What do you really want?

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:45

A business man once told me that people make decisions based on emotions, not reasoning. If they want something badly enough, they will find a way to justify the decision and will think they are acting rationally. So I began to watch in the business world as people made choices that seemed to be because the numbers added up, but as I listened to what they said, it often became obvious that the decision was made mostly because they wanted to. Some even acknowledged that to be the case.

If we understand that our wants are going to steer our decision making, we realize we can’t reason our way into being better people. Emotions are stronger than logic almost every time. So what do we do if we know we need to change our behavior? We acknowledge that, since we will do what we want, what we want must change. And, as spiritual mentors have long taught, we change what we want by consistently practicing some simple, do-able things.

Liturgical readings and prayers, Scripture passages, creeds, or hymns sincerely repeated become powerful forces to mold our desires. Consistent, repetitive acts of worship, even using someone else’s words, invite God to reach into our hearts and tune them to loving the best things. Add Bible reading, prayer, and communion with other believers, and we find that, over time, these holy habits change us. God’s desires become our desires. We will do what we want to do and it will be good!

“A mistaken thought may be corrected easily, but an errant affection is nearly unmanageable.” – Watchman Nee

The Value of Time

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:6-7

Have you ever heard of the time value of money? The concept is if you have a little money, invest it where it can earn interest, and let principal and interest grow together, eventually you will have a great deal more money than you started with. The key ingredient is time.

There’s a time value to spirituality, too. We begin with commitment to follow Christ. Then we learn a little here and there, adding to the knowledge we already have. We sense the foundation of our spiritual life is getting stronger. Then, we add experiences, sound teaching, spiritual practices, and relationships until, over time, we realize we’re changing (2 Peter 1:5-9). There are many behaviors and activities that contribute to our spiritual maturation, but time is a key ingredient to fostering true transformation.

Here are a few examples of how that might help:

  • Temptation that is persistent tests us, grows us, and invites God to intervene. We shortchange ourselves when we give in to temptation without a fight. If we resist and trust God, we get stronger (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  • Faith that has to wait for fulfillment grows deeper with time. If all our prayers were answered immediately, our faith would be fragile. As we learn to trust God’s timing, our faith grows (Romans 4:20).
  • Spiritual fruit comes only after seeds are buried and the plants mature. Growth to the point of fruitfulness in God’s Kingdom takes time (Mark 4:26-29).

We want to encourage our own spiritual growth, but we can’t hurry it. Most of the highly valued things in life take time. Don’t give up!

“Be not afraid of growing slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.” – Author Unknown

Need a leader?

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1

Need a story of hope, today? Try this:

God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, but King Saul was mad and determined to kill David before that could happen. Early in David’s fugitive life, supporters began to gather. Before long, he has a ragtag “army” of about 600 men.

And “ragtag” might be the right word. The Bible tells us they were people who were in debt, distressed, and/or “bitter in soul”. David must have sighed deeply when they met for their first strategy meeting! These were all people who had been battered by life and were, in fact, not responding well to their circumstances.

Fast forward a few years. By then, there were thirty choice soldiers known as “David’s Mighty Men”. The rest were the support team, but all were disciplined, useful, and loyal. They were willing to risk their lives for their leader. Many, in fact, became part of David’s leadership team when he was crowned as king of Israel.

Where are you today? Getting beat up by life? Finding some bitterness in your heart? Discouraged?

If there was hope for change for David’s ragtag men, there’s hope for you, too. Suggestion? Ask God for a modern-day David, a mentor, to walk alongside you, teach you, and encourage your relationship with God. You may be surprised at the amazing changes coming your way!

And, if your life is on an even keel, maybe you are the leader God is calling to help someone else. Be open to that call. You may be the change-agent someone else is crying out for today.

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion.” – John Stott

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.

What? What? So what?

“Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” – Psalm 119:165

The Bible is an amazing book, written long ago. Yet its message applies not only to those for whom it was originally written, but also to everyone today who is open to receiving its message.

The goal of reading the Bible is rarely just to learn about the stories, wisdom, and history it contains. For most of us, reading it is a personal journey as we seek to know God, his plan for this world, and his purposes for our individual lives.

In that quest, we don’t just read passages from the Bible, but we interact with them. Years ago, I was taught to ask three questions about the biblical texts as I read. Those three questions are What? What? and So what?* Easy to remember, right?

What? What does the text say? Does it tell a story, give instruction, or offer a perspective?

What? What does it mean? What is God’s purpose for including this passage in the Bible? Is there a new insight or understanding for me?

So what? Why does it matter? Will what I am reading make a difference in my life? Am I willing to let its message change me?

Let’s never stop reading the Bible, meditating on its words, and taking them into our heart for comfort, direction, and growth. Effective interaction with God through his word is a lifelong journey and one with great rewards.

“But the performance isn’t just about our own private pilgrimage. It’s about becoming agents of God’s new world – workers for justice, explorers of spirituality, makers and menders of relationships, creators of beauty. If God does indeed speak through scripture, he speaks in order to commission us for tasks like these.” – N. T. Wright

*From teacher, author, and pastor, Erwin Lutzer

#readingthebible

Critic or Companion?

For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. – Psalm 103:14

“God’ll get you for that.” That was a supposed-to-be-funny, but semi-serious, retort when I was growing up. I think it was a view of God that many in my generation shared. God was just waiting for us to step out of line. Hard as I might try as a teenager, I knew I stepped across that line too many times. I kept waiting for God’s hammer to fall. 

Do you ever feel that way? That you really can’t measure up to God’s standards, so you might as well quit trying? If that’s your mindset, you may need a new view of God.

Yes, he is holy and wants us to live in ways that honor him, but he knows we are weak and will fail. That’s why he sent Jesus to live the perfect life we cannot live and to die and be raised to pay for all within us that falls short of God’s standard. Does that sound like a God who’s just waiting for us to step out of line so he can zap us? No! It sounds like a loving God who made a way for us to become better over time – not by our own efforts, but by the power of the new life he gives us through Jesus. 

It may be our view of God needs to change to be more consistent with the God Jesus revealed. As we walk with him, he guides and grows us. When he finds something to correct, he always does it lovingly. He is never out to catch us in a fault, but to help us overcome it.  

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. – A. W. Tozer

Who’s in tune?

“. . . imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.”- Hebrews 6:12b

I am learning a little bit about music from my musician husband. One thing he’s observed is that if a section of the orchestra is out of tune, it may be because the musicians are tuning to each other and not to a standard beyond them. For example, one violinist might suspect she’s playing a little flat, but will still tune her instrument based on what she hears played next to her so she will be in sync with the other violins. The result is the entire section might be playing flat. 

There’s a way to change that. If a strong, in-tune instrument moves closer to the problematic section, the players will begin to hear a new standard and will tend to tune to the stronger instrument. One by one each player in the section will follow suit. The result? Everyone will be playing in tune!

Most of us tend to tune our spiritual lives to the people we hang out with. Are they warm toward things of God or cool? Turning to him for direction, or relying more often on their own wisdom? Or, worse, are they focused on their own interests and not those of God at all? If those we spend our time with those who are out of tune with the Holy Spirit in their day-to-day lives, we might be following suit without even knowing it.

The solution? We need to find friends who live in harmony with the Spirit and then get close to them. We can listen to their talk, catch their spiritual enthusiasm, and seek their counsel. Spending time with in-tune Christians will help us stay close to God, too!

“Only a disciple can make a disciple.” A. W. Tozer

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

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

In the Desert?

“Where there is sorrow there is holy ground. Some day people will realize what that means. They will know nothing of life till they do.” – Oscar Wilde

Nobody signs up for suffering, but it happens to us all: sickness, tragedy, loss, and pain. The hardest of all is the struggle that just keeps hanging on and day after day we feel alone in a hot, dry desert.

If you are there, be encouraged! God uses desert time to make us strong, to help us learn dependence on him, and, often, to prepare us for something he wants us to do. Think about Moses who spent years there tending sheep before God called him to lead his people out of slavery. The Israelites spent four decades in the desert learning to trust God alone to meet their needs. Jesus was in the desert for forty days of fasting and prayer before beginning his public ministry. His wilderness time included direct confrontations with Satan. The desert can be a difficult and dangerous place!

Desert experiences tend to strip away the trappings of life so we can see what is truly essential. It is then that God can reach down, touch our souls, and feed us with food that will satisfy: Manna, refreshment for the spirit, just enough until we are healthy and strong and ready to be led out of the wilds into a more abundant life.

The desert truly is holy ground. If you are suffering today, be as open as you can to God and his Spirit within you. Over time, his healing touch will come.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. –
Psalm 30:11-12