes better defines the type of emotion shared in relationships, not at any fault of our own.  But there is only One who can truly say they have unfailing love for others—and that is Christ.  Because this can be such a rarity, the importance of acknowledging this love must be understood. Our Heavenly Father shows us this unfailing love daily, hourly, with each breath we take. Charles Lowery spoke at our church today and he reminded us that Christ has unfailing love for us even when we fail, even when we are less than we should be.

This verse proceeds to speak of iron and bronze.  Both metals are known for their strength, and use in battle.  Iron is known to be heavy, and known for its great strength and its hardness.  Bronze is used in the creation of weapons. Both are unbendable by human hands.  Both act as barriers and hurdles that without Christ we would never be able to overcome.

“…for He breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.”

When I think of these gates and bars, I don’t see them in their literal forms. Rather, I see the struggles we face on a daily basis.  I see our trials and tribulations.  I see Christ in our lives breaking the chains of iron and bronze that bind us—depression, illness, hatred, bitterness, and so much more. His unfailing love carries us through these gates and bars.  And He asks that in return, we give thanks.  And that we acknowledge the numerous things He does for us.  This can be done in so many ways, such as a gratitude journal, a song, or sharing our testimony.

My challenge for you this week is to think of the ways you can give thanks, and share what He has done for you.

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Let’s Pray:  Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for Your wondrous works because without You we would be smothered by the iron and bronze that imprison us.  You ask so little from us in return.  Thank You Father, for Your unfailing love that helps us live each moment of our lives; a love that is there even in our most undeserving of times.  In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.