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Seeds of Promise

Paging through a botanical magazine last winter, I found myself marveling at the beautiful flowering trees and exotic plants pictured inside. In a moment of sheer inspiration, I decided it would be awesome to have more in my yard than one scruffy pine tree surrounded by a few faded wood chips. Whether impetus or impetuous, this surge of enthusiasm compelled me to order the "Jasmine flowering tree" so exquisitely displayed on page 5.



I was jazzed. In fact, I couldn't wait to get my plant.



Weeks after I had placed the order, however, my excitement was beginning to wane. "Where's my tree?" I wondered. "Spring will be over next week, and I still don't have an award-winning landscape!"



Finally, a package from California arrived. Staring blankly at the way-too-small parcel, I decided it must be the invoice or perhaps the all-important stakes needed to support my new tree. As I opened the little brown box, I simultaneously surveyed the area around me, looking to see where the rest of my delivery was hiding.



After carefully unveiling the mysterious arrival, I stared motionless into the shallow carton. Finally, in disbelief and agitation, I drew out a package of tiny, unimpressive seeds.



My initial excitement quickly dissipated. "You've got to be kidding me," I moaned. "They actually expect me to plant these dead flakes?" I simply could not imagine that I would have to WORK to obtain this tree.



Suddenly I came to a sobering realization: That's how many people would like to go through life—wanting results without doing the work, expecting a harvest without planting the seeds. Unfortunately in God's kingdom it doesn't work that way. In fact, most of what God accomplishes on Earth today starts in seed form.



When God wanted to send a deliverer to save mankind, He sent a seed and placed it in a plain human package. No wonder those who had so long awaited the coming of the Messiah were less than impressed to see an ordinary baby instead of a king.



And what about the teachings of this infant grown to full stature? He taught that the kingdom of God was like a seed which, when planted, would grow gradually: "first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head" (Mark 4:28, NASB).



In other words, Jesus told us that the dealings of God would almost always involve a maturing process. God gives us seedlings of promise that must be nurtured and cared for until they can stand tall like an oak tree.



So many times we get discouraged when we don't see quick results from our labors. We may even become so frustrated that we are tempted to stop and quit. But God's Word helps us remember this principle: The plantings of the Lord begin in seed form.



In Old Testament times when Zerubbabel was rebuilding the temple, people laughed and scoffed as they compared the fledgling work to the majesty of the original built by Solomon. But through a messenger the Lord sent reassurance: "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin" (Zech. 4:10, NLT).



Right now you may have a beautiful picture in your heart of what you long for. You may even have dared to ask God for great things and have sensed His promise to you of success.



But when you opened your hands to receive, all you found was seeds—small, unimpressive conceptions. Don't be discouraged! Remember that seeds contain life and have within them the very essence of your promise. If you plant them in good soil and invest yourself in the nurture and development of them, they will grow and bloom forth with fruit.



Today, hear the Holy Spirit whisper to you, "Do not despise the day of small beginnings, for I delight to see the work begin." Plant your faith, my friend, and watch and see what God will do. read more

It Didn't Look Like Christmas

It was 1957, Christmastime. Elvis was my favorite singer. And Christmas was my favorite holiday—except for this year. Daddy's job with the Santa Fe railroad had moved our family—Daddy, Mother, my two younger sisters and me—from our small, friendly town in Kansas to a strange, dusty town in the southwestern desert.



Instead of celebrating a white Christmas with the typical warm and fuzzy sights, sounds and smells I had known each year at Grandma and Grandpa's big festively decorated house, I was thrown into a strange brown land with neighborhoods of small row houses near the train tracks and neighbors who spoke little English. read more

Treasures of the Heart

The Christmas season is so hectic we can sometimes feel like contest winners who are given 15 minutes to grab $500 worth of free groceries. But though not every activity we engage in during this special time is a spiritual one, we can learn to treasure the moments of preparation by keeping the right perspective.



First, there's the planning. How am I going to afford it all this year? This question bounces around inside my head like tennis shoes in a dryer for about a month before the season actually begins. When I'm driving or showering I click out the number of names on my list and how much I can spend on each person, how I can make or bake some gifts to offset the cost of others, which names must go to the top of the list, who will just have to understand, and so on. At some point in my mental calculations, the Holy Spirit breaks through and reminds me that where God guides, He provides.



Then there's the bake-a-thon. Every evening after work the kitchen fills with a cloud of flour. Nuts are chopped in one corner of the room, trays are stacked in another, gingerbread boys and sugar cookies are decorated on the kitchen table, and rows of filled, jellied, balled and candied cookies are cooled and stacked on another counter. They may not be perfect, but I'm comforted by the knowledge that man does not live by bread alone!



Next the tree must be bought and old decorations dragged out of their boxes. My son is delighted to find the special ornament he made in school last year—long since forgotten. He solemnly tells the history and genealogy of each hand-made item. "We got this one when I was very, very young," he—still a young boy—tells his even younger sister. "And I made this one before you were born."



The tree must go up. And no matter how perfectly full and even-branched it looked on the lot, I can't seem to turn it to find the perfect vantage point. Plus, the bottom of the trunk, instead of being straight, appears to be shaped at a right angle to the rest of the tree. Someone is going to need muscle surgery after holding it up until it is finally braced into the stand! But once the tree is in place, I realize my Herculean efforts paid off—the end result is a delight to my children and a perfect symbol of the Trinity.



Before you know it, it's Christmas Eve. I'll send the children on an errand to some corner of the house while I search through packages to find new socks for them to wear to church. Bows will be tied, faces washed, shirts buttoned, and belts fastened, and we'll rush off to church for the candlelight service.



I'll straighten my daughter's burning candle over and over, worried that hot wax will drip on her arm. I'll tell my little boy to shush a thousand times—until the beauty of the candlelit church and singing choir fills us with a silent sense of awe.



But that's not the end of the preparations. Driving home, I'll worry about putting toys together. Instructions become destructions in my hand. It's a good thing the Master Carpenter is there to direct me!



I'll reassure my daughter for the millionth time that Santa will not get burned when he comes down the chimney. We'll fill plates with cookies, and the children will argue over which ones are Santa's favorites. We'll carefully decide where to place the notes and cookies so Santa won't miss them.



After the children have been shooed to bed a dozen times and warned that Santa won't come if they're awake, after the last bows have been fastened to the packages, when the whole house sparkles with the aura of candlelight and shiny wrapping paper—I'll rest.



I'll stare into the glowing embers of a dying fire and recall the sweet scenes of the previous weeks, the treasures of my heart: my daughter's hair filled with flour and her tongue hanging out of the corner of her mouth as she vigorously rolls cookie dough with her toy roller pin; my son's eagerness to give me the gift he made at school; the excited squeals when we lit up the tree; the children wrapping tiny gifts they bought with pounds of paper and tons of tape.



And in those moments of reflection, I'll think about the reason we did all the planning and shopping and baking and decorating in the first place. I'll think about the most important treasure of my heart—Jesus—and I'll thank God for Christmas.



This year, don't let all the demands of the holiday season get you down. Try to treasure each memory you're making, and in the midst of your busyness, take time to reflect on the greatest treasure of all—Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. read more

An Uncluttered Christmas

I used to be a consummate Christmas shopper. By the time December hit, I was way ahead of the game. I would have a mountain of bargain finds, admired goodies and toys to die for tucked away on a shelf just waiting to be wrapped and stowed lovingly under the tree. I found that shopping ahead spread the financial burden throughout the year and helped me avoid the last-minute holiday shopping rush.



Sounds like a plan, doesn't it? I thought so, too, until several years ago. Something happened that made me rethink my supposedly brilliant strategy.



It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, but I felt like a louse! The tree looked bulimic — only I was the one who had binged. Brilliantly wrapped packages were bulging from every available nook and cranny.



I slumped to the floor and thought, "We have only two children. There's enough here for 10!"



My husband and I stared at each other. We realized that things had gotten out of hand. We had to ask ourselves: What message are we giving our children?



One by one we started dismantling the swollen pile. This present can wait for a birthday, this one for next Christmas, this one for a special reward for hard work.

Finally the stack looked sensible.



Right then and there, we made a decision. In the future, Christmas gifts would be limited to three types: (1) A gift really desired; (2) a needed item; 3) something educational. Of course, our children hated the idea and hoped we would eventually come to our senses.



We haven't.



And we've seen a change. No longer is Christmas an endless list of "wants." There is a new emphasis on cherished gifts. This represents a stark contrast to the disturbing trend among kids today to feel entitled to get whatever they want, whenever they want it.



As I've listened to children move through the hallways of our house, I've heard the chatter of "more." "We have more videos than you." "I have a CD player in my room." "You don't have your own phone line?" "I'm asking for a laptop." "You need a cell phone to look important."



They get it from their parents. My favorite is the mother who proudly boasts that her daughter will outdo everyone in the neighborhood. She will have the best of everything -- before everyone else. The daughter knows this strategy and is horrified if anyone beats her to the material punch.



Not understanding her conscious intention to overload her daughter with "stuff," I naively asked, "Aren't you worried you're spoiling her?" The blank stare she gave me was enough to answer my question.



One summer the hot ticket was a scooter. Everyone on our block ran to the stores to buy one. My kids asked, but they knew what was coming: "Tell me again why I should run to the store to buy you a $100 item?"



Materialism not only distorts the meaning of Christmas but also creates ungrateful kids. It's time to stop the madness. Instead of a new scooter, take your kids to a soup kitchen and let them serve. Visit a homeless shelter or a hospital children's ward, and put things in perspective.



I know what I am saying isn't new, but we need to hear it regularly. It's so easy to indulge our kids this time of year. But we need to examine our motives.



Is our overindulgence related to guilt from being absent or unavailable? Is it an attempt to communicate love, compete with others, create an identity or look successful? Is it the result of idol worship, a lack of self-restraint or misguided thinking?



When I see kids quickly open presents and throw them off to the side without even a thank you, I know something is wrong. When little Suzie tells me Christmas was no fun because she didn't get what she wanted, I am concerned. The Grinch hasn't stolen Christmas; our ungratefulness has.



Christmas is about God's giving His Son as a glorious gift to mankind. Don't clutter that gift with so many others that He gets lost in the fray. This season teach the children in your life to cherish the gift they already have — Jesus.

 

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Holy Dissatisfaction

Did you feel guilty on Thanksgiving-the day of all days to express heartfelt gratitude to God—because you aren't TOTALLY content? Perhaps you offered up the obligatory thanks for family, home, job, health and the hearty meal as you sat around the holiday feast, but inside, you were aware that your heart is not quite full to the brim with satisfaction—and you aren't sure what to do about it.

What could possibly be wrong? read more

Reflecting the Lord's Bountiful Love

I opened the front door and came face to face with a rather large gift basket wrapped in clear cellophane with a gigantic velvet orange and brown bow. It was so big that it blocked the face of the deliveryman.



The sight of such a gift was too wonderful for words! As a young married couple, Terry and I were going through hard times, with little money for extras, much less the basics!

The arrival of this surprise basket of goodies was not only timely, but a miracle!

Just who was behind this? read more

Bring on the Towels

Have you ever had mixed thoughts and emotions about your spouse? I have-just this morning, in fact.

Today started out as any other day, but for some reason things just affected me differently than they usually do. I got out of bed and began my regular devotional time with the Lord, reading the Word, studying a powerful book, and praying. When I stood to my feet, I was filled with peace and gratitude.

"I feel great!" I thought to myself. And off I went to begin what I thought was going to be a wonderful day.

The kitchen was first on my agenda. I don't know why, exactly, but I have a plaque over my stove that reads, "A kitchen is the heart of the home." When I was growing up, my mother always kept a clean kitchen, with a pot of something deliciously fragrant simmering on the stove.

The only thing fragrant about my kitchen this morning was a hot, empty coffee pot, left sitting on the coffee maker with the switch in the "on" position, by my husband.

"I get so tired of this," I thought. "Why do I have to clean up his mess?"

I picked up the pot and carried it over to the sink. There I discovered the spoon he'd used to stir the sugar in his cup. It had been set beside the sink and now lay in a brown, sugary puddle. I grabbed a cloth and began to wipe the counter-muttering the whole time.

"That man!" I said in frustration. "Why can't he just put the spoon in the sink where it belongs?"

I decided to tackle the bathroom instead. You can probably guess what I found-beard clippings and blobs of toothpaste in the sink, and puddles of water on the counter top. I turned to grab a towel.

As I did, I looked at my towel, folded neatly in thirds over the rack (Mom said double is allowed, too, but not as nice looking). My husband's towel was bunched and crumpled, as if he doesn't care at all about being neat. I stood there staring.

After a few moments, I started to unravel and re-fold his towel. But something happened to change my whole mind-set and along with it, my feelings. I looked from his towel to mine, back and forth.

I felt myself begin to soften. I started to appreciate and praise God for our differences. Feelings of love, softening my heart, began to manifest. I tenderly touched his towel, leaving it as it had been.

Then I went back into the kitchen to clear the table, where he had been sitting and drinking his cup of coffee. My eyes caught sight of his open Bible and a yellow highlighting pen. I remembered the early morning I discovered him sitting in the same chair with closed eyes and folded hands, offering up a silent prayer to God. read more

Why Me, Lord?

Have you ever asked God why? "Why me, Lord?" "Why not pick somebody else for this?" "Why am I always the one going through the fire?"



In the good times we say, "Lord, I love You." We quote, "Oh, in the volume of the book it is written of me I delight to do Your will, O Lord." Then we add, "Father take me, mold me, use me. Take my life, and let it be consecrated to Thee." read more

The Key To Freedom

When my oldest sister got engaged, I jumped right in to help. I was happy that she was so happy and eager to share in her joy. But what I saw as helping, my future brother-in-law viewed as interference. Our relationship went from bad to worse; my pride had been stepped on and I was hurting. I was treated like the scum of the earth, which only served to fuel my anger at his arrogance.



The more I thought about him, the angrier I became. Soon it was all I thought about. I was angry, bitter and stressed. My thoughts turned to revenge—surely there was some way I could hurt him back. I would have been perfectly pleased if he would have just dropped dead. read more

The Best is Yet to Come

Have you ever read the book of Acts with longing to be back in that time so you could experience the miracles and the move of the Holy Spirit? Don't worry; right now, today, God is turning that water into wine. In fact, He has saved the best wine for last, and the glory of the latter house is going to be greater than the glory of the first (see Hag. 2:9). We are going to walk in such miracles that there will be no comparison. I would rather be in this move of God than to be in the book of Acts, because this wine tastes better.



In the book of John we read that miracles are manifestations of the glory of God: "This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him" (John 2:11, KJV). You may say, "Well, Brother John, why do you need miracles?" The answer is simple: We need the glory.



"Well, Brother John, why do we need the glory?" The answer is because it is only the glory that will change us into the image of Jesus Christ. Prophecy comes, miracles come, the glory comes and then change comes. We are changed into His likeness.



It is the glory of God that will change us into the image of Jesus Christ. There is no way we can come into contact with the glory of God and not be affected with a positive change.



I am sure that most people have not yet truly come into contact with the glory of God. How do I know? Because people can regularly attend church year after year, hear the Word, and go through all the religious motions, yet they never seem to change into the image of Jesus Christ. They stay the same. They are stuck.



People can pray, read their Bibles, and still never experience the change that God desires—until they come into contact with the glory of God. But the glory of God has not been manifested in a lot of churches; they have neither the unction nor the anointing of God.



It doesn't matter how much people may want to change. They need something more so they can reach the fulfillment of their desires. And that something more is the glory of God. Scripture says that we are changed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord (see 2 Cor. 3:17-18).



We must have the glory of God in our services in order to experience change. What is the glory of God? It is the tangible, manifest presence of God. What do I mean by that?



Most people understand that God is omnipresent; people realize that God is everywhere. People therefore know that God is present whether you feel Him or not. The Bible says the eyes of the Lord are everywhere, beholding the evil and the good. And yet, chances are you are not going to feel the presence of God in a bar. Instead, you are going to feel the presence of demons, sin and darkness.



The glory of God is something you can feel, sense and see. In the Old Testament, the glory of God was manifested in a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night. It was also manifested sometimes by smoke, although it was not literal smoke but rather the palpable strength of His presence.



When the glory of God comes, when the tangible anointing and presence of God are in a building or in a person, a person cannot help but be changed. When this happens, you are able to sense the presence of God beyond the faith realm. The influence of God is very heavy because He is manifesting Himself. His manifest presence brings a change.



People cannot come into contact with the glory and presence of God and not be changed.

I want you to notice that the best is yet to come. The Lord has kept back the good wine until the end of the age. You talk about miracles, signs and wonders—you haven't seen anything yet!



We need to pursue the glory and the presence of God. Let's decide today to pursue Him and His glory so that He can change us into His image and experience the best that is to come.

Adapted from God Still Speaks by John Eckhardt, copyright 2009, published by Charisma House. This book combines instructive, narrative teaching with powerful truths that helps bring moving in the prophetic easily achievable, while sparking your zeal to pursue the presence and glory of God and be forever changed. To order a copy click on this link: read more

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