Posted by Sandy in Blessed Life, Christian Living, Experiencing God, Faith, Fear, God's Love, Trusting God, Wonders of God, tags: Jeremiah, John, Luke, Psalm, Romans, Zoey Grace Martinez
Zoey Grace, moments after her birth.
At 6:24 on 4/26 – 6:24 in the morning on April 26 – a lullaby rang through the halls of St. David’s Medical center.
That lullaby was an announcement to the world of the birth of Zoey Grace Martinez.
This was Zoey’s birth day – the day of her birth.
There was rejoicing in the hospital when we heard the lullaby because we knew what it meant. Zoey had breathed her first breath of life outside her mother’s womb.
There is Rejoicing in Heaven
I was reminded that Scripture says that there is rejoicing in heaven when one sinner turns to the Lord (Luke 15:7). Rejoicing over my birth! Rejoicing over your birth! Wow!
Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
What a miracle that first breath is. In the womb, a baby’s lungs are filled with amniotic fluid. Near the end of pregnancy, the baby actually breathes the amniotic fluid in and out as they take practice breaths. Were they to do that outside the womb, they would drown. But inside the womb, somehow it prepares them for breathing air soon.
Then, suddenly, the baby enters the world and instantly they can breathe air. What an amazing and miraculous thing! “We are fearfully and wonderfully made,” Scripture says (Psalm 139:14). The New Living Translation puts it this way:
13You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and
knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:13-16 (NLT)
As you read the passage, do you feel the loving care of the Creator as you were created? The angels rejoice when we are born again…but it was the Lord who carefully knits us together before we were born.
I was blessed to be in the hospital room while Zoey’s mom was in labor and in the halls of the hospital, right outside the nursery window waiting as Zoey was born. And I was profoundly impacted. God revealed His love for me in a way that was fresh revelation for me. And I was blown away by it. I want to share that revelation with you. I hope you are changed by it as I’ve been
He Loved Us First
About eighteen hours prior to her birth, the long labor process began. I was one of about a dozen people at the hospital, watching, encouraging, praying and rejoicing.
I watched as Zoey’s mom would have painful contractions and Zoey’s dad would come over and rub her back to help her through the pain. The contractions would come more frequently and then less frequently. She eventually got pain medication and then the day just went on and on…and on and on.
I couldn’t help but see the relationship between our physical birth and our spiritual birth. Just as there are labor pains that bring physical birth there are spiritual labor pains that bring spiritual birth.
When I think back to my own coming to the Lord, I remember the ebb and flow of the process. There would be a spark of interest, then there would be a kicking against the truth. And there would be a drawing near to God and then a pushing away…A drawing near and a pushing away. All the while Phil was there trying to coax me along, helping me over the trouble spots. It took quite a while for me to be born again. For a long time, I just wasn’t ready to be born. But the Lord kept calling me. I’m so thankful that God is persistent.
Zoey wasn’t ready to be born for a long time either. Her poor mama was in labor for eighteen hours. During that time, what really impressed me was how very much her parents loved her. What they were willing to go through just to bring her into this world is a testament to the love they have for her – even before she was born.
Scripture says that “While we were still sinners Christ loved us.” “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV) That’s how God showed His love for us. He loved me first, and He loved me fully and with His life. He loved you first – fully and with His life.
Again, the spiritual implications have just blown me away. Seeing what these earthly parents were willing to go through…seeing their love in action – love that is so imperfect compared to the love of God, love that is so shallow compared to the love of God – seeing that gave me a glimpse of how very much God loves His children.
Extravagant Love – How Can I Ever Be Afraid of the Future?
He not only forms each of us in our mother’s womb, miraculously creates us so that we can breathe air the instant we leave the womb – He not only created us for our first birth, He then bought us back after we had sold ourselves into slavery. He paid the price so that we could be born a second time – free from the condemnation and ultimate consequence of our sins. Christ’s suffering on the cross was another sort of birth pains, another sort of labor pains. He hung on the cross while God heaped the sins of the world upon Him…so that I could be set free from those sins…so that I could live not just 70 or 80 or 90 years here on earth, but for eternity.
That’s love in action.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him, whoever hopes and trusts in Him, should not perish but would have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
“But God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Well, there’s one other thing that I experienced that day that is so over the top it has led me to ask – it has held me in the place of asking – with the Apostle Paul, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) In other words – “Since God loves us so incredibly, how can I ever be afraid of the future?”
“This One’s Ours”
I’ve never been a baby person. Phil and I are childless by choice. Shortly after Zoey was born I sent pictures to Phil and he said “Sandy, All babies look alike.” And I said, “I know…but this one’s different.” The truth is that I was experiencing so much love for Zoey and I couldn’t figure out why. I just knew that “this one’s different.” Not different in terms of her outward beauty – she’s a baby. Yes, she’s an adorable baby, but objectively, she’s just a baby like any other baby. But there was nothing objective about Zoey. Somehow she was different. It took a while for me to verbalize it, but when Phil said “All babies look alike” I knew what it was. This baby – baby Zoey – is different and the way she’s different is that she is ours.
“This one is ours.” That’s the phrase that kept going through my mind. “This one is ours.” It is impossible to put into words the full implication of that phrase, but it embodies a fierce love and protectiveness and so much more. “This one is ours.”
Now Zoey is not mine in any sense of the word. I’m the great aunt that lives a couple thousand miles away. (Or put more specifically, a thousand dollars away, because that’s about what it costs to visit her (oh – and her mom and dad and other family members.) By the time she’s 16, I’ll be lucky if I see her a dozen times. And given my lousy track record for sending packages, she’ll be lucky to get a dozen packages from me.
Still, I couldn’t get the phrase out of my mind… “This one is ours.”
And God continued to impress upon me His great, great love for us. That He looks down…or over…Scripture says He’s with us all the time, so it’s not really a looking down. But God looks at us and says “this one is mine.” “This one is mine.” “I created that one,” He says, “and I went to great lengths to buy her back.” “She’s mine.”
And I’m blown away.
How much does that God love me, and how much would a God like that protect me, lead me and care for me? A God who has already done what he’s done, gone through what He’s gone through for my birth – how far would He go to help me? And knowing that He feels toward me much the same way I feel toward Zoey, only to a significantly greater degree than I feel toward Zoey – He says “This one’s mine” – knowing that, how can I ever be afraid? How can I ever not trust Him?
Leaving Me is Not in His DNA – He Can’t Do It
Zoey, about one day old
Scripture says He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). I don’t think He can, even if he wanted to. He doesn’t want to, but I don’t think he could leave us or forsake us even if He wanted to. Is there anything God can’t do? That’s a question theologians can argue, but I don’t think He can leave us or forsake us. Because He looks down and says “This one’s mine.”
Long ago the LORD said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself. (Jeremiah 31:3, NLT)
“This one’s mine.”
If God is For Us…
A few days after returning home, I came to Romans 8 in my Bible reading. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Let me translate it in light of my recent experience and all of Scripture – “if God who loves us so passionately – if the God who looks at me and says ‘This one’s mine’ – if that God is for me – and we know He is – what does it matter if anyone else is against me?”
Friends, every time I feel overwhelmed or scared for the future, I return to that moment when I realized that God says “This one’s mine” and I am filled with peace and joy.
If you’ve trusted Jesus as your Savior, you’re His, too. He rejoices over you. Rejoice in Him. And rest in His peace knowing He will never leave you and He will move heaven and earth for you.
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Posted by Sandy in Blessed Life, Christian Living, Experiencing God, joy, Trusting God, tags: 2 Corinthians, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Jeremiah, joy, Psalm, Romans, Zephaniah
Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful.
2 Corinthians 13:11a (NLT)
As I put the finishing touches on my last blog, I went to back to Scripture and looked up verses with the words “be joyful” in them. I found a lot of reasons for which we can be joyful. I didn’t think they belonged in the previous blog – that one seemed to be more restful than instructive. So let me follow it up with this list of reasons to be joyful.
Let me first say that there are many reasons people don’t allow themselves to experience joy. Guilt and fear are two of the most prominent.
- Guilt that you are experiencing joy and others aren’t, guilt that you’re taking the time to experience joy when you should be doing any of a number of things, or guilt over anything the enemy can convince you to feel guilty about.
- Fear that the joy will be taken away from you, fear that you have made a mistake (and therefore shouldn’t be relaxing in the joy), fear of living in general, or fear of anything the enemy can convince you to be afraid of.
My goal is to remind us that God wants us to be joyful and to identify some specific things that He’s told us to be joyful about. I want to open the door for the Holy Spirit to remove the guilt or fear that keeps you from experiencing joy, as well as open some new doors to rooms in which perhaps you’ve never experienced joy before.
Be Joyful for Holidays and Take Joy in Them
Be joyful at your Feast–you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns.
Deuteronomy 16:14 (NIV)
It may seem that I’m stretching this a bit, and perhaps I am, but in the Old Testament God established and commanded a series of feasts throughout the year. They had different purposes, but many were simply celebrations of God’s goodness and provision. Most Christians do not celebrate the Old Testament feasts. (I do not but think it would be a fascinating year if I were to incorporate all the feasts – and I’m guessing I would greatly benefit from it. If this interests you, the best approach may be to find a Messianic congregation to become a part of. Don’t be shy – go for it!)
I think we can extend the spirit of the feasts to recognize that God has given us times of rest and rejoicing and that we should be joyful in those. As I read about the Old Testament feasts, they seem like holy vacations that the Israelites were commanded to take each year! Vacations! Holidays! And they were commanded to take them! And they were to rejoice in them.
Incorporating the Lord in your next vacation is another blog waiting to be written, but suffice it to say in this blog that you can enjoy your vacations! Take them responsibly (that is, don’t spend the money for your next mortgage payment on them), then enjoy them.
Be Joyful in Your Success
Seven days you shall celebrate a feast to the LORD your God in the place which the LORD chooses, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.
Deuteronomy 16:115 (NIV)
You will enjoy the fruit of your labor. How joyful and prosperous you will be!
Psalm 128:2 (NLT)
We’re not to be prideful when we’ve completed a job well and when we are successful, but we are to take joy in it. “God will bless…all the work of your hands so that you will be altogether joyful.” God blesses us for many reasons, but this verse tells us that one of those reasons is to increase our enjoyment of life – to increase our joy. So don’t feel guilty about your success. Enjoy it!
Experience the Joy of God’s Protection and His Refuge
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy.
Psalm 5:11 (NLT)
We can have joy because we know – we know – that God is our defender. When it seems like the world is against us, we can be joyful in God – in the One who knows us best and defends. In the one who says “that one is mine.”
We can look for the adventure because God will work it out. He will come riding in on a white horse and save us. What joy that will be! That’s the shouting kind of joy.
In the meantime, He gives us a place of refuge and we can rejoice in that. That’s the quiet, inner peace kind of joy.
Be Joyful in God’s Salvation
And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD;
It shall rejoice in His salvation.
Psalm 35:9 (NKJV)
So the ransomed of the LORD will return And come with joyful shouting to Zion, And everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Isaiah 51:11 (NASB)
God has saved you. Rejoice in His love and in your salvation. Don’t just celebrate, meditate on it so that you experience the joy of freedom that is possible through the salvation He has given you. We have been ransomed! We were slaves to sin. Christ paid the ransom to set us free. That’s how much He loves us. Rejoice! Be joyful!
Be Joyful in Knowing that God will Rescue You
25:10 [The Lord says:] “I will take away your happy singing and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard. Your millstones will fall silent, and the lights in your homes will go out.”
33:10“This is what the LORD says: You have said, ‘This is a desolate land where people and animals have all disappeared.’ Yet in the empty streets of Jerusalem and Judah’s other towns, there will be heard once more 11the sounds of joy and laughter. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will be heard again, along with the joyous songs of people bringing thanksgiving offerings to the LORD. They will sing, ‘Give thanks to the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, for the LORD is good. His faithful love endures forever!’ For I will restore the prosperity of this land to what it was in the past, says the LORD.
Jeremiah 25:10 , 33:10-11 (NLT)
No matter what you’ve done or where you have been exiled – God will rescue you because you are His. No matter how dark your situation seems today, God will turn it around. Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning – and there’s always a morning after every night.
Be Joyful Knowing that You Are Loved
The LORD your God is with you; the mighty One will save you. He will rejoice over you. You will rest in his love; he will sing and be joyful about you.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NCV)
For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)
Not only can we take joy in God’s salvation – or rather, the salvation He has given us – we can be joyful knowing the joy He takes in us. We sing in worship to the Lord. We sing for joy when life is good. God sings for joy about us! Wow! The Creator of the Universe rejoices over me. I am blown away by that.
Be Joyful Because You Have Hope
Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times.
Romans 12:12 (NCV)
There is no such thing as hopeless for the one who Trusts in Christ. We always have hope. Always. And that’s reason enough to rejoice. As I said earlier, we can experience life as an adventure, watching with anticipation to see how God is going to come through in the current challenge…and the next one and the next one.
Friends joy need not be an elusive thing for the believer. When our hearts, minds and spirits are focused on these things, we can have joy – abundant joy. It’s part of the “abundant life” package God has given us.
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Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.
2 Corinthians 13:11 (NLT)
The closing of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was part of my reading this morning, and I was arrested by these words. They are words I needed to hear.
“Be joyful” he wrote. He didn’t write “try to be joyful.” He wrote “be joyful.” This has been a year of hard work for me. We have been so busy in our office that nearly our whole life has been about work. Every other area of my life has suffered except for my personal relationship with God and with Phil. OK, maybe they have suffered, too. They are still solid, but I recognize that I am missing those special times that keep them solid. Phil and I haven’t had a nice dinner together in quite a while.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re thankful for the work. Last year was an exceedingly slow year for us, so God is using this busy time to pay our bills and fill up our depleted reserves. He is providing and we are thankful. But am I joyful? Well, in all honesty, I am probably more tired.
I feel like my life has become too “business” and “busy-ness” and joyful has been put aside a bit. Lord, help me to be joyful.
As I write that, the question that immediately pops into my head is…how do I do that? Is it another thing I have to work at? And the answer comes…well – yes and no. Our joy comes from the Lord, but we must position ourselves to receive it. Metaphorically speaking, we must put our hands out to receive the gift of joy that He wants to give us. OK, how do I do that?
- Rest in Him – Enjoy the gift of the Sabbath He’s commanded. OK, I’ve been falling down on that a bit. On those Sundays when I minister at nursing homes, I’m not setting aside another day to practice a Sabbath. God uses the Sabbath to refresh us and open our spirits to Him.
- Ask for it – During a recent Bible study one of the topics of conversation was an encouragement for us to ask God for what we want. So often we just wish for something. We are to ask. We are to ask in faith and persistence. Lord, help me return to your joy!
- Look for it – We find what we look for – that was the subject of my last blog. Sometimes I forget to look for joy. If I want to find it, I need to look for God’s joy – the way my dog jumps and spins around in the air, the way plants grow from little seeds to sprouts to vegetables or flowers or trees, the intricate pattern of a spider’s web, the smile on my husband’s face, the feel of the warmth of the sun or cool of the morning. Those are all kisses of joy from the Father. Am I looking for those things and pausing to appreciate those things, to allow them to restore my joy?
- Rest in Him – Yes, I’m repeating this one. It’s hard to find joy when you’re overtired. I believe that the creativity God has given each of us is a little corner of His joy. Resting in Him restores our creativity.
There’s a whole lot more in Paul’s closing remarks, but it feels to me like pursuing the next thought would cause me to lose this one. And for me, this first thought is enough for today. Perhaps it is for you as well. Do you need to experience more joy? I do. Will you join me in pursuing it? Don’t let life keep you from finding it.
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I was watching a video clip of the Christian comedian Jeanne Robertson [http://www.jeannerobertson.com/] the other day and she said something that has stuck with me. What she said was “You find what you’re looking for.”
You find what you’re looking for.
If you’re looking for a fight…you’ll find one, right? You know why? Because your attitude will bring on confrontation.
If you’re looking for someone to make a mistake, they will. You know why? Because that person is human! And because you’re watching for the mistakes, you won’t see the hundred things they do right…but you will see the one thing they do wrong.
What a sad state! It’s made even sadder by the consequences it brings. In your life it leads to becoming disappointed in those around us and leads to a life of discouragement, bitterness and depression. All because you were looking for someone to make a mistake. In the lives of others, it also brings discouragement and frustration. Even if they are emotionally strong enough to realize they aren’t inferior because someone keeps finding fault with them, their life is less enjoyable because they still have to be around those who criticize. If they are not so emotionally strong, you may just convince them that they are a failure. I’ll repeat myself…what a sad state.
I don’t want to live that way, although I confess to sometimes being that person.
I agree with Jeanne Robertson – we find what we’re looking for. So why not look for the good? Why not look for the good in our circumstances and in people? Zig Ziglar called this being a “good finder” – find the good in people and circumstances and respond to that. Scripture puts it a different way –
Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected.
Philippians 4:8 (NCV)
If we think about these things, we won’t be looking for a fight. We won’t be looking for someone to make a mistake. We’ll be looking for things to praise. We’ll be looking for things that are good and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respectable. We’ll see the good in people and circumstances.
Scripture says that all of us are created in the image of God. So if I say “well, that person is no good” what am I saying? I’m calling God a liar. Because the truth is that God has put goodness in each of us.
Now He’s also given each of us a free will – that is, a choice – of whether to pursue that goodness or to pursue things of the world. But as believers – those who have chosen to pursue God with our whole hearts – our job is to encourage others to make the same choice – to choose to pursue God.
What commission has Jesus given us? To go and tell everyone about Him – to encourage others to follow Him. To help them find the goodness He has for them. (Scripture tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from Him.)
We can’t others find the goodness of God unless we’ve found it – the goodness He has given us and the goodness He has placed all around us. And we don’t find that when we’re looking for a fight or looking for mistakes.
In 2 Corinthians 5, we read that the devil has blinded the minds of those who do not believe. They cannot see the light of the Good News – the Good News about the glory of Christ.
They can’t find God because of the darkness that surrounds them. But God has made His light shine in the hearts of those who follow Him – that light is the knowledge of the glory of God. It is knowing Jesus and the joy and protection and love and help and comfort that He gives. Knowing Jesus changes us…but only if we allow it. He puts that light in our heart – but if we want, we can still choose to look for the darkness – look for a fight or for someone to make a mistake. But God says “Let the light shine out of the darkness.”
Jesus described us as “the light of the world.”
14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)
We’re not being that light when we’re telling others what they’ve done wrong. We’re being the light when we’re showing them the joy that is in us.
Now if you’re like me, there are days when you wake up and it’s hard to find that joy and it’s hard not to be critical of everyone around us. It’s at those times that we need to take a deep breath and ask God to work through us – because we just can’t do it ourselves. We can’t be the person who shows Jesus to the world because all we want to do is complain. I’ve been there. Sometimes it seems like I’m there every morning.
The Apostle Paul understood that. Continuing in 2 Corinthians 5, he wrote this:
“We have this treasure from God – that is, knowing Him, knowing His goodness, having seen His glory – we have this treasure, but we are like clay jars that hold the treasure.” In other words, we’re not up to the task of holding this valuable treasure.
It’s like putting a precious diamond on string around your neck. There’s something wrong with that picture! A precious diamond belongs in a beautiful gold setting. Or it’s like serving the most expensive and tasty meal on paper plates! No, they deserve to be served on fine china!
But God has entrusted the Good News – which really should be called the Best News – the news that Jesus is alive and that He loves us and offers His forgiveness in exchange for our love – He is serving that rich, delicious nugget on a paper plate – and we’re the plates!
He has chosen the simple to confound the wise. We’re the simple. He has chosen the poor to teach the rich. We’re the poor. He has chosen us – with all our faults and weaknesses. He has placed the treasure of knowing Him in clay jars.
Why would He do that? Paul gives us the reason – to show “that the great power is from God, not from us.”
On our own, we can’t be the person who always thinks on good things, things that are worthy of praise, things that are true and honorable and pure and beautiful. Because in our own strength, sometimes we’re the people who just want to complain.
But the beauty of knowing God is that we don’t live life on our own. At those times, we turn to God, who has put His Holy Spirit in us, and we say “Lord, live your life through me. Lord, help me show your light to others. Lord, Your word says that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Give me strength now, Lord.”
It’s only with the help of the Holy Spirit that Paul was able to write the verses that follow:
8We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We do not know what to do, but we do not give up the hope of living. 9We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed. 10We carry the death of Jesus in our own bodies so that the life of Jesus can also be seen in our bodies. 11We are alive, but for Jesus we are always in danger of death so that the life of Jesus can be seen in our bodies that die.
>2 Corinthians 5:8-11
In this life we will have troubles. With the Holy Spirit in us, we are not defeated. In this life there are times when we don’t know what to do – there are times when everything seems hopeless – but in God, we don’t give up because we have Christ in us, the hope of glory.
Paul continued in verse 16:
16So we do not give up. Our physical body is becoming older and weaker, but our spirit inside us is made new every day. 17We have small troubles for a while now, but they are helping us gain an eternal glory that is much greater than the troubles.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17
Our spirit inside us is made new every day. No matter what’s happening with our bodies on the outside, our spirits are renewed every day. God’s mercies are new every morning. So every morning, we return to Him and say “God, help me today. Help me to find Your goodness and help me shine the love of Jesus to those around me.”
I started this article with the quote from Jeanne Robertson – we find what we look for. Jeremiah 29, verses 13 and 14 say that “‘When you look for me, you will find me when you look for me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.”
God promises that you will find what you’re looking for when you’re looking for Him. What a great and compassionate and merciful God we serve. He promises that we will find Him when we look for Him with our whole heart.
The Apostle Paul ends our passage in 2 Corinthians 5 with this encouragement:
We set our eyes not on what we see but on what we cannot see. What we see will last only a short time, but what we cannot see will last forever.
What we see, friends, is all the hardship around us. What we see are troubles. What we see are people making mistakes that affect us. God tells us to lift our eyes – look for the good – look for Him – every moment of every day. When you do, your world will change. Yes, all the difficulties will still be there, but what fills your mind will be those things that are good and beautiful and worthy of praise. Your heart will be filled with joy because your mind is set on what we cannot see just yet – our eternity with a compassionate and merciful God. Friends, think on these things – that which is true and honorable and right and pure. Set your mind on Jesus.
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Confess your sin to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
James 5:16 (NLT)
Does your prayer life prove that you believe that verse? Wow! That’s a great question! I’ve written the rest of this article and come back to focus on the introduction. I am challenged by the question the Holy Spirit communicated to my typing fingers. Because I surely didn’t ask the question! Does my prayer life reveal that I believe that verse or does it reveal a lack of faith (or obedience) to God’s Truth?
I desperately want it to be the former, but I know that I am not where I want to be. Despite my disciplined approach to prayer, I know that my prayer life doesn’t always get my focused, impassioned attention. Lord, help me be the woman You want me to be!
No condemnation here, folks, just challenge by the Holy Spirit to improve our prayer life. It’s time to up our game! I want my life to be characterized by effective prayer. For that to be the case, I need to be disciplined to develop a prayer life that is focused and passionate.
I find that a disciplined approach to prayer helps me regularly pray for the things that are most important to me. There are many ways to accomplish this and one is not necessarily better than another. What’s best is what works for you! I find, though, that many people approach prayer in a helter-skelter method, and while all prayer is good I want to be sure that I regularly pray for those things God has given me the responsibility to pray for.
Lists are My Friend
I add discipline into my prayer life by using lists. I begin most days at a computer – either the one on my office desk or on my laptop. I start by reading Scripture and praying. I use a spreadsheet to track my reading and prayers. The spreadsheet has one screen that mirrors our Treasure Seeking in God’s Word schedule of reading through the Bible in 2014. It includes another page that lists the things I want to pray for on a regular basis. There are too many of them to pray for each day, so I’ve broken them down into four groups:
Immediate Family – This first grouping represents things I want to pray for every day. It includes my husband, my mom, myself and various specific areas of my life – my business, Apprehending Grace Ministries, my husband’s job at a local hospital and the nursing homes we minister in. Next to each one is a phrase reminding me what I want to pray. For example, next to the hospital I’ve written “blessing those he touches.” This reminds me that I want to pray that Phil is a blessing – that God uses him in his position. The reminder keeps me from succumbing to the temptation to pray only for earth-bound things like better work schedules and policies. Next to Apprehending Grace I’ve written “Direction, blessing readers.” Again, the phrase is meant to focus and lift my prayers. I don’t want to pray “Lord, help me find time to write a blog today.” I want to pray “Lord, let my readers be blessed by what I’ve written. May the words on the screen help them to draw near to You.” Further, the word “direction” always keeps before me that I want Apprehending Grace Ministries to be more than just this blog. It’s easy to get bogged down in every day life and forget that God has more for all of us. I want to pray into the “more.”
Extended Family – This list includes my siblings, their spouses, my nieces and nephews and their spouses, and my great nieces and nephews. It also includes the employees of our business. There are nineteen people on this list. At this stage of my life, that’s too many for me to pray for each day, so I pray for two or three of them each day. That means I am individually and specifically praying for each person about once a week. As I pray for them, I write their name on the top of my To Do list for that day. That helps me to see their name repeatedly throughout the day and lift them up in prayer.
Weekly Bible Study Members – Phil and I lead a church service at two different nursing homes each month. At one of them, we also lead a weekly Bible study. It’s been going on for about two years and is such a rewarding experience. I’ve listed all those who periodically attend our study because I want to pray for them regularly. I want our studies to have impact. I want to see God change their lives. And I want to remember to praise Him when we see that change taking place. This list varies in size but there are currently fifteen names on it. I pray for one or two of them each day, so each person is getting specific, individual prayer about once a week.
Church Family & Friends – This list includes my pastors and their spouses along with other church and ministry leaders. It also includes friends who don’t appear any of the other lists. Currently there are about fifteen names on this list and I pray for one or two of them each day.
Other Current Needs – When I’ve promised to pray for someone or something for an extended period of time, I add it to this list.
Other lists you might have:
Leaders and Authorities – Your local, state and federal government leaders. For a period of time, we were involved in a local prayer group that prayed specifically for our community. During that time I had a list that included local officials by name and/or position as well as organizations like fire department, police department, library, local businesses, the mall, etc. (During that time, the crime rate fell tremendously in our community .)
Missionaries – If you are a strong supporter of missionaries, you might have a separate list for individual missionaries and missionary organizations.
Culture – Are you called to stand in the gap for our culture? If so, you would have a list that included various aspects of the entertainment industry, business culture, parenting in America, the Church and it’s influence, etc.
Salvations – There have been times in my life when I had a specific list of people I was praying for to come to know Christ. It’s a great list to have, and a “must have” for those with a heart for souls.
The Nations – Some are called to pray for every nation or for specific continents. Creating a list for them ensures you don’t forget any.
You can use any logical grouping to make separate lists so that each person, topic, organization or situation that God lays on your heart is prayed for on a regular basis. The key is to keep the lists small enough so that you work through them on a regular basis, given the amount of time you have to spend in prayer each day.
There’s Plenty of Room for the Spirit
Some people take exception to such an organized approach to prayer. They say I should just be led by the Spirit. I would say that am led by the Spirit – in at least three ways.
First, as I pray for each person, I am led by the Spirit to pray for that person’s needs. I am sometimes surprised at what I’ve prayed for someone, but assume that there is something going on in their life (that God knows about but I don’t) and the Spirit was leading me to pray into that situation.
Secondly, I am not bound by my list. When someone or something comes to mind I pause to pray for them. Additionally, I am not bound by the order of the names in the list. While I track who I have prayed for to ensure each person gets covered, each morning I scan each list to see who or what catches my eye. If they haven’t been prayed for in the current rotation, I pray for them. (And if they have been prayed for but I feel an urging to do so, I pray for them again.)
Thirdly, I add and remove lists as I am led to do so. I’ve changed the organization of my list as my life and ministry have changed. I change the names and topics on each list periodically. (See “Taking Someone/Something Off the List” below.)
The truth is that without my lists, the things and people that I tend to think about the most would receive the most prayer. Conversely, the people and things I think about the least would receive the least amount of prayer – and in many cases, they’re they very things and people who need the most prayer. Yet I believe my prayer can change their lives – even if I rarely see them or talk with them. So I discipline myself by organizing my prayer life using lists.
Having the lists helps me be consistent with praying for all people and things that are important to me. Additionally, the things on the lists are things that God has given me some degree of responsibility for and authority in the spiritual realm for. If He has laid something or someone on your heart, He has given you the responsibility to pray for them and in giving you that responsibility He has given you a degree of authority in the spiritual realm. Don’t neglect your responsibility or the authority God has given you.
I use a computer spreadsheet because it fits my lifestyle. In the past I’ve used notebooks, index cards or old business cards. Use whatever works for you. I liked business cards because they were small and allowed me to put only 1 name on each card. That helped me focus on each name. You could use small pieces of color coded construction paper. (I am actually like that idea – maybe it’s time for a switch for me.)
I have a shorter version of my spreadsheet lists on my iPhone so that on those days when my routine is scrambled, I at least pray for the people and things on my daily list.
The important thing is to match your method to your lifestyle. When your lifestyle changes, don’t hesitate to change your method of adding discipline to your prayer life. I walk our dog about about once a day and have been wondering if I should transition my prayer time into the time I spend walking the dog or if I should just keep that as a time of enjoying the walk. So far, I find that I’m too distracted during our walks to pray effectively, but if that changes, my method for tracking my prayers will change.
Keeping it Passionate
For prayer to be effective, it must have that element of passion or earnestness. I’ll admit that having a list brings the temptation to simply look at the list, think a few sentence prayers and consider it done. That kind of prayer doesn’t honor God or the person I’m praying for. And it doesn’t demonstrate that I believe God’s Word. There are a number of things I do to keep my prayers focused and passionate.
Tracking – Since I use a spreadsheet, I color code each cell after I have prayed for the person. Somehow, the action of changing the color of the cell provides a check in my spirit asking “have you really prayed for that person?” So not only does tracking help me remember each person or situation, it helps me pray earnestly for them.
Combining Scripture reading with prayer – Often I try to incorporate whatever I’ve read that morning with my prayer that day. For example, yesterday I read about how God told Joshua to divide up the land among the Israelites – and He told him to do this before they had actually conquered the land! I don’t know that I had ever noticed that before. God was treating the land they would eventually conquer as if it was already theirs! As believers, that’s how we’re to live – apprehending the promises in God’s Word and living as if we already have the fulfillment of them. So for each person on my list yesterday, I prayed that they would live in awareness of all that God has done for them and given them and that they would grab hold of life – the life He has for them – with joy and confidence. Now my list yesterday included an infant, a young adult, a couple of middle-paged adults and two rather confused elderly people. Yet the prayer is appropriate for all of them. I am praying into the infant’s future and for the adults’ present. Even the confused elderly people can experience joy and confidence in the Lord.
Writing or typing out your prayers – This takes a bit longer, but it ensures that you are truly focusing on each person or item on your list. It’s not necessary to write complete sentences; sometimes simply writing phrases helps you focus.
Refocusing as you move from one list to the next – Think of moving from one list to another as shifting gears in a car with a manual transmission. Shifting requires a specific action as you move to the next gear and it’s important to do it when the time is right.
As you move from list to list, don’t rush or delay it. Linger in prayer if you feel so led, or be comfortable moving on when you’ve prayed sufficiently. Don’t be time bound – sometimes my prayers are thirty seconds and sometimes several minutes. Move to the next list when the time is right.
Let your specific action be praising God – if you get into the practice of praising God as you move from list to list, you will build up your faith as you pray and bless God. And your prayer time will be more enjoyable. This is an important step. Sometimes praying for a specific person drains our faith. Perhaps their situation seems so hopeless or we’ve been praying for them for so long that we are tempted to doubt that God will ever change them. Our praise will allows us to focus on the next list with faith instead of defeat.0
Carrying the day’s list with you –Rewriting the name or items from your list onto another sheet of paper that you carry in your pocket or put on your refrigerator or monitor helps you remember the requests throughout the day.
Taking Someone Off the List
OK, taking someone off the list can be a bit traumatic. For example, when my dad died, I had to physically delete his name from my prayer list. Ouch! I couldn’t do it immediately. So I kept him on my daily list and used it as an opportunity to thank God for my dad and praise Him for saving my dad and one day allowing us to see one another again. What started out as painful became very healing until I was OK with removing dad’s name from my prayer list. Still, it was hard to hit the delete key, but God had made it possible – I could do it without breaking into little pieces.
There are times when you feel led to remove a name or situation from your list that hasn’t yet been resolved. I’m all for perseverance in prayer, but there have also been times when I sense from God that it is OK to drop an issue from my regular prayer life. There are a number of reasons this may be the case. Perhaps it is an issue you can’t pray for effectively because your emotions are too impacted. I’m not suggesting you drop something from your prayer list simply because it’s hard to pray for it – got may be using it to train you. For example, you may have great conflict with a family member and become angry every time you see their name on your prayer list. It’s generally not a good thing to be praying through your list when you’re angry, so their presence on your list is disruptive. It might be so tempting to drop them. It’s more likely that God wants to teach you about forgiveness. Don’t drop a name easily. But when you can remove yourself from the emotion and hear clearly from God that their name should be dropped, do so without guilt.
Remember, when you are following the Lord’s leading, there is no guilt. Don’t allow satan to throw that on you. Actually, he’ll try. You have to be diligent not to catch it.
Sometimes dropping an item from your list is an act of faith. You’ve become so confident through your praying that God has worked the situation out that you simply do not feel the need to pray with laser guided prayer. So you move the item to a list where it will be prayed for less frequently or you drop it from the list all together, knowing you’ll still remember it in prayer occasionally. What a freeing thing this is! God has done it! Remember to celebrate as you remove the thing from your list.
Regardless of the reason, when you feel the Lord leading you away from praying for a specific person or situation, don’t feel guilty about dropping them from your list. Take a bit of time to ensure that it’s God and not simply your own boredom or frustration. If it’s God, trust that He’s put that person or situation on someone else’s list and walk in freedom and faith.
I Want to Impact Lives through My Prayers – I Want My Prayers to be Effective
Wanting doesn’t make it so. Praying makes it so. Praying specifically for people and things makes it so. Praying with passion makes it so. Praying consistent with Scripture makes it so.
None of that comes naturally to me. The apostle Paul wrote that he disciplined his body “like an athlete, training it to do what it should.” (1 Corinthians 9:27, NLT) My prayer lists are my way of disciplining my mind and spirit to pray for the people and things God has given me responsibility to pray for.
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Posted by Sandy in Attitude, Blessed Life, Christian Living, Confidence in God, Experiencing God, Forgiveness, Frustration, God's Faithfulness, God's priorities, grace, Intimacy with God, joy, patience, Patience/Impatience, prayer, Reading the Bible, Routine, Sabbath, Trials, Trusting God
God created each of us uniquely – we’re all wired differently. When life causes those wires to get twisted, things inside us begin to go haywire. A few days and we’re just a little out of sorts. A week or two and satan is there at our side ready to capture us with temptations to return to old sinful patterns or try new ones. I’m sure you’ve been there. Too much work, too many crises, too much isolation or too little adventure and you’re ready to jump at change.
Usually that change isn’t following God. Yes, God can bring us to a state of holy discontent which launches us into a new ministry or new level of intimacy with Him. A holy discontent isn’t the same as a life that has gone haywire.
Whether we like to admit it or not, it is routine (which sometimes become tradition) which grounds us, and it is that grounding that we need when our wires get jumbled.
This morning, I returned to my Saturday morning pattern of sitting in my reclining chair alone with God. For a number of years, I have reserved my Saturday mornings for time with God. It was His idea – He began waking me up early on the only day of the week I could sleep in. And I love to sleep in. At first I was frustrated every week when I awoke early no matter what time I went to bed Friday night. Eventually I remembered one of my life rules – if something out of the ordinary happens repeatedly and it’s not sin, it must be God! It’s not rocket science, but sometimes I’m a bit slow at recognizing the hand of God.
So I started getting up when God woke me and going to my reclining chair, sitting, reading, writing and praying. It had become such a special time each week.
Then life got really crazy. I remained consistent with reading and praying throughout the week, but I missed my Saturday mornings with God.
This morning, after taking the dog for a walk, I am back in my reclining chair with my laptop. Ahhhh….I feel grounded in a way I haven’t for a couple of months. Simply being here, reading, writing, and praying has calmed me in a way I’ve been missing. That’s what grounding is. It takes the negative sparks of energy and dissipates them. Ahhhhh…..
My daily reading and prayer ground me, but they are more of a maintenance level grounding. My Saturday mornings are my reboot and refresh level grounding.
Each of us is grounded by many things throughout the day. Here’s just a few of things other than Bible reading and prayer that ground me throughout the day:
- I like to stir my tea. Most people stir their coffee or tea or hot chocolate once and then take the spoon out and drink their tea. I leave my spoon in and before I take each sip I stir my tea. The motion of stirring the tea is very calming for me.
- I pause to kiss my husband and tell him how important he is to me.
- I stop what I’m doing and evaluate my to-do list and schedule. That causes my husband stress. It grounds me.
- I take a dance break when a great song comes on the radio at work. (Fortunately, I am not subjecting coworkers to my dancing. Typically I am working alone or with my husband in our basement office.)
How about you? What is it that grounds you? Perhaps a date with your husband or dinner as a family are things that calm your world. Maybe it’s reading a good book before bed or exercising or cooking or cleaning. (Man, I wish cleaning calmed me. It doesn’t.) Maybe it’s snuggling with your children at night or sitting on the porch in the morning with your Bible and coffee. It’s important to take time to do the things that bring calm into your life.
It’s critically important that connecting with God be a part of your grounding. There are a number of ways to do that:
- Read your Bible and pray daily. This daily connection with God, even if it is shorter on some days than on others, keeps you grounded on a regular basis. It needs to be enhanced by those weekly, more intense times with Him, but it provides a minimal safety net when life goes crazy. If I had not maintained this pattern over the past few months of craziness, I can’t imagine how off-kilter I would be today.
- Meet with God’s people regularly – go to church! Some think that attending a regular Bible study is a substitute for church. I would caution against that. There are few Bible studies that provide the corporate worship experience that a church gathering does. That experience includes worshiping together with other believers and being inspired and instructed through His Word. Each one of those activities are part of our grounding with God. Each provides a different interaction with Him. Most Bible studies provide fellowship and study, lacking intimate worship and inspiration.
- Enjoy a weekly Sabbath. God created and commanded the Sabbath for many reasons, but one of them is as a gift to His children – a gift of time set aside to reconnect with Him – to become fully grounded before facing the world for another week. Read more about the Sabbath and the joy of keeping it in my series of blogs that start with this one.
For me, the above three activities are non-negotiable for staying grounded in God. Do I miss reading my Bible some days? Yes. Do I miss church some weeks? Yes. Do enjoy a weekly Sabbath every week? No. I’m not perfect in anything yet. Still, I protect each of those activities pretty fiercely, committing to them even when it’s inconvenient or I just plain don’t feel like it. Because God is faithful and will meet us when we make the sacrifice to meet with Him.
So, friends, I ask again: what is it that grounds you? Is God in the mix? Does He play a prominent enough role in your grounding routines? Let me encourage you to find those things that ground you, and especially those things that connect you to God, and make them part of your routine. Then fiercely guard those routines. Because life without grounding isn’t pretty or fun!
Symptoms that you need more grounding:
- Impatience – When I’m in the car and all the drivers around me seem to be out to get me or determined to make me late, I need more grounding.
- Quick to become annoyed or angry – When clients call with routine inquires and I get annoyed, I need more grounding.
- Always tired – When everything seems a chore because I’m just so tired, I need more grounding. (You might think it’s sleep that I need – it is – and when I’m well grounded, I sleep well.)
- Lacking in creativity – When I have no solutions to the challenges of life, I need more grounding. It means I’m just going through the emotions and grounding dissipates the negative energy and infuses us with positive energy. Positive energy brings creativity.
- Seeking escape – When all I can think about is getting away or vegging in front of the television after work, I need more grounding. Grounding is our escape and takes away the need for an escape.
- Always making excuses – That’s called sin. “The woman you gave me caused me to do it.” Those were Adam’s words to God after he also ate the fruit of the tree. He was blaming both his wife and God with that single statement. When I am well grounded, I am able to call sin “sin.” I am able to confess my sin to God and others and enjoy forgiveness and freedom.
If you looked at this list of symptoms and recognize that you experience many of them (and perhaps made excuses for why you experience them), you need more grounding in your life. Yes, your life is hectic and crazy; and yes, there may be others in your life that impact your ability to develop your grounding routines. But God – those magically inspiring words – but God can change that when you ground yourself and your life in Him. Find those grounding patterns, create those grounding patterns, and fiercely protect them.
You will be honoring God and He will honor you. You will begin to experience the peace that surpasses all understanding. Perhaps not tomorrow – because some of us need a major rewiring before we can become grounded – but God can and will do it! He’s that creative with solutions and He’s that good!
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14“So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD alone.
15But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua 24:14-15 (NLT)
What a crazy, crazy few weeks it’s been. Phil and I found ourselves in the middle of commitments at work that were a combination of poorly made agreements on my part and life just being life…only on steroids for some reason. All leading up to a seemingly hard deadline of a trip to visit my niece on the birth of her first child.
Well, I’m on the plane to visit that niece now. A day late and still without the deadline met (technically the due date is still about 5 days away, but with me gone, it’s not going to get met). Phil remains at home diligently making progress and I’ve had to explain missing a deadline to the customer. In the meantime, both Phil and I have been working crazy hours and sleeping little for the past three weeks.
It was all coming to a head yesterday as I tried to do some project planning with Phil. I kept using the wrong phrases when referring to different elements of the project. A few sentences in, I looked at him a bit discouraged and said “I’m sorry. I’m going crazy.”
His answer was simple and profound. “Well don’t. Going crazy is totally optional.”
“Going crazy is totally optional!”
It is, you know! Every day, in every situation, we choose how to respond. We choose love or hate. We choose compassion or turning a blind eye. We choose anxiety or trust. Going crazy is optional – we can choose to trust God instead.
Phil went on to point out to me that “going crazy” is really another form of worry. Ugh! And I thought I’d gotten so good at not worrying!
13When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.
Luke 4:13 (NLT)
Yep, the enemy had simply left me for a while – until the next opportunity came – the next time I was overworked and overtired. (It’s easy to give up worrying when life is going according to plan and I’ve been practicing so it’s becoming easy not to worry when faced with the “normal” level of things not going according to plans.) I’ve also gotten better at recognizing the signs of worry, enabling me to choose trust instead of worry. So I guess it only makes sense that the enemy would change his disguise and come at me looking like “craziness” (i.e., chaos) instead of worry.
But as Phil pointed out, “going crazy is totally optional!”
So I began to choose peace. I continued to work diligently but I added faith into the mix – I chose to trust God to enable me to complete the tasks or give me grace with clients. Or find me a new clients or a new job if this project causes me to lose all my current ones! After all – all provision comes from His hands and He promises to provide. I don’t want to limit Him by lacking faith that He will provide or by prescribing how He should do it.
You know what! It works! Yes, sometimes I have to remind myself every few minutes to grab ahold of faith instead of craziness. But when I do, I find that the peace of God settle around me. And I find that the need for those faith refreshers stretches from every moment to every few minutes…to every half hour…to every hour…to …
Friends, going crazy is totally optional! Will you join me in choosing peace? Will you join me in choosing to trust God? It is a wonderful way to live – and it honors God more than you think.
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We all face challenges – some small and some not-so-small. This morning I was praying through my prayer list and I finally came to my name. I took half a pause and then I guess the cry of my heart came out. “Lord, I’m trying so hard,” was my moaning prayer. Almost immediately, I heard His answer in my spirit – “Quit trying! Today, just be with Me.”
How peaceful that response was. How restful it was – and is. Just hearing it lifts a burden from my shoulders and my heart. Ahhhh.
There are some areas in my life in which I’m trying to be more like Christ than I’ve been in the past. I know that trying to be more like Christ honors and pleases God. I also know that there is a thin line that can be crossed when we are no longer pursuing God with our whole heart but are striving in our own strength. I guess I had crossed that line without realizing it.
God is so gracious and compassionate. The moment I went to Him with a heart-felt plea for help, He reached out and lifted me up. Yes, that’s what my prayer was – “Lord, I’m trying so hard” really meant “I’m tired and I don’t think I can do this. Will You help me?”
Friends, are you in a place like me? A place where life isn’t bad, but there are areas in which you’ve started working too hard to achieve what God has for you? If that describes you, hear the word of the Lord today – “Quit trying! Today, just be with Me.”
Notice that God is not saying “Give up.” I don’t even sense Him saying “Stop all your efforts. I’ll supernaturally transform you so that you don’t have to work at obedience and kindness and righteousness and all those other things I want you to be.” It means quit trying and enter into training – quit striving, enjoy God and persistently pursue those things that He puts before you.
Going into training is a conscious decision to slowly, persistently move toward the goal of winning or overcoming. In several of his letters, the Apostle Paul uses the analogy of running a race. Marathon runners don’t walk out their front door one day and run the marathon. They train, slowly increasing the distance they can run. They try different things to improve their distance and speed. Sometimes they rest between exertions and other times they push beyond what they think they can do.
We often approach spiritual growth more like stepping out the front door and trying to run the marathon. That’s a prescription for failure. That’s just “trying” to do it. The better approach is to enter training. In what area is God wanting you to become more like Christ? Identify that area and then set up a training plan. Try some different things to help you overcome your weak areas. Rest in Him when you don’t make as much progress as you’d like. Make an extra effort sometimes to push through to the next level.
Quit trying. Enjoy God! Enter training.
And while you do those things, stay in the Word and in study and fellowship with other believers. Last Wednesday evening our Bible Study group studied Galatians 5.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 (NIV)
We had a long discussion about how it can be so easy to fall into the wrong pattern of thinking that what we do makes us acceptable to God. It does not. Faith is what pleases God. Trusting in Christ is what makes us acceptable to God. In all honesty, I didn’t feel like our study had any significant impact on me at the time. But God used it to soften my heart and open my hearing so that when He was ready to speak, I would be ready to hear and respond. God’s lesson for me today – “Quit trying!” is directly related to the discussion we had on Wednesday night.
So, friends, make Bible study with friends a part of your training program. It is the vehicle He’ll often use to speak to you and/or prepare your heart to hear His voice.
God wants us to become more like Christ every day, but He doesn’t want us to become a slave again to the demands of religious expectations and traditions. (I’m a big fan of traditions – I’m not suggesting you abandon them – just don’t become enslaved to them. Don’t depend on them to make you acceptable to God. Remember, only faith makes you acceptable to God.)
Quit trying. Just enjoy God and continue your training.
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The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.”
I love being a New Testament Christian living in a time when we have embraced the tremendous love God has for us. I believe we have a greater understanding of intimacy with God than most people of previous generations.
Yet sometimes I wonder if we’ve embraced our freedom to approach His throne too whole-heartedly and abandoned the respect and holiness that the One who sits on the throne deserves and requires. The Lord told Moses that Aaron wasn’t to approach the Most Holy Place in whatever manner He desired. There were specific procedures that were to be followed.
3“This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.”
Leviticus 16:2-5 (NIV)
Aaron was to enter the presence of the Lord cleansed, wearing proper clothing, and with a sin offering and a burnt offering. I can’t help but see a correlation to how we ought to approach the Lord.
The Old Testament priests were to wash themselves before putting on their sacred garments. As New Testament believers, we are washed in the blood of Christ, which allows us to be clothed in His righteousness. We are cleansed of our sin by the blood of Jesus, the lamb who has already been slain for us. Because the wages of sin is death – that is, the price required to make atonement for the sin is death, the priests went into the sanctuary to shed the blood of the bull as an offering to cover their sin. Jesus shed His blood for our sins – the price has been paid for our sins.
We are no longer required to take a bull into the sanctuary and kill it. But we would do well to enter the sanctuary remembering that it has been done on our behalf. Such an attitude requires that we remember that we are sinners who are saved by grace. It means entering His presence in humility, asking for forgiveness for our sinful thoughts and actions of the previous week. It is only after we have accept God’s forgiveness that we are clothed in the sacred garments of the righteousness of Christ. It is from that position that we can come before His throne with boldness.
The priests also brought a burnt offering. The burnt offering was a complete offering — the entire offering was burned. It represents giving ourselves totally to God. To do less than that is not worthy of the great price He paid and is disrespectful. Yes, I fall far short of giving all I am to God, but I can enter His presence with the attitude in my heart that says “Yes, God. Here I am, send me. Whatever, whenever. Yes, God.” I know the reality is that when He asks me to do something we’re likely to have a conversation about it – which is a kind way of saying I don’t always respond with such enthusiasm and it may take a while for me to come around to the “Yes, God” action that matches the attitude. Nevertheless, I can have the attitude that I want to be fully and quickly obedient. The reality is that without the attitude, the action will never follow.
Entering God’s presence is about a whole lot more than songs that speak to our hearts and make us feel good. In truth, those songs are probably more about us and how we want to worship God than they are about God and how He wants us to worship Him. Don’t get me wrong. I love worship and I believe it pays a key role in preparing us to enter God’s presence. But I’m afraid that sometimes our focus is too centered on the enjoyment of the music than the proper attitude of our hearts.
Yes, let’s enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Let’s also approach His throne with boldness – while simultaneously entering His presence with appropriate reverence and humility and with a recognition of our sinfulness and His holiness. Both are God’s reality. They ought to be ours.
And I know that I am right to think like this about all of you, because I have you in my heart. All of you share in God’s grace with me while I am in prison and while I am defending and proving the truth of the Good News.
Philippians 1:7 (NCV)
What a relationship Paul had with the Philippians (and the Ephesians and the Colossians and so many others)! He writes in verse 7 that he carries the Philippians in his heart. Another translation reads like this: “You have a special place in my heart.”
Notice that there is a progression in verses 3 through 7. In verse 3, Paul begins by saying that he always remembers the Philippians and prays for them with thanksgiving and joy. Paul first has the Philippians in his remembrance – in his mind; what follows is that they are in his prayers; and he finishes by saying they are in his heart. While there are many reasons for the Philippians to hold a special place in God’s heart, I would suggest that keeping people in our minds and in our prayers leads to them having a special place in our hearts.
Have you ever tried to stay angry at someone you are regularly praying for? It’s pretty hard to do. God changes our hearts as we pray for others. He opens our eyes to what He sees in them, enabling us to pray with faith and confidence as Paul prayed for the Philippians – that God, who began a good work in the Philippians, was bringing it to completion. Seeing God working in someone and seeing the person He is creating them to be increases our appreciation of them and opens our hearts to loving them in a greater way – even when their current behavior isn’t consistent with the person God created them to be.
Is there someone you’re struggling with? Ask God to bring them to your mind frequently. As He does, commit to pray for them. God will change your heart toward them.
Here’s how Paul prayed for the Philippians:
9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV)
Wow! What a great prayer. Let’s break it down.
Paul prays that their love would “abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” What an interesting combination of elements – an overabundance and every growing degree of love combined with knowledge and insight. We often think that love is blind. Not the kind of love Paul prays for! Paul isn’t praying for love that sees no faults or dangers. He is praying for love with wisdom, love with discernment.
He is praying for that overabundance of love combined with knowledge and insight “so that [they] may be able to discern what is best.” Paul wants the Philippians to be able to make wise choices. He wants them to be “pure and blameless.” Some commentators suggest that Paul is praying for both their relationship with God – that it be pure – and their relationships with others – that they may be blameless or without offense. Both are the result of making right choices. Both are hallmarks of Christian maturity. Paul is praying that the Philippians become mature in their faith and actions.
And that maturity begins with love, not knowledge. It begins in love and is matured as love grows in knowledge and insight. Love is the cornerstone that holds knowledge in its place. Knowledge without love becomes pharisaical. It becomes rules and regulations. It becomes religion. It doesn’t lead to verse 11.
Paul prays for that love that grows in knowledge and insight, “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” It is only through Jesus that we have any righteousness before God. Our acts of service are as filthy rags if not done in the name and love of Jesus Christ. I can’t be good enough, no matter how much I do or how good I am, without the blood of Jesus. It is through Him that I can be pure and blameless. That abounding love and knowledge and insight takes me through the blood of Jesus in all I do.
“To the glory and praise of God.” When we love more, when we grow in maturity and make right choices – it is to God’s glory and praise. Which is pretty amazing. That we, puny humans that we are, have the awesome opportunity to bring the Creator of the Universe praise and glory! And it all starts in love and wise choices.
Here’s a wonderful secret – you can pray Paul’s prayers for yourself and loved ones, too. When I wake in the middle of the night and Phil is sleeping beside me…or he’s not because he can’t sleep for some reason…I pray Paul’s prayers over his life. I pray that his love would abound more and more in wisdom and depth of insight so that he can discern what is better and may make wise choices so that God would be glorified through his life.
When I’m in trouble, I’ll pray “Lord, I need more and more of your love to flow through me. Lord, may I grow in wisdom and insight. Lord, give me wisdom to make right choices. Lord help me to live a life that glorifies you.”
Sure, I ask for physical healing and help with the every day stuff. But these prayers of Paul go beyond the things of this life into eternity. And I want to live for eternity, not just this life.
Christian maturity starts with prayers like this – prayers for abounding love. To the His praise and glory!