Captivated!

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” – Proverbs 4:23

One Christmas, our young grandchild threw himself into the joy of the day.  When he opened a gift, he exclaimed, “Just what I always wanted!” The next gift received exactly the same level of excitement and expression. One gift after another, we smiled, then laughed, at his enthusiastic, “Just what I always wanted!”

That constant excitement is charming in a child, but not  in adults when it comes to our engagement in things around us. There should be varying levels of emotional response in our lives. If we are equally reactive to sporting events, politics, finances, work dramas, parenting, and social conflicts, there is no energy left for meaningful connection with God. We are simply too drained to love and respond to Him.

I’ve found it helpful to separate myself from involvements that are distracting or draining. I don’t spend much time with the news because, when I do, I am distressed. I try to take relationship conflicts to God immediately, instead of stewing about the situation for days or weeks. I daily commit my family members to God and His care so the concerns about them can fade into the distance. I do react emotionally to life around me, but I want every reponse to be appropriate to the situation.

The goal: To have God be the main focus of my emotional energy. To be mesmerized by Him, captivated by His love, curious about His Word, and longing for His presence. If I am going to say “Just what I always wanted!” about anything, I want it to be about Him! You, too?

“The more people rejoice over something outside God, the less intense will be their joy in God.” – St. John of the Cross

 

One at a Time

“If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” – 1 John 4:12b

Everybody wants to be accepted for who they really are, not just for what shows on the surface. So, I really don’t want to judge people by appearance, wealth, religion, nationality, or color. And I don’t want people to judge me that way either.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we realize Samaritans were not acceptable to Jews. They were seen as people of mixed-pedigree, theologically wrong, and to be avoided.

I have to ask myself who today’s  “Samaritans” are to me? The addicted? The uneducated? The poor? Those of a particular nationality, religion, sexual orientation, or political persuasion?

Then I realize I am a “Samaritan” to some – one who is labelled as “Christian” and understood only by what they think that label means. I don’t want anyone to assume that, because I am a Christian, they know my views on social issues, politics, or science. I am an individual and want to seen as such. I imagine you do, too!

The shock of Jesus’ story was, of all the people passing by, it was the despised Samaritan who stopped to help the wounded Jew. This Samaritan didn’t fit His audience’s preconceived ideas of Samaritans as a group. Some of our present-day “Samaritans” don’t either!

Jesus dealt with people one at a time: The Syro-Phoenician woman, the Jewish leader’s daughter, the rich young ruler, Zaccheus the tax collector, and many others. He listened, touched, and forgave one person at a time, no matter their background. Maybe He expects us to do the same.

“There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love.” – Mother Theresa

The Way We Look at Things

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” – Matthew 6:22-23

When things start to look fuzzy, I realize my glasses need cleaning or updating with some fine-tuned lenses. I want clear vision, both physically and spiritually. I think of it this way:

If we look at the world through the lense of money (How much will it cost? Or how much will we make?), we will never see the world as God sees it. He loves the world without regard to cost.

If we look at other people through the lense of self-righteousness or superiority, we will not be able to discern right and wrong. We will have already made up our minds.

If we look at those around us through a lense of anger, we will never be able to show love or gentleness. We will be harsh and rigid in our judgments.

If we look at our environment through a lense of negativity, we will not be able to see good in others or accept them as Jesus does. We will be critical and untrusting.

Maybe we need to evaluate our perspective. We may find we need a new way of looking at things: God’s way of compassion.

God can give us a compassionate view. He can reveal prejudices and attitudes. He can give insight and understanding. Once we allow Him to correct our vision, our relationships will change and opportunities for new ones will open we cannot yet imagine. First we have to be willing to see things His way. He will do the rest.

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer

Accident Prone?

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” – Mark 1:35

“A rabbi taught that experiences of God can never be planned or achieved. ‘They are spontaneous moments of grace, almost accidental.’ His student asked, ‘Rabbi, if God-realization is just accidental, why do we work so hard doing all these spiritual practices?’ The rabbi replied, “To be as accident-prone as possible.'”*

Do you want to experience more of those God moments day-to-day? You can. God wants to make Himself known. We just have to put ourselves in a place where we are able to recognize Him when He does.

There are so many ways to do that! I will mention a few, but it is important that we conduct “holy experiments” to see what works, knowing God reaches each of us through varying means. You might try these:

Scripture memorization: God often speaks through His Word. If we carry selected verses in our memories, He can call them to mind as He wishes.

Silence/solitude: Our world is filled with distractions. Sometimes we need to carve out time to be alone with God. Just us, our Bible, and Him. When we do, we learn to hear His voice and then can recognize it later, even in the busyness of life.

Praying always: We can find ways to stay in touch with God by talking to Him all day long. Sometimes a habitual prayer such as “Have mercy on me.” Sometimes spontaneous praise or conversation.

What is it that will make you more accident-prone? You may want to try some holy experiments to see!

“Ceaseless internal prayer is a continued yearning of the human spirit towards God.” – The Way of a Pilgrim

 

*Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 2008 (Kindle Edition), location 2037.

 

Each Day

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“. . . inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16b

How’s your day going? Sometimes our days get lopsided with work, serving, distractions, or anxieties. Over many years, I have found that being intentional about how I fill even the tiniest of openings in my day will have an overall effect on my sense of well-being and even my usefulness.

For me, each day should include something that

• Builds relationship
• Feeds my mind
• Takes a step toward a goal
• Refreshes my spirit
• Shares God’s love
• Is kind to my body

These things don’t have to take a lot of time, but if we don’t seek them out, they won’t happen. For example, building relationship might be spending the evening with a family member or it may be a simple hallway conversation at work. Being kind to my body might be a complete workout or it might be making good food choices at lunch. Refreshing my spirit might be taking a walk or could be as simple as gazing out the window for a few minutes, thanking God for His beautiful creation. Feeding my mind might be reading a chapter in a thought-provoking book or simply listening to a TED Talk on my iPad.

God is at work in the small stuff. He loves to use our minutes and hours to redirect our thoughts to Him. Over time, these little things change the way we see the world around us. Then, as we pay attention, we find ourselves becoming more joyful, hopeful, and peaceful. And that’s pretty great!

If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all. – Frederick Buechner

As a Little Child

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“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed.” – Psalm 34:4

God invites us to come as little children, to be close, to let Him hold us. When we turn toward Him, He calms our fears by saying something like this:

Come close to Me. It’s OK. You’ll like it here.
You’re little, but I’m big.
You’re weak, but I’m strong.
You know some things, but I know everything.
You’re needy, I am generous.
You’re afraid, I am your protector.
You’re lonely, I am Love.
Just come to Me and receive everything you need.

God’s great desire is for His children to be close. He loves us infinitely and wants us to soften our hearts so we can receive His love. We do that by thinking about Him, reading His Word, praying about everything, and listening for His voice. It is always a voice of love, never criticism or condemnation for those who know and follow Him.

Let’s respond to Him with the anticipatory trust of a little child. We will never be sorry we did.

“When we hear him whisper into our souls, ‘You are my beloved child’, we can finally begin to shake off the striving and obsession that drives us. . .” – David Timms

Good Thinking!

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” . . . whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8

“Grant, Lord, that I may not for one moment admit willingly into my soul any thought contrary to Your love.” (Edward Pusey d. 1882)

What if God answered that prayer? It would mean that certain kinds of thoughts would be eliminated from my mind: complaining, bitterness, anger, envy, self-condemnation, and unnecessary criticism, to be specific.

Getting rid of those thoughts would, of course, would make room for thinking about things that build faith, confidence, and joy – like thankfulness, encouragement, optimism, hopefulness, and contentment.

I’m joining this 19th Century man in his prayer as I ask God to use my will and His to change me so every thought I allow to remain in my mind is consistent with His love. So simple. So hard. I need you here, Holy Spirit.

“Divine love is perfect peace and joy, it is a freedom from all disquiet, it is all content and happiness; and makes everything to rejoice in itself.” – William Law