Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gazing at My Father

The other day, I was playing with my just-turned-one-year-old daughter when she heard the sound of the lawnmower's motor starting. Her head turned as she sought to determine the source of the sound, then she immediately crawled to the nearest window to look outside. Still not finding it, she went from one window to the next until finally she saw him: "Da Da!" she cried. She stared at him urgently, excitedly as he mowed the lawn, filled with pleasure at the sight of him and yet frustrated by not being able to be outside with him, as near to him as possible. "Da da da da da!" she yelled repeatedly. As he cut the grass and moved from one part of the yard to another, she followed along to the nearest window, still shouting, "Da da da da da!" and grinning with delight as he got closer and said hello to her. 

Watching her made think of my heavenly Father. Do I look to Him throughout the day? Do I long to be near Him, fixating my gaze on Him and crying out to Him? Do I feel a sense of urgency to focus on Him and follow along with where He is and what He is doing? Do I delight in His love for me? Sadly, the answer is mostly no. Seeing my daughter's desperation to watch her "Dada" reminded me of how urgently I need to focus my eyes on God and how much joy is to be found in Him.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Make Room for Peace

Stop for just a few seconds and breathe deeply. Take five slow breaths in and out.

Was that difficult for you? Did you feel like you were wasting time that could be spent on something more significant?

My mind is constantly revving, always thinking of several things at once. In addition, I love to read, and between books, newspapers, magazines, mail, the Internet, and so on, I'm regularly filling my mind with even more information. New facts to learn, new world events to fret over, new products I need and home improvements to consider. My brain's cup overfloweth. But it's just too much.

Beyond that, there are life's personal challenges to consider, friends and family who need to be loved and prayed for, etc. And sometimes life seems weighed down with worries, pain, and burdens.

I've been awakened to the fact that I have far too little peace in my life. Even when I'm not feeling as anxiety prone as I might at other times, the mental and emotional space somehow gets filled with lots of other junk. It's not all junk, but it also doesn't need to occupy so much attention or urgency.

I've found that the more cluttered my mind is, the less room there is for me to truly focus on God. I'm learning that I need to train myself to seek and enjoy peace. It might only be for 10 minutes a day, but I am trying to prioritize peace. That might look different for different people or on different days. For me, one day I might focus on a few Bible verses related to peace. Another day I might listen to calming music on my iPod. Or I might step outside, maybe for a walk, or maybe just for a few minutes to breathe fresh air and thank God for His creation. Whatever works best for you, I urge you to make some time for a little peace each day.

Here are just a few of my favorite peace-related verses:

"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." (John 14:27)

"When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul." (Psalm 94:19)

"In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, o Lord, make me to dwell in safety." (Psalm 4:8)

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Trusting God

You just need to trust God. How many times has someone told me that? How many times have I said it to myself? And yet, so many times I've failed to understand that properly.

For many years, I think I interpreted "trusting God" as trusting that He would work everything out according to my preference or safety. I'd find myself anxious about an upcoming flight (what if the plane crashes?), a job interview (what if I say the wrong thing? or don't get the job?), confronting a friend, making decisions, dealing with job loss, and much more, and think, "I just need to trust God more." But what that meant to me was trusting that God would keep me safe, protect me, help me ace the interview, help me not to lose a friendship, help me make the right decision, or help me find a job (preferably on my timetable). While God obviously can do all these things -- He is all powerful! -- He doesn't always. He knows the best plan for us, and sometimes He intervenes to protect us from harm but not always. I've learned that trusting God doesn't mean trusting that everything will go smoothly.

The dictionary defines trust as "reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence" and "confident expectation of something; hope." God is the most worthy object of our trust, completely reliable in every way. However, we must be certain that we are trusting in Him rather than for Him to produce a desired outcome. I can still talk with Him openly in prayer and ask for that outcome. But my faith must not be shaken if I don't get what I want.

The ultimate example, as always, is Jesus. I remember how he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and said, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39) I'm trying to adjust my prayers accordingly.

Recently I was praying specifically that a negative thing would not happen to me. When that thing happened anyway, disappointment filled me. What was the point of praying? Hadn't I shown that I trusted that God could do this for me? Yes, God did have the power to protect me from that situation happening. And I'm certain He had compassion on me as I experienced it. But for some reason, He didn't prevent it. Through it, I learned (again) of the need to apply "Thy will be done" to my prayers just as Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Sometimes I even say something to the effect of "Thy will be done, and help me to accept Thy will." One thing we can always trust is that God will walk through any difficult circumstance with us and will give us the power to endure in our faith if we ask Him.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Why I (Sometimes) Love Studying the Bible

  1. I've always been someone who wishes God would speak to me audibly, especially at crucial moments of decision. The Bible contains God's words and exactly what I need to know about life here on earth (and thereafter!). It's the next-best thing to actually hearing His voice out loud.

  2. Every time I read or study a book of the Bible or read a passage, even if it's one I'm very familiar with, I notice something new that's applicable to my life.

  3. It's full of people who are just as messed up as I am.

  4. It reminds me who I am in Christ and the importance of reflecting on that instead of what the world or the culture currently values.

  5. Reading the prayers of Jesus, David, Paul, and more teaches me how to pray.

  6. I love when one passage leads to another, which informs the first, and when I see the connection between one part of the Bible and others and marvel at God's plan in putting together this book.

  7. In the Old Testament, I enjoy discovering passages from books like Isaiah, Psalms, and more that point so explicitly to the identity and mission of Jesus.

  8. Reading the Bible is a way of preaching to myself and reminding myself of the endless nuggets of wisdom that are so easily forgotten.

  9. It helps make more of Christ and less of me, while at the same time becoming more of who God created me to be.

Now to address the "sometimes" part. I have great difficulty studying the Bible completely on my own. I much prefer to do it in the context of some type of group accountability. I like having "homework" and having to complete it by a certain day; otherwise, it's too easy not to do it or do only do it when I "feel" like it. With homework, I do it consistently because I committed to it. Somehow I don't slip into legalism, though some may struggle with that. Without a group, it's important to at least have a plan. Pick a certain book of the Bible to study, maybe even get a study guide or other resources, and plan ahead for the coming month(s). You'll be more likely to follow through. I guess the point of this is we each need to know ourselves and what works best for each of us and in different seasons of life. I often don't think I've fully processed something I'm learning until I've discussed it with someone else. That may not be true for you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Preventing Spiritual Amnesia

You know the feeling--you've just returned from a Christian retreat or conference, and you're bursting with new knowledge you're excited to apply to your life. Or you've finished reading a book that seems to have shifted your thinking in a significant way. Maybe it's as simple as a particularly affecting time of worshipping God or a great conversation with a friend about spiritual matters. There's a sense of fullness, of motivation, of life changing for the better.

But you're quickly drawn back into the mundane matters of life, whatever those are for you. Responsibilities. Sitting at a desk getting work done, making phone calls, doing laundry, sitting in traffic, feeding hungry kids, doing the dishes. Over the course of a month, a week, or even the same day, the fresh lessons begin to seep out of you, and you return to old habits.

I've experienced this countless times, and recently was reading and discussing a Christian book with a group and had it happen again. With each chapter I amassed food for thought and new insights for, with God's help, making positive changes in my life. The day of the discussion or of reading that week's chapter, I maintained an awareness of the information and changed my behavior accordingly. But on the other days, I experienced varying degrees of forgetfulness. A couple weeks ago we discussed the last chapter, and I felt a low-grade panic: What if I forgot everything from the book and lost it forever? Was this material doomed to hiss out of me like air from a balloon?

It got me thinking: What could I do to prevent this spiritual amnesia? Here's what I've come up with so far, but I'd like to hear from others as well:

  • Find God in the ordinary moments of life. Train yourself over time to think about, talk to, and just be with God regardless of what you're doing. Sometimes I stand at the sink washing the dishes and think "I can be with God right here, right now!" Keep your eyes out for blessings, even ones that are more hidden (laundry is a blessing because it means I have clothes to wear, and if I'm also doing others' laundry it means I have people in my life and home).

  • Make it a priority to hang out with others who are like-minded. I've found that I am much more likely to keep my mind set on spiritual things if I'm around others who are also seeking God and imitating Christ.

  • Teach what you learned to someone else. Obviously make sure you have a willing "student" first! This could be in a formal or informal setting.
    Remind yourself of what you learned. Write a few summary points in a journal, or post a notecard somewhere with a one-sentence reminder.

  • Memorize scripture related to what you learned. Bible Gateway is a great tool for quickly looking up Bible verses on various topics if you need help finding ideas.

  • Don't move on to the next topic of study until you have a better handle on this one. Sometimes I am very quick to put down one book and immediately open the next, or finish reading or studying a book of the Bible and jump into the next one. It might be even better to continue delving into the topic that has excited you for a while longer and let it settle in rather than speeding forward to the next victim of spiritual amnesia.

Monday, March 14, 2011

God's Fierce Love

Maybe the word fierce has recently been associated with Tyra Banks and Beyonce, but for me it has come to describe one aspect of God's love for us. I've been studying Isaiah (with Bible Study Fellowship), so you may see me increasingly referring to it here. This book of the Bible is chock full of details about God's relationship with the Israelites, which I think gives us all insights into how we interact with God.

The intensitiy and protectiveness of God for His people has struck me repeatedly as I've read various chapters in Isaiah. Not only does God tell them they shouldn't fear because He will be with them, and that He will strengthen them and help them (41:10), He says

Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonored; Those who contend with you will be as nothing and will perish. (41:11)

I can only compare this fierce love to the love a parent has for a child, where if the child were attacked the parent would not just passively try to get her back but would respond with fervor, doing everything possible to retrieve that child. God is saying that if someone treats His people poorly, that person (or entity) will have to deal with Him and be punished accordingly.

The LORD will go forth like a warrior, He will arouse His zeal like a man of war. He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry. He will prevail against his enemies. (42:13)

Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life. (43:4)

Kings will be your guardians, And their princesses your nurses. They will bow down to you with their faces to the earth And lick the dust of your feet: And you will know that I am the LORD; Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame...I will contend with the one who contends with you, And I will save your sons. I will feed your oppressors with their own flesh, And they will become drunk with their own blood as with sweet wine; And all flesh will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior And your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. (49:23, 25b-26)

I confess: That last one shocked me a little. For those who think we worship a namby-pamby God, they couldn't be more wrong. This is a God Who would stop at nothing to redeem His people. He stopped at nothing to redeem the Gentiles, too -- He sent His Son to provide a way for us all to be redeemed.

I am encouraged that the God who loved the Israelites so fiercely loves me the same way. Another part that stood out to me was "Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame." It's like God is saying that hope in Him is guaranteed to be worthwhile. There are so many other things we can put our hope in, but when we put our hope in God we are 100% guaranteed not to be disappointed because He alone has the power to fulfill all His promises. It strengthens my soul to know that He is worthy of my hope.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Spiritual Kick in the Pants

Have you ever had a spiritual kick in the pants? A wake-up call from God? I've had multiple times in my life when I was shaken out of my relative apathy into rapt attention.

In Revelation 3, God addresses the church in Laodicea and comments that he will spit them out of His mouth because they are lukewarm. We also know from Hebrews 12:6 that the Lord disciplines those He loves. Sometimes He sends things across our paths that wake us up from complacency so we can return to Him. Or difficulties come our way that might not be from God, but He uses them to renew our faith.

Recently, I've been going through a trial. This trial has propelled me to cry out to God in my questioning, in the darkness, in the pain. It's caused me to sense Jesus' presence when I need it most and reminded me that He can relate to any suffering that comes my way. I pray that this sense of intimacy with God can be sustained even after the worst part of the trial has passed. We all know how easily we can fall back into old habits when the sense of urgency is gone.

Through this situation I'm experiencing, I've realized that it is certain that difficulties will come our way in life. Occasionally I partially create those difficulties through my own poor choices. But many times things just happen and couldn't have been forseen or prevented. Christians are not immune to difficulties. In fact, 1 Peter 4:12 says we should not be surprised when we suffer. And James 1:2 says we should consider it a joy when we encounter trials.

We can't avoid trials, but we can know one thing for certain: God is with us during them. There are many encouraging passages to this effect in the Bible, but here is one that has been meaningful to me recently:

"'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you...you are precious in My sight...you are honored and I love you...Do not fear, for I am with you..." Isaiah 43:1b-2, 4a, 5a (NASB)

How reassuring to know that God loves us and is with us each moment of each day! Sometimes even when I'm not "feeling" His presence I repeat truth to myself so I remember what's right. That's why Scripture memory, though not my strong suit, can be so helpful. In the moment of need, it is easier to pull out a helpful verse from your mind than to hope a Bible will be nearby and that you'll have the wherewithal to open it and find an apt verse.

My latest spiritual wake-up call has pressed me to a greater commitment to Bible reading, prayer, and more consistently looking to Him throughout my day for every need instead of filling myself up with empty things.

I've also had a kick in the pants from a book I recently started reading, A Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, President of World Vision. I'm only a handful of chapters in, and it's already opening my eyes to the plight of the world's poor and how helping them is part of bringing the kingdom of God to earth. I encourage you to check it out if you're looking for an interesting read.