February 2023 Bible Study: Flourishing in the Valley

By Lt. Amy Lewis
Caldwell, ID Corps – Cascade Division

In our Christian walk I have heard the path we travel as we navigate life described as having mountain tops and valleys. Mountain tops are when everything is going well – we have that “top of the world” feeling. Our valleys are seen as our low points in life, when things are hard, and we feel separated from God. I can relate to these feelings as I look back over my life, but I am not quite sure that we look at them with the right perspective.

Let’s Pray

When I think of hills and valleys in nature, a couple of things come to mind. In the ocean, the hill tops are warmer safer places nearer to the surface, but valleys are often dark and cold, where the large dangerous creatures live. Contrary to this when I think of mountain tops and valleys when it comes to hiking, they take on a completely different meaning. Mountain tops are usually barren. Trees and vegetation become more and more sparse the higher you go, and you can often find yourself exposed to the elements on a mountaintop. Valleys, on the other hand, are an area where thriving vegetation and wildlife can be found. Streams and rivers flow through the valley, and trees provide shade and protection. Often, abundant growth is found in the valley.

Mountain tops are usually barren.

Scripture is a funny thing. The words never change, but our application of a scripture can change over time. For example, Psalm 19:14, “May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord my Rock and Redeemer.” Originally, this scripture is what I used to clean up the language I spoke and to help me turn my heart to line up with God’s heart. Now, its meaning has taken on a new depth of aligning my heart with God so the words I say are pleasing to Him.

Early on I was drawn to Romans 5:3-5, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” I could relate to this scripture because of my struggles with alcoholism and addiction, and all that a life such as that entails. I felt that this scripture gave validity to the struggles that I experienced that eventually drew me to the place of complete surrender, and it then pointed me to the hope that comes from that surrender.

  • Take a moment to think about your walk of faith
  • Can you see your high points and low points?
  • Where do you see the most growth as you look back?

In our culture we seem to believe that growth is a straight line traveling in an upward direction on a graph. But if we look at our lives, isn’t it really just more of a trail of twists and turns, ups and downs, steps forwards and backwards, moving in a general direction of growth?

In studying the passage, Romans 5:3-5, it is important to start at the beginning of the chapter with verses 1 – 2, which build the foundation for verses 3-5.

Read Romans 5:1-2

  • What is Paul revealing these verses about the believer’s relationship with God?

The nature of justification comes through faith, and He is assuming that the reader has responded in faith to the good news. This isn’t a call to believe and be saved.

  • What does “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” mean from Romans 5:1?

We are either God’s child or God’s enemy, it is through our Lord Jesus Christ that we are no longer at war with God. We are at peace with God, no longer living in fear of judgement. God is no longer behind the veil; we have access to Him.

  • Do you live your life knowing that you are at peace with God?
  • Do you realize the free access that you have?
  • Do you use it?
  • Are you living your life based on the hope that is the promise of our future in glory?
  • I challenge you to examine your life, where are you at this point? Do you know these things more than just to read them on the page? Do you live it out in your life? Are you living in a way that shows you truly know, accept, and believe these to be true?

Read Romans 5:3-5

The audience Paul was writing this letter to would certainly understand suffering. During this time, as people became believers there was an almost immediate backlash from those around them and Paul understood what it meant to suffer for the faith. In this country today we do not face the same suffering or threats for our faith, but in many parts of the world this is still true.

  • What does this passage challenge us to do?

As God’s children we begin to recognize that the path of our trials, when traveled with perseverance, improves our character. The beauty of this suffering, and where the rejoicing comes in, is that it draws us closer to Christ. There is not any suffering that can separate us from Christ, and in our suffering, we become more like Him. Our suffering helps us to remove that which we don’t need from our lives, to draw closer to Christ.

We do need to be careful when we are going through trials, tribulations or suffering, not to question if God’s love for us is real. None of these negate the power and completeness of His love for us, His children through Christ. God is using these times to strengthen our character and deepen our trust in God, giving us greater confidence of the future with Him. Another caution is not to mope about, bragging about our suffering. We are to draw closer to God, rejoicing in Him and thanking Him for the opportunity to grow each day through the annoyances and frustrations that come our way. God is good, and He is the source of the strength we need to face each struggle.

We are to rely on God to guide us through our times of struggle. We are to accept His love and guidance for us, knowing that He loves us. How we live out our struggles will also be a witness to others of the power that Christ has in our lives. Our ability to respond differently, allowing dead growth to be pruned gives new growth an opportunity to occur. Our challenges, struggles, difficulties, or sufferings and the way in which we manage them, will show others that we belong to Christ. This is the biggest challenge for all Christians. We need to take steps to make sure that our words, actions, and characteristics draw others to Christ, and we don’t become a deterrent or a stumbling block for someone else.

  • Looking back over your life, can you see the valleys?
  • Can you see how God has used them to prune the dead growth from your life?
  • What are ways that you can live this out in your life?
  • What is a way you can commit to living this out in your life this week?


Download a printable version of this Bible study:

February 2023 Craft: Easy Macrame Rainbow

By Major Nancy Ball
Divisional Secretary for Program – Hawaiian & Pacific Islands Division

Tools & Supplies:

  • Hot glue gun
  • Scissors
  • Wire cutters
  • cotton rope – inside (smallest) row cut 12 strands to 14″
  • Yarn in various colors (medium weight)
  • Glue sticks
  • Floral wire – 22 gauge (doubled for each color of the rainbow – smallest one 11″)
  • Painters tape

Directions:

  • Lay doubled wire onto 12 strands of cotton string. Secure ends with painter’s tape. (See picture below)
  • Begin wrapping desired color of yarn around the string and wire until the desired length is covered with yarn. (See picture below)
  • Cut off exposed ends of wire. Glue all 4 rows together in the shape of a rainbow. Trim ends of cotton string about 2 inches below rainbow. Brush out the strands of string. Hot glue a length of string to the back as a hanger.

Download printable craft directions:

February 2023 Devotional: Flourishing in the Valley

By Major Nancy Ball
Divisional Secretary for Program – Hawaiian & Pacific Islands Division

Walking through challenging seasons is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes “flourishing” means getting out of bed to face another hard day. It might mean doing a load of laundry before going back to a hospital bedside or facing a painful task with the support of others. The Bible has a lot to say about travelling through the valley and Psalm 23 is one of the best:

“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” Psalm 23: 4 (NLT)

Since the early 1900’s, rocks – even large boulders weighing up to 700 pounds – have been discovered in Death Valley National Park leaving evidence of movement with no apparent cause. These large rocks leave proof in the hard ground tracing their movement as much as 1500 feet along the valley floor to leave tracks in the hard packed soil. Researchers and scientists have been unable to determine the cause for this phenomenon until recently. Once every decade or so, perfect weather conditions leave thin sheets of ice across the valley floor. Light winds begin to blow the breaking ice which pushes against the rocks, causing them to move while leaving ruts in the muddy ground.

In the same way, there are forces working beneath the surface when we are in the valley of our own lives. We can’t see the change in real time, but over time we will be able to see God’s faithfulness at work in the struggle. Find encouragement in the journey. The reason for our suffering is rarely obvious. Faith is what we cling to when nothing else makes sense. Look to Jesus and flourish in the valley.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

February 2023 Flourish Newsletter

Although we would love for all our life to be “mountaintop experiences,” we know that is not true.  Flourishing while in the valley is what the month’s newsletter is all about.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

Download this month’s issue:

Need previous issues of the FLOURISH Newsletter? https://usw-womensministries.org/january-2023-flourish-newsletter/

Previous issues of the Inspire Newsletter are still available on our website: https://usw-womensministries.org/september-2022-inspire-newsletter/

Flourishing in the Valley Season

By Colonel Genevera Vincent

We often equate positive experiences, feelings of elation, and times of being in a “good space” in our lives as mountain top experiences. Conversely, we have equated the valley experiences with those times of pain, grief, dryness…the opposite of the mountain top experience. I am here to say that the valley seasons in our lives can be some of the most rewarding and spiritually enriching when we sit back, take a breath, and have very honest conversations with God about what he wants us to learn in this time.

If you’ve ever hiked to the top of a mountain, you may find little growth, depending on how wind swept the top of that mountain is. However, in the valley below, there are often wildflowers and luscious green grass that is flourishing. So, I wonder why we speak of the joyful times of our lives as being on the mountain top and the painful experiences like being in the valley? I guess it really depends on our perspective. I think I get it though. Real growth doesn’t usually just happen. If you are a gardener, you will know that to enjoy a beautiful garden there is a lot of weeding and tilling the ground and pruning. I must admit, these are the aspects of gardening I least enjoy. I don’t know about you, but it seems that in my garden, the weeds always grow much faster than the flowers! But the pruning and the weeding are necessary if we want to get to the real beauty. There is a beautiful spiritual lesson tied to gardening, weeding, and pruning.

When I look back over my life at the mountain top and the valley experiences I have had, I can honestly say that the times of deepest growth in my life have been borne out of the difficulties, the hard places. I remember an especially difficult season as an officer. If mountain top experiences are joyful and exuberant, this was not a mountain top experience. We struggled to work through some difficult situations, uncovering some deep-seated problems that resulted in people taking sides and making life and ministry very difficult. I remember feeling very helpless at times and literally crying out to God for help. This was my “valley.” Years later as I look back on that experience, I am grateful for the lessons God taught me in that valley season. Lessons like…doing what’s right and honorable are not always easy; when you stand up for what is right, God will have the final word; before a seed is planted, hard ground must be tilled.

God said to me then, and says to me now, that I’m never in the valley alone. He is there with me – guiding me, teaching me, loving me.

Colonel Genevera Vincent

It was this last lesson that I have gone back to many times, these many years hence! In ministry we all talk about planting seeds of faith and watering those seeds with our prayers and our relationship with people. The Bible talks about that after all, in I Corinthians 3:6, Paul says, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” Before a seed is planted though, it is necessary to disturb the ground, to dig up, if that seed is to germinate and produce growth. As the Scriptures remind us again, a seed thrown on hard ground will be eaten by birds and will not produce anything. We are often okay with planting the seeds and the occasional watering but not everyone enjoys preparing the hard ground before planting. We love the result, the beautiful flowers, but we often want to bypass the hard and difficult task of tilling the ground. The life lesson I learned was very valuable to me. God said to me then, and says to me now, that I’m never in the valley alone. He is there with me-guiding me, teaching me, loving me. We sang a chorus back in my home province of Newfoundland that speaks of the work of God in our lives in the valley. It goes like this,

He leads me beside still waters,
Somewhere in the valley below.
He draws me aside to be tested and tried,
But in the valley, He restoreth my soul.

And that really sums it up. Being tested and tried in the valley doesn’t always feel good, but it is there that God restores us and renews us and causes us to flourish.

So, if you are in a valley season right now, ask yourself, “What is God wanting me to learn during this time? And then, position yourself to listen and learn and flourish as a result!

Flourishing Story: Flourishing in the Valley Season

By Liane Vierra
Kroc Center, Kapolei HI – Hawaiian & Pacific Islands Division

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

This is the scripture that my youngest daughter, McKenna, used in her first testimony at our church when she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Large B-Cell Lymphoma cancer in July of 2020. She shared in her testimony that she sat in disbelief for a moment and asked God, “Why me?” But then she heard Him say, “Why not you?” As a 26-year-old flight attendant and licensed private pilot, God was calling McKenna to have confidence that He was faithful to His promise in Romans 8:28 and requiring that she would trust Him completely with the six rounds of 120-hour chemo treatments that she would soon endure.

Liane’s Ohana (Family)

The treatments began in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic when health care facilities were implementing “no visitor” policies. McKenna would need to remain in the hospital for five days at a time, just her and God. She expressed that some days were literally so difficult that she had to close her eyes and imagine Jesus sitting at the edge of her hospital bed or rubbing her back when she needed it most. She acknowledged that it was God who got her through every single day, one day at a time. McKenna also shared a quote in her testimony that stated, “Maybe you were assigned this mountain to show others that it can be moved.” And it couldn’t be any truer she said, because after all, faith can move mountains.

God healed McKenna halfway through her treatment in October of 2020. The softball sized cancer that was located near her heart had vanished. Simultaneously, in His strength, McKenna also obtained her instrument pilot’s license. And in her second testimony at our church she humbly declared, “God did that.” Her prayer was that her life would be used as a living testimony for His glory.

McKenna was advised to complete the second half of her chemo treatments and was now working on her commercial pilot license. It was on July 26, 2021, that my whole world literally changed in an instant. McKenna went on an exploratory flight while on a trip to Alaska. She was a passenger on a single-engine Cessna that tragically crashed in a steep mountainous area of upper Eagle River Valley. We were informed that her journey soaring the skies disconcertingly came to an end, McKenna had been promoted to glory. My heart broke and shattered into a million pieces. How could God allow this to happen?

The Coronavirus disease struck my family shortly after McKenna’s passing which caused my oldest daughter, Taurie, to be admitted in the hospital. As if Covid wasn’t enough to conquer, Taurie was also diagnosed with pneumonia. I found myself once again, in the middle of a pandemic, with another daughter in the hospital. For seven days Taurie fought to get better, while I wrestled with God, begging Him not to take her from my family. She was a wife, and a mother to three young boys. In all the 20 years I served God, there had always been weapons thrown at my family. None quite as sharp as death, and now sickness. How do I flourish in a dark season such as this?

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. Isaiah 43:2

God knew beforehand that these afflictions were heading my way, and in His kindness, guided me to places and people where I would be supported and loved, and able to thrive amidst adversity. The Salvation Army was one of those places. He surrounded me with an army of prayer warriors who prayed fervently, gave generously, and loved extravagantly.

By God’s grace, He sustained me. I eventually realized that lovers of God are not excluded from tragedy and even though I did not comprehend everything I was going through, I needed to trust the teacher. God instructed me to seek His perspective and revealed to me that His purpose was greater than my pain. He educated me about how He could use storms to sift my faith so that particles of unbelief would fall out. God conveyed to me that what I cultivated in tears would give rise to an abundant harvest. That He would use my suffering for His glory, and that He would come through.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

Taurie recovered from Covid and pneumonia and returned safely home to her family. My God is good indeed.

He is life. Although I faced the devastation of losing McKenna, I have grasped that this earth was not her final destination.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” John 11:25

There is an eternal hope because Christ’s resurrection power has the final say. In eternity, death doesn’t win, Jesus does. McKenna is alive in Heaven, and her testimony will live for His glory. Is she a world changer? God knows.

When I focus my life from the standpoint of Truth, it is only then that I can flourish. I have learned that Jesus doesn’t want to be explained away, He just wants to be invited in. He doesn’t ask me to be perfect, just perfectly surrendered to Him. In this valley, and complementary to McKenna’s prayer, God has been providing me the opportunity to display His glory. When I am weak HE IS STRONG. In Truth I can be set free and remain unwavering in my faith.

Behold I have refined you, but not with silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. Isaiah 48:10

There are days that I wake up and wish that this season was all a bad dream, and there are days that I sit to pray and have no words. In the stillness, nothing but anguish. Then God breaks through the silence and whispers that He has not dropped the pen that He is using to write my testimony. He advises me that when the pen remains in HIs hand, my testimony remains perfect.

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10

Heaven knows that I would rather have my circumstances be changed, but I know that right now, God wants to focus on changing me.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

Liane leading worship


March 2023 Craft: Mosaic Tiles

By Major Beth Paugh
Intermountain Division

When I think of “Flourishing in the tests and trials season” two things came to mind, the first was a flower breaking through the winter snow. It fights so hard to get through the snow and to show off it beauty. The second thing is how God can take the brokenness that we experience through tests and trials and turn them into something beautiful. So why not combine the two and create something beautiful to remind us that God can create something beautiful through our trials.

Garden Mosaic Tiles are actually very easy and inexpensive to make. And the great thing is that no two are alike, just like us.

Supplies List:

  1. Stones or White Plaster Mix
  2. Shape or mold to hold plaster
  3. Something hard to set the mold on while it hardens
  4. Gloves
  5. Safety Glasses
  6. Hammer
  7. Large Ziplock Bag
  8. Popsicle Sticks
  9. Sponge
  10. Design pattern
  11. Pieces of tiles. Size will depend on the size of the shape or mold you use. You can also go to a Thrift Store and buy dishes to break into pieces. Thus, the need for the Ziplock bag and hammer.

Directions:

STEP 1: Decide what design you want to use with your tiles. It is helpful to draw out your design on a piece of paper. You will use this for two things. The first is to use this pattern to trace onto the plaster. The second it to help you lay out the tiles to figure out any pattern you wish to use. Make sure that your design is not bigger than the mold or shape you will be using.

STEP 2: Mix plaster per directions. It should have a batter type consistency, you don’t want it to be too runny. You will need enough plaster to fill the mold or shape.

STEP 3: Pour plaster into the mold or shape. Tap it gently on a surface. This helps to evenly spread out the plaster. Once it is level, set it aside to allow it time to begin to harden. Place on a hard surface that you
can easily move.

STEP 4: Trace your pattern into the plaster.

STEP 5: If using precut tiles, begin placing them around your paper pattern. This gives you a chance to play around with colors and shapes of tiles.
If using dishes from a Thrift Store, place them into the Ziplock bag and break into pieces with the hammer. Then when you have the desired sizes, begin placing them onto the paper pattern.

STEP 6: Continue arranging the pieces onto the paper pattern until you have a design you are happy with.

STEP 7: Begin transferring the tiles one at a time from the paper into the plaster. You can either use your finger to press them into the plaster or the popsicle stick. Continue until you have transferred all the tiles into the plaster.

STEP 8: Tap gently on a surface once again to make sure all the tiles are securely into the plaster. The plaster should come right up to the top edge of the tile to make sure they don’t fall out.

STEP 9: Set aside for approximately 24 hours to allow time to fully harden.

STEP 10: Using the sponge and warm water, wash off the tops of the tiles to remove any unwanted plaster.

Step 11: Remove from the shape or mold and enjoy!

Download printable instructions of this craft:

March 2023 Devotional: Flourishing in the Tests and Trials Season

By Evie Dobney
Intermountain Division

When I think of tests and trials and those who’ve overcome them, I think of people like Helen Keller, a blind and deaf author and champion of the power of the human spirit. C.S. Lewis, who overcame atheism. Tim Tebow, prejudiced for being a Christian, Carrie Underwood who’d suffered through many miscarriages, and Stephen Baldwin who overcame his addiction to drugs. What do they all have in common? They’re Christians. Some grew up in the faith, and some became born again. All overcame great adversity and flourished in their fields.

But what about “ordinary” folk like me? Can I overcome my trials and go on to flourish? The simple answer is, yes! Mark 10:27 explains that with God anything is possible! There are so many beautiful, frustrating, difficult, and loving examples in the Bible. Moses stuttered and was afraid to lead two million enslaved Israelites out of Egypt, one of the most powerful nations of that day. But he listened to God and God gave him the strength and help to accomplish just that. Deborah, the only female prophet and judge in the entire Bible, went to war with the warrior Barak, at his insistence. John the Baptist, cousin to Jesus, was tasked with spending his entire life in the wilderness. He persisted and successfully baptized thousands into the kingdom of God. There are many more – Jeremiah, Esther, King David, Joseph, Sarah, Job, Gideon, and the thousands of people who approached Jesus for healing.

The Hebrew words for “flourish” are revive, blossom, and sprout. Psalm 92:12-13 say, “But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God.” Palm trees are strong and last a long, long time. Cedars can grow up to 120 feet high and up to 30 feet in circumference. They’re strong and immovable. King David is talking about us and our faith. If we have faith and believe that God will get us through, how much more can we accomplish in His Name?

As I write this, my own trials surface, constantly repeating in my mind, swirling like great hurricanes seen on radar screens. My oldest son declared that God doesn’t exist, because if he did, he wouldn’t have dropped us down here on earth to figure it out for ourselves. I found myself thinking . . . “What am I going to do?” Why do we forget to go to God first before thinking something like this? Because our trials are here, are real, and often, very scary. When we’re afraid, we tend to panic and forget there’s a real, loving Father right here by our side.

Some time ago I was driving my van and it started to rain, hard. Once again, I’d forgotten to get my windshield wipers replaced. Yep, you guessed it, I had to drive like I was 3 feet tall and 100 years old. I was so close to the windshield so I could see, that my body turned along with the steering wheel! While comical, that was a stressful test of my own doing! Is God responsible for that? No. But if we neglect stuff in our lives, they add to the stress we may already be under and can become frightening.

So, too, the world can be very frightening with the ever-growing identity crises of our young people, attitudes of instant gratification, disrespect of authority, “do what feels good” attitude, and lack of moral absolutes (it’s wrong for you but not for me), just to name a few. Circumstances of life, tests and trials are exacerbated when we already feel the stress the world’s troubles cause. I know God doesn’t want us to feel this way, so what must we do?

Get to know God by reading the Bible. No kidding, right? If you’re like me, you may need to read a study Bible and keep a Bible journal asking honest questions to understand its message more thoroughly. Be sure that you’re talking to others who share your faith in Jesus. They may not have the answers, but conversations can sometimes lead to answers in other areas of your faith. Get involved in a Bible study and ask questions, even if you feel they’re silly. You’d be surprised at how many others are thinking the same thing! Read trusted and well researched online Biblical websites.

Pray. In fact, turn your worries into prayers. Pray all the time, everywhere as if you’re talking directly to God, there in front of you. Be honest. Write your prayers down in a notebook or journal. Ask God to teach you through your own circumstances. Listen to God’s answers. He speaks to us in some of the most unusual ways sometimes!

Recently, I attended a conference where the speaker talked about the book of Jude, a tiny, short letter just before the book of Revelation. It was written by the brother of Jesus who reminds us of what we must do to keep our faith strong. Verse 23, “Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgement. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.” By the glorious words of God through Jude, I know my path. God was speaking to me and giving me comfort at the same time. I know my Lord is there with my son, and I know, because of His Holy Word, what I must do. Through it all, I will flourish because I have His Word and promises to keep me firm in my faith and sure of my steps. With these tools and wearing the armor of great faith, you can’t go wrong. In fact, like the cedars of Lebanon, you’ll stand strong and flourish!

March 2023 Bible Study: Faith to Tackle the Storms

By Major Nancy Halverson
Denver Citadel, CO – Intermountain Division

It was 4:31 a.m. on January 17,1994 when the scariest “storm” of my life jolted us awake. It was an earthquake that caused a lot of damage throughout Southern California, and a lot of damage to our sense of security. As we felt the shaking and heard the groaning of the house, for a moment, I was scared we weren’t going to survive. For days we felt the effects of that earthquake with numerous aftershocks, it was a scary time that affected us emotionally and mentally. Luckily, the physical cleanup at the house was not too hard for us, but the emotions and fear left behind was harder to sweep away. We had to turn to our faith in God to walk us through the aftereffects of the “storm”.

Storms, trials, struggles, are a part of life that we all experience. Do you hold onto your faith through them? Do they make your faith stronger for the next storm? Are you walking through a storm right now where you need to put your faith into action?

As a Christian God is deeply invested in your spiritual growth. He uses the storms of life to wean you from dependence on yourself. He’ll intentionally put you in situations where you need to trust Him more fully.
Consider three passages from Matthew as you consider how God is trying to build your faith through the storms of life.

1. Faith that Follows where Jesus leads

As we grow up, the best way we learn is by following the example of someone else. In many cases that is our parents. When we learned how to tie our shoes, or cross the street safely or to cook, we likely didn’t do it on our own, but followed closely as they showed us what to do. In this text the disciples are learning and growing in their faith by following where Jesus leads. They followed Jesus as he led for three years, but in this instance, it was into a storm.

Read Matthew 8:23-27

23 Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” 26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. 27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Jesus led the disciples onto the boat. At this point they believed in Him, and they obviously trusted him to lead them, otherwise they would not have followed. It is one thing to believe in something, it’s another to trust and even more to obey. We need all these to follow Christ. We must be willing to trust and obey Christ as Lord of all things in our lives. Our faith is built up when we follow where Jesus leads no matter where that takes us. Sometimes it is into a storm, but our faith tells us that Jesus is there with us in it. In this passage Jesus was asleep on the boat. This is an example that we can live by.

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8

  • Is there somewhere right now you’re afraid to follow Jesus because it might be into a storm?

2. Faith that Follows where Jesus leads

The beginning of our faith journey is like learning to walk as a baby. We depend a lot on our parents to help us, pick us up and keep encouraging us to try again. When we’ve been walking in our faith for a little while we become like teenagers. As a teenager, sometimes we just need to listen to what we are told to do because it’s what’s best for us. Now we look at a time after the disciples have been walking with Jesus for a while and He sends them out without Him.

Read Matthew 14:22-33

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Jesus MADE the disciples get into the boat without Him. He knowingly and purposely sent them into the storm, it was no accident. They could have refused but instead they obeyed the word of the Lord. During this storm they did not have the luxury of waking Jesus to help them because he wasn’t there. He let them struggle in the storm for hours in their own strength before he came to them on the water. When he showed up, he did not explain anything, he just offered his presence in the storm. Here he showed them his power over creation and control over chaos not just from within the boat but outside the boat as well.
When they realize that it was Jesus, Peter makes a bold move and asks to meet Jesus in the tumult. Jesus tells him to come but doesn’t calm the storm for Peter. In faith and obedience Peter walks on the water, but then he becomes scared by the wind. He takes his eyes off Jesus and begins to sink. Jesus asks Peter why he doubted, He does not question Peter’s faith, for he stepped out of the boat and obeyed Jesus’ words.

Here, Jesus is stretching and growing Peter’s faith through his obedience. The disciples are slowly learning to trust when Jesus is with them in the boat AND now when they are unaware of his presence in the storm. This story holds the promise that Jesus comes to us during the storm and reminds us we need not be afraid because He is present with us. We need only to trust and obey.

This is the story of every Christian. Our story too, as we move back and forth between doubt and faith, sometimes focused on the storm and sometimes focused on Jesus.

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3

  • In what situation in your life do you need to put your faith to work and step out in obedience?

3. Faith that is Tested

How do we know when we’ve truly learned something and grown in our knowledge of a subject? In school we had tests to determine whether we were learning and growing in knowledge. Sometimes we did well and sometimes we did not. Do you recall a time when you did not pass a test?

So, too, as we grow in our faith, we will be tested in many circumstances. The disciples faced many kinds of tests of their faith during their time with Jesus. As they’re nearing the end with Jesus, they will face one of the biggest tests of all.

Read Matthew 26:31-35

31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’[a]
32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” 33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” 34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” 35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

The disciples had been growing in their faith as they travelled with and served alongside Jesus. Peter’s walk of faith is shown throughout the gospels as he tries, learns, and fails. In this Scripture portion we see his confidence in himself, but he seems to forget that on his own he is weak. We, too, must learn to trust God’s strength for help in every situation. Our faith is consistently tested as we weather the storms of life. We can be confident only when we look to Him for our strength.

God allows testing because He knows we need trials to deepen our roots and our relationship with Him. If things are easy, we are quite content to just drift along. We go to church, pick up our Bible now and again, and hang out with others who call themselves Christians. We consider ourselves strong, mature, and a prize among God’s saints. However, our roots are actually shallow. Unless we are tested, they will remain shallow. If you talk to people who have been through great trials, they will often tell you how much their faith grew during that time. When they were at their weakest, they had to trust most fully. And that is when they found the Lord to be most faithful.

Recently, I experienced a time where my faith was tested. May of 2020 my husband and I were told that we would be moving to a new appointment. It was in the beginning of COVID, in the height of uncertainty and fear. I asked God over and over to change this situation. When moves were announced nothing had changed, so we began preparing to move, yet hoping that God would change the outcome. I had to either accept that God wanted me to walk in obedience and faith on the path that lay ahead of me or step out of that path toward something else. It was a decision we struggled with and though we accepted that path we continued to struggle with the decision. I’ve felt like a caterpillar during these past two years. I’m in the cocoon where I’m supposed to be but struggling with the process before turning into a butterfly. I feel like I’ve been battered a bit by this storm, but God continues to work in my life as we go through it. He has shown His presence in it and I’m thankful because I couldn’t do it without Him.

Peter went through a serious testing as Jesus was taken away. He had been so confident that he would never desert Jesus but when the time came, he gave in to fear and denied the Lord. Peter wasn’t the only one who faltered that night. The other disciples ran away. This test of faith was a hard one, but it brought the disciples to even greater faith that would lead them to do great things for the building of God’s kingdom and the church. Even when we fail, God is there to restore us when we come back to him. As long as we don’t turn our backs completely, if we repent, God will restore us and our faith will grow stronger through the storm.

Song #498 in the Salvation Army songbook talks about different aspects of faith. Verse 4 says:

“The faith that cannot fail,
That makes salvation sure,
Anchored within the heavenly veil,
The faith that will endure.”

  • Can you think of a time when your faith was tested? How did you hold up, did you fail or come through it stronger?

No matter what storms you might be going through, hold fast to your faith that cannot fail. It is a faith that will endure and will be strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. With God, your faith can tackle any storm, nothing is impossible with Him.

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Be Still With the Savior

By Commissioner Colleen Riley

2023 has begun and we are starting another year. What is on your mind? Is it the busyness of your ministry or your life? Is it the calendar that is already filling up or the looming items on your to-do list?

January 1st always brings fireworks and cheering, toasting of glasses and promises of resolutions to be kept. This year, even before the new year begins, I have made the decision to not make resolutions to exercise more, eat healthier, or to be more organized, although these are all good things in themselves. The pressure to be better to do more and to make our mark on the world, is real and can be overwhelming.

Instead, I am challenging myself to be still with my Savior more than ever before. Every day as I sit in my quiet place and focus on my relationship with Jesus, I find myself falling deeper and deeper in love with Him. I find myself with more and more of a sense of peace in my life. I want more of this! To find time in the busy, to find time in the chaos, to find time in the stillness, I can sense, I KNOW that I can FLOURISH because of Christ!

Looking forward into this new year I desire to have not only a sense of peace, but to be truly at peace with the Lord and in the circumstances of my life. While it is busy, I know that God is in control of even my busy life. He in the tiniest of details of yours and my life. I don’t have to fret, He has me just where He wants me, He knows my deepest needs and He cares for every single moment.

God simply wants you and I to dwell in the still of His presence, to listen to His voice and to trust in His plan for us in 2023.

Commissioner Colleen Riley

If you are reading this, I hope that you know this to be true of your life as well. God simply wants you and I to dwell in the still of His presence, to listen to His voice and to trust in His plan for us in 2023. Let’s you and I, be attuned to the voice of God, to really hear what He is asking of us in these next twelve months. I am guessing that it is not to put more on our busy schedules, or to work even harder than we are, but rather to find peace in Christ and to know Him more deeply.

Will you, with me, say to Him – Jesus do all you have in mind, I am with you heart and soul. Whatever you have in store for me, I am here and I am all in. I want to know you, to serve you, to trust you with my whole life.

I pray that in this new year, you will embrace a season of stillness and peace in Christ. In Psalm 4:8 it says “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Each evening as you rest your head, be reminded of His care for you. And each day, as you begin your day with Jesus, know that in this time of peace and still, flourish for the Lord. He is with you!