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Today's post was written by Ann Mainse.
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THE MIRACLE OF LIFE

In the decade of the 60's little was known about the secret life of the unborn child. Once conception had occurred, the child lived in its own separate and distinct world – a place where doctors were just as in the dark as the child in the womb. There were the basics, and little more. Gestation takes 40 weeks. The first few weeks are the most critical for the developing baby. And if anything goes wrong in those initial weeks, the life of the baby is in serious jeopardy. This is the place where a young mother named Betty found herself only 18 weeks into her pregnancy.

Premature Rupture of Membranes, or PROM, is the medical term that now describes what she had just suffered. All Betty knew was that one minute she was relishing the slight movement of life inside of her, and the next she was crying at a stab of pain and sitting in a puddle of fluid. “I don’t want to lose the baby!” she cried and prayed, as her husband drove her to the hospital. But the grim looks of the doctors told her otherwise. “Aside from resealing the sac, there’s nothing we can do,” they told her. “If the leaking starts again, we’re at a loss.” Remember, this was the 1960's, long before amniocentesis and ultrasounds. And, unfortunately, the leaking did start again. More severe and, this time, beyond repair.

“If you lie flat on your back without moving a muscle, the baby may live for a while,” the doctors said.

At 18 weeks gestation, they knew there was no hope. But as the amniotic fluid drained from her body, Betty connected to the Originator of hope – and His name was Jesus. Lying flat on her back and holding her Bible above her head, she spent hours praying and soaking in God’s Word. And the doctors watched in amazement as their ‘little while’ extended far beyond what any of them expected. For four solid months Betty laid in that hospital bed, flat on her back, changing position only slightly for the benefit of the baby. And at eight months gestation, Betty delivered a normal, healthy six and a half pound baby.

When the doctors had lost all hope, God hand-delivered it in the form of His Word. And no matter what we’re going through, we possess that same hope. Just as Jesus said Himself, in the 18th chapter of the book of Luke:

What is impossible from a human perspective is possible with God.

Luke 18:27 (NLT)

Do you know the God of the ‘impossible’ – the same God that gave a devastated Mother hope when no one else would? You might say, “Yeah, how do you really know that story is true? How do you know God still does miracles today?” Well, I can tell you for a fact that it’s true ... because I am that baby.

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You can see more blog posts from Ann Mainse at crossroads360.com/blog. Crossroads360.com is a multi-channel service providing entertaining, informative and transformative content. In addition to blogs, there are episodes of past television shows as well as exclusive web content. Their channels include KidsSpace, God Stories, Music, Explore Faith, Nostalgia, Everyday Life and News.

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We all have at least one thing in common: we are facing an uncertain future. We may think that we have the course of our lives planned out, but we never know what might happen to change those plans. Sometimes, the evening news makes that all the more real. It might be a natural disaster, an accident, or the result of the evil acts of mankind, but there is always something happening that will put boulders in our path. This will be especially true if the path we are following is not God’s path.

The Israelites experienced this regularly; one specific example is their exile to Babylon. They spent 70 years there! I can tell you that I would feel forgotten by God long before that. But the Israelites were not forgotten and neither are we. In Isaiah 41:10, the Israelites are returning from exile and facing the prospect of starting over amid other nations. God tells the Israelites that they need not be afraid. He is with them; He is their God. It’s always nice to have a companion to help you face the tough times, but so much better when your companion is the all-powerful God of the universe. God promises to strengthen them, help them and uphold them with His righteous right hand. Righteous. That means that he notices when we disobey. The Israelites constantly disobeyed and God had done something about it. God had told the Israelites in Jeremiah 29:10 that they would be subject to Babylonian rule, and that He would get back to them in 70 years. But take note: that is the verse that comes right before the popular and well-loved verse of Jeremiah 29:11. I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to give you a hope and a future. The following verses (Jeremiah 29:12-13) assure them, and us, that God will hear our prayers and will be available to us when we seek Him with all our hearts.

Sometimes the challenge of this life seems like it is far too much to handle, and it probably is unless we have God’s help. He wants us to depend on Him, to trust Him to see us through the trials we face. He assures us over and over again in His Word that He is strong enough, He is able and He is willing. We need not fear; we just need to come to Him.

I’m not sure how you feel about saying good-bye to 2012, but many people I know are glad to see it go. Several friends lost family members during the year; three lost their moms and another lost her dad. I can only begin to imagine their sadness, and am so thankful that both my parents are still alive and doing well. For those of you have been praying for Bella, I’m happy to tell you that her most recent tests show no evidence of disease, but it was certainly a challenging year for her family, and they were eager to see the end of it. Albert Chretien’s body was found a year and a half after he went missing in the Nevada wilderness. It meant closure for the family but reopened their tender hearts to the sadness.

These are the kinds of things that regularly happen in the broken world we live in, but often at the end of a year we look back with regret, and look toward the new year with hope. I, at least, always hope that the new year will be better than the last. Do we have any justifiable reason to do so? After all, the world we live in will still be broken until Christ returns. The good news: God is in the restoration business. In Joel’s prophecy, we read of God’s judgement, symbolized by a swarm of locusts devastating the land of Judah; they thunder ahead like war horses and they charge like an army of soldiers. (Joel 2: 4, Joel 2:7) But the Lord is willing to show mercy and compassion to those who humbly repent and return to Him. (Joel 2:12-13) Joel 2:25 is even more hopeful. Not only will God stop the attack of the locusts and show mercy to his people, but He will restore what has been destroyed. The story of Job is a prime example of how God does this. Job endured much suffering, lost his entire family and all his belongings, but God restored his health and returned to him double what he had lost. (Job 42:10)

No matter what regrettable things happened to you, or because of you, last year, God is able to make good come of even the worst circumstances. (Romans 8:28) We only need to stop striving to do things solely in our own strength, come humbly to Him and trust Him to take care of us. The devastating things that happened in the past cannot be changed, but the future can be brighter. God has told us that in this world we will have trouble, (John 16:33) but God has also promised us peace (John 14:27) and joy. (John 15:11) As this new year begins, I wish you, my readers, all of God’s best. May you be abundantly blessed.

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Have you ever felt like you wanted to move forward, but every time you take a step you run into a brick wall? So you take a step in another direction, and there is another brick wall. You are surrounded by mile high brick walls everywhere you turn. That’s the way I’ve felt lately. It’s frustrating and discouraging. Sometimes I feel hopeless.

Because of a car accident I was in a couple of years ago, I function at a much lower level than I used to. There are things that I want to do, but I just can’t. One of the few things I didn’t have to give up on was book club—truly one of the greatest blessings in my life. On Monday, we had our annual Christmas brunch. As has become a bit of a tradition, our leader read a story while we passed around a gift according to directions given in the story. The gift would be given to the person who was holding it when the story ended. This year, that person was me. Among other fun, unique and beautiful things was a fairly large box. When I opened it and pulled out the first tissue wrapped item, I quickly realized that the contents were letters spelling the word HOPE. They are designed to hold candles and could be used as a centerpiece on a table or buffet. But for me, the beauty of this gift was the much-needed reminder from God that I could have hope.

Only a few hours later, I came across Isaiah 41:10. "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." These are words that God said to the Israelites, a people who weren’t sure if they could have hope. They had disappointed God with their rebellion and had been exiled because of it. How could they know that God had not given up on them? How could they be sure that God would not punish them further? The word God gave to reassure them also reassures us. If we are children of God, He is with us, He will strengthen and help us. He will uphold us because He is righteous. The whole reason for Christmas is that God sent Jesus to be God with us. Emmanuel. (Matthew 1:23) Through Jesus, God is keeping for us the same promise that He made to the Israelites in Isaiah 41:10. No matter what we are facing, we can turn to Him and find hope.

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For the last couple of days I have been considering what verse I should write about this week. Usually I come across a verse while reading, checking Facebook or listening to a sermon or television program, and I think, “That is the one.” This week there seemed to be a few, but on a similar theme. The book I just finished reading for book club focused on Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God.” One of the verses quoted on an archived episode of Full Circle that I watched this week was Isaiah 64:4. “God intervenes for those who wait for Him.” Then this morning I read today’s verse on YouVersion, Psalm 42:11 “Wait for God. For I will again give thanks to my God for His saving intervention.”

The writer of Psalm 42 is depressed and far from home, (Psalm 42:6) he is being taunted by his enemies, (Psalm 42:10) and he is feeling overwhelmed. (Psalm 42:7) He is longing for relief. (Psalm 42:1) We can’t be sure of the exact circumstances he was facing, but we do know that he felt that he was facing it alone. At that time, the temple was the place that was set apart for worship and to hear from God. The writer not only missed the fellowship of being in God’s house, (Psalm 42:2, Psalm 42:4) but he also had to endure the voice of his enemy suggesting that God had forsaken him. (Psalm 42:3) And I think he wondered if God had. (Psalm 42:9)

We might not find ourselves in the same situation as the Psalmist does here, but we have certainly felt the same emotions. We may be saddened by our circumstances, lonely, irritated by malicious co-workers or neighbours, or burdened by the number of things we have to do. The good news is that we don’t have to get to the temple to be close to God. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and because of the Holy Spirit, we can communicate with God wherever we are. A look through God’s Word assures us that we have not been forsaken. (Psalm 37:28, Romans 8:38-39, John 3:16) Whatever you are going through, don’t give up hope. Wait on God’s saving intervention.

Today's post was written by Tim Challies. Rather than focusing on one passage of scripture, it looks at the Bible as a whole.
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The more I learn of God, the more I marvel at the complexity of his being and purpose—the sheer eternality of it, the otherness of it. He is knowable, but knowable only in the smallest part, he reveals himself to us; but does not reveal all of himself to us, not even close. He truly is transcendent, so far beyond us. His revelation of himself in such that a man may spend his entire life reading it, studying it, pondering it, and uncovering its treasures. He may earn postgraduate degrees and teach systematic theology and lead Bible studies and preach every Sunday for his entire life and still not come close to knowing all there is to know about this God.

And yet that is not the whole story. What God reveals about himself is such that a mere child may know it and believe it and grasp it with childlike hope and confidence. Even a child really can know this God and really can have genuine faith in him.

I find it a strange thing and even an alarming thing that the more I know of God, or the more I think I know of God, the more I am prone to forget the utter simplicity of this message. In the midst of my delight in his complexity, I can so easily forget the simple heart of it all. This matters. This ought to matter.

Sometimes I need to be reminded of the power of the Bible, the simple power of the Bible. I need to be reminded that there have been so many people who have come to faith simply by reading God’s Word. There has been no preacher but the Author, no sermon but the pages of the Bible, and yet many a person has read and seen and understood and trusted and been transformed. No wonder that organizations labor to translate the Bible—or at least parts of the Bible—into every known language and to send these pages into all the world. Every Bible or piece of the Bible goes into the world as a missionary, taking hope, taking life, taking that oh-so-simple message.

Too often I doubt the pure and simple power of the Word of God. How could anyone understand something so complicated as the Bible? Sometimes I doubt the valuing of giving a Bible to someone because I imagine him reading it and, in confusion and despair, throwing it away. “Read the book of John,” I suggest. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Could someone really read this and understand it? Can God really speak from his Word to a person with such little knowledge?

I sometimes wonder if I have these thoughts and grapple with these questions because, say, I have been trying to work toward a precise, measured, complete doctrine of the Trinity—a very good thing to do, I’m sure—and amidst all of the careful nuances and fine distinctions, I have forgotten that the heart of the Christian message is so very simple: Christ died for my sins and was raised. A person does not require a full-orbed, Nicene theology of the Trinity in order to be saved; he needs to know that he is a sinner and that Christ is his Savior. He will not want to stay there all his life, of course; once he knows this Savior he will want to know more of him, to explore the depths of this great God. That will come. But Newton’s dying confession is enough: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.

We who love theology, we who take joy in diving into the deep waters of the person and work of God, we need to be so careful, lest we make the message more difficult than it needs to be, lest we forget the simple word that we believed in. What a shame it would be if our learning hindered our witness, if the depth of our knowledge negated the beautiful simplicity that lies at its heart. Christ died for our sins and was raised. That is the heart of our message, and it is good. It is enough. By God’s grace and with God’s power, it can and it will save.

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Do you watch reality TV shows? I have often wondered how they got the descriptor reality. Based on their advertising, none of them seem too much like the reality I’ve come across. I don’t watch most of them, but there is one I enjoy: The Amazing Race. I love that I can see so many parts of the world from the safety and comfort of my own home. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a brief overview of how it works. Eleven teams gather at their starting point, packed and ready to start a race that will take them to dozens of countries around the world. At the end of each leg of the race, one team is eliminated. The participants all seem friendly enough at first, but along the way their true colours will shine through. They are given clues to find their next destination, but before they can check in at their next pit stop for a 12 hour rest period, they will face some challenges: detours, road blocks, tasks to complete—some arduous, some messy, some frightening, some fun—and more mystery solving. Hmmm. Maybe that’s not so far off reality after all.

After just discussing the heroes of faith, (Hebrews 11) who are our cloud of witnesses, Hebrews 12:1-2 advises us to get rid of the things that are weighing us down—the extra baggage, the sin, the bad habits—and to fix our eyes on the goal, Jesus, so that we may run with endurance the race that lies before us. We are reminded of what Jesus endured to run the race that was set out for Him. And He finished that race, not because what He endured was enjoyable, but because He knew what joy was awaiting Him at the finish line.

As they do each season in The Amazing Race, and as Jesus did while He lived on earth, we will surely encounter some road blocks and detours along our course too. There will be mysteries that we may or may not be able to ever figure out. There will be fellow racers who may be willing to help us, but others may want to hinder us, looking out only for themselves. There will be some costs, but also some surprising gifts, but this I know for sure: it will not be easy. That is why we are told in Hebrews 12:3, to keep our eyes on Jesus. Remember what He endured. Most of us will never have to go through anything close to what He went through for us. And since He gives us the strength we need to get through everything we face, (Psalm 89:14-17, Philippians 4:13) let’s keep going! Let’s not grow weary! Unlike the game show contestants who win The Amazing Race, we aren’t likely to end ours with a million dollars, but we will walk on streets of gold, (Revelation 21:21) we will spend eternity in a place where there is no sorrow or pain, (Revelation 21:4) and we will spend it with the one who loved us so much that His race included the cross. (John 3:16) Don’t give up!

Last night as I was pondering all my problems--instead of sleeping--the old hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness came to mind. It was inspired by Jeremiah's words in Lamentations 3:22-24 and the author's own circumstances. Thomas Obadiah Chisholm experienced God's faithfulness in the everyday provision of his needs during times when he was too ill to work. Interestingly, both the Bible passage and the hymn say that God's mercies are new every morning. That doesn't mean that our needs will be met weeks or months in advance. That wouldn't require a lot of trust, would it? I have concluded that I need to spend more time focusing on all the things I have to be thankful for, and trust God to meet my needs for everything else. Of course, I might need to be reminded of that now and then!

Please take a few minutes to listen to this hymn.

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Today's post was written by Tim Challies.
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I spent much of my day yesterday wrestling through a couple of biblical genealogies (and enjoying every minute of it). I found myself reflecting on the end of the book of Ruth where we encounter a short but powerful genealogy. But before I get there, I want to remind you of the final scene in Ruth.

As the book comes to a close, we are given a glimpse of a little scene that is fun to picture in your mind. Boaz has married Ruth and the Lord has blessed them with a child. It seems here like after the child is born, the women of Bethlehem gather the baby and bring him to Naomi’s home to announce the birth and to celebrate with her. The women carry the baby from Ruth and Boaz’s house and approach Naomi’s home dancing and celebrating, taking joy in her joy. They come to her praising God, fully aware that this child is proof of God’s covenant-keeping favor. They even declare that Ruth is more to Naomi than seven sons, that Ruth is more to Naomi than the perfect family with perfect sons. (Ruth 4:14-15) That’s quite a tribute!

In a legal sense this was Naomi’s child; he was born of Ruth, but it is the child of Naomi and Elimelech, the child who will carry on the family name. Naomi will now serve as a kind of foster-mother, helping to raise this child. (Ruth 4:16) You can picture Naomi weeping and worshipping as she takes the child from the women and pulls him to her chest. So many promises are fulfilled, so much love expressed, so many prayers answered. God has been faithful to his covenant. He has given an heir and he has restored the land.

And they lived happily ever after. The story of Ruth began with Naomi leaving the land with her husband and two sons. Naomi suffered almost unbearable tragedies, but here she is at the end, cradling that little baby to her chest—that little baby who is God’s declaration that he is a covenant-keeping God, that he loves Naomi, that she has not been forgotten or forsaken. Naomi has experienced the deepest kind of emptiness, but here she is full, restored, whole.

The end?

Kind of, but not really. The narrator has one little surprise left for us. He has held one thing back that he will include in a postscript.

Before we get there, it’s worth pausing and considering the story without its postscript. If there was not another word to Ruth, what would we learn from it? We would see God quietly ordering all things to fit his plan and to bring him glory. He has transformed Naomi, he has called Ruth out of darkness into light, he has faced Boaz with a challenge and allowed him to prove his godly character and to be a display, a reflection of the love of God. He has answered prayer and given hope and remained faithful to his own covenant promises. All of this and so much more has been displayed in just a short story.

We would also want to observe that even the most mundane of moments, the millions of little circumstances that make life what it is, each of these is a sacred moment, an opportunity for God to work and an opportunity for us to trust and serve him. There on the road to Bethlehem Orpah walked away from Naomi, she walked away from God and all his promises, while Ruth declared her allegiance to Naomi and Naomi’s God. It could have been a forgotten moment, but it was sacred, a moment of worship. Ruth went out into the field to work, the most mundane of tasks, but there she encountered Boaz. Boaz went into his fields to oversee the labor and spotted a foreign woman, doing the lowest job there was. And in that moment he extended favor to her; the most normal moment became the most significant.

In these ways and so many others God used the small circumstances to bring about his purposes, to contribute to the unfolding of his plan. When you believe that God is sovereign, you must also see that there are no mundane, insignificant moments in life. Boaz had no idea that helping Ruth gather barley would lead to him fulfilling Naomi’s need for an heir. Every moment, every circumstance, is an opportunity to serve God, to declare your allegiance to him, to proclaim your trust in his promises. This is true when we work and worship, when we fellowship and commute and check email and eat dinner and go shopping and give birth and everything else that makes life what it is. We can’t choose the moments and the circumstances that God will use to unfold his plan. All we can do is be faithful with every moment he gives us. God is always there in the background, at work, on the move, even or maybe especially when we do not see him.

That is Ruth without a postscript. There is a lot we can learn. But as it happens, there is a postscript that begins to show God’s fulfillment of even greater promises. And we see that the author has one final, parting shot. It comes in a strange form—the form of genealogy—a list of names of fathers and sons. Those verses essentially say, “Oh, by the way, this little baby, this little boy…it’s the grandfather of the great king, David.” This isn’t just any baby. Obed was the father of Jesse, the father of David, the king. (Ruth 4:17)

That must have been exciting to the people who first encountered this book. Ruth was probably written during the reign of David when people were contesting David’s kingship and the story declares that though David’s great grandmother was a Moabite, she was an Israelite in the truest sense. This is not just some abstract story, but a story about the king’s family. The king is worthy of his calling. He is worthy of the throne. He is a true Israelite. A true king.

The Lord kept his covenant, he continued to bless his people. He even provided them with a king, one who would take them past the era of the judges and rule over them as the Lord’s representative, as the king God declared “a man after my own heart.”

That is amazing. Let’s not lose the wonder of it. Naomi and Ruth and Boaz are all related to the king, they are all royal. That’s a great surprise at the end of a story, but it’s not enough. It answers Naomi’s need for an heir but it does not answer her deepest needs. Naomi was a sinner, a person who was in rebellion against God. As good as Ruth and Boaz were, they too were still sinners, still in rebellion against God. Naomi’s need for provision, her need for an heir to perpetuate the family name, her need for land and family—all of these things were simply emblems or pictures of her much deeper need. She needed more than an heir; she needed a Savior, someone who could make her right with God.

So why then are we left with a genealogy, a list of fathers and sons? (Ruth 4:18-22) We tend to skip over these genealogies, don’t we? But maybe we just don’t taken the time to really ponder them, to really understand them.

There is a genealogy in the New Testament, in the book of Matthew, that repeats this one from Ruth, it encompasses it. It’s much longer and this bit of it fits right into the middle. It begins with Abraham. It goes from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Judah to Perez and on through Ram and Amminadab and Nahshon and Salmon and Boaz. “Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth,” it says. And from Boaz and Ruth it goes to Obed and Jesse and David the king—the king of Israel. But it doesn’t stop there. It keeps going. David fathered Solomon who was the father of Rehoboam who was the father of Abijah, and on it goes, generation after generation, through Jehosaphat and Joram and Uzziah and Ahaz and Hezekiah and then on to Zerubbabel and Azor and to a man named Eleazar who fathered a man named Matthan who fathered a man named Jacob who fathered a man named Joseph who was the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is called Christ, anointed one, Messiah, Savior, King eternal, King immortal, King invisible, King of the Jews, King of the nations, King of kings, Lord of lords, Lord of glory, Lord of all, Redeemer.

And there, there is the best surprise of all. Here is God’s better fulfillment of his better promises, God’s deepest answer to our deepest needs. This is where we have such an advantage over the people who first encountered the book of Ruth. To understand the book you have to put yourself in their world, to get into their minds, so you can see the story through their eyes. But now they long to see through our eyes, so they can learn how this story truly ends. They saw the big surprise that Ruth and Boaz were great grandparents of the king. But what they couldn’t see—though maybe they suspected it or hoped for it or longed for it—is that from this line, from these people, would come the Messiah, the full and ultimate and final redeemer.

And when you understand that, the story just explodes in meaning and significance. Now we see it—the true need, the true famine, the true fullness, the true Naomi, the true Boaz, the true heir, the true Son, the true redeemer. It is Jesus who is the great surprise at the end of this story, the great climax to the tale, the great hero, the greatest answer to all the prayers and longings, the deepest answer to the deepest need. It’s all about him.
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You can visit Tim's website here.

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In December 2009, a friend of mine, a 39 year old wife and mother of six, had a routine medical exam. Not long after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. She died on this date two years ago. On that same day a teenage girl also died of a cancer that she had been battling much longer. Two days ago a dear friend’s mother also died of cancer. She was 66. Other friends and family members of various ages have also died of this savage disease, but for some reason, it hits home a little harder on February 10. And cancer is just one of the many trials we face in this world. It’s so frustrating! It seems so unfair!

There is no doubt that we should expect trouble in this world, (John 16:33) but we can also be assured that God still cares for us through the hard times. We do not face these hardships because God has stopped caring for us, but because we live in an imperfect world. God, however, is not imperfect, and He has compassion on those who humbly seek Him. Psalm 34:18 assures us that He is close to the brokenhearted and will deliver those who are discouraged. Sometimes the deliverance takes longer than we want it to, and it doesn’t necessarily come in the way we expect. Psalm 34 is David’s testimony of how the Lord delivered him, and his assurance that God will do the same for future generations as well.

The King James Version translates the last part of Psalm 34:18 as those who have a contrite spirit. It makes sense that being humble would be a requirement for God’s deliverance. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6) Psalm 51:17 tells us that the sacrifice that God desires is a humble spirit; a humble and repentant heart He will not reject. If we come to God humbly, and lay our burdens at His feet, (Psalm 34:15, Matthew 11:28) He will be gracious to us, bring us through the discouragement and heal our broken hearts.