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Entries in Ava Pennington (4)

Thursday
Jun062019

Overcomer or Overwhelmed?

Bible teacher and speaker Ava Pennington is gifted in being able to distill practical truth from scripture, and in this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, she gives sound advice for those times when circumstances threaten to overwhelm us.

"My husband was determined to use his final months to remind Christians to look up in the midst of their difficulties," Ava says, "But that’s easier said than done."

I (Dawn) so identify with Ava's words, and this article is timely for me as Ava shares her very personal story. The enemy wants us to live overwhelmed, but that is not what the Lord has for us.

Ava continues . . .

Three months after the oncologist pronounced Russ in remission, we learned the pancreatic cancer had returned with a vengeance, metastasizing to other organs.

Twelve weeks of rejoicing evaporated in an instant.

But his response shocked me almost as much as the prognosis:

“Don’t pray for healing. Of course, I want that and I know God can do it. But this time I believe He has a different purpose for me. I need to share, as much as possible, what it means to know Jesus Christ even in the darkest times. And that has to be my focus during my remaining time.”

For the final eight months of his life, Russ shared his testimony about a different kind of healing. He reminded Christians to look beyond their trials and suffering.

How do we do that?

  • How do we find the strength to see beyond our circumstances? To not be defeated by a diagnosis. Or beaten by a broken relationship.
  • How do we become conquerors instead of conquered? Overcomers instead of overwhelmed? Victorious instead of vanquished?

This is what I saw in my husband in those final eight months.

1. Remember who we belong to

"In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV).

Living in a sin-sick world can make it easy to forget who we belong to. Our situation may cause us to think God has forgotten us or doesn’t care, leading us to lose faith.

We can let our circumstances define our relationship with God or we can let our relationship with God define how we view our circumstances.

As Elisabeth Elliot once said, “Faith's most severe tests come not when we see nothing, but when we see a stunning array of evidence that seems to prove our faith vain.”

2. Maintain an eternal focus

"For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (II Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV).

We’re often consumed with making this life easier. More comfortable.

While those goals are not bad in themselves, they often become obstacles to what God is accomplishing in and through us.

We become focused on making this life our best life ever, rather than remembering the best is yet to come.

3. Stop trying so hard

"Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16 ESV).

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6 ESV).

Living a victorious Christian life is not about willpower. It’s not about trying harder, working smarter, and doing better. It’s about drawing on the strength of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

Our job is surrender to the Holy Spirit. He is the one who will bring the results.

4. Pray about the advice we receive

Russ’s mission reminded me of the apostle Paul’s experience:

"A prophet named Agabus … took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21:10-13 ESV).

When life gets hard—harder than we think we can bear—our loved ones don’t want to see us suffer. But their desire to spare us pain can give rise to misguided counsel, such as:

  •  “Work off the books. You can’t afford to pay taxes right now.”
  • “You’re still in school. Abortion is your only option.”
  • “You’ve fallen out of love? Divorce him because God wants you to be happy.”

Bottom line: advice that seems good isn’t always from God.

5. Do the next right thing

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9 ESV).

Painful circumstances often cause us to feel overwhelmed.

  • What will the cancer diagnosis mean for me in six months?
  • Will I be able to manage my life without my spouse?
  • How will I pay the bills if I’ve lost my job?

But the Lord promised to care for His children’s needs.

Our job is not to worry about the future, but to obey, one day at a time.

And when that seems too difficult, then one hour at a time or even the next five minutes at a time. Don’t ask what will happen a year from now. Rather, ask what has the Lord placed in front of me today? Then do the next right thing.

We live in a broken world. It can overwhelm us or we can be overcomers.

The answer is not found in our circumstances, it’s found in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We’re victorious when we remember our circumstances are temporary, but our life in Christ is eternal.

As you face your difficult situation, how can you maintain an eternal focus? What is the next right thing your heavenly Father has placed in front of you to do?

Ava Pennington is a writer, Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) teacher, and speaker. She is the author of the adult devotional, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, and has co-authored two children’s picture books. Ava has written numerous articles for magazines such as Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse, and contributed to more than 30 anthologies. Visit her at: www.AvaWrites.com.

Graphic, courtesy of Geralt at Pixabay.

Tuesday
Apr072015

Look Up!

Ava Pennington is an author and speaker with a strong focus on the practical applications of God's Word. In this Attitude UPGRADE, she encourages us to think about our perspective.

“Look where you’re going!” My mother’s words echo in my memory," Ava said. "I had my share of scraped knees as a child, often because I did not look where I was going."

Do you hear those motherly words echoing in your thoughts too? I (Dawn) can't tell you how many times I heard them, usually after I took a tumble. (One of my nicknames in high school was "Klutz-illa." But I digress.)

Ava continues . . .

“Look where you’re going” is good advice. Whether hiking through a forest or setting budget goals to manage my finances, it helps to be aware of where I am and where I want to be.

But sometimes I can be too focused on my goals.

When I’m hurting, I tend to concentrate on the pain or focus on what I think might bring relief.

I’m often like the invalid described in John’s gospel. This man sat in a crowd by a pool believed to have restorative powers. The disabled and infirm anxiously waited for the water to stir. Tradition held that when an angel moved the water, the first person in the pool would receive miraculous healing.

I can only imagine the intense focus of each person’s gaze. Watching for even the smallest ripple, waiting . . . yearning . . . desperate for relief.

But in order to watch the water, they needed to keep their gaze lowered. They were limited by their physical condition, but also limited by a perspective that always had them looking down.

Until Jesus entered the picture.

“Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6) A simple question with an obvious answer. But this invalid was so focused on what he thought was the solution that he failed to recognize the One who was the real solution. Instead of answering the question, he provided excuses for why he could not be healed.

“Sir, I have no one to help me . . . .” (John 5:7)

Looking up is not just a physical posture, it’s a spiritual posture as well.

How often do we focus on our problems or pursue wrong choices for relief? We compound our suffering because we do not look up. We fail to include Jesus in the equation.

Looking up may not immediately change our physical condition. It may not ever change our circumstances. But it will help us maintain an eternal perspective.

I’ve found that looking up requires me to:

1. Be intentional about what I allow to consume my thoughts.

The apostle Paul counseled: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV).

2. Choose to trust God regardless of my circumstances.

Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).

3. Repeat these two steps again and again!

Practice may not make perfect, but it helps us establish God-honoring habits. Paul wrote, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9 NIV).

“Look where you’re going!” was, indeed, good advice. I just need to remember the eternal component and view my circumstances with my heavenly Father’s perspective. For that, I really do need to keep looking up!

On what do you focus during your trials? Are you concentrated on what you think are the answers to your problems? Look up! Whether or not Jesus changes your physical situation, He will uphold you through it and give you an eternal perspective.

Ava Pennington’s newest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Kay Arthur, founder of Precept Ministries. She has also written numerous magazine articles and is a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers (AWSA) and the Christian Authors Network (CAN). Ava also teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class. She is a passionate speaker who engages audiences with relevant, enjoyable presentations. Visit her at AvaWrites.com.

Graphic adapted, Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Thursday
Jan152015

Searching for God's Will

Author and speaker Ava Pennington is a Bible teacher whose heart’s desire is to drive women to the scriptures and help them focus on God. In this Spiritual Life UPGRADE, she helps us learn how to discover God’s will.

“I love a good mystery … unless I’m searching for God’s will in a particular situation,” Ava writes.

And yet God’s will often seems to be a mystery, doesn’t it? I know I (Dawn) would like His will to be easier to discover. Maybe you would too?

Ava continues…

  • Should I take that job?
  • Is he the right man for me?
  • Which house should we buy?

God’s will doesn’t have to be a mystery, but first we need to begin with another question.

Do we really WANT to know God’s will for our lives? What if God’s will is for us to persevere with an insufferable boss? Remain in a loveless marriage? Serve as missionaries in Bangladesh?

Some things are God’s will for all of us.

Isaiah 43:7 says we are created to display God’s glory. Anything that doesn’t bring Him glory cannot be His will for us.

We also know God wants “all people to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). We glorify God by living in a way that reflects this relationship.

The apostle Paul said, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

God’s will for our lives is also found in transformation by renewing our minds to prove his will (Romans 12:1-2).

But what about gray areas not spelled out in the Bible? Should you take a new job? Marry that Christian man? Buy the house? God said, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you.…” (Psalm 32:8).

The answers may not seem clear at first, but if we’re seeking God’s will, He will reveal it through:

1. Prayer - Regular time in prayer is a must for the child of God. But few of us stay on our knees after we’ve made our requests. Instead, we end our prayers and we’re out the door, unmindful of the Holy Spirit’s prompting. Our iPods, car radios, or racing thoughts drown Him out.

Tip: The next time you pray, stay on your knees and listen as the Lord speaks to your heart.

2. The Bible - The Bible has answers, but they may not be spelled out. For example, it won’t tell you what car to buy, but instead, provides stewardship principles about giving, saving, debt, and spending.

Tip: Study God’s Word to identify spiritual, emotional, financial, and relational principles.

3. Circumstances - Christians often look for signs of God’s leading. If a door opens, it must be God’s will, right? Maybe not. God may lead by creating opportunities, but He isn’t the only one who opens doors. Satan also manipulates events (John 8:44). 

Tip: The next time you’re tempted to act because a door opens or closes, remember circumstances are only one piece of the puzzle.

4. Counsel - Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Still, we must choose counselors wisely.

Tip: Instead of seeking those who tell us what we want, seek mature Christians whose lives reflect God’s principles.

5. Confirmation - If we’re seeking God’s will unreservedly, praying and listening, reading His Word for applicable principles, and seeking godly counsel, God will give confirmation. He does so by giving us peace through His Holy Spirit.

Tip: Peace doesn’t mean the absence of trouble. Times of obedience to God’s leading are often times of greatest attack by Satan.

As we seek God’s will, we’ll see that it’s not mysterious and it’s not a destination. God’s will is the life we live as we walk with Him!

In what area are you searching for God’s will today? Will you commit to seeking His will, not as a destination, but as a way of life?

Ava Pennington’s newest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Kay Arthur, founder of Precept Ministries. She has also written numerous magazine articles and is a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers (AWSA) and the Christian Authors Network (CAN). Ava also teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class of 175+ women. She is a passionate speaker who engages audiences with relevant, enjoyable presentations. Visit her at AvaWrites.com.

Graphic Image adapted, courtesy of stockimages / FreeD

Tuesday
Oct282014

He's Personal

Ava Pennington’s creative mind challenges my thinking about God. Ava wrote a book about the names, character and attributes of God, and she is the perfect person to write this Spiritual UPGRADE post.

“Thirty years ago, a phrase entered our collective frame of reference,” Ava writes. “Christian or not, almost all of us can identify the source of the quote, ‘May the Force be with you.’ 

I (Dawn) remember the first time I heard that phrase. I thought, “The Force? The FORCE? What about God?” I wanted people to understand God is more than a mere force. He is a Person, the Controller of the universe, but also Someone who loves me.

Ava continues …

Star Wars isn’t just a Hollywood franchise, it’s a cultural icon. And the theology of Star Wars has wormed its way into the minds of many Christians. Yet after three decades of subtle and not-so-subtle influence, most of us still don’t realize the impact.

One Star Wars character described the Force this way: "It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together." The fictional Force sounds a lot like God, doesn’t it? But if this is our view of God, then it’s time to upgrade our view.

"Praise be to the Lord my Rock.... He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge" (Psalm 144:1-2 NIV).

The first time I read these verses, I focused on the names and attributes of God: Lord, loving God, fortress, stronghold, deliverer, shield, refuge. Each one tells us something about God’s nature and His ways—important concepts to meditate upon, and like David, to use as a basis for praise and worship.

But the second time I studied these verses, my attention was drawn to a small word I had previously overlooked: My.

Before David ruled as the second king of ancient Israel, he was a shepherd and then a fugitive. He penned his Psalms from personal experiences and identified each name and attribute with a sense of ownership

My Rock. My loving God. My fortress. My stronghold. My deliverer. My shield.

My Rock. The ground shifted under David’s feet with frightening regularity. One minute a shepherd boy, the next anointed as king. One moment he was best friends with a prince, the next a fugitive from the prince’s father. Through it all, David knew the personal privilege of standing on the eternal Rock.

My loving God. David understood what it meant to be unappreciated. When the prophet Samuel sought Jesse’s sons, Jesse neglected to include David. Later, his brothers dismissed him when he appeared at their war camp.

My fortress. My stronghold. Running from King Saul, David and his men hid in unlikely places to escape Saul’s wrath. But David knew a cave was as safe as a fortress while under God’s protection.

My deliverer. David’s life was often in jeopardy. Yet God rescued him as a shepherd defending against wild animals, in combat with Goliath, or from Saul’s murderous attempts.

My shield. David respected the value of a shield. Still, he refused Saul’s shield when he faced Goliath. David understood God was more effective than any earthly shield.

David knew about God as the Creator of the Universe and the One who holds the universe together. But he wasn’t content with knowing God as an impersonal force. Instead, David used his experiences to upgrade his view of God as more than a force … God is personal!

Do you need to upgrade your view of God from an impersonal force to a personal Father? As you read the Bible, ask yourself what the passage is saying about God. Then consider how God has personally revealed Himself to you by that name or attribute.

Ava Pennington's newest book, Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, is endorsed by Kay Arthur, founder of Precept Ministries. She has also written numerous magazine articles and is a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers (AWSA) and the Christian Authors Network (CAN). Ava also teaches a weekly Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) class of 175+ women. She is a passionate speaker who engages audiences with relevant, enjoyable presentations. Visit her at AvaWrites.com.