Category Archives: inspiration

Service Project Playlist 2017

A few years ago, when Food Shelf Friday was new, I did a fun post about songs I like to listen to during service projects. The list was a bit small, and today I was thinking of more great tunes to energize and inspire while serving others, so I decided to brush it up and bring it back. Enjoy!

1. “Do Something” by Mathew West: I love the opening part when he’s complaining about all the trouble in the world and he says, “God, why don’t you do something?” God’s answer? “I did. I created YOU!” It’s an awesome reminder that God put us on this earth to be a blessing to others!

2. “Hands and Feet” by Audio Adrenaline: An oldie, but a goodie (2001, but I could swear it’s A LOT older). Audio A still appeals to this recovering grunge gen-Xer.

3. “Kings and Queens” by Audio Adrenaline: (not the original or newest version of the band, but the brief period when Kevin Max Smith from DC Talk was the frontman). This song is powerful, both lyrically and in presentation. The music video is fun too. It has the band and some Haitian kids having a snowball fight of sorts with color war powder.

4. “Shine” by the Newsboys: Another ’90s classic! It’s upbeat and joyful, and it talks about being a witness by the life-changing joy that springs from your relationship with God.

5. “Wherever We Go” by the Newsboys: Another great upbeat song about the joy and power of knowing the Lord. It’s ok to have fun as you serve the Lord and others!

6. “Give me Your Eyes” by Brandon Heath: Nothing inspires compassion like seeing the world through Jesus’s eyes. I don’t know about you, but I often miss opportunities to help others because I don’t think of it until it’s too late. So this song is like my prayer that I would see things how Jesus sees them: to notice needs and be moved to help.

7. “Fix my Eyes” by For King and Country: This is one of my favorite songs. It’s upbeat and powerful. The chorus lists wonderful acts of service that we all know we should be doing if we’re actively living out faith the way Jesus taught, and then it closes with the clincher, “…above it all – Fix my eyes on YOU!” I love that reminder; it’s easy to burn out trying to be good or do good things when you take your eyes off God and see only the world’s troubles.

8. “Evidence” by Citizen Way: I love the message of this song! “It’s not a flag on a field, not a sign in my yard. Not a cause that I join, not a phrase on a coin, it’s the change in my heart…” Love, acted out, is the true evidence of what we believe.

9. “What are You Waiting For” by Natalie Grant: Sometimes helping others is hard, and affecting real change can feel practically hopeless. But you do have the power to make a difference, so what are you waiting for?

10. “Live it Well” by Switchfoot: This is a new song, and a current favorite of mine. It’s a great anthem about the drive to make your life count and make a positive impact on the world. My favorite part is the bridge, where they sing, “I got one life and one love. I got one voice, but maybe that’s enough. ‘Cause with one heartbeat and two hands to give, I got one shot and one life to live.”

All of these songs can be found on iTunes, Spotify, or YouTube, so check it out! If you have additional ideas, share them in the comments!

Divine Appointments: Avoiding “Should Have”

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I can’t even begin to tell you how often I stop and suddenly realize that I had an opportunity to help someone and didn’t even notice it. I hate that feeling, and I hate knowing that there are people struggling and suffering because I didn’t even notice, or I noticed and it didn’t dawn on me to do something about it. Do you ever feel like that? “Should have” is a painful phrase.

Recently a friend told me that she has been praying for opportunities to serve. This friend has a job that brings her in contact with random strangers all day long, and she told me that she prays before and during work for God to bring her opportunities. And He has! All through her shift, people seek her out to ask for help, and to share their burdens. She has started bringing along supplies to hand out to the needy, and snacks to share with anyone who asks. Is God bringing these people to her because she asked, or were they always there and she just started to notice? I think the answer is a bit of both.

First off, we serve a God who answers prayers. And a selfless prayer like “bring me in contact with people that I can bless” is certainly in line with the heart of God. So knowing that He has a willing worker on the streets is a great opportunity for God to bring people together. He loves his children, and wants to see needs met. He also wants to see our character develop, so when we ask Him to put us in opportunities to grow through serving, He’s not likely to say no to that!

Second, a “use me” attitude opens our eyes. If I go to work and all I’m thinking about is me and what I need to accomplish today, I’m like a horse wearing blinders. All I can see is the task immediately in front of me. But asking for these “divine appointments” removes the blinders. If you have a heart to look for needs, you will find them. They’re all around us!

There are many examples of divine appointments in the Bible. The book of Esther, for one, tells the story of a young lady put in just the right place at just the right time to save her people. After the queen disgraced him, king Xerxes held a reality-TV worthy search for her replacement. When he made Esther his queen, he had no idea that her presence in the palace would save the Jews. But Esther spoke up for her people, and they were saved. She didn’t desire to be queen, but she was willing, and God put her there. She was afraid to confront the king about her people, but she obeyed, and they were saved. Esther 4:14 reads, “who knows but you have come to your position for such a time as this?”

I ask you the same question: Who knows but you have come into your position (job, neighborhood, circle of friends, family) for such a time as this?

Open your heart and your eyes, and don’t be afraid to speak up. God can, and will, use you in big ways!

Greater Love

If you follow Food Shelf Friday on Facebook, then you may have seen this week’s scripture image featuring John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that to lay down one’s life for his friends.” This is a beautiful picture of what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross. It is also frequently used to honor the memory of heroes who sacrificed their lives in military service or in an effort to save others, like firemen and police who die in the line of duty. But I think there is more here, a message not just about the dead, but for the living.

Matthew 16:24-26 (also found in Luke 9, and Mark 8) – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Galatians 2:20 –  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 5:24 – Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Death does not always mean the end of physical life. Repeatedly the Bible calls us to die to self, to willingly lay down what we want in favor of what God wants. We are called to deny ourselves, to stop striving to gain the whole world at the cost of our souls, and to keep our eyes on God’s kingdom over our own.

The flesh is strong. Very strong. I’m hungry, tired, weak, and selfish every day. And I find ways to appease myself every day. I eat junk food because it makes me happy and I “deserve” it. I rest when I should be busy (rest is not bad, you have to take care of yourself, but let’s face it, laziness is also real and I know most of us cross that line often). I fail to resist temptation. I think about myself and my rights first. This is what humans do. We take care of our own in as much comfort as we can afford, and then we think of others with our leftovers and cast-offs. It’s human nature.

But God’s nature is different. His eyes are on the big picture, a global scale that transcends time. Isaiah 55:8-9 reminds us of this: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God calls us to resist our own nature and take on his priorities. We are called to willingly sacrifice our rights, our comforts, and our sense of control for the ultimate goal of getting the gospel message to the people around us. We have to die to our selfish desires, showing the kind of love that Jesus showed when he was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins. In this way we show the ultimate kind of love, laying down our lives for a friend.

One Word – A New Year’s Revolution

I’ve posted before about how I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I used to work at a gym, so I have seen first hand how useless they are. You start off so gung ho that you annoy everyone around you, and then you just fade back to your old habits. Changing your life is hard, even when it’s necessary.

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way. A few years ago I began to hear about the idea of having a one-word focus for the year instead of resolutions. Basically, you pray and ask God to reveal one word to you that you can focus on for the year, then you just pick one. Some people say that they have a strong sense of what word God has for their year, while others experience less direction and make a more self-guided choice. Then, for the entire year, you think about that word and how you can put it into practice. I don’t know if you get better results, but I do know you feel less discouraged, because it’s never too late to get back on track with your word.

My first experience with this came at a retreat I attended. On the first day, the leaders of the event invited us to pray and ask God to give us a word for the weekend. I closed my eyes, and said, “Lord, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. This has to be obvious if it’s from you.” Instantly I thought of the word empty. Seeing as how I was hoping for something like peace, calm, or relaxation, I knew that empty was not my idea. In my self-centered mind I decided that work, grad school, and other obligations had left me empty, and that God was going to refresh my spirit and I would leave the retreat feeling full. I was wrong again. By the end of the long weekend I understood that I had arrived full: full of self, full of fear, full of responsibilities and concerns that were not mine to shoulder. As I spent that beautiful fall weekend with my friends, I felt myself letting go, and I vowed to make some changes in my life, to empty myself of me and take on more of Jesus.

Last year I prayed again and asked for a word for 2016. Again, I wanted something pretty, but what I got was open. Ugh. I’m a good, stoic, Midwestern Scandinavian woman. We’re hard workers and good cooks (in general), but we’re not real touchy-feely (OK, some are. My one sister is a sweet, empathetic crier, but I’m more of the emotionally wary Scandinavian stereotype). It was hard. And while I didn’t undergo any dramatic personality changes, I did open up and talk about things I wouldn’t have otherwise.

This year my word is honor. Again, it wasn’t what I was looking for per se, but it fits. It actually came to me in a strange way. I was watching a video of a pop up sale that Made New Co. was having, and I saw some cute key necklaces on turquoise ribbons. I asked what they said, and was slightly disappointed that they said “honor.” I associate honor with the commandment to honor your father and mother, or with military service. But the necklaces were cute and a great price, so I ordered them anyway. By the time they came in the mail, I knew that honor was going to be my word in 2017. It was just stuck in my head like a catchy tune.

So that’s my one word revolution for 2017 – honor. I am focused on being mindful about acknowledging birthdays, speaking the compliments I usually just think to myself, writing thank you notes, and being an all-around encourager. In 2017 I will work on putting others first, making my husband and son feel loved, and lifting up prayer needs. After all, Matthew 22:34-40 tells us:
“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

Do you have a word for 2017? Share it in the comments!


The Principle of Gleaning

Leviticus 19:9-10: When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22: When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.


I love the principle of gleaning. God commanded the Israelites to leave the edges of their fields unharvested to meet the needs of widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. There is so much to learn from this principle:

  1. Gleaning requires you to leave margin in your life: To obey this command, the Israelites had to plan to live on less than 100% of their earnings. Every spring they planted their fields, sowing precious seed grain all the way to the edge of their fields while knowing that they would not get the full return on that investment. They planted that grain for the sake of the widows, orphans, foreigners, and poor who would need it.How can we leave margin in our lives and invest in those in need? – We have to live within our means. Know the difference between things you need and the things that would be nice to have. Make donations a line item in your budget and work toward growing that bottom line.
  2. Gleaning does not replace the tithe: When the Old Testament law established the tithe, there was no “if” or “or.” The tithe, the first 10%, given to the maintenance of the priesthood and the church, is discussed separate from the principle of gleaning. The Israelites were expected to leave the edges for the needy to glean and give the first fruits to God.I’ve heard preaching that suggests charitable donations can replace tithing. I disagree. The principle of gleaning suggests that we are to tithe and give to the needy. I’m going out on a limb here, but if you don’t trust your church, or don’t believe in their mission enough to tithe, you need to prayerfully consider what you’re doing there. If you can’t afford to do both, you need to evaluate your budget and work toward change. And don’t forget that you can give things other than money. Your time spent volunteering and mentoring is a great way to invest in others!
  3. Gleaning is not a handout, but an opportunity for dignified work: The law didn’t say, “when you harvest your field, pick up every crumb and give some of them to people in need.” Instead, it instructed the Israelites to leave an opportunity for dignified employment that allowed the widows, orphans, foreigners, and poor a chance to provide for themselves.There are so many ways that we can give, but the most meaningful, and the gifts that make the biggest, long-term, life-changing difference are gifts that provide opportunity. Fair trade employment, microfinance loans, education and job training, and legal advocacy do more than just fill a hungry stomach for a day or two. They actually produce opportunities for dignified employment and change that provides more than a temporary fix.

Old Testament law has a lot to teach us about God and what He values. The principle of gleaning is an example of that, revealing how God sees our responsibilities to our fellow man, and what we can do to love others!