Bible Study, Devotional, Encouragement

But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.
Acts 16:25-26

After setting a slave girl free from the spirit that controlled her, Paul and Silas found themselves beaten and imprisoned. Sore from their beating, bound by stocks and in the deep darkness of the inner prison, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God.

Prayed and sang hymns?!?!

In the same situation, I would have been crying and giving God the “What for.”

My prayer would have sounded like, “Lord, I set that slave girl free, but I didn’t do it of my own power. You enabled me to do that. Didn’t you want me to do it? Don’t you want your people free? Now here I am, imprisoned after setting her free. What’s going on here?” There would be no sound of singing from my cell, only the sound of weeping, moaning and complaining.

My reaction would have been based in the bleakness of the reality around me. Paul and Silas had the ability to lift their eyes above their situation and focus on the truth – the sovereignty of God. They were willing to face discomfort to share the truth of the Cross.

As they lifted their eyes, they were able to pray and sing. What a testimony to the other prisoners who were listening. I imagine Paul and Silas’ attitude of worship pervading the prison and the other prisoners finding hope and solace in the words they sang and prayed. Maybe they even joined in – in their hearts or aloud.

In the midst of worship in what seemed their darkest hour, God showed up – in power and strength. He loosed their chains and opened doors.

So often we want God to work in the opposite way, “Set me free, Lord and then I’ll praise you.” However, Paul and Silas’ example was left for us for a reason – sometimes we have to praise him in the most difficult of situations, trusting He knows all that is going on and has everything under control. He is not unaware of our struggles, our pain and our tears.

By stepping outside of ourselves and praising Him in those situations, we surrender to His sovereignty. No doubt He will move on our behalf. We will be freed from bondage, no longer dragging the chains of pain, deep hurt and rejection, but leaping and dancing with joy from the knowledge of Him and who we are in Him.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills –
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2

You number my wanderings;
Put my tears into your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?

When I cry out to You,
Then my enemies will turn back;
This I know, because God is for me.
Psalm 56:8-9

Bible Study, Devotional, Encouragement

Our Civic Duty

Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
Acts 23:5 (NKJV)

We are again in the throes of election season and, as usual, things are getting pretty ugly – slander, finger pointing and defamation of character – all in the name of being elected to serve the American people.

Those who are making claims and doing their best to paint their opponents in the worst light are the same people we are to trust with running our country. Personally, that makes me a little nervous.

Instead of joining in the fray, which is so easy to do with social media, I have decided to focus more on praying for our leaders (present and future) and following the Apostle Paul’s example – by not speaking against those currently in office. Just to be clear, I’m not condoning behavior or saying I agree or disagree with what is happening in American politics; what I am saying is that I’m a Christ-follower and I believe that God is sovereign.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinances of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
Romans 13:1-2 (NKJV)

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men…
1 Peter 2:13-15 (NKJV)

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4 (NKJV)

I challenge you, when you feel like griping or pointing fingers or shaking your head at politicians or politics in general, redirect your energy into prayer. America is in desperate need of covering in prayer, and we are just the people to do it.

Bible Study, Devotional, Encouragement

A True Servant’s Heart

For the first time in my life, I’m doing something completely selfless – I’m taking time out of my busy “life achievement” schedule and focusing on taking care of my family.  I’ll be the first to admit it’s harder than I expected and I can’t always see physical rewards, but I’ve come to the conclusion that God is reshaping my heart into that of a true servant.

In the past, I have been the type of woman looking for ways to make a splash or a visible difference – to get promotions and to be recognized for the work I put in. God has opened my eyes to see what a difference a change in emphasis can make – I’m talking about a life of serving versus a life of doing.

I’m starting to see how important a life with an emphasis on serving is – not just doing something because it somehow (ultimately) benefits me, but doing things and serving people in a way that shows the love of Christ. In my case, I’m serving my husband and children by helping them have a comfortable and peaceful place they call home.

“…Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must become your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28

“…so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… ‘Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.'” – John 13:4-5, 14-15

Jesus modeled the perfect life of service – and knew that was what He was sent to earth to do.  I’m so far from His perfect humility and selfless love for others, it sometimes shames me.  But then I realize I’m a work in progress and He has given me this opportunity to grow – to completely empty myself of what I wanted and what I had “planned” for the life He has given me – to become more like Him. Becoming more Christ-like should be the primary goal of any Christ-follower, but I believe that many, like me, have lost sight of this essential part of our lives as a result of our ambition and busyness.

It’s time for us to stop achieving (or striving for achievement) and start serving.  When we set aside our selfish desires, seek God and embrace a true servant’s attitude, we will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to do those things God has destined for our lives. We will find greater fulfillment – not to mention joy and peace – in the things God has designed for us.

Take time to think about the things you’re doing in your life – work, play, family, etc.  Ask God if you’re doing the things He wants you to do.  I believe one of the most dangerous prayers you can pray is, “Lord, I completely surrender my life to you; I want to serve you fully.  Please show me the things you want me to do and the things that I’m doing that you want me to leave behind.”  You may find God redirecting you, which will be scary at first, but let me encourage you:
“…Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

God knows what He’s doing. He has been with you all along and will continue to be with you as you take new steps in your life as His dedicated and faithful servant.

Bible Study, Devotional, Encouragement

Celebrate Your Newness

His mercies are new every morning
Fresh as dew
I’m yawning and I realize
I’m alive – and that’s new today too

New attitude, perspective, directive
Live my life as He directs it
Don’t keep carrying ’round
Old stuff
I’ve found that leads to stress and strife
Not what I want for my life

New picture
In which you
Embrace my lovely blackness
The fact is
You’re new and lovely too

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Welcome to your new life.

Regardless of how things went yesterday, today is a new day – and with it comes a new opportunity to live the life that God has designed for us.  This isn’t just for the “big things” or for celebrities, pastors and ministry leaders – this is for all of us. God expects us to live as though The Cross is relevant in our everyday lives.  In fact, these little things reveal how we will act when given bigger opportunities or responsibilities.

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” – Luke 16:10 (NLT)

With our new lives, He often gives us new things to do – things that seem beyond our qualifications or beyond the realm of what we deem possible.  When we are afraid to start a new venture, we are dealing with a fear of failure; we have forgotten that we serve a God that loves to work through the weak and lowly and do the impossible.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” – 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 

He wants us, and those in our lives, to witness His might and His glory – which is why stepping outside our comfort zones is a oftentimes a requirement. Trust me – God knows what He’s doing. If His hand is in it, you’ll see growth and change in leaps and bounds – as long as you trust Him and allow Him to work through you. 

Or maybe what God is asking seems too small or insignificant.  To that feeling, the prophet Zechariah has the perfect response:

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” – Zechariah 4:10 (NLT)

If you need a push, this is it – GET GOING!  Start that new thing that seems to reverberate in your mind and spirit – write, sing, dance, start a business, go back to school. The first step in obedience is often the hardest – the next one will be easier.

Bible Study, Devotional, Encouragement

“Trust Me”

How many times have I heard that echo in my spirit?

And I’m sure God means it every time. It’s me that has the problem – and I know I’m not the only one.

Why is it so difficult for us to trust God? We say that we know He’s God Almighty – that He will provide a way for us and that He is a deliverer greater than any superhero Stan Lee could conjure up, but we still worry and wonder, fret and fear.

I believe the reason I have difficulty trusting God is a matter of comparison – I, in my infinite lack of wisdom, compare God to people in my life who have let me down (Note: I said I had a reason, not that it is in any way legitimate).

My question to myself (and to you, if you’re like me) is, “Why do I compare the God of the universe to imperfect humans?”  It is in no way logical if I firmly believe the aforementioned attributes of God along with the fact that He is faithful, true, and, to quote a song, “always on time.”

The answer is that trusting God is more than a matter of head (knowledge), but of heart.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

King Solomon advises us to trust in God with all our hearts and to not lean on what we can understand with our puny human minds. In saying this, he indicates that we must consciously make an effort to trust in God with our hearts and submit our lives to Him (because we trust Him). Easier said than done, right? 

“ ‘If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!‘ ” – Mark 9:23-24

I believe this man, waiting for a miracle for his son, has the right idea – we can ask for help to trust God more (and for anything else in our lives that needs overcoming). Actually, this is one of my constant prayers, “Lord, help me to trust you more. Help me to leave things that belong in Your hands, in Your hands, and not run back to pick them up when a situation doesn’t progress as quickly as I think it should.”

I have seen the miraculous happen when I completely trusted God to handle something.  On March 10, 2010, frustrated with life as a single woman, I said, “Lord, I’m done.  If you want me to be single for the rest of my life, I’m fine with that.  Otherwise, you’ll have to send someone to me because I’m done trying.”  Two weeks later, I received an email from with the profile of my would-be husband at the top; God literally sent my husband to me (well my email inbox).  One month from my prayer in desperation, April 10, 2010, I met Chris for the first time. Now here I am, one marriage and two beautiful children later.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had continued to try and force dating/meeting my “soulmate.” I’m actually 100% sure that nothing would have happened the way it did – meaning I would never have met my  husband and had my kids, all of whom bring more smiles and joy than I had in my life before.

Personally, I’m grateful that He is able to do “immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

My prayer is that as each day passes, and we seek God with our whole hearts, we will come to trust Him in a way that removes all fear, doubt and worry from our lives, leaving us with the unspeakable joy associated with a life in Christ.

Bible Study, Devotional, Encouragement

When life hands you lemons…

I know you all (or at least 99% of you) filled in “make lemonade” – or a lemon flavored adult beverage (hey, I’m not judging you for your lemon drops). But is that really the way that we react in difficult situations?

Here’s my reality – maybe it’s yours too:

When life hands you lemons, you do everything in your power to return them and get something you actually want (or think you want/need). When you find out that you can’t return them, you throw a bit of a hissy fit – either visibly or you envision a Guinness Book of World Records worthy tongue lashing – and begrudgingly accept the lemons. A couple of days later, you recognize the lemons haven’t disappeared, so you Google, “What to do with lemons.” Finding the obvious lemonade option – with a couple of interesting twists – you decide you might as well make the best of the situation and make lemonade.

My question is why do we avoid the natural solution?  I mean it seems that it would have been easier to just make the lemonade in the first place, right?

Enough about lemons – this is really about the way we behave in what we would consider “suboptimal” situations.

Let’s think about this from God’s perspective (Note: I’m in no way saying I’m equal to God or that I always understand why He does what He does. He’s God, right?).

The Bible says: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16), so He knows exactly what’s going to happen to us before it ever happens (actually even before we were even born, which is mind-boggling).

Yes, even that really awful, I don’t understand how that could happen thing.

Naturally, we want to ask, “Why, Lord?” And we’ll get an answer, but it may not be the one we wanted or expected – something like: “You’ll see. Trust me.”

Righteous Job was stripped of all his worldly possessions, then his family, then his health. As he sat on a heap of ashes, Job said, in response to his friends who believed he couldn’t be innocent and have so many bad things happen to him, “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15).

Amazingly, in spite of all the loss he experienced, Job trusted that God would work everything out.  He knew that God is righteous, just and true.

And Job was right to trust God: “...the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before…The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” – Job 42:10, 12

That trust in God can only develop and mature as we draw near to him in prayer and worship and through reading His Word – regularly.

So what do we do in the here and now – as we experience pain, loss and disappointment?

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:2-4

Rejoice in The Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:4, 6-7

These passages all reveal that we must be joyful despite our circumstances – not rejoice about our circumstances, but take pleasure in and worship our God, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, as we walk through troubled times.

For The Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” – Psalm 100:5

How can we be joyful in these times?

…you will fill me with joy in your presence.” – Psalm 16:11

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song.” – Psalm 28:7

Spend time with Him – in worship and prayer. In the times I have been my most worn-out, exhausted, frustrated or filled with sorrow and can’t bring my lips to say anything, those quiet moments after the silent “God, help me” prayer are the sweetest – filled with peace and comfort from a God who sees, cares and is always there.

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

My advice – put on worship music (Chris Tomlin and Hillsong are both excellent choices), then sing and dance King David style.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to The Lord for he has been good to me.” – Psalm 13:5-6

That’s making lemonade.

Just Chatting

Let Me Encourage You

I’m on a journey – as a Christ-follower, black woman, daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend.

You’re on a journey, too.

Sometimes all we need to know is that we’re not alone.

I’m here to encourage you and help you find (or remember) the source of true joy – so that we can take steps forward together in this journey called life.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV)

I’ll be sharing with you the words that God has placed on my heart – words that have, no doubt, encouraged me and I pray they’ll encourage you too.

Let’s walk together – as we explore and discover the value, importance, wonder and joy of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Have comments? I want to hear them.

Want to engage in friendly debate? I’m game.

Need someone to pray for you? That would be my pleasure.

Peace and Blessings,

C. Joy Ellington