Need a new outlook? Try this.

Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 5:20

My Bible teacher was right in trying to help us cultivate a positive attitude by naming three things daily for which we were thankful. I did that for a few weeks, but soon started to repeat myself – thankful for the sunrise, my husband, God’s provision, coffee, family, good health – you probably have a similar list.

Then, as I had my Bible in my lap one morning, I kept finding things in the passages I read that I wanted to give thanks for.

For example, I read this in the Psalms: “Surely you have granted him (the king) unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence” (Psalm 21:6). That made me think about times when I felt God close to me. Just being with him brought me joy! So I thanked him for that.

Then I turned to the 6th chapter of Romans and, when I came to verse 23, I was newly amazed at what I had read so many times before. Instead of death, we get eternal life. and it is a gift! In Paul’s words: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I couldn’t help saying “thank you!”

Now, day by day, as I read God’s Word, I search for things to thank him for. My list is no longer repetitive, my thanksgiving is more heartfelt, and I am happier. Want to try it?

“. . . worship is natural to the Christian, as it was to the godly Israelites who wrote the psalms, and . . . the habit of celebrating the greatness and graciousness of God yields an endless flow of thankfulness, joy, and zeal.” –J.I. Packer

A Still Small Voice?

“In distress you called, and I delivered you. I answered you in the secret place of thunder.” – Psalm 81:7a

We often think of meeting God in a quiet place and hearing from him in a “still small voice” as Elijah did on the mountain millennia ago.

But there are times in the Bible when God makes himself known with a lot of noise – ruckus even. Remember he appeared to Job in a whirlwind, and he took Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. In Isaiah 29:5-6, God describes himself as appearing with thunder, earthquake, noise, whirlwind, tempest, and fire. That’s not quiet, it’s chaotic!

Let’s go back to Elijah’s still small voice. Remember that the quiet message he received was only after the wind, earthquake, and fire. God is not a quiet God. He is active and strong, and he speaks in many ways and in every circumstance in which his children find themselves. And, when he speaks, we are comforted: “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” (Psalm 94:19).

We’d like to have peaceful, non-chaotic lives, wouldn’t we? But we live in a challenging world that includes storms – physical, societal, relational, and sometimes spiritual. If we want God’s consolations to cheer our souls, we should never stop listening for his voice in the storm – shouting above the fray or whispering in our ear. When we hear him, we can be calm – even when life rages around us.

“A faithful person sees life from the perspective of trust, not fear. Bedrock faith allows me to believe that, despite the chaos of the present moment, God does reign; that regardless of how worthless I may feel, I truly matter to a God of love; that no pain lasts forever and no evil triumphs in the end.” -Philip Yancey

Where’s your cell phone?

” . . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. . .” – Hebrews 12:1b-2a

A friend of mine, recently retired from a successful career, told me employees in her firm were told never to put their cell phone on the table when they were having lunch with a client. Having it there, in full view, conveyed a message that you wanted the option to take the call if someone rang in during lunch. That doesn’t promote good relationships with clients!

Now a really personal question: When you are having one-on-one time with God, where’s your cell phone? Mine has been on the table next to my chair while I pray and read the Bible. Every time it signals, it calls for my attention, whether I respond to it or not. So I’ve started something new: Unless I need the phone for my listening prayer app, I leave it in the drawer so I can focus 100% on God. Just the presence of the phone beside me showed my attention was divided, my focus compromised.

If good business people give total focus to a client, how much more should that apply to God? What message could I possibly receive that would be more important than one from my Creator? Especially during what should be the most focused hour of my day.

Are you ready to make God the #1 priority for the time you’ve devoted to him? Maybe, you, too, need to put your cell phone away for awhile. That simple act could open great opportunities for intimate conversation with the all-important One.

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott

Confused? Frustrated?

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” – Luke 24:32

If you feel challenged and confused these days, you’re not alone! Many are mourning the absence of life as they knew it and are wondering how things will change when everything settles down. What will the new normal look like?

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples struggled with some of those same challenges. They’d believed Jesus was the Messiah. They’d followed and trusted him over several years, and now he was dead. They couldn’t imagine what their new normal would look like.

On the Sunday after Jesus’ death, two disciples were walking toward the town of Emmaus when a third man joined them on the journey. Luke tells us that their faces were “downcast”. Their new companion listened as they told him about the events over the past three days – Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and their crushed hopes. And now, some were telling of an empty tomb, and that confused the situation all the more.

Don’t you love that Jesus. though unrecognized, was with them right then in their confusion and pain? Through Scripture, he began to make everything clear. And, when they sat down for a meal, he prayed and broke bread and at that moment they recognized it was Jesus who had been with them all along! He listened to their problems, taught them from Scripture, and revealed himself to them – alive!

Jesus is here in our confusion, too, and his mode is still to listen, teach, and reveal. Don’t you think we can trust that he will help make sense of whatever we are going through? I do!

“All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich

Someone should be taking notes.

“Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.” – John 8:47a

I was in a meeting once with a consultant who had been brought in to advise on a non-profit organization’s proposed development project. He began his presentation, then looked around the table and said, “If I’m talking, someone should be taking notes.” That seemed arrogant on the part of an engineer, but it’s not at all arrogant when it comes to God.

Sometimes we do hear God speaking to us, don’t we? Usually it’s a thought, a highlighted verse of Scripture, or a nudge to do something we hadn’t planned to do. That’s often how God guides, encourages, and teaches us. As we get to know him better, we learn to recognize those messages.

When God speaks, it’s something to take seriously. For that reason, I like to keep a journal close at hand, so when God says something to me, I can take notes. Recently, for example, I asked him about a situation in my life and his response seemed to be “I will make a way.” It was clearly from God, and I wanted to be sure I’d remember it, so I made a note. That thought has come back to me numerous times since. I do the same with Bible verses or phrases that seem to speak to me on a particular day. Writing these messages down cements them in my memory and also makes them available for revisiting – sometimes years down the road.

God’s word is eternal. What he speaks may be valid for more than one situation. Let’s write his messages down, then read them again and again. When he speaks, we all should be taking notes!

“People are meant to live in an ongoing conversation with God, speaking and being spoken to.” – Dallas Willard

Cloudy Days

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him—his name is the Lord. – Psalm 68:4

I like sunny days! When the clouds come in, it feels sadder somehow. But that sadness gets a bit lighter when we realize what God says about clouds. Think about it with me:

Clouds were the backdrop for the rainbow he placed in the sky to promise never to destroy the earth again with a flood.

He used a cloud to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and into the land of promise.

We are asked to imagine God riding on the clouds (Psalm 104:3 and Psalm 68:4). That’s quite a picture, isn’t it?

Finally, we all know rain comes from clouds, and in every place in the world that depends on crops to eat, rain is considered God’s blessing.

One of my favorite statements about clouds is given by the prophet Nahum when he says, “His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet”. (Nahum 1:3b). It’s as if Nahum is saying that when we look at the underside of clouds, we see where God is walking. Stirring up dust. Making his presence known. Somehow, that makes me see clouds in a whole new way – whether they are the clouds in the sky or the clouds that seem to follow me in life. What is God stirring up to get my attention?

This new perspective tells us that clouds represent God’s presence, his comforting cover over us, and his provision for us. Clouds in our lives, whether real or figurative, are designed to draw us to him. Let’s go there!

“God will meet you where you are in order to take you where He wants you to go.” – Tony Evans

The Me You See

“Since it is through the Spirit that we have life, let it also be through the Spirit that we order our lives day by day.” – Galatians 5:25 (CJB)

Have you ever had a conversation with God that went something like this?

God, to me, reminding me of an attitude I had yesterday: “That wasn’t you.”

Me: “Yes it was. I’m just like that. I do it over and over. I’m sorry, Lord.”

God: “Oh, Bev.” (I heard his disappointment, not with what I had done yesterday, but at my sense of hopelessness today). “I know who you are now, and I know the you you will be when you are a finished product – and that is the you I see. This attitude isn’t part of it.”

Me: “Oh, Lord, change me. Make me like Jesus. I repent. I turn to you to make me better, to turn me into the me you already see.”

When we have willing hearts, God’s correction is always loving, always gentle, always for our good. He works within us to make us want to change, to want to be more like Jesus. Then, as we cooperate, he begins to carve away everything in us that doesn’t look like Jesus. He adds a few things, too – more patience, compassion, peace, truthfulness, perseverance, and prayerfulness – Jesus things.

At some point, we’ll see Jesus face-to-face and will realize how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. But, the promise is there, “we shall be like him. . .” 

Thank you, Lord, for seeing me as a finished product. For working with me to remove everything that is not like the me you see!

“Don’t get upset with your imperfections. . . Simply surrender to the Power of God’s Love, which is always greater than our weakness.” ~ Saint Francis de Sales

Longer Prayers

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

Don’t you wonder how Jesus spent all night in prayer with the Father? All night?

Years ago, when I had a severely depressed friend, I promised to spend an hour in prayer for her, pleading with God to meet the deepest needs of her heart. In about ten minutes, I had said all I had to say. But I had committed to an hour, so I expanded my prayer, repeated some things, and paused more often. It felt like a very long hour!

So, praying all night seems impossible to me! And the gospel writers indicate that it was Jesus’ habit to spend long hours in prayer.

Then I realized that for Jesus and God it was, very likely, a two-way conversation. Jesus talked and God responded, like a loving father and son would do. If you’re with someone you love, there are times when you talk and talk, then wonder where the time went.

That’s probably what it was like between Jesus and God. Intimate conversation. And God, with his heavenly perspective, giving direction, guiding Jesus’ ministry, telling him what to do next.

Jesus showed us how we humans can relate to our Father in heaven. Prayer is a big part of that: Asking for and then receiving direction, comfort, hope, empowerment, and provision. If it’s lovingly intimate and involves both speaking and listening, our short prayers tend to get longer. Jesus showed us what to do. It’s up to us to figure out how – through relationship with the One to whom we pray.

O, let the place of secret prayer become to me the most beloved spot on earth.” – Andrew Murray

On the Brink

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived— the things God has prepared for those who love him.”— 1 Corinthians 2:9

In some ways, I feel like I’m living on the brink of something about to happen. There’s an anticipation in my soul that there’s going to be a big change and it has nothing to do with winning the lottery or receiving great acclaim. It has to do with holy expectancy.

Do you ever feel like your getting to a point where God’s about to take you to a new level of relationship with him? If so, don’t do what I did many years ago. I told God being so close to him was making me afraid. He will never take us where we’re not ready to go. He didn’t abandon me, but he withdrew the intensity of his presence.

I’m living on the edge again, the brink of something new. It might be eternity. We don’t know when our life as we know it ends and our life on the other side begins. It might be a new level of intimacy with God. It might be a new area where I might serve him. But I love living with anticipation. There’s an excitement in the air when God is at work in our lives.

Do you sense it, too? Don’t run away. Let him teach you, lead you, cleanse you, minister to you, and anoint you for service. The infinite God is asking you and me to come closer, to recognize his work in the world around us, and never to stop living in excited anticipation of what he will do next.

“We have received an invitation. We are invited to make a pilgrimage – into the heart and life of God.” – Dallas Willard

You are not alone.

“The eternal life of which Jesus speaks is not knowledge about God, but an intimately interactive relationship with him.” – Dallas Willard

The song by folksinger Karen Money touches me every time I hear it. She sings, “. . . all I long for most is mine when He draws close to me.”

What is it you long for most? Surely we long for God’s gifts, including joy, peace, blessings, and answered prayers, but at some point we find our deepest longing is for God himself and not just his gifts. We desire . . .

  • To have a heart-stirring awareness of his presence
  • To know he’s leading our thoughts and decisions
  • To receive his love in life-changing ways
  • To be amazed at his holiness and power

If this kind of closeness to our Creator becomes our experience, we want it again and again. Why? Because that vibrant, feeling-level relationship with God is what satisfies the deepest needs we have. He truly is the One we long for most.

The amazing thing to me is that Jesus has the same longings for intimacy with us. He wants it so much he came to earth, lived with humans, gave himself to a terrifying death so we could relate to him. Coming to him for salvation is only the first step. After that, not to respond to his ongoing presence by communicating with him constantly is to reject the relationship he desires even more than we do.

Our acknowledgment of his unseen presence is what we need to meet our deepest longings. Every moment of every day, knowing he is with me, I want to be engaged in mental or verbal conversation with him, inviting him into my activities, decisions, and relationships. That interaction thrills us both!

“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” – James 4:8