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

Looking down or looking up?

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” – Psalm 37:23

When I walk on trails, I look at my feet a lot. The way is often rocky and the path is sometimes narrow. I don’t want to stumble, so I keep my eyes down.

That may be practical on the trail, but as I walk through life, I am beginning to realize that God’s  eyes are on me, so mine can be on him. I don’t stumble or stray if I am looking in the right place – at God, through his Word, prayer, and contemplation. Eyes on him always and then the path becomes smooth beneath my feet.

The benefits are amazing when we stop looking down: We can see the views around us and further along the path ahead of us. And, as we are open to God’s guiding presence, we realize he wants to calm our fears, enhance our joys, fulfill our hopes, and give us peace. He whispers, “Be healed. Be whole. Be fully alive! I am with you and will never leave or turn away. My eye is on you, my arms are open for you. I guide, calm, comfort, and provide. Trust me. Love me. Enjoy and thrive in the life I have given you.” With God, every step becomes a joy!

For all of us, it’s about realizing how much God loves us and that he chooses to be with us. Not because we are great, but because he is. He watches over every step. The journey is more of an adventure when we’re looking at him. It’s less about where our feet are and more about where he is leading.

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.”– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

#walkingwithgod

Let me see!

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” – Psalm 119:130

Have you ever watched a legal drama on television? First we hear the prosecution’s case and it’s clear the guy is guilty. Then the defense presents its case and we aren’t so sure any more. The same thing happens when we hear the other side of an argument – particularly those about theological or sociological issues. If we listen openly to a well-presented response to our viewpoint, we may walk away saying, “I never thought of it that way before.” Don’t you like those moments of insight that open up new possibilities of thinking for you? I do!

In Acts 9, we read about Saul. He was persecuting followers of Jesus because he thought he knew the whole story about this now-dead Jewish rabbi. Then he was confronted by the resurrected Jesus and the encounter left him physically blinded, but spiritually enlightened. He was sent to Ananias in the city of Damascus. Ananias touched him and the Bible says something like scales fell from his eyes and he could see clearly. The restoration of his eyesight evidenced the truth that he had met the Christ, but the greatest miracle, to me, is the opening of his spiritual eyes so he could now see the world around him as God does: without prejudice, arrogance, or fear. Everything changed for Saul when he met Jesus and, for the first time, saw him as Lord.

“Dear Lord, I acknowledge the way I see things may be wrong. Remove the scales from my eyes so I can see the world, people, and your work among us as you do – with an understanding mind and loving heart.”

“We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart.” – Blaise Pascal