Just love him.

“Direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only.” – 1 Samuel 7:3

If you have made a commitment to follow God, you know you don’t do it perfectly, right? He doesn’t talk out loud to us. His Book can be hard to understand. We pray and believe, but sometimes we don’t know if he hears. We want to love others as ourselves, but know we don’t do that as well as we should.

When I was getting discouraged about these things recently, God placed this question in my mind: “Where is your heart?” That was easy to answer. My heart is with God. I love him. I want to serve him. You know what I then “heard” in my head? “That’s all I need.” Really? All I have to do is direct my heart toward him and he’s happy with that? Yes. Because if he has my heart, he can work with me, steer me, grow me, use me.

Where is your heart?” has become an encouraging question for me. Answering that a few times a day might be helpful for you, too. If our hearts are directed with sincerity toward God, we will find ourselves making decisions (time use, possessions, spending, sharing) based on our knowledge that we really do love God. That reassurance helps to guide our choices. We have to focus on only one thing – where is my heart? Our actions will follow as naturally as water flows toward the sea.

“Let a man set his heart only on doing the will of God and he is instantly free. If we understand our first and sole duty to consist of loving God supremely and loving everyone, even our enemies, for God’s dear sake, then we can enjoy spiritual tranquility under every circumstance.” – A. W. Tozer

Breaking Promises

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. ” – Hebrews 10:22

Did you ever make a promise and later regret it? We probably all have. We are people of our word and, no matter what, we’re determined to keep a promise we’ve made. But, should we?

Most of the time we should. But, the Bible teaches that, if keeping a promise leads to sin, it’s better to break the promise than to do something harmful or wrong. David’s an example of this when he vows to his 600 fighting men that they will wipe out the household of Nabal because Nabal refused to provide food for David’s men. David is on his way to do that when Nabal’s wife, Abigail, meets him, brings food, and talks him out of his foolish promise. David relents and then acknowledges that her intervention kept him from sinning (1 Samuel 25).

Herod should have been willing to go back on his promise when he told Herodias’ daughter she could have whatever she wanted, and she asked for John the Baptist’s head. Herod was too proud to go back on his word, and John was unjustly and immediately beheaded.

If keeping our word will have consequences that are harmful, sinful, or just plain unwise, it’s better to break that promise than to keep it (Leviticus 5:4-6). We will have to give explanations, apologies, and even restitution if we have hurt someone by backing away, but that’s better than doing the wrong thing.

We should not make promises lightly, but we should never keep a promise that leads to sin or harm. Speak carefully, correct thoughtfully, live wisely, and God will be glorified.

“Never do what’s wrong! Do nothing until it’s right. Then do it with all your might.” – Chuck Swindoll

Scars

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4

If you walk among the aspens, you’ll notice their scarred trunks. Many of the roundish blemishes are from branches that have fallen off, a natural part of the tree’s growth. Others, though, are more rugged. These irregularly shaped scars are usually the result of elk having chewed on the bark. Over time the wounds heal, but the scars remain as a testament of survival.

We all have scars. They are evidence of our past, and they make us unique. Our scars usually result from trauma – physical or emotional. For some it was abuse or neglect in childhood. Others of us carry scars from broken relationships, losses, accidents, illnesses, or threats. Many older people, looking back on their lives, acknowledge the pains they have endured, and still end up saying, “I wouldn’t change anything.” Why? Because they know they wouldn’t be the people they became over time without the events that sometimes wounded them.

We don’t have to be ashamed of our scars. They record our histories, they give evidence of our ability to survive, to heal. And they allow us to connect with those who recognize those scars as theirs, too.

Jesus was raised from the dead after a brutal crucifixion. He could have had any resurrection body he wanted, but he chose to keep his scars. They verified his identity to doubting disciples, and they still give evidence of his triumphant sacrifice for humankind.

Every scar we have represents pain that, by God’s grace, made us stronger, better, more like Christ. He didn’t hide his scars. We shouldn’t either.

Suffering is arguably God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us. – Joni Eareckson Tada

Making a Difference

“. . . (The Lord) who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
 who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
– Psalm 103:4-5

Life can be frustrating, discouraging. Sometimes we feel like we are trying our best, but not making a difference at all. We find ourselves asking if what we are doing today will matter in the long run.

Don’t give up. God works in ways we cannot see – at least not yet! I read recently about the life of David Brainerd, missionary to American Indians in the 1700’s. He kept a journal, so we have a window on his private thoughts. He was often discouraged. He was alone and lonely. He was sick (diagnosed with consumption). And his ministry was not very successful. But, even when he was depressed, he kept going. He prayed – sometimes for a whole day at a time. He fasted. He read and re-read his Bible.

And, listen in to the cry of his heart: “Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.” God answered that prayer. Though he had few converts and died at the age of 29 after only a four-year ministry, his devotion to God during tough times has inspired countless others to gives their lives to God in service as ministers and missionaries.

So, even when we are discouraged, we don’t quit. God is working something in us and through us that we don’t understand. Let’s pray, as Brainerd did, that God would use us to make a difference that is disproportionate to who we are!

” . . . God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.” – John Piper

Don’t give up!

 “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you . . .” Psalm 63:1a

We are all working toward something. We have goals and dreams. Is God on your wish list? I heard a teacher say recently that we need to take God off any list. He stands alone as the one and only priority in our lives. When we make him that, he will become a part of and will invade every other aspiration we have. He’s not something to do. He’s someone to pursue.

We need to be patient in that pursuit because It takes time to get to know God. Don’t give up, though. He gives this promise, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13). It’s not that he’s hiding. It’s that he’s so great and beyond our understanding that he has to reveal who he is a little at a time. But his promise stands. If our hearts are right, we will find him. We will get to know him. We will find ourselves in his presence – a place of security, love, joy, and purpose. It’s a promise!

When we get discouraged with the process, we should remember that the Magi watched and studied the sky for years looking for the cosmological sign that would announce the coming of the Messiah. Then, one day, a star appeared. And, when it did, they followed it until they found Jesus, God in human form. So we keep looking, searching, desiring to find him, to know him, no matter how long it takes. We will never stop wanting more of him.

“Let all our employment be to know God: The more one knows him, the more one desires to know him.” ~ Brother Lawrence

Doing Hard Stuff

Has God ever asked you to do anything hard? I couldn’t help thinking of that question as I finished reading again the biblical account of Noah and the great flood. Here he was, a man who was favored by God, being as focused on his Creator as possible in a world gone bad. He was surrounded by sinfulness, yet still true to God. How did God reward his faithfulness? By asking him to do something hard – really hard.

First he had to build a huge boat in the middle of a desert land. We can only imagine the ridicule as he brought in logs, sawed boards, pounded nails and created animal enclosures. And, while he built, he preached, calling on people to repent of their sins. Obviously, by the time the flood came, he had no converts other than his own family. Discouraging!

Then, he had to endure the flood – more than a year on a boat with his family and animals of every kind. The work involved must have been never-ending, not to mention the noise and the smell. One whole year, plus. But, happy 601st birthday, Noah! Finally, the ground was dry.

The first thing Noah did when he left the ark was offer a sacrifice to thank God for saving him and his family. He could have complained about the how, but he didn’t. He picked up where he left off before the call to build an ark – worshiping and following God.

Has God asked you to do anything hard lately? If so, don’t run from it. Say, “Yes, Lord” and get to work. God knows how to take of those who are his!

Faith in God has not saved people from hardships and trials, but it has enabled them to bear tribulations courageously and to emerge victoriously.” – Lee Robertson

What are we building?

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” – 1 Peter 4:10

God’s original instructions to mankind were to have dominion over the earth. As his image bearers, he’s invited us to co-create with him, to organize and inhabit the earth in ways that are honorable, helpful, and pleasing to him.

It didn’t take long after creation until earthlings showed they had other ideas. They decided to build a city around a tower that would reach into the clouds (Genesis 11:1-9). Can you imagine all the skills required to do that? They had to have a plan, get everyone to agree, raise money, make building materials, transport supplies into their desert site, and engineer construction of a high-rise tower. These talents were given by their Creator. And how were they using them? To design a life that didn’t need him.

You and I have skills, too. Can we dream big dreams? Design or engineer? Rouse people to action? Raise money? Write? Make things? Organize? Make music? How are we using the talents we have in ways that help humanity to live creatively on this earth as God desires? Ways that serve him, honor him, and provide for ourselves and others? That’s what he had in mind when he gave us particular abilities.

And he gave compatible skills to others, too. So, we should look around and find those who have the same dreams we have and working together, we soon will find we are building into the lives of people we know, nurturing caring communities, and encouraging faith and trust in God. The self-serving Tower of Babel was destroyed. If we do things God’s way, what we build will last forever.

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – Francis of Assisi

The Value of Time

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Have you ever heard of the time value of money? The concept is if you have a little money, invest it where it can earn interest, and let principal and interest grow together, eventually you will have a great deal more money than you started with. The key ingredient is time.

There’s a time value to spirituality, too. We begin with commitment to follow Christ. Then we learn a little here and there, adding to the knowledge we already have. We sense the foundation of our spiritual life is getting stronger. Then, we add experiences, sound teaching, spiritual practices, and relationships until, over time, we realize we’re changing (2 Peter 1:5-9). There are many behaviors and activities that contribute to our spiritual maturation, but time is a key ingredient to fostering true transformation.

Here are a few examples of how that might help:

  • Temptation that is persistent tests us, grows us, and invites God to intervene. We shortchange ourselves when we give in to temptation without a fight. If we resist and trust God, we get stronger (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  • Faith that has to wait for fulfillment grows deeper with time. If all our prayers were answered immediately, our faith would be fragile. As we learn to trust God’s timing, our faith grows (Romans 4:20).
  • Spiritual fruit comes only after seeds are buried and the plants mature. Growth to the point of fruitfulness in God’s Kingdom takes time (Mark 4:26-29).

We want to encourage our own spiritual growth, but we can’t hurry it. Most of the highly valued things in life take time. Don’t give up!

“Be not afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.” – Author Unknown

Why, God?

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18

In the year 2000, a small group of devoted monks moved from the relative comfort of their lives to Norcia, Italy to re-establish the monastery founded there long ago by St. Benedict. Their sole purpose was to love and serve God through the solitude and simplicity of the ancient monastic life.

Then in October of 2016, the Basilica of St. Benedict, built in the 14th century as the center of this monastery’s worship, collapsed in an earthquake. It was a shocking tragedy. The monks couldn’t help wondering how God could allow the destruction of this cathedral when it was built by, and then used for centuries by, those who loved him sacrificially.

They mourned the loss of this great place of worship, but soon all their spiritual training kicked in, and they began to make plans for starting over. One writer described their reaction as “receiv(ing) this catastrophe as a call for deeper holiness and sacrifice.”*

Is that how we respond to crises in our lives? As a “call for deeper holiness and sacrifice?” Not usually. More often our response is “Why, God?” I think it’s OK to ask, but if the answer doesn’t come (and often it doesn’t – at least not right away), we need to accept what has happened and move closer to God as we pick up the pieces.

One of the monks said, “These are mysteries which will take years – not days or months – to understand.”*

Do you have an unanswered “why?” in your life? Let’s not let God’s silence stop us from answering his call to deeper holiness. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!

“Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” – Sam Storm

*Both quotes are cited in The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (Sentinel Books: New York, New York), 2017, p. 243

Sailing or Drifting?

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” – Hebrews 2:1

Years ago, I had a friend, Phyllis, who owned a small sailboat, and we shared some sunny afternoons on that boat, sailing across Spring Lake and back.

When we pushed out, Phyllis would choose a spot across the lake and set her sail toward that point, making corrections along the way to keep us on course. Working with the wind to move us in the right direction required constant attention. But we always reached our destination and always returned to our home port safely, and usually dry!

There is a spiritual truth here. Generally, we don’t turn around and sail away from God. Instead, we drift away. One day we wake up and realize how far we are from him. What can we do?

Be intentional: Phyllis always had her eye on the shore, skillfully keeping us on course. Spiritually, we need to keep God always in focus, adjusting our activities, decisions, and relationships to be constantly moving toward him. It won’t just happen. We have to work at it.

Pay attention: If we ever take our attention off the rudder or the sail, we drift and the results can be disastrous. We must not let distractions interfere with our goal.

If we have drifted away from God, let’s get back on course. We can place him in our mind’s eye and keep him there. Then we pay attention by filling our mind with the important and by not being distracted by the inconsequential. Set the sail and stay on course. He’s worth it!

“You either line yourself up with the Son of God . . .or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”– Elisabeth Elliott