The Voice

“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.” – Job 37:5

Someday, we’ll hear Jesus’ voice with our ears and not just our inner selves. When we do, I think it will be unlike any we’ve ever heard, it will be God’s voice in a human body – one we will want to listen to forever!

  • It was his creative voice that said, “Let there be light” and the worlds came into being (Genesis 1:3; John 1:3).
  • It is his majestic voice that thunders over the waters (Psalm 29:3).
  • It is his gentle voice that says,  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (John 11:28).
  • It was his authoritative voice that brought Lazarus alive from the grave (John 11:43).
  • It is his redemptive voice that says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 22:34).

As Henry Blackaby has said, “A word from Jesus changed everything!” And it still does. It will be Jesus’ voice that will someday welcome me into his eternal presence. I hope you have that amazing anticipation, too!

Presently, Jesus’ voice is internal to us, quiet messages in our hearts and through his Word. Let’s not miss what he is saying, because his voice inside us is more than a message, it’s an invitation to relationship – day-by-day, hour-by-hour, forever. So, with open ears and hearts, let’s keep listening!

“Specifically, in our attempts to understand how God speaks to us and guides us we must, above all, hold on to the fact that learning how to hear God is to be sought only as a part of a certain kind of life, a life of loving fellowship with the King and his other subjects within the kingdom of the heavens.” – Dallas Willard

#hearinggodsvoice

Fighting Giants

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:4

One of the intriguing things about the biblical David is that we see him from a young man fighting Goliath all the way to his old-age death decades later. We see how his walk with God began and how its earthly version ended.

As the years go by, I’m interested in how people transition from one stage of life to another. David is a real example for those of us who are in Act III of life. We are told of a war with the Philistines when David was confronted in battle by a descendent of giants. His men rescued him from certain death, but told him he could no longer go to the battle front. They would take it from here. In the very next verses, we are told that in subsequent battles, when David stayed home, these soldiers killed three more giants who were attacking God’s people. David was known for his greatness in defending Israel, his strength in battle. But no more. He had come to a point when it was someone else’s turn to kill the giants (2 Sam 21:15-22).

There comes a time in our lives when we step back from the front lines and pass the responsibility to the next generation. God has plans for them, too. Plans for using them to pick up where we leave off. Plans to use us as teachers, encouragers, cheerleaders – but from the sidelines. Sometimes we just have to get out of the way and let them do it!

“Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.” – Nikos Kazantzakis 

 

#leadership

 

Hope

“Through the dark and stormy night

Faith beholds a feeble light

Up the blackness streaking.

Knowing God’s own time is best

In patient hope I rest 

For the full day breaking.” – John Greenleaf Whittier

I have been distressed lately because I have been looking at all the problems that exist, that could exist, or that may be on the horizon or trajectory of my life or the life of someone I love.

Hope doesn’t do that. Hope looks at all the amazing and wonderful things God will do in the middle of the problems and the waiting. When we are sad, discouraged, or even in despair, we have a God who is bigger than our circumstance and is ready to fill us with hope.

Someone I knew had completely given up on his marriage. He was sure it was beyond repair, but, because his wife pressured him, he agreed to go to a counselor. I was very surprised when he continued, week after week, to go back to talk about his marriage with this therapist. Later, when the relationship was in the process of healing, I asked him how that happened. His answer was something like this: “From the very first session, the counselor painted a picture of possibililties. I had lost hope, but she knew how to give it back to me. When you have hope, you can do most anything.” 

Do you need the energizing power of hope? Maybe a prayer I’m learning to pray will help you, too:

Lord, may I trust you with my impossible situations – the things I despair over. Take my sadness away and fill me with joy and peace. And, Holy Spirit, may I overflow with hope by your great power.”

Now, let’s wait  – peacefully, faithfully, alive with hope! 

#hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” – Romans 15:13

A Holy Place

“I am the Lord; for they shall not be put to shame who wait for, look for, hope for, and expect me.” – Isaiah 49:23b

Do you have a holy place? A place where God seems close? It might be as simple as a familiar chair where you pray every morning or as complex as driving to a church or chapel for an intimate time with him. Wherever it is, do you spend a lot of time hanging out there?

If so, you will understand Joshua. He wasn’t content with a faith delivered through someone else. He wanted to know God personally. So, when Moses went into the tent to meet with God, Joshua waited outside. Then, after Moses went back to the camp, Joshua stayed at the tent, wanting more time in the holy place.

This contrasts with the rest of the people who were afraid of God and asked Moses to represent them and bring messages back so they didn’t have to risk being too close to the all-powerful one. Joshua wanted first-hand experience –  he wanted to know God for himself – even if it was risky (Exodus 33:7-11).

We can know God for ourselves, too! The key may be hanging out a little more often and for longer periods of time in the holy place. The place where he is near and has shown himself in the past. He longs to connect to us. We just need to be ready to receive him.

Lord, I want to be like Joshua – staying in your presence so I can be there when you have something to show me or something to say to me. I don’t want to miss you!

“God will lead you, almost without your knowing it, if you will be faithful to come before him quietly.” – Francois Fenelon

 

#prayer

 

Warm-ups for Prayer

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” – Colossians 4:2

I tend to greet God in pretty much the same way every morning and it’s a pattern I picked up from a revered Bible teacher. It involves saying “good morning” to each person of the Trinity, pausing to worship the Triune God, then asking for his mercy. The opening words are often the same, but the worship or follow up prayer time changes from day to day.

Why do I do this? Because when I begin my quiet time, I may not feel very spiritual or even ready to pray. My routine opening prayer becomes a catalyst for more conversational prayers to follow.

Here’s another example: We’ve taken what is commonly known as The Lord’s Prayer and often use that in a way that can be mechanical or rote, but if we slow down and think about what we are praying, phrase by phrase, it’s powerful. And the very familiarity of the prayer often opens our hearts to deeper, more personal prayers.

Another way to stimulate heart-felt prayers is to use a psalm or other portion of Scripture and pray about each phrase or sentence as you read. In Scripture we read about God and his purposes. Praying those understandings back to him sometimes opens a fountain of thought about people or situations in our lives we need to pray about.

I think we all sometimes need to calm, direct, and warm our hearts and minds for prayer. A routine reading, prayer, or pattern can do that for us. God enters our lives when we find a way to open the door to him.

“Prayer is not only asking, but an attitude of mind which produces the atmosphere in which asking is perfectly natural.” — Oswald Chambers

#prayer

Don’t live afraid.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” – Isaiah 26:3

There is so much to be afraid of these days. On a personal level, we’re afraid of traffic accidents, sickness – especially the life-threatening kind, criminal activity, storms, environmental contamination, and even the future.

And those are just the physical issues. We also have emotional fears of things like rejection, job loss, criticism, finances, and broken relationships. The problem is that living in fear overshadows our walk with God.

Safety and security are fundamental human needs. When we feel unsafe, we cannot be the productive, happy, fulfilled people God intends for us to be. So, he, as our all-powerful heavenly Father, offers to protect us, to shield from attack, and to make sure we have a safe place in which to know and serve him.

We just have to believe that and stay close to God, described in Scripture as our Rock, our Fortress, our Protector. If we rest in his presence, we might hear him whisper something like this:

“I am with you on every mountain trail and on every city street. I am with you on every drive in the car or flight on an airplane. Nothing can happen to you that is not my will unless you run away from me. Stay close and you won’t live afraid!”

Do you hear that? Don’t live afraid anymore! Believe God is with you and thank him. Talk to him all the time in every circumstance. Tell him you trust him and let him lead. Then, you can be free. You don’t have to live afraid anymore!

“I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” – Thomas Merton

On Praying Out Loud

“I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and He will hear me.” – Psalm 77:1 (ESV)

Most of us pray silent prayers in our minds, and I know God hears those prayers. Heart/mind prayers are a way of communicating with him even while we are walking down the street or sitting in a meeting.

But there are times when we might be better off praying out loud. I think God loves to hear our voices as much as we love to hear his. And, guess who else is listening? Satan can’t read our thought prayers, but he can hear our vocalized prayers. I think it makes him shake in his boots to hear us giving ourselves and our problems to God.

There’s another reason, though, to give voice to our prayers: When we are speaking aloud, we think more clearly about our words, and our minds don’t wander as they often do when we are praying silently – and we all have that problem! As we listen in on our own prayers, we begin to know our own hearts.

A friend of mind who, at one time in his career, had a long commute to work, said he used to imagine Jesus sitting in the passenger seat of his car as he pulled out of the driveway. He would talk out loud to Jesus most of the way to work, sharing his stresses, praying for his wife, and committing the day into the all-powerful hands of his divine passenger.

If you don’t already practice praying out loud, you may want to try it. Prayer can become conversation that makes a difference!

“True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that – it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.” – Charles Spurgeon #prayer

Royalty

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, ” – Ephesians 2:6

How do we decide what to wear, read, or eat and drink? Or what to follow online or watch on TV? Most of these decisions happen, not out of a lot of thought, but out of our character, personalities, or habits.

Some of these decisions lead us down unhappy paths as we find ourselves doing things we’re not proud of. And, deep inside us, we want to be better than our behavior might suggest. What’s the solution? Realizing and acknowledging who we really are: We are God’s children. We are of royal blood. Really, we are! We are told we will reign with Jesus someday.

We look at our surroundings, problems we face, decisions we make, and people who cause us trouble, and we don’t see the royal part at all. That’s where faith comes in. It is God who defines who we are. And he says we are his kids, heirs, with a future secured by Jesus himself. In our bodies, we actually house the Spirit of God. We are recipients of our Father’s love and mercy. And our Father is the King above all kings! When we believe that, we will, over time, begin to behave like princes and princesses.

If we are making decisions, consciously or unconsciously, that are beneath our dignity as a dearly-loved children of God, we need to ask God to help us see and understand our true identity. Let’s read the Bible, learning and listening to who God says we are. Then let’s believe it. Royal behavior is sure to follow.

“We are made for larger ends than Earth can encompass. Oh, let us be true to our exalted destiny.” – Catherine Booth

 

#changingbehavior

Life is so daily.

“The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness.” – 1 Samuel 26:23

Do you sometimes long for something more or different in your life? You have the same tasks over and over again. Same views out the window. Same people, same conversations, same opinions. We’re trying to follow God, to please him, to do something that will matter eternally, but we are caught up in the dailiness of living. Sometimes we can feel like Belle in Beauty and the Beast when she sings, “There must be more than this provincial life.”

Maybe that’s why God emphasizes faithfulness. He wants us to be faithful in doing the next task, caring for ourselves and others, praying and reading his word, and loving those who may not be lovable on some days. Faithfulness sometimes means doing the same right things over and over again.

And, in that faithfulness, we just might be building something greater than we know – something God is working together we cannot see. I was encouraged today when I read this from Oswald Chambers:

“We are not taken up into conscious agreement with God’s purpose, we are taken up into God’s purpose without any consciousness at all. We have no conception of what God is aiming at, and as we go on it gets more and more vague. God’s aim looks like missing the mark because we are too short-sighted to see what He is aiming at.” 

There is so much about God and his plan we cannot know. But, we can be faithful in what he puts in front of us to do and, in that faithfulness, hang on to him, believe his promises, and know we can trust his aim – whatever it is!

“Who a man is is always more important to God than what he does.” – A.W. Tozer

#faithfulness

Hearing God

“I will praise the Lord who counsels me. . . . “ – Psalm 16:7a

God spoke to his people in ancient days in visions, by voice, and through prophets. He spoke to the people in 1st century Israel even more clearly in the person of Jesus. Sometimes, now, we hear God’s voice through the Holy Spirit as he guides and enlightens us – often through something in the Bible or through another Christian.

The story of the first time Samuel heard God’s voice is encouraging to me. God was talking and young Samuel, never hearing God speak before, didn’t know it was him!

I’ve felt that way, too, and perhaps you have. Was that really God talking through thoughts that came to me? Samuel’s experience is helpful in figuring out where the voice in our heads is coming from. If it’s from God, it will likely have these characteristics just as it did for Samuel:

It will be personal. He called Samuel by name. If the Holy Spirit is giving us a message, it will be something he specifically wants us to hear, understand, or feel.

It will be persistent. It took God four times to get Samuel’s attention! If our hearts are right, he will continue to call until we hear and know for sure it’s him.

It will be powerful. We don’t forget a message that comes directly from God. I remember specific things he told me nearly 40 years ago! And I’ve found that hearing includes empowering us to act or tell – whatever he requires.

So, let’s keep listening, knowing how much God loves to talk to those who are willing to hear and respond!

“I need to be able to recognize God’s whispers – those moments when he draws near and breathes words of life into my soul.” – Margaret Feinberg

Building Bridges

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” – Romans 14:19

We recently visited Budapest, a city that seems to have two personalities, one on each side of the Danube River. Buda is hilly and has ancient churches and castles. Pest boasts a thriving commercial center. Two cities, varying emphases, united to form one amazing cultural capital in Europe.

It wasn’t always that way. Buda was set on one side of the Danube and Pest on the other. Two towns with common problems , but separated by a hard-to-cross river. Then someone had an idea – build a bridge! Engineers were hired and construction began. The first bridge between Buda and Pest opened in 1849 and the two towns became one. Pest was able to take advantage of the hills of Buda for defense and Buda was able to participate in the active commercial areas of Pest. Today there are many bridges connecting Buda to Pest, but it all started with one idea about uniting two communities.

Jesus is the ultimate bridge-builder, making a way for us to be connected with the Father. To do that, he had to set aside his own rights and leave heaven’s luxuries to come to earth, and live among humans. Maybe we can learn from Jesus something about how to build bridges. It may involve leaving our comfort zones, giving up some of our rights, and walking alongside others to understand their perspectives. If we are willing, God may use us to build bridges between ourselves and others, or within families, or across cultures. Do you see any bridges to be built in your world today?

“Got any rivers you think are uncrossable?
Got any mountains, you can not tunnel through?
God specializes in things thought impossible
He does the things others cannot do.” – Oscar C. Eliason

 

#peacemakers

Break for Blessings

“We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” – Psalm 33:21-22

Sometimes when we pray or read the Bible, we think we’re doing God a favor. Don’t get me wrong, he loves it when we spend time with him – he wants to be the focus of our attention. But I’ve found he always gives me so much more than I give him!

Then throughout the day, when I stop to think about God, offer a short prayer, or remember a verse or phrase from the Bible, it’s as if I’ve opened up a pipeline to heaven through which he sends blessings. The most common one, for me, is joy. But there are others:

  • a sense of his presence
  • peace, knowing he has everything under control, even when I don’t
  • a new idea for a problem I’ve been wrestling with
  • or reassurance of his desire to be working for my good

He’s waiting to do all that for you, too. I think you already know that!

Our Father in heaven wants to be in daily, hourly relationship with us. He is always there, always ready. Stopping to engage with him is our responsibility. When we do, he responds. And our needs are met, sometimes needs we didn’t even know we had. Those moments become sparks of joy that brighten our entire day.

So, no matter how busy we are, let’s pause often to remember the one who waits for us to turn to him. His smile will be worth the pause!

“When I remember to pause, blessings appear. I break for blessings.” – Macrina Wiederkehr

 

#blessings

What do you see?

“Consider what great things he has done for you.” – 1 Samuel 12:24b

What do you see when you look at the image on the left? That’s easy, isn’t it? It’s a black dot. But wait, there’s more. There’s also the white background and that is a far greater proportion of the image than the black dot is, right?

What’s the black dot in your life? When you aren’t focused on something else, where does your mind go? The broken relationship? The child with a troubled spirt? The job that’s a continuing frustration? The bad choice you made? Financial pressures? The habit that controls you? We all tend to have a black dot – something that keeps life from being perfect or, sometimes, even happy.

Maybe we need to spend more time looking at the white background! What is good in our lives? What has God already done for us? Make a list. Do you have friends, family, health, resources, skills? Do you get to look at clouds, sunsets, wonders of creation? Can you see? Hear? Touch? Smell? Taste? Do you have something to hope for? Someone who loves you? Someone to love? Can you enjoy music, reading, cooking, or eating? Do you have a bed with warm blankets, a roof to keep out the rain? All of that is what we should see first – not the black dot!

God is in control. He is loving, good, wise, and kind. Maybe the distracting situation will always be there, but God’s goodness gives us much more to turn our minds toward. When we do that, just maybe we can trust him with that black dot!

“The greater your knowledge of the goodness and grace of God on your life, the more likely you are to praise Him in the storm.” – Matt Chandler

 

 

 

#trust

#thankfulness

 

Looking down or looking up?

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” – Psalm 37:23

When I walk on trails, I look at my feet a lot. The way is often rocky and the path is sometimes narrow. I don’t want to stumble, so I keep my eyes down.

That may be practical on the trail, but as I walk through life, I am beginning to realize that God’s  eyes are on me, so mine can be on him. I don’t stumble or stray if I am looking in the right place – at God, through his Word, prayer, and contemplation. Eyes on him always and then the path becomes smooth beneath my feet.

The benefits are amazing when we stop looking down: We can see the views around us and further along the path ahead of us. And, as we are open to God’s guiding presence, we realize he wants to calm our fears, enhance our joys, fulfill our hopes, and give us peace. He whispers, “Be healed. Be whole. Be fully alive! I am with you and will never leave or turn away. My eye is on you, my arms are open for you. I guide, calm, comfort, and provide. Trust me. Love me. Enjoy and thrive in the life I have given you.” With God, every step becomes a joy!

For all of us, it’s about realizing how much God loves us and that he chooses to be with us. Not because we are great, but because he is. He watches over every step. The journey is more of an adventure when we’re looking at him. It’s less about where our feet are and more about where he is leading.

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.”– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

#walkingwithgod

Living generously

“I will gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.” – 2 Corinthians 12:15a

What do you think of when someone talks about generosity? Probably we anticipate we are about to be asked to part with some cash. But, there’s a lot more to living generously than giving money.

Peter and John give us a great example of that (Acts 3). They saw a man on the Temple steps who’d been lame from birth. People carried him there every day so he could provide for himself by begging. When approached for alms, Peter said, in essence, “I don’t have any money, but I have something else I can give you, ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk.'” Peter gave this man a gift of far greater value than a few coins!

What does it mean to live generously? Sometimes it does mean giving money. And we need to do that willingly and often. At other times, we may need to give something else. Maybe our skills to lend a hand to someone who needs help. Maybe it’s a listening ear. And, sometimes hardest of all, it means being generous with our love for those who are hard to love and forgiveness for those who have wronged us.

Generosity has more to do with attitude than with cash. Living generously frees us from the burden of accumulation and allows us to travel lighter, to be less self-centered and more compassionate. And, somewhere along the way, joy creeps in. Maybe today is a good day to look around and see who needs our generosity – financial, spiritual, relational, or merciful. Then, let’s open our hearts and our hands!

“The noblest thing a man can do is just humbly to receive, and then go amongst others and give.” – David Livingstone

 

#generosity

All Day Long

” . . . pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

How’s your prayer life? We all wince at that question, don’t we? We feel we should pray more and have a really hard time actually doing it. But maybe we pray more than we think we do.

The writer of Psalm 119 seemed to have some good prayer practices, one of which was praying at various times during the day. He talks about praying before dawn (v. 147), early evening (v. 148), at midnight (v. 62). In fact, he says he prays seven times a day (v. 164).  That’s a lot. Or is it? How many times a day do you pray?

For me, there are days when I go for hours without talking to God at all. On other days, it seems we are in constant communication – I see his creation and tell him thank you. I think about something I read in the Bible that morning and talk a little to him about it. A friend comes to mind and I bring her name before the Father. Do you do that, too? I like those days. Perhaps I’m less persistent in prayer than the psalm writer who made it a point to pray seven times a day. Sometimes I need to be more intentional in that focus. But I do love it when the communication lines between God and me are open all day long. I think that’s what he wants. I think that’s what we want, too. Let’s keep the conversation going!

“I have found that my reluctance to pray increases when I regard it as a necessary discipline and decreases when I see it as a time to keep company with God. True prayer comes from within, from the longing of the heart.” – Philip Yancey

#prayer

Cleaning Up

“I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” – Isaiah 57:15b

Sin is a dirty word. We don’t like to talk about it. We don’t like to acknowledge sin may be a problem in our lives. So we hide it or ignore it. I do that, too, sometimes, but am beginning to see my sin as God does:

  • He hates my sin, but he loves me.
  • He’s not surprised when I sin. He knows my frailties.
  • My sin grieves God, partly because of how it damages me.
  • God is holy and cannot look on sin, so my unconfessed sin is a barrier between me and God, between me and answered prayer, between me and the blessing God wants to give me (see Isaiah 59:1-2).

Maybe we should begin looking at our sin in a whole new way – not as something to hide, but as something to be acknowledged, something from which we can be freed. It’s like working in the garden all day, coming in hot, dusty, and sweaty. We can ignore our condition or we can get in the shower. Which is better?

All God asks is that I recognize my action or attitude as sin, then confess and receive forgiveness and the strength to overcome. The joy of confession is that my relationship with him is fully restored, my prayers are heard, and my life is blessed. Confession is not a bad word. It is cleansing, restorative word – something we should not turn from, but should run toward. It’s like a nice, warm shower!

“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” – Jerry Bridges

Because I love you . . .

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:4-5

Do you ever go through those times when you think, “Why does God even bother with me? I’ve let him down again. I keep failing to overcome some of the issues that haunt me. I don’t know why he doesn’t just give up on me.”

Listen. Really listen to the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit inside you as you sit in his presence, as you pray, as you read the Bible. You are likely to hear something like this:

I love you even when you feel unlovable. And because I love you, I

  • answer your prayers
  • guide your steps
  • teach you through my Word
  • protect you from the evil one
  • draw you closer to me
  • will take you someday to a place where we can be together forever.

I love you just because. You’re going to have to get used to that!

Can you believe that? Really believe it? It’s true, you know. God loves each of us unconditionally. Once we grasp the reality of that truth, we will never be the same. Our worthiness is not even a small part of the reason God loves us. He loves us because he created us. He loves us because it is part of his eternal nature to love us – no matter what. How can we help responding with joy to such unconditional, unchanging love? Believe it. Live in it. To God, you are always lovable. And always loved!

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ, and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” – Brennan Manning

 

It’s going to be beautiful!

“He has made everything beautiful in his time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

My friend, who worked for an art gallery, believed we should surround ourselves with at least a few beautiful things. She was convincing enough to sell me a framed print for my office! There’s something about the beautiful that gives satisfaction and, even, peace.

Is your life beautiful today? Is everything in order? All relationships going smoothly? Are you healthy? Happy? Content in your work? Growing spiritually?

If you answer “yes” to all of those questions, you are most blessed! And most unusual. For the rest of us there are situations, areas of life, concerns that are not at all beautiful. Those are the things we pray about, sometimes get anxious about, and wish there were answers other than the ones we are receiving. And if you’re like me, you work at making things beautiful all by yourself, when, instead, you need an expert. And the expert at making our lives beautiful is none other than God himself.

So if there are areas of our lives that need beautifying, we turn to him, we pray, and we give up trying to control situations by ourselves. In prayer, we learn to trust him even while we wait for him to act. Believing he is at work even when we can’t see anything happening. And, if I read the Bible right, he’s making even the ugly things beautiful. He doesn’s waste our pain, failures, or tears. He weaves them all together into a life that will, in his perfect timing, be beautiful. When it comes to beauty, God is the expert!

“Through prayer we become part of a greater story – the story of what God is doing in our lives, our families, our communities, and around the world.” – Margaret Feinberg

 

Let me see!

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” – Psalm 119:130

Have you ever watched a legal drama on television? First we hear the prosecution’s case and it’s clear the guy is guilty. Then the defense presents its case and we aren’t so sure any more. The same thing happens when we hear the other side of an argument – particularly those about theological or sociological issues. If we listen openly to a well-presented response to our viewpoint, we may walk away saying, “I never thought of it that way before.” Don’t you like those moments of insight that open up new possibilities of thinking for you? I do!

In Acts 9, we read about Saul. He was persecuting followers of Jesus because he thought he knew the whole story about this now-dead Jewish rabbi. Then he was confronted by the resurrected Jesus and the encounter left him physically blinded, but spiritually enlightened. He was sent to Ananias in the city of Damascus. Ananias touched him and the Bible says something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see clearly. The restoration of his eyesight evidenced the truth that he had met the Christ, but the greatest miracle, to me, is the opening of his spiritual eyes so he could now see the world around him as God does: without prejudice, arrogance, or fear. Everything changed for Saul when he met Jesus and, for the first time, saw him as Lord.

“Dear Lord, I acknowledge the way I see things may be wrong. Remove the scales from my eyes so I can see the world, people, and your work among us as you do – with an understanding mind and loving heart.”

“We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart.” – Blaise Pascal

 

 

Because you prayed

“. . . in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6b

Do our prayers make a difference? Yes! God hears and responds.

King Hezekiah in an interesting example. The Assyrian army was outside Jerusalem ready to attack. But first they came with threats, hoping the people would surrender. They bragged about all the nations they already had conquered and mocked God saying he was not strong enough to save them.

Hezekiah took those threats before God in prayer, asking that God defend his people for his own glory. Here’s God’s response (through Isaiah, the prophet):

“. . . Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:” (from Isaiah 37:21)

And he promises Sennacherib will be defeated and Hezekiah’s army will not have to lift a finger. The next morning 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were found dead in the camp. The others fled.

Look again at what Isaiah said to Hezekiah: Because you prayed this is what God’s going to do. And he did.

Keep praying! Who knows what happens because you pray? I imagine a scene in heaven when God says to us,

  • Because you prayed, your child was healed.
  • Because you prayed, your friend came to know me.
  • Because you prayed, your soldier came home.
  • Because you prayed, others learned to pray, too.

How will he finish that sentence for you? You won’t know if you don’t pray. For reasons we’ll never understand fully, God takes our prayers seriously. At least that’s what he told Hezekiah. I think he says the same to us. Our prayers matter!

“The sense of mystery must always be, for mystery means being guided by obedience to Someone Who knows more than I do.” – Oswald Chambers

#prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above all . . .

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” – Isaiah 30:15

How good are you at resting? God is very big on rest and actually designed our weeks to have one whole day in which we are told to rest – to stop what we do on other days and do something that is refreshing and restorative.

After God had given the commandments to Moses, he emphasized one of them: Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you'” (from Exodus 31:13). Above all? Does God really mean that? Why, I wonder?

I think it’s so we learn to trust him. Trust him with the work we didn’t get done, with the plans that need to be made, and the relationships that need to be fixed. Trust him with the anxieties we carry all week. One day a week, we rest in his love and grace and his work on our behalf.

And that includes spiritual striving. God does the work of making us holy – setting us apart for him. We can try harder, working our hearts out to please him, but if he’s not in it, all our efforts are fruitless. Sometimes he just wants us to sit still in his presence and let him work his transformation in our lives. It is in that rest, perhaps, that we learn to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Maybe restful living is mostly about letting go.

“Unhurried does not describe how I spend hours or minutes. It describes a state of heart. Unhurried comes not from forced breaks, but from chosen stillness.” – David Timms

#sabbathrest

Going for a walk.

“Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – 1 John 2:6

I’m going for a hike today with women who love to be outdoors following mountain trails in the sunshine of Colorado. They have led me to waterfalls, wildflowers, and picturesque views. Every hike with them is a new adventure!

This morning I read in John’s epistle that those who follow Jesus should walk as he walked. I took that literally as I contemplated my day. Jesus was a hiker. He and his disciples walked everywhere they went, so we have some clues as to how Jesus walked. Two things come to mind.

First, Jesus observed the world around him and drew lessons from what he saw. When they were in an olive grove, he talked about vines and branches. When he  saw a farmer sowing seed, he talked about the seed as the Word of God, when he looked at grainfields, it made him think of the many people whose hearts were ready to believe. I hope to observe the world around me as I walk today to see God’s fingerprints in creation, and to invite him to speak to me through his handiwork.

Second, Jesus related to the people with whom he walked: his close disciples, general followers who joined along the way, and people who interrupted his journey with specific needs. For me, my companions will be women who have become friends along the footpaths together over the past months.

Where are you  walking today? And who will walk with you? As followers of Christ, we are to walk as he did: Aware of the world around us and lovingly attentive to those who share the journey.

“Jesus was God spelling himself out in language humanity could understand.” – S.D. Gordon

#Jesus

Unlovable?

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35

Shortly after Jesus had washed their feet, he turned to his disciples and said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

If I had been in the room when Jesus said that, I’d be looking around at all the disciples and knowing immediately which of them would be hardest to love. My thoughts might have gone something like this:

Look at Peter. He’s always shooting off his mouth and getting into trouble. Sometimes I wish he would just quit showing off and be quiet. Loving Peter is a daily challenge.

Then there’s Simon the Zealot. His political views drive me crazy. If he had his way, we’d be at war the Romans right now. Loving him may be beyond my capability.

And how about James and John? They’re nice enough guys, but there’s a reason Jesus calls them “Sons of Thunder”. Oh the fights they can get into when the anger flares! Not too lovable at those times.

Then I might notice that some of them were looking at me and I’d realize they might be thinking the same thing: ‘How can Jesus expect me to love her?’

When I think about it, there are times when I may not be very lovable either. I guess we all have issues, don’t we? But, for some unfathomable reason, Jesus loves us all – even on our worst days. And he expects us to do the same for each other. Dear Father in heaven, I’m going to need your help!

“Tragedy is that our attention centers on what people are not, rather than on what they are, and who they might become.” – Brennan Manning

#lovingothers

Wanting to Please

“. . . your steadfast love is before my eyes and I walk in your faithfulness.” – Psalm 26:3

Do you have someone in your life you love so much you wouldn’t do anything that would cause him/her pain, or sadness, or doubt about your commitment?

I think David felt that way about God. In Psalm 26 he writes about his life of integrity, sincerely telling God to show him if there was something that needed correction. With all his heart, David was trying to do what God wanted and, it seems, he was being quite successful at it!

What made it possible for him to live that way? Verse 3 gives us a hint. David says, “. . . your steadfast love is before my eyes and I walk in your faithfulness.”

This tells us something about the human heart:

  • Love motivates response.
  • Faithfulness fosters deep commitment.

Isn’t that true in your relationships? It’s easy to be committed to someone who loves us, is faithful to us, and who looks out for our welfare. But we all know that even the most loving, faithful person can let us down. And  others love us only when we make them happy. What we really crave is love that is unconditional.

The surest place to get the kind of love we need is from God himself and he has made that possible by loving us first. When we learn to open ourselves to receiving his love, we find we would not want to do anything that would hurt him. I think that’s where David was. His relationship with God was so important, he would not risk disrupting it by bad behavior. I want that to be true of me, too! Are you with me on that?

“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” – G. K. Chesterton

#lovingGod 

It’s about time.

“Oh! Teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well!” – Psalm 90:12 (MSG)

Most of us don’t wear watches anymore, but not because we’re not concerned about the time. Our phones handle time management for us with a ding 30-minutes before our next appointment and a beep every time we get a new text or email. Who needs a watch when we have a device constantly calling us to pay attention?

There are two Greek words for time. The first is chronos and refers to what we might call “clock time”. Chronos keeps us on the go, always preparing for the next thing, always feeling hurried. That’s the kind of time our beeping phones can help us handle.

Then there is kairos. Kairos refers to a period of time, a season, an era. Kairos asks us to resist responding only to the urgency of chronos and invites us to openness, willingness, patience, and introspection – to an observation of growth, change, or healing. Kairos is the kind of time we need God to help us understand.

How we spend our hours and days is important, but God’s perspective is longer, more patient, more focused on end results. He calls us to peace, not anxiety. He reveals the eternal view, not the temporal. And he never seems to be rushed. That, I think, may be why he calls us to a day of rest every week. A day to re-calibrate our hurry, to trust him with what we didn’t get done, and to allow him to refresh and renew us. We can’t escape clock time, but, by his grace, we can live above it!

“The most important thing in your life is not what you do; it’s who you become. That’s what you will take into eternity.” – Dallas Willard

#spiritualjourney

God speaks.

 

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” – Joshua 1:8

Do you ever wish God would talk to you? Maybe you should just ask him to. Then listen. When I do that, his answer is often something like this:

“What I have to say to you today I’ve written in my Word. Read it expectantly, believing you will find my message in what you read. Search for it as if you are looking for treasure.”

So what might we find as we read God’s word with anticipation of finding a message just for us, for now?

Wisdom – “. . . from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” – Proverbs 2:6

Confidence “Those who look to him are radiant . .  .” – Psalm 34:5a

Direction – “He guides me in paths of righteousness. . .” – Psalm 23:3

Revelation – “The Lord confides in those who fear him.” – Psalm 25:14

God does talk to us, many times in what he highlights as we read the Bible. I find when I approach his book expectantly, I often receive insight, encouragement, and direction meant especially for me at that moment. It can happen for you, too, but requires reading each passage, then prayerfully mulling it over until he reveals what it is he wants us to know. His message is already written. Our job is to search it out!

“Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.” – Eugene Peterson

 

 

 

A Handful of Quietness

“Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil. . .” Ecclesiastes 4:6

Busy. Sometimes that’s a too accurate picture of our lives. Even when we have opportunity to slow a bit, we choose to be busy. We can work later and make a little more money. We can buy the house that  needs help and end up working every evening to make it better. We can volunteer at too many places and be on the run serving others. The constant pressure is unsettling after awhile. That’s why the writer of Ecclesiastes says “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil. . . “ (Ecclesiastes 4:6 ESV)

So, how do we find a little bit of quietness in the middle of a busy life? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Before you get out of bed in the morning, lie still for a few minutes, thinking about being in the presence of God. Feel the love he has for you. Be amazed at his majesty.
  • Take a 10-minute walk alone at lunchtime, paying particular attention to the wonders of creation around you. There is a double blessing in experiencing your quietness in the sunshine!
  • If you have a few minutes between appointments, sit in stillness, silently saying “thank you” to God for something specific. You’ll find that you  can create an internal quietness in spite of activity around you.

God’s plan is not for us just to be busy, but to have an abundant life – including a centered peace. A handful of quietness in our day today might move us toward that goal!

“It is precisely when life is at its most frantic, most frightening, that we each need a place to go to, a place that wraps us around in silence and calm.” – Joan Chittister

 

#contemplation

Did I make the right decision?

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” – Psalm 32:8

Even when I pray over a decision and think I’m hearing God’s direction, I second guess myself. Do you do that, too? I want to do what he wants, but sometimes it’s hard to sort out his will from my own.

So, today, I went back to God questioning a decision I had made. “I was really trying to do what you want, Lord, but now I’m not sure I did the right thing. Did I mess it up by going down a path that might have been more mine than yours?”

What came back was a reassuring message. It was something like this:

“You did what you did because you thought it was what I wanted you to do. That’s what really counts – your attitude of wanting to please me. Not all of your decisions will be right, but I look at your heart. And, remember, I can work with every choice you make. My will will be done in your life, not because your decisions are right, but because your heart is right.”

He works with my decisions! If my attitude is right, he will intervene and overrule my bad choices and turn it all around for his glory and my good. I like that! Then I remembered David. God saw him as a man after his own heart even though David made some bad decisions. God is loving and forgiving toward all of us who truly want to do what he wants. That sure makes me breathe easier! You, too?

“We count on God’s mercy for our past mistakes, on God’s love for our present needs, on God’s sovereignty for our future.” – Augustine 

 

#decisions

Leaving behind . . .

“Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end.” – Psalm 119:33

We’re packing to move and, in that process, are sorting all our belongings into three theoretical piles: What goes to our Colorado home, what will be moved to our downsized  Michigan condo, and what will be left behind (given away or discarded).

This laborious process made me think about Jesus’ call to Peter, James, and John. They were fishermen and he asked them to leave their nets and boats and, in James and John’s case, even their father. Then I realized that following Jesus always means leaving something behind.

And, for us, that means even family. We’re moving across the country leaving adult children and amazing grandchildren in Michigan. Of course, we’ll still see them several times a year and we hope they’ll come often to visit, but following Jesus to Colorado (long story, but we believe he’s asking us to go there), means leaving family, and friends too, who will remain in Michigan. Ouch! Really, God?

“Yes, really. Following me means leaving some things behind and missing some people – at least for a time. Trust me with this. All will be well. I am working together a plan you cannot see and could not possibly imagine on your own. It will be good!”

Can you relate? Is Jesus calling you to follow him in a new direction? If so, what is he asking you to walk away from? It might be a home, job, relationship,  habit, or possessions. Talk to him, yield to his will, and watch him work his plan. Be prepared to be amazed!

“For God Himself works in our souls, in the deepest depths, taking increasing control as we are progressively willing to be prepared for His wonder.” – Thomas Kelly

#followingGod

He wears well!

” . . . there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24b

Some people burst into our lives, make a big splash, and then fade away. There are others who wear well, proving to be consistent, faithful friends. The more we know them, the better we like them. God is like those friends who wear well, making us want to know him better and better over time. How can we do that?

First, we can read and reread the Bible to find out what it reveals about him. This book is the most direct way for us to understand God, his expectations, and his dealings with us and with mankind through history.

Second, we can look at the natural world and discover something about God in what he has created for us to enjoy. I’m not a science person, but when I realized I can know God better if I understand his creation better, I became motivated to read and learn.

Third, we can learn to notice God’s involvement as we look at what’s happening on Planet Earth. The Holy Spirit, living within us, will give us insight. As we become aware of world events and as we face issues in our own lives, he wants us to realize he is in control – nothing happens that takes him by surprise.

Fourth, we can talk to Him constantly. If we just ask, God will reveal his character, his personality, and his will so we can know him better, trust him more, and serve him with commitment.

Let’s keep on getting to know him. He’s a friend who wears well!

 For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?” – J.I. Packer

 

This post is adapted from The GodSense Journey: Exploring Sacred Pathways, Week Eighteen

#knowingGod

What was Jesus really like?

 

“Whoever claims to live in him (God) must live as Jesus did.” – 1 John 2:6

Many books have been written about Jesus, speculating on what he was really like. My favorite authors on this subject are those who walked with him on dusty pathways, ate meals with him, watched his dealings with all kinds of people, and listened to him teach. These gospel writers tell us that Jesus was . . .

• forgiving to those who acknowledged their weaknesses or sins.
• gentle with children.
• confrontational and sometimes angry with those who thought they knew it all and were, in their leadership, misleading others.
• compassionate toward crowds who looked to him for spiritual insight.
• merciful to the sick and disabled who came for healing.
• a teacher with authority.
• in constant contact with his Father, committed to fulfilling God’s will in this world.
• not, seemingly, in a hurry or anxious or worried.

And perhaps most importantly, he lived on this earth, but had an other-worldliness about him that created a hunger for the spiritual in those who came to know him best.

As we think about Jesus, don’t we sense a longing to be as wise, confident, productive, and peaceful as he was? How do we do that? Through developing intimacy with him – just as his 1st century followers did. We, too, can walk with him on the road, welcome him at our meals, and learn from what he taught. He invites us into an on-going, ever-deepening relationship with him and the Father. When we accept that invitation, we find the characteristics we see in Jesus will begin to appear in us, too. Isn’t that what we really want?

“Oh! to be like Thee, full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wand’ring sinner to find.”

Thomas O. Chisholm

 

#Jesus

Ups! and Downs

“The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” – Proverbs 19:23

Do you ever feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster? Happy, then sad, hopeful, then despairing? You’re not alone. In fact, in the first 11 verses of Luke 5, we find Peter going through several emotions in a very short time.

Peter discouraged

He was ready to give up! He had been fishing all night and hadn’t caught a thing. Can’t feed the family with empty nets.

Peter elated

Jesus comes along, tells Peter to throw his nets in again and, amazingly, they were full to overflowing. Now, Peter is happy to be in the fishing business!

Peter afraid

Then he realizes the power and authority of Jesus and falls at his feet in fear. A man who can bring fish to the net like this must be special in a way that was simply scary. Peter knows he is not worthy to be in the presence of such a man.

Peter redirected

Being a successful fisherman was nothing compared to the plans Jesus had for Peter. He first tells Peter not to be afraid, then he calls him to leave his boats and his nets and become a fisher of men – bringing people to awareness of who Jesus is and his desire to rescue them from pain and sorrow to joy and eternal life.

We can follow Jesus closely and still have emotional ups and downs, but when we are on the path with him, he gives us perspective, hope, and abilities to accomplish what he has planned for us to do, no matter how we feel.

“True spiritual life depends not on probing our feelings and thoughts from dawn to dusk but on ‘looking off’ to the Savior!” – Martin Luther

When God Roars

“They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion. When he roars,his children will come trembling from the west.” – Hosea 11:10

Have you ever lost track of one of your children in a crowd? What do you do when that happens? You shout out the child’s name. You call out loudly, wanting him to hear your voice and come back to you.

Do you know God does that, too?

The prophets tell us that sometimes the great Lion of Judah roars to warn of coming judgment. But Hosea gives us a different view. He tells us that sometimes God roars when his children get too far away from him. He roars to let us know where he is so we can come back to his side. Hosea tells the people of Israel that when they decide to turn back to God, he will roar like a lion. Not at them, but for them. He will make himself clearly known so they can find their way from wherever they are. God’s roar is a call to come home. He makes it easy for us to find him!

I thought about that image and realized that, if I like the quiet voice of the shepherd more than the roaring voice of the lion, I need to stay near him. When he stops, I stop. When he moves, I move, always staying close enough so he can whisper in my ear. Never wandering away so he has to raise his voice to bring me back. Close is where he can sing to me. There I am safe, loved, caressed, and taught. Close is where I want to be!

“I would rather walk with God in the dark than go alone in the light.” – Mary Gardiner Brainerd

 

 

#walkingwithgod

A nap? Really?

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” – John 13:7

Sometimes we try too hard. We have a problem and think of all kinds of ways we might solve it. But our solutions can be frustrating and unfulfilling, and we often cry out to God asking why he won’t help us.

God has a better way, but sometimes waits for us to get to the end of our own resourcefulness before he acts. In fact, he started that pattern with the very first human.

Here’s how I see it: When God created Adam, he knew he would need a mate, but he waited – waited for Adam to become discontent, to not like being “one-of-a-kind”. Then God paraded the animals in front of Adam, asking Adam to name them, knowing Adam would evaluate each animal as a potential mate. Of course, Adam found none suitable for him and began to get discouraged. That didn’t surprise God! When, finally, Adam despaired of having a partner, God said, in essence, “I have a plan. You take a nap.”

Sometimes we’re not ready to yield to God until we’ve exhausted our own ideas, resources, and energy. When, at last, we quiet down, give up control, and allow God to work, the outcome will, most likely, be something we never could have imagined on our own. Just ask Adam!

So, what is it you have been looking for? A good friend? A new job? Financial security? A way to serve? When you’re ready to give up control, take a nap. Trust God. And wait for him to show you what his plan has been all along. Then do it his way!

“Childlike surrender and trust, I believe, is the defining spirit of authentic discipleship.” – Brennan Manning

#trustingGod

What is God like?

 

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made . . . “ – Romans 1:2

If you want to know about someone, look at what they make: The chef’s desserts, the craftsman’s furniture, or the artist’s paintings. Their creations reveal their personalities and their message.

The same is true of God. We’re told in the Bible that the  natural world we see around us reveals us something about who he is.

The sheer size of creation – stars and galaxies, mountains, land, seas – shows God’s infinity, power, majesty, imagination.

The intricacy of nature – small flowers, insects, minute variations in temperature and winds that effect climate, the DNA that makes each person individual – uncovers God’s amazing attention to detail.

The constant provision of food for birds, animals, and humans by giving seed, rain, sun, photosynthesis, and reproduction reflects God’s involvement in our daily lives.

The variety of people the world – color, hair, face, shape, capabilities, personalities, desires – shows God’s love of the human form and person, implying his intimate involvement in who we are and who we become.

What can we conclude about God as we see and study the created world?

  • He is the God of the grandest of scales and tiniest of details.
  • He is the God of the past and the future, and the now.
  • He is personally involved in what he has made – including us.
  • He wants to be acknowledged as Creator and Lord.

When we see God in the created world, let’s turn our wonder into worship!

“Worship is giving God his true worth; it is acknowledging Him to be the Lord of all things, and the Lord of everything in our lives. He is, indeed, the Most High God!” – Sinclair B. Ferguson

 

#SeeingGod

It’s personal!

“You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. – Psalm 139:5

If I were in Jesus’ sandals in the 1st Century, I might have been a bit more organized. For example, I would’ve had all the demon-possessed move to one side of the beach and all the sick and disabled on the other. Then I would’ve cast out all the demons with just one prayer, turning my attention to the sick with an instant healing for all. Jesus could have left this earth with every disease in Israel healed. But he didn’t.

He had his own way: Choosing to heal, forgive, and free from bondage – person-by-person. Even the bleeding woman who touched Jesus secretly was called out so he could look her in the eye, commend her faith, and tell her to go in peace. He actually permitted an argument from the Syro-Phoenician woman and engaged in conversations about requests for others with Jairus and the Roman Centurion.

Then there was the paralytic let down through the roof, blind Bartimaeus, the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda – these were all relational, eye-to-eye encounters. Jesus was doing more than healing: He was fixing the brokenness that didn’t show on the outside.

You and I have some of those kinds of needs, too – the ones inside that we  hide, don’t really want to deal with, or maybe just don’t realize we have. Jesus knows all of it and hears our prayers. But he responds in ways that give us what we really need – sometimes what we ask for, often something even better. With Jesus it’s always personal.

“I need to show Jesus my brokenness – show Him my wounds – and let Him touch them. Let Him cradle my heart in His hands and say, ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’.”*

 

*from  https://beautybeyondbones.com/2018/02/12/an-ashy-valentines-day/

#miracles #prayer

Ready for change?

 

“. . . wash me and I will be whiter than snow.” – Psalm 51:7b

I remember beginning my prayer time that day with praise. Then I began confessing sins, naming ways in which I felt I was failing God: areas of self-control, worry, lack of compassion, not sharing his message with others. I was about to go on when he stopped me with something like this:

“You have one underlying problem: Not loving me with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Forget the list. Focus instead on knowing and loving me. All else will flow from that. Over time, the list of sins won’t be as important to you, but I will become most important. That’s what I want and what you need – for me to be your everything.”

We all have sins that need to be forgiven. The Bible does tell us to confess our sins. But on that day, God wanted me to take my eyes off my own failings and look at him instead. The ultimate goal, after all, is to become like Jesus. If we keep looking at ourselves, we’ll miss what he wants us to become. Over time, as I continue gazing at him, I begin to realize I am becoming calmer. I feel more concern for others. I am more self-controlled, and more likely to tell someone else about him and what he means to me.

It’s not that we don’t have to change – but God’s way of changing us is more effective than ours. And he does it by loving us, dirt and all, and inviting us into relationship with him. It seems our first step toward change is doing our best to love him with everything we’ve got!

“Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other needs.” – George MacDonald

 

Interruptions!

” . . . we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. – 2 Thessalonians 1:11

I’m a planner. I like to get up in the morning knowing what’s on my schedule for the day so I can get right into my tasks. I like knowing what’s next.

But, I’m not so crazy about interruptions. When someone texts, “Do you have time to meet today? I need to talk to you.” Today? Really? What about next Wednesday? I can’t do that, though. If someone wants to talk, I know I need to make time if at all possible. Or maybe an elderly friend needs an errand run, or someone’s car breaks down and they need a ride to work.

It has taken me a long time to figure out that the interruptions are where real life happens. That’s where we find someone vulnerable and maybe ready to be honest with God for the first time in years. Or where we get to cuddle with an under-the-weather child who wouldn’t normally sit still for such things. Or when we get to practice being a Good Samaritan (God does know I need the practice!).

I love Francis de Sales’ book Introduction to the Devout Life, written in the 1500’s. In it he says the goal of devotion to God is cheerful readiness. It’s not perfection or productivity or  always staying on task – it’s being cheerfully ready for whatever God wants to introduce into our days. I’m learning to be grateful for and responsive to his interruptions. How about you?

“Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.” – Peter Marshall

#interruptions #doing good

What do you want?

“It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.” – 2 Samuel 22:33

Are you satisfied with your life? Too often, we live with general discontent without stopping identify what its cause may be. One day, two men began to follow Jesus, when he turned around and asked, “What do you want?” (John 1:38). He was challenging them to think about what they were doing!

If life is not all you want it to be right now, maybe Jesus’ question is for you today. What do you want?  What  is your deepest need? Maybe you, too, need to think about what you’re doing day by day.

In a quiet place, evaluate how you spend your time, then ask: What kind of activities, interactions, or thoughts make me feel

  • happy?
  • anxious?
  • secure?
  • stressed?
  • confident?
  • loved?
  • that my life is making a difference?

Do your answers to these questions give you some hints as to your true needs? If your greatest desires are for wealth, fame, or influence, Jesus is not your answer. But, if you want love, peace, security, joy, or purpose, you’ll find it all in him. God is love. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the Holy Spirit brings joy and contentment, and following God’s path gives meaning and purpose we cannot find without him.

As you gain insight into the greatest needs or wants in your life,  ask God to show you how those desires can be fulfilled. By striving, working harder, looking for approval from others? Or by resting in the love and mercy of our Father in Heaven? By following the teachings and example of Jesus? Once you know what you really want, he makes the way clear.

“I’m learning the importance of pressing God for more. I want all he has to give.” – Margaret Feinberg

Is that you, God?

“. . . your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” – Isaiah 30:21b

We’re beginning to understand that God really does communicate, often through thoughts he plants in our heads. Have you ever sensed that maybe God was speaking to you? Then you pause, wondering if it’s really him. Next time that happens, ask these questions:

Is it truth?

If the voice in my head says I’m stupid or unlovable or hopeless, I know it’s not from God. But if the voice says he wants more for me or from me and will help me grow, that’s likely from him. He never nags. He doesn’t whine. He always tells the truth.

Is it consistent with the Bible?

God will never ask us to do something that contradicts his written word. He won’t tell you to have a romantic relationship with someone who’s married or to go into debt for something you can’t afford. But, if what it seems he’s asking you to do is pure, loving, grace-filled, or healing, most likely you’re hearing from him.

Is it something I am willing to do?

Often God tests our obedience with small assignments. It will be something simple like talking to the person behind you in line at the store or helping a neighbor with yard work. If you think God is asking you to do something, just do it. Do it believing it would please him. Once we get into that habit, his voice becomes clearer and sometimes will stretch us a bit more. He doesn’t ask us to walk on water until he knows we’re willing to get into the boat!

“You must learn how God speaks; not doing so will constantly undermine your confidence in your personal relationship to him.” – Dallas Willard

 

#listeningprayer

Where’s your prodigal?

” . . . the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining”. – 1 John 2:8b

Has someone you love walked away? Rejected what you believe? Who you are? The way you live? It hurts, doesn’t it? And nothing you do seems to fix the problem.

Then sometimes God steps in. And when he does, we find out he had a plan all along. Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, a 1st-century Christian. One day, Onesimus ran away. Runaway slaves in that time could be put to death. It was a serious crime to break free.

Onesimus headed for Rome, probably thinking he would never be found on the crowded streets. But, God made sure Onesimus met Paul, and Paul introduced him to Jesus. Everything changed for Onesimus at that moment, and Paul apparently told him he had to make things right with Philemon. He had to go back home.

Paul sent him on his way with a letter to Philemon explaining the change in Onesimus now that he was a Jesus follower. He asked Philemon to take Onesimus back, not just as a slave, but as Christian brother. In fact, Paul says that maybe, just maybe, Onesimus’ escape was for an eternal purpose: “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for awhile, that you might have him back forever.” (v. 15)

God knows the bigger picture: He may have a plan for our prodigals that means we can have them back forever. So we stand still and strong, praying and trusting that, at just the right time, he’ll step in to help them find their way back to him and back to us. Keep the light on.

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” – Anne Lamott

 

 

Just a Whisper

“For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.'” – Isaiah 41:13

Have you ever stood by when a young child has what we call a “meltdown”? This often happens when a special-needs child responds to frustration by becoming out-of-control, usually thrashing around, and crying out.

Therapists tell us the best way to respond is to put your arms around the child, often from behind to hold them as still as possible. Then begin to whisper in their ear. They instinctively will want to hear what you are saying, so will quiet down as the still, small voice calms their fears and frustrations.

Spiritually, we are all special needs people. And sometimes, we have our own version of a meltdown. We become frustrated and panicky, feeling everything is out of control. We may not physically thrash around and cry out, but internally we can feel we are drowning in anxiety, anger, and/or fear. Does that ever happen to you? If it does . . .

Guess who is standing behind you? Putting his arms around you? Whispering in your ear? You are God’s dearly loved child and you are having a meltdown. Now just calm yourself so you can hear his quiet, gentle voice. He will assure you all will be well, tell you he loves you, and let you know nothing is out of control for him.

So when you feel the stress building, stop. Calm yourself. Listen to his whispered promises and reassurances. Remind yourself that, with God, “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.”*. You can trust him.

“In your brokenness and imperfection, God whispers three words: You are mine.” – Margaret Feinberg

 

*Julian of Norwich

#allwillbewell

Unfinished

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” – Mark 6:31b

Have you set goals for 2018? Many of us have. We want to set our sights on what we can accomplish before another new year dawns. All the self-help books tell us to set goals that will challenge us – “dream big”, they say.  I think it’s good to keep reaching, to want to achieve, but most of us will get to the end of 2018 with some goals that are unfinished, unreached. What do we do with that?

Maybe we need a little balance: Striving and achieving, yes. But, maybe more importantly, being and becoming. Here’s why: Some year, we’ll set our goals for the last time and we don’t know when that will be. So wisdom tells me that part of our planning this year should include becoming. Becoming more peaceful and less anxious, more loving and more generous, quieter and wiser, becoming more like Jesus. There will always be goals and plans that are unfinished! If we wait to get them all done before we focus on our personal and spiritual growth, we will never give ourselves permission or opportunity to become.

Let’s  go for it with goals for 2018. We can work hard, achieve, and glorify God in the process. But, at some time each day and for longer times on non-work days, let’s stop doing to spend time with God: talking to him, walking with him, reading his book, singing him songs, listening for his voice. These will open the door to becoming who God created us to be. Then we’ll know that it may be OK if lesser goals remain unfinished.

“To fail to see the value of simply being with God and ‘doing nothing’ is to miss the heart of Christianity.” – Peter Scazzero

 

Shall we dance?

“Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” – Jeremiah 31:13

I have a dear friend who loves Jesus a lot. She shared something with me she had told no one else and now she’s given me permission to share it with you: She dances with Jesus.

“We slow dance (to the music of) certain songs or hymns we sing at church. I close my eyes and I can feel His shoulder, and His cheek against my hair, and we move to the music.  It’s so dear. And in those brief moments I feel He loves me so much.”

Her message awakened my soul! It spoke of slowing down, of giving Jesus my time and full attention, of feeling at my core how much he wants to be close to me.

Sometimes we use our sanctified imagination to be able to feel his nearness. Music enhances that sense. Movement makes it part of our very being. Dancing may be the God-ordained way to soothe our souls, energize our bodies, and connect our hearts with our heavenly Lover.

The Bible clearly endorses dancing as an expression of our heart toward God:

“Let them praise his name with dancing . . .” – Psalm 149:3a
“You turned my wailing into dancing . . .” – Psalm 30:11a

“Praise him with tambourine and dancing.” – Psalm 150:4a

Maybe for you it’s a joy that requires you to move in energetic expression. For others, it may be sensing God’s love, as shown in a slow, meditative movement. Don’t be afraid to dance your way into God’s presence. I think he loves it when we do that!

“Dance is meditation in movement, a walking into silence where every movement becomes prayer.” – Bernhard Wosien

 

#dancingwithjesus

Mary’s “Yes.”

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” – Mary to angel Gabriel, Luke 1:38

The day started out like any other day in the village of Nazareth years ago. But, for young Mary, everything changed with a surprise visit from an angel who announced she had been chosen to bear the Son of God. Would she do it? Yes. She would be part of God’s plan.

Saying “yes” to God is a good thing, right? If we’re doing his will, he’ll make it easy for us. He’ll show the path, open doors, bring the right people to help us, and generally smooth the way. Not always.

Just ask Mary: finding no suitable place to birth this miracle child, thinking at one time he may have lost his mind, hearing of his embarrassing confrontations with respected religious leaders, and then watching him die a criminal’s death.

When we say “yes” to God, we know the journey with him will have a glorious end, but we must expect hindrances, challenges, pain along the way. The plan of God includes suffering. Mary knows. Jesus knows. I imagine you know, too.

If you’re suffering, it doesn’t mean God has abandoned you. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing his will. Saying “yes” to God does mean when the suffering comes, he’s there with us. When we choose to follow him, we’re never alone. When we hurt, he hurts with us. When we’re anxious, he gives us peace. When we’re in pain, he comforts.

And, finally, at the end of the suffering, there is joy. Think resurrection. Think eternal kingdom. Joy, inexpressible joy, will come.

“True joy, as it turns out, comes only to those who have devoted their lives to something greater than personal happiness.” – John Ortberg

Do you really know why Jesus came?

“. . . to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12

If I had lived when Jesus was here and if I knew he was God, I think I would have been afraid. If God is holy and all-knowing, he must surely be angry at humans. But no! The good news is he came to do away with sin, not us! His disciple John explains it this way: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8b).

John also tells us Jesus came, not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).  He knew the world was a mess and we humans are a mess, but he put the blame exactly where it belongs: on Satan! He came to free his children from Satan’s grasp, to invite us into relationship with himself, and to make us better people. He came to reveal the irrational love of the Father for all his children trapped in a world of evil. He came to love us, not to hurt us.

Every human since has had to decide how to respond.  At some point, we’ll be accountable for the choice we made: Did we choose to allow him to free us from sin’s stranglehold, or did we choose to continue on a hopeless path without him? We’re not responsible to untangle ourselves from all the trouble sin brings, but we are responsible for the choice we make about Jesus and his invitation to be his.

I hope you choose Jesus this Christmas. And if you already know him, choose to know him better!

“The loving mission of our Lord Jesus Christ was not to condemn but to forgive and reclaim.”A. W. Tozer

 

#Jesus

#Christmas

The Best Gift Giver

    “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11

Don’t you love to get gifts? And to give them?

Both giving and receiving gifts seems to be pretty important to God. When the Tabernacle was being built, He asked people to bring gifts that could be used to make the structure and the furnishings. He referred to many of the animal and grain sacrifices as gifts to Him. The Magi brought gifts to honor Jesus’ coming to earth. Paul gathered gifts from churches to help the suffering Christians in Jerusalem. Cornelius was commended for his gifts to the poor.

We see that humans can give generously, but, by far, the greatest giver is God Himself. Let’s think about God’s some of amazing gifts to us:

Creation: We look at it, learn about it, enjoy it.

His Word: It’s our privilege to read and meditate on it.

Jesus: And, through Him, eternal life.

Forgiveness: Guilt, sins – gone, paid for, erased.

Life: We breathe, behave, and relate because of this great gift.

Second chances: This is a gift some of us open over and over again!

Prayer: Communion with our Creator, Savior, Friend. Don’t let this one get dusty!

Family, friends: The joy of community, a gift from the Trinity.

Holy Spirit: Joyfully responding in amazement to God living within us.

That’s quite a list, but God’s not done giving gifts yet – some of them are especially selected for you or me. Let’s look for them and, then, respond in thanksgiving always!

 “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” –G.K. Chesterton

#thanksgiving #giftsfromgod

He’s listening.

“Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, O Lord.” – Psalm 139:4

Our words matter – whether delivered by mouth, text, or email. We’ve all experienced the power of words, haven’t we? They can hurt or heal, encourage or crush, amaze or bore. They can calm an argument or stir up trouble. Words matter to all of us, and, amazingly, they matter to God. Here’s an example:

The world seemed upside down in ancient Israel: Bad people were prospering and were not being held accountable. Malachi 3:13-16 tells us about it. We read that God was angry because people in Israel were criticizing Him. “You have said harsh things against me, says the Lord . . . you have said ‘it is futile to serve God . . .'”

But there were some who saw it differently. Who realized God was sovereign and worth serving just because He was God. They started talking to each other and Malachi says, “The Lord listened and heard.” He goes on to say that God took note that they “feared the Lord and honored His name.”

God takes note of our words. Kind of scary, isn’t it? But not surprising to know that He’s listening. I think the prayer below might be a good one for all of us to pray today:

“O, Word Made Flesh, stand guard at the gate of my mouth.

Be my voice this day that the words I speak will be healing, affirming, true, and gentle.

Give me wisdom to think before I speak.

Bless the words in me that are waiting to be spoken.

Live and abide in my words so others will feel safe in my presence.

Surprise me with words that come from You. . .

May my words become love in the lives of others.”  – Macrina Wiederkehr

 

#words

The GodSense Journey: Exploring Sacred Pathways

To my readers –

My newest devotional, The GodSense Journey: Exploring Sacred Pathways is available in both Kindle and print versions. The good news is that I have arranged for the Kindle version to be available for download for free from Friday, February 23, through Monday, February 26.

If you like the blog, but want to go deeper into your relationship with God, this book may be a helpful resource and a good companion for the journey. And, for the next few days, it’s free!

You can check it out by clicking the Buy on Amazon tab below or you can peruse the sample pages (including Table of Contents so you can see topics covered), then click on the Buy tab, even though there will be no charge.

Please share this post with friends who may be interested: