We are what we read.

I will delight in your statutes;
   I will not forget your word.
– Psalm 119:16

Did you ever notice that, if you’re reading a good book, your mind returns to it as you go about your day? You want to know what happens next. You think about ideas the author plants in your mind. A good book affects us.

The same thing happens when we read the Bible with open minds. With purpose, With understanding.

We don’t read the Bible to make us feel good. It might not.

We don’t read it because we are ‘supposed to’. Though the discipline of reading the Bible even when we don’t feel like it is a good one.

We read it to find what it reveals about God and his plan for this earth, for us. 

We sometimes approach the Bible intellectually evaluating whether we think it is true,

deciding whether or not we will accept its directives or explain them away,

judging whether it is outdated or applicable,

concluding whether it is meeting our needs or not.

Or we expect it will give us information or direction or that it will provide inspiration or comfort. 

Maybe the best way is to approach the Bible with curiosity. What does it say? What does it reveal about God? Or the universe? Or relationships? Or success? Or wisdom?

Read humbly,

without judgment,

anticipating that it will have something to say to us personally,

willing to accept whatever message it gives,

willing to submit to its commands,

to claim its promises, and

to absorb its words until it changes us from the inside out.

               

“In our reading of this book we come to realize that what we need is not primarily informational, telling us things about God and ourselves, but formational, shaping us into our true being.” – Eugene Peterson

A Good Life

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10b

How are you doing with living what Jesus calls an abundant life?

A life not focused on trivialities, but on substance.

A life with purpose that goes beyond what we can see.

A life of gratefulness for the pleasures we can enjoy, the beauties we can see, and the people we can love.

A life in which we truthfully can say something like, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing else I need.”

Pastor and writer John Piper talks about living with “. . . the awakening of heart capacities to soar with beauties, and the mysteries of creation and redemption, and with the revelation of God’s nature and God’s ways in Scripture.” A heart that soars – that sounds like abundant living, doesn’t it?

Notice that abundance does not mean lots of stuff, money, thrills, or entertainment. It’s a deeper level richness – abundance of the heart, of relationships, of eternal values, of appreciation. It’s a learned skill to rise above the earthly to the spiritual, but it’s so worth the effort.

Here’s a prayer that might help us get a bit closer to the abundant life we all want:

Lord teach me to play, to have fun, to enjoy this life with you at my side. Teach me to be courageous, to try new things, to risk failure. Give me the imagination to find new paths, make new friends, travel to new places, to stretch and grow and love and learn and dream. Teach me how to skip happily through life in love with you, enjoying your presence with me always.

“The transformation of the self away from a life of fear and insufficiency takes place as we fix our minds upon God as he truly is.”” – Dallas Willar

Just come.

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” – Matthew 11:25

When we approach God as little children, we don’t have to worry about what we look like, how we feel, or whether we’re worthy. We just come – hopeful and open and a little scared. And then. . . we are welcomed enthusiastically into his embrace just as Jesus welcomed children when he lived on earth.

What happens when we are accepted flaws and all? We keep going back to people like that because we feel comfortable with them. That’s definitely true in our relationship with God. It takes only one soul-electrifying connection with his great loving heart and we are addicted. We’ll do anything to get that feeling again and again until it sinks in: He really loves us. Just. As. We. Are.

In the family of God, we don’t remain children. We keep returning to his presence, knowing we will never be turned away. And the more we hang out with him, the more we change. We grow up in God’s family much as we see our children grow up in ours.

But to mature spiritually, we have to maintain the attitude of a little child, remembering each day to be humble, teachable, not trying to take control, accepting what comes, trusting our Father, and treating those who come across our paths with joy, curiosity, and welcome. Little children know how to do that. Most of us grown-ups need to learn it.

“Christ wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.” – C. S. Lewis

Why do I pray?

And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” – Isaiah 6:3

Though I can’t see you, Lord, I know you are with me.

I pray because I believe you listen to me.

You love me.

You want what’s best for me.

You’re always working behind the scenes of my life.

You’re powerful enough to do whatever pleases you.

You will someday make all things right.

I pray because talking to you helps me order my tangled thoughts.

I pray not just hoping you will answer, but because I know I will be heard.

I pray because there is more to this life than what I can see. My prayers help me access the unseen life where everything is ordered, justice prevails, no one dies, and you rule. Prayer is my connection to that world and that connection makes everything in this world more bearable, more hopeful, less frightening.

I thank you when my prayers break out into worship. When it finally dawns on me that I’m talking to the one who created me and the entire universe around me. I am talking to the one who is holy, powerful, present everywhere, knowing everything, and living in unapproachable light. Yet I dare to enter your light because you have invited me to come. I stand amazed that I can be in your presence at all. Amazed at you.

You respond always in love, grace, and mercy. You bring me peace and fill me with hope. You create in me a clean heart, a renewed mind, and a desire to leave this place of prayer to serve you and my fellow travelers with joy. I am so thankful. Amen.

That’s why I pray.

“Prayer is keeping company with God.” – Philip Yancey

Wonder and Wait

The symphony he is composing includes minor chords, dissonance, and tiresome fugal passages. But those of us who follow his conducting through early movements will, with renewed strength, someday burst into song.” – Philip Yancey

Life is about the day-to-day, isn’t it? We get caught up in what is next on the schedule, what we need to plan for, shop for, or fix. Life can be mundane.

Then a crisis hits and we long for the “boring” days, the days when all we had to do was the next thing on our calendar. Now we are taken to a new place and it can be a place of discouragement, frustration, and even dread. We can’t see how this will end. We are vulnerable and afraid.

Let’s rewind that scenario. What if we see the crisis we face not as an obstacle to get around, but an invitation from the God of creation to let him lead us through it? What if there are heavenly blessings and spiritual understandings we cannot get any other way than by going through something we didn’t sign up for? Something we detest? Something we fear?

If we are in crisis, let’s face it with awe at what God is about to do. With wonder at what will unfold as we walk day-by-day with him in the middle of it. With anticipation of an outcome we cannot, in our humanness, even imagine. Let’s lean hard into the one who has promised never to leave us, always to love and care for us – no matter what we are facing today. Then we can watch in wonder as he does his amazing work!

“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” – Habakkuk 1:5

Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27

I was reminded recently of the story of an art contest years ago in which artists were asked to submit paintings depicting perfect peace. There were many entries of quiet rural scenes, reading by the fireplace, mirror-calm waters, and couples hand-in-hand. But one was different. It portrayed a wild storm, winds blowing, trees bending. Almost unseen, near the trunk of a tree with branches swaying, was a tiny bird sitting serenely on her nest with her wings covering her fledglings. That one took the prize.

It’s relatively easy to experience peace when life is going our way, when the days are sunny, and everything is in order. The real test of our peace is when our world seems to be falling apart and the storms rage.

Are you in the middle of a storm right now? I am.

Where do we go when it’s scary, unpredictable, and fierce? We go to God’s promises, like this one: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

We need to intentionally let go of anxiety, pray sincerely (many times a day when the storm is furious), and trust God’s peace will wash over us and fill us as he carries us through.

“If God be our God, He will give us peace in trouble. When there is a storm without, He will make peace within. The world can create trouble in peace, but God can create peace in trouble.” – Thomas Watson

Need a new outlook? Try this.

Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:20

My Bible teacher was right in trying to help us cultivate a positive attitude by naming three things daily for which we were thankful. I did that for a few weeks, but soon started to repeat myself – thankful for the sunrise, my husband, God’s provision, coffee, family, good health – you probably have a similar list.

Then, as I had my Bible in my lap one morning, I kept finding things in the passages I read that I wanted to give thanks for.

For example, I read this in the Psalms: “Surely you have granted him (the king) unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence” (Psalm 21:6). That made me think about times when I felt God close to me. Just being with him brought me joy! So I thanked him for that.

Then I turned to the 6th chapter of Romans and, when I came to verse 23, I was newly amazed at what I had read so many times before. Instead of death, we get eternal life. and it is a gift! In Paul’s words: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I couldn’t help saying “thank you!”

Now, day by day, as I read God’s Word, I search for things to thank him for. My list is no longer repetitive, my thanksgiving is more heartfelt, and I am happier. Want to try it?

“. . . worship is natural to the Christian, as it was to the godly Israelites who wrote the psalms, and . . . the habit of celebrating the greatness and graciousness of God yields an endless flow of thankfulness, joy, and zeal.” –J.I. Packer

The Melody

“I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.” – Psalm 104:33

” . . . and the melody that he gave to me within my heart is singing.”

Do you remember that line from the hymn In the Garden? It came to me recently as I was humming through my day and those words drew me into the rest of the song, “And he walks with me, and he talks with me. And he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

Do you hear it? Knowing God is with us, hearing his voice, being reassured of his love, and, then, the joy so great that we never want it to end. Don’t ever think you’re the only one who wants a relationship with God like that. This song was written in 1912 and the author, even then, understood what it meant to walk and talk with our Father in Heaven.

And it took  just one little line of music to bring it all to my mind.

The Bible, from beginning to end, encourages incorporating music into our lives:

“. . . be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” (Ephesians 5:18b-19)

Has God ever given you a melody? A song that draws you to him? Sing it. Hum it. Take it with you wherever you go. We need reminders of God, and music can be the vehicle to soften us enough to sense his loving presence. 

If God has given you a song, sing it, and let him use it to attune your heart to his.

“Where words fail, music speaks.” – Hans Christian Anderson

 
 
 

A Still Small Voice?

“In distress you called, and I delivered you. I answered you in the secret place of thunder.” – Psalm 81:7a

We often think of meeting God in a quiet place and hearing from him in a “still small voice” as Elijah did on the mountain millennia ago.

But there are times in the Bible when God makes himself known with a lot of noise – ruckus even. Remember he appeared to Job in a whirlwind, and he took Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. In Isaiah 29:5-6, God describes himself as appearing with thunder, earthquake, noise, whirlwind, tempest, and fire. That’s not quiet, it’s chaotic!

Let’s go back to Elijah’s still small voice. Remember that the quiet message he received was only after the wind, earthquake, and fire. God is not a quiet God. He is active and strong, and he speaks in many ways and in every circumstance in which his children find themselves. And, when he speaks, we are comforted: “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalm 94:19).

We’d like to have peaceful, non-chaotic lives, wouldn’t we? But we live in a challenging world that includes storms – physical, societal, relational, and sometimes spiritual. If we want God’s consolations to cheer our souls, we should never stop listening for his voice in the storm – shouting above the fray or whispering in our ear. When we hear him, we can be calm – even when life rages around us.

“A faithful person sees life from the perspective of trust, not fear. Bedrock faith allows me to believe that, despite the chaos of the present moment, God does reign; that regardless of how worthless I may feel, I truly matter to a God of love; that no pain lasts forever and no evil triumphs in the end.” -Philip Yancey

Where’s your cell phone?

” . . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. . .” – Hebrews 12:1b-2a

A friend of mine, recently retired from a successful career, told me employees in her firm were told never to put their cell phone on the table when they were having lunch with a client. Having it there, in full view, conveyed a message that you wanted the option to take the call if someone rang in during lunch. That doesn’t promote good relationships with clients!

Now a really personal question: When you are having one-on-one time with God, where’s your cell phone? Mine has been on the table next to my chair while I pray and read the Bible. Every time it signals, it calls for my attention, whether I respond to it or not. So I’ve started something new: Unless I need the phone for my listening prayer app, I leave it in the drawer so I can focus 100% on God. Just the presence of the phone beside me showed my attention was divided, my focus compromised.

If good business people give total focus to a client, how much more should that apply to God? What message could I possibly receive that would be more important than one from my Creator? Especially during what should be the most focused hour of my day.

Are you ready to make God the #1 priority for the time you’ve devoted to him? Maybe, you, too, need to put your cell phone away for awhile. That simple act could open great opportunities for intimate conversation with the all-important One.

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott