A couple weeks ago, I took a “what kind of reader are you” quiz from a well-known publishing house. After answering the handful of questions, I waited a moment and received the verdict: “You read to explore.”
I had never thought of it that way before. But it seems like a good way of putting it. (And I might add, fairly true to my actual reading habits.)
But (as with anything else, maybe because I read so much to explore), it got me thinking about what that really means, and why I love reading to explore.
Explore has five definitions according to Merriam-Webster:
-to investigate, study, or analyze
-to become familiar with by testing or experimenting
-to travel over new territory for adventure or discovery
-to examine especially for diagnostic purposes
-to make or conduct a systematic search
And all of them apply to how I read books and reasons why books are so important.
Reading to investigate
If you’ve hung around my website for a while, especially the Rachel’s Reads tab, you’ll see I love giving special mention to books that made me think. Even if overall it was a meh story, even if I wouldn’t say I quite agree with every point the author implied. If it makes me think, it gets points in my book. (One notable example of this would be To Best the Boys by Mary Weber, which was a great story and made me think besides.)
I love seeking out concepts that put a new spin on old ideas, themes and ideas that I’ve never considered before, experiences that I’ve never had. I listen to as many sources as I can, gather all the evidence, and sort it into mental files.
Reading to investigate matters because it makes us think. And our thoughts are all the more solid and deep because we’ve considered multiple points of view.
Speaking of points of view . . .
Reading to familiarize
I read to understand both myself and others far better than I could have ever figured out on my own.
I love to seek out books with characters who have different life experiences than me. Maybe they’re a different race, or a different age, or a different gender, different physical or mental traits, or different cultures or backgrounds.
On the other hand, I also seek out books with characters who are like me, who can provide more insight into what I seem like from the outside.
Reading to familiarize matters because we’re all human. We all want to be seen and heard. Reading allows me to connect with people that I might never meet in real life and gives me a richer understanding of humanity. Reading binds us together.
Reading to travel
Reading to explore is a good escape, a getaway. And this seems like the most basic point on my list. You can probably find it on a million reading inspirational quotes on Pinterest.
But sometimes life is really hard and I just need a short break from it all. As much as I might like to see London, that’s not a reality in my life right now—but a book can take me there. I can experience any career, place, or culture that I wish, simply by choosing the right book.
Reading to travel matters because it’s more than just an escape. It’s a trip. It's a dozen experiences all rolled up into one that are accessible to many, many people.
Reading to examine
Reading to explore helps me form my own conclusions. After I’ve done all that investigating we talked about earlier, I take out all the information I got from all of them and spread it out on the table of my mind. And with all the evidence, I begin forming my own thoughts, which become my own conclusions, which become my own life.
Sometimes it might match a book’s message. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s something entirely different.
Reading to examine matters because it forces us to go from standing on the outside looking in to being inside in a place made especially for us. Thinking makes the world our own.
Reading to search
Reading to explore is like a giant treasure hunt, pointing me to what I’m looking for. We’re all searching for love, for meaning, for life. And the best thing about reading is it’s a search. You don’t find it all at once, but you do find clues, strung across stories and beckoning you deeper. You might get turned around every so often and wander off on rabbit trails, but sooner or later, if those books do their job, they’ll lead you exactly where you’ve been searching.
For me, that’s the Author of our entire universe. The best stories I’ve explored are the ones that have directly or indirectly circled me back to Him, often in a new or fresh way that I didn’t see coming. An unexpected surprise.
I think that’s why I so often focus on books and films here. That’s why they matter to me so much, why I could talk about them for hours. Because they help me find what I’m searching for.
But I’m still searching. Still investigating, still familiarizing, still examining, and still traveling. On that note, I’ve got a book to finish.
What are you reading right now? Share your adventures in the comments below!
Welcome to the final stop (on my blog anyway) of the Springtime in Surrey blog swap! To close out our tour, today we'll hear from Erika Mathews, author of Fear Not Tomorrows, how an anonymous poem inspired her historical fiction novella. I had the privilege of helping edit this beautiful novella and am looking forward to hearing where she drew such a strong theme from.
You know that feeling of awe and aspiration when, as a child, you meet someone famous? Someone you look up to, a hero of faith, a spiritual or historical legend?
That’s how I felt at age ten when I met Elisabeth Elliot, the heroic missionary and the wife of Jim Elliot, who died at the hands of Aucas in an attempt to reach them for Jesus Christ.
Hello! I’m Erika Mathews, wife, mama, author, and editor, and I want to extend many thanks to Rachel for hosting me on her blog today. I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with her on our upcoming collection Springtime in Surrey.
As I listened to Elisabeth Elliot speak, her words were filled with a calm, quiet faith and deep trust in her God.
At that conference, she spoke the words of an anonymous poem titled Do the Next Thing that struck me then and continues to inspire me to this day. One couplet especially stood out to me:
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King.
Trust them with Jesus. Do the next thing.
I took home the pamphlet that was handed out with the words to this poem in decorative green font on the cream-colored background, and I read those words often.
There’s such a restful trust inherent in a life that can rest peacefully in its present King and claim a fearless tomorrow and a step-by-step today because of that intimate oneness with Jesus—that complete assurance that He has it handled and He loves me that much.
When I was plotting Fear Not Tomorrows as my Springtime in Surrey novella, I thought I had the main elements of the plot nailed down. I selected three inspiration images and wrote the first draft of what later became the blurb—with no substantial differences from the final product.
But attempting to turn that blurb into the outline of a novella was like banging my head against the wall. Nothing worked. It felt like the blurb told the complete story—what else could I add? How could I turn this one complete paragraph into a whole novella? And above all, what structure could I give this story?
I decided that each sentence of the blurb would be its own chapter.
And it was about that time that the poem Do the Next Thing hit me like a ton of bricks. Almost at once, each couplet or stanza of the poem began to line up with the sentences of my blurb, and each became the theme of that chapter. I realized that the spiritual truths I’d wanted to bring out in my story were perfectly expressed by this poem.
From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message for me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the hours the quiet words ring,
Like a low inspiration: DO THE NEXT THING.
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus. DO THE NEXT THING.
Do it immediately; do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ’neath His wing,
Leave all resultings. DO THE NEXT THING.
Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
(Working or suffering) be thy demeanor.
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm.
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing!
Then, as He beckons thee, DO THE NEXT THING.
Dear readers, is this your heart state? “Ever serener” with both “the rest of His calm” and the strength of “His faithfulness” can describe your daily life. Look unto Him, whatever your circumstances; listen to His voice; and walk forward in the path that He has set before you—one step at a time.
Thank you for joining us on our blog tour! Don't forget to order your own copy of Springtime in Surrey under the "Books" tab at the header.
Welcome back to the Springtime in Surrey blog swap! Today, Andrea Renee Cox, author of The Cottage on the Hill, helps us think about compassion versus apathy. Let's get to it.
Apathy is unfeeling disinterest in others’ problems, worries, and situations. Everywhere I look these days, I see evidence of this lack of tender care for my fellow human beings. In the movie The Book of Henry*, a young character declares that apathy is the worst thing in the world. That line has stuck with me for years, because it’s the truth and I’ve seen evidence virtually every day since I first watched that film.
I have to wonder, can anything overcome such a dark and uncaring choice as apathy?
Every time I read the Bible and spend time with Jesus, I know the answer is yes. Yes, something is more powerful than apathy. God is bigger and stronger than everything on this planet, but there’s something we humans can choose that is stronger than apathy as well, if we follow His lead.
Compassion is greater than apathy.
Compassion is seeing other people’s plight and feeling their pain with them. It’s choosing to care about people and whatever trial or tribulation they might currently be going through. Compassion is not easy, because it means being vulnerable to wounds the world might wield against us. But I’m here to tell you that choosing to be compassionate is always worth it. In fact, Jesus commanded us to “love one another” (John 13:34 NKJV). He went further to say that His followers would be recognized by their “love for one another” (John 13:25 NKJV).
Loving one another is choosing compassion over apathy.
Often, I wonder if I’m doing enough to infuse an abundant amount of hope, cheerfulness, and especially compassion—all traits of love—into my community to counteract the apathy that is so prevalent in the world around me. What I’ve learned over these years of intentionally choosing to care (and show it!) about the people in my life is that every delicate moment matters. The incredible thing is, God can use even one person’s kindness to make a humongous impact in the world. The ripple effects can spread out in waves for a longer time than we can imagine, because of God’s work behind the scenes. This, to me, makes every attempt at showing love to those around me completely worth it.
This theme of showing compassion to the people around us is spotlighted in The Cottage on the Hill, my novella in Wild Blue Wonder Press’s debut anthology, Springtime in Surrey. When Adrian sees Moira crying into her afternoon tea, he wonders why. The neat thing is, he doesn’t stop at mere curiosity. Instead, he takes up the challenge of making her smile. His creative efforts throughout the book give her chance after chance to rediscover hope and joy. Even when he doesn’t know if she’ll ever feel comfortable enough with him to divulge her troubles, Adrian goes to great lengths to let Moira know that someone cares about her, that someone sees she’s hurting and chooses to do something about it.
How many times do we see people going through hard times and rough days but keep on walking by, not giving them more than a pitying glance?
What do you think would happen if you paused to give that person a helping hand or encouraging word?
Let me tell you from experience: Both the person you help and you will be blessed in the moment you reach out to connect with another member of humanity. Whether it’s encouraging a harried mother of three rambunctious children in the grocery store or helping a tearful, lost toddler find their parents or assisting someone in picking up items that spilled from a purse or split sack—or a thousand other scenarios—I challenge you to take a few minutes out of your busy day and infuse some compassion back into your community. Beyond that, I encourage you to take Jesus’s advice and “love one another,” so that people will recognize you as one of His compassionate followers.
It takes action from each one of us to make sure that compassion remains greater than apathy.
*Some content (language, thematic elements) in The Book of Henry is not suitable to all viewers. Discretion is advised. I suggest parents preview the film before sharing with any child under 18.
Come back next Wednesday to hear another Springtime in Surrey author discuss the top five writing mistakes she's made according to Strunk and White.
In February of this year, I was accepted by Wild Blue Wonder Press to participate in their first ever anthology, making this my first ever traditional publication. It was something I’ve been working towards for years, and it’s still hard to believe it’s finally here. Now, here we are, launching the book and sending my story out into the world.
You’ve already gotten to hear from a lot of my fellow authors over the past weeks, and you’ll continue to hear from them for a couple weeks more. So today, I thought I’d briefly go over some lessons and observations I’ve had while achieving the milestone of publishing my first story.
God does so much more than we expect.
I didn’t expect to get into the anthology. I saw the submission call and gave it a try with a story I had thought up on a whim to have something to send in. Of course, I hoped that it would make the cut, but realistically I knew there were a lot of other authors who had sent in. God surprised me by choosing me for it.
Then came the process of drafting and editing, all on deadlines, and there wasn’t a single one of those that I didn’t think I was going to miss. While I had practiced writing on deadlines and knew I had the head knowledge to do it, these were some of the tightest turn around times I’d ever experienced, with a legible draft needed at the end of them.
And yet, I made every single one.
God is able to do so much more than we expect or even dream to ask for. And not only is He able, but He chooses to share it with us.
That’s a hard truth for me to accept, because I can think of other impossible things that I really wanted, that I still want even today, expectations that He has not shattered. And honestly, I don’t know what to do with that gap. Maybe this is the process of Him reshaping the expectations I have into something far greater. But many days it doesn’t feel like it.
Many days, I have to grip on tight to the things He’s done before, things like this, to know that He will see me through.
Not everything has to be perfect, and you can make mistakes.
When I’m writing a draft just to pitch sometime, I have all the time that I want to tweak it and make it whatever vision I have of perfection.
When writing this story on a deadline, I didn’t have that. I simply had to turn in a strong draft by the date specified. That meant, especially in the early stages, that I had to turn in a story that I knew needed work. That’s the whole point of a draft, but I forget that a lot. Do you?
Sometimes in writing those drafts or turning in those edits, I would make a mistake. It’s easy for me to be too hard on myself when I’m in the safety of my own world making those edits, but as I worked with the rest of the WBWP team, I realized that this was a safe space to make mistakes and to fix them together.
Sometimes in that process, I had to go with a suggestion that didn’t feel right at the time, but that I knew would make it a better story. Sometimes the cool shiny things I added to the story didn’t make sense and I had to delete them.
It doesn’t just apply to book editing. Sometimes we do the very best we can, and it’s not quite perfect. Sometimes we make mistakes. That's okay. (That’s different than a deliberate choice to sin, which God can still work with if we repent, but it looks a little different and for the purposes of this lesson is not what I’m addressing.) The idea of life is being able to work to fix them together and to discover better ways to do it next time.
Everyone’s different and has their own amazing story to tell.
Finally, this anthology has served as a lovely reminder of everyone’s uniqueness. I look across the eight stories in this collection, and they couldn’t be more different. They represent eight different people, eight different lives, eight different backgrounds.
Each of us has something to bring to this world that is uniquely us. It may not be doing anything big or flashy. It may just be living our lives the best that we can. But that’s still something only you can do, because there is only one you.
That story, that life is important. It may not seem like it, but the whole world is actually listening for it, and if it doesn’t go on, we will all miss out on something beautiful.
This anthology is part of my story right now. And God can do so much more than I expect with the rest of my story, and with the rest of yours, too.
If you love stories featuring diverse casts of characters, strong female friendships, and of course, tea and literature, then this is the story for you.
Jessamy Aubertine is too much for her university classmates, too little for her overstressed mum, and nothing in between. In an attempt to make herself useful, she takes on a spring holiday at her childhood home in Box Hill to sell the family's fading tea shop and somehow tell her mum that she intends to switch study plans.
When mysterious letters signed by famous authors show up, can Jessamy and a pair of unlikely comrades find the writer behind them--and perhaps discover themselves as well? Or will their friendship fade with The Muses at the end of spring holiday?
Have you ever read a book that your friends hated and liked it? Have you ever read a book review that bashed anyone who read the book if they dared say they liked it? Have you ever held back on sharing about a movie you love with your friends because you’re afraid they’ll think you’re stupid?
You’ve been here long enough to know—I always love swapping story opinions with others on books or films, whether or not we agree. I love discovering which stories captivate them, which ones failed, and why.
I have enjoyed a number of flawed stories. I can watch The Last Jedi and acknowledge a lot of plot decisions just don’t make sense, while still enjoying the ones that do. I can watch a Disney remake that didn’t meet people’s expectations and appreciate the something different.
But I can also tear apart something that didn’t resonate with me or that didn’t do well. I can be too hard on my own stories when I spot flaws or people point them out to me.
I wonder if we’ve forgotten how to love something flawed. I wonder if we’ve forgotten to just love the stories we love.
It’s okay to love flawed stories.
Of course, sometimes a flaw isn’t just a poor plot point or an overall bad reception. Sometimes it’s something really wrong. That’s not what I’m talking about here. If there’s something truly wrong with a story or an event or a project or whatever, we’d do well to stay away from it.
I’m talking about the mess. The work needed. The lack of resolution.
My opinions are just that—opinions. They may have strong influential power, but they can’t make anyone do anything. That is ultimately up to the person themselves.
We have this idea that everything needs to be perfect. Maybe it stems from the Garden of Eden. Maybe we know that everything isn’t right here on earth, and we want to fix it.
But the things that really matter have already been fixed. God knew we could never put it back together again on our own, so He sent His only Son to take the horrible consequences for us. Our eternity started then. But in the meantime, we still have to deal with the brokenness here.
It’s okay if you love your own story when you know it needs work.
It’s okay if you love your life even if it’s messy and unresolved.
It’s okay to love yourself even if you make mistakes or don’t look the way you think you ought to look.
I think when we love the things that captivate us, even when they’re flawed, it points a little bit to a Creator who loved us even though we broke our perfection. He loves you every single day no matter what comes. He chose you when you were flawed.
In fact, what seems to be a flaw to you might just be the perfection He designed. What throws someone off of a particular story might be what captivates me. It’s the same with us.
We’re almost halfway through 2023. How did that happen? Maybe it didn’t look the way you expected. Maybe there are a lot of bumps along the road. But it’s okay to love those things. Because those flaws are the things that brought you here and will continue to nudge you forward.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether you liked a certain story or not. But it does matter how you felt about your flaws.
I'm back with another guest post today! I met Eliana through the Young Writer's Workshop and have loved getting to know her and her writing journey. I appeared on her blog nearly two years ago, but today, we've swapped blogs. She's going to share her thoughts on Psalm 73. I was inspired and uplifted by her thoughts and hope you will be too!
Hi, my name’s Eliana, and I’m borrowing Rachel’s blog today! I shared a devotional at a summer camp last year, and I wanted to share this word of encouragement with all of you.
During that week of summer camp, we focused on what it means to “rejoice always,” as commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:16. However, it isn’t always easy to rejoice. It isn’t always easy to find joy or even just contentment.
We live in a world that’s not what it was meant to be. Ever since a man and woman named Adam and Eve started a rebellion against their Creator, our world has been broken.
Earth is cursed with wars and conflicts, sickness and pain, cruelty, hardships, sadness, and death.
You and I have experienced the brokenness of our world on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s a conflict with a sibling, the guilt of our own mistakes, or grief over the loss of a loved one.
We have a huge problem. The joy-crushing problem of sin.
Today, I want to talk about Psalm 73 and introduce you to its writer, a man named Asaph.
Here’s a little bit of background first:
But even though praise and thanksgiving was part of his job description, Asaph struggled a lot, just like we do. In Psalm 77, he writes about feeling weary and sad and troubled. Sometimes, he felt like God was too far away.
This is because Asaph was made to have a perfect relationship with God, just as we were. One of the wonderful things about our God is that He is perfectly holy. Sadly, we are not. Even if we tried as hard as we could, none of us could meet God’s perfect standards. Our sin blocks us from having that perfect relationship with God that we were meant to have.
Asaph often saw people doing terrible things and forsaking God, and at the same time, these people still seemed to find happiness. Asaph knew that God was good and that following Him was the right choice, but seeing bad people prosper made him jealous, even when he wasn’t supposed to be jealous.
At the beginning of Psalm 73, Asaph wrote:
Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Asaph struggled with the rotten world around him and his own rotten heart. Sometimes, he wondered if it might be better to be a person who hates God but is happy than a person who loves God but is sad. But eventually, Asaph learned four secrets that helped him to find heavenly satisfaction even in the midst of his struggles.
The first secret is one Asaph actually found as he looked at the wicked people around him.
Secret 1: The things we go to for satisfaction—food, entertainment, even friends—don’t fix the problem. They only cover it up.
When you eat a bowl of delicious ice cream, it’s great at the moment. You can find some happiness in eating that ice cream. But then it’s gone. It doesn’t satisfy you for long, and it might even give you a stomachache.
You could try to find joy in a book. I love books, so I get it. But books aren’t perfect, and even if the book you’re reading is a really, really good one, you’ll reach the end of it eventually.
Maybe you like playing music or painting pictures. Those can be great ways to spend your time. But if you stake your happiness in your own performance, every mistake will be painful. You won’t find true contentment there either.
There are a lot of ways you can try to find happiness, but none of the world’s pleasures will fix the world’s problem.
The world’s pleasures never last forever. And if we don’t put God first, the world’s pleasures are only a trap.
In Psalm 73, Asaph writes about the people who try to root their happiness in themselves or something else outside of God. I’ll start at verse 6. He says:
Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
And then later, in verses 18 and 19, he writes about what God has done when He lets the wicked people have happiness in earthly things:
Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
Asaph’s point here is that it’s not safe to look for happiness apart from God. Looking for happiness in something like ice cream is like a slippery slope.
Secret 2: We can only find true satisfaction in knowing God.
Asaph knew that looking to the world for satisfaction doesn't work, because the world is broken. He knew that he couldn’t look to himself for satisfaction either, because he had an unclean heart. The only perfect source of contentment was God Himself.
In Psalm 73:26, Asaph said, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
This is Secret #2: We can only find true satisfaction in knowing God. Maybe that seems obvious, but it was an important truth for Asaph to accept. We are nothing without God and the forgiveness He offers through His Son, Jesus Christ.
I told you earlier that the perfect relationship we were made to have with God is broken. Well, the beautiful truth is that God loves us too much to leave us hanging.
We had no power to save ourselves from our sin. We could try to conquer our sinful desires, but it would be like trying to throw a rock at the moon with just your human arm. We all fall short. Hundreds of thousands of miles short.
And yet, God sent us His one and only perfect Son to redeem our relationships with Him and give us the eternal lives in heaven that we didn’t deserve. By giving up his perfect life and by miraculously rising from the dead two thousand years ago, Jesus offers grace, mercy, and forgiveness as a free gift to all of us today.
Even in this broken world. Even as we continue to sin. Jesus offers this gift to us for our joy.
How great is God’s grace?
God tells us that His grace is sufficient for us. When a preacher named Charles Spurgeon thought about God’s grace, he thought of a little, thirsty fish who is afraid he might drink the river dry. But the river is huge, and it says, “Drink away, little fish, my stream is sufficient for thee.”
Or a little mouse in a huge granary, who is afraid he might die of starvation after having plenty of food for seven years. “Cheer up, little mouse, my granaries are sufficient for thee.”
What if a single hiker were worried that he should exhaust the oxygen in the atmosphere? We should tell him the atmosphere is more than sufficient for him to breathe away and fill up his lungs for a lifetime.
And it’s the same way with us and God’s grace. This is GOD we’re talking about. His grace is more than enough for all of us. His grace should be where we find our joy.
Sometimes God’s grace is tough love. God will give us weakness to teach us humility. He lets us make mistakes so we can learn wisdom. And as we grow, we can see more and more how richly blessed we are, even in the hard things.
Secret 3: Finding grace and joy always starts with recognizing that we are in need.
Alright, you know that the world’s pleasures are not good places to find joy. You know that God’s grace is the right place to find joy. What’s next? Asaph’s secret #3 is that finding satisfaction in God’s grace always starts with recognizing that we are in need. Finding satisfaction in God’s grace always starts with recognizing that we are in need.
Asaph was able to accept God’s grace because he first realized that he struggled with jealousy and other weaknesses. We can also open our hearts to God’s forgiveness after we recognize our own sins.
You could lie to yourself if you wanted to. You could tell yourself that a bowl of ice cream is all you’ll need to be happy. Or you could tell yourself that you don’t need God’s grace, and you can just rely on yourself to be “good enough.”
But if we put our pride aside for just one moment, we’ll find that no earthly thing can really satisfy us in the long run. And we can’t put our hope in ourselves. Jesus is the only way.
We start to find grace and joy by being honest with ourselves and honest with God.
In Psalm 73:21 and 22, Asaph admitted his problems to God. He said that his soul was “embittered,” he was “brutish and ignorant,” and he even confessed that he “was like a beast” toward God. He was angry.
But after making a diligent search in his heart, he was able to realize how much he needed and loved God, and he was able to worship God with a happy heart. In verses 23 through 26, he says to God:
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Secret 4: True satisfaction is something you want to share with others.
Asaph knew that he couldn’t find true, lasting joy in the temporal things here on earth. He knew that God’s grace alone was the solution to his deepest problem of sin. And he knew that, in order to accept God’s grace, he would first need to admit that he needed God’s grace.
The fourth and final secret Asaph was reminded of is that true satisfaction is something you want to share with others. Have you ever read a great book or watched an amazing show that made you want to tell all your friends about it?
Asaph felt kind of like that. After reflecting on how amazing it is to know the holy and almighty God, Asaph felt like he could have talked about God all day. I’m going to read Psalm 73:26 again and the last few verses of that psalm. Asaph wrote:
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.
Even though Asaph knew he was a sinner and he deserved God’s wrath just like other unfaithful people, he got to experience God’s nearness and mercy. This was where he got the satisfaction that you feel in these verses, and this is why he wanted to tell the world what His Savior had done.
Asaph didn’t rejoice because he had a perfect world, perfect life, and perfect, sinless heart. Just like us, Asaph lived in a broken world with a life tainted by sin. Just like us, he fought temptations to look for joy in earthly things instead of God. But he found that true satisfaction came from knowing God.
Asaph recognized that he was made to have a relationship with God, and he not only wanted God in his life—he needed God. He was a broken man in need of God’s love and grace. And he rejoiced even more because he knew how important God was to him. He was so happy that he wanted to share the good news of what God had done.
When your flesh and your heart fail, may you look to God to be the strength of your heart for all your life. Rejoice in the free grace that Christ offers you.
I hope you've enjoyed Eliana's post! I'm so grateful she shared it with us. Let us know in the comments how it resonated with you. And check out my post on Eliana's blog about how the Spider-Verse might be a bit like Christian diversity: https://www.elianathewriter.com/2023/05/diversity-is-like-the-spider-verse/
Good morning, everyone! Here I am, finally posting one of two long-neglected guest posts that got lost in the shuffle of work on the anthology. Today Kathryn shares what she has learned about choosing her friends wisely. To read my lessons from an overly dramatic dog (the other half of this swap), hop over to her website: https://thestorycubby.wixsite.com/home/post/lessons-from-an-overly-dramatic-dog-by-rachel-leitch
When I first sat down to write this post, I needed some inspiration to get going. I knew that it was time to write the post, but my brain was not kicking into gear. So I said to her, “Mom, when you are thinking about how to choose your friends wisely, what is the first Bible verse that pops into your mind?”
She repeated my question to herself for a second and then she looked at me with a smile.
“The first thing that comes to mind is: when the blind lead the blind, they both will fall into the ditch.”
Well, since I asked her, I decided I had to use it in the post, but when I think about it, the verse does get down to the root of why to choose your friends wisely.
"And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?" (Luke 6:39)
As young people, we often long for people our age to spend time with, and to talk to. We want to be around people that understand us because we are going through the same life stage. But not all young people make for godly influences on our lives, and when we hang out with people who are figuratively blind, without knowing it, we’ll fall into a ditch with them. This is something that I have had to decide on personally, and I believe that it is something every young person has to deal with.
But, the question is, how do we avoid falling into that ditch? How can we be sure we are spending our time with people who will influence us in a godly way?
Here are three ways that you can do that.
Choose your conversation.
Notice that I did not start with choosing your friends. This is because choosing your friends is not the first decision that you need to make.
"Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." (Philippians 1:27)
The way the Apostle Paul who penned this verse usually uses the word "conversation" to mean our daily walk, which includes the way that we talk with each other.
If Jesus walked up to you while you were talking to your friends, would you feel like you need to change the conversation? Or would you feel like he would be pleased to hear what you were talking about?
We ought to be talking about things that will bring honor to The Lord. This is not to say that we can’t joke around every once in a while, but our jokes ought to be acceptable to Him, and our conversations ought to steer in His direction.
Sometimes it is difficult to know how to bring up Biblical conversation, which is very important to our spiritual growth. One of the things we can do to learn how to have a spiritual conversation is in on the conversations of deep-thinking adults in our church. There are usually some adults who are steadily meditating on the Word, and their conversations are good examples for us to follow.
As you have something you’ve been thinking about, casually bring it up among your friends. If they seem to want to avoid talking about it, then keep that conversation until you find someone who will talk to you about it. In some circumstances, only adults seem to want to talk about spiritual things, but they often make better friends than young people our age. However, adults do not always have the time to spend a long time talking or doing other sorts of relationship-building activities because of their responsibilities. That is one special blessing of being a young person. We have more time on our hands to spend with each other.
Choose your activities.
As young people, we enjoy doing activities like playing board games together or participating in a fun sport. But even then, we need to be mindful of how much time we are spending on frivolous fun versus how much time we spend pursuing our relationship with the Lord.
"Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." (Revelation 2:4)
This was part of a message from Christ to the church of Ephesus because they got so caught up in doing things that they left their First Love. They got so busy with the things that they were doing that they forgot to do them for the Lord.
If you reflected on your activities of the past week or twenty-four hours, how much of that time could you say was spent on your First Love? If you played a sport, why did you play it? Was it to please Him or simply to win a game or have fun?
If you played a board game, what did you talk about while you were playing? Was it honoring Christ?
Before you do any sort of activity ask the Lord to help you do it for His glory. If it is something like having a meal with a friend, ask Him to open up your conversation to things that will please Him. Or if you feel that you ought to be spending more time serving him in some sort of ministry, ask Him to show you opportunities where you can do that. He will be glad to answer that kind of question with a yes if you are open to His help. However, making that kind of choice can be hard if your friends are not willing to make it with you.
Choose your friends.
This is the last point that I wanted to make because it comes as a matter of course after the first two. Deciding to talk about spiritual things, or to spend less time texting with your friends to write cards to shut-ins at your church does not always make you popular.
A negative Biblical example of this would be King Solomon’s son Rehoboam. He had a choice about how he was going to rule, and even before he sought counsel he had decided how he was going to rule. This was evident in his choice of counselors.
"But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him." (1 Kings 12:8)
But there were consequences for the decision that he made. They may not have been immediate because he had to implement his plans before the people realized how faulty they were but eventually, his decision came back to bite him.
"So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day." (1 Kings 12:19)
My point is not that we need to stop taking the advice of people our age. Instead, I want to show that the way you decide to live, will dictate your friends and your friends will dictate the way you live. It’s a vicious cycle if we don’t follow the Lord in our choices.
Spending time around the kind of young people that are old in maturity, especially as God’s children, will help us to continue in the decisions we’ve made about our conversation and our activities. Sometimes it is hard to find young people that are like that. In that case, it might be best to make friends with adults who will support those decisions. But finding the right kind of friend will help not only you but your friend to develop a deeper relationship with Christ.
Choosing friends is one of the ways we can please the Lord. When we decide that our conversation will please Him, and we learn to think about spiritual things we take a step closer to Christ in our relationship with Him. If our time is spent doing things that please Him or participating in activities in a way that honors Him, we are living for our First Love. After we have made our choices about what we will say and do, we will already know what kind of friends we want. By choosing ones that are God-honoring as well we can help each other to keep walking closer to the Lord.
I watched a movie over the past month-ish called The Commuter.
I had no idea that this thriller was going to systematically unmask one of my greatest fears when I watched it.
Michael has done literally the same thing for ten years. No deviation from the routine. Even when the things around him change—his son graduates high school and sets his sights on college, fellow passengers come and go, financial situations teeter—he stays the same.
He goes to work. He does his job. He comes home.
He takes the train in to work. He takes the train home.
Until one day when he meets Joanna on the train. Joanna claims to be a human behavior specialist and challenges him to a hypothetical experiment.
“If you had the chance to do one little thing, that would impact everyone on this train, knowing you would never see or know the result, but knowing you would get a reward . . . would you do it?”
It isn’t until she gets to the end of the explanation that Michael realizes it’s not hypothetical at all. In the course of a seemingly innocent conversation, he, his whole family, and every passenger on that train have been placed in immense danger.
I don’t want to tell you too much. But in order to protect everyone and get to the bottom of things, Michael does something different. He doesn’t get off at the same stop as before. He doesn’t keep to himself as before. He doesn’t speak to the same few people as before.
While this movie is great entertainment, in real life, it’d be my greatest fear.
I can think of few things I fear less than going about my safe, predictable business and having something terrible happen that changes it all.
I’m a lot like Michael. I do the same job every day. I arrive at the same time and leave at the same time. I make the same drive on the same roads, sometimes even with the same Spotify playlist in the background. Every day.
Sometimes, in all that sameness, a little thought comes to me. It goes like this.
Why is change so scary?
I like to know what’s coming. I like to be prepared. If I can prepare for something, I reason, I’ll be in control of it. My routine assures me that I’m calling the shots.
Until I’m not.
And then even a simple thing—a change in my work schedule, a traffic block on the way home, a last-minute appointment—becomes much larger than it needs to be.
And once that small thing becomes big, all the large things that could happen press in on me.
Joanna’s motives in The Commuter are dubious at best. But if she hadn’t changed Michael’s routine, if she hadn’t shattered his calm, things would have just kept on as they were.
Sometimes things keeping on as they were is more dangerous than the terrible change.
It was true for Michael. Maybe it is for me.
Change hurts. Change is scary. It doesn’t feel good. Sometimes that pain lets up once that change is made. Sometimes it never leaves.
The hard truth is that whether or not it feels good, any change that happens is being allowed by Someone so much bigger than me. Someone with so good a heart, towards me and towards everyone else who has ever lived or will live, that I can never fathom it.
And I don’t like that truth. Because uncertainty hurts. And I’d much rather have Someone Who will just take the trouble away. I don’t want to have to trust anyone else to keep me safe. I want to do it myself.
It’s hard to imagine Someone good seemingly standing by and just watching it all happen.
But He’s not standing by. He’s in the center of the chaos with me.
For the majority of the movie, most of the other passengers have no idea what’s happening. They see only the irrational actions Michael is taking. They call the police, believing him to be a threat, having no idea that he’s saving them from something truly horrible.
I don’t have any idea what’s happening. I only see what seem to be irrational actions. I complain and worry, having no idea that I’m being saved from something truly horrible.
I’m unlikely to meet a stranger on a train whose hypothetical experiment turns into a nightmare. But no matter what I do meet in the middle of my normal, Someone good faces it with me, protecting me all the while.
I don’t know. I don’t understand. But one day, I’ll get to the end of this train ride, and it will all make sense.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know one of my favorite movies of all time is Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon. And it usually pops up at least once a year on my blog. So here we are, revisiting it again. Because as I watched it again at the start of this new year, I noticed something new, yet another reason I love this story.
In the movie, Hiccup is the only one not strong enough to fight and kill dragons. And when he's offered a chance to learn to fight, he discovers he's the only one not interested in it. Made worse by the fact that he's the chief's son. Throw the dragon he's secretly training in the woods into the mix, and you've got quite the storm brewing.
Maybe you can look at Hiccup’s character and relate a lot. Maybe you’re the odd one out, too, both of you desperately trying to be capable and failing miserably as far as you can tell. Maybe you’re made fun of and talked over the top of. Maybe no one knows what you’re really thinking until you erupt.
And once we relate to someone, we get the chance to see ourselves in their story. Which, in turn, casts a whole new light on ours.
So as Hiccup becomes more confident—stands for what’s right, stops apologizing for all of himself, and does things his unique way, the way he was meant to do them—we feel that maybe we can, too.
Better, we begin to know we can.
Deep down, we wish for happy endings like the ones in movies.
We wish the people who underestimated us would apologize. We wish our time in the positive spotlight might come. We wish someone would give us the chance to speak up.
We want them to celebrate us, to accept who we are.
But Stoick never fully got Hiccup, did he? The second movie is proof of that. While he may have been more open to learning, the fact of the matter is that he still clung to his pre-formed ideas of what his son should be.
How to Train Your Dragon doesn’t have a happy ending because Hiccup became what the villagers expected. It doesn’t have a happy ending because everyone accepted Hiccup at last.
It has a happy ending because Hiccup accepted himself.
He just decided to be all of him, to help others do the same, and to surround himself with people who do the same.
At the end of the day, How to Train Your Dragon is still just a movie. Just a movie that nods to something very real.
But in real time, we have something far better. We know that everything about us—personality, likes and dislikes, appearance, passions—was hand-crafted by God. Hand-crafted for a purpose that only we can fill. Hand-crafted perfectly.
And our happy ending begins not when everyone else understands that, but when we do. When we decide to live that truth regardless of what anyone else thinks.
What if we all gave it a try this new year? To be authentically ourselves? To like what we like and not apologize? To follow the leads God gives us? To stop thinking about what the others will think?
To just be.
What might that look like for you? What part of yourself do you try to fix or hide for others? What are you most excited to authentically be this year? Share your adventures in the comments below!
My favorite Christmas movie is A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s not overly long or even overly complicated, and yet it has held up for decades, still touching today’s generation as much as it did the ones before.
As I watched it this year, it occurred to me that it might be even more meaningful to me as an adult.
Each year, no matter how old we are, we look forward to the coming of Christmas. We’ve been counting down the days since last Christmas even, or at least since we took the decorations down and packed them all away.
But whether we like it or not, Christmas can come with some problems.
Problems that never crossed our mind as a child can interrupt even the most exciting of moments.
Maybe someone’s no longer with us who ought to be, and the hole just feels bigger at Christmas.
Maybe the people who are with us aren’t who they ought to be, and coming together for a holiday is more like preparing for war.
Maybe you’ve lost a job or stuck in a job that brings you as much stress as being without.
Despite what we want to believe, the hardships that follow us throughout the year don’t magically vanish around Christmas.
Sometimes, if anything, they seem larger.
Charlie Brown gets it. He confesses to Lucy, “My trouble is Christmas. I just don’t understand it. Instead of feeling happy, I feel sort of let down.”
Of course, Lucy suggests all he needs is involvement. But directing the local Christmas play or even going out to select a Christmas tree doesn’t solve his problem. If anything, it makes things worse.
Maybe you feel let down, too. Maybe the traditions you’ve looked forward to all year just aren’t ringing the same for whatever reason. So you pull back and withdraw, or you frantically charge forward, scheduling more and more on the calendar to fill the gap between you and Christmas.
Because even the sweetest of traditions was never meant to solve our problems. They were never meant to take our hardship away.
Christmas plays, Christmas trees, and whatever else comes with this season are only little bits of joy. Signposts in the snow that remind us what truly will ease our burdens.
As Linus reminded Charlie Brown, Christmas isn’t about any of those things. Christmas is about what we read in Luke chapter two. “That’s what Christmas is really about.”
It’s not a something, it’s a Someone. A Someone who will never let us down. A Someone who never leaves us, not at Christmas, not at any other time of the year. And all the things we look forward to are little slivers of the joy He has promised for us now and forever.
A Christmas play can’t bring back someone we love, but Jesus can sit with us in the hurt. A Christmas tree can’t end a cycle of abuse or reconcile estranged family members, but Jesus can hold us together. Traditions can’t ease stress, but Jesus can breathe peace into us.
Christmas doesn’t take away our hurt, our sadness, or our worries. But Christmas--real Christmas—doesn’t let us down either.
So this year, as I watched Christmas movies, made sugar cookies and gingerbread houses, and decorated the tree, I searched for Jesus’ joy in it, instead of fulfillment.
I didn’t have far to search. You don’t either.
As we enjoy the last few evenings of sitting in the light of the Christmas tree, maybe it’s a good time to stop and think of how we might find Christmas in this new year.
That thought might even bring a bit of the excitement back, no matter what season it is.
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!