Archive for the “devotions” Category

Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartLord, I want to know You and I want to know Your ways. Yet I get caught up in this world at times. Grab my attention – remind me that You are waiting to respond to me. Teach me Your ways so that I see You at work in this world. Lord, develop in me a heart to seek You in every situation and every moment.

That’s the prayer we ended with in the first blog of our focus on a seeking heart. Have you been praying it faithfully? Or something like it, anyway? I hope so. But if not, that’s OK. You can always start today! God’s mercies are new every morning. Seek Him for them today!

This week I want to focus on developing a heart that seeks God. We have His promise that when we seek Him with our whole heart, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

Seeking God is not about doing all the right things, although developing the Christian disciplines is a good thing. It’s about connecting with God. It’s about continuing to pursue Him until you have connected with Him. It’s not about knowing things about God. It’s about knowing God. And to truly know God, you must have an experience with Him. Having an experience with God means more than simply reading Scripture and praying. It means lingering with Him. It means not giving up until you have touched the hem of His garment.

In his excellent book The God Chasers, Tommy Tenney wrote this:

When you pursue God with all your heart, soul, and body, He will turn to meet you and you will come out of it ruined for the world.
God Chasers by Tommy Tenney, Destiny Image Publishers, 1998 (p. 14)

Expect God to turn and meet you and expect to be changed! Expect the things of this world to hold less value for you – because when you have touched the eternal, the temporal loses its shine.

Because the things of this world are always before us, however, we can easily become deceived that they have value and we become “satisfied” with them. Satisfied with an easy life. Satisfied with prestige. Satisfied with having a happy family life. Being content is good, but being satisfied can lead to complacency and that kills our motivation to pursue God. Again, to quote Tommy Tenney:

There is much more of God available than we have ever known or imagined, but we have become so satisfied with where we are and what we have that we don’t press in for God’s best. Yes, God is moving among us and working in our lives, but we have been content to comb the carpet for crumbs as opposed to having the abundant loaves of hot bread God has prepared for us in the ovens of Heaven!
God Chasers by Tommy Tenney, Destiny Image Publishers, 1998 (p. 23)

Pursuing God with all your heart will change you! But don’t be scared! It’s a good change.

How do you pursue God whole hearted?
How do you develop a seeking heart?

The first step is developing the God Chaser mindset – be determined and diligent about seeking Him. Don’t settle for reading your Bible a few minutes a day. Don’t settle for short prayers. Don’t settle for doing the same things you’ve always done and getting the same results. Don’t settle! I’m going to discuss spiritual disciplines here, but more important than practicing the disciplines is how you practice them. Practice them with persistence and with expectation. Look for God! Connect with God. Otherwise, it just becomes more doing and more learning about God. And we want to know Him, not just know more about Him.

Bible Reading
Don’t rush through it. Linger over it. Pray through it. Read smaller portions so that you can digest them fully. In our Resting at the River’s Edge reading, we have the opportunity to see the whole picture because we are reading larger portions of Scripture. That’s a good thing. It’s also a good thing to take time each week to read smaller portions and mull them over. Read the passage in several different translations. Ask questions about the text – What’s the background? Why would the disciplines say that or do that? What’s that word mean? What does the passage reveal about the nature of God? Most importantly, ask God directly, “Lord, what do You have for me in this passage? How should I apply this passage to my life?”

Meditation is a Biblical practice. It is the practice of rolling something over and over in our minds, turning it this way and that, looking at its many facets to find all its beauty and significance. After reading a small passage of Scripture, meditate on it. Highlight a key verse and carry it with you throughout the day. Think about it often. Consider how many times today you thought about something that happened yesterday – perhaps a conversation you had with someone, perhaps a television program you watched, perhaps the words to a song that has your attention. God’s Word is infinitely more important than any of those things. Mull over the Word of God, not last night’s episode of your favorite show. As you stay focused on Scripture, you’ll find that your thoughts change and your conversation will change. You’ll also find that God reveals more and more about that small verse you’re meditating on. You’ll find a whole treasure chest of diamonds in the passage.

“What do you see?”
In his book Developing Your Prophetic Gifting (Sovereign Word Publishing, 1994), Graham Cooke analyzes how God often gave prophetic messages to his prophets in the Old Testament. Again and again, God would ask them “what do you see?” The prophet would describe the picture in front of them – a pot boiling over from the north (Jeremiah 1:13) or good and bad figs (Jeremiah 24:3) – and God would give its prophetic significance – an enemy about to attack from the north (Jeremiah 1:14) or God’s intention for His people (Jeremiah 24:4-10).

I learned from that to ask God to reveal prophetic meaning in scenes that catch my attention. A child that distracted me during worship one Sunday morning became a lesson about how I am prone to wander outside the boundaries God has set for me (as the little boy was want to do that morning) and then pout when God sits me in a chair for being disobedient (again, mirroring the behavior of the child when his mother disciplined him). If I had not asked God if there was a message in the scene I was watching, I would have missed it entirely.

Ken Gire gives many examples of this in his book Windows of the Soul. It is a book about seeing God through glimpses of every day life – like watching a scene through a window.

To see what is in those windows we first have to stop, and then, as C.S. Lewis advised, “we must look, and go on looking till we have certainly seen exactly what is there.”

God speaks through many things. The field of a sluggard and the fruit of someone’s life are just two of them.

How many times, though, have we passed those fields without stopping to see what was there? How many times have we seen the fruit of someone’s labor but not the soul of the laborer. How many times have we seen but not learned, watched but not wondered what lesson this person’s life could be teaching us?
Windows of the Soul by Ken Gire, Zondervan Publishing House, pages 42 and 43

Breathing Prayer
Begin to think of prayer as an ongoing dialog that you have with God throughout the day. I call that “breathing prayer.” In other words, develop an ongoing prayer life – one that mirrors our breathing – regular, constant and refreshing. It is life-giving. As we inhale we listen for God’s answers and His heart; as we exhale we ask our questions of Him or breathe our thanksgiving. This imagery and practice can help center us in the midst of a chaotic day. It’s in or from that center that we find God. We won’t find Him when we are reacting to or become a part of the chaos around us. But we’re likely to find Him when we pause to seek Him. A simple inhaling of God’s peace and exhaling of the stress of this world, then a second inhaling to ask Him what He is doing in the situation and exhaling while we listen and look. Two deep breaths. Don’t let the enemy deceive you into thinking you don’t have time to take two deep breaths.

Lingering Prayer
Seek God by lingering with Him. Transform your prayer life by losing your shopping list! Don’t view prayer as the mall you go to periodically to pick up a few things you need. Think of prayer as time you linger with God. Time you spend with your best friend getting to know Him. I remember one summer in high school when I would spend hours sitting on a backyard swing with a couple of friends just talking. For the life of me I can’t imagine what we talked about for hours day after day, but it’s one of my most vivid memories of that time. Sitting on the swing, moving slightly back and forth as I talked with my friends.

Find a place where you can meet with God just to talk. Then visit that place frequently. Read Scripture a bit, then ask Him questions and wait for answers. This is a relatively new practice of mine and you know what? He answers my questions. Sometimes I have to ask them a few days or weeks in a row – I don’t know why He does that, but it’s my experience. Perhaps He just wants to make sure I’m serious. I don’t know. But I do know that He answers.

Remember, though, this is time with a friend. It’s not a time when you demand answers. Attitude is everything. He isn’t likely to answer questions that are asked with wrong motives, and there will undoubtedly be questions that He doesn’t answer. Sometimes He just asks us to trust Him. But it’s OK to ask. So go ahead and linger with God awhile and ask Him those questions you have.

I’ve been asking Him lately what it is about me that pleases Him. I’m not asking because I want the pat on my back. I’m asking so that I can do more what pleases Him. For the first few weeks, He answered the question I didn’t ask – He told me what didn’t please him. Oops! So I worked on those things. Then He told me something that pleases Him. I want to bring joy to God’s heart, so I’m doing more of that.

Linger with God and He’ll answer your questions, too.

Study Nature and Science
God has revealed so much of Himself through nature and science. When we look at the tremendous variety in every species of plant, animal and humans, we see just a glimpse of God’s infinite creativity. When we look at the stars we see the immensity of God. When we look at how the universe is held together, we see God’s preciseness. When we look at our bodies, we recognize with the psalmist that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Combine these studies with some of the other disciplines to hear God’s heart about creation and to learn His purposes.

Don’t just sing, worship. Close your eyes. Think about the meaning of the words. Pray as you sing them. Sing them again and again until their meaning moves from your head to your heart to your soul. Sing aloud when you’re alone, not just at church on Sunday morning. Worship Him. Enter into His presence.

I journal because it focuses me to write more in quantity and specificity than I would think. In other words, it causes me to go deeper than I would if I weren’t writing. If I were only thinking about a passage, I would easily become distracted and miss the opportunity to delve more deeply into the treasure of God’s Word. If I am only thinking a prayer, I would stop at the surface level. When I write (type) them out, I find that my repentance is more genuine (because I become specific about what I am asking forgiveness for), my pleading more sincere and desperate, my desire to hear from God more urgent. I would offer a caution here – I sometimes physically remove my fingers from the keyboard when I am lingering with God because my typing can become a distraction to simply enjoying His presence.

Putting it Into Practice
Do I do all these things? Yes. Do I do all them all the time? No. Not even close. And that’s OK. This isn’t meant to be a list of things you should be doing all the time (although you should consistently be in God’s Word and in prayer). It is meant as ideas to help you seek and experience God in a greater way. May I challenge you over the next couple of weeks to try one of these methods that are new to you? Not just once, but a few times. Because God is ready to respond. He is waiting to be caught.

Resource Links
God Chasers by Tommy Tenney

Developing Your Prophetic Gifting by Graham Cooke

Windows of the Soul by Ken Gire

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My guess is that you’re planning your Thanksgiving weekend, and perhaps your holiday season. Don’t forget Jesus. Purposefully write in your calendar some time over the long Thanksgiving weekend during which you will sit with Jesus giving thanks. Use a small portion of that time to plan out times to spend with God during the month of December. Purpose to lay the world aside and spend time with the Jesus. Purpose to do the most important things this season, not just the urgent ones.

While I strongly encourage you not to plan a full schedule of things to do during those times with the Lord, a simple plan can be a good thing.

Three Reasons Why You Should l Have a Basic Plan for Your Time With God

  1. It can help you transition from full speed ahead in the world to peaceful worship and rest during your time with the Lord (without such a plan sometimes it feels like a crash landing instead of a spirit-led transition). Sometimes when we’ve rushed to our appointment with God it can be hard to settle into His presence.
  2. It can help you transition from servant to friend. If simply sitting at God’s feet isn’t something you do regularly, having a plan may help you adjust from a mode of serving God to enjoying Him.
  3. It can help you transition from purpose-driven thinking to presence thinking. If you’re like me, it’s easy to feel like you’re wasting time or being selfish when you are resting in His presence (forgive me, Lord). Having a plan gets me over the initial hump because I am doing something – I’m following my list of things to do. Don’t read this the wrong way. I’m not saying we approach our time with God as an item to check off our To-Do lists. What I’m saying is that having the basic plan helps me resist the feeling that I’m wasting time at the beginning of my time with the Lord. It helps me engage. Once I’ve engaged, I’m no longer working the plan, I’m enjoying God.

Here are some ideas for your time with God. Don’t do all these things each time you meet Him. Plan the number of things you’re going to do according to the time you have. If I only had fifteen minutes, I would only do one, maybe two of these things. If I scheduled fifteen minutes every other day, I’d focus on different activities each time, cycling through them and then returning to those I found most helpful.

Worship – Whether through song or prayer or activity, let worship take you into the presence of God. Don’t rush from song to song or prayer topic to prayer topic. Linger. Play the same song several times. Pray different things about the same awesome character trait of God. (For example, “Lord, your love is incredible. It covers my sin. It surrounds me like a comforting blanket, protecting me, shielding me and healing me. Your love brings peace. Your love – how can I know the depth, breadth, height and width of it? I can’t, and knowing that it is bigger than me reminds me of how awesome you are. Lord, your love is incredible. It is by your love that your purposes are accomplished in my life. It is by your love that I can sit here with you at peace. It is in your love that I can do all things. Lord, your love is incredible.” Remember, don’t rush the prayer, linger over each phrase.)

Thanksgiving and praise – Scripture says that we “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4). That’s what I want to do during my time with God – enter His inner sanctuary to meet with Him. Doing it His way only makes sense.

Prayer – Don’t pray your laundry list of needs (whether for yourself or others), but have a conversation with God. Have you ever asked God “Lord, what gave you pleasure today? What blessed you?” I never have! The idea just came to me as I was writing this, and it seems like a good one. I’m going to incorporate this into my times with Him! I’m looking forward to “hearing” His answers. (I put the word “hearing” in quotes because I don’t anticipate hearing an audible voice. But I do anticipate receiving an impression from God that will bring me joy as I get to know Him better.)

Read Scripture meditatively – If fifteen minutes is all you have, spend ten of them on one or two verses. Pray it back to God. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you through the verse. Then sit and listen for His response.

Express yourself creatively – Journal, paint, write a song or poem – Express yourself to God in some tangible way. It may feel awkward at first, but just go with it. He won’t be a critical judge of it any more than you were when your children drew their first picture of mom and dad.

The point is, schedule some time with God. Time just to be with Him. If you don’t schedule it, it’s unlikely that it will happen. (Although God’s been known to force the issue – it’s generally much better to put Him first than to have Him bring it to your attention that you haven’t been.)

Enjoy your time with God during this Christmas season and I am confident that you will enjoy the season.


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42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-27

As I’ve been reading the first couple of chapters of Acts, three things have impressed me greatly. This passage from Acts 2 gives us a glimpse of each of them.

1.   Devoted
Notice in verse 42 that it says the new believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. During Lent, I studied a bit about its history. In the early church, new believers were baptized only once a year on Easter morning. For several weeks before their baptism, the believers went through a period of preparation. Every resource I read described the new believers as “devoting” themselves to prayer, repentance, fasting and giving. I have been so taken with this word. Am I devoted to studying Scripture? Am I devoted to giving? Am I devoted to fellowship with other believers? I am hard-pressed to answer those questions affirmatively. Which ultimately leads to the question “Am I devoted to the Lord?” I have been working on my devotion to the Lord over the past month.

2.   Giving
Verses 44 and 45 present a common theme in the early chapters of Acts. The believers provided for those among them who could not provide for themselves. “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” Notice it doesn’t say that their tithes provided for the needs of everyone. It says that when there were needs, they sold something to meet that need. That’s much different from me giving my tithe or an offering from my paycheck. There is both a difference in the attitude toward possessions and a willingness to sacrifice that goes beyond the perspective most of us have about giving. Giving an offering which makes me unable to purchase something I want is one thing; selling something I already own (and therefore have some degree of emotional attachment to) is something else altogether. This attitude is further described in Acts 4:

32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.… 34There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
Acts 4:32, 34-35

I am challenged to truly view all I own as belonging to the Lord. I might say that everything I have is God’s, but when was the last time I sold something purely to give the proceeds to someone in need? The closest I’ve come is having a garage sale with the proceeds going to a missions trip I was taking. Selling items in a garage sale, which was part of my preparation for moving to a new home anyway, is an example of selling things I no longer needed or wanted. It’s not an example of me selling something of value solely to give the proceeds to someone in need. How about you? Have you asked God lately what He might want you to sell so that you can give to someone in need?

3.   Talking about Jesus – Everywhere
Verses 46 and 47 give us a hint at something we see throughout the early chapters of Acts – that the people were constantly talking about and praising God. Do you freely talk about the Lord and praise Him? I’ve found that the more devoted I am to studying His Word the more I see Him at work all around me. And the more I see Him at work all around me, the more thankful I am to know Him. And all that leads to me talking about Him more. Many of us have allowed society to convince us that talking about our faith and the object of our faith is taboo. The early Christians talked about Jesus everywhere they went. I’m becoming convinced that being devoted to Jesus has little meaning if my devotion isn’t obvious – not just by the way I live, but also because I talk about it and about Him. If faith is the most important thing in my life, how can I not?

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We all go through phases when our personal devotions become stale. For me, the cause is usually that I’ve fallen into a rut – described by some as a grave with both ends knocked out!

In my professional life, I find that I periodically must change personal organizational systems – for example, change from one size planner to another or from one computer-based calendar program to another. When I stay with the same system too long, I become lax in using it. The same is true in my personal devotions – perhaps not so much that I become lax, but I begin to approach the time on autopilot. (Lord, make it not so!)

Here’ s an article from Disciple Journal© that provides some great ideas for “waking up” your devotions. My personal favorite is reading through the Bible, highlighting it as you go along, then giving it as a gift to someone special! Pretty cool idea! Check out the article for more about this and other ideas (some much simpler).

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I’ve just been reading in Leviticus about all the offerings the Israelites were to offer to God and what (finally) struck me is that in every case, they use the word “offering.” It might have been a peace offering or a guilt offering or some other kind of offering, but they were always an “offering.” They may have been required offerings, but they were still offerings. That is, the Lord required these offerings as a way for them to receive forgiveness (albeit temporary forgiveness) for their sins or show their devotion to Him. And yet, they are called “offerings.”

What began to sink in was the attitude of humility that the word “offering” carries with it. An offering is something given in hopes that it will be accepted – the husband-to-be offers his hand in marriage to the woman in hopes that she will say “yes” or an offending co-worker brings a cup of coffee or donut in hopes that relationships can be restored and peace can returned to the office. An apology is an offering – it is given in humility and in the hopes that it will be accepted. The attitude of the heart in each case is humility and hopefulness. Of course with hopefulness there is anticipation of good things to come.

When I read in Leviticus 5 that a person is to bring a lamb or a goat, but if he cannot afford that he can bring two young doves or pigeons, and if he cannot afford that he is to bring a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, I am ashamed to admit that the thought that ran across my brain was “who’s to say what he can afford?” Immediately the Lord whispered in my ear – “It’s a heart issue.” In other words, our hearts ought to be so devoted to God and so sorry for our sin that we desire to bring the very best and most we can. It’s not a “how little can we get away with to make up for our sins?” Rather, it’s how much can I offer to the Lord to show Him how sorry I am and how much I love Him?

And that brought me to the question – “How do you view your offerings?” Are they obligations, or are they opportunities to express your love to God? Do you give them as a part of your Sunday morning routine, or with an attitude of humility? When you write out your check or search for the money in your wallet, is it just something you do out of duty, or is an act of worship? Don’t get me wrong. Obedience is a good thing. Bring your tithes into the storehouse (Malachi 3:10). But obedience that is not done with the right heart is its own form of rebellion. Think of the child who spits out his apology in obedience to his parent’s command. The child was being “obedient”, but not making a sincere offering from his heart. No, in his heart there was rebellion – “I’ll say I’m sorry, but I won’t mean it. So there!”

I doubt that you make your offerings with the same blatant attitude as that child, but I know that there are times when I unthinkingly offend God by giving my offerings with a heart that isn’t fully “in the moment” (that is, I’m not even thinking about it, I’m just on autopilot) or has a hidden agenda of expectations from God instead of humble anticipation of His acceptance of my offer. When we are “in the moment” and our attitude is humble anticipation, imagine the joy we can receive when we know that our offer has been accepted!

Scripture teaches that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). That doesn’t mean He loves the giver who is a cheerful person. That means he loves it when we give with a cheerful attitude – and that means we are in the moment – purposefully thinking about what we’re doing and doing it cheerfully.

Lord, forgive me for all the times I have spent the offering time on Sunday morning reading the bulletin instead of making my offering to You in humility and joy. Forgive me for the times I write out my check out of obligation instead of with joyful anticipation of bringing joy to the One I love the most.

The Offering God Gave
Notice that it was in this same attitude that God gave His offering – with His whole heart and in humble anticipation of the joy to come when His offering would be accepted by men and women. That offering, of course, was His Son Jesus, whom God gave as the sacrificial lamb – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Do you see that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament system of sacrifices and offerings? That He is our sacrificial lamb, offered once for all?

Unlike the other high priests, [Jesus] does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
                Hebrews 7:27 (NIV)

The question is “will you accept His offering?” It is an offering consistent with those we’ve read about in Leviticus, but of such a higher degree that it issues in a new covenant. The new covenant holds the promise of an eternal inheritance – life forever more – even for those who have not kept the old covenant.

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
                Hebrews 9:13-15 (NIV)

Should you have any doubt, let me be clear. God is calling you. He is calling you to serve the living God. He is calling you in love.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
                1 John 4:9-10 (NIV)

Will you accept his offering? What will you offer back to him in response?

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Psalm 21 (NIV)
For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1    O LORD, the king rejoices in your strength.
How great is his joy in the victories you give!

2    You have granted him the desire of his heart
and have not withheld the request of his lips.

This morning as I began to read Psalm 21, I realized that David, the writer of the psalm, is the King. So I went back to the beginning of the psalm and read it through speaking in first person instead of third person. In other words, where it says “the king” I read “I,” and where it says “his” or “him” referring to King David, I substituted “my” or “me.” So the first two verses read like this:

1    O LORD, I rejoice in your strength.
How great is my joy in the victories you give!

2    You have granted me the desire of my heart
and have not withheld the request of my lips.

 What a blessing! Try it! It (1) caused me to read the Psalm more slowly and (2) gave it tremendously more personal impact. Sure, there were some verses that couldn’t be taken literally (“you placed a crown of pure gold on my head” v. 3b), but when they were not true in the literal sense, they were surely true in the spiritual sense (our “crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8), “crown of life” (James 1:12), and “crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4) – crowns which we shall lay at the feet of Jesus (Revelation 4:9)). As I read Psalm 21, I briefly thought of these crowns, and reflected on the crown of gold that rests on the head of Jesus (Revelation 14:14). As you personalize Psalm 21, God may bring other things to your mind. That’s the wonderful personalization work of the Holy Spirit.

So personalize it! You’ll be glad you did!

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When King Hezekiah heard their report, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the Temple of the LORD to pray.
2 Kings 17:1 (NLT)

I love this verse. It is a constant reminder that when things fall apart, the best thing for me to do is humble myself and pray. King Hezekiah had received a report that he was about to be attacked by the Assyrian army – an army that was kicking butt across the region. Israel was next on the list. How could the small nation stand against such an army?

The king of Assyria tried to weakened the Israelites before actually engaging them in battle. He sent messengers before him who:

  • Taunted King Hezekiah and the Israelites. He basically said “If you can find 2,000 horsemen in your army, I’ll give you 2,000 Egyptian horses for them to ride and then I’ll still beat you!”
  • Challenged their faith by saying “Do you think we’ve invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord Himself told us ‘Go and destroy it!'”
  • Destroyed their confidence in their king and God saying directly to the people “Don’t let the king fool you. He’ll never be able to save you from my power. None of the other countries were able to stand against me.”

King Hezekiah heard all this and went into the temple of the Lord to pray.

Lord, make me more like Hezekiah – I want to act with a calm faith in the face of what looks like sure disaster.

In our economy today, many people are listening to the kings of Assyria in their lives. They are hearing and believing that they will come to ruin unless they surrender now. The enemy is whispering in their ears “Who do you think you are that God would deliver you? Don’t you know that I’ve been sent by God to humble you – to punish you or to teach you a lesson? I could give you free housing/car/health insurance (choose your most pressing financial issue) and I’d still drown you in debt before the end of the year. Why will your God deliver you?”

The answer is He will deliver us because He is our deliverer. He will deliver us because we belong to Him. Husbands don’t let their wives be taken captive. Jesus Christ is the bridegroom of the Church – He is our husband.

But let’s respond correctly. Let’s choose to believe our God instead of foreign kings and let’s humble ourselves and pray.

I’m not making economic predictions. I have no idea if the economy will turn around in January or March or March of 2020. But I know that my deliverance comes from the Lord and is not dependent on the economy. My deliverance is not dependent on my own ability to work hard or to make money, it’s not dependent on being at the right place at the right time, and it’s not dependent on the amount of faith I have. It is dependent on God’s mercy and grace and His mighty power.

Where do you choose to place your trust – in the economy or in God’s mercy and power? Who do you choose to believe – enemy kings or the King of Kings?

How you approach 2009 depends on where your trust lies. If your trust is in God’s mercy and power, you can face the new year with confidence, not despair.  Place your trust in the King of Kings. He is the faithful provider, not dependent upon the whims of the economy. Strengthen that trust by visiting with Him regularly in prayer and by reading in the Bible about His nature and His history of faithfulness.

As an aside, let me give you something to think about. I’m going to be providing a plan for read through the Bible in 2009 along with weekly encouragements and blogs that correspond to the readings. Don’t be intimidated by it! You can read throught the Bible by reading about 3.2 chapters each day. For now, just be open to the idea. You’ll learn more about the plan in a day or two.

As I was writing this blog, a favorite verse came to mind:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

I wasn’t sure of the wording or the reference, so I looked it up. I found it in the middle of this wonderful prayer that seems a perfect ending to this blog. It is my prayer for you as we look toward 2009.

1 May the LORD answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.

4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious
and will lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the LORD grant all your requests.
6 Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he answers him from his holy heaven
with the saving power of his right hand.
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
9 O LORD, save the king!
Answer us when we call!
Psalm 20 (NIV)

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As I am doing devotions today, I am aware that I need to call a customer imminently. He called yesterday afternoon when I was out and I feel pressured to call him back immediately this morning.

Wanting to focus on devotions and NOT on the work that must begin soon, I prayed “Lord, free me from the expectations of others.” My immediate thought was…I need to be freed from the expectations I put on myself first. In reality, it’s unlikely that the customer I need to call in a few minutes is really sitting by his phone waiting for the business day to start and watching to see if I call him at the stroke of 8am. (Well, 8:15 really, because I consider it a little rude to call before someone has time to get their work-head together, which I figure takes the first 15 minutes of the day!)

In the strive for excellence…notice I said excellence, not perfection – perfection is not attainable, only God is perfect; excellence is attainable – it doesn’t mean without error, rather with minimal error and a plan for correcting and making recompense for those errors. In the strive for excellence, I can often put more pressure on myself than others do. Perhaps you are like me. How do you deal with it?

 I find that I must continually do several things:

1) Evaluate the source of my striving for excellence. If it comes from a desire to impress or please other people, my focus is probably wrong. My job (both at my place of employment and in my personal life) is to please the Lord. Sometimes that means NOT pleasing other people. If I find that I have been operating from wrong motivations, I must turn to God in repentance, asking Him to forgive me for caring more about what people think than what He thinks.

2) Remind myself that God is in control of my business, not me. Sometimes I fall into the trap of believing that I’m responsible for the success of my business. The truth is that I do lots of the work, but God is the source of my ability to get work, my ability to accomplish it, and the favor shown to me by my customers. Again, repentance is often required here when I realize that I have again fallen for the enemy’s trap.

3) Consider my life and whether it is in balance (or at least some semblence of balance). I know that when my life is in balance, there will always be work that doesn’t get done. There will always be one more request that a customer makes or one more accounting task to complete before it’s time to say “I’ve worked enough today. Now it’s time for family.” If that customer call came in because I was pursuing other things the Lord has called me to, sometimes the most appropriate thing to do is thank God for the life He’s given me, ask for grace with the customer and call him back at the earliest opportunity.

That’s my remedy for dealing with the pressure I put on myself. If you have other suggestions, let me know. We can all learn from each other. As for me, I gotta go call my customer!

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If left to my own devices, I’m a late sleeper. Even when I go to bed early, I can sleep late. I am also a heavy sleeper. I frequently don’t hear the alarm clock no matter how loud it’s set. And since every other day of the week I have a reason for being up early, I have always treasured Saturday morning as the day I get to sleep a little later. Not as late as I’d like, mind you, but until a respectable 9am or so.

About a year ago, God began to wake me up early on Saturday mornings. I admit it…for quite a long time, I resented this. Saturday morning is my only morning to sleep late, I like to sleep late, I’m still tired, but I’m lying here in bed awake. What’s with that? No matter how late I go to bed on Friday night, I’m awake early on Saturday morning. If I don’t get out of bed, I just lay there staring into space. I rarely fall back asleep.

Eventually I remembered that when things aren’t as they normally are, when things seem out of place, always look for the hand of God. Since I had spent my life sleeping in on Saturday mornings and now that seemed an impossibility, I realized that it was God who was waking me up.

And Saturday  mornings have become such a special time with God. I don’t do anything significantly differently from what I do most mornings, but on Saturdays (because I’m awake and getting an earlier start), there is less pressure from the things that have to be done later in the day. The house is quieter, the spirit more peaceful. God seems more accessible.

Now the truth is there’s nothing different about the house on Saturdays than on Wednesdays or Fridays and God isn’t any more accessible on Saturday than He is on Wednesdays or Fridays. The truth is that I’m different. I’m more relaxed and looking forward to hearing from God on these early Saturday mornings than on other days. Because I’m up earlier than I need to be, I can enjoy Him without other distractions. And our time together is longer than other days of the week. I worship Him longer, I read more, I listen more, I write more.

The very cool thing is that this was all God’s idea. He initiated it. I’m so thankful that we serve a God who initiates a relationship with us. As A.W. Tozer writes in The Pursuit of God, God is always previous. He always reaches out to us first. He goes before us in everything we do, arriving where we are before we get there. He is always previous.

So God and I have an appointment that He helps me to keep every Saturday morning. Actually, we have an appointment every morning, but Saturday’s appointment is more like a date.

I bet God would like to have a date with you, too. I’m praying that He would begin to awaken readers of this blog early one day next week. Just so you and He can spend more time together.

Let me know how it goes.

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