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

God’s Language

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  – Psalm 19:1-2

Author and missionary Frank Laubach prayed this prayer on January 1, 1937, “God, I want to give you every minute of this year. I shall try to keep You in mind every moment of my waking hours . . . I shall try to learn your language as it was taught by Jesus and all others through whom you speak . . . “

He kept a journal during that year in which we see him trying to figure out the language of God. As he goes through his days, he finds God speaking through unsolved problems, needs, notes in his calendar, mottos on walls, memories, and, of course, the Bible, teachers, and creation itself.

We, too, can learn God’s language. We simply have to be looking for his activity around us, listening for his direction, wanting to know what he is trying to say. Laubach wanted to be doing that every waking minute of his day. I’ve tried that – it’s really not possible! But if the desire is there, even with failed attempts, God will begin to reveal himself.

Focusing on that connection doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Sometimes it’s a quick “thank you” or, if you have no words, a nod and a smile – a simple acknowledgement that he is with you, right there in your office, kitchen, den, or car. And he’s always speaking. We just need to learn his language!

“We look for visions from heaven, for earthquakes and thunders of God’s power . . .  and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. If we will do the duty that lies nearest, we shall see Him.” – Oswald Chambers

Confused? Frustrated?

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” – Luke 24:32

If you feel challenged and confused these days, you’re not alone! Many are mourning the absence of life as they knew it and are wondering how things will change when everything settles down. What will the new normal look like?

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples struggled with some of those same challenges. They’d believed Jesus was the Messiah. They’d followed and trusted him over several years, and now he was dead. They couldn’t imagine what their new normal would look like.

On the Sunday after Jesus’ death, two disciples were walking toward the town of Emmaus when a third man joined them on the journey. Luke tells us that their faces were “downcast”. Their new companion listened as they told him about the events over the past three days – Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and their crushed hopes. And now, some were telling of an empty tomb, and that confused the situation all the more.

Don’t you love that Jesus. though unrecognized, was with them right then in their confusion and pain? Through Scripture, he began to make everything clear. And, when they sat down for a meal, he prayed and broke bread and at that moment they recognized it was Jesus who had been with them all along! He listened to their problems, taught them from Scripture, and revealed himself to them – alive!

Jesus is here in our confusion, too, and his mode is still to listen, teach, and reveal. Don’t you think we can trust that he will help make sense of whatever we are going through? I do!

“All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich

The Narrows

“Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path . . . with walls on both sides.” – Numbers 22:24

A few years ago, we traveled with some of our family to Zion National Park where we entered “The Narrows”. It’s the most confined section of the canyon where, at times, you can touch both sides of the towering rock walls as you walk through with a river underfoot. I’m not fond of closed-in spaces, so I knew that hike was not for me!

Sometimes we don’t have a choice about how narrow our lives get, and the walls can seem too confining. Some of you are feeling that now when you can’t leave your home even for work. We’re used to wide open spaces – highways, malls, meeting places, beaches, and parks. Now we are kept inside with only occasional recourse to the outside world.

No matter if we are sequestering alone or with a large family, God is waiting with us in the narrows. He offers grace for each day, mercy in our stresses, hope that the wide-open spaces will soon reappear, and joy as we step cautiously through the restricted pathways of our present lives.

To access that grace, mercy, hope, and joy, we need to do one thing: Let our hearts be soft enough to receive. These gifts are there for us. Jesus is simply asking that you recognize he is with you in the small space and acknowledge you need him. As you turn toward him, he will respond. He always does.

Let’s be open to God today! When we do, the walls will seem to disappear, and the vastness of eternity will enter.

“. . . a bench outdoors, a porch swing, a chair in the library. Such places, as much as a church pew, provide openings to grace.” – Emilie Griffin

Rest awhile.

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

Has your life changed because of the corona virus? Most of us have had events and activities canceled. Some have kids home on a prolonged break from school. Many have run into shortages at local stores. Some have been asked to work from home instead of coming in to the office. And our calendars are suddenly cleared!

The result? More time at home, less time on the run. So, let’s stop to assess our new normal and take a deep breath. We are now permitted to slow the hectic pace of our pre-quarantine lives and mellow out a little.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Maybe this world’s enforced slow-down is his invitation to rest, to spend time alone with him, and to let our minds stop the constant distraction of our old normal.

Let’s not overfill the extra time we may have. Instead, let’s live into it. Limit social media use, take soaking baths instead of quick showers, read a little longer to the kids at night, make mealtime last for an hour instead of minutes, take walks, read good books, talk to God, read his book, and enjoy being his kid. I think he has plans for us during the time apart.

If we listen to the Spirit and use this time well, we may emerge from the respite being more purposeful in our pursuits and less frenetic in our pace. We might find a renewed zest for life as we make more God-centered choices about time use than we did before this unsought slowing. Maybe it’s an opportunity to push the reset button!

“Converse less with man, and more with God.” – George Whitefield

Do you know?

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend. – James 2:23b

As we relate one-on-one to God, we learn things: how much he loves us, how deeply he teaches us, and how desperately we need to rely on him. We find the Bible coming alive as we read, – correcting, encouraging, directing. We gain so much by living in close connection with our Creator! But do you know how much he wants that connection, too?

God desires relationship with us as much as we do with him. Probably more. Think about Abraham, a mere human, called by God to leave the familiar and go into the unknown. James says Abraham was a “friend of God.” Or Moses, who was not a perfect man, yet we are told God communicated with him face-to-face. Then there were the disciples who lived in close proximity to Jesus for months. On the night he was arrested, Jesus said to them. “I no longer call you servants . . . Instead, I have called you friends , , , ” (from John 15:15).

Why would God want to be a friend to humans? I don’t know, but story after story in the Bible tells us it’s true. And the better we get to know him, the more we believe it. As I was beginning to understand how important our closeness was to both of us, God whispered “That’s something many of my children don’t know.”

Do you know? God loves having your attention. Relationship with him is what you were made for. He wants to be your Savior, your Lord, and your friend. I think he wanted me to tell you that today.

“Let’s dare to enter into an intimate relationship with God without fear, trusting that we will receive love and always more love.” – Henri Nouwen

Someone should be taking notes.

“Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.” – John 8:47a

I was in a meeting once with a consultant who had been brought in to advise on a non-profit organization’s proposed development project. He began his presentation, then looked around the table and said, “If I’m talking, someone should be taking notes.” That seemed arrogant on the part of an engineer, but it’s not at all arrogant when it comes to God.

Sometimes we do hear God speaking to us, don’t we? Usually it’s a thought, a highlighted verse of Scripture, or a nudge to do something we hadn’t planned to do. That’s often how God guides, encourages, and teaches us. As we get to know him better, we learn to recognize those messages.

When God speaks, it’s something to take seriously. For that reason, I like to keep a journal close at hand, so when God says something to me, I can take notes. Recently, for example, I asked him about a situation in my life and his response seemed to be “I will make a way.” It was clearly from God, and I wanted to be sure I’d remember it, so I made a note. That thought has come back to me numerous times since. I do the same with Bible verses or phrases that seem to speak to me on a particular day. Writing these messages down cements them in my memory and also makes them available for revisiting – sometimes years down the road.

God’s word is eternal. What he speaks may be valid for more than one situation. Let’s write his messages down, then read them again and again. When he speaks, we all should be taking notes!

“People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to.” – Dallas Willard