Category Archives: Soul Food (inspirational thoughts)

Two Questions

Would you please do me a favour? If you’ve signed up for Whimsy & Wisdom, my weekly e-newsletter that I’m launching in mid-February, would you please answer two quick multiple-choice questions HERE? I want to know what my readers’ preferences are and your response will help.

And if you don’t know what newsletter I’m referring to, you can read my earlier post about it HERE, or go ahead and sign up right away HERE.

Thanks so much! 🙂

New Year, New You

Five to Wear

When holidays and celebrations roll around, it’s not unusual for women to look for a new outfit to wear. I’m not as much of a shopper as I used to be but I still enjoy putting on a pretty new blouse or heading out in cool new boots. Let’s face it: We live in a fashion-obsessed world.

But did you know that the Bible gives the best outfit advice? Look at Colossians 3:12…

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Think about the word “clothe” for a moment. When you get dressed every morning, I assume you open your closet or drawers, look at what you have, and choose what you’re going to wear. Whether you lay your clothes out the night before or throw them on in a mad dash before going out, it’s probably safe to say you choose your outfit.

How much time do you spend every morning deciding what qualities and character traits you are going to adorn yourself with? How much thought do you put into what people see and experience three seconds after they notice your clothes and hair?

It really doesn’t matter how sharp your suit is or how darling your dress is if you forget these garments at home:

  1. COMPASSION – sympathetic concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others (see also Zechariah 7:9)
  2. KINDNESS – the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate (see also Job 6:14)
  3. HUMILITY – a modest or low view of one’s own importance (see also Proverbs 22:4)
  4. GENTLENESS – the quality of being kind, tender, or mild-mannered (see also Philippians 4:5)
  5. PATIENCE – the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset (see also Proverbs 19:11)

No amount of fashion sense can make up for a heart focused on pleasing and glorifying itself. Not even the most stunning outfit or perfectly applied make-up can cover up a selfish, prideful and arrogant character.

Conversely, it really doesn’t matter if your blouse is 10 years old or your jeans don’t turn heads if you are clothed with the five qualities listed above. Few people will care about how you look on the outside when your kind words and gentle nature make them feel respected and safe.

Here’s a challenge I hope you’ll join me in this week: Memorize Colossians 3:12 and recite it back to yourself in the mornings as you get dressed. Observe any changes in your life with each passing day.

To help you out, I’ve created a graphic you can post up somewhere as a reminder. Just click on the image below to download or print it.

Five to Wear 2

Please leave a comment below with your own thoughts about Colossians 3:12. What does it mean to you? Which of the five qualities do you struggle with the most? (For me, it’s probably gentleness.)

I wish you a blessed, joy-filled, and peaceful new year. If you were planning a make-over in 2021, don’t forget to clothe the “new you” with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Happy new you! ❤ 

Ann-Margret

Ditch the List

Most of us start each year with a long, stress-inducing to-do list that—let’s be honest—only makes us feel lousy, as if we were such horrible people in the previous 12 months that we need a major overhaul this year to have any value. This is usually the result of comparing ourselves to others. Please stop doing that to yourself! It’s not constructive and it’s not even close to being biblical.

I’m not suggesting that we adopt the attitude of Calvin here. . .

. . . but I find it ironic that the motive behind most of our resolutions is to make us feel better about ourselves, a flawed strategy that inevitably backfires on us.

Try this: Instead of writing down all the things you can do to like yourself better 12 months from now, ask the Lord to help you start a revolution in your life and in your family, to transform you from the inside out.

Romans 12:1-2 is a great passage to memorize and meditate on: 

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

This year, replace your list of goals with a blank page that you offer to God. Allow Him to reshape your thoughts, character and behaviour.

Old Habits Die Hard

Some of you might still be itching for a list of some sort, so here are five general principles (not goals) that can help you prepare to be transformed in 2021.

  1. Do a clean sweep (see Colossians 3:5-10) — Before you tackle the closets you want to declutter or start tossing out junk you’ve been hoarding, invite the Lord to help you let go of attitudes and compulsive behaviours that hinder your spiritual growth and your relationships with others.
  2. Celebrate each day (see Psalm 118:24) — Don’t wait for special occasions to break out the fancy dinnerware, blow out candles or give cards. Make it a habit to find something special about each day to rejoice over, because each day is a precious gift from God. Do something fun or meaningful—even if it’s tiny—to celebrate.
  3. Break up with your mirror (see 1 Peter 3:3-4) — When I turned 40, I wrote this in my journal: “There must come a point in every girl’s life when she cares less about how beautiful she is and more about the beauty she creates.” Certainly, use a mirror when you’re getting ready in the morning but try not to spend hours in front of it and avoid checking it throughout the day. Set an example, to your children and to others, of prioritizing inner beauty over outer beauty and of beautifying the world around you. Remind yourself that how you see is more important than how you look.
  4. Talk less, listen more (see James 1:19) — We joke about how there’s a reason God gave us two ears and one mouth, but the truth is that some people can be difficult to listen to. However, your relationships in general will become healthier when your loved ones see that you are listening to understand them and not simply to respond.
  5. Bark less, wag more (see Philippians 2:14, 4:4) — Determine that you will replace complaining and criticizing with thanking and praising. Don’t wait for your circumstances to change your feelings; you will be waiting a long, long time. Instead, change your attitude and your circumstances will suddenly look very different.

I’m pretty sure 2020 did not turn out the way you had hoped. Whether that’s because of COVID-19 or your own unmet goals, let it go. Let God give you a fresh start. 

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’” 

Lamentations 3:22-24

I love how Anne Shirley (in Anne of Green Gables) put it: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

Happy new year, friends!

Ann-Margret

Wanting Not

(No, your mind is not playing tricks on you. I originally posted this last Saturday but decided to move it to today.)

It’s the same every year: Thanksgiving. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Christmas. Boxing Day. We gorge ourselves during the last several weeks of the year—on food, on consumer goods, on anything that brings us pleasure—and then wake up on the first day of January determined to be more altruistic.

We know that “stuff” will never make us truly happy and yet we remain on this cycle, believing the lie that one day we will find the perfect thing that finally makes our world okay. If it’s not gadgets and clothes, it’s money, food, entertainment, and a rush of adrenaline, fame or someone who loves us.

As a Christian teen, I pitied unbelievers who sought fulfillment in behaviours I wouldn’t dream of. Naïvely, I did not recognize the same patterns in my own life. My pursuits were different but the driving force was the same: a longing for significance. I began performing, trying to please people. What I lacked in beauty, athleticism, and charisma, I tried to make up for with academic excellence, church involvement, and perfect behaviour.

None of those efforts are inherently bad, but when the underlying goal is to earn people’s love, you set yourself up for a life of regret. The slightest indication that I’d fallen short sent me into a tailspin of anxiety, followed by self-flagellation. I’d pull away from people, trying to hide my brokenness and weakness, sabotaging any potential for true intimacy.

Harry Schaumburg, a Christian counsellor and author, says, “In demanding the bliss of someone’s real or imagined warmth, we become consumed with ourselves, which destroys the very ecstasy we seek. There is no way out. We are locked in reality, always wanting and therefore always destroying what we want.”

Several years ago, I realized that even my relationship with God had become a way to feel better about myself; confession and repentance were more about not feeling yucky than about pleasing God. I prayed: “Please teach my heart to want nothing but You. I want to want You, Lord. I want to truthfully say, ‘Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.’”

I listed the things I wanted—to lose weight, to have a vibrant devotional life, to have victory over sin, to manage my time better, etc. Not a single thing on my list seemed contrary to God’s will but I knew I wanted those things more than I wanted God. Things began to change when I made hungering for God my daily, overarching goal.

God is patient and faithful and—I love this—God is for us. He doesn’t shame or condemn us for our cravings because He sees them for what they really are, even when we don’t. He is ready to meet every need.

My wish for you for 2021 is similar to Apostle Paul’s: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. . . who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:17-20).

Ann-Margret

No Impossible with God

When was the last time you wondered, How am I ever going to get through this? or When will this end? I’m going to assume it wasn’t all that long ago for most of us.

In the last three months, we’ve all come face to face with a global pandemic that not only made hundreds of thousands fatally ill, but also sparked widespread panic, stress, and confusion. The economy took a blow, the wearing or not wearing of masks has become a divisive political issue for many, and there are still many unanswered questions. Besides all this, we have ongoing debates on political and societal issues, further dividing communities and families that were already hurting.

And then there are individual, personal problems. Broken relationships, children who have walked away from the Lord, lost jobs, sickness, fatigue, loneliness, phobias… The list goes on and on.

You know you have to trust God, be patient, and keep obeying, but it’s too much. It’s too hard. Don’t you just want to give up sometimes, to stop trying, to stop praying, rather than risk the disappointment of not getting the answers you hope for?

Wait. Stop. Listen to this: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

One of my favourite songs is No Impossible with You by I Am They because it always reminds me to put my hope in Jesus Christ. It is a prayer with this chorus:

There’s no heart You can’t rescue,
no war You can’t win,
no story so over it can’t start again,
no pain You won’t use,
no wall You won’t break through.
It might be too much for me but there is no impossible with You.

Can I get an amen? Jesus Himself told His disciples: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Amen!

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:20-21).

The Bible is full of examples of “impossible” things God did, which is why it’s crucial that we immerse ourselves in God’s Word. The more our minds are saturated with His proven promises, the less room there is for destructive thoughts from the enemy.

I am sure you can look back in your own life and recall marvelous things God has done. Reflect on those, give Him praise, and thank Him that you can trust Him with the future as well.

Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you (1 Samuel 12:24).

Potential vs. Purpose

The assignment seemed easy to me, but five days later I was still agonizing over it.

At my church’s Women’s Fellowship meeting a couple of weeks ago, I suggested to the ladies that we all choose one word or phrase that we’d like to focus on in the new year. Not necessarily a goal or a resolution, but just an idea or truth we feel God might be calling us to concentrate on. The women all agreed. Then I got stuck.

The morning after Christmas, during my quiet time with the Lord, I was reading a chapter in The Cure, a book that talks about how to move from self-rewarding righteousness into a deeper love-focused relationship with Christ. The authors pointed out that, as we shift our focus from ourselves to the Lord, we mature in our faith, and that maturity brings us closer to fulfilling the purpose for which God created us.

We all have potential. Peter had the potential to become the best fisherman in Israel, Matthew could have become the top-ranking tax collector in his division, and Martha could have won awards for her hospitality skills. However, despite the obvious skills and talents of these followers of Christ, God had a higher calling for their lives.

Peter became a fisher of men. Matthew recorded the life of Jesus in what is now the first book of the New Testament. And Martha modeled great faith for centuries to come when she proclaimed: “Yes, Lord . . . I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27)

I have the potential to do many things—some of which I may eventually do, some of which I won’t. The same is true for you. You have talents and abilities that, given enough time and attention, could make you highly successful.

In my experience, focusing on my potential has been frustrating and tiring at times. I don’t always know where to put my energy and, when I fail at something, I feel discouraged. What if I were to put my energy into trusting and loving Jesus, asking Him to make of my life what He wants, what He created me for?

“It’s up to God, and it involves His glory, your fulfillment, and the welfare of others,” write the authors of The Cure. It’s reassuring to know that if I focus on following Jesus, instead of on trying to prove my worth to others, I will mature into someone who lives a life of purpose and not merely potential.

My word for 2020? I have finally settled on PURPOSE.

purposeSide note: A few hours after I chose my word, I came across this insight in Boundaries (Cloud & Townsend): “Only the honest, purposeful life leads to good fruit.”

BINGO! Just the confirmation I needed. As my friend Paola likes to say, “God is so personal!”

At the same time, I was about to crack open a new journal as I’d been madly writing in my previous one for a couple of months and it was full. So I lettered the quote on the first page. Good to go…

What about you? What is God leading you to focus on in the new year?

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

 

Room for Jesus?

“How do you feel when you think about God choosing to have his one and only Son born not in a palace, but in a lowly, humble place?”

Mara, a character in the book Two Steps Forward by Sharon Garlough Brown, feels convicted when her spiritual director Katherine asks her the above question. She responds: “Jesus deserves better. A lot better.”

“But God freely chose that place,” Katherine points out.

A moment earlier, Mara had been confessing that her life felt too messy for Jesus to enter it. She had a colourful past and her marriage was so rocky that she was feeling real hatred toward her husband. She didn’t know where to start cleaning up her heart to make room for Jesus. Katherine challenged her to consider whether that was her job. Was she trying to make her heart look like a luxury resort before she let Jesus in? That’s when she reminded Mara that Jesus, who could have been born in a palace, chose instead a simple stable.

I am so much like Mara at times. I look at my life and think, “Okay, let me get rid of this pile of junk and then do some dusting there and, oh, that cabinet is a mess and… and… and…” Meanwhile, Jesus is waiting for me to ask Him in so that we can spend time together, so that He can help me with the clean-up. But I’m too proud, or I’m too ashamed, and then I feel stuck.

Have you ever felt this way? Like your mess is too messy, your pain too painful, your darkness too dark? How could God want to be part of any of that? Why would He waste His time there when He could be somewhere brighter and cleaner?

The Bible tells us that Jesus “came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) When someone is so lost that a search-and-rescue party is organized or the Coast Guard is called in, they’re generally not in a wide-open well-lit space. They may be in the middle of a dense forest, somewhere on a mountain, or lost at sea. If Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He anticipated entering dark and messy places. He was willing to do that. He is still willing to do that. Why?

He loves us. He loves us with a love we cannot image because we are simply incapable of loving that way. It makes no sense to us. But it’s true:

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

and

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)


I wrote the reflection above for my church newsletter a few weeks ago but I feel like I need to say a bit more. Here are some additional, more personal thoughts…

For a major chunk of this past year, my heart was a very messy place. As I tried to make sense of things I’d struggled with for years, I dug deep into my past (or things I read and heard turned over some of the dirt), unearthing things that I then I had to decide what to do with. Like someone decluttering a house, I ended up with KEEP, TOSS, GIVE AWAY, and DECIDE LATER piles. So, yeah, it was messy. It made me nervous because I thought there was no space left for God. I found myself trying to talk to Him through the closed door of my heart while I shuffled the piles around (making the junk look different instead of actually getting rid of it), but it was hard to hear how He was answering.

Somehow, God still reached me through the chaos. (I think it was when I could no longer breathe in there and I had to nudge the door open a bit.) He showed me that I didn’t need to deal with my mess to gain His approval, to ensure that He was pleased with me, to earn His love. I already had all that. What I needed to do was trust Him enough to let Him in, to let Him see the mess, to let Him clean it out. I needed to admit that I couldn’t manage my failures, my sin, my brokenness and that I needed Him to do that. I needed to become vulnerable. I needed to risk intimacy with Him.

And you know what? That’s what I did.

And you know what? He stepped in, not with contempt or condemnation, but with love and compassion. He didn’t reject me. He didn’t berate me. He didn’t belittle me. He began sweeping and tidying and helping me toss things that don’t belong in my heart to make room for the things He wants to give me.

January 1 will mark 40 years since I asked Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Saviour (I just figured out that milestone — wow!) but it’s taken me this long to really begin to grasp how much He loves me and how much I can trust Him.

And you know what? That’s okay. Some plants shoot up out of the ground and grow quickly. Others take their time and mature more slowly. I can’t afford to get tangled up with regrets about what I did or didn’t do in the past, what I could have done better. Today, I’m forgiven. If God does not condemn me for my past, why should I?

If your life feels messy and chaotic or dark and cloudy or whatever kind of challenge you’re going through, don’t let the enemy convince you that you’re somehow beyond the reach of God’s grace. Jesus would love nothing more than to step into your mess and sweep it with His love, the most powerful cleansing force you’ll ever know.

Can I pray for you? If you’re struggling and need some encouragement, please write to me. And please remember that God loves you more than you can imagine.

Ann-Margret

Growth Lessons from a Flower

A couple of weeks ago, my geranium plant looked like just another plant: healthy green leaves but no flowers, no colour. I felt sad until I had another look last week and saw tiny buds emerging. A day or two later, they were starting to open!

20190730_143728

I was fascinated by how the tiny green “leaves” were pushed open by the flower so I did some research. Those are actually called sepals and I learned a few other things that immediately brought to mind the beautiful process of maturity believers in Christ go through (or at least should!)

Plant life always starts with a seed, which contains everything needed for growth and reproduction. It’s no surprise that Jesus used the analogy of a sower spreading seeds to illustrate how the gospel touches hearts.

Seeds need warmth and water to germinate. In some cases, the sprouting process requires light or even fire and other harsh conditions. Every human heart has different circumstances, but each one needs to give the gospel message time to send down roots and start growing. This happens when we trust in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.

Once a plant sprouts, it must produce its own food through photosynthesis—converting sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugars that help it grow. Similarly, Christians must draw spiritual nourishment from God’s Word and from time in His presence.

Eventually, a plant will develop buds that burst into colourful blooms. Flowers aren’t only pretty to look at. They attract pollinators to their reproductive organs, which God cleverly incorporated into His design. As we mature in our walk with God, others should be attracted to His beautiful characteristics in us and smell His pure fragrance in our lives.

When flowers reproduce—when collected pollen travels down into a flower’s “ovary” and meets the tiny eggs that are waiting—new seeds are created and the process begins again. Fruitful Christians are meant to further God’s kingdom by sowing seeds and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others.

How is your garden growing this summer?

Ann-Margret Hovsepian

 

Craving Approval

I was 15 when I had to write the little blurb that would later appear next to my graduation photo in the school yearbook. Before listing my cherished memories, pet peeves, activities I was involved in, and closest pals, I shared this quote:

“There is no reward from God to those who seek it from men.”

This somewhat insignificant fact came to mind recently as I was reflecting on a truth about myself, one I felt God was challenging me to confront. I was thinking about how I’ve always struggled to make sure I have the approval of
people around me—and I don’t just mean my parents and teachers. Even strangers or mere acquaintances were not safe from my big approval-catching net.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with living in such a way that meets with the approval of most people around you—if you’re doing so out of a sincere impulse to live rightly. However, it’s not ideal (or healthy) to base every action and decision on one’s perception of how others will react. Not only does this set you up to potentially make a lot of bad decisions, but it’s also exhausting, not to mention futile.

The irony that I ended up approaching life almost completely opposite to the words of wisdom I’d imparted on others three decades earlier did not escape me. The revelation was momentarily disheartening but it also gave me clarity and the opportunity to change my approach. It allowed me to ask God to change my heart and to move from being a people-pleaser to a God-pleaser.

Why is this important? Because being a people-pleaser is not the position of humility and servitude it appears to be on the surface. Instead, it’s just another way of keeping one’s focus on oneself. We think of people who don’t care about others as being self-centred and conceited, but being a compulsive people-pleaser is simply the other side of the same coin.

We live in a world where people on both sides of a political divide put a lot of energy into what we now call virtue signaling or moral posturing. We see the same problem in Christian circles with doctrinal debates. The compulsive need to have others see us as good and virtuous and morally superior seems to be spreading like a virus.

Galatians 1:10 makes it abundantly clear where our focus should be: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Now, doesn’t that make life a whole lot simpler?

Ann-Margret

Take Time to Be Holy

One principle I’ve learned over many years of attending Sunday School and Bible study is that the recipe for growth as a Christian calls for four key ingredients: prayer, Bible study, fellowship and service. And I’ve observed that these four ingredients are not only the means to growth but also the result of growth. The more we do these things, the more we want to do them and the better we get at them.

This principle was confirmed for me in a rather startling way a couple of weeks ago when one of the hymns we sang at church was “Take Time to Be Holy.” While we were singing, my attention was drawn to the repeated phrase: take time to be holy.

Take time. Take time to be holy. Take time to be holy.

The journey toward holiness begins with our choice, and it requires a time commitment. We can’t just sit around waiting for holiness to happen to us. (That’s why we feel like it takes forever to get there.) It isn’t simply given to us. It’s a process that is activated when we take time.

That Tuesday morning, I decided to listen to the song more closely so, while still laying in bed, I searched for the song on my phone and found a version of it sung by Joseph Habedank. And this is when I was startled by a joyous observation. Look at the first lines of the first verse:

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord — That’s PRAYER!

Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word — That’s BIBLE STUDY!

Make friends of God’s children — That’s FELLOWSHIP!

Help those who are weak — That’s SERVICE!

I’ve been a Christian for 39 years. I’ve been serving in the church since I was a teenager. My father’s a pastor. But I still struggle with the pursuit of holiness. Here’s the thing: As with any other pursuit, it’s not enough to desire holiness, to fantasize about it. Life isn’t a fairy tale where if you wish for something hard enough, it comes true.

The missing link is time coupled with effort. Commitment. I need to “take time to be holy” instead of spinning my wheels wondering why I’m not getting anywhere.

Time is a precious commodity. How am I spending it?

How are you spending yours?

Ann-Margret

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