Getting to Know Him

“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.” – J. I. Packer

What does God feel when he looks at you? Approval? Frustration? Does thinking about that help you grow spiritually? Probably not. I propose that our personal and spiritual growth is not so much about what God sees when he looks at us as it is about what we see when we look at him.

If we focus on earning God’s approval, we try self-improvement schemes: looking good, behaving well, getting over bad habits, and trying to love everyone! That’s a lot of work and we’ll never be better people just by trying harder.

The first step, of course, is accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him. After that, it’s about learning to know God – as he reveals himself in the Bible, in times of prayer, and through wise and mature Christian teachers and writers. When we see his heart, we realize he’s pleased with us already. He knows we will fail and, when we turn to him, he forgives every time. And when he does, he begins to change us. It’s his work, not ours.

So instead of anxiously trying to earn God’s approval, let’s just get to know him. Most of us have some incorrect perceptions of him that need to be fixed. So let’s put our energy into learning who he is and responding to his heart. When we know him, we will love him, and our efforts to please him will be out of love, not fear.

 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . .” – Exodus 34:4

He kept walking.

“When Jesus set his face to walk the Calvary road, he was not merely taking our place; he was setting our pattern.” – John Piper

Jesus knew what was coming. He told his disciples he was going to Jerusalem where he would be arrested, tried, and crucified. After three days he would rise from the dead. Jesus knew what had to take place if he was going to be the Savior of the world. So, “. . . he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

The walk from Capernaum was nearly 80 miles long. Lots of time to think about what was about to happen. But he didn’t waver. He pointed himself toward Jerusalem and kept walking. He stopped to heal people along the way – then kept walking. He stopped to eat and sleep, and then kept walking. Resolute. Pointing toward his own death. Never turning back.

What was he thinking about? We get a clue from this passage: “. . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

He kept walking because, at the other end of agony, there would be joy. Joy at doing the Father’s will. Joy in bringing salvation to the people of the earth. He did it for joy.

Are you facing health issues? Family problems? Emotional trauma? Financial setbacks? Work stress? Do what Jesus did. Keep walking, knowing he has a plan for you, knowing the end result is in his hands, resting in his promises of presence, power, and joy. Don’t give up. Keep walking. That’s what Jesus did!

” . . . for the joy that was set before him. . .” – from Hebrews 12:2

NOTE: Original walking concept from Emilie Griffin in Small Surrenders

For the joy . . .

“You need not cry very loud; he is nearer to us than we think.” – Brother Lawrence

My mind was racing going through all I had to do and all I was worried about. The task in front of me felt heavy, and I was anxious.

“Fix your eyes on Jesus” came into my mind. I mentally saw him carrying his cross, bent in exhaustion and pain. Then I remembered another phrase of the verse he was reminding me of: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross“. It was as if he was saying: “Do what I did. See the joy at the other end. It’s hard and tiring, but keep your eyes on me and on the joy.” The same verse describes Jesus as “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” He was telling me that he would complete what he had started (from Hebrews 12:2).

But the very next verse (which I looked up later that morning) was the capstone as I thought about my discouragement: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”(Hebrews 12:3). The reason to look at Jesus in his suffering? So I will not get tired and discouraged. He is our perfect example.

Don’t you love how the Holy Spirit works? He gave me one small phrase from his word and, when I followed that to the whole text, I had a complete message: Keep your eyes on Jesus. He will show you how it’s done. He will finish his work in you. And you will not be anxious.

Maybe you need to hear that, too, so I am sharing it today.

” . . . learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”. – Matthew 11:29b

A Good Life

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10b

How are you doing with living what Jesus calls an abundant life?

A life not focused on trivialities, but on substance.

A life with purpose that goes beyond what we can see.

A life of gratefulness for the pleasures we can enjoy, the beauties we can see, and the people we can love.

A life in which we truthfully can say something like, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing else I need.”

Pastor and writer John Piper talks about living with “. . . the awakening of heart capacities to soar with beauties, and the mysteries of creation and redemption, and with the revelation of God’s nature and God’s ways in Scripture.” A heart that soars – that sounds like abundant living, doesn’t it?

Notice that abundance does not mean lots of stuff, money, thrills, or entertainment. It’s a deeper level richness – abundance of the heart, of relationships, of eternal values, of appreciation. It’s a learned skill to rise above the earthly to the spiritual, but it’s so worth the effort.

Here’s a prayer that might help us get a bit closer to the abundant life we all want:

Lord teach me to play, to have fun, to enjoy this life with you at my side. Teach me to be courageous, to try new things, to risk failure. Give me the imagination to find new paths, make new friends, travel to new places, to stretch and grow and love and learn and dream. Teach me how to skip happily through life in love with you, enjoying your presence with me always.

“The transformation of the self away from a life of fear and insufficiency takes place as we fix our minds upon God as he truly is.”” – Dallas Willar

My way? His way?

As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. – 2 Samuel 22:31

If you’ve ever wondered about the way God does things, you’re not alone!

Some disciples were walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, depressed and discouraged (Luke 24). Jesus was the one they had counted on to rescue them from oppression. Now he was dead. There were rumors of resurrection, but who knows? Then, by the end of the chapter, they realize Jesus is alive (good news) and he’s not going to deliver Israel from the Romans (bad news). In fact, he’s leaving them (really bad news).

Even so, we find them a few weeks later praising God in the temple (v. 53). They went from sadness to joy, from confusion to worship. Jesus didn’t do things their way, but maybe they were beginning to see his way was better.

What are you praying desperately for? What do you wish God would fix for you? We pray with such limited vision! We see things only from our perspective and time.

His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. They are bigger, better, bolder. They take us to a place we could never envision for ourselves. We simply don’t know what’s best for us or for someone else. We cannot know while we are in this world, living this life.

So, what do we do when, like the disciples with Jesus, we find that God’s not going to answer our prayers as we want him to? We accept and believe his way is better. We entrust him with our bodies. We rely on him for resources. We let him feed our souls and give us hope.

“Let God have your life. He can do more with it than you can.” – D. L. Moody

Smile!

“I will celebrate before the Lord,” 2 Samuel 6:21b

Did you know that walking with God is not always about being serious? There are supposed to be times of celebration, belly laughs, and seeing the lighter side.

Remember when David brought the Ark of God to Jerusalem after its long absence? He was so happy he danced in front of the Ark, and it wasn’t a carefully choreographed dance, either. It is described as dancing and leaping – a spontaneous burst of joy.

Then there’s the time when Ezra found the Book of the Law, dusty from disuse for many years. He read it to the people and they were overcome with grief to think of how many ways they had failed God. After awhile, Nehemiah stepped in, dismissed the sad meeting, and called for a party, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine . . . for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

So, how happy are your morning devotional times? Do you smile when you talk to God? Does joy sneak into your heart as you read Scripture and begin to understand the pleasure God takes in his creation and in his people?

How happy are the worship times at your church? Is it a place where singing and praise-filled people worship a joy-filled God?

How happy are you when you look at God’s artwork in the sky, the freshness of new snow, or the wiggles of puppies? The things God makes should lead us to agree with Dallas Willard who said, “God is the happiest, most joyful being in the universe.”

Shouldn’t knowing him stir up happiness in us? Let’s live joy today!

“Praise is the mode of love which always has some element of joy in it.” – C. S. Lewis

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

Praying for Daylight

My days have passed, my plans are shattered.
    Yet the desires of my heart
turn night into day;
    in the face of the darkness light is near.
 – Job 17:11-12

Is sometimes the night so dark, the storm so strong, and the pain so deep that all you can do is pray for morning to come? You are not alone.

In Acts, we are told about the horrible storm Paul and Luke and many others experienced on their way to Rome. At one point, in the two-week-long nor’easter, the sailors took soundings and realized the water was getting shallower – they were approaching land. But it was the middle of the night, the ship was out of control, and they couldn’t see where they were headed. It was dark and scary and dangerous. Luke says, Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight (Acts 27:29). They did the only thing they could do – they waited and they prayed.

If you’re in a dark place right now, you can’t see what’s ahead, you are fearful and frantic, hang on. Morning will come. God promises it will. “. . . weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b). 

In the meantime, focus all your attention on him. Pray for light. Pray for comfort. Pray for the security of his arms around you. Pray for the joy that will come when the storm subsides. The one who stills the waters is in the boat with you. He’s been there before. And he has promised never to leave you alone.

“Waiting for God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon our thoughts.” – Elisabeth Elliot

Live your own life!

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11

Whose life are you living? If you’re constantly called to commiserate with an overly reliant friend, if you’re consistently focused on another person’s decisions or actions, or if you’re preoccupied about what may happen today or tomorrow in the life of someone you love, you may be missing the life God gave you to live. 

Don’t get me wrong – I believe in empathizing with those who are struggling, helping those in need, supporting our children to adulthood and beyond, and being a true friend. But, when worries about other people’s lives dominate our thoughts, we’re surely missing what God is offering us.

Today, he wants us to experience his leading in every decision, blessings from his hand, peace beyond understanding, and love that refreshes our souls.

Today, he wants the fruit of the Spirit to grow in our hearts: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. I want that, don’t you?

So, how do we care deeply about others and still position ourselves to receive what God wants for us? 

  • Think about our blessings.
  • Acknowledge that the life God has given us is good. 
  • Cherish each day.
  • Praise God.
  • Yield to his direction.

When we live in distraction, we cannot take in all God wants for us. So, let’s live our own lives – deeply and gratefully. Then we will be able to do more than worry about or sympathize with friends or family –  we will enable them to live their own lives, too!

Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.”

–Thomas Merton

Thinking of Him?

” . . .we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”. – 2 Corinthians 10:5b

Are you sometimes unsatisfied with the quality of your life? Do you want it to be more meaningful? To be more in cync with God’s will? When I’m feeling that frustration, I remember that the less I think about me and the more I think about God, the richer and more significant my life will be. He is the only source of purpose and joy. And he responds when we turn our attention toward him.

With that in mind, I’m reposting one of my poems which I published in a blog in 2016. I’m sharing it now because it’s where my heart is and I’m thinking it may resonate with you as well.  

Thinking of Him?

When the lights grow dim
Are you thinking of Him?
Or is your mind too cluttered
With thoughts un-uttered
And words unspoken
And promises broken?

When the day is at end
Do you talk with your Friend?
Or are you doing the dishes
And pondering wishes
And things yet to do
E’re the evening is through?

When you woke in your bed
Was it His name you said?
Or were you thinking of rights
And yesterday’s fights
And battles to win
When the sun comes again?

Our mind is the measure
Of what we most treasure.
It shows us what holds us
And constantly molds us.
If we’re centered on Jesus
And how He does please us,

The thoughts that disturb us
And tend to perturb us
Will crumble and cower
And lose all their power.
Then when the lights grow dim,
We’ll be thinking of Him.

“I am trying to be utterly free from everybody, free from my own self, but completely enslaved to the will of God every moment of this day.” – Frank Laubauch