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Entries in Dawn Wilson (69)


"Thank God!" (Even When Life's a Struggle)

As I (Dawn) wrote this Thanksgiving UPGRADE, I was so aware of people I know who are struggling this year. How can they be thankful? 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us it is God's will that we be thankful IN all things—in the midst of them—not FOR all things. (1 Thess. 5:18)

I think this is an important distinction, because frankly, sometimes life stinks. Pain. Loss. Confusion. Offenses. Desperation. Suffering.

Yet we can learn to be grateful in the midst of it all.

I remember the Thanksgiving after America’s 9-11, with the destruction of the Twin Towers and so much suffering. The grief was overwhelming.

And then stories came out that warmed my heart. People were searching for something good in all their pain.

I remember friends struggling last year in Texas with the flooding after Hurricane Harvey.

And yet some reached out to bless others. (I have a personal story of a flood “victim” who turned her loss into a victorious opportunity to help my family in another state!)

I think back to a time of deep personal pain, and how friends and family gathered around my husband and I to help us move forward in so many ways.

Their kindness helped us embrace the future, and I thank God for them.

I think about the wildfires California has experienced in recent years and especially this fall. Homes lost. Deaths. Incalculable pain. So many questions.

And then again, in the midst of calamity, stories of kindness and hope.

While I’m no Pollyanna, I do try to search for things to be grateful for when I hurt—a solidly biblical approach to life’s struggles.

I believe there are times for legitimate lament as well as celebrations.

If you doubt that, search out the Psalms of lament, or even the book of Lamentations. Part of learning to grieve well is getting a biblical perspective on all the pain. It doesn’t erase the pain, but it helps us bear up under the suffering with a sense of hope in God.

Ask God to help you see His good hand and loving heart in your circumstances.

I think this Thanksgiving Day I will meditate—as many others are this year—on some of the things we can be grateful for even when life is tough and confusing.

For that, I go to the solid, unshakeable rock of scripture.

1. "Thank God!"—He is always good. Even when life seems unbearably bad.

Psalm 31:19 - His love is abundant, stored up for those who take refuge in Him.

Psalm 34:8 - Taste and see ... He is good.

Psalm 59:16-17 - God is our fortress and refuge in the day of distress.

2. "Thank God!"—Our lives find meaning when we are centered in the Lord.

Philippians 1:21 - He is the center of our lives and, in Christ, even death is gain.

Philippians 3:7-8 - Even if we suffer great losses, nothing can compare to what we gain in Him.

Philippians 4:11-12 - He teaches us how to face great abundance and great need.

James 1:17 - Every good gift we have is from the Lord.

3. "Thank God!"—Even though tough things happen (because we live in a world cursed by sin), our Father has a big-picture plan of redemption.

Heb. 12:10-11 - Our most painful struggles discipline us and yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

James 1:2-4, 12 - Our trials produce steadfastness and cultivate maturity.

I Pet. 5:9-10 - We may suffer, but the God of all grace desires to restore and strengthen us.

Rom. 8:28 - He redeems His children's circumstances, creating something good.

Jer. 29:11-13 - He desires to give us a future and hope so we will seek Him with all our heart.

4. "Thank God!"—Suffering won’t last forever; but in the meantime, there are opportunities for blessing even in our suffering.

Psalm 71:20 - God will "bring us up" from our troubles and calamities.

Jer. 31:13 - God turned His people's mourning and sorrow into comfort and gladness.

1 Peter 3:13-17 - When we suffer for righteousness' sake—for doing good—God will still bless us.

5. "Thank God!"—There is always hope, because we can go through anything in the Lord's strength.

Phil. 4:13 - We can do all things—everything we need to do—through strength in Christ.

Psalm 18:28-29 - God lightens our darkness and gives us His power and strength.

6. "Thank God!"—We can experience Him—His help and healing—in His many attributes.

One thing is certain: This side of heaven we will all face trials and struggles sooner or later.

In time, we will all feel physical, mental, emotional, social or spiritual pain at some level. 

Thank God, we can learn the truths of scripture now—to prepare our hearts for when troubles come.

Which of these "Thank God" truths can help you most today? Are there any scriptures you could memorize to "store up" for difficult times?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator the blog, Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Julie at Lightstock.


Reasons, Not Excuses

In this Biblical Thinking UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson admits to her own struggle with excuses, and how a more biblical perspective has helped her grow to be more like Jesus.

"There really is no personal growth or progress until we stop making excuses for bad behavior, bad habits, and wrong choices."

As a young pastor’s wife, I remember counseling a woman and hearing her litany of excuses.

Finally, when I could take no more, I lovingly but firmly said, “Those are all reasons—maybe even valid reasons—for you to feel the way you do, but they are not excuses for your behavior, because you have the living Holy Spirit dwelling in you, and He can empower you to do what is right.”

The woman seemed stunned. She stopped talking, blinked at me a few times, and said, “You know, you’re absolutely right. They are reasons, not excuses.”

That kind of counsel is easy to give, but hard to follow.

I’ve struggled in my own life with a list of excuses—and God’s Spirit kindly returns the counsel that I’ve given to others.

When it comes to making wise, biblical choices, there is never a place for excuses after the fact.

We simply chose not to do what we knew was right.

  • We may have been motivated by lies.
  • We may have had ulterior motives.
  • We may have chosen to fear man rather than God.
  • We may have lacked faith at that moment, or hope.
  • We may have given in to our emotions rather than living by the truth of scripture.

There can be hundreds of reasons for wrong choices.

God wants us to OWN UP to our wrong choices.

Some are sins that need to be confessed in true repentance (I John 1:8-9). Other choices are simply not wise—not necessarily sin, but not the best (Proverbs 1:7).

We can’t move on to make better choices when we cling to excuses and try to justify our words or behavior.

What should we do instead of making excuses?

1. Listen to your Conversations.

What do you say when you "mess up"? Are you always defending yourself? (See Proverbs 16:2, 25.)

What do you say to others when you make sinful choices? What do you say to yourself? Not only that: what excuses are you making in prayers to the Lord? 

I'm not kidding. I found myself excusing a sinful habit in prayer because "that's just the way I am, Lord." What was I doing? I was accusing God of making me sin!

The Lord wanted me to understand my position in Christ, and not give in to the enemy's evaluation of who I am!

How often are you making excuses?  (See Proverbs 16:2, 25; 21:2).

2. List your reasons for not following through with wisdom and obedience.

Take time to sincerely consider why you do what you do. Be honest!

The person who conceals or tries to cover up failings "will not prosper" (Proverbs 28:13a).

What motivates you to make unwise choices? Call that motivation by name.

I discovered in dealing with one of my own besetting sins, I was soft-pedaling my sinful overeating. It wasn't until I named the sinful motivation as gluttony and even idolatry that I began to see some changes in my attitudes and approach to obeying the Lord regarding my health. No more excuses!

Why do you think you disobeyed? Was it rebellion or ignorance of the truth (or something else)? Dealing with a root of rebellion or idolatry is different than ignorance—and the Spirit of God will encourage you to deal with them in different ways.

Examining the reasons behind sins and failings can bring you greater understanding.

3. Learn to acknowledge any wrong, sinful, or unwise choices—quickly!

If it is sinful, confess it (1 John 1:9) and then deal with your sin biblically. The person who confesses and forsakes sins "will obtain mercy" (Proverbs 28:13b).

Run to the cross and remember why Jesus died. No sin is too great to bring to the cross!

I remember the day it hit me.

Dawn, stop making excuses, because . . .

Jesus didn't die for your excuses!

Don't ever allow the enemy to convince you that you have no other choice. God provides a "way of escape" (1 Corinthians 10:13), but we have to be alert to it, and that's harder when you're listening to the devil's lies.

Determine to take the holy escape, not the harmful excuse!

Ask the Lord to help you, then make yourself available to Him. Keep in step with the Spirit of God! (Galatians 5:16).

4. Lean in to the unchanging Word of God and the Spirit of God.

The Lord will help you as you continue to counsel your hearts according to scripture and keep in step with the Holy Spirit. Ask Him for a heart that wants to hear and increase learning, wise counsel "and the skill" to steer your course wisely (Proverbs 1:5).

Excuses are fruitless. Rationalizing and justifying doesn't change anything.

But figuring out the reasons for our failings and then dealing with them God's way—that sets us up for a life of fullness and fruitfulness in Christ.

In what area/s of life are you making excuses? Can you see how the enemy uses that? What can you do to stop making excuses and live according to the truth?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator the blog, Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of knerri61 at Pixabay.


Jesus Told Us to Shine!

In this Ministry UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson reminds us to shine for the Lord, because that will have two important consequences.

Even the secular culture knows the importance of light.

"It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."

Those words have been attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John F. Kennedy, Confucius and many others, although it was popularized in a sermon by William L. Watkinson in 1907.

Comic strip artist Charles M. Schlultz even referred to it. Sassy Lucy of Peanuts fame decided to ignore the saying, yelling, "You Stupid Darkness!"

Certainly, there is much darkness in our world we might "curse."

But we need a little backstory.

The truth is, all creation, including mankind, inherited the consequences of sin's curse when Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command (Genesis 3:1-19; Romans 8:20-22).

Part of that curse and the "curse of the Law" is death (1 Corinthians 15:22a; Galatians 3:13). What we see in the world today—moral depravity and spiritual darkness—is a consequence of sin's curse; and creation groans with great longing to be delivered from the effects of the curse (Romans 8:19, 22).

God's Word tells us Jesus Christ has "redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.'" He redeemed us ... "so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:13-14). Those who believe in the Redeemer, the Son of God (Jesus), have eternal life (John 3:36; 1 John 5:12).

And for those who believe, this is where THE STORY GETS GOOD!

We can shine as lights in the world when God indwells our hearts!

Jesus, the Light of the World, wants us to follow Him so we will won't walk in the darkness of sin (John 8:12).

Two Reasons Jesus Tells Us to Shine

"... let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

1. We're to Shine So People Will See Our Good Works.

As we follow the Lord by faith, become more sensitive to the indwelling Spirit, and live in obedience to the Word of God, two things begin to happen.

We become more sensitive to any darkness within us.

God works in us to change our darkness into light—to "sanctify" us, or make us holy in thought, word and deed.

Not only that, Jesus wants our good deeds and moral excellence to shine into the darkness around us.

We may not affect change ourselves; but our testimony of God's mercy and grace in changing us will become an out-in-the-open tool He can use (Matt. 5:14).

We are called "out of" darkness (1 Peter 2:9); and Jesus' disciples encouraged believers to confess sin, cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light (1 John 1:9; Romans 13:12).

We can't fool God. If we say we're fellowshiping with Him but we're walking in darkness, we're lying, scripture says (1 John 1:5-6).

It's not optional; we are to walk in the light.

"Now you are light in the Lord," Paul says. "Walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8).

To walk in the light is to:

  • Follow Jesus by keeping in step with the Spirit's promptings and in alignment to scripture so we make progress spiritually and are useable for God's kingdom (John 8:12).
  • Practice discernment, reject the empty "works of darkness," and do those good works that God prepared for us to do (Ephesians 5:10-13; 2:10).

2. We're to Shine So God Will Be Glorified In and Through Us.

We cannot generate our own light; our light comes from the light of God within us (Psalm 18:28).

We need to acknowledge that.

The Psalmist praised God for His salvation. He was glad God allowing him to walk before Him "in the light of life" (Psalm 56:13). Isaiah testified that those who walked in darkness "have seen a great light" (Isaiah 9:2).

I think about those young boys and their coach who were trapped in a dark cave in Thailand. Imagine their joy coming out into the light on the surface of the earth.

Now picture in your imagination the joy of one who has lived in darkness all their lives, suddenly entering into light! The words of an old hymn come to mind: "I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see."

Light is meant to transform us and bring glory to God.

And the world takes notice.

John MacArthur wrote, "Christians who do not have changed lives have a credibility gap." Those who aren't walking in the light appear to be "fakes" to a watching world.

But I believe those who have seen the Light of Life and truly experienced His transformation cannot help but glorify the Light-giver—our Father God.

God is glorified by the fellowship we enjoy with other believers as we walk in the holiness, love and unity of His light (1 John 1:7).

God is also glorified as we share the light with others, praying the Lord might "open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light" (Acts 26:18a).

God Himself said, "Let light shine out of darkness," and He has shined in our hearts to give us "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:4-6).

A song I learned as a young child continually comes to my mind:

"Jesus bids us shine, shine to all around.

Many kinds of darkness in the world are found:

Sin and want and sorrow; so we must shine—

You in your small corner and I in mine."

I want to shine in my "small corner," or anywhere the Lord leads—don't you?

It won't always be easy. Don't think everyone will love us when we shine for Jesus.

Light is always uncomfortable to those who are accustomed to or love the darkness (John 3:20).

It's hard sometimes to "shine," but remember this: When Jesus commands, the Spirit enables.

Jesus told us to shine, and we can—in the power of Christ.

Where might your works be tainted by a bit of darkness today? How can you change that so your life will bring God glory and your testimony touch a hurting world?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator the blog, Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe


The Strength of a Nation

In this Independence Day UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson encourages us to focus on our homes, the heart of our nation.                

President Abraham Lincoln said it well, "The strength of a nation lies in the homes of its people."

My heart is heavy for the homes of America.

We have forgotten God, the One who built this nation.

Psalm 127:1 says, "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain."

Without the Lord, our "building" is fruitless.

We need the strength that comes from building on the solid Rock. As the old hymn says, "On Christ the solid rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand."

Look around at the confusion and chaos in our nation. Selfish agendas and godlessness reign.

We desperately need the wisdom and peace that comes from intimately knowing the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:30; Colossians 3:15).

Won't you take a minute in your INDEPENDENCE DAY celebration—today or tomorrow—to CRY OUT TO GOD on behalf of our homes, our churches and our nation?

Let this Independence Day be an awakening to the presence of God, and fresh DEPENDENCE on Him.

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator the blog, Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Heartsand a writer at She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Entab at Morguefile.


Righteous 'to the Core'

In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson reminds us to guard our "heart"—the center of our spiritual life.

"Maybe," Dawn says, "I was trying to be cute in Sunday school—I don't know—but the Lord sure  zeroed in on my 'clever' quip."

My Sunday school teacher, Dr. Dirk Van Proyen—who is also a deep and godly seminary professor—began class with an illustration before expounding on Matthew 15:1-9 and related scriptures about how Jesus dealt with some self-righteous Pharisees.

He held up two apples. They both looked solid and inviting on the outside. But then he described how some apples become rotten from the core out. The rottenness is only discovered after we bite into the apple!

He then explained how the Pharisees stalked Jesus and tried to trap Him with a question about His disciples supposedly not following the Pharisees' "traditions."

But Jesus didn't fall for their distortion of truth. He pointed out the Pharisees' hypocrisy.

They were "rotten," Dr. Van Proyen said, "to the core!"

My teacher made his summary statement about what we could learn from the day's lesson, and class was officially over. As usual, a well-taught class challenging us to seek God and live according to the truth of scripture.

But then I raised my hand. I just had to say it.

"In other words, we need to be RIGHTEOUS to the core," I said.

Ordinarily, such a display of "brilliance" would have earned me one of the professor's coveted whiteboard stars. The class was obviously impressed.

But since it was the end of class, my husband simply leaned over to me and said, "That would normally have gotten you a star."

I smugly thought, "Yeah, I WAS pretty clever with that one, wasn't I? Bet NO ONE ELSE thought of that."

Nearly strangled myself patting myself on the back.

Then I got home and the Lord hit me squarely in my pride.

"Daughter, you need to be sure that you really ARE 'righteous to the core.'"

And I knew exactly what God meant.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with being clever and wise. But it's wrong to gloat, to think we're "one up" on anyone else. We're to let others praise us, the Bible says, and not praise ourselves—we're only to boast of the Lord (Proverbs 27:2; Jeremiah 9:23-24).

I argued with the Lord a bit. After all, I did let someone else praise me—my husband!

Again, the Lord nudged my heart.

Check your humility, Dawn. Check your heart.

The funny thing is, Dr. Van Proyen spoke about the heart too. I heard it, but I missed it.

I got so caught up in the academics of the lesson, I missed the personal application.

So the Lord had me revisit the lesson. And I saw it clearly. Jesus had a lot to say about the heart.

1. We can be outwardly clean, but in our hearts we can still be rotten to the core.

That was the whole point of Jesus' conversation with those who tried to entrap Him.

The Pharisees delighted in strutting around, boasting about their knowledge. With high-sounding criticism, they laid the heavy burden of man-made rules on people instead of teaching them the simplicity and wisdom of the Word of God.

But Jesus saw their hearts.

We can fool others, but God will always see our core.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our delusion about our own spiritual health, we can even fool ourselves!

The heart really is deceitful, isn't it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

2. We can worship God all we want, but if our hearts are "far from Him," our worship is empty.

As I sat reflecting on Sunday afternoon, I wondered how many times I've attended a "worship service," but—even as a believer—my heart was more Pharisaical than Christlike.

We can go through the motions and do all the "right" things—and still not be righteous.

As I read these words, tears came: "This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me...."

Jesus, refering to Isaiah's prophecy, said the judgmental, burden-laying, hypocritical person's worship is "vain" or worthless (Matthew 15:7-9; Isaiah 29:13). It's empty. Fake. A farce.

Oh, dear Lord. Have mercy.

3. We can choose to remain "rotten to the core," or we can turn to Christ who can make us righteous to the core!

Paul wrote,

"God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).

The word "righteous" refers to a person who is morally right or virtuous. The unrighteous, Paul said, will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9a); but—wonderful truth—Christ has become every Christian's righteousness, sanctification (holiness), and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30).

In His encounter with Israel's elite, Jesus said our righteousness must "exceed" that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). We can't, like the Pharisees, try to earn our way into the kingdom through our own self-righteousness. We must instead trust in the righteousness of Christ on our behalf (which is positional righteousness).

Our good works (or practical righteousness) must only come AFTER salvation, because all of our own righteousness (before Christ) is like smelly, filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

And, scripture teaches, any good works done with the wrong motivation stink too! (Proverbs 16:2; Romans 8:8; Philippians 1:17; Proverbs 21:27; 1 Thessalonians 2:4)

That's too easy to forget.

We forget we have NO righteousness apart from Christ.

Yes, this side of heaven we will always face the presence of sin; but without God's merciful, regenerating and transforming work in us daily, we cannot conquer sin or live out righteousness. We cannot bear good fruit (John 15:4-6). When we are born of God, our heart changes and we no longer desire to "go on sinning" (1 John 3:9), but there is still a war within and deliverance only comes from our victory in Christ and through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 7:14-25; 8:1-13).

That is why . . .

4. We must learn to learn to walk in the Spirit if we want to live out practical righteousness.

I was a Christian for many years before I understood what that meant. I thought walking in the Spirit was only related to occasional supernatural expressions of the Spirit, as in the days of the early Church. But walking in the Spirit is meant to be our daily practice!

To walk in the Spirit, we must daily—and throughout our day:

  1. acknowledge our utter helplessness to do anything good apart from the Holy Spirit's control and enablement (Romans 7:18);
  2. confess sin and ask God to work—to clean and renew our heart and empower us to live righteously (Psalm 51:10);
  3. die to sin's influence and be alert to the Holy Spirit—trusting Him to equip and enable us to "keep in step" with Him (Romans 6:11, 14; Galatians 5:6, 25);
  4. act righteously—or practice making right choices in accordance with who we are now in Christ (Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:10; Ephesians 2:10); 
  5. and express gratitude to the Lord for any wisdom, strength, power and influence we have—and any right choices we make—because He alone is our righteousness, He alone is our victory, and He alone deserves all glory! (1 Corinthians 15:57)

I "got the message" that day, and I truly want to be righteous to the core. Don't you?

How is your heart today? How is your worship? Are you walking in the Spirit, abiding in Christ?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of the blog, Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Marlene_Charlotte at Pixabay.