Speaking it

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. – Hebrews 13:15

In his book Life without Lack, Dallas Willard says, “All relationships and kingdoms work by words, and the first act of faith is to speak.” We have to say something out loud.

OK, so what do we say? He has a suggestion for that, too: Praise. That really is an easy place to start if we want to build relationship with God, isn’t it? Think something he has created. Surely there is something to praise him for: sunrise, your dog, peaches, trees. Look around you and start with praise.

Or think about relationships in your life. Praise him for the people who matter to you and who have been placed beside you for a purpose. Thank him for his patience with you in those relationships.

Always start with praise. The Lord’s Prayer does when it acknowledges the holiness of God and his name. We do well to emulate that prayer. Then, after we have praised well, we can speak out other things: confession (Romans 10:9), requests, complaints (that’s OK – really – the psalmists do it), thanks, worship.

Do you see that it’s all about words? We cannot love God and relate to him with growing intimacy if we don’t use words. Words, as Willard says, are the tools by which all relationships and all kingdoms work – even the kingdom of God.

We can practice with praise (so easy!) and move on to the harder stuff from there. God will meet us where we are and invite us to keep on coming closer.

“Spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God.” ~ Dallas Willard

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

A Little Bit of Light

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

I well remember being afraid of the dark as a child. Every sound seemed threatening and what I thought was hiding under my bed kept me wide awake. Turning on the light to check the dark corners was the only solution to my fear.

The darkness evident in the world today causes similar anxieties. But, there is a solution for those fears, too, and it is held in the hands of those who follow Jesus. 

Jesus told us he is the light of the world. That we can believe. He is true, right, and good. Then, he turned to his disciples (that includes those who follow him today) and said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). What? Me? You? Yes. He has entrusted us with the awesome and sometimes scary responsibility of bringing light to dark places.

Light reveals what’s hidden in the darkness and it shows a way out of the darkness.* Many people think they know how to deal with the darkness around us, but, Jesus says his followers are the ones who carry the light of this truth: The solutions to the most basic problems in this world are found in him.

How are we doing as lights of the world? We might be tempted to back away when we realize that many people don’t want the hidden things of darkness to be revealed. Jesus warns us not to hide our light. Instead, he says we must hold it high, ready to warn of the dangers lurking in the dark and eager to lead those who are willing directly to Jesus, the source of all light and truth.

“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself”. – Erasmus

 

 

*Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Martino Publishing: Mansfield Centre, Connecticut,), 2011, p. 168.

Do whatever you want.

“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. “ – John 14:23

Samuel had just privately annointed Saul to be the first king of Israel. Then Samuel told Saul that God’s Spirit would come powerfully upon him and change him from the inside out. When that happens, he said, “. . . do whatever your hand finds to do because God is with you” (1 Samuel 10:7). Can you imagine having God’s presence so control us that whatever we chose to do would be pleasing to him? What would it take for that to happen?

  • Being so filled with God’s Spirit that everything we decide would originate with him
  • Loving God so much we would never do anything we think might displease him or hurt him
  • Following an irresistible desire to live out what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount and in his parables
  • Having the inner capacity to forgive easily, give generously, and never, never worry

I think that’s exactly what God intends for us: to be transformed to be so much like Jesus that we never have to ask, “What would Jesus do?” – instead, we would just do it. We will never be perfectly like him until we see him face-to-face, but it should be our desire to have transformed minds and Holy Spirit control to the extent that we are growing closer and closer to that goal each day!

As you think about that, have a great day doing what God wants you to do and praying, as you do, that he makes it what you want to do, too!

“Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” – Augustine

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

Looking in the mirror?

“God sees hearts as we see faces.” – George Herbert

How often do you look in the mirror to check your hair, clothes, or smile? For both men and women these days, life without mirrors would be a problem! 

After the people of Israel had been rescued from Egypt, God gave instructions for building a tabernacle. Moses asked the people to bring offerings from their own supplies: fabrics, jewelry, and precious metals. In Exodus 38:8, we are told many women brought their mirrors. 

These mirrors were made of bronze, not glass as we know them today. Do you know how Moses used these mirrors? He reconfigured them to make the bronze basin where priests cleansed themselves before offering sacrifices.

Think of what these women represent to us today:

  • They went from looking at themselves to looking toward God.
  • They moved from attention to outward appearance to attention to their spiritual selves.
  • They were willing to sacrifice the temporary for the eternal.

Peter echoes a similar understanding when he says,Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4). 

I think both men and women can learn from Peter’s message: We want our appearance to be pleasing, but how we look should not be our focus. Who we are on the inside is infinitely more important than what we look like on the outside. Let’s ask God to help us value the eternal more than the temporary and to look more at the inside than the outside, both in how we see ourselves and how we see others. After all, that’s what he does!

 

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

Life is so daily.

“The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness.” – 1 Samuel 26:23

Do you sometimes long for something more or different in your life? You have the same tasks over and over again. Same views out the window. Same people, same conversations, same opinions. We’re trying to follow God, to please him, to do something that will matter eternally, but we are caught up in the dailiness of living. Sometimes we can feel like Belle in Beauty and the Beast when she sings, “There must be more than this provincial life.”

Maybe that’s why God emphasizes faithfulness. He wants us to be faithful in doing the next task, caring for ourselves and others, praying and reading his word, and loving those who may not be lovable on some days. Faithfulness sometimes means doing the same right things over and over again.

And, in that faithfulness, we just might be building something greater than we know – something God is working together we cannot see. I was encouraged today when I read this from Oswald Chambers:

“We are not taken up into conscious agreement with God’s purpose, we are taken up into God’s purpose without any consciousness at all. We have no conception of what God is aiming at, and as we go on it gets more and more vague. God’s aim looks like missing the mark because we are too short-sighted to see what He is aiming at.” 

There is so much about God and his plan we cannot know. But, we can be faithful in what he puts in front of us to do and, in that faithfulness, hang on to him, believe his promises, and know we can trust his aim – whatever it is!

“Who a man is is always more important to God than what he does.” – A.W. Tozer

#faithfulness

All Day Long

” . . . pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

How’s your prayer life? We all wince at that question, don’t we? We feel we should pray more and have a really hard time actually doing it. But maybe we pray more than we think we do.

The writer of Psalm 119 seemed to have some good prayer practices, one of which was praying at various times during the day. He talks about praying before dawn (v. 147), early evening (v. 148), at midnight (v. 62). In fact, he says he prays seven times a day (v. 164).  That’s a lot. Or is it? How many times a day do you pray?

For me, there are days when I go for hours without talking to God at all. On other days, it seems we are in constant communication – I see his creation and tell him thank you. I think about something I read in the Bible that morning and talk a little to him about it. A friend comes to mind and I bring her name before the Father. Do you do that, too? I like those days. Perhaps I’m less persistent in prayer than the psalm writer who made it a point to pray seven times a day. Sometimes I need to be more intentional in that focus. But I do love it when the communication lines between God and me are open all day long. I think that’s what he wants. I think that’s what we want, too. Let’s keep the conversation going!

“I have found that my reluctance to pray increases when I regard it as a necessary discipline and decreases when I see it as a time to keep company with God. True prayer comes from within, from the longing of the heart.” – Philip Yancey

#prayer