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

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

Need some soul work?

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.

Psalm 23:1-3

Yesterday, I had been far busier than I intended and felt frazzled. So, near the end of the day, I sat in my comfortable chair and thought about how my Good Shepherd leads me beside still waters and makes me lie down in green pastures. The stress began to leave my body and I felt comforted and calmed.

My mind moved to the next statement, “He refreshes my soul”. What does that mean? Christian scholar J.P. Moreland has spent years studying and writing about the soul and he believes it contains five faculties:

  • senses (touch, taste, smell, seeing, hearing)
  • will (capacities to choose)
  • emotions (ability to experience joy, love, anger, etc.)
  • mind (thoughts, beliefs, ability to reason)
  • spirit (means by which we relate to God). *

In sum, our souls encompass our entire internal being. And that’s what needs to be refreshed – our whole selves, not just our bodies. 

It’s important to pay attention when our soul cries out for refreshment. When it does, we are invited to connect with the only one who can provide what we need. As God restores our souls, he renews our desire to have him near, cleans up the sinful smudges gained from the day, and draws us close. We begin to feel whole, complete, spiritually healthy. That’s refreshment!

This can happen only when we stay close to the Shepherd, asking him to make the changes and restoration we crave. Then we wait. He will not leave us helpless. Soul work is what he does!

The greater perfection a soul aspires after, the more dependent it is upon Divine Grace.” – Brother Lawrence

*From Finding Quiet by J.P. Moreland

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

Results

” . . . being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6

The quality of the life we live is the product of many small choices we make each day. God tells us  “the fruit of righteousness will be peace, the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 32:17).

If righteousness brings peace, quietness, and confidence, what does it say about choices I’m making if, instead of those qualities, I’m experiencing anxiety, turmoil, and fear? Maybe I need to take a closer look at righteousness!

What kind of life would God consider righteous? Loving him comes to mind, as Jesus clearly stated. Jesus also taught that right living hinges upon loving those around us and showing that love in tangible ways. It seems that righteous living includes seeking justice for the mistreated and help for the suffering. We would all agree that righeousness includes virtuous living: purity of actions and thought – in eating/drinking, sexual morality, caring for our bodies, and protecting our minds.

Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to live righteously. So, if we want the peace, quietness, and confidence that right living brings, we need to turn to the One who stands ready to transform our hearts, minds, and souls. He won’t do it without our invitation and cooperation. But, when we invite him, we begin to be sensitive to his conviction of wrongdoing and to his nudges toward good decisions. As we respond to those convictions and follow those nudges, we grow, realizing, as we do, that all righteousness is God-given. Without him, it’s impossible!

“The One who calls you to a life of righteousness is the One who, by your consent, lives that life of righteousness through you!” – Major Ian Thomas

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

The calm comes.

“Peace doesn’t come from finding a lake with no storms. It comes from having Jesus in the boat.” – John Ortberg

After some minor surgery recently, I was disoriented and agitated as I woke from the anesthetic. Nurses were trying to calm me, asking what I was feeling, reassuring me. One nurse turned my face toward hers and said, “Look at me. Everything’s OK.” I was still distressed.

Then, glancing over her shoulder, I saw my husband. His were the eyes I locked in on. His words, almost the same as hers, were the ones I trusted. In the middle of my confusion, his was the voice that connected with my fear and brought peace.

Are you thrashing about in life today? Not feeling anchored? Distraught? Angry? Worried? Listening to music might help, or taking a walk, or talking with a friend. But often messages from those around us aren’t enough to bring peace. What do we do?

We look over the shoulder of this world to see Jesus. He understands what it’s like to be human, and he’s strong enough to carry our fear or pain. We read from the Gospels to gain confidence in who he is. We pray, knowing he not only listens, but is loving enough to respond – with power or with a quiet voice inside us. 

Whatever way we find to turn to Jesus, when we lock our eyes into his, we are able to stop struggling against circumstances or emotional reactions. Peace comes when our trust is placed in the One who knows just what we need. He will take care of us.


“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27

Keep it simple.


“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” – 1 Corinthians 1:17

If you’re like me, you sometimes hesitate to talk about your faith and, usually, our silence is because we’re afraid:

  • Afraid someone might ask a question we can’t answer.
  • Afraid they’ll think we’re not very sophisticated in our thinking.
  • Afraid we just won’t say it right.

Here’s where Paul comes in with a God-given insight (see verse above): It’s not about our intellectual words, knowing all the answers, or having the power to persuade – it’s about Jesus. When we simply point people to Jesus, his message, his actions, and his cross, we can’t go wrong. Paul says, in fact, that if we’re too good in arguing our point or using impressive words, the attention goes to us and our message falls flat. If we can direct someone to Jesus and the cross,  Paul says, that’s where the power is. Not us – him. That was Paul’s message to the people of Corinth in the 1st century and it’s ours today.

So, if someone asks what we believe or why we have hope or peace in this sometimes-crazy world, let’s not get sidetracked with reconciling the Bible with science or theorizing about prophecies. Let’s just talk about Jesus, what he has done for us, and what he has promised to those who follow him. Then he does the rest. No more fear!

“The cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for he took them upon himself in the person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you.'”- Billy Graham