Counting Your Blessings in the Midst of Sorrow

by Christy Hoagland

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Really, Lord? Is this possible? To give thanks in all circumstances?

My family has been going through some trials, great sorrow, sadness…

It is during these times of grief that we often try to gain answers to so many questions…let’s look to scripture for hope, for peace, for joy and perhaps get a glimpse of the whys. What does God’s Word say to give us comfort, what does He tells us to do during these times of great struggle, and how can this be used in my life for good? There are three things the Lord has brought to my heart during this current hardship.

Affliction and Suffering Strengthens Our Faith

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.  These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 1 Peter 1:6-7 This scripture tells us that these trials will show how genuine our faith is and that there is wonderful joy ahead and that our fire-tested faith is more precious than gold. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3 It seems rather ludicrous to count suffering as joy but if these trials produce strength, steadfastness, and a closer relationship with Jesus because we have to rely on Him to help us through it then it is worth it. This strengthened faith and trust in the Lord will give us peace. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3 I have this on a post-it note on my computer monitor as a reminder to keep my mind on Jesus. It is easy to dwell on the difficult things in life rather than trusting in the One who is completely in control. Although it is hard to see God’s plan in the midst of suffering we can trust Him and His Word. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:9 God has a purpose even in the hardest things in life. It may take time before we see or know what that purpose is but we can trust the only One who is trustworthy and faithful. ” And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 And just maybe the trial you are in is preparing you to help someone else. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Focus on Eternal Things

This world is temporary, this life is so so short compared with eternity. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 What a time to look forward to! Let’s keep our eyes on eternity and in the meantime carry out what we are called to do, to redeem this short time. Ephesians 5:16 tells us to make the best use of time while we are here. We must share the precious Gospel of Jesus with those around us. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7 So many people walk by us everyday who have no hope, no peace. We are called to love the lost and share our hope with them. We are called to proclaim who He is. “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim His name; make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted.” Isaiah 12:4 “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:15–16

Cherish What You Have, Count Your Blessings

Trials make me thankful for what God has given me. I have a beautiful family, a sweet and amazing ministry, the gift of music and so much more. But most importantly I am thankful for my relationship with Jesus Christ. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:31-32 He is on our side, He gives us good gifts, He loves us so much more than we can imagine, He gave His Son for us! “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17 “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

Let us shift our focus, our hearts and our minds to Jesus when we are hurting. He is the only comfort, only peace, only joy when we are suffering. He is good, He is faithful.

“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” John 16:22


*image – YouVersion

Just Say Yes

by Christy Hoagland

I was standing in a prison gymnasium last Saturday quietly playing while man after man left their seats to repent, believe, and profess faith in Jesus at the back of the room and as they were gathering around to pray I was overcome with the faithfulness and goodness of God. And I said to myself “Christy, you could’ve missed this.”

I could’ve been content just singing on the worship team at my church, leading a song here and there and doing Bible studies and many other “good” things but… still missed out on the best things God has for me to see and to witness and to experience. Don’t get me wrong, going to church, preaching, leading worship, serving, it is all part of what God calls us to but that is only the beginning and if that is all we do then we stay stuck, we stay in our places and don’t venture out to share our faith, love the unlovable, and go to where God has called us and do what God has called us.

For me it has been a process in my Christian walk, obedience to say yes when prompted and no to other things. And I have done both; the “nos” to obedience to God keep us stuck and the “yeses” set us free and help us focus on what really matters. Obedience to Jesus keeps us from settling, as Jennie Allen would say “I almost settled for a wasted life” (Johnny quotes that all the time now); if we are honest we have all been in seasons where we look back and wonder where the last month, year or years went and if there was any meaning or significance in it. This is what I fear most, living a life of insignificance as a follower of Jesus. As myself, I am insignificant but in Christ – so much more. Thankfully I serve a pursuing God that has given me His Spirit to prod my heart to a better way to live.

I’d like to share just a few of the promptings God put in my heart that has led me to today – to this precious ministry of worshiping with and leading the incarcerated in music, the Word, and so much more.

2013 – My “anything prayer” *(Anything You want me to do, Lord, I’ll do it for You) and the challenge to risk… honestly, the details don’t really matter but I took a risk and said yes to something and God started growing me into a worship leader.

2013 – A simple meeting in a church hallway with an ex-offender. From this point on God would use this ex-offender to become my encourager, my friend, my ministry partner and more

2013 (December) – First prison concert at Algoa Correctional Center

2014 – Ladies Jail Ministry at Pettis County Jail

2015 – Began courses at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for a certificate in Worship Ministry.

2015 (November) – First service at Algoa Correctional Center with my husband (we then started the Volunteer process)

2016 (March/April) – First songs written (Be Still, Sing for the King, Great is Your Faithfulness)

2016 (May) – Sing for the King Ministries was born

2016 (July) – Quit my full time job to do ministry full time. This was a big yes, a difficult thing to lay down because it required faith for God to provide for us.

2016 – Present – God has taken the yes of serving the incarcerated from a once a week and a handful of services here and there to close to 200 services inside prisons and other services outside prison walls.

If you are tired and weary and wondering if there’s more to life than what you’ve been living, let me tell you that there is and so much more than you could possibly imagine. Just say yes to Jesus and He will show you great and marvelous things, He will give your life meaning and purpose and you will never be the same. Surrendered and sold out is the best way to live life. All it really takes is one yes after another, the first being surrendering your life to Jesus and then trusting Him to lead the way. Then the next yes and the next and sometimes a no along the way to keep you on your “yes path” of obedience.

Serving my Creator, life-sustainer, Savior and King is my greatest joy and sometimes I get overwhelmed that He would call me and use me like He is. Can’t wait to see what’s next…

In the meantime, I’ll just say yes.

(I hadn’t intended to use this song but as I was writing this post this song popped in my head so I have to share. It brings tears almost every time I hear it.)

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” Isaiah 6:8


Photo at top – Photo Credit: Taylor Hoos

*Anything by Jennie Allen

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 13

“Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Matthew 26:13

“We become God’s friend when we listen for His heart and His soft whisper in His Word.” – Sara H. (Pg 224) Becoming God’s friend, knowing Him more…this is what this chapter is all about, in fact, I think this is what this book is all about…knowing Him, drawing near to Him, wasting our time, our lives, everything on Him. My days become so task driven and such a whirlwind that I need this reminder to be hidden and unseen with Him. I have realized that through this study and others and especially time with the Lord and His Word that my “anything” comes from being “unseen”. Praying anything you want me to do Lord and being hidden seem so far apart but it is because of the hidden and unseen times that cause me to pray that anything prayer. Knowing Jesus more produces boldness in me, spending more time with Him causes me say yes to the uncomfortable things He calls me to and this makes me want to be hidden, unseen, different from the world and growing to be more like Him and to know Him more.

“Familiarity can be the greatest enemy to growth, and yet most of us (if we’re honest) hang out around the same side of God that we know — over and over again. Sometimes over years. Decades. And admitting it to ourselves, to Him, to others, only opens us up to possibility. I pray often: “I barely know You, God.” Sometimes, just to remind myself that there are vast landscapes of Him to explore — and just when I think I’ve figured Him out.” – Sara H.

What an adventure it is to know Christ and be known by Him. It is the greatest gift I have ever received and it continues every time I seek Him. I want to have a story like Mary’s, not to be shared and told but a story that says she loved Jesus above everything else.

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 12

I can’t pretend to know how Mary felt as she anointed Jesus with the oil. It is a little overwhelming to think about me in her place and although I can’t “change places” with her I am called to live a life that is devoted, surrendered and saturated with Jesus, hidden in Him – a life poured out at His feet. I am just now learning this hiddenness thing or maybe just now beginning to understand it and I am sure that I never fully will but as I pray and seek Him, I will try to put away the distractions, rest in His presence and listen for His voice.

“Some things that I will ask of Him, no one will ever see or know or hear. ‘The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him,’ we read in the Psalms (Ps 25:14). Pouring out my thoughts to Him and carrying the thoughts of His heart toward me, and toward my family and the people in my world, is not merely a part of life in God. It is all of life in God.” – Sara H. (Pg 202)

I don’t want to miss Jesus…miss out on really knowing Him, who He is, what He is saying to me. I don’t want to live a safe life and wake up one day wondering where the years went. I want to live every day, every seemingly significant or insignificant moment in His presence. “We’ll mature without effort into wrinkles and gray hair, but our hearts won’t mature deep into God by default. We have to desire more and more of God. Paul prayed for such greater fullness in our experience of God. Sara H. (Pg 207)

“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19

Seek Him, talk to Him, pray.

“God told me what I already knew, but what I needed to hear again: the story of God and me is my most significant story. His eyes on me and into my life are the source from which I draw everything else. Whether I am folding laundry or speaking from a platform, my exchanges with God are always about His reach for me and my reach for Him in return, again and again. The rest of life is the overflow.” – Sara H. (Pg 212) I love this! I hope you are listening for His Holy whispers, I sure am trying to, to listen and abide.

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 11

“He [God] loves to heal what has broken.” – Sara H. (Pg 190)

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

God loves to heal our broken hearts…and He is really good at it. I have been really sick this week and I was scheduled to lead worship at a Pastor and Leaders Conference today, I hated telling them I couldn’t come, I hated that I was not going to be able to network with other church pastors and leaders and I hated losing out on getting paid. But God gently reminded me that He is my provider, my comforter, my healer, my everything. And it’s gonna be okay.

So, as I was reading this week’s chapter I was reminded of God’s healing the broken, not only physically but spiritually, emotionally. We’ve been remodeling our house and our stairway is finally finished, I had picked up a large shadowbox and other things to display my dad’s uniform from Vietnam along with the flag folded at his funeral. My grandparents and aunts had allowed me to receive these precious items and I wanted to display them in honor of him. This project, along with reading this chapter wrecked me. My dad passed away in 2008 in a car accident, he was 58 years old. I had a hard time with my dad’s passing because of me…I loved him and didn’t tell him enough, I didn’t return phone calls in the months leading up to his death, I played his cheerful message left on my answering machine from my birthday over and over wishing I had one more chance to talk to him, to tell him I loved him and that Jesus loved him. Upon hearing of his death, the first words from my mouth were “I never told him about Jesus”, my mom reassured me that she had and my wonderful aunt told me about his faith in the first minutes I saw her when I arrived at the funeral home. God’s marvelous grace…poured out over me through my aunt. God knew what I needed and he began healing my broken heart over my own sin in not sharing the Gospel and not letting my dad know how much I loved him and that he was a good dad to me. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over myself but God continues to move and grow me through it. He has given me an urgency to share Him with the lost, with my family and strangers. I am thankful for His grace, His love for me and His continued healing in my brokenness.

“When we acknowledge the parts of us that are broken, we have significant growth spurts in God.” – Sara H. (Pg 198)

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 10

Thirsty for Jesus…

“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God.” Psalm 42:1

When I am at my weakest I thirst for more of Jesus. Sometimes as I am reaching for Him I feel restless, lonely, and miserable. But these are the times I remember being filled up, renewed, refreshed and propelled in my growth in Him.

A few years ago (2015) I battled a prideful and entitled spirit in myself, it was ugly and I had a hard time letting go and letting Him fill me with more of Him. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 30:30 I needed to surrender this part of myself to Him, I need to thirst more for Him and let Him be what fills my life…not this need to have my own way. When I finally relinquished control of this area of my life things started to change in my life. Grace filled my thoughts when things didn’t go my way and the doors God wanted to open for me began to fling open. I trust God, He has a much better plan for me than I do, He knows what’s best for me and will show me great and mighty things when I am dependent upon Him.

“What feels like a wilderness, a desert – the hidden seasons and the hidden spaces throughout our day that expose we are dry on the inside – cannot thwart the maker of rain. These are the times our roots forge deeper through the earth to find the water source…Our water is Him. This beautiful God. His eyes, they know us – all the parts of us. His arms, they’re strong and they hold us. His whisper speaks life and breathes dust off what’s old and needs reviving.” – Sara H. (Pg 183/184)

“I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there.” Hosea 2:14

I am reminded of a song, “I Surrender” by Hillsong…”Drench my soul as mercy and grace unfold, I hunger and thirst, I hunger and thirst”

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 9

“We search vainly from others for the acclaim that only God can give.” – Sara H.

Finding our value in Him instead of other people, listening for His voice, His leading instead of our own or others or the enemy! Let’s tune out the noise but while we are tuning it out let us invite Him into the stillness.

Let’s face it, we want to be noticed by other people more than by our Creator. We want to be lifted up, made much of, and thought well of by the world…our flesh sure does and when we try and listen for God’s voice it gets pushed out by everything and everyone else. But why wouldn’t it, we fill our days, hours, minutes with constant noise; social media, television, music, and our incredulous thoughts. And then we wonder why we aren’t hearing from God. I’m sure if my time spent on other invaluable things was put up against how much time I spent soaking in the Word and thinking about, praying to and listening to my Savior I would not be surprised at how the noise invades so much space, so much of my mind!

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” Ephesians 6:12

And the enemy wants to have our thoughts directed toward anything and anyone else than Jesus. Put on that armor and continually call out to Him to renew you, revive you, and cleanse you. I love how Sara prays the Psalms, what a truth, comfort, and renewal can come from them. That’s where many of my song lyrics have come from. “The Psalms are to be prayed, recited, and sung…to be done, not merely to be read. We are not simply to read the Psalms; we are to be immersed in them so that they profoundly shape how we relate to God… [They] are the divinely ordained way to learn devotion to our God.” – Tim Keller “The Psalms demonstrates that we can bring to God all of ourselves – with all of our emotions – and trust that He has the power to change us.” (Pg 169)

“My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” Psalm 119:25

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:7

Truth time – I am really trying to give this good portion to the Lord…my time, my mind, but it has been difficult. I find myself over and over thinking about that dreaded to-do list! BUT, at least now I am realizing that I’m thinking about it and trying to intentionally shift my mind to Jesus and not get caught up in what I didn’t get done and simply love the time I have spent with Him.

“Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!” Psalm 30:10

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 8

“All of us have the privilege of being called to be His servants. Jesus said that He Himself didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give [which we should hold] in the back of our hearts all the time. We haven’t been called to some big outward thing, to be written about or publicized; we’re called to serve Him. We serve Him because we love Him. Whatever we’re doing we’re doing for Jesus and doing for Him to be uplifted.” Helen Roseveare

Confession time…on my path of surrender, of anything God wants I thought I had to DO big things for Him to be fully surrendered. But I have learned that being hidden in Him, my time with Him, is what leads me to big or small or whatever kind of thing He wants to use me for. And as I was being obedient to His calling on my life I was forgetting to seek Him in the ordinary. I was putting all my efforts into big things that I failed to be on my face for every thing my heart ached for… I think this study is just for me but in leading it and doing it along with you it has allowed my eyes to be opened to these new truths. That God wants to be my friend, He wants an open, honest relationship with me, to know me on a deeper level and make Himself known to me more. And this happens when I spend time with Him, not just “time”….but devoted time with Him (not that check list time). “No longer do I call you servants,” Jesus said to his followers, “for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15 “When I let friendship with God become my first priority – talking to Him, hearing from Him, letting His Word shape my thinking – I align myself with an agenda that does, in fact, help meet the needs of others. I move from being an efficient and productive worker to a friend who can touch and see and engage with God. I grow to love the things and the people He loves – with my actions, with my time, and with my presence.” (Pg 135-136)

I want unity with the Father. Jesus took time to be with His Father, what an example He is of how important this is! Take time to be with God, pray, read the Word, and speak His Word allowed to yourself. I have scripture posted around the house, the more I read them…the more I believe them and the more alive the truths become to me.

“He rescued me, because He delighted in me” Psalm 18:19

You are not forgotten, You are seen by Him and He delights in you. Serving our King, our Savior, begins with time alone with Him.

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 7

Wasting ourselves on God…

“God’s currency is communion – a relationship that grows, nearer still. A depth of relationship that feeds the recipient in the way that productivity and accomplishment just cannot. What a waste. What a beautiful waste.” – (Pg 125)

Sara in the airport, people watching and praying for strangers, wanting to encounter God and then heeding His voice and nudge when she heard it and felt it. This is how we need to live life – in an uncomfortable, heart pounding, “this person is gonna think I’m crazy” kind of way. Always ready to share Jesus in some kind of way. In 2012 I went on mission to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, it was quite the experience and I returned several more times to love on people there. But during this first trip my eyes were opened to the lostness of the world, I met people from around the globe who didn’t know Jesus, who didn’t have a relationship with Him. And the greatest gift I came home with was seeing lostness everywhere I turned, when I walked into the grocery store, put gas in my car, etc, etc. Looking at strangers as if they were on their way to hell changes your day to day. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to give someone hope, the Gospel. Some may know Him but need loved, a word of encouragement, a hand of friendship. We need to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, I have chastised myself when I have passed someone by and knew I should have said something because I know and have seen what God does when we obey. Sometimes it is something so simple, last year I saw a woman holding a cardboard sign and gas can by Wal-Mart in my hometown, she was overweight, a mess, and created in the image of God. I rolled down my window, gave her maybe $5 and told her Jesus loved her, she was beautiful. She said “thank you, I needed to hear that”. A few months ago I saw a family at a carwash with a minivan, the father had a sign that said something about needing gas/money to get home to California. I stopped and gave them $11, it was all I had in my wallet except for that secret place that you stash money for a special occasion 😉 I drove away and knew I needed to go back and give them that $100. I turned around and got out of my car to give them the money, I grabbed a couple CDs as well and as I handed them the goods explained why I needed to give them more. They began to cry, I asked them if they knew Jesus, they said yes. I prayed with them and hugged them and went on my way. This isn’t about giving money, I don’t always have any to give but I can share the hope I have in Christ and that is the greatest gift I can give. This is a result of Jesus’ work in my life and I gain this confidence because of hiddenness in Him. Wasting my time with Him grows me into the woman He wants me to be, a woman He can use when someone needs to hear from Him.

I heard a great sermon last weekend and the speaker talked about private prayer leaving no room for pride…we can’t show it off. Seeking the Lord is the most important thing we can “do”. Let’s love Him first and most!

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5

Let’s embrace this time with Him.

“Lord, I have loved the habitation of Your house, and the place where Your glory dwells.” Psalm 26:8

“The waste of extravagant love we pour at Jesus’ feet is never squandered. That love expands us, it doesn’t diminish us. We weren’t made to ration our love. We were made for extravagance.” (Pg 131)

Unseen Study ~ Chapter 6

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'” Genesis 1:26

We are image bearers of God, pretty cool, huh? Yet time and time again I have to be reminded of that very thing. In my pursuit to be seen I try to look like everyone else, to fit in or make myself seem more important than I am. But the greatest truth is that what makes me important is being an image bearer of my Creator.

“If you want true beauty, look into the face of Jesus”, writes preacher Charles Spurgeon. Beauty is in the lines of His face, the humanity He wore for you and for me. But we tend to be a people of quick glances – even with God. Life at warp speed allows for little beholding. (Pg 106)

One of my favorite parts of chapter 6 is Sara’s “wonder hour”, I want to implement this into my days and of course that means not worrying about the productiveness of my to-do list and letting everything go. Why do we tell ourselves we can’t do this? Why do I tell myself I can’t do this? That it is not acceptable? If I turn my heart toward eternity, then most of my days should be looking in awe and wonder at the Savior, spending time with Him. “Internal stillness takes practice. It is the fruit of hiddenness – a life that’s lived looking at God, a life of wonder in Him – and it needs to be cultivated.” (Pg 111)

He wants my affections and attention not my doings, achievements, checked boxes. Lord, help me to have my eyes only on you while the world goes on without me.