We Were Made For More Than Getting By

Although these past few months have been challenging, living with the colossal changes COVID-19 have brought, they have also offered us perspective. They have provided us with numerous opportunities to either recoil in fear or remain in faith. To succumb to turmoil or tread in trust. To bolster own reserves or receive respite. To grow callous or proffer kindness.

COVID-19 brought the unexpected blessing of having time with our grown children at the cottage. That also meant plenty of cuddle time with our new grandson.

In the enveloping waves of life’s storms, it’s easy to become fearful, tread harder, and grow weary. With water lapping at our ears, we cry out for help amid the deafening swells. We glimpse our safety and provisions sinking and attempt to salvage the loss. In our panic, we grab for flotation devices yet sometimes fail to grasp hold of the One who answers our cries and holds us secure through every storm.

Though the water surrounds us, and the swells threaten to swallow us alive, Christ encircles us with His intimate care and love. He makes a way in our hopelessness, our fearfulness, and our exhaustion by offering us his ever-extended hand. He believes we are worth rescuing.

You can see how thrilled I was to have had extra time time with our son Konnor…
…and our daughter Elanna.

We were made for so much more than drowning in adversity or garnering little gods of our own devising—manufactured forms of strength—to keep us afloat. Once we’ve felt the touch of His hand, the security of His love, the fullness of His mercy, the waves begin to recede. The storm of our inner turmoil is quelled. Faith folds around fear, and darkness is distilled as He stills the waves.

With Christ, we don’t merely weather the storm, we watch the waves of our anxiety shrink. We no longer clutch for the nearest aid, the various pacifiers we use to get us through, we firmly take hold of His help. We grow buoyant, floating in greater freedom, filling up with His peace, fixed in His love.

Our son, Kurtis, with our grandson Montgomery, enjoying some peaceful time on the porch.

The turbulent waves of fear, oppression, doubt, guilt, and shame are pressed to the side—held back—furnishing a path through the unknown, dark waters. Such things as lockdowns and limitations, disease and distancing, and finances and freedoms aren’t as daunting. Life’s disruptions are overtaken by the swells of God’s comfort, peace, love, and an increasing desire to serve others and choose joy despite the struggle.

It isn’t that our conditions have fully changed, it’s that our perspective has. And that’s often enough, isn’t it? The storms don’t always subside but can be stilled inside of us. Life in Christ isn’t a fix-all, but a life fixed in thankfulness, palms open to receive both sunsets and storms. Like a full intake of breath. A life drenched in grace and soaked with mercy.

Ralph and I out for a hike back in May. During these past 3 1/2 months, I have spent tons of time outdoors, running, walking, and hiking daily.

It’s a miraculous transformation—the result of a transfer. One life willing to suffer wreckage for countless others—Christ’s life in place of ours. His death a ransom that bought our freedom. May we not take it for granted, neither the love offer nor the invitation to live fearless, floating freely in the cresting waves of Christ’s love.

Whether pandemics or peace, storms or safe harbors, heartaches or hope, turbulence or triumphs, we can be assured that Christ is with us through it all, helping us do more than just get by. Helping us to instead reach for the more of which we were made.

Enjoying a walk today with my grandson, daughter-in-law, and daughter.

Blessings to you and your family as we weather this storm. Stay safe. You are loved. xo

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

The Journal Journeys Excerpt #3 – Does Prayer Make a Difference?

Ever wondered if your prayers make a difference? Does it matter if you pray at all? Why does it seem that there are so many unanswered prayers? Is prayer even necessary?

Over the years, I have come to believe that all prayer is answered prayer.

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Often in prayer, we ask for a specific resolution to a problem, plead for a circumstance to alter or a person to change. We wish to be quickly rescued from discomfort, airlifted out of a trial, and have peace in our relationships.

But God is after the best. The trouble is that his idea of best doesn’t always match ours.

God is present in every situation we face. He says he never leaves us or forsakes us (Deut 31:6), and we can be sure he hears all our prayers. We may misinterpret answers when a situation fails to improve as rapidly as we’d like, appears to fail altogether, or we don’t see a specific answer to our supplication. At such times, I choose to believe that God loves us too much to give us all we pray for, exactly when we pray for it if he knows it isn’t his best or isn’t best for us.

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Over the past six weeks, I’ve been enjoying prayer walks in nature.

Perhaps other times God remains quiet, or delays answering, in order to produce something of great value within us—increased faith and trust, perseverance, repentance, deep inner healing, and a character that reflects his.

What if the no’s are really delayed yes’s for something far greater and more beautiful than we could have asked for or imagined? A more complete work? At times it appears God holds back and allows something to die so he can beautifully resurrect it (see John 11:1-44). Though we may regard this as silence or unanswered prayer, it is an incredibly loving act on God’s behalf that allows room for the miraculous and God to be glorified. Though he’d rather we trust him, God can handle our disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, and fear for his greater purposes.

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Our family in 2016, the year this week’s prayer journal entry was written.

Could the no’s also be God’s loving protection, keeping us safe from sure disaster? God knows the beginning from the end, knows every detail about us, our hearts, and the situation. He alone knows whether or not our desires will cause us to prosper, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I’m sure there are times he lovingly withholds what we think is good for our own good.

The no’s, or delayed answers, also give us the opportunity to align our will with his and gain a Godly perspective. They give us time to adjust our hearts to a posture of thankfulness.

There are also times when our troubles reflect our choices, and God allows the natural progression of cause and effect as a result of our sin. He also shows mercy and comes to our aid when we repent and pray. To hear the story of how God answered my prayers when I was in physical pain see Moving Mountains.

It’s easy to forget that prayer isn’t just asking things of God. In prayer, we seek God and acknowledge his presence like we would anyone we desire to spend time with. Since he is holy, we praise him and declare him worthy. We acknowledge our failings and ask for forgiveness. We trust him with our troubles knowing he is all-powerful and in control of all that appears chaotic. We hand over our fears and concerns to him for safekeeping.

When I first became a Christian, I learned a helpful acronym—ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  Though I don’t always follow this guide, it can be a useful tool to aid prayer.

Over the years, I added meditation, which for me is a time of quiet, a chance to rest with God and listen. Perhaps I should change the acronym to ACTS+M. This part of prayer allows silent space for God to awaken me to his spirit, whisper into my own spirit, refuel me with his joy, spark an idea, enliven or a verse, or alter my perspective or my heart.

All prayer is answered prayer. It may not arrive in the form we imagined, but it will be in the form God desires.

This week in the Journal Journeys, I read a few thoughts on prayer from my prayer journal. Click here for a video of this week’s excerpt. You can also read an abbreviated version below.

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Excerpt from my prayer journal from February 28, 2016

Feb 28, 2016

“At the beginning of your supplications the command went out, and I have come to tell you, for you are greatly beloved…” (Daniel 9:23)

“Then he said to me, ‘Do not fear Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words.'” (Daniel 10:12)

Lord, 

This is such a beautiful segment of scripture, reminding us that God hears our prayers, and is working on our behalf. Our prayers—our words—are powerful. God hears them. 

Some may wonder, as I have at times, why pray? God will do what he wants anyway. But here (Daniel 9:20-23 & 10:12) we see illustrated that prayer makes a difference. Daniel is confessing his sin, has a repentant heart, and is asking God to forgive them. These kinds of prayers shift things. 

The angel was caused to fly swiftly and the command went out at the beginning of his supplications. And notice that the angel says, “I have come to tell you, for you are greatly loved.” It is a beautiful affirmation to know that we are loved, even though we grapple with sin. Our sin may distance us from God, but it does not change the truth that we are greatly loved by him.

Lord, thank you for showing me this. It is a poignant reminder that you hear my prayers. And though I may not ever see the spiritual forces acting behind the scenes, I can rest assured that you are working all things for good.

Thank you.

Amen

For more reading on prayer, see Un)Answered Prayers

 

The Beaver Dam Chats

On a hike around our property this week, I found a beautiful, sheltered spot overlooking a beaver dam—a sun trap, cushioned with pine needles and moss and soil, inviting me to sit, encouraging me to stay awhile.

I accepted the invitation and reclined on the earthen mattress beside the water, still from my seemingly hopeless wandering. For once, I had no need to hurry. Nowhere I needed to be, like the summers of my youth. A child again, still under the sky, water lapping the mud barricade, breeze flickering last year’s leaves, the sun warming all that had grown cold.

Reclining on a pine needle mattress beside the beaver dam.

If I stopped here, you might believe everything was absolutely idyllic, like the social media newsfeeds offering snippets of perfect. The truth is that trudging to and from that quiet spot, I was pouring out my heart to God, unloading until empty all my disappointment, loss, and pain. The sole purpose of this hike was to have a conversation with the only One able to offer true comfort for the kind of soul ache that settles in dark & deep, lodging in your throat and then your heart, attempting to suffocate joy.

But with God, nothing is impossible, and joy in the midst of pain is no exception. The same is true of peace. I don’t know how he does it, only that I’ve experienced it time and time again since our proper introduction thirty years ago. His love is like the sun-infused spot I found, a sheltered place of comfort, peace, and rest for the weary soul. A place to just be no matter what state.  

My view from the sunny spot beside the beaver dam.

Every time I’ve let him, he has done the impossible. From healing me from the giants like depression and chronic back pain to pulling me out of lesser pain and struggles of various kinds. I’ve found him trustworthy, fully able to handle any words I’ve spilled to describe my tears and hollow aches and to heal my ailing soul. Sometimes instantly, sometimes through a long journey of the soul. This time was no exception.

Maybe you’re familiar with the kind of pain, loss, and disappointment I’m describing. Maybe you’re experiencing it right now. If so, know that I am praying for those who might read this blog and find themselves in a dark or painful place right now. It is my deepest hope that you too would cry out to God amid all the pain you can barely speak of, the disappointment you can hardly articulate, and the loss from which you fear you will never recover. In doing so, that you too would experience his peace that cannot be understood but that is undeniable.

One last thing. At first sight, beaver dams don’t look very pretty or organized, in fact, they look a little messy and half-hazard. But they are a picture of strength, hard work, perseverance, and maintenance serving to hold back a tremendous flow of water. Maybe our lives are a bit like that. They may look messy, disorganized, all the stuff cut and piled on half-hazard. But maybe, despite that random pile-up, they end up a marvel of strength, perseverance, and beauty, able to hold tight against any pressure applied.

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The beaver dam on April 1st.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 

~ Philippians 4:6-7

I invite you to join me for “The Beaver Dam Chats”. Starting tomorrow, for the next seven days, I plan to hike over to the spot I found on our property beside the beaver dam and read aloud from my devotional book Soul Focus – Trials. I’ll be posting the readings on instagram at melaniestevensonauthor. Look forward to seeing you there!

Click here to order your copy of Soul Focus – Trials

 

25 Benefits of Trials

It’s easy to grow fearful in times of uncertainty. It’s easy to lose hope as we suffer through lengthy hardships. Events such as the COVID-19 pandemic remind us how fragile our lives really are.

Like any trial, we often cannot see an end in sight and this one is no exception. When we are staying at home, social-distancing, viewing reports of daily escalating numbers, suffering through mandatory business closures and potential loss of livelihood, we worry we won’t manage.

My mum used to say of trials, “This too shall pass.” And it will. When it does, things won’t be the same. We will have a new framework out of which to operate. I imagine we will have a more thankful mindset, a greater appreciation for others as we joyfully reconnect and fully embrace our renewed freedom. Trials arrive unexpectedly and loom large, but we can move through them with grace, peace, and even joy.

Monty at the cottage
Cuddling my grandson – one of the ways I’m savoring this slowed pace.

Continue reading “25 Benefits of Trials”

What a Difference a Week Can Make

It’s staggering how much change can occur in one week.

Just over a week ago we were still meeting in-person—albeit cautiously. We stared incredulously at the empty grocery store shelves formerly housing untold brands of toilet paper, antiseptic wipes, and fresh meat. We began to pay closer attention to what the COVID-19 pandemic was going to mean for Canada.

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Grocery store shelves void of all toilet paper.

Conversely, this week, when it should have been non-stop hangouts with friends due to March Break, we were diligently social-distancing. Our extroverted nineteen-year-old daughter, Elanna, came home from Toronto to hunker down at our place. Our equally extroverted 11-year-old, Keira, couldn’t fathom why I was mandating a no playdate policy. In an extraordinary act of self-control, I kept myself away from our two-month-old grandson the entire week. Continue reading “What a Difference a Week Can Make”

Prayer for Today

Today has been declared a National Day of Prayer in the USA. Prayer is powerful. Imagine a whole country—a whole world—collectively praying. I have witnessed the power of prayer in my own life and in the lives of others. Though I’m Canadian, I join our neighbors in the US and share my offering below. Won’t you join me in praying in the midst of this health crisis?

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Lord our God,

We come into your presence with thankful hearts for your tender mercies and lavish kindness. We are grateful for your unfailing care and love. We are thankful that you never leave us or forsake us, and will never do so, especially in our time of great need. 

Despite the chaos we see and hear and experience in the natural world, we also understand and are reminded that you are still in control and haven’t left us or forsaken us. 

We confess our fear and worry and release it to you. In its place, we take your peace and find our comfort and rest in you. Please fill our troubled hearts and minds with your presence. 

We are grateful that you are our provider and have given us all we need. We confess that we have so often taken your provision for granted, behaving self-sufficiently as though we are the ones in control. Please forgive us and have mercy on us. Teach us greater trust in you. Continue reading “Prayer for Today”

A Love Like No Other

It’s not like you’ve imagined. Probably unlike anything you’ve been told, taught, or experienced. Being with Jesus isn’t a prescribed program or a series of have-to’s. It’s not a checklist of holy duties or a list of rules to follow. It’s not polishing yourself shiny or hoping you’ve been good enough.

It’s so easy that some find it hard.

Jesus extends his arms, pulls us in, and wraps us in HIS holiness, offering us forgiveness, rest, peace, joy, love—all the things we’ve been striving for but couldn’t manage on our own. His is a put-your-feet-up, cease-striving sort of love that beckons us to just BE. Be ourselves in his company. Be still. Be undone. Be made new. Continue reading “A Love Like No Other”

Fearless in 2020

This year brought numerous new and exciting adventures for my family and me. In September, I released my first novel, One More Tomorrow, and shortly after my devotional, Soul Focus – Trials, launched. In the spring, my son and daughter-in-law announced that they are expecting their first baby which means my husband and I are about to become first-time grandparents! This past summer, my daughter moved out to pursue her acting career, and this fall, I have been busy with other firsts such as book signings, podcasts, radio interviews, and a TV segment on See Hear Love alongside Ann Voskamp. watch episode here

On set at See Hear Love

 

Ann Voskamp and I share a hug on set at See Hear Love.

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My husband and I at the book launch of my novel One More Tomorrow.

All these changes have brought unknowns and the opportunity to camp out in fear or choose faith. As 2020 dawns, I am determined to dwell in peace. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I chose “Fearless” as my word of the year. To find out why you can read my blog entitled Fearless featured on See Hear Love. read Fearless blog

It is my hope that this year you too will find ways to intentionally live out of God’s peace as you ground yourself in his love, his word, and his presence. May we choose to hand over our fears to the one who offers to carry them for us, to make inroads of peace in our lives and the lives of all those with whom we connect.

Imagine what this year would it look like if our decisions were made by faith, imbedded with peace and hope instead of fear? If the words from our mouths were spoken void of fear? If our actions were not tainted by fear?  I hazard we will live more fully in the abundant life God promised and generously shower the overflow on others.

May you traverse into 2020 fearlessly and be blessed with mountain-moving faith!

“Have I not commanded 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)

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If you are looking for a devotional to start out the New Year, consider Soul Focus – Trials, my 31-day devotional/journal. It offers nuggets of encouragement as you navigate through your unknowns and struggles. buy Soul Focus here

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Now available ISBN: 978-1-4866-1539-1 8-1 Description: If you’ve picked up Soul Focus, you may be facing significant trials of your own or are well-acquainted with the heartache they bring. It is my prayer that within these pages you’ll find comfort and hope as you face your hardship or tackle the mourning process that comes after. I began writing devotionals after being healed of nearly two years of intense physical pain. Soul Focus is the fruit of that pain. Through various trials, God proved himself faithful, and I discovered that joy and peace can be found during the darkest nights of the soul. Soul Focus offers daily, life-giving encouragement to help remind you that you’re not alone. Journaling pages are included throughout to record personal inspirations and reflections on the path to healing and hope.

Hole in the Hedge

ShearsFrom the few memories of my early childhood in England, I recall we had a hedge framing our front garden. My father meticulously maintained that hedge with handheld trimmers. I recall him being rather dismayed about a hole in the hedge that neighbouring children used to climb through. As long as kids made a habit of playing in this leafless passage, the hole would be perpetually maintained. 

What about our lives? Where is the hole in our hedge? An area where we’ve repeatedly let in such things as bitterness, fearfulness, or anger? Maybe that area is so frequented by unchecked thinking that a gaping hole has formed. Anything that becomes a habit treads a well-worn path. In the case of negative or destructive thought patterns, the habitual cycle can be detrimental to both ourselves and others.  

Unlike my father’s hedge, we can choose that which we allow passage through the perimeters of our lives. We can cut off fruitless patterns of thinking and deny them entry into our thought life. However, with our jam-packed lives, we’re often distracted. We leave little space for reflective contemplation and instead snatch fleeting fast-food bites on the fly. The quality and quantity of the life-giving morsels we consume are often not enough to fully nourish or protect us.

If we fail to examine those thoughtless meanderings before we let them in, they lead to well-worn openings of fruitless behaviour and thought patterns. If we don’t set aside time to examine our thinking and replace toxic thoughts with “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), we leave our lives wide open to hedge-holes.

hedge-hole

Holes in hedges can develop anytime we let in bitterness and refuse to forgive. They take shape when we allow impatience and anger to proliferate. They evolve when we compare and grow dissatisfied opening the door to envy and jealousy. They become firmly formed when we repeatedly choose fear over faith. They grow distinctly larger when we settle into sin.

Ignoring hedge holes won’t make them disappear. Managing them takes a concerted effort and proper maintenance requires taking a firm grip on our thought life and conforming it to God’s. 2 Corinthians 10:5 encourages us to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Make no mistake, we have a choice regarding our thought permeations. 

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We prevent holes by cutting off the flow of thoughts at the gate, discerning whether they deserve to pass through, and aligning our thinking to God’s. We combat hedge holes by setting aside time, disciplining ourselves to reflect and be renewed in God’s presence. When we spend time soaking in God’s word, he fills the holes, packing them with his peace. His Spirit quickens us and helps us to grow in discernment regarding that which we allow to enter through the perimeter of our lives. Soon, where once there were holes, we see new growth and lush foliage—composed of God’s love—encircling us.

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  1. Where do you notice hedge holes in your life?
  2. How can you adjust your thinking to align with Christ’s?

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Coming November 12th

 

 

Why Are We Still Starving Ourselves?

modeling picIn the mid-’80s, when I was fifteen years old, I decided I wanted to become a model. A Toronto agent agreed to represent me but explained that I needed to lose weight. I had been a cross-country runner for five years and never in my life had I given a second thought to the scale. This particular year, I had discontinued running and had stopped growing. I was 5’7” tall and weighed 127 pounds. Now, for the first time in my life, someone was telling me I needed to consider what I ate.

I hadn’t a clue how to diet so I went to my family doctor for advice. He gave me a pamphlet that explained how to count calories, and so I began to figure out how to limit my food intake. Each Friday, I had to call into the agency to let them know how much weight I had lost. They wanted me to lose a pound per week. It was no small thing to change my eating habits since spending time with friends usually included things like ice-cream, candy, chips, pop, and McDonald’s visits. 

After managing to drop fifteen pounds, I was booked for a fashion show at Harbourfront in Toronto. I had been hard at work figuring out how much food I could eat and still lose weight. My agent had come to watch and afterward commended me on how well I had done in the show but told me I still needed to lose more weight. So I ate even less and landed at 108 pounds. For me, that meant virtually starving myself. 

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Penny Noble Model Management – the agency I modeled under for 8 years.

I’m not sure how, but my sixteen-year-old brain realized that this wasn’t going to work. That not only did I dislike such a restrictive eating behavior, but that this lifestyle wasn’t realistic for me. I met with my agent and told her that I didn’t want to diet anymore or be a part of her agency. She told me that was a shame, but that if I could ever keep the weight off she’d be happy to have me back. After months of sometimes eating as little as 200-400 calories per day, it took nearly two years for my metabolism to return to normal. I’m thankful I chose to put a stop to the strict dieting before developing anorexia.

Two years later, and twelve pounds heavier, I decided to give modeling another try. I met with two agents who both extended invitations to join their agencies. Neither one mentioned my weight. I continued to model for several years after that in Toronto, Montreal, and on contract overseas. I realized that the problem with the first agent was that she was trying to make me something I wasn’t. She wanted me to be a thin, high-fashion model when I had a more girl-next-door commercial look. 

Sante mag cover

Don’t misunderstand me, I endorse exercise, healthy eating, and self-care, but just like my initial modeling experience, when we attempt to become something we aren’t—when we go to extreme lengths to be accepted but deny our true selves—we run into trouble. We become trapped on a treadmill of never-enough’s, people-pleasing while attempting to fill a soul-hole that can never be satisfied with the things of this world. 

Because here’s the thing, there will never be enough weight to lose, enough money to gain, enough compliments to receive to make us feel full. We’re starving and seeking to fill the emptiness with junk food. The lack of nutrients leaves us feeling even more depleted, but thankfully there is a remedy.

The Bible says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) When we seek God, we are satisfied. When we desire God, the other fixes fade in importance. Our taste buds change, and we see the former things for the empty calories they were. No longer trying to be something we were never made to be, our identity grows secure in Christ and his love, and we partake of his rich blessings.  

The apostle Paul put it this way, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)

We find that all we ever needed and wanted—all that satisfies—is found at the feet of Christ. There we discover security, acceptance, healing, love, forgiveness, hope, peace, and joy—all the things we searched for but couldn’t find. In Christ, our true identity surfaces and an internal work of growth and transformation begins that no amount of earthly accoutrements could foster. From here on in, we are fueled by faith and nourished by the word of God secure in his promises.

I’ll leave you with this verse to ponder:

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
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  1. In what ways are you starving yourself trying to fill the soul-hole that only Jesus can fill?
  2. You can gain the whole world and lose your soul, or you can find Jesus, save your soul, and gain eternity.