Being Stretched?

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“Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17

Sometimes life is hard. We find ourselves caught up in situations we can’t control. At that point, we have a choice either to trust God or break into a thousand pieces. I have learned that when God puts us in that kind of a bind, He has a purpose. He is stretching us to make us usable beyond our wildest dreams. When I protested recently, He said something like this,

I know it’s hard to trust Me with everything, especially with those you love. If you can’t trust Me, trust My purpose. Everything that comes into your life is meant to help you, not to hurt you.

Look at how I stretched the disciples beyond their comfort zones:

  • Sending them out two by two, asking them to heal, cast out demons, announce the kingdom. They were fishermen and common men. These were villages and people they knew. It was a stretch!
  • Storms on the Sea of Galilee – pretty scary.
  • Confrontations with the Pharisees. My disciples honored these rulers and cringed when I countered them.
  • John the Baptist’s death. That just didn’t fit into their thinking.
  • Speaking in parables. They wanted everyone to understand what they had found. Couldn’t figure out why I didn’t speak in plain language.
  • My treatment of my earthly family. So counter-cultural. They cringed then, too.

I stretched them beyond recognition, but look who they became. Trust My purpose. It has a goal and it is good.

It is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” – C. S. Lewis

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

Self-Improvement Plan?

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20a

God lives inside us. It is His goal that we simply believe and act on that fact. It is not a “someday”, it is now: He indwells those who have accepted His invitation to follow Him. He is bigger, stronger, and smarter than we are, desiring to overrule our bad decisions and live the God-life through us. If we really believed that, how might things be different?

  • We would recognize Satan’s lies (e.g. worry means love).
  • We wouldn’t be anxious about things that are far in the future.
  • We would be more discerning about people, able to see through to their hearts.
  • We would love more.
  • We would rejoice every time truth triumphs over lies.
  • We would have an eternal perspective.
  • We would serve others with wisdom and grace.
  • Our concerns about appearances would fall away.
  • We would trust Christ’s lordship of this world, doing our part, but  leaving the rest in His hands.
  • We would entrust our children to God, knowing He has a plan for each of them that includes us, but does not center on us.
  • We would learn to listen to our bodies, giving them what they need (e.g. food, exercise, and rest).
  • We would give generously.

We don’t have to adopt another self-improvement plan. We just need to yield to the Christ living within us, intentionally giving up our wills for His and letting His love, power, truth, and peace flow through us. When He lives in us, we become better people and the world becomes a better place!

“God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life fully yielded to Him.” – Andrew Murray

 

 

 

Even When It’s Hard

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“Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” – Ephesians 5:8b-10

Every morning I pray that the Holy Spirit would help me, for that day, to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. That is, after all, what Jesus requires of His true followers.

But what does it actually look like to “deny myself”? I have come to realize that it doesn’t mean to deny who I am, but, instead, to deny what I want. I have my likes and dislikes. I have my desires and preferences, too. But what I’m figuring out is that when those likes or preferences bump up against what Christ has planned for me that day, my desires have to take a back seat to His.

So, now I have another prayer that simply has to go with the first one:

“I want to want what You want.
But, if I don’t want what You want, I’ll do what You want anyway.”

I think that’s what it means to deny myself – to subordinate my pleasures, my comfort, and my routines to His will. To do what He wants even when it is scary or hard or confusing. Or even if I just don’t want to. No wonder it requires a cross!

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” – G. K. Chesterton

Afraid or Amazed?

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“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed and those who followed were afraid.” – Mark 10:32 (ESV)

As we look at the road ahead of us in life, we can sometimes be afraid – afraid of the “what ifs” and even of the demands that will be made of us. Just think of how much more exciting and interesting life would be if, instead of being afraid, we could be amazed.

Jesus’ followers give us a hint as to how we can live so that confidence overtakes fear. In Mark 10, the disciples and many others were following Jesus on His final journey to Jerusalem. On the way, He told about His coming arrest and death, and there were two distinct reactions to what He was saying. One group was afraid and the other was amazed. Why such opposite responses? The text seems to indicate that the disciples, who were walking up close to Jesus, were amazed. The crowds, who were following further behind, were afraid.

What a wonderful picture of how to overcome our fears: Stay close to Jesus. He will never fail to amaze us. When we’re feeling afraid, maybe we need to assess where we are walking. Jesus will always invite us to come nearer. In fact, that’s exactly where He wants us to be so He can guide our steps as we walk along. When we are close to Him, amazement happens!

“A close, intimate relationship to Christ should always be your soul’s only purpose.” – Gene Edwards

Obsession

. . . I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8a)

I remember recognizing that there were obsessions in my life that should not be there. It became clear that I should not obsess about anyone or anything except Jesus – not family, not weight, not work, not world events, not health, not “to do” lists, not money, not clothes – just Jesus. I committed to making Him my magnificent obsession from that day forward. When I asked Him how to actually put that lofty ideal into practice, here are the things that came to mind:

The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. - Irenaeus

The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. – Irenaeus

Pray without ceasing: Acknowledging God’s presence with me always. Not necessarily engaging in verbal communication all the time, but having heart talk that never ends.

Always be thankful: Discovering the amazing power of gratefulness – the way it can turn me around from sad to glad in about 30 seconds, the way it takes my focus off the problems and onto Him.

Confess sin: Learning that confession is a privilege. It is a way of making sure there is nothing between me and God and that surety allows me to live constantly in a state of forgiving and being forgiven. I love it when He reminds me that I have something to confess; it is His way of showing me how much He values the relationship that we have developed together.

Don’t run ahead of God: Taking my time, slowing down. This is a command designed especially for me and people like me who want to take charge. God reminds me that my “taking charge” sometimes interferes with His bigger plan. So I have to stop to listen and to make sure I move forward when, and only when, He says to do so.

These healthy habits are helping me remain connected to my true Obsession, the only safe one I can have. Maybe they will help you, too.

Crumbs

Looking beyond the here and now

Looking beyond the here and now

What is the biggest thing you have asked God to do for you? Sometimes our focus is on the here and now, so we ask for things that we think will satisfy us. Maybe they do, for awhile at least.

The gospel writers tell the story of the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus (Matthew 15) asking Him to cast a demon out of her daughter. Remember that? He told her that He came for the Jews, not the Gentiles and it was not right to take the bread meant for the children and give it to dogs. Her answer is bold, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Her request was immediate and desperate but, in light of the power and magnitude of Jesus, it was just a crumb. He gave it to her because of her faith.

When it comes to situations with family, demons, finances, health, and so on, I will take crumbs, too. Those are important and often heart-wrenching requests. But internally, Jesus reminds me, “Don’t be satisfied with crumbs. Pursue Me until you have full revelation of who I am. Don’t be satisfied with anything less.” I need Jesus more than I need quick answers to my desperate prayers. I need Him, not just the gifts He gives. I don’t want to be satisfied with crumbs when Jesus gives me Himself in full as the living bread!

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – C. S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory