Staying Close to God During the Busy Holiday Season

5 Ways to Stay Close to God During the Busy Holiday Season at www.annswindell.com

This is my newest piece for RELEVANT Magazine.
You can read the whole article here.

Life doesn’t ever stop, especially during the busy holiday season full of to-do lists, parties, shopping and (hopefully!) worship and service opportunities. So how can we focus our hearts in a deeper way on the presence of God in our lives, especially during a time of year filled with increased opportunities and responsibilities? How can we stay close to God when everything around us is demanding our attention?

Here are some simple steps that I’ve found are helpful to stay close to Jesus during the holiday season.

Start with Scripture.

It sounds simple, but it can also be very hard to read the Word regularly. Still, I have found that when I start my day in the Bible, my heart and mind are better prepared to respond to God’s presence throughout the rest of the day. It’s like tying up my shoelaces before going out the door—it’s much easier to keep from slipping as I walk through the day.

During the holiday season, when time seems short, get creative about reading the Bible if you’re struggling to do so. Listen to the audio version of the Bible on your phone or in the car. Or read for five minutes before you get out of bed (or even touch your phone!) in the morning. You might even consider starting a special Advent devotional to help you focus on God during this time of year.

5 Simple Ways to stay close to God during the busy holiday season via @RELEVANT Click To Tweet

Make time to serve.

Too often, the holidays can cause us to focus on ourselves—what we want, what we wish we had and how much we have to do. But when we take time to serve others through our church and community, we are fulfilling a central call of the Gospel (1 Peter 4:10, Galatians 5:13).

Who in your church community needs some attention and love, especially this time of year? While it can be wonderful to participate in official service opportunities, sometimes the most meaningful chances to serve come by loving the people right in front of us with our time, our energy and our attention. Pray and ask the Lord who you can serve this holiday season, and then set aside time to do so.

Sometimes the most meaningful chances to serve come by loving the people right in front of us. Click To Tweet

Listen to truth.

In our home and car, I play music that reminds me of God’s presence in my life. Music seeps into my mind more easily (and mindlessly) than most things, so if I find myself humming a tune unintentionally, it helps my soul if it’s a song that reminds me of who God is. If Christmas music is your style, there are wonderful stations and streams to listen to that are full of Christ-centered Christmas music. And if you don’t love listening to music, find a podcast, radio station or audio book that declares the truth of who God is and turn it on while you’re doing mindless tasks around the house or even working out!

Read the rest of the article here, at RELEVANT!

 

Still Waiting by Ann Swindell

Stewarding Your Passions in the Season of Motherhood

How to Steward Your Passions in the Season of of Motherhood at annswindell.com

This is the start of my newest piece for The Gospel Coalition. You can read the whole piece here!

I love to write; it’s one of the ways I feel most connected to God. Before my daughter was born, I wrote for several publications. But when she came into the world, my writing life was put on an abrupt hold. I often wondered: Do I have to wait until my children are grown to return to my passions?

As Christian mothers, this question bubbles up often: How do we navigate the years of childrearing with our own desires to create and innovate and learn?

While there’s no one response for every woman, it’s important to ask the right questions as we consider how to steward our passions and live faithfully in our current season. Here are four such questions.

1. In pursuing this passion, do I have the support of my family and church family?

When Hunter Beless was still nursing her second daughter, she considered starting a podcast for women, but she hesitated. “I thought motherhood wasn’t the season to explore my own passions and desires, and I feared not having enough time or energy to do something outside of caring for my husband and children,” she recalls.

Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that this was something she should pursue. “I prayerfully submitted both the dreaming and planning process to the Lord. After developing my ideas, I began to seek counsel from my husband, mentors, and friends. Things continued to align as I moved forward, which led me to ask, ‘Why not?’ At worst, it offered an opportunity to experiment, play, and create while my kids were sleeping, and at best it had the potential to encourage other women to glorify God.”

With the support of those around her, Hunter started the Journeywomen Podcast, which is growing rapidly and blessing women across the country and world. But it began with submitting her ideas to the Lord and her community, trusting him to guide her in the right direction.

2. What’s the ultimate end of pursuing this passion?

There are countless ways to pursue our passions, but we must always reckon with the centrality of the gospel. Is Christ at the center of this pursuit? Is the good news at the core of why I’m doing this? Whether you work a secular job, volunteer at a nonprofit, join a neighborhood committee, play in a tennis league, or serve in your church, it’s helpful to consider how this pursuit will give you opportunities to live out the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20).

Dianne Jago started the magazine Deeply Rooted because she sensed a need for something other than what she was seeing in “popular Christian women’s ministry, which unfortunately included a lot of misuse and misunderstanding in the interpretation and application of the Scriptures.” She desired to see Christ exalted in media and to point other women to a right handling of the Word. Jago’s passion is anchored in the gospel, and it has borne beautiful fruit in her life and in the lives of readers.

Read the rest of the article here, at The Gospel Coalition!

Still Waiting by Ann Swindell

When Your Dreams Feel Unseen

When Your Dreams Feel Unseen at www.annswindell.com

Last year, my daughter and I planted a cantaloupe plant in our front garden right before summer got into full swing. I am the epitome of a black thumb, so it was an act both of faith and of craziness, and I wrote about it in the last chapter of my book, Still Waiting.

That chapter is perhaps my favorite chapter of the entire book, and while it’s about this particular cantaloupe plant, it’s also about the ways in which God cares for us and meets with us even when our prayers seem unanswered. It’s a chapter about faith and looking ahead and trusting that often, what we can’t see is making way for something more beautiful than we could have ever imagined.

I’ve had some readers ask me about the cantaloupe plant that I reference in Still Waiting, and I wanted to give you an update, albeit a year later:

Cantaloupe and God's faithfulness at www.annswindell.com

Cantaloupe and God's faithfulness at www.annswindell.com

Yay! That little cantaloupe plant grew and grew–in fact, the vines overtook the whole of our tiny garden and eclipsed anything else in the plot. And finally, as summer turned into fall, my daughter and I celebrated the growth that God did in that tiny seed by eating the literal fruit of his faithfulness.

So, just a reminder for you today, friend: if it feels like your dreams and hopes are in the ground, unseen…God sees you. He knows your heart and he hears your prayers. There is a day coming when you will see the fruit of your faith. I don’t know when that is; only the Lord does! But he is faithful and there will be a day of reaping the spiritual harvest you have prayed for.

If it feels like your dreams and hopes are in the ground, unseen...God sees you. He knows your heart and hears your… Click To Tweet

If you haven’t read Still Waiting yet, can I encourage you to pick up a copy? No matter what season of life you’re in, my prayer is that this book will strengthen you in your own walk with the Lord and remind you that you’re never alone. 

 

Still Waiting by Ann Swindell

 

The Purpose and Power of Lent

The Power and Purpose of Lent www.annswindell.com

This post is adapted from a piece I wrote originally for RELEVANT Magazine and posted last year.
Click here to read the original article. 

In church tradition, Lent is the season preceding Easter, and it is often set aside as a time of remembrance and repentance. It is a season of preparation, a time of waiting and reflecting.

But is Lent important? Is it worth observing—or at least acknowledging—especially if, like me, you’re not currently part of a liturgical church tradition?

Even after years of not being in a church that intentionally observes Lent, I still think so. Here are some reasons why Lent matters—and how it can point us to the truth of the Gospel in practical, important ways:

Lent Reminds Us That We Need to Repent

Repentance is not an easy pill to swallow; repentance is a call to turn around and away from our sinful ways. First, it means acknowledging that we are sinners, and second, it means saying no to our sin. But repentance is at the very heart of Christianity: we cannot, in fact, follow Jesus without repenting of our way and choosing His way instead (Acts 2:38).

Lent is a season of acknowledging our consistent, daily need to repent. Click To Tweet

Lent is a season of acknowledging our consistent, daily need to repent—and therefore, of our consistent need for a savior. It’s important to remember how desperately we need to be saved from our sin, and that Jesus is the only hope we have to be saved; that reality grounds us in His kindness and goodness.

 Lent Helps Us Pare Down Our Excesses

Historically, Christians have understood Lent as a time when unneeded things are stripped away in order to remind us of our neediness before and for God. Christians still do this today, giving up meat or chocolate, or abstaining from alcohol or watching television.

By taking away things that divert our attention and feed our desires, the season of Lent invites us to attend to what is really happening on the inside of our souls—and to have our needs met by God first and only.

Lent invites us to attend to what is really happening on the inside of our souls. Click To Tweet

Lent Points Us to Our Humanity

In college, I was part of a liturgical church in college, and I attended my first Ash Wednesday service. There, I was marked with a cross in ash while hearing the words, “From dust you came, and to dust you will return.”

It felt like someone had sucked all of the air out of the room; suddenly, I was faced with my own death. As a college student, I rarely thought about my own finiteness, my own frailty. But that declaration over me—that I started from dust and will return to dust—deeply humbled me, in the best of ways.

Lent pointed me back to the truth that all of my value and all of my purpose comes from being a person made in the image of the God who created me and made the way for me to be saved. Apart from Him, I am dust; I am nothing and I have nothing. But because of His great love, my life is worth much more than dust.

Lent Sobers Us—in Order to Prepare Us for Celebration

Lent is a season of reflection—even of mourning—and that attitude flies in the face of the cultural waters most of us swim in. Sobering ourselves by confronting our own brokenness—by pausing our desire to keep things light and easy—is necessary if we want to celebrate the miraculous and life-altering message of Easter.

If we aren’t aware of our sinfulness and need, we won’t be able to comprehend the desperation of Good Friday or the world-changing truth of the Resurrection. Sobering our hearts and minds in preparation for Easter enables us to celebrate more deeply and joyfully, perhaps, than we would have without the solemnness of the season.

Because knowing our true nature, knowing our need for Jesus—makes Easter the best and most necessary Good News we could ever hear.

Read the original article here, at RELEVANT Magazine.

Writing with Grace course www.writingwithgrace.com

Easy Ways to Encourage Your Pastor

Easy Ways to Encourage your Pastor! www.annswindell.comThis is the start of my most recent article for the Deeply Rooted Magazine blog.
You can read the entire article here!

I love church. I really do. I love the Church with a capital C—the church universal that Jesus died and rose for, filled with every tribe and nation and people and tongue (Rev. 7:9). And I love our particular church that meets every Sunday in a building that used to be a funeral home (a reminder of the beauty of going from death to life every week!). And after years in church ministry, as a pastor’s wife and now as a seminarian’s wife, I can unequivocally say that while church is messy and challenging and sometimes deeply painful, I know that there’s nothing else I will give my life to—because that’s what Jesus did. If he gave his life for the church, then I will give my life to the church, to love and care for and serve his people.

If Jesus gave his life for the church, then I will give my life to the church, to love and care for… Click To Tweet

While my husband and I are not in full-time ministry right now, I know what it’s like to be married to a pastor, and one of the many things learned in those years of ministry is that most pastors live in the simultaneous reality of loving what they do and also being tired. Sometimes pastors are just kind of tired. But other times they are exhausted. Getting to pastor the people of God is an incredible gift, but it is also a job that doesn’t have very clear starting and ending times. Ministering is fluid; people don’t have important questions and life crises only between the hours of 8 am and 6 pm. Work and ministry and life bleed into one another. And yes, sometimes pastors need better boundaries. But sometimes life and ministry are one and the same thing—and that’s ok. And tiring.

Your pastor is meant to be a gift to you. But you are also meant to be a gift to your pastor: Click To Tweet

I don’t know who your pastor is, and I don’t know what kind of season your pastor is in. But this is the pastor that you have in this season of life, and he is meant to be a gift to you and your church family. The flip side of the equation is that you are meant to be a gift to your pastor, too. One way to do that is to intentionally encourage him and the other staff members at your church. So, as we end Pastor Appreciation month, here are some simple ways you can encourage the pastors in your life:

  1. Say thank you. Say thank you when you see him on Sunday. Send a quick note of thanks to the office. Write a thank-you email regarding something specific that meant a lot to you. This will go so, so much farther than you can imagine.
  2. Drop off coffee or food at the office. Find out when the weekly staff meeting is and drop by with donuts or coffee. You might just make the staff’s entire week! They will know they are loved and thought of on days other than Sunday.

Read the rest of the article here, at Deeply Rooted!

Come and Write Your Story

Come and Write Your Story at www.annswindell.com

This is the start of my newest article for The Gospel Coalition.
You can read the article in its entirety here!

I’m not gifted at comprehending my own spiritual growth while still in the midst of it. I don’t typically live through trials and victories with my antennae attuned to how God’s transforming me. I wish it were otherwise; I wish I had the ability to see my immediate experiences through the lens of spiritual development. But most of the time I’m just doing my best to love God and my family—and make it through the day intact. I’m not necessarily looking for the big themes or revelations the Lord is weaving into my life in the moment.

But I know God has numbered the days of my life (Ps. 139:16) and that he’s working out all things for my good as he conforms me to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:28–29). I don’t want to miss these things; I want to be able to point to how God’s transforming me “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18) as I walk with him.

I turn to two things in order to help me understand my spiritual growth: my Bible and my pen. via… Click To Tweet

So I turn to two things in order to help me understand my spiritual growth: my Bible and my pen. Reading the Word and writing my story—these are how I’ve learned to experience my life as a purposeful whole, even when the days feel splintered and confusing.

Read the rest of the article here–and let me know how you understand your spiritual growth over at TGC!

And, if you’re interested in writing your story, make sure to check out the Writing with Grace: Memoir class that I’m teaching this fall. Registration is only open until October 11th, so don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to write your story powerfully and hear from industry experts! See you there!