Take Control of Your Thought Life
“We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV).
Life transformation lies in the thought life. I know that now, but for a long time, my mind was filled with loud, toxic thoughts that taunted me daily. They told me I was a hopeless loser, a failure, and unwanted. And I believed them.
For years those thoughts ran wild and demanded my attention. I’m telling you, between my ears was one scary place. Sadly, I thought the noise was normal. No one had ever taught me about my true identity in Christ.
I tried to drown out the voices and the shame with drugs and other things. I was so desperate to silence the madness that I attempted suicide several times. Each time I failed, the chaos in my mind grew louder.
For three decades, I wrestled with anxiety and depression. I was a miserable person with a bipolar diagnosis and on a frustrating journey of psych prescriptions.
But then I encountered Jesus, and He set me free from my mental and emotional chaos.
I still remember the sudden calm in my mind as I bowed my heart to Him. It was how I’d imagine the stillness of the first morning after a long, violent war. For years, I’d been surrounded by chaos and fear and ruled by an evil enemy—and then, suddenly, I had peace and freedom. I could breathe in the fresh air and take in the beauty of the sunrise, the dew adorning the fields, the light fog hanging in the air.
Jesus had silenced the tormenting voices that spoke endless, demeaning words of hate and destruction. He had muzzled those mocking voices that called me names and outright lied to me about who I was. And in the stillness, I could hear the tender voice of my heavenly Father, telling me He loved me, approved of me, and wanted me. In the light of His truth, I knew I wasn’t a failure or a waste—I was enough.
Ironically, I found this freedom while I was locked up in jail. Jesus brought His light of truth and hope to that hopeless, terrifying place and shined it into the darkness of my mind. Who knew Jesus would hang out in places like that, ready and willing to free people?
That was six years ago, and I’m still being transformed into His image. It’s a journey that will continue until I meet my Savior face to face. It’s not an easy road. In fact, it often feels like a battle.
Satan knows he’s lost me for eternity, but he still attacks my mind by reminding me of my past and telling me what a failure I am. He seeks to destroy the image of God within me. But God’s Word and His Holy Spirit have taught me how to fight the war over toxic thoughts.
Romans 12:2 says we are transformed into new people by renewing our minds. Where we focus our thought life is critical for spiritual, emotional, and mental health. Scripture is saturated with this truth. It’s where we find what renews us.
There’s no way to get around it—if we want a new life, we have to change our thinking. The battle is won or lost in our minds.
We need a special weapon to win the battle—and that’s God’s truth. When we expose our thoughts to God’s truth, strongholds are blown up by His divine power. It’s like spiritual TNT.
Second Corinthians 10:3–5 tells us how we can have victory: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We 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” (NIV).
Let’s look closer at this passage. A stronghold is a fortress that holds something. It can protect us, or it can imprison us. Our thoughts can function as a prison, holding us captive, or they can be the place where we know we are safe and loved.
That’s why Satan does his best to distort our thinking through the negative comments of others and difficult circumstances. He brings whispers of shame and guilt. He wants words, experiences, and feelings to impact our inner dialogue, so we don’t realize our true identities as victors in Christ (Romans 8:37).
Paul teaches that if we take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to God’s truth, then Satan loses the battle. I envision it as a game of Capture the Flag—we chase down our thoughts, capture them, and bring them to God’s territory.
Let me give you an example. Recently, someone shared how my past choices had deeply hurt them and the lingering pain that still impacted other areas of their life.
Knowing that I had hurt someone I love, that I had caused them problems, made me lose sight of God’s truth. Satan began telling his lies. “You’re a failure, Sheridan. All you do is hurt people. No one wants you in their life. You’ll never be good enough.”
For a day, I let those lies swirl around in my head, and I became confused about who I was. I went into protection mode. I shut down, withdrew from others, and became sullen and silent. When I did speak, my words were critical and negative and hurt those around me.
Finally, after nearly 24 hours, I came to my senses and realized I was being held captive by my thoughts. I was agreeing with Satan’s lies and rejecting God’s truth. It was like I was saying to Jesus, “No! You’re wrong about who I am. Your Word isn’t true.” Wow!
I had to decide—would I continue to agree with Satan and let his lies consume me, or would I apply 2 Corinthians 10:3–5 to my thought life and bring the battle to a victorious end? I chose the latter.
I took out a journal and began to write. I reminded myself that God does not give me a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). There was no way my fearful and confusing thoughts were from God.
Next, I wrote down each thought and analyzed it to see if it was a lie or the truth. For example, I penned, “I am rejected.” Then I searched the Bible and wrote down what God says: “I am accepted by Christ and belong to Him.” (See Ephesians 1:6.) Then I took the thoughts that didn’t line up with God’s truth and rejected them.
It wasn’t long before this exercise pulled me out of my stinkin’ thinkin’. God’s never-
changing truth always brings me to a place of freedom.
Of course, Satan has brought other attacks since then. He won’t stop until Jesus comes with perfection and eternal peace. But that’s okay, because I’m winning the war. With the Holy Spirit’s help, I more quickly recognize when I’m being attacked. And since I’m fighting with godly weapons, Satan’s strongholds don’t stand a chance.
You don’t have to live in mental torture. It’s time to silence that condemning internal dialogue. It is not from God.
Start analyzing the thoughts in your head. Ask, “What is the story I’m telling myself?” Break it down and determine if it is based on a lie or the truth.
The better you know God’s Word, the more quickly you’ll be able to recognize the truth. That comes through diving into God’s Word and applying it to your thought life every day.
It takes time, but it’s the best investment you can make for yourself. Truth holds the key to your freedom, and according to John 14:6, Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Get to know Him, and you’ll find everything you’ve ever needed or desired.
Satan won’t stop trying to defeat you. But as you continually capture the misbeliefs and make them obedient to Christ, you won’t be imprisoned anymore.
Stop calling yourself names like failure, dummy, stupid, idiot, and loser. Every time you do, it’s a slap in Truth’s face, and it impacts your life. Choose to no longer think of yourself as a sinner, prisoner, addict, or terrible person. You are a child of God.
Romans 6:16–18 teaches that we are enslaved to whatever we listen to and obey. If you believe and act on the lies of Satan, then you are his captive. Trust me; he is not a kind taskmaster.
But if you’ll submit your thoughts to God’s truth, you will find freedom (John 8:32), and you will experience God’s will for your life, which is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2).
Sheridan Correa is a biblical counselor who is trained in trauma-informed care. She’s a wife, mother of two teenage boys, singer, and avid runner who has been radically changed by Jesus. She joined the Victorious Living family in 2022 as digital content manager.
Consider Your Surroundings
I’ve often shared how becoming a champion starts with seeing yourself as one. And why not? That’s how God sees you.
Experiencing victory, however, depends on you. It takes commitment, courage, determination, sacrifice, and surrender. You must move out of your comfort zone and do the work. Nobody else can do it for you.
As you move toward victory, it’s essential to consider your surroundings. Here’s a practical example from my water-ski career. After graduating from high school, I moved from North Carolina to Florida to train year-round in warmer weather.
Moving, however, required me to leave my familiar surroundings. No longer would I have my parents to coach me or my brother to drive the boat. Plus, I was leaving our private facility, Lake Kristi, that my parents had built for me. It was a perfect training site. Nonetheless, I knew moving was necessary if I wanted to train with the best in the world.
So, with the help of my parents, I sought out a healthy support system in Florida. I found an elite coach who would push me out of my comfort zone, and I made sure his lake was challenging. Training in calm, easy conditions wasn’t going to help me win against the world’s best on the rough rivers of the pro circuit. I needed to do some tough training if I wanted to climb the championship podium.
I also needed to surround myself with people of excellence. That meant finding training partners who would push me beyond my current abilities—and boy, did they! Those four guys didn’t cut this girl any slack, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
For years, I had trained with people at or below my level, and I had grown mentally and physically stagnant. I needed a push from a fresh crew and a new training regimen. Those top male athletes were just the ones to do it.
Their performances were much higher than mine, which was initially intimidating. But once I embraced the challenge, I found I could do so much more, on and off the water. It was time to grow as an athlete.
These guys trained in unbelievably tough conditions—wind, rain, and rough water. And they trained just as hard off the water, in the gym. Seeing their commitment, courage, and success led me to get off the dock when otherwise, I would have stayed in the lake cabin eating Pop-Tarts.
Being surrounded by greatness fueled a fire in me, and I started emulating how they trained. As a result, I became the number-one-ranked female water-skier in the world and posted performances that ranked with the top male skiers.
I say all that to say this: to be a champion, you must place yourself in surroundings conducive to greatness. And you must put yourself in the company of winners—this is true in every area of your life.
You become what and who you hang around with. First Corinthians 15:33 says, “Bad company corrupts good character” (NLT). If you hang around with chumps in chumpy places (spiritually or physically speaking), you will also become a chump.
But a chump is not who you were created to become. You were made in the image of Almighty God, and He doesn’t make chumps. He makes champions, and it’s never too late to become one.
Jeremiah 29:11 promises that God has plans for victory for you, but whether you experience them or not is determined in part by your circle of influence.
King David, a shepherd boy who defeated a giant and became a king, made daily choices regarding his surroundings. His choices led him to God’s winner circle. Let’s read Psalm 101 (NLT).
I will sing of your love and justice, Lord. I will praise you with songs. I will be careful to live a blameless life—when will you come to help me? I will lead a life of integrity in my own home. I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all who deal crookedly; I will have nothing to do with them. I will reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. I will not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. I will not endure conceit and pride. I will search for faithful people to be my companions. Only those who are above reproach will be allowed to serve me. I will not allow deceivers to serve in my house, and liars will not stay in my presence. My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked and free the city of the Lord from their grip.
In this psalm, we see David praising God, but we also see the daily choices he made to live a life worthy of a child of God. (See also Philippians 1:27; 4:4–9.) While he was not a perfect man, David was a champion in both public and private places.
He made choices behind closed doors to keep his heart and mind pure. He also protected his eyes (the gateway to the soul) by refusing to look at anything vile and vulgar. (See also Matthew 6:22–24.) David ensured his surroundings were conducive to a godly lifestyle—the life of a true champion.
But also notice that David surrounded himself with other champions. He had nothing to do with people who dealt crookedly with others, and he didn’t tolerate prideful and hurtful people. Instead, he found faithful people who were full of integrity to be his companions and only allowed people above reproach (those with good reputations) to serve him.
David protected his surroundings and kept himself away from liars and deceivers. He exposed wicked people and pushed them out of his presence and the city.
Like David, we must be proactive in how we live and who we live among.
Of course, you could say, “But, Kristi, evil people are around every corner. There’s nothing I can do about that.”
I wouldn’t argue with you. Evil does surround us. You might even be in prison or a workplace where being a believer puts you in the minority. That doesn’t mean you should lose hope.
Ask the Lord to show you godly people and new places you can go. Proverbs 3:6 says if you seek God’s will, He will show you which path to take. God will show you what to do and who to be around. He promises He will help you.
Just as there are evil people, there are godly people near you too who are determined to live above reproach. They are full of integrity and have a good reputation. They are serious about changing and committed to growing in faith. Search for them and join them.
When you do, bring something to the group. Don’t just be a taker; be a giver of what you have. Bring enthusiasm, eagerness, integrity, commitment, and faithfulness. I’m sure that when I was training, my desire to learn, my steady improvement, and loyalty to my mentors pushed them to new levels on the water too.
Take a moment to consider your peer group. Is who you hang around with who you want to become? If not, then it’s time to make a change.
How about your surroundings? Will the places you hang out and the people you hang out with fuel the champion in you and lead you to victory? Or will they cause you to remain stagnant or pull you into defeat?
Your surroundings and your peer group are vital for success, especially for those reentering society. Victory never just happens; you must plan for it. Take time to consider where you should live and who you should live among. Pray and ask God to direct your steps.
With His help, the right environment, and a good support system, victory will be yours.
Kristi Overton Johnson encourages and equips people for victory through her writings, speaking engagements, and prison ministry. To learn more, go to kojministries.org.
God’s Purpose; Your Trials
Have you ever wondered what God’s purpose is for your life? According to Webster’s, the definition of purpose is “something set up as an object or end to be attained.”
I desire God’s purpose in my life. Jeremiah 29:11 promises He has good plans for me, and I have a future and hope. I’ve heard this verse my entire life. But hearing it and resting on that promise are two different things.
I struggle with knowing God’s purpose for my life, especially when trouble comes at me from different directions at the same time. That’s when I have to draw close to God. Only He can help me withstand those fiery darts. If I forget that, I quickly become hopeless and start questioning everything.
Am I making the right decisions? I wonder. Is everyone against me? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Am I following God’s will? Have I disappointed Him? Am I being punished? Stress gathers and grows.
But then I remember Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (NLT). God is always working every circumstance together for good for His children.
The psalms written by David bring me great comfort. It’s incredible that even a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) faced opposition and felt discouraged at times. It shows me that I can be in the center of God’s will for my life, actively pursuing Him, and still have trials.
David teaches me how to fight and how to overcome discouragement during attacks. He says in Psalm 57:2–3, “I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me. He will send help from heaven to rescue me, disgracing those who hound me. My God will send forth his unfailing love and faithfulness” (NLT).
David was on the run, hiding in a cave from King Saul, when he wrote this psalm. The king was trying to kill him! Surely, David was confused. He had loved this man who was attacking him.
So how did he maintain hope and not become discouraged? He drew close to the Lord in prayer. He remembered God’s unfailing love and faithfulness. He trusted in the promise that God would fulfill His purpose in David’s life.
We need to do the same during our times of attack. It’s how we emerge from the battle victorious. But if we forget, how do we overcome hopelessness and get back on track with God? Here are some tips I learned from David.
Pray. Cry out to God. Tell Him what you need and leave your situation with Him (Philippians 4:6–8). His peace will overcome your hopelessness and keep you moving forward. Prayer is powerful.
Read His Word. As we search the scriptures, we gain understanding and wisdom. The Bible isn’t something to be read and checked off a spiritual to-do list. It’s life to us. Study it intentionally and with a hungry heart, and you’ll find the strength you need for the battle. (See Psalm 119:114; 2 Timothy 3:16–17.)
Surround yourself with faith-filled people. God designed us to do life together. Ecclesiastes 4:10 says two are better than one because “if either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (NIV). Ask God to send godly people who will support and encourage you. Likewise, be that person for someone else.
Trust God. God will never leave you or forsake you. He gave the ultimate sacrifice—Jesus—for you, and He will provide you with everything you need (Romans 8:32). No battle is too difficult for Him.
God will fulfill His purpose for you. The battle you’re facing doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that He is absent. Do the above and trust that He will send His help from heaven and rescue you.
CARLA OWENS loves the Lord and seeks daily to know Him more intimately. She serves as Victorious Living’s administrative director.
God’s Perfect Gifts
Picking out just the right gift for a child can be challenging. Sometimes it’s rewarding, and sometimes not so much.
I recently visited a friend who was babysitting her granddaughter for the day. On my way, I thought it would be nice to stop to get something special for the four-year-old.
When shopping for a child, I try to think like a child, but this felt a bit more complicated. I wasn’t sure I knew what a little girl might want. Finally, I decided that any toy that stimulates a young mind and helps it grow would be appropriate.
I strolled through Walmart’s toy section, almost dizzy from the endless variety and choices. The toys were arranged in sections by age group: puzzles, Play-Doh, dolls, action figures, dart guns…on and on they went. I walked up and down the aisles until I’d finally picked out a few things I thought she might like. Satisfied with my selections, I hurried off to visit my friend and deliver the gifts.
Things went well initially, and the young missy seemed to like what I got her. Watching her piece together the wooden puzzles and draw the animals on the art pad was a real treat. She enjoyed blowing some bubbles and turning Play-Doh into a flower for me. But soon, she turned to me and asked, “What else did you bring me?”
Some might think that was a presumptuous or even rude question, but I saw her as Jesus must see us.
Interestingly, Jesus tells us to posture our hearts like a child to receive His gifts.
In Mark 10:13–16, we see some children who approached Jesus, looking for His attention. The disciples, however, tried to shoo the children away. Hmm. I wonder if they thought maybe the children were being presumptuous or rude.
But how did Jesus react? He welcomed them with open arms—the same way He receives us. Jesus rebuked the disciples, saying, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15 NIV).
He wants us to come to Him with open arms and open hearts.
God offers us the most incredible gifts anyone could hope for, and according to James 1:17, they are good and perfect. Jesus gives us forgiveness for our sins, redemption, unconditional love, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and so much more. But to receive His gifts, we must have a child’s attitude. We must be trusting, meek, curious, and have a never-ending appetite for more.
“Come to me,” Jesus says. “I have much to show and give you!”
Children don’t feel powerful, perfectly righteous, or self-sufficient like most adults do. They realize their need for protection and provision. They aren’t afraid to ask questions and eagerly accept what is being given.
And that’s how we should be. We must shed the cloaks of self-sufficiency that arise from our life experiences. God wants us to realize our need for His gifts. He invites us to come to Him so He can touch and bless us.
May God give us the never-ceasing energy and curiosity of a child in our relationship with Jesus. May we search constantly for new and exciting things to satisfy our hunger to know Him more. When we come to Him with that childlike attitude, He’ll continue to offer gifts that will stimulate our spiritual growth.
So go ahead—embrace the beautiful blessings your heavenly Father has in store for you. Don’t be afraid to ask Him, “Lord, what else do You have for me?”
Kenny Munds takes the good news of God’s love and forgiveness into prisons across America. To learn more about his ministry, go to kennymundsministry.org.
Time for an Eye Exam
My struggle with impaired vision began in elementary school. Thankfully, a teacher noticed that I was straining to see the chalkboard. I was also regularly complaining of headaches. She called my parents with her concerns.
A trip to the optometrist determined that I was severely nearsighted. I got my first pair of eyeglasses in the fifth grade, and I instantly enjoyed the crisp and clear sight they provided. But the relief was short-lived as my vision soon deteriorated again and I needed new glasses.
Over the last four decades, I’ve made dozens of trips to the eye doctor. I can always tell when it’s time to go back because my eyesight starts to get blurry again. Despite the need for regular readjustments, however, I am grateful for the technological developments in optometry that continue to effectively correct my vision.
It’s important to take care of our spiritual eyes as well. In fact, regular visits with the Great Physician are essential for keeping our spiritual eyesight crisp and clear.
In Matthew 6:22–23, Jesus said, “If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness” (NIV).
Of course, He was not talking about the eyes in our head but those in our spirit.
We view every person and circumstance in our lives through a spiritual lens; therefore, we must be diligent in how we care for that vision. If our sight is out of whack, we cannot view life from an eternal perspective. Nor can we look at others with the same loving eyes that Jesus has.
Before we know Him, we are spiritually blind and cannot see the things that reveal God’s glory, like creation and the truth of scripture (1 Corinthians 2:14). But with the help of the Holy Spirit, our eyes miraculously open to our need for the salvation that comes only from Jesus.
Once He lives in our hearts, we begin to see things about ourselves, our sins, and the world around us in new ways. The apostle Paul prayed for all of us who become believers to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened so we can know the hope He brings (Ephesians 1:18).
Just like with my physical eyesight, I can tell when my spiritual vision is getting blurry. I know when I need an adjustment.
If I’m paying attention, I’ll realize that my discontent comes from not looking at my life with gratitude. My judgmental or impatient attitude is evidence that I’m forgetting to offer others the same grace and mercy that God gives me every day. When I’m consumed by the need for approval from those around me, then I know my eyes are fixed on everything else but Jesus.
Is your outlook on life currently distorted and unhealthy? Are you noticing the faults and shortcomings of others more frequently? Is a positive outcome to a tough situation difficult for you to envision?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, it might be time to get your eyes checked.
Spend some quiet time with the Lord and ask Him to show you why your spiritual vision is declining. Only He can help you see again clearly. Allow Him to search your heart for the sin or distractions that have clouded your perspective. Invite Him to restore your sight so you can again see the light in the darkness and blessings amid trials.
If you visit Him regularly and willingly allow Him to adjust your lenses, your vision will always be sharp.
CHRISTINA KIMBREL serves as VL’s production manager. Once incarcerated, she now ministers hope to those held captive by their past and current circumstances while sharing the message of healing she found in Jesus.
Let Your Revelation Be Your Conversation
I’ve moved several times in the past 40 years, but every time I arrive in a new place, I wonder how safe it is to share my heart. How much of my past should I allow into a conversation?
I’m blessed today with a husband of 30 years, but I have faced my share of battles. Long before I met the Lord or my husband, I was in an abusive relationship with a drug addict.
Amid the instability and danger that come with addiction and domestic violence, I became codependent and an enabler. I stayed in the relationship even after he held a gun to my head and threatened my life. When I did eventually leave, it was because I’d finally realized that I couldn’t save him.
It has taken many years to heal from all that trauma, and I still have triggers that I have to work through during my prayer time with Jesus.
I couldn’t talk about that part of my life for many years afterward. I was afraid of being rejected or judged. Now that I’ve met Jesus and experienced His forgiveness and grace, I’m not so worried about explaining who I was in the past because my focus is on who—and whose—I am now.
Having the freedom to be real with people is incredible. The transparency I’ve gained has released me from shame and guilt. It liberates others to share their experiences as well.
I love the story of the Samaritan woman. She felt so isolated and estranged from her community that she went to great lengths to avoid people. Yet Jesus went to greater lengths—extraordinary ones—to meet her in her loneliness. (See John 4.)
As they began to speak, her shame was evident: “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” (John 4:9 NLT). I relate to this because, for a long time, I couldn’t wrap my head around why Jesus would want anything to do with me either.
Jesus already knew all about this woman’s past. His point in asking her about it was to open her eyes to the forgiveness and salvation He was offering.
And when she saw His gift, the narrative of her conversation changed. Now instead of being defined by her reputation, she could talk about her revelation.
She ran back to all those people she usually hid from and proclaimed, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:29 NLT).
I was just like the Samaritan woman when I first met Jesus. It’s much easier now to talk about where I have been in life because the story ultimately points to Him, but I pray that I will always be excited to talk about Him.
He saved my life, healed my wounds, and mended all that was broken inside me, and I want you and everyone to know that.
I found freedom in Christ, and it changed my conversation. Knowing Him will change yours too.
Julie Engstrom is a wife and mother who uses her gifts of teaching and encouragement to help others find and embrace their identity in Christ.
Embrace the Thorn
The Apostle Paul had a mysterious affliction that caused him great discomfort. He called it a thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). And although it made him miserable, the Lord allowed the torment to continue. He didn’t remove it, even though Paul begged Him for relief.
Eventually, Paul surrendered to the Lord’s will and relied on God’s strength to endure. He knew that God had a purpose in the thorn. In fact, he said it kept him from becoming prideful about who he was in Christ.
I was in prison for over three decades. It was a thorn that I thought would never be removed. I prayed for God to free me from captivity, and I promised Him that, if He set me free, I would live out my life doing His will.
God had a reason for letting me stay locked up. I had much to learn about my need for Christ and what it means to follow Him. Today I can say that living with the grace of God through my trials and weaknesses is much greater than being delivered from them.
In prison, I learned to lean on God for supernatural strength. He never failed to help me endure the hardships and difficulties of prison life.
It wasn’t easy, but I turned my focus from having my prayers answered to seeking ways to do God’s will and be effective behind prison fences. I started using my talent for writing and my gift of encouragement to help others learn about the Lord.
Embracing my situation as an opportunity to serve helped take my mind off myself and my problems. It gave me purpose.
For 31 years, I continually reminded myself, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NIV). Like Paul, I chose to boast about my weaknesses and how God’s strength helped me overcome.
The Lord used my thorn to mold me into the man I am today and to lead others to Him. My time in prison developed my character and deepened my worship. I had to humble myself before the Lord and admit my sins and weaknesses, but when I did, His strength was magnified (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I knew it was unlikely that I would ever be a free man, but through Christ, I found contentment being in prison. Today, I appreciate my freedom more because of the thorn I suffered for so long.
Maybe there are painful thorns in your life too, and you’ve been begging God to take them away. Maybe you don’t understand why He hasn’t removed them from you yet. Please don’t lose hope.
Continue to seek God’s will with your whole heart. Trust His presence to comfort you through this season of suffering.
The Lord never wastes a thorn. Just like He did for me, He will use every thorny experience to reveal His love, faithfulness, and power and to prepare you for what’s ahead.
Ask God to give you an attitude of thankfulness and a teachable spirit that will help you endure despite your trials. Your praise will bring God’s presence and power into your situation and strengthen you. And it will be a testimony to an onlooking world of the goodness of God.
Roy A. Borges served 31 years in the Florida Department of Corrections, where he realized his need for a Savior. While incarcerated, Roy ministered to others through his writings, over 300 of which have been published. He now lives in Tampa, Florida, and is a member of the Victorious Living writing team.
Why Not You?
I recognized the presence of God early in my life. I remember being at church as young as four, dancing around the sanctuary and praising God. Joy and peace filled my little frame as I jumped up and down, shouting His name.
I loved being at church and around God’s people, and I loved God. Even so, I couldn’t imagine that God could love me. He was so big, and I felt so small. What did I possibly have to offer God? I was a nobody.
I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t insecure. My low self-esteem was a byproduct of childhood events. I was six when my older brother, Simon, and I were taken from our mother’s care and placed in a foster home. My father has never been in my life.
Mom had a mental disease that prevented her from properly caring for her seven kids. My other three older brothers and two younger sisters were also removed but placed in different homes. The foster-care system wasn’t kind to any of us.
The absence of parents and siblings wounded my heart and mind. I felt abandoned, alone, rejected, and unwanted. I remember looking out the window of my foster home and wondering what my life would be like. Who would I become? Would my life always be this way? Would I ever get to be a somebody in this world?
These were heavy concerns for a six-year-old, but I knew my future was bleak even at that age. I was a poor little girl without a family—what hope did I have?
I would watch parents picking up their kids after school and imagine their lives. I envisioned them talking about school and then stopping for an afternoon treat before heading home.
I longed for a family and a place to call home. As a foster child, my time in any one place was temporary. It always felt like I was borrowing someone else’s family because there always came a day when I had to give it all back.
When I was nine, the Massachusetts Department of Social Services decided to separate Simon and me, but a kind social worker named Mrs. Edna made it her mission to keep us together. She located an aunt and uncle in North Carolina and told them our situation; they welcomed us into their home.
In North Carolina, I continued to attend church. I gave my life to the Lord; God was my best friend. I shared everything with Him.
My aunt and uncle provided well for my brother and me. But even in a home with relatives, I still felt like a stranger. I imagined I was a burden.
“Nobody wants you, Simone. You’re weird.” That theme played constantly through my mind. Satan had convinced me that I didn’t belong anywhere.
I felt disconnected from people and assumed those around me merely tolerated my presence. Satan used every rejection, especially by peers in the church, to cement the idea that I was an outcast, that I had nothing of value to say or give to this world.
For most of my teenage years, I cycled in and out of depression. Mental health wasn’t discussed like it is today, so I didn’t know how to manage those dark seasons.
My survival instinct was to isolate. Year after year, I put a smile on my face and went through the motions of life. I hid my wounds and told no one how I felt. Who would want to listen to me anyway?
I didn’t know that those childhood events—being taken from my mother and siblings, growing up without a father, being shifted around and seeing vile things in the foster-care system—had created wounds that needed to be addressed. Nor did I know that God wanted to heal my broken heart.
In 2013, I graduated high school and began my studies at Campbell University. I wanted to become a social worker and help children in the foster-care system like Mrs. Edna had helped Simon and me.
A year later, I transferred to East Carolina University, where I eventually graduated with a bachelor of arts and a master’s degree in social work. I became a licensed clinical social worker and started working with children in crisis.
But I was not prepared for what providing intervention services would do to my heart. Seeing kids being removed from their homes and shuffled around in the system took me on an unexpected collision course with my past.
The wounds and emotions that I had suppressed for years were dredged to the surface.
I attempted to push through those dark emotions as I’d always done, but the weight of the pain took me down.
I had a nervous breakdown and had to leave my job. It was the best thing that could have happened, though, because I finally realized my need for help.
With support from my husband, I started seeing a Christian counselor to confront the scars of my past. Three years later, I met Ms. Renee, a powerful woman of God, and I asked her to be my mentor.
She helped me wade through my pain. Together, we uncovered why I felt so unwanted, unworthy, anxious, and depressed. She also helped me discover the truth about how God thinks about me. That was a game-changer.
It turns out that God is particularly close to the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). David, in Psalm 68:5–6, tells us God is a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, that He sets the lonely in families, and leads prisoners out of their captivity.
God knew every disappointment I had ever faced, and He cared about how each one had impacted me. He sent His Son, Jesus, to bind my wounds and set me free from the effects of my sin and the world’s sin. (See Isaiah 53:4–6.) He cares for you in the same way.
God never intended for me to experience painful events like growing up without a father or having a mentally ill mother. Those were Satan’s desires.
Satan’s purpose has always been to kill, steal, and destroy me and to cause me to see myself through the lying lens of “I’m not enough.” But Satan is a liar (John 8:44).
With time, I have discovered and accepted my identity as the daughter of the King. I know that I am enough in God’s eyes, and according to the Bible, nothing I can do will change His mind about that. My acceptance into His family does not depend on my performance.
No amount of worldly accolades, degrees, or titles will bring additional value to me because I have been valued by God since the day I was born. I am God’s daughter, forever. He has chosen me and adopted me into His family, and everything that is my Father’s is now mine (Ephesians 1:5–8).
Not having an earthly father or mother makes God’s role as a heavenly Father even more special to me. He fills the void in my heart created by the absence of my parents. Over the years, Psalm 27:10 (NLT) has comforted me. It says, “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.”
Unlike my earthly parents and other people, God continually holds me close. He never pushes me away or fails me, even if I fail Him. God doesn’t abandon His children or cause them to be disappointed (Romans 10:11).
I still encounter depression, but when I do, God’s Holy Spirit comforts me. He jumps into those sad pits with me, reminds me of who He is and who I am in Him, and helps me get back on my feet. My circle of godly friends helps me out of those pits too. Their love and encouragement are vital to my mental health.
For years, Satan tried to silence my voice by tricking me into believing I had no value and nothing to say. Satan knew how much I loved the Lord and that if I told others about God’s goodness, they’d want to know Him too. He also knew he would be defeated (Revelation 12:11).
I remember one of the first times I sensed God wanting to use me. I couldn’t imagine how it could be true.
“Me, Lord?” I asked, sure I had heard wrong.
“Yes, you.” And then He added the most profound question. “Why not you, Simone?”
Why not me? I’d never considered that question.
But then I remembered that the Bible is filled with examples of God choosing and using people who felt unworthy and who the world had discounted. The Lord uses the foolish things of this world to confound the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27).
I’ll never forget the first time I experienced Him using me publicly. I was on a mission trip to Nicaragua, and the leaders had called on me to speak to a group of students. I was scared to death and begged God to lead them to choose someone else. And then, like Moses in Exodus 4, I reminded God of my inadequacies.
“I can’t speak, Lord,” I said. “I have a weak voice!”
But the Lord didn’t accept my excuse. He replied, “Trust Me, Simone.”
The surge of power and boldness that came upon me when I stepped in front of those young people and opened my mouth to speak was overwhelming. God met me on the other side of my faith and filled my heart with His words. They flowed effortlessly from my lips. Many students came to know the Lord that day, but I learned a lesson too.
My shortcomings and my past don’t matter. All God needs is a willing vessel to work through. And what I’m seeing now is that the people God chooses to make a difference for Him are the people society labels unlikely or unfit to do so!
King David was once just a shepherd boy, until the Lord called Samuel to anoint him instead of his brothers as the future king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:7–12). God can use any willing person for a greater purpose and to bring Him glory. He takes care of everything, including drawing people to Himself.
Since that moment in Nicaragua, God has used my voice as a source of hope at my church, a local pregnancy center, and through the correspondence program of Victorious Living. Every day, I have the joy and privilege of helping people overcome past traumas and wounds as they discover who they are as children of God.
There’s nothing like being used by God. And there’s nothing like resting in the truth that I am loved, accepted, and enough. I hope you’ve realized that truth too.
Don’t let Satan trick you any longer into viewing your worth through his lying lens of “you’re not enough.” God gave His Son’s life for you—yes, you! That should prove how much He values you, once and for all.
So go ahead, right now. Decide today to exchange Satan’s lies for God’s truth and step into your identity as a son or daughter of God. Discover His love and faithfulness and all that is yours through Him. And then, be willing to be used however He desires.
There’s so much God wants to do through you. There’s so much purpose for your life that He wants to show you through the plans He has for you.
Seriously. Why not you?
Simone Bryant is a daughter of God, as well as a wife, writer, and mental health advocate with a degree in social work. She serves to deliver hope with the Victorious Living inmate correspondence team.
Use What’s in Your Hand
I was born in 1938, just before the start of World War II. I’ve been on this earth for over eight decades, and, believe me, I have seen a lot.
King Solomon knew what he was talking about when he shared his wisdom for life. Change is never-ending, and everything has its season (Ecclesiastes 3:1–8). And sometimes, God assigns our lives the most unexpected purpose and meaning during the most challenging seasons.
I have experienced joy, sorrow, suffering, and contentment, sometimes all at once. Circumstances have fluctuated for me over the years, but there’s one thing I’ve always known: God’s presence will be with me no matter what comes my way.
I had loving parents and a normal childhood, but we were not Christians. My grandmother sang beautiful hymns and taught us to pray before meals, but I didn’t learn anything that helped me grasp the importance of a relationship with Jesus.
My first husband and I spent 45 years together and raised five beautiful children. Frank was the first to ask the Lord into his heart. A friend had been telling him about Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was doing a work in his heart, preparing him to lead our family in the Christian faith.
Two weeks later, Frank took me to see King of Kings, a movie about the life of Jesus Christ. I was less than enthusiastic and sat outside during most of the movie, smoking cigarettes. I wandered back inside just in time to see the crucifixion of Jesus. I watched Him being nailed to the cross, and something inside my 23-year-old heart broke wide open and gave way to Jesus. I cried and asked for forgiveness of my sins, giving Him total reign over my life.
That night the Holy Spirit ignited a fire inside me to win souls. I wanted to go door to door, telling everyone about the love and grace of Christ. My husband and I served together in church and purposed to learn the Word of God and raise our children in a home that honored Him (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). Our marriage was not without challenges, but with God’s guidance, we weathered every storm together until Frank went home to be with the Lord in 2000.
The Lord was gracious not to leave me alone for too long. My path soon crossed that of a wonderful man of God. Lester was a retired pastor who loved the Lord and my enthusiasm to serve others and spread the Gospel. We made a great team for Jesus until he became sick. I was privileged to care for him until he lost his battle with Alzheimer’s. I was a widow again, after just sixteen short years.
With the death of my second husband, a heavy loneliness settled over my life. I had never been so completely alone as I was at that point. I had no idea how to survive on my own. I’d been married so young, and all I knew was how to be a wife and a mom. By now, I was a great-great-grandmother and had certainly lived a full life.
Fear took root. I did not want to sit and become useless to God or anyone else. “Father,” I prayed, “I still have life left in me. Please don’t put me on a shelf. I want to be used by You. Where do You want me?”
The enemy laughed in my ear. “Now, what could God possibly do with someone your age?”
I had no problem reminding Satan that he was a liar and a loser. God still had an assignment for me. I just didn’t know what it was yet.
I cried out to my Good Shepherd a lot during that dark valley season. He was the only One who could lead me out (Psalm 23), so I clung to Him for help.
Determined not to slip into the pit of despair and depression, I kept knocking and asking and seeking for God to tell me what to do next (Matthew 7:7). I didn’t know how, but I knew He would answer my prayers.
God reminded me that Moses was in his 80s too, but He still called him to lead the Israelites out of captivity. And when Moses expressed his doubts, God sent him on his way, promising that He’d be there for every step. In fact, God told Moses that he already had everything in his hand that he needed to do the job God had for him. (See Exodus 4.)
So I decided that I would trust too, that I would have what I needed to answer God’s call when it came. And then it hit me—there were people all around who could use encouragement, a kind note, a visit, a hug, or a prayer partner. My age would be no barrier to meeting those needs.
From then on, I started using whatever I had in my hand to serve God and others.
The loneliness didn’t go away completely, but focusing on others more than on myself brought renewed joy into my heart.
I was leaving Bible study one day when I noticed a man sitting alone outside the church. He looked sad, but when I approached him, his face lit up with a smile. I introduced myself, and he told me his name was Roy and that he was new to our church family.
I didn’t know what was troubling him or how I could help, but I knew God wanted me to show him kindness.
Just use what’s in your hand, Patricia, I reminded myself. I went home that afternoon and wrote him a note of encouragement, hoping to cheer up my new friend.
The next time I saw Roy, I gave him the card. His face brightened as if I had handed him a million dollars. My heart was overjoyed to see how such a simple gesture could bless someone.
I was intrigued by Roy’s infectious smile. Whatever his troubles, this was a man who was on fire for Jesus. When he invited me for dinner one evening, I agreed, happy to learn more about him. He was easy to talk to, and over the course of the evening, we shared stories about our lives. I learned that Roy was in his 70s and had endured a lifetime of struggles, including spending over three decades in prison!
I wondered how on earth someone who had endured that kind of trial could be so content.
Roy shared with me how God had brought purpose to his suffering by giving him a passion for helping others through writing. I was inspired and moved with compassion. I felt convicted for the many times I had lamented to the Lord about circumstances that weren’t comfortable in my life.
We talked for hours, and when the evening ended, we both felt like we had known each other for a lifetime. It was nice to have a friend, and I was grateful that the Lord had crossed our paths.
It came as quite a shock when Roy asked me to marry him. I had to go away for three weeks to seek direction from the Lord. The idea of Roy and me getting married would surely raise some eyebrows. I particularly worried that it might upset my children.
But no matter what doubts and worries I presented to God, I received not even a hint that it would displease Him.
In fact, God kept bringing me back to a place of comfort in His Word, a place that had always been my lifeline. Proverbs 3:5–6 reassured me: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your path straight” (NIV).
I returned home from my trip convinced that marrying Roy would be God’s will. I knew in my heart that by doing so, I would be answering the call from God on my life that I had so desperately needed. The answer to my prayers had come in such an unexpected and unpredictable way that only God could get the glory for it.
I said yes to God and then to Roy, and we were married on August 27, 2022. All my children were in attendance and embraced Roy into our family during the ceremony. I will treasure the memories of that day for the rest of my years.
And that is how God called Roy and me into the ministry of marriage. God had a purpose for both of us. We were to be obedient and trust Him with the details. Today, He uses Roy to bring meaning and companionship to my life, and Roy says that God brought me into his life to be the best friend he has ever had. We challenge each other to grow in our relationship with the Lord, which only serves to strengthen our bond. We truly keep each other sharp and make each other better (Proverbs 27:17).
We are now ministry partners, in our home and to each other. We use whatever is in our hands as a team to point others to Jesus.
Roy continues to use his writing to help others learn about the Savior, and I encourage whoever God puts in front of me when I see the need. Between the two of us, we have more hands than we did alone, so we can get a lot more done.
God is always faithful. If you are going through a difficult season, don’t lose heart. Remember that God has a purpose for you in every season. Pray and ask Him to give you direction. Then, while you are waiting for your answer, start using whatever is in your hand to serve God and others.
You might not think you have anything much to offer, but let God decide how He’ll use your obedience. You might just be walking along and end up crossing paths with your destiny.
God did it for Roy and me, and He can do it for you too.
Patricia Borges and her husband, Roy, love to share the hope of Jesus every chance they get and with anyone who will listen. Grateful for finding love in this season of life, they plan to live out the rest of their lives loving and serving others.
Love Like Jesus
I have always been passionate about sharing the gospel and helping people who have never heard about Jesus to become His followers. I even planned to carry out Jesus’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20) as a missionary in a faraway land.
My dream was to travel to the deepest jungles of Central America and live in a hut complete with anacondas hanging from the ceiling. The Lord seemed to confirm this plan when He sent me a beautiful wife who shared my passion for mission work. She was even on board with hut-dwelling. I imagined us going to unreached people groups. I would translate the Bible, she would teach, and we would live happily ever after, serving the Lord.
Sounds like a fantastic plan, right? We thought so, too, but God had other plans for us first (Proverbs 19:21). After our wedding, Kathy joined me in Topeka, Kansas, where I had begun pastoring a church.
God, in His wisdom, postponed our desire to serve Him overseas. We still knew we’d get there someday, but not yet. God placed us in Kansas because He knew we needed a little experience under our young belts and a good sending church before we sailed off to the other side of the world.
After five long years, the Lord finally gave us the desire of our hearts. He and our church in Kansas sent us to Taiwan. It would be our home for the next twenty years. We learned to speak Chinese and planted a church. It was a challenging task, but God helped us.
It was another five years before a single person responded to the Good News, but when they did, God moved mightily. Kathy and I were amazed at how the Lord melted the hearts of people who had been so far from believing in Him. Lives all around us were transformed. The Lord used those precious people to teach us how to live and love like Jesus.
In 2006, we felt the Lord leading us back to the United States, and I settled into a new position as the teaching and missions pastor at First Christian Church (FCC) in Phoenix, Arizona. I would need everything I had learned in Taiwan, as God was about to do a new thing in our congregation (Isaiah 43:19). And He would use formerly incarcerated people to do it.
Ministering to former inmates was the one thing that had not made it into my busy schedule. Yes, I had known ex-offenders over the years and had heard their powerful redemption stories. I’d even visited the county jail with my brother who is a police chaplain and student pastor.
I admired my brother’s work and his special relationship with former gangsters, but I’d never imagined myself in that role. Nor had I ever been in a Christian community with a significant constituency of ex-cons. That was about to change, however, after an unexpected visit from two men—Collis, the founder and director of Alongside Ministries (ASM), and Austin, the men’s director there.
ASM is a dynamic local prison ministry that matches men and women behind bars with Christian mentors before they are released and provides residential discipleship training for nine more months after their release from prison.
Collis and Austin had discovered a missing piece to the intricate puzzle of rehabilitation and reentry, and they were on a mission to put this piece in place within their ministry. That’s what brought them through FCC’s doors.
They wanted a church home for the men and women in their program and all future ASM programmers. They met with me and my coworker, Jon, to discuss their idea.
“Pastor Chuck,” Collis began, “our men and women need to experience what it means to be part of a church family. We’ve hopped around Sunday after Sunday, visiting various congregations that support our ministry. We need to find a church home so our men and women can experience life in the body of Christ.
“We recently polled our folks to find out where they would want to settle down, and it was unanimous. They like the biblical focus of FCC’s teaching and always feel welcomed. So what do you think? Can we make this our home?”
I was glad the men and women had chosen FCC over all the other churches in town, but I was also wary of an influx of ex-cons into our membership. How would our people react? Then I remembered the heart of God for this group of people.
There was no question about what He’d have us do. He loves formerly incarcerated people the same as He does anyone else. His love had redeemed them from a deep, dark pit. How could we as a body of believers refuse them a place in God’s family?
So there was only one answer. We would love like Jesus, no matter how messy or uncomfortable it got.
Jon and I had no idea the massive evolution our church was about to undergo, but we sensed God was orchestrating something big. Our part in His plan was to say yes to the opportunity and trust God with the results. We could do that.
But then, Collis presented another request that caught us a bit off-guard. “Guys,” he said, “not only do our men and women want to attend the main service, but they want to spend their entire Sunday mornings at FCC. Is there a class they could join?”
I began to sweat a little.
We offered small groups through the week at FCC and around the city but had eliminated our Sunday classes. Well, except for one attended by the congregation’s most senior crowd.
Faithful grandmas and grandpas who had led our church through challenging brush fires and storms comprised this class. Still, we weren’t sure they would be excited about 30 formerly incarcerated men and women descending upon their classroom. I wasn’t sure they could handle the culture shock.
We informed Collis and Austin that we would check with our church elders and get back to them.
We met with three of the church’s patriarchs and recounted our meeting with Collis and Austin. I smiled as I spoke, hoping to soften the impact of the news that FCC would now be the home church of a community of former inmates. Then I dropped the big news: “And they want to join your Sunday School class!”
I held my breath, expecting a negative response, but the men simply said they would ask the class. The following Sunday, after their group met, the men said, “The class thinks it sounds like something Jesus would want us to do.” I’d never been prouder to be their pastor.
It’s been 12 years since that first group of pierced and tattooed wonders descended on the Kingdom Seekers Sunday School class. I have to smile when I think back to that first Sunday. I can still hear Glen’s voice (one of those elders) calling me.
“Chuck, come quick. You have to see what’s happened to our class!” At first, I didn’t know how to respond, but then his face broke into a bright smile. “These people have doubled our attendance and reduced our average age by one-third!”
That day was a happy, pivotal moment, both in the life of First Christian Church and in those of the men and women who desperately needed to experience the love of a family. We’ve all been changed for the better.
Austin soon persuaded me to accompany him into the men’s prison in Florence, Arizona. I was apprehensive, but my fear dissipated when those men welcomed me into their family. I have been a religious volunteer for the Arizona Department of Corrections ever since. Now I do what I used to watch my little brother do—teach men about Jesus and the Word of God in prison. Talk about a foreign mission field! The irony in the way God works makes me chuckle.
Some people have difficulty believing there’s a church who will love them like a family and help them reenter society. Many respond with, “Yeah, right. No church will want someone like me around.”
But after they come, I usually hear, “I’ve never felt loved and accepted like this.” That makes my day like nothing else. These folks don’t realize what it means to us to be loved and accepted by them.
On any given Sunday, I can look into the congregation and see the faces of people I have met in prison. It has been a privilege to continue to teach and disciple them; many have become close friends. Sometimes, they teach me how to follow Jesus and reflect Him in our broken world.
God is moving powerfully from the inside out. Who knew He could use transformed men and women from the inside to bring transformation to people on the outside? I’m glad to have a front-row seat.
God refashioned what was once a very traditional, upper-middle-class church into a diverse community where incredible stories of redemption abound and where people from every tribe, tongue, and nation live in harmony, worshipping their Savior together.
It’s a beautiful sight—and I imagine heaven will be much like it.
You know, not everyone appreciated our saying yes to God and welcoming these folks. Love and grace are messy. Many people left our church because they didn’t want to sit next to an ex-con.
But that’s okay. Life isn’t about making everyone comfortable; it’s about obeying the Lord. It’s about loving others and welcoming them into God’s family. It’s about moving over and making room for people who are different from us.
Making disciples is a journey of ongoing healing and growth. It’s deliberate, intentional, and often challenging. Is it easy? No. It requires God’s wisdom and strength and patience (Philippians 4:13). But it’s worth the effort.
And in the process, you’ll grow. You’ll make new friends. And you’ll experience God doing something incredible in and through you.
Don’t miss it! Open the door. Scoot over and make room for others today.
CHUCK FOREMAN and his wife, Kathy, have established deep roots at First Christian Church of Phoenix, Arizona, a church known for humbly serving its community. In addition to being proud parents and grandparents, Chuck and Kathy consider dozens of men and women as part of their beloved family of disciples.