Afraid?

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

I was anticipating a situation that made me anxious. When that happens, I find it helpful to pray about it. So, I began a prayer telling God all the reasons I had to be stressed about this meeting and then, as it dawned on me who I was talking to, the prayer reverted to something like this:

Me: Are you afraid?
Jesus: No.
Me: Then I won’t be either (pause). Are you stressed?
Jesus: Nope.
Me: Then I won’t be either (pause). Are you worried about what happens next?
Jesus: Not a bit.
Me: Then, me either.

That might seem like a silly prayer exercise, but focusing on God’s serenity calmed me. If we believe that God not only knows what will happen in any given situation, but is actively involved in bringing about the consequences he desires, then we can relax. To the extent we are following him, our outcomes will be exactly what he wants them to be.

Sometimes the question for us is this: Are we content with that? Are we willing to accept his will for us as good? Or will we fight against it? When we have a predetermined outcome in mind, we get anxious. When we commit to being happy with what God has designed, we relax into his plan.

God does have a plan. He’s in control of every situation. He’s not anxious. Why should we be?

“If the Lord be with us, we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, His arm over us, His ear open to our prayer – His grace sufficient, His promise unchangeable.” – John Newton

All He Wants You to Have

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” – Philippians 4:11b-12

Remember Joseph? Favored son of Jacob, he was sold by his jealous brothers as a slave and taken to Egypt where he was purchased by an official named Potiphar. Potiphar immediately recognized Joseph’s skills and put him in charge of his household. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph (Genesis 39) and he refused her, citing all the responsibilities and all the possessions Potiphar had given him charge of, then stating that it included pretty much everything – except her.

Joseph knew Potiphar had given him everything he wanted him to have – and it didn’t include his wife. Instead of thinking about her all the time and finding ways to rationalize responding to her invitation, he walked away knowing that saying “no” would cost him something.

Think now of all our Master has entrusted into our hands: Possessions, finances, health, relationships, creation, evangelizing, and teaching. He, too, gives us everything he wants us to have. Dallas Willard taught that, as we grow closer to God and experience his many blessings, we “find it possible to take the absence of something from our lives as sufficient proof that we do not need it.”

We must be careful never to step outside the boundaries of God’s commands to go after something he has not given us. Living within God’s boundaries will result in satisfaction, contentment, and peace. And maybe that’s enough. 

“Contentment is one of the most distinguishing traits of the godly person, because a godly person has his heart focused on God rather than on possessions or position or power.” – Jerry Bridges

Yielding

“Now may the God of peace . . .equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” – Hebrews 13:20-21

Jesus taught what it means to follow him. It means saying “no” to our own ideas and walking with him. Not second guessing his plan.  Not explaining why we prefer our way to his. It means yielding decisions and desires to him. Why? Because he knows what we need better than we do:

  •  We want sunshine every day. God knows the earth needs rain, snow, and even a good lightning storm once in awhile.
  • We want trouble-free lives for our children. God uses troubles to mold them and draw them to him, just as he does with us.
  • We want everyone to like us. God wants obedience, boldness, and holiness over acclaim.
  • We want good health. God wants us to realize our frailty, our dependence on him. Maybe he allows failure in our bodies to help us share in his sufferings.
  • We want everyone to live at peace. He reminds us that he knew his coming to earth would create division, but he came anyway.

Yielding to God is not fatalistic. It’s following as his disciples did: walking with him wherever he led, stopping when he stopped, listening when he taught, and doing what he asked. It’s trusting his understanding and his intentions. Leaning in. Living confidently. Listening for his whispers. Following with anticipation.  His way is better than my way every time!

“In all his acts God orders all things, whether good or evil, for the good of those who know him and seek him and who strive to bring their own freedom under obedience to his divine purpose. “ – Thomas Merton

What do you really want for Christmas?

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings . . .” – Hebrews 10:22a

It’s Christmas morning. The gifts are wrapped and under the tree. Soon everyone will gather, the paper will be ripped and balled and the gifts unveiled. Exciting. Fun. We like to give gifts to each other. We like to receive them, too!

But, when it’s all over at the end of Christmas Day, will you get what you wanted? Will your deepest needs be satisfied? Or have you discovered, as many of us have, that the things we need most will never be found under the tree?

Do you know that Jesus wants us to tell him what we want? Once when he was walking to Jericho, a blind beggar called out to him. Jesus stopped and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man could have asked for anything, but he asked for what we all might agree was the most logical thing: “Restore my sight”. Jesus gave him exactly what he said he wanted. But, if he had asked, Jesus would have given him far more: eternal life, forgiveness, joy, peace, relationships, unconditional love, and his ongoing presence.

Maybe this Christmas Day, Jesus is asking each of us, What do you really want for Christmas? What will you ask him for? It’s an important question. Ask big. Only he can give you the things you long for most – things you will never find under the tree.

“Come close. My heart is ready. Come close. My heart is here. Show me I’m longing for you. Draw near. All I ever wanted is found in you. Come close.”

Lyrics from Come Close by One Hope Project. You can listen to the entire song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqBF4TtMmxM

Power Hungry

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being. . . ” – Ephesians 3:16

Sometimes we feel helpless as we look at power in the world today. Nations testing other nations, each claiming superior force. Politicians exchanging influence for favors. Bosses barking out orders or withholding increases in pay. Authority, glory, and power are evident – but not for us it seems.

We don’t have to feel helpless because the Bible promises us power, Paul prayed for it for the Ephesian church, and Jesus promised it to his disciples. We can assume though, the kind of power Jesus and Paul were talking about isn’t very much like what we see in the world around us.

What does Christian, God-given power look like? I think Frank Laubach (missionary to India and Africa in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s) had it right when he prayed for power this way:

“. . . power to see souls behind faces, power to pray for those I see outside this car window, power to ooze into or push into the inner souls of others with my prayer and carry Thee with me all the way to the center.”

I’m hungry for that kind of power, aren’t you? Power to have understanding of the hidden needs of those we meet, power to pray constantly, power to reach people at a heart level with the truth of God’s love and provision for them, power to change them for eternity.

Please, Lord, may my life be lived under the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit within me, for the good of those I touch, and for your great pleasure.

“If you want that splendid power in prayer, you must remain in loving, living, lasting, conscious, practical, abiding union with the Lord Jesus Christ.” – Charles Spurgeon

How much is it worth to you?

. . . anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. – Hebrews 11:6b

Do you want to get fit? Your success may depend on how much you’re willing to endure changing your eating and exercise habits.

Do you want to earn a degree? Your success will depend on how much you’re willing to prioritize, maybe even giving up sleep and social activities to reach your goal.

Do you want financial security? Your success may depend on how well you say “no” to things you can’t afford so, just maybe, you’ll be able to afford them later.

Now, here’s the bottom-line question. Do you want to know God better? To hear his voice? To know he hears your prayers? To sense his presence with you every minute? Your success will depend a lot on how much you’re willing to prioritize time, deny yourself, and say “no” to lesser things so you can pursue God with everything  you have and are. Anything as important as our relationship with God is going to cost us something. It may even be painful at times. 

Is it worth it? From my own experience, growing close to God is worth everything! Getting up early to read his word? I’ll do that. Talking to him throughout the day? That, too. Praying my heart out for people I love? Yup. Letting go of my need to control? OK.

The reward? Realizing and receiving his enduring love for me. Finding myself happily singing for no reason at all. And living with peace because trusting him has left me with fewer burdens to carry. Worth it? Oh, yes!

“The only thing between who you are now and who you want to be is the pain you are willing to endure.”

Rabbi Aryeh Markman

While you wait . . .

“I am the Lord; for they shall not be put to shame who wait for, look for, hope for and expect me.” – Isaiah 49:3b

We’re probably all waiting for something: restored health, reconciliation of a relationship, financial stability, answered prayers, return of our prodigal, settled peace. What are you waiting for? We never know how long our wait will be, but there’s good news:

God has big plans for our waiting time. While we wait, he nurtures us and promises to give us rest, hope, direction, and encouragement. If that’s what you could use right now, read on.

Rest and renewal come from waiting.

“. . . they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)

Waiting can be filled with confidence and hope.

“I wait longingly for Adonai; I put my hope in his word. Everything in me waits for Adonai. . .” – Psalm 130:5-6a (CJB)

Our waiting invites God to act.

“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” – Isaiah 64:4 (NIV)

We can run ahead of God, but that would be foolish, wouldn’t it? If we wait for him, he refreshes us, he gives us hope, prepares us for his response, and then he acts – in his timing, to be sure, but with all the power, wisdom, and effectiveness than only God can have. His intervention is well worth the wait!

If the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole hearts; for blessed are all they that wait for Him. He is worth waiting for . . . The Lord’s people have always been a waiting people.” – Charles Spurgeon

Did God say “no”?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9

God speaks often about persistence in prayer, asking until we receive, and trusting he hears and will respond. But, apparently, there are times when we need to stop storming the gates of heaven for an answer we want desperately. Sometimes God simply says “no”. 

If that’s happened to you, you’re in good company. Moses had that experience when he pleaded with God to let him go over with the people into the promised land and God said: “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:26b). In other words, “Stop asking me, Moses. I already told you ‘no'”.

Paul had something similar happen when he prayed three times for his physical problem to be taken away. God didn’t answer the prayer the way Paul had hoped, but he did promise that his grace would see Paul through the difficulty.

If Moses and Paul, amazing saints, didn’t always get “yesses” to their prayers, we realize that sometimes we, too, have to accept “no” as an answer! When that happens, what do we do?

  • We stop repeating a prayer we know God has already said “no” to.
  • We don’t protest.
  • We persevere, asking for faith to rely on him to be with us in the difficult circumstance.
  • We acknowledge, as Paul did, that human weakness can be an avenue through which God displays his power – in ways we couldn’t even think to pray about.
  • We keep on loving, trusting, and worshiping God.

And then, at some point, we’ll find that God’s “no” was a great blessing!

“God’s refusals are always merciful – ‘severe mercies’ at times – but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better.” – Elisabeth Elliot

You are not alone.

“The eternal life of which Jesus speaks is not knowledge about God, but an intimately interactive relationship with him.” – Dallas Willard

The song by folksinger Karen Money touches me every time I hear it. She sings, “. . . all I long for most is mine when He draws close to me.”

What is it you long for most? Surely we long for God’s gifts, including joy, peace, blessings, and answered prayers, but at some point we find our deepest longing is for God himself and not just his gifts. We desire . . .

  • To have a heart-stirring awareness of his presence
  • To know he’s leading our thoughts and decisions
  • To receive his love in life-changing ways
  • To be amazed at his holiness and power

If this kind of closeness to our Creator becomes our experience, we want it again and again. Why? Because that vibrant, feeling-level relationship with God is what satisfies the deepest needs we have. He truly is the One we long for most.

The amazing thing to me is that Jesus has the same longings for intimacy with us. He wants it so much he came to earth, lived with humans, gave himself to a terrifying death so we could relate to him. Coming to him for salvation is only the first step. After that, not to respond to his ongoing presence by communicating with him constantly is to reject the relationship he desires even more than we do.

Our acknowledgment of his unseen presence is what we need to meet our deepest longings. Every moment of every day, knowing he is with me, I want to be engaged in mental or verbal conversation with him, inviting him into my activities, decisions, and relationships. That interaction thrills us both!

“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” – James 4:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking of Him?

” . . .we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”. – 2 Corinthians 10:5b

Are you sometimes unsatisfied with the quality of your life? Do you want it to be more meaningful? To be more in cync with God’s will? When I’m feeling that frustration, I remember that the less I think about me and the more I think about God, the richer and more significant my life will be. He is the only source of purpose and joy. And he responds when we turn our attention toward him.

With that in mind, I’m reposting one of my poems which I published in a blog in 2016. I’m sharing it now because it’s where my heart is and I’m thinking it may resonate with you as well.  

Thinking of Him?

When the lights grow dim
Are you thinking of Him?
Or is your mind too cluttered
With thoughts un-uttered
And words unspoken
And promises broken?

When the day is at end
Do you talk with your Friend?
Or are you doing the dishes
And pondering wishes
And things yet to do
E’re the evening is through?

When you woke in your bed
Was it His name you said?
Or were you thinking of rights
And yesterday’s fights
And battles to win
When the sun comes again?

Our mind is the measure
Of what we most treasure.
It shows us what holds us
And constantly molds us.
If we’re centered on Jesus
And how He does please us,

The thoughts that disturb us
And tend to perturb us
Will crumble and cower
And lose all their power.
Then when the lights grow dim,
We’ll be thinking of Him.

“I am trying to be utterly free from everybody, free from my own self, but completely enslaved to the will of God every moment of this day.” – Frank Laubauch