Tuning in to Heaven

“When I am tempted to complain about God’s lack of presence, I remind myself that God has much more reason to complain about my lack of presence.” Philip Yancey

Every morning, I walk into my quiet place and shut the door. Then I whisper, “For this time, Lord, I’m unavailable to the earth because I’m tuning in to Heaven.” Shutting the door is a tangible signal to myself that the world is shut out so I can turn to the eternal.

Why does that little ritual matter? It seems that for a time every day we should turn to the most important thing – knowing, loving, and following after God. If he is who we think he is, don’t you think it’s possible we hurt his heart when he’s ready to relate to us, and we turn to him with only minimal attention?

If we can shut a door or turn off the cell phone, we’re letting God know we are available to him for whatever he wants. And, if he has something to say, we’ll be listening.

Do you remember Jacob when he was running for his life from his brother? He wasn’t really paying attention to the spiritual world but, as he slept under the stars that night, God gave him a dream about a ladder that reached heaven. Here’s his reaction: “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:15). God was there, and Jacob almost missed him!

Let’s take a daily opportunity to be in God’s presence – completely, earnestly, with full attention. He wants to commune with us. That’s just too amazing to miss!

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” – 1 Samuel 3:10

Half a Mile Ahead

I never see God. I seldom run into visual clues that remind me of God unless I am looking. The act of looking, the pursuit itself, makes possible the encounter. ” – Philip Yancey

When we traveled to Israel a few years ago, we learned to stay close to our guide. We literally would have been lost without her!

Given that experience, it was interesting to read in the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River (Joshua 6) that God gave different instructions. He wanted the people to follow the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant, but they were to follow more than half a mile behind. Not up close, but quite a distance away. That meant they might lose sight of the Ark or the view might be obstructed. I know I would have wanted to be a lot closer to those leaders. It’s more comfortable to follow by sight than by faith!

It made me think about life. There are times when we’re on a path we believe God placed us on, but we’ve lost sight of him, or we’re not understanding his guidance as clearly as we’d hoped. We begin to question whether we’re even on the right path. And, on really bad days, we’re afraid he’s forgotten us. He hasn’t! He’s sometimes half a mile out front making sure everything’s ready when we get there.

God’s not as far away as we think. He may be out of sight, but he’s still leading. We need to follow and trust. We’ll probably see him around the next bend.

 “. . . I go to prepare a place for you. . . And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2b-3

Sailing or Drifting?

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” – Hebrews 2:1

Years ago, I had a friend, Phyllis, who owned a small sailboat, and we shared some sunny afternoons on that boat, sailing across Spring Lake and back.

When we pushed out, Phyllis would choose a spot across the lake and set her sail toward that point, making corrections along the way to keep us on course. Working with the wind to move us in the right direction required constant attention. But we always reached our destination and always returned to our home port safely, and usually dry!

There is a spiritual truth here. Generally, we don’t turn around and sail away from God. Instead, we drift away. One day we wake up and realize how far we are from him. What can we do?

Be intentional: Phyllis always had her eye on the shore, skillfully keeping us on course. Spiritually, we need to keep God always in focus, adjusting our activities, decisions, and relationships to be constantly moving toward him. It won’t just happen. We have to work at it.

Pay attention: If we ever take our attention off the rudder or the sail, we drift and the results can be disastrous. We must not let distractions interfere with our goal.

If we have drifted away from God, let’s get back on course. We can place him in our mind’s eye and keep him there. Then we pay attention by filling our mind with the important and by not being distracted by the inconsequential. Set the sail and stay on course. He’s worth it!

“You either line yourself up with the Son of God . . .or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”– Elisabeth Elliott

Living Like the Wind

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

John tells about an interesting conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus that occurred late one night. Jesus was trying to explain to Nicodemus the difference between physical life and spiritual life. And it seemed that he said a person living the life of the Spirit of God lives lightly – you don’t know where he comes from or where he goes, just like the wind.

I never completely understood that verse and, maybe I still don’t, but could it be that Jesus was saying (and this is consistent with other teachings of his) that living by the Spirit means we are no longer deeply attached to things of this world? Instead, we are more spiritually-minded and, therefore, more free? If that is so, this is what living the Spirit life might look like:

  • Having the ability to move freely from one environment to another – content in plenty or in need, comfortable with young and old, smart and simple, holy and not-so-holy.
  • Traveling lightly – not overly attached to material possesions (houses, cars, clothes) or weighed down by anxieties about life and/or the world.
  • Living in constant spirit-to-Spirit communication with God within us.
  • Being able to live with unpredictability – like the wind, moving at God’s direction, not always following fixed patterns or pathways.

The wind moves slowly or quickly at God’s command. It appears from nowhere and goes to places we cannot see. Do we dare yield to the wind of the Spirit?

“If we get our information from the biblical material, there is no doubt that the Christian life is a dancing, leaping, daring life.” – Eugene Peterson

Surrender

“Just as water ever seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds you abased and empty, His glory and power flow in.” – Andrew Murray

Most of us don’t like the word surrender. It sounds like giving up, giving in, letting someone else take over our lives. It sounds like an unhappy ending to a long war. And it sounds risky. Actually surrender can be all those things.

When we look at it spiritually, though, we realize surrender to God isn’t defeat, it’s voluntarily giving control of everything to him. And it’s not risky. Yielding to him is the safest thing we can do!

And there are rewards: “It is wonderful what miracles God works in wills that are utterly surrendered to Him. He turns hard things into easy and bitter things into sweet.” (Hannah Whitall Smith).

Have you ever surrendered everything to God? Holding nothing back? If not, today may be the day to do that. Then I’ve found I need to re-surrender on occasion because the me in me creeps back in to take back control from God. Here’s my prayer of surrender for today, maybe it can be yours, too:

Dear God,

I surrender my body to you – its health, shape, aches, its need for protection, and its power.

I surrender my heart to you – its wounds, desires, regrets, and hopes.

I surrender my mind to you – its learning, meditations, its every thought.

I surrender my spirit to you – gladly, joyfully, for its keeping for all of eternity.

My whole self, Lord. Nothing kept back, no place you can’t enter – without reservation, without restriction – forever.

Amen

“. . . offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.-“ Romans 6:13b

God’s Language

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  – Psalm 19:1-2

Author and missionary Frank Laubach prayed this prayer on January 1, 1937, “God, I want to give you every minute of this year. I shall try to keep You in mind every moment of my waking hours . . . I shall try to learn your language as it was taught by Jesus and all others through whom you speak . . . “

He kept a journal during that year in which we see him trying to figure out the language of God. As he goes through his days, he finds God speaking through unsolved problems, needs, notes in his calendar, mottos on walls, memories, and, of course, the Bible, teachers, and creation itself.

We, too, can learn God’s language. We simply have to be looking for his activity around us, listening for his direction, wanting to know what he is trying to say. Laubach wanted to be doing that every waking minute of his day. I’ve tried that – it’s really not possible! But if the desire is there, even with failed attempts, God will begin to reveal himself.

Focusing on that connection doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Sometimes it’s a quick “thank you” or, if you have no words, a nod and a smile – a simple acknowledgement that he is with you, right there in your office, kitchen, den, or car. And he’s always speaking. We just need to learn his language!

“We look for visions from heaven, for earthquakes and thunders of God’s power . . .  and we never dream that all the time God is in the commonplace things and people around us. If we will do the duty that lies nearest, we shall see Him.” – Oswald Chambers

The Voice

“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.” – Job 37:5

Someday, we’ll hear Jesus’ voice with our ears and not just our inner selves. When we do, I think it will be unlike any we’ve ever heard, it will be God’s voice in a human body – one we will want to listen to forever!

  • It was his creative voice that said, “Let there be light” and the worlds came into being (Genesis 1:3; John 1:3).
  • It is his majestic voice that thunders over the waters (Psalm 29:3).
  • It is his gentle voice that says,  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (John 11:28).
  • It was his authoritative voice that brought Lazarus alive from the grave (John 11:43).
  • It is his redemptive voice that says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 22:34).

As Henry Blackaby has said, “A word from Jesus changed everything!” And it still does. It will be Jesus’ voice that will someday welcome me into his eternal presence. I hope you have that amazing anticipation, too!

Presently, Jesus’ voice is internal to us, quiet messages in our hearts and through his Word. Let’s not miss what he is saying, because his voice inside us is more than a message, it’s an invitation to relationship – day-by-day, hour-by-hour, forever. So, with open ears and hearts, let’s keep listening!

“Specifically, in our attempts to understand how God speaks to us and guides us we must, above all, hold on to the fact that learning how to hear God is to be sought only as a part of a certain kind of life, a life of loving fellowship with the King and his other subjects within the kingdom of the heavens.” – Dallas Willard

#hearinggodsvoice

Fighting Giants

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:4

One of the intriguing things about the biblical David is that we see him from a young man fighting Goliath all the way to his old-age death decades later. We see how his walk with God began and how its earthly version ended.

As the years go by, I’m interested in how people transition from one stage of life to another. David is a real example for those of us who are in Act III of life. We are told of a war with the Philistines when David was confronted in battle by a descendent of giants. His men rescued him from certain death, but told him he could no longer go to the battle front. They would take it from here. In the very next verses, we are told that in subsequent battles, when David stayed home, these soldiers killed three more giants who were attacking God’s people. David was known for his greatness in defending Israel, his strength in battle. But no more. He had come to a point when it was someone else’s turn to kill the giants (2 Sam 21:15-22).

There comes a time in our lives when we step back from the front lines and pass the responsibility to the next generation. God has plans for them, too. Plans for using them to pick up where we leave off. Plans to use us as teachers, encouragers, cheerleaders – but from the sidelines. Sometimes we just have to get out of the way and let them do it!

“Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.” – Nikos Kazantzakis 

 

#leadership

 

Royalty

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, ” – Ephesians 2:6

How do we decide what to wear, read, or eat and drink? Or what to follow online or watch on TV? Most of these decisions happen, not out of a lot of thought, but out of our character, personalities, or habits.

Some of these decisions lead us down unhappy paths as we find ourselves doing things we’re not proud of. And, deep inside us, we want to be better than our behavior might suggest. What’s the solution? Realizing and acknowledging who we really are: We are God’s children. We are of royal blood. Really, we are! We are told we will reign with Jesus someday.

We look at our surroundings, problems we face, decisions we make, and people who cause us trouble, and we don’t see the royal part at all. That’s where faith comes in. It is God who defines who we are. And he says we are his kids, heirs, with a future secured by Jesus himself. In our bodies, we actually house the Spirit of God. We are recipients of our Father’s love and mercy. And our Father is the King above all kings! When we believe that, we will, over time, begin to behave like princes and princesses.

If we are making decisions, consciously or unconsciously, that are beneath our dignity as a dearly-loved children of God, we need to ask God to help us see and understand our true identity. Let’s read the Bible, learning and listening to who God says we are. Then let’s believe it. Royal behavior is sure to follow.

“We are made for larger ends than Earth can encompass. Oh, let us be true to our exalted destiny.” – Catherine Booth

 

#changingbehavior

Hearing God

“I will praise the Lord who counsels me. . . . “ – Psalm 16:7a

God spoke to his people in ancient days in visions, by voice, and through prophets. He spoke to the people in 1st century Israel even more clearly in the person of Jesus. Sometimes, now, we hear God’s voice through the Holy Spirit as he guides and enlightens us – often through something in the Bible or through another Christian.

The story of the first time Samuel heard God’s voice is encouraging to me. God was talking and young Samuel, never hearing God speak before, didn’t know it was him!

I’ve felt that way, too, and perhaps you have. Was that really God talking through thoughts that came to me? Samuel’s experience is helpful in figuring out where the voice in our heads is coming from. If it’s from God, it will likely have these characteristics just as it did for Samuel:

It will be personal. He called Samuel by name. If the Holy Spirit is giving us a message, it will be something he specifically wants us to hear, understand, or feel.

It will be persistent. It took God four times to get Samuel’s attention! If our hearts are right, he will continue to call until we hear and know for sure it’s him.

It will be powerful. We don’t forget a message that comes directly from God. I remember specific things he told me nearly 40 years ago! And I’ve found that hearing includes empowering us to act or tell – whatever he requires.

So, let’s keep listening, knowing how much God loves to talk to those who are willing to hear and respond!

“I need to be able to recognize God’s whispers – those moments when he draws near and breathes words of life into my soul.” – Margaret Feinberg