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

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

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

Expectations!

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, . . . She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.” – Proverbs 3:13 and 15

We bought a pail of sand for our grandson from a rock shop in Colorado because we had been told there were stones to be found in the sand if the recipient was willing to dig for them. He was!

One by one a wide variety of rocks were found – everything from tiger eye (his favorite) to obsidian to geodes. Each was greeted with appropriate appreciation and, sometimes, awe. As his treasures were washed and laid out on a towel to dry, I thought of how different the result would be if he had not been willing to take off the cover and begin to dig.

Why did he bother to open it? Because he expected to find something. He believed if he dug deep enough, there would be treasure.

I couldn’t help applying that thought to the Bible that sits next to my chair. Why do I choose to turn the cover and read it every day? Because I expect to find something. Something I will value, something that will please me, something that will correct me, something that will add to my knowledge or will give me direction. And I am never disappointed!

Do you see what I mean? The treasure is there, but we have to be willing to dig for it. So, let’s keep reading God’s Word, believing he has a message for us there every time we open it. Soon we will have a collection of understanding, promises, and encouragement that will make us wise and our lives beautiful!

“Our pursuit of God is successful just because he is forever seeking to manifest himself to us.” A. W. Tozer

Make it lovable.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:6

OK, I have a really big Bible. It not only has a good translation of Scripture, but it has pages of notes, maps, charts, and commentaries that enrich my understanding of the text. But, that’s not the Bible I carry with me everyday. Instead, I have a discreet purse-sized Bible tucked away until needed.

The point: If we are to be ambassadors for God’s kingdom on this earth, we are to practice good diplomacy. We must not be arrogantly spiritual (oxymoron, right?). We should not lead with our 20-pound Bible, our flowery prayers, or our condemnation of society.

We take our cues from Jesus here. He could have begun every conversation with something like, “I am God, you know.” But he didn’t. He led with his actions. He didn’t send the crowds away hungry. He fed them. He didn’t condemn Mary Magdalene. He cast the demons out of her. He didn’t turn away in fear from the ten lepers. He healed all of them, even the ungrateful. And he didn’t shoo away the kids. In fact, he used them as examples of how we all should approach him – with simple trust.

Maybe we, too, need to lead with hospitality, generosity, and gentleness. Those kinds of actions will open doors that unadorned holiness would see slammed shut.

It is important to be virtuous and pure, but maybe our piety should be between us and God. If it is true holiness, those in the outside world will see it in the way we behave – especially toward them. And that could lead to some important conversations!

“Not only should you be devout yourself and love piety, but you should make it lovable to others.” – Francis de Sales

Why a mountain?

You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. – Exodus 15:17

My husband and I had the privilege of retiring to the mountains two years ago. We had both lived in the fairly flat Midwest all of our lives and were ready for a change. The mountains called and we came.

Over time, I’ve realized how important the mountains seem to be to God. It was on a mountain that Abraham offered Isaac and later on that same mount where the Temple was built and the people of Israel (and others who would join them) worshiped God.

It was on a mountain that the law was given to Moses, including the Ten Commandments that have been the foundation of laws in many countries today.

It was on a mountain that Elijah, standing in a cleft of the rock, heard God’s quiet voice speaking to him.

It was on a mountain that Jesus taught his followers in the greatest sermon ever given.

On a high mountain in Israel, Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus in all his glory as he talked with Moses and Elijah.

And, of course, it was on Mount Calvary that Jesus was crucified for the sins of us all.

Why a mountain? Maybe ascending to the height of the mountain is the farthest we can get from the distractions of this world, the concerns of this life. Whether on a mountain or in a quiet room, getting away to get nearer to God – to hear His voice, to see His glory, and to receive his instruction may be the finest thing we can do today.

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” – William Blake

Tired?

“I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.” – Jeremiah 31:25

My friend told me that when she was a new believer, she had a hunger for God’s Word and studied it daily. One day, after all four kids were off to school and her husband to the office, she opened her Bible and couldn’t focus. She decided to pray instead, asking God for direction. She heard his instruction as clearly as if he was speaking out loud: “Take a nap.”

So she did. Twenty minutes later, she awoke refreshed and then was able to read her Bible with focus and understanding.

Sometimes we expect too much of ourselves, forgetting that we live with fleshly bodies and active minds that get tired. They require rest, refreshment, and renewal. Even Jesus, when living on earth, needed to get away at time to rest and pray.

What is your deepest need today? Is it for an answer to prayer? Keep praying, but rest awhile, too. Is it energy for a new responsibility? Take it on only if you sense God’s clear direction to do so. Don’t over busy yourself outside of his perfect will for you. You may be accepting a role he has already assigned to someone else, and your jumping in would get in the way of his will for their lives.

There are days when our deepest need may be for rest – for our bodies and our souls. When you sense that is true, remember Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).

“Rest time is not wasted time. It is economy to gather fresh strength… It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.” – Charles Spurgeon

It’s a battle you can win.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:57

We often struggle with the way we behave, live, feel, or think. There are things we would like to change, but, after trying too many times to be better, some of us decide we simply are who we are, and there’s nothing we can do to change.

We have have have at issues that plagues us: bad habits, phobias, obsessions, fears, or substance misuse (alcohol, drugs, food, nicotine, caffeine, etc. ). We really don’t want these “enemies” in our lives, but we’ve decided they’re too big, too strong, or too comfortable to get rid of. So we live with them.

That sounds a lot to me like the rationale the Israelites gave when they stopped short of driving the idol-worshiping Canaanites out of the land of promise: They’re big, they’re strong, and we think we can just learn to get along with them. They forgot God and his strength. Do we, too?

With God, freedom can be ours. We can conquer the things that disturb us, weigh us down, distract from full life, and hold us back. We don’t have to live with our enemies!

It will take . . .

. . . consecrating ourselves to God,

. . . obeying his guidance (which often includes counsel and/or community), and

. . . persistence.

If we do these things, we make room for God to act on our behalf, and when he does, we find the enemy we face becomes a little weaker. Soon we notice we have strength to say “no” at least some of the time. When we can do that, we are on our way victory! We don’t have to settle for less than God’s best for us. Believe that.

“Willfulness must give way to willingness and surrender. Mastery must yield to mystery.” – Gerald May

Much more on this topic can be found Addiction and Grace, a book by Gerald May.

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