It’s a battle you can win.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:57

We often struggle with the way we behave, live, feel, or think. There are things we would like to change, but, after trying too many times to be better, some of us decide we simply are who we are, and there’s nothing we can do to change.

We have have have at issues that plagues us: bad habits, phobias, obsessions, fears, or substance misuse (alcohol, drugs, food, nicotine, caffeine, etc. ). We really don’t want these “enemies” in our lives, but we’ve decided they’re too big, too strong, or too comfortable to get rid of. So we live with them.

That sounds a lot to me like the rationale the Israelites gave when they stopped short of driving the idol-worshiping Canaanites out of the land of promise: They’re big, they’re strong, and we think we can just learn to get along with them. They forgot God and his strength. Do we, too?

With God, freedom can be ours. We can conquer the things that disturb us, weigh us down, distract from full life, and hold us back. We don’t have to live with our enemies!

It will take . . .

. . . consecrating ourselves to God,

. . . obeying his guidance (which often includes counsel and/or community), and

. . . persistence.

If we do these things, we make room for God to act on our behalf, and when he does, we find the enemy we face becomes a little weaker. Soon we notice we have strength to say “no” at least some of the time. When we can do that, we are on our way victory! We don’t have to settle for less than God’s best for us. Believe that.

“Willfulness must give way to willingness and surrender. Mastery must yield to mystery.” – Gerald May

Much more on this topic can be found Addiction and Grace, a book by Gerald May.

The Narrows

“Then the angel of the Lord stood in a narrow path . . . with walls on both sides.” – Numbers 22:24

A few years ago, we traveled with some of our family to Zion National Park where we entered “The Narrows”. It’s the most confined section of the canyon where, at times, you can touch both sides of the towering rock walls as you walk through with a river underfoot. I’m not fond of closed-in spaces, so I knew that hike was not for me!

Sometimes we don’t have a choice about how narrow our lives get, and the walls can seem too confining. Some of you are feeling that now when you can’t leave your home even for work. We’re used to wide open spaces – highways, malls, meeting places, beaches, and parks. Now we are kept inside with only occasional recourse to the outside world.

No matter if we are sequestering alone or with a large family, God is waiting with us in the narrows. He offers grace for each day, mercy in our stresses, hope that the wide-open spaces will soon reappear, and joy as we step cautiously through the restricted pathways of our present lives.

To access that grace, mercy, hope, and joy, we need to do one thing: Let our hearts be soft enough to receive. These gifts are there for us. Jesus is simply asking that you recognize he is with you in the small space and acknowledge you need him. As you turn toward him, he will respond. He always does.

Let’s be open to God today! When we do, the walls will seem to disappear, and the vastness of eternity will enter.

“. . . a bench outdoors, a porch swing, a chair in the library. Such places, as much as a church pew, provide openings to grace.” – Emilie Griffin

He’s calling you.

. . . they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”– Mark 10:49

Imagine being blind in a world where there’s no economic safety net. Every day someone leads you to a spot on the road where people pass by. You call out when you hear them coming, just hoping someone will have mercy and give you a coin or two. Imagine that life day after day. No change. Nothing to look at. Unthinkable boredom. No hope. Then you hear of Jesus and his miracles. Maybe, just maybe, he would give you more than a coin and everything would change!

When blind Bartimaeus heard Jesus was on his way to Jericho, he was determined to get his attention. So, he shouted, begging Jesus to stop, to be merciful, to respond to his need. He was so obnoxious that people around him asked him to quiet down. But Jesus heard his cry and spoke to some who were nearby, “Call him.” They went over to Bartimaeus and gave him this amazing message, “Take heart. Get up. He is calling you.” 

Bartimaeus got to his feet and allowed the men to lead him to Jesus where his life was changed in an instant. He could see! No more need for someone to lead him by the hand. No more need to beg in order to survive. No more mind-numbing existence sitting alongside the road. New life began the moment he met Jesus.

Where are you in life today? Jesus hears your cry and he’s calling you. He asks that you take heart, get up, and come to him. Only he can change your life!

“Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” – Augustine of Hippo

Bring the Whale

 “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.” – Isaiah 65:1a

Do you know someone who seems to be running away from God instead of toward him? I think we all do, and if they are close to us as friends or family, we have great concern.

My husband and I pray together nearly every day for those we know who are turning their backs on God. Most were exposed to the truth early on, but are rejecting what they once knew to go their own way instead.

As we prayed one morning, Warren remembered Jonah, who ran from God, was thrown overboard into the stormy sea, was swallowed by a great fish, then after three days, was vomited up exactly where God had sent him in the first place. Thinking of those we were praying for and their choice to turn away from God, he simply prayed, “Bring the whale!”

Some people come to God through scripture, relationships, sermons, or gentle nudges by the Holy Spirit. Others must be compelled by overwhelming forces that might be compared to Jonah’s fish. C. S. Lewis called himself “the most dejected, reluctant convert in all of England . . . drug into the kingdom kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.”*

So, if you know of those who need to turn from the path they are on, don’t be afraid to pray a bold prayer, “Bring the whale.” Sometimes that’s what it will take.

“We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” – C. S. Lewis

*from Lewis’ spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy

Around the Bend

“A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” – Mark 4:26b-27

When C. S. Lewis lost his wife to cancer and was struggling through emotions and questions in his grief, he wrote, “Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”

We’re all on a journey. For Lewis, it was through grief. For many of us, it’s through another of life’s challenges. And, while we struggle, we get discouraged. That’s when God renews us with whispers:

  • Don’t quit because you feel like you’re failing. You’re making progress.
  • Don’t quit becuse you’re tired. You’re getting stronger.
  • Don’t quit because it’s hard. The rewards for perseverance are great.

That’s when we realize we just need to keep walking. God is at work even when we can’t see it. Strength comes. Spiritual growth occurs, and he‘s doing it, not you or me.

Eventually, we do go around the bend Lewis mentions and, when we do, we see something new and beautiful. Something we didn’t know, or some gift of joy or relationship or insight. At that point, we realize staying on the path is worth the effort and we keep going, wondering what different and inspiring landscape will appear just a little further down the road.

The gifts of success, strength, growth, and joy include the struggle. Let’s not quit! There’re no shortcuts to becoming.

“I long to put the experience of fifty years at once into your young lives, to give you at once the key to that treasure chamber every gem of which has cost me tears and struggles and prayers, but you must work for these inward treasures yourselves.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe

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

How much is it worth to you?

. . . anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. – Hebrews 11:6b

Do you want to get fit? Your success may depend on how much you’re willing to endure changing your eating and exercise habits.

Do you want to earn a degree? Your success will depend on how much you’re willing to prioritize, maybe even giving up sleep and social activities to reach your goal.

Do you want financial security? Your success may depend on how well you say “no” to things you can’t afford so, just maybe, you’ll be able to afford them later.

Now, here’s the bottom-line question. Do you want to know God better? To hear his voice? To know he hears your prayers? To sense his presence with you every minute? Your success will depend a lot on how much you’re willing to prioritize time, deny yourself, and say “no” to lesser things so you can pursue God with everything  you have and are. Anything as important as our relationship with God is going to cost us something. It may even be painful at times. 

Is it worth it? From my own experience, growing close to God is worth everything! Getting up early to read his word? I’ll do that. Talking to him throughout the day? That, too. Praying my heart out for people I love? Yup. Letting go of my need to control? OK.

The reward? Realizing and receiving his enduring love for me. Finding myself happily singing for no reason at all. And living with peace because trusting him has left me with fewer burdens to carry. Worth it? Oh, yes!

“The only thing between who you are now and who you want to be is the pain you are willing to endure.”

Rabbi Aryeh Markman

While you wait . . .

“I am the Lord; for they shall not be put to shame who wait for, look for, hope for and expect me.” – Isaiah 49:3b

We’re probably all waiting for something: restored health, reconciliation of a relationship, financial stability, answered prayers, return of our prodigal, settled peace. What are you waiting for? We never know how long our wait will be, but there’s good news:

God has big plans for our waiting time. While we wait, he nurtures us and promises to give us rest, hope, direction, and encouragement. If that’s what you could use right now, read on.

Rest and renewal come from waiting.

“. . . they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)

Waiting can be filled with confidence and hope.

“I wait longingly for Adonai; I put my hope in his word. Everything in me waits for Adonai. . .” – Psalm 130:5-6a (CJB)

Our waiting invites God to act.

“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” – Isaiah 64:4 (NIV)

We can run ahead of God, but that would be foolish, wouldn’t it? If we wait for him, he refreshes us, he gives us hope, prepares us for his response, and then he acts – in his timing, to be sure, but with all the power, wisdom, and effectiveness than only God can have. His intervention is well worth the wait!

If the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole hearts; for blessed are all they that wait for Him. He is worth waiting for . . . The Lord’s people have always been a waiting people.” – Charles Spurgeon

Results

” . . . being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 1:6

The quality of the life we live is the product of many small choices we make each day. God tells us  “the fruit of righteousness will be peace, the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 32:17).

If righteousness brings peace, quietness, and confidence, what does it say about choices I’m making if, instead of those qualities, I’m experiencing anxiety, turmoil, and fear? Maybe I need to take a closer look at righteousness!

What kind of life would God consider righteous? Loving him comes to mind, as Jesus clearly stated. Jesus also taught that right living hinges upon loving those around us and showing that love in tangible ways. It seems that righteous living includes seeking justice for the mistreated and help for the suffering. We would all agree that righeousness includes virtuous living: purity of actions and thought – in eating/drinking, sexual morality, caring for our bodies, and protecting our minds.

Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to live righteously. So, if we want the peace, quietness, and confidence that right living brings, we need to turn to the One who stands ready to transform our hearts, minds, and souls. He won’t do it without our invitation and cooperation. But, when we invite him, we begin to be sensitive to his conviction of wrongdoing and to his nudges toward good decisions. As we respond to those convictions and follow those nudges, we grow, realizing, as we do, that all righteousness is God-given. Without him, it’s impossible!

“The One who calls you to a life of righteousness is the One who, by your consent, lives that life of righteousness through you!” – Major Ian Thomas

Being Still

“The Lord will fight for you and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:14

The people of Israel had escaped from Egypt but now realize Pharaoh and his mighty armies were hot on their heels. They run faster. Then they stop dead in their tracks. They’re confronted by the Red Sea and there’s nowhere to hide from the advancing armies. The people cry out to Moses. He cries out to God, and God says he will fight for them. They just need to be quiet and wait.

This may be one of the most difficult commands in all of Scripture! It involves:

  • Silence. No crying. No shouts. No complaining. Just quietness.
  • Waiting. Unable to anticipate if God will act and, if so, how? And when?
  • Standing still. No helping. Only waiting for God to do something.
  • Being cautiously hopeful. Just maybe God has a plan.

He does have a plan. Always! But often we keep protesting our circumstances and trying to help God out with ideas of our own. We run ahead, we pace the floor, we plead. Right now he might be saying, “I’ll fight for you. Just sit still and be quiet.”

What do we do while we’re practicing quietness? We can thank him for his his loving care and his mighty resources – the ones we have experienced already and the ones we don’t know about yet. Then praise him for his power, his mercy, and his majesty. Wait. Thank. Praise. The answer will come – right on time.

For the Israelites, the Red Sea opened for them to cross into safety, out of reach forever from the Egyptian armies. What will it be for me? For you? Let’s wait in great anticipation of God’s amazing grace.

“It takes more effort to be still than to run.” – Brennan Manning