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

 

Does prayer work?

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.” – Psalm 10:17

The most soft-spoken person in the class asked, almost sadly, “Does prayer really work?” A silence followed. Who would dare to ask that question? Of course it works! But, deep inside, most of us have doubts, don’t we? She was brave enough to ask the question for us all. I had to think about it for awhile and, over time, have come up with the only answer I know.

Does prayer work?

If you mean, do I get what I ask for? Not often. Sometimes it seems I do. The anxiety lessens, the child gets better, the presentation goes well. At other times, the answer is not at all what I was looking for at all.

Sometimes prayer simply becomes a battleground for my spiritual life. My way or His? Will I accept what God wants even if I don’t want it? Jesus exampled it perfectly in the Garden of Gethsemane.

And sometimes, I get to be part of what God is doing in this world. In some small way, I may influence His work as others have done through the ages.

Always, though: Prayer connects me to God. Talking to Him grows my trust. When I listen for His response, I learn to know Him, and knowing Him changes me.

Yes, prayer works! For God’s glory, of course, but also for my good. There’s a lot about this I don’t know, but I do know this: I’m not going to stop praying just because I don’t understand. Most days, just being with Him is enough.

“If I seek some other reward besides God Himself, I may get my reward but I cannot be happy.” – Thomas Merton

The Jesus Question

 

"May prayer be made for him continually." - from Psalm 72:15

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness.” – John 12:46

Most people have an opinion or belief about Jesus. Some see Him as a compassionate man who once walked around Galilee and Jerusalem doing good things for people and teaching them to live better lives. Others claim a personal relationship with Him – believing He’s with them, praying to Him, asking Him to guide their lives. For some, opinions are based on hearsay or feelings; for others, they are based on research and reading. There is no doubt that the views of Jesus vary widely.

Here are some things people have said about Him:

  • Some in the biblical crowd: “He is a good man.”
  • Others in same crowd: “He deceives the people.”
  • Roman centurion: “Surely this was the Son of God.”
  • C. S. Lewis: “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse.”
  • John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
  • Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
  • Thomas: “My Lord and my God.”
  • Bertrand Russell: “. . . clearly he was not so wise as some other people have been, and he was certainly not superlatively wise.”
  • People of Nain: “A great prophet has appeared among us.”
  • Temple guards: “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”

If Jesus walked into the room right now, what would you say to Him? About Him? Who is Jesus to you? It’s the most important question you will ever answer.

“The miracle of the gospel is Christ, risen and glorified, who this very moment tracks us, pursues us, abides in us, and offers Himself to us as companion for the journey.” – Brennan Manning

Mere Humans?

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” – 1 Corinthians 3:16

Have you ever wanted to be extraordinary? To be stronger, wiser, and more insightful than other people? Maybe you are and you just don’t know it. Here’s a clue:

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, calling them out for bragging about which leader they were loyal to and then fighting with others about whose leader was more spiritual, had better ideas, or had superior credentials. Paul reminded them that when they behaved this way, they were acting like mere humans, just ordinary people (1 Corinthians 3:4). He goes on to tell them, as followers of Jesus Christ, they were much more than mere humans. Why? Because God was living within them.

He lives in us, too!

It is so easy to get caught up in intellectual debates or in following the latest teacher or preacher. It is tempting to get involved in political arguments or interpersonal conflicts. But, God is telling us we are better than that. We need to step back and realize our true role: To be occupied and controlled by the Holy Spirit. To be a holy temple for God himself. We are above the muddy fights. We are no longer mere humans. We are God’s ambassadors – His hands and feet and face to the world around us.

Knowing this challenges me to follow Jesus’ example of loving, helping, listening, touching, and, yes, sometimes confronting evil. He was not a mere human and His followers aren’t either. We are extraordinary, God- empowered humans. Let’s live it out!

“My job is not to solve people’s problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives.” – Eugene Peterson

 

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.

 

A Slow Process

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” – Galatians 5:22

I want patience – now! Can you relate? We really would like to be kinder, less anxious, more self-controlled, but getting there is a slow process.

No wonder! When we look at spiritual characteristics we realize these are not gifts, but fruit. We don’t unwrap the package and try on love; instead, love develops over time and grows in seasons. Here’s how it’s been for me.

Love, joy, peace: It took the first 50-some years of my life to see these life-anchoring fruits take root. They happen only as we learn to abide in Him and, for some of us, that learning takes a long time.

Patience, kindness, goodness: Then for a decade, God gave me the job of caring for a good person with many needs – companionship, listening ear, errands, appointments, counsel. At some point in the middle of it all, I realized God, in His grace, was giving me a chance to practice patience, kindness, and goodness.  Apparently, I could learn these things in no other way. Maybe God has given you a person to practice on, too.

Gentleness, faithfulness, self-control: I am now in the mature phase of my life and the Spirit’s focus seems to be on my becoming more gentle; faithfully finishing well; and exercising self-control with my time, body, and speech.

God uses circumstances to grow us into fruitfulness. It’s OK if it’s slow – watching progress through the seasons is gift enough! He is cultivating something in you right now. Look for it!

“We need a new kind of relationship with the Father that drives out fear and mistrust and anxiety and guilt, that permits us to be hopeful and joyous, trusting and compassionate.” – Brennan Manning

 

Let Me Lead

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“He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” – Psalm 23:3b

Jesus went around Galilee finding many to whom he said, “Follow Me.” And they did, some following closer than others. Peter was one who was in the closest circle of all, right up near to Jesus, hearing every word, witnessing every miracle, and even being empowered to do the same himself.

Then the human inevitable happened. When Jesus was telling the disciples He was going to Jerusalem and would be killed there, Peter rushed over and said, essentially, “No way. We will never let that happen to you.” The one who was supposed to be following decided to lead. Whoops! When Jesus said “Follow Me” the implication was, “Let Me lead” and He rebuked Peter’s well-intentioned but misguided attempt at a takeover.

Do we let Him lead? Even when we don’t agree with the path He has chosen for us? Even when it seems like He is making a mistake or doesn’t understand? Following Jesus is good, but each of us will come to crossroads when we have to decide if we will let Him lead.

He wants to show us how to spend our time, how to respond to people, how to help, what to read, how to spend. He gives it as both a command and an invitation: “Follow Me.”

We are not following some trail guide randomly finding His way through the landscape of life. We are following the One who is the way. If we believe that, we must let Him lead. Anything less would be foolishness.

“If we cling to the trinkets of this world and reject the radical invitation of Jesus, we will miss out on the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing Him.” – David Platt