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

Your kingdom come?

“Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.” – Psalm 98:8

What do you suppose Jesus meant when He taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”? Do you wonder would it would look like if God’s kingdom and will ruled the earth?

Maybe that’s part of what Jesus was showing us when He walked with humans long ago.

  • His miracles give us a peek into a kingdom where everyone would see, hear, walk, jump, have enough, and be well.
  • His casting out demons show us what it will look like when we’re all free from the influence of evil.
  • His teaching reveals God’s kingdom as a place where grace, unity, forgiveness, and integrity reign.

If we’re sincere when we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done”, how could we not desire to be working alongside God to bring His kingdom values to earth today? Of course we won’t do it perfectly, but we can at least be moving in the same direction God is.

Jesus exampled what it means to live in a kingdom-come way: He taught truth, showed compassion, decried evil, and dealt honestly with everyone. He helped us see what it means to begin the process of making all things new (Revelation 21:5). And, He sends us out to continue what He started.

What does He want us to do today to help accomplish His will on earth? I think we should ask Him. It seems there’s a lot to be done!

“God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven would mean food, water, and homes for all who lack, justice in politics and economics, peace between nations, harmony with nature, healing and comfort for the sick, souls reconnected to their spiritual source.” – Philip Yancey

 #kingdomofgod #doinggood

Love Songs

“I will sing a new song to you, O God.” – Psalm 144:9

I’ve been alone in the house a lot lately and find myself walking around singing to God. And the songs are not always hymns. Here was this morning’s melody, internally playing as I woke up:  “You make me so very happy. I’m so glad you came into my life.” (1)  I know it’s a secular love song, but for me, it applies to God, too. And I want Him to know how I feel.

Here’s another I like singing to Him:

You are so beautiful
To me
You are so beautiful
To me
Can’t you see?

You’re everything I hope for
You’re everything I need.
You are so beautiful to me
You are so beautiful to me (2)

He is everything I hope for and need and I want Him to know that I know it!

I’m not trivializing my relationship with God, but how do we show someone how much we love them? By giving, serving, listening, being faithful, and singing love songs. The longest book in the Bible is the book of Psalms – a hymnbook, really. So let’s sing. Maybe the more traditional songs are better, but I think God likes any sincere expression of love we give Him. And sometimes it’s just easier to sing our love than to say it.

Let’s make it a singing day today and, if this one is more your style, I think He’d like that, too:

I love you, Lord
And I lift my voice
To worship You
Oh, my soul, rejoice!

Take joy my King
In what You hear
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound
In Your ear (3)

“Those who wish to sing always find a song.” – Swedish Proverb

“God is still worthy of our highest, purest, strongest emotions. Singing helps express and ignite them.” – Bob Kauflin

 

  1. From You’ve Made Me so Very Happy by Brenda Holloway
  2. From You are so Beautiful by Joe Cocker
  3. From I Love You, Lord byPetra Lyrics

Numbers, Part 2

“How great is God—beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.” – Job 36:26

NOTE: A few weeks ago, I posted a blog saying our spirituality and our success in serving God are not measured in numbers. Some of you responded with thoughts reminding me that, while spiritual measurements are not usually given in numbers, numbers are very important to God. I completely agree – enough so, that I thought it a good topic for today’s blog. 

The Bible is full of numbers: God took a census of His people on several occasions. He recorded people’s ages when they died and length of reigns of kings. We’re told the number of people fed with Jesus’ loaves and fishes, the number of fish caught when the fishermen threw the nets to the other side at Jesus’ instruction. The book of Acts presents the initial growth of the church in ever-increasing numbers. Paul records specifically how many times he was beaten with 39 lashes. These biblical numbers can be taken as counts and records.

At other times they might be seen symbolically. For example, when the Bible says there are 10,000 x 10,000 angels, maybe it means there are so many they cannot be counted (like we might say “a zillion”). As we observe how God used numbers, 10 often seems to refer to present kinds of earthly governance (reflected in the 10 Commandments), while 12 seems to refer more to God’s kingdom plan (12 tribes, 12 apostles). Seven is the considered the number of completion (as in the creation account) and 6 is seen as the number of man. Forty often refers to times of trial (Israel’s 40 years in the desert, Jesus’ 40 days of temptation, Noah’s 40 days of rain).

But maybe the most important scriptural mathematical principle of all is how God shows personalized attention to His creation.

  • He knows the number of hairs on each of our heads.
  • He determines the number of stars and has a name for each one.
  • He sees even one sparrow that falls.

The great and glorious God who created a mathematically ordered universe, remains intricately involved in it. Isn’t He amazing?

“God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world.” – Paul Dirac (British physicist)

It takes both.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on  him, how can the love of God be in him? – 1 John 3:17

He was a friend from years past and had moved away. Now he was back with his bride and we were reconnecting over our dinner table. As we ate, he put his hand to his face and winced. Finally, he explained he had had tooth pain for a few days and it was getting worse. He feared it would take a dentist to make it better and they didn’t have money for that, so he was praying for a cure.

As they readied to leave, my husband and I told him we, too, would pray about his tooth. As we closed the door behind them, looked at each other, both thinking the same thing: What had we just done? We had a brother in need in our home and all we did was offer to pray. We regretted our less-than-God-honoring behavior and in the morning, lined up a dentist to help our friend.

We were brought face-to-face with the truth that God often expects us to do more than pray. James puts it this way, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)

I’m a big believer in prayer – there are many things only prayer can do. But, much of the time, praying is not enough. Praying and doing go together in God’s plan for our world. God is teaching me how to do both better.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” – Mother Teresa

 

 

 

A Place for God

“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:25-26

Wouldn’t it be sad if God has something to say to us and we’re not hearing Him over the noise of our world? If God is talking to me, I want to hear Him. I think you do, too.

Ezekiel was a prophet in ancient Israel at a critical time in their history. It was important that he hear God’s messages clearly. One day, God just picked him up, whisked him away, and set him down in a new place (Ez. 3:14-15). Sometimes God simply wants us to get away from where we are so we can hear His voice!

How might we use our present circumstances to allow God to take us away from the ordinary and into the extraordinary? We might find ourselves set aside because of illness, a broken relationship, job loss, or an empty nest. When these things happen, they can provide space to escape from busyness, experience God’s presence, and listen for His voice.

At other times, when life just goes on in whirlwind fashion, we can engineer a place for Him in our daily devotional times and occasional spiritual retreats. He longs to share His heart, direct our steps, and bring comfort and healing. But we have to be quieted, patiently waiting to hear Him speak. He doesn’t shout, He whispers. It’s easy to miss if we’re not paying attention. And paying attention requires time apart – focused, intentional, God-centered time.

The truth? Listening for His voice may well be the most important thing we have to do today.

“God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.” – Mother Teresa

 

 

 

#God

#prayer

Numbers

 

“He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” – Job 5:9

Sometimes we’re too much about numbers: Age, the bathroom scale, Facebook likes, bank balances. Maybe we should think about God’s perspective for a moment:

  • He’s not too concerned with how many “likes” your post got, but He may have used it to stimulate one person to think more seriously about your message.
  • He’s not looking at how many people attend your church, but is very concerned that those who are there are committed to following Him.
  • He’s not worried about the amount of money you have in your savings account, but is really focused on how you’re using what He has given you.
  • He loves you and uses you whether you are 8 or 80.
  • He’s not even breaking out in a sweat over your cholesterol or blood pressure, but He does want your heart to be His alone.

Late in his life King David was feeling pretty secure because of the size of his army. In fact, he took a census so he would know exactly how many soldiers he had available should he go to war. God wasn’t pleased, and Israel suffered consequences for David’s self-important actions. It wasn’t about the numbers early on when David had only only 600 soldiers and trusted God to fight his battles. Nor was it about the numbers when he had more than a million soldiers to fight for him.

When it comes to spirituality or success in God’s eyes, it’s rarely about the numbers. It’s always about Him – His love for us and His power use our efforts and to act on our behalf. Let’s make it more about God and let Him do the math! He is the only one who can decide what counts!

“We are invited to make a pilgrimage – into the heart and life of God.” – Dallas Willard

 

 

Can you believe? Just a little bit?

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:9

I have a friend who was skeptical about the Bible. He’d read it, then question it. He tried to explain away miracles and dismissed any possibility of Jesus’ divinity. He looked at commands as cultural suggestions, to be revised at will.

But some of his rationalizations didn’t make sense – even to him. Eventually, he came to an intellectual impasse. One day he simply said to himself that, if the Bible were true, he’d be willing to believe. The next day, as he read the Bible, everything seemed to fall into place. His willingness to believe resulted in actual belief.

Sometimes we just don’t want to believe. We are not open to having our minds changed. If you are in that place, I would encourage you to take a step, just a small step toward the possibility of belief.

God is not like us. He thinks differently. He communicates differently. He has capacities and powers we cannot begin to understand. But He loves humans. He sent Jesus to reveal Himself to us. One of my favorite Jesus stories is when a father came asking for his son’s release from demonic powers. Jesus responded “Anything is possible for the one who believes”. The father, in complete honesty, answered, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

I have prayed that prayer many times. “I believe, Lord, but just a little. Help my little bit of belief to grow so I can know You as you truly are and trust You with my life.” Are you ready to pray that prayer, too?

“The one you are looking for is the one who is looking.” – Francis of Assisi

 

Note: In my discussions with this person and many others, I’ve had a chance to hear and explore the questions skeptics often ask. If you want to know more, you may be helped by my recent book, The Bible for Skeptics: A Conversation for Thinking People.   https://beverlyvankampen.com/resources/
#bible
#god

God Carriers

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” – Galatians 6:10

The way we treat people, especially other Christ- followers, matters to God!

There’s a reason for that. The Spirit of God actually resides in the the hearts of humans who are part of His family. When we mistreat another child of God, we mistreat God, who lives within them.

In ancient times, the Ark of the Covenant was given by God as the place where He would meet with designated representatives of the people. Dishonoring the Ark in any way (moving it incorrectly, entering the Holy of Holies without being qualified to do so, etc.) was to dishonor the God who presided there and such actions brought His judgment. The clear message was that the place where God chose to show Himself was sacred and was to be treated with great care.

I can’t help believing the same holds true today. God lives within His people, much as He dwelt above the Ark millennia ago. He defended His honor by defending the Ark. Would He do less than that today?

  • No wonder God says to love our neighbor. (Is there someone I need to show love to today?)
  • No wonder Jesus said to be reconciled to our brother. (Is there someone I need to forgive today?)
  • No wonder Paul says to prefer others above ourselves. (Is there someone I need to honor today?)

In doing these things, we honor God who honors us with His indwelling presence. God is good, gracious, merciful, and loving. But He protects His own. Let’s be careful how we treat them!

“Next to the holy sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” – C. S. Lewis

I don’t like self-denial!

” . . . the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” – Psalm 84:11b

I don’t like self-denial. It may relate to how I use time, spend money, or express opinions, but most of the time I want to have what I want, when I want it.

So when I read Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), I cringed inside. I wanted to follow Him, but daily self-denial just sounded hard.

Then I read John Piper’s teaching in his book Desiring God, and my view about self-denial began to change dramatically.  According to Piper, the biblical concept of self-denial is letting go of the lesser good so we can grab onto the greater good. When I started to look at it that way, I realized Jesus’ demand for self-denial was for my benefit, not His! I understood that I deny myself, not to make Him happy with me, but to allow Him to do greater things with me. Greater than I can do if I follow my natural instincts.

It makes sense in other areas of life: I choose to workout, denying myself an hour on the couch, because I value health more than rest. I deny myself a frivolous expense because I am saving for something really special later. Spiritually, it makes sense, too. We deny ourselves what we want humanly so we can receive what God wants for us supernaturally – things that are better for us than whatever we give up. Maybe it’s not self-denial at all!

 “To become like Christ is the only thing in the world worth caring for, the thing before which every ambition is folly, and all lower achievements vain.” – Henry Drummond

 

 

Is my way the right way?

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty.” – Psalm 91:1

Sometimes when I pray, I know how I want God to answer. So I’m specific and, honestly, any answer other than the one I’m praying for will not be acceptable to me. Do you ever do that? We sometimes forget that God’s perspective is better than ours! He knows things we cannot possibly know.

Centuries ago, people asked Jeremiah to pray for God’s direction about their going to Egypt. Jeremiah gave them God’s answer: They should stay in Israel where He would keep them safe. Their response? They call Jeremiah a liar! The problem was they were already packed to go before they asked Jeremiah to find out what God wanted. There was only one answer acceptable to them and they weren’t hearing it from Jeremiah, so they were angry. What they didn’t know was Babylon was on the move and soon would war with Egypt and the refugee Israelis would get caught in the crossfire. They could not see at all what God could see clearly.

Sometimes we struggle with giving control to God, trusting His direction. When we pray about a problem and we know what we want the answer to be, we would be wise to tell God that, though we desire to have our prayer answered our way, we are willing to accept His answer, whatever it is. That’s a safe prayer because

  • He sees what we cannot see,
  • His answers are always for our best good, and
  • He walks beside us when we’re willing to go His way.

“What I think and feel as I pray, rather than the words I speak, may be the real prayer, for God ‘hears’ that too.” – Philip Yancey

There’s a better way.

“. . . by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Hebrews 10:14

How are you doing on your quest for perfection? Have you overcome that bad habit? Are your praying enough? Are your relationships in order? Are you eating only healthy foods? Do you do enough to help those in need?

Stop! There’s a better way.

Over many years, I’ve learned that, in spite of almost-heroic efforts, I’m not able to perfect myself. That will come as no surprise to those of you who know me! Along the way, though, God reminds me He’s the one who brought me into His family in the first place. He’s the one slowly changing my character to reflect His. Transformation is His work, not mine. My job is to relate to Him: talking, listening, learning, cooperating, submitting. That’s what He expects of you, too. When we do that, His message back to us is something like this:

When I called you, I knew who you would become. I also knew the mistakes you would make along the way – sinfulness, rebellion, bad habits, weaknesses. I never expected you to be perfect, so stop believing you can be. And never forget that My love for you does not depend on you. I love you just because you are Mine – even on your worst days.

God looks on His children with merciful eyes. We are weaker than we want to be. We will fail. When we do, He responds to our cry for forgiveness, cleans us up, and sets us back on the path. He will make us holy, but it’s going to take awhile yet!

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

Is it true?

“I have chosen the way of truth;” – Psalm 119:30

I read a Facebook post predicting record snowfalls for the entire Midwest this year, with snow beginning as early as September. The impressive weather map showed that we’d have five to ten times the amount of snow we had last year. Just as I was thinking of stocking the pantry, I started reading the comments and realized the article was a hoax. I was feeling anxiety over something that wasn’t even true!

Are you as tired as I am of listening to things we know are lies or exaggerations? I want to know truth – about my health, the world, family, food, finances, and everything else. Not knowing is worse than knowing, even if the truth is hard to hear.

When we take it into the spiritual realm, the stakes are even higher. My spiritual well-being is of eternal importance. I don’t want to risk getting it wrong and I don’t think you do, either! There are three areas I see in which we can discover spiritual truth:

Truth as knowledge: We pursue this truth when we learn, understand, take in new thoughts, and weigh them against what we already know, being willing to adjust our thinking as we learn more.

Truth as experience: This is when we test truth in the laboratory of life. Does it work? Does it last? Does it transform?

Truth as relationship: Whether we realize it or not, our ultimate longing is to know Jesus, the Truth. Every other truth pursuit fits into and finds culmination in our relationship with Him.

Let’s find what is true and trustworthy and discard what is false and misleading. Truth matters!

“Truth is not everything, but without it, nothing goes right.” – Dallas Willard

 

Intersections

“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:16

A few years ago, Tim Elmore posted a blog about helping today’s students find purpose in life beyond what they see in movies. He cited surveys showing students’ primary goals were becoming famous and/or rich. Elmore questioned such aspirations and suggested we should help young people find something truly worth living for, saying, “Real purpose emerges when our strengths intersect with the world’s great need.”*

Maybe that’s something we should consider, too. As we look around, we realize there are huge needs in our neighborhoods and around the world: hunger, homelessness, war, disease, loneliness, lack of opportunity, mental illness, personal conflicts, and under-education. Which of these problems has God given us strengths, skills, or insights to help solve?

Then, as Christians, we know every person’s greatest need is relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. How much of our lives are consumed with responding to that need? I sense that the more of ourselves we give to introducing people to the One who can meet the deepest longings of their hearts, the more meaningful and satisfying our own lives will be.

We pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” What are you and I doing to help accomplish God’s will in our world? Maybe today we could ask Him where our strengths intersect with the great or small needs He is showing us. When we begin to serve others in God’s ways, we find another truth: When our obedience intersects with God’s purpose, joy happens!

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”  – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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*Tim Elmore at growingleaders.com, November 6, 2013.

Second Coming?

“The Lord confides in those who fear Him.” Psalm 25:14

When Jesus left earth, He told His disciples He was going to prepare a place for them and someday would come again to pick them up and take them to be with Him. That promise goes for all of us who follow Him. He does have a plan the includes returning to earth and ruling to show us how it ought to be done. No matter how good an earthly ruler is, Jesus will be lots better!

But do we spend so much time thinking about his “second coming” that we miss all the less-intense “comings” in the in-between times? The reality is that He is coming to us every day in many ways. Here are few I’ve experienced and, I am sure, you may recognize Him here as well:

• Speaking in an internal voice or nudge
• Giving insight in dreams
• Applying a truth from the Bible
• Giving comfort
• Showing me someone in need
• Providing for me
• Enabling me to do His will

Have you recognized Jesus visits in your life? He is constantly moving toward us, wanting us to see Him and respond. As Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem, He said “ . . . you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44). He came. They didn’t realize who He was. Let’s pay attention to His unique ways of coming to us as we walk through the minutes and hours of  our days! We don’t want to miss Him!

“He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favorite.” – Brother Lawrence

The Most Important Thing

” Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” – Mark 12:30

Anyone who’s been in significant relationships knows that loving can take effort. Think marriage, business partnerships, friendships, raising children. Long-term. Sometimes hard, but worth it.

The most extraordinary relationship we have as humans is with God. Loving Him takes attentive effort mostly because He asks for nothing less than total, life-altering love. Specifically, He tells us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. How can we do that? Let’s look.

“With all your heart” means our love for God will be emotional. We’re to develop positive feelings toward Him and an intense desire for Him. We can’t manufacture those feelings, but we can help them grow in our soul and mind. Here’s how:

The soul is the place where we make decisions. We can choose to love God. After time, loving Him will become part of our very being, but we have to will it first.

Loving God with our minds involves intentionality: We can think about Him, read His Word, learn about Him, and try to understand His view of the world. The more we know about God, the more we will love Him. Love is a spontaneous response to knowing who He is.

And He wants us to do this with all our might – to make loving God the central thing in our lives, doing so  with energy, persistence, and determination.

Summing up, how do we love God as He desires?

  • Will it.
  • Think it.
  • Feel it.
  • Do it with all our might.

According to Jesus, this is the most important thing. Nothing else comes close!

“The first act of love is always the giving of attention.” – Dallas Willard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greater Prayers

“We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” – Romans 8:26b

How do we know what to pray for? So many times we face situations for ourselves or others that don’t have identifiable solutions. At other times, we may be praying for a band-aid when God wants us to have surgery. Or praying for candy when He wants us to have steak.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have God’s perspective applied to our situations so He can respond today in ways that prepare us for what’s next? We know God’s thoughts are way beyond ours – more creative, more all-encompassing, more eternal. We cannot think as He does, so how can we know we’re praying for the right things? How can we pray prayers we don’t even know how to pray?

I’ve learned that it sometimes means praying without words, silently allowing the Holy Spirit to pray through us. We can practice this wordless prayer something like this: Sit in His presence. Tell Him we yield to His will, whatever it may be. Then, trusting His character, know what He wants is better than anything we could ask for ourselves or for someone else. Quiet yielding comes from the heart, relies on God’s wisdom and love, and prays beyond words.

I believe it’s God’s way of letting us pray prayers bigger than ourselves. Amazing, really.

“Lord Jesus,
take my mind and think through me,
take my hands and bless through me,
take my mouth and speak through me.

Above all, Lord Jesus, take my spirit and pray in me; so that it is you who move and have your being in me.”

(from a prayer found in a 16th century Book of Hours)

 

He’s not hard to please!

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10b

Have you ever thought about what you can do to make God happy? I asked Him that question once and here are the things that came to my mind as I sat in His presence:

• Enjoy My creation.
• Support the weak.
• Encourage someone’s faith.
• Have a grateful heart.
• Listen for My direction.
• Take care of your body.
• Nurture your soul.

Then I realized all these things have been shown to us in His Word. We find commands there,  of course, and our obedience pleases Him. The Bible also reveals God’s heart and gives us glimpses into what brings Him joy. Some of those things are on my list above, but we find others as we read the prophets or the psalms, or see Jesus at work in the Gospels.

When we grow to know Him more intimately, we begin to see Him as a loving Father. It is then we discover He is not hard to please. What He wants most from us is relationship. Loving connection with us is such a deep desire for Him that He sent Jesus to make it possible for us to be adopted as children into His family.

Just as a caring father expresses enthusiasm when his child presents him with an undecipherable crayon drawing, our Father in heaven is delighted with our sincere, but less-than-perfect, efforts to please Him. If we just tell Him, honestly, we want to make Him happy, He will show us how. Our efforts will bring Him joy. And I guarantee God’s joy will make us happy, too!

“The truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings and His service one of unspeakable pleasure.” – A.W. Tozer

 

 

 

 

Because you asked . . .

“Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.” – Psalm 112:4

Sometimes we labor in prayer, pleading with God for answers to pressing issues, waiting anxiously to see what He will do.

At other times, we simply mention something to Him, and He seems to respond – maybe just because we brought it up. For unexplainable reasons, God has chosen to use our prayers to change things in our world. And on some amazing occasions, He uses our prayers to bring blessings to others.

When God told Abraham he and Sarah would have a son, Abraham laughed because he was 99 years old and Sarah was 90! Not seeing how God could pull this one off, Abraham suggested his son Ishmael be the chosen one instead. But God made it clear that the new baby would be born and this son would be the one to carry on the covenant between God and Abraham.

God doesn’t stop there. He says, “. . . as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him. . .” (Genesis 17:20a). We know God had a plan for Ishmael, too, but I love that He seemed to respond specifically to Abraham’s concern. It’s almost as if God said, “I will bless him because you asked.”

Doesn’t that motivate you to ask? It does me. If we’re concerned about some person or situation, God wants to hear about it. Sometimes He gives us peace while we wait and sometimes He intervenes just because we thought it was important enough to talk to Him about. He allows us and our prayers to be the conduit of His blessing to others. What a privilege. What a responsibility! Let’s pray more.

“When we experience the love of God, we feel possibilities for newness on every side.” – Lewis Smedes

 

A Safe Place

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” – Matthew 6:6a

I read recently about hospitals that send home a “baby box” with each new mother. The sturdy cardboard box is just big enough to hold a newborn up to six months, is finished in baby-friendly designs, has a firm mattress on the bottom, and two built- in handles for easy transport from room to room. It is baby’s safe place. Safe from drafts, conversations, siblings, and pets. Baby boxes have been proven in Finland and Canada to significantly reduce infant mortality.

We never outgrow our need for a safe place: A room or a quiet corner can become a place of peace with no distractions. A place where we have only Jesus to look toward, talk to, and listen for.

We need some designated space where we can

  • feel His closeness,
  • be our true selves,
  • express our deepest needs,
  • reveal our most unacceptable thoughts, and
  • never fear attack.

Our safe place is a wall against the outside world – a physical space where we are nurtured, nourished, calmed, and strengthened. It is there we rest and grow. Then, when we are ready, we venture out into the bigger world – prepared to face what God has for us that day. But first we need time in our safe place with Him.

Where’s yours?

“There is a quiet place
far from the rapid pace
where God can soothe my troubled mind.
Sheltered by tree and flower
there in my quiet hour with him
my cares are left behind.
Whether a garden small,
or on a mountain tall
new strength and courage there I find,
and then from that quiet place
I go prepared to face a new day
with love for all mankind.“*

 

*https://www.hymnlyrics.org/requests/there_is_a_quiet_place.php

Still Waiting

“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” – Psalm 25:4-5

Do you feel like you’re at a standstill right now? No wind in your sails? No sense of direction? Not sure what’s next? There are waiting times for all of us. Times when we are trying to trust God even when He doesn’t seem to be doing anything to give us a sense of His presence or will.

Don’t worry. His silence doesn’t mean He has withdrawn. Most likely He’s waiting for the timing to be right before He acts. The direction He wants to give may be dependent on many threads coming together at the right time – other people, our heart readiness, general conditions around us. His working always includes things we cannot see, so we wait until He is ready to move, to direct us, or to change circumstances.

In the creation account, we read that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. While He hovered, the waters waited in the darkness – maybe for a very long time. Then, when He was ready, God called for creation and the earth and seas exploded with light, life, color, and glory. When the waiting was over, everything changed – radically!

The Spirit hovers over us, too. We need to quiet our souls. Rest. Trust. Allow Him to work where we cannot see, believing He is doing what is best for us, and knowing He will bring about what He desires when the time is right. It will be good!

“I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.” – C. S. Lewis

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: