Archive for the “Obedience” Category

On the third of December I sent myself a fairly cryptic email. The subject line read like this: “Journal/Blog: 2015 – Year of Hope.”

2015 – Year of Hope. I didn’t identify any specific Scripture I was reading when God dropped that into my spirit, but I remember feeling the nudge from God so strongly that I sent myself an email so that I could later transfer the thought to my personal journal and seek God for what else He might want to say about it. Maybe I would develop it into a blog or series of blogs.

That was it. I haven’t done any more writing on the topic or study or research. But God planted the word in my spirit on December 3rd and it’s been growing.

I suspect there will be a number of blogs on the topic of hope in 2015, but I wanted to start with sharing the thing that gives me the greatest hope on a day-to-day basis.

What is it that gives you hope when you are tempted to feel less than hopeful. When life beats you up a bit, or even perhaps when life just continues in the constant sameness day after day – How do you answer the question that comes unbidden into your mind “Is all this worth it?” What is it that gives you hope?

Now as Christians, we have many reasons to be hopeful. As a believer in Christ and one who desires to make Him Lord of my life, I can have hope regardless of my circumstances because I am…

  • forgiven
  • saved
  • sanctified – a fancy word for “made holy or acceptable to God” (a pretty amazing and wonderful thing)
  • filled with the Holy Spirit
  • the bride of Christ
  • seated with Him in heavenly places

And on top of all that, I have the promise of spending eternity in heaven with my Lord. Hallelujah!

Those are all tremendous reasons for rejoicing and for having hope…all great reasons that I’m not going to write about today, except to say that if you are not totally confident in all those things – if you’re not totally confident that you’ve been forgiven, if you’re not totally confident that you will spend eternity in heaven, check out these blogs:

Made Right with God

How Can I Know I’m Saved

There’s another reason to be hopeful that sits at the top of my list. I can get pretty jazzed about the reasons I’ve just identified, but they’re all very future. Yes, they have a “for today” element, but they’re largely reasons I can be hopeful for my future.

The reason I get most jazzed about is a present, for today, reason. That one reason is this: God – the Creator of the Universe and everything in it – the One who holds the world together – the One who created me and knows me better than I know myself – that God has plans and purposes for my life that have eternal significance. He has things for me to do today that will have impacts that continue through all eternity is what I get jazzed about.

And you know what? I can step into those plans because I know that He is the God of the impossible. So no matter what my circumstances are, no matter what my physical or intellectual abilities are, no matter what my personality limitations are, He is the God of the impossible and He wants to use me to impact eternity! Wow! Hallelujah!

You see, I am sometimes tempted to be discouraged by my circumstances or physical abilities. I am tempted to think I’m not smart enough or I don’t have the personality or natural abilities I need to do something for God. But you know what? A God who can do the impossible – a God who has miracle working power – that God (my God) operates outside the boundaries of our circumstances and abilities.

That’s important enough to repeat: Our God is not limited by our circumstances and abilities – He works outside them. Yes, He works within them in the sense that He uses our circumstances and our abilities to accomplish His purposes, but He works outside them in the sense that He is God. He can do what we can’t even begin to imagine. And the thing is, He wants to do it in and through us. He could do it on His own…but He says “come on, let’s do it together.”

Friends, that’s what I get jazzed about. Let’s look at Ephesians 3: 20-21:

20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

In the New King James translation, it reads “to him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Hallelujah!

Let’s break look at the passage a bit more closely.

“Now to Him who is able” – are you convinced that God is able? That’s the place to start.

We’ll come back to this passage, but let’s look briefly at Hebrews 11:1. A very common verse…

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

The Holman Christian Standard Bible says it this way:

Now faith is the reality [or assurance] of what is hoped for, the proof [or conviction] of what is not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (HCSB)

Choosing to engage our faith – in other words, choosing to say and hold to the “I believe” – comes before the reality of seeing – it is the place where hope lives.

Do you want to have hope? Choose to believe God and His Word. Every day, in every moment, in every circumstances, in every inadequacy, in every discouragement. Choose to believe that God is able.

I’m not asking you to believe that you can do whatever God calls you to do. I’m asking you to believe that He can do it. That He is able.

I know that’s not always easy. But it is where hope lives. When you believe God is able, hope rises in your heart and your spirit.

Even though believing isn’t always easy, there’s an element that’s even harder – choosing to believe means more than simply saying and holding to the “I believe”, it means living the “I believe.”

It isn’t enough, to simply say “I believe” – even if you are believing with all your heart. It must be lived! Faith is living in that confidence that God is the God of the impossible. Living in a way that shows you believe He is able to do the impossible in your life. Not just in Abraham’s and Isaac’s and Jacob’s lives. Not just in the Apostle Peter’s life and in Paul’s life and in John’s life. But in your life and in my life.

And if it’s true that God is able to do the impossible in our lives (and it is), then no matter what our circumstances or physical abilities are, we have a choice to make over and over again many times every day – to believe and live in hope or to back away from it.

Friends, I am exhorting us today not to back away from believing God. Don’t back away from hope.

Let’s return to Ephesians 3:20:

“Now to Him who is able” – Lord we believe that You are able – to do what? “more than all we can ask or imagine.” This verse jumped off the page at me during a Bible study in early November. I felt like God was challenging me to improve my imagination. If God can do more than that, I want to imagine more.

Later, however, I noticed a little word that hadn’t hit my radar before. Scripture says “more than ALL we ask or imagine.” Not more than a little bit of what I can imagine, or some of what I can imagine, but more than all I can ask or imagine.

That’s what the God who is able can do! Lord, I believe you are able. Improve my imagination, give me bigger dreams. And help me choose to believe that you can do it all – that You can do more than all of it.

And even as I say that, the enemy whispers, but…but… you’re 58 years old…you can’t jump as high as you used to jump and you can’t run as fast as you used to run…you have obligations to take care of parents who live 50 miles away…you are overwhelmed with work sometimes…you’re tired…you’re…

And so I am tempted to step back from hope. But the Lord is prompting us to say… “Get thee behind me satan.” “Lord, I choose to believe that you are able to do immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine.”

Hallelujah! Are you with me? Do you believe that God is able?

Well if so, hang on because there’s more to this verse.

As if God’s ability to do more isn’t exciting enough, here’s the part that I get super jazzed about…How is he going to do that immeasurably more, that exceedingly abundantly more? By the power IN US.

The power – the word is dunamis – the word from which we get dynamite. The explosive power. Miraculous power. When you read the words “mighty works” or “miracles” in the gospels, it is probably the word dunamis in the Greek.

In Chapter 1 of Ephesians, Paul prayed for the Ephesians to know God’s “incomparably great power” – dunamis (Eph 1:19). He went on to say something about that power – He said that the incomparably great, dunamis power, is the same power that He “exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 1:20).

God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is work within us – that dunamis power that raised Christ from the dead.

Wow!

The word dunamis occurs in many places, but I want to share one curious place. In Matthew chapter 13 we have the story of Jesus returning to his hometown.

54[Jesus] went to His hometown and began to teach them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “How did this wisdom and these miracles come to Him? 55Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother called Mary, and His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? 56And His sisters, aren’t they all with us? So where does He get all these things?”

57And they were offended by Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his household.”

58And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.
Matthew 13:54-58 (HCSB)

That word “miracles” in verse 58 – it’s dunamis.

Friends, I don’t want to limit or diminish God’s use of His dunamis power in my life because of my unbelief. I want to believe God’s Word that says He is able.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasureably more…by the power – dunamis – at work in us.

We’ve answered the question “is God able?” – how about the question “does He really want to work through me?” Does He really want to work through you? Ephesians 2:10 answers that for us:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

We were created for a purpose – to do things that God has prepared for us to do. We are not here by happenstance. We are not living in our community, seeing the people we see, going to the places we go by happenstance.

There is a verse in Acts that says God determined the exact times and places where we should live. It’s not happenstance.

God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

Did you get that? God has worked in your history, setting things in motion, preparing you and preparing the world in which you live, for the good works that He’s called you to.

And that, friends, is what I get jazzed about that. That gives me hope on a day to day, even hour by hour, basis. When life gets boring, I know that God is working – using His dunamis power in me to accomplish immeasurably more than all I can ask or imagine to accomplish the good works He’s prepared in advance for me to do. When life gets tough, I know that God is working. When life is good, I know that God is working. In all the situations, God is working in and through me…if I continue to pursue Him. If I plug myself into the plan. Because the sad news is that at any moment, I can choose to step out.

I want to encourage all of us not to step out of God’s plan. As we look into the new year, tell God you want to plug into the plans He has for you. And then believe it is happening. Live in that place of faith and hope, whether you see it or not.

Here’s an important point, though: God’s dunamis power doesn’t always look like a TNT explosion. It is at work in the every day things. I can be sitting listening to a message at church, and the pastor can say something that rocks my world. And those around me won’t have a clue. My husband may not even have a clue until I tell him. But in my spirit something arises that spurs me on to love God more and to serve God more. And that is no less an example of God’s dunamis power than the more explosive, miracle workings we think of. When God works in one person’s heart to grow in obedience and love for Him, eternity watches with anticipation to see what God will do next, how He will use his dunamis power in that person’s life.

The works God’s created for us to do may very well be low-key acts of obedience – offering a cold cup of water to a prophet, for example. And here’s a cool thing – God promises us that when we do that, we will receive the prophets reward! (Matthew 10:40-42) Why, because we believed that God was working through us, so by faith we acted. And our cold cup of water enabled that prophet, that evangelist, that Sunday school or Bible study teacher, that preacher, that missionary, that lay person, to accomplish the work God has prepared for him or her.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV)

And so we act, we step into the good works that God has prepared for us to do. We say, “Lord, thank you for using me today. What small or large work do you have for me to do? I believe it will have impact throughout all eternity.”

That’s how I want to approach life.

Here’s my hope and confidence: Some day, I will be sitting with the Lord, and someone will come up to me and they will say “Sandy, you don’t know me, but I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. In 1981 you led a girls club and you encouraged the girls to share Christ with a friend. I was a friend of one of those girls.” And a while later someone will come up to me and say “Sandy, you wrote that blog and it woke me up out of the spiritual slumber I was in.” Or “you preached that message and made it so simple that I understood for the first time that God wanted to use me.” Or “you shared that facebook post and it made me angry but I couldn’t get it out of my head.” Or “Sandy, you built that Operation Christmas Child shoebox or gave that offering and someone worlds away from you introduced me to Christ.”

Friends, I get jazzed about that. That’s my greatest reason for having hope on a day-to-day basis. And not just that, but for what follows it – that person I impacted will impact someone else who will impact someone else who will impact someone else…should the Lord tarry.

It’s not that I have visions of grandeur. It’s not that I’m so great. Quite the opposite! I have confidence – faith – in my God to do phenomenally cool and exciting things – to use His dunamis power in and through me…if I let Him. If I give Him control. If I follow His lead. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from ballroom dance lessons, it’s that two people can’t lead. One must follow. That’s my job. I’m the follower. It often goes against my nature, but that’s what being conformed to the image of Christ is all about – conforming my will to His.

Lord, as I look forward to 2015, help me hold onto faith – that place where hope lives – believing that You are able to do cool and amazing things that will impact eternity through my typically ordinary life.

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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.

Other Methods

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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7In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Luke 15:7 (NLT)

Jesus concludes His parable of the lost sheep with these words. He tells us that all of heaven rejoices when a sinner repents. In fact, they rejoice more over the one who returns than the overwhelming majority who simply stay the course – finish well. My life is largely focused on finishing well and helping others to do so. My focus isn’t on the lost. It’s how I’m wired. It’s how I’m gifted. But that doesn’t excuse me from praying and participating in the seeking of the lost.

If my desire is to bring God joy (and it is), can there be a better activity to participate in? It sure doesn’t sound like it from this passage.

But as I said, I’m not wired for evangelism. I’m wired for teaching. Nevertheless, I can add activities to my everyday life that support evangelism without taking away from my spiritual passions and giftings. Here are some ideas:

  • Pray. Yes, this is the most obvious, but praying for the lost isn’t something I do regularly (forgive me, Lord). Discipline yourself to pray at those times when your mind tends to wander – for example, while driving or while doing household chores. There are a number of ways we can pray:
    • Pray specifically for the hearts of those who don’t know Christ to be softened.
    • Pray for specific people, by name.
    • Pray for God to put others in their path who will spark their interest in the spiritual realm.
    • Pray for the circumstances in their lives to bring them to recognize their need for God.
    • Pray for evangelistic activities that are occurring, such as Billy Graham’s broadcast, America My Hope, and local evangelistic outreaches (even if they’re done by other churches).
    • Pray that God would use you to spark an interest in Christ before attending events or functions where non-believers will be present.
    • Pray for courage to speak out for Christ and to have that word aptly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11).
    • Pray to live a loving, joyful, righteous life.
  • Smile. Laugh easily. Confound their stereotype that Christians are serious and boring. I have to work at this. I am a serious person by nature. Yet I know God wants me to smile more. I want the peace and joy I experience in Him to be evident to others. One way that happens is by smiling and laughing.
  • Be friendly as you go about your everyday. It’s easier for God to open a door when you smile and nod to that person in front of you than when you’re staring down at the groceries in your cart or at your cell phone to read your friend’s latest Facebook post
  • Be helpful. When you see someone struggling to reach something in the store and you can get it for them, do so. When they’ve dropped something on the floor, help them pick it up.
  • Don’t be rude, distant or distracted. That feeds the stereotype of the self-righteous Christian. Be present in whatever situation you find yourself.
  • Be a good-finder. That’s a Zig Ziglar-ism. Be a good-finder in those around you. When your internal attitude is to be critical of that person near you – because they’re too unkempt or too fashionably dressed, because they have too many tattoos or look like a person that would never have a tattoo, because they’re too fat or too skinny, because they’re too loud or too timid, because they’ve filled their cart with junk food or the most expensive offerings in the store – when that thing (called sin) rises up in you to begin to be critical of that person, stop. Be a good-finder. Look at the person and ask God to show you the good in them and then pray into that. Perhaps even compliment them on it. Are you in your grunge clothes and the fashionably dressed person walks by and you’re tempted to be critical because she obviously spends too much money on clothes. Stop. Sincerely compliment her on her sweater or shoes or hair. You get the idea. Criticism doesn’t open the door to share Christ. (And it closes a door to God.)
  • Rehearse the Gospel. Be ready to share the Gospel in a number of different ways and in different timeframes.

15Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. 16But do this in a gentle and respectful way.
1 Peter 3:15-16a (NLT)

  • Follow God’s promptings. If you’ve asked Him to use you, He will. If you are willing to be used. It’s one thing to pray; it’s quite another thing to be obedient when God gives opportunities in response to those prayers. I know that I have ignored the Lord’s promptings to pray with or speak to a stranger. (That’s where praying for courage comes in.) I want to follow God’s promptings. How amazing is it that He even asks me to be involved in eternal things? Pretty amazing I think. And humbling. Let’s be obedient and following His promptings.

What other ideas do you have for incorporating evangelism into your everyday life? Share your ideas on our Facebook page or as a comment to this post. Let’s help one another bring joy to all of heaven!

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In my previous blog, the subject was giving more of our time (and therefore heart and life) to God. God used Jeremiah 17:4-6 to challenge me to center my life around Him. Doing so positions us to receive His blessings, instead of putting ourselves in the place of being subject to His judgment. It’s about adjusting our lives to being God-centered instead of being centered around our own wants, needs and desires.

Here’s the passage we looked at:

4The wonderful possession I have reserved for you will slip from your hands. I will tell your enemies to take you as captives to a foreign land. For my anger blazes like a fire that will burn forever.” 5This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. 6They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.
Jeremiah 17:4-6 (NLT)

Verse 5 is key: We put ourselves under God’s curse when we put our trust in ourselves or others. God can and does bless us, but not to the fullest that both He and we desire.

If you’ve been a Christian for very long, I doubt that you consciously choose to trust yourself instead of God. What I find, though, is that we often say we trust God, but we live our lives as pagans do – making our own plans, working our own schedules, and quite frequently forgetting to ask God for His plans and solutions (until we’ve painted ourselves into a corner and cry out in desperation).

The question the Holy Spirit asked me as I read the passage was “Who do you think you are to anticipate the blessings of God or expect to participate in His promises, without also being subject to His judgment?” As I wrote, I could just hear some people saying “Wait a minute! You’re reading from the Old Testament. We’re under grace, not the Law.” Yes, we are under grace, but the Apostle Paul recognized that and said this:

1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
Romans 6:1-2 (NIV)

Of course we shouldn’t go on sinning. Grace isn’t a license to sin.

So we come back to the question: Who do we think we are, that we can participate in the promises of God without also being subject to God’s judgment? Yes, we are under grace, but I would argue that the Israelites of the Old Testament were also under God’s grace.

A different kind of grace – our grace means that Jesus has paid the price for our sin – we are freely forgiven; the grace God gave the Israelites was the law which defined how they should live and worship. Jesus was clear that He has not done away with the law. He came to fulfill it. He fulfilled the part of the law that required sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. But the law still exists.

And of course the Israelites were under God’s grace because He didn’t destroy them. But He did discipline them – punish them for their sins.

So I ask again (or perhaps I should say, the Holy Spirit asks again), who are we to think that we can live as we want and not incur God’s punishment?

Friends, I think it’s important that the teaching from my last blog really find a home in our spirits. I absolutely love grace. Knowing that God loved me – really loved me – revolutionized my walk with Him many years ago. Still, I find that many, many Christians have come to that same understanding I did but in the process of living since discovering that truth have forgotten that our obedience significantly impacts our relationship with God (and how He blesses or disciplines us) and with others.

Jeremiah 17 teaches us something we too easily forget just a few verses later:

9“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 10“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”
Jeremiah 17:9-10 (NIV)

We too easily deceive ourselves into believing we are deserving of the many blessings God has promised. The promises it is God’s desire to “reward” us with. But when we trust in ourselves instead of Him, those blessings that He has stored up for us slip through our fingers (v4). Instead of trusting in our own efforts, God urges us to trust in Him.

How We Trust in Ourselves –The One Example God Cites
I found it interesting that just a few verses later God gives only one example of how the Israelites were trusting in themselves:

21This is what the LORD says: Listen to my warning! Stop carrying on your trade at Jerusalem’s gates on the Sabbath day. 22Do not do your work on the Sabbath, but make it a holy day. I gave this command to your ancestors.”
Jeremiah 17:21-22 (NLT)

The only specific example God gave when judging the Israelites for relying on their own strength was that they violated the Sabbath. They continued living their own lives, especially their work lives, and following their own schedules instead of honoring God’s rhythm for living.

I’m not going to argue or prescribe that you must observe a Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday, but I will put forth that we’ve gotten away from setting aside one day a week to honor and glorify and enjoy the Lord, and it is to our detriment. The Israelites were judged severely for it. Can we expect that we won’t be?

As a nation, we live in a state of exhaustion. Perhaps if we observed a day of rest that would change.

As a nation we live in a state of greed. Perhaps if we observed a day each week in which we refuse to work but instead choose to trust that God will supply all our needs, that would change.

By choosing to follow our will on the Sabbath, we are trusting in ourselves, and when we do that, before we realize it, we have become like stunted shrubs in the desert, we live in the barren wilderness and our hope for the future becomes dim. Before we know it, our hearts have turned from God.

I don’t want to deceive myself into believing that I deserve God’s blessings when in reality I’ve turned from Him by pursuing things in my own strength. I don’t want to bring curses upon myself by trusting in my own strength.

Observing the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments. I understand that whether or not Christians are “required” to observe a Sabbath (or the Sabbath) is a controversial subject. For me, I can’t help but believe that observing the spirit of the Sabbath – that is, setting aside a day which is holy to the Lord – honors God and helps me depend on Him instead of my own strength. I am convinced it puts me in a position to receive His blessings instead of pulling me out of that place of submission and obedience. And I know that the more time I spend with Him, the less likely I am to deceive myself.

It won’t happen unless you decide to make it happen and then ask Gods help in making it happen. Let me encourage you to do that. If you are not in the practice of setting one day aside each week as a day to honor God (all day), look at your calendar, pray, then ruthlessly pick a day in the next two weeks when you will do that. Then jealously guard that day. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the afternoon with your family. It does mean you will not work. You will not discuss family finances with your spouse (or children). You will not go grocery shopping. I’m sure you can identify other things that quickly move you from God’s holy presence to earthly cares. (You’ll find more “Do’s and Don’ts” in the blog Observe a Weekly Sabbath Part 3, Let’s Not be Legalistic About it!)

For more on the Sabbath, you can read a three-part blog I published back in 2010 as part of our Let’s Be PC (Practicing Christians) series:

Let’s Be PC…

Observe a Weekly Sabbath – Part 1, The Commandment

Observe a Weekly Sabbath – Part 2, 7 Reasons to Observe a Sabbath

Observe a Weekly Sabbath – Part 3, Let’s Not be Legalistic About It!

Enjoy your Sabbath – it’s God’s gift to you!

Doing so positions us to receive His blessings, instead of putting ourselves in the place of being subject to His judgment.

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As I read through Jeremiah 17 a few weeks ago, this passage stopped me in my tracks:

4“The wonderful possession I have reserved for you will slip from your hands. I will tell your enemies to take you as captives to a foreign land. For my anger blazes like a fire that will burn forever.” 5This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. 6They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.
Jeremiah 17:4-6 (NLT)

It’s not one of those verses that make you feel all warm and fuzzy. It’s not one of those verses you hang on to when things get tough. Nevertheless, it’s the Word of God – God-breathed “is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT). This would fall into the category of correcting us when we’re wrong. We need that sometimes. At least I do. I’m assuming you do, too.

As soon as I finished this paragraph, the Holy Spirit posed a question to me: “Who do you think you are that you can participate in the promises of God without also being subject to His judgment?” We stress the promises of God, but we turn our backs on the discipleship that Jesus calls us to. Discipleship requires obedience and discipline.

Verse 5 makes a strong statement “Cursed are those who put their trust in human effort.” Cursed. That’s a strong word. Think back to (or take a 60 second side trip to go read) Deuteronomy 28, the chapter of blessings and curses. There’s a long list of blessings that accompany obedience. There’s an even longer list of curses that follow those who are disobedient.

We put ourselves in that cursed category when we put our trust in human effort. Be sure you get that sentence down – we put ourselves in the cursed category when we put our trust in human effort. Remember, it is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. We move ourselves out of position to receive it.

In what ways are we trusting in human effort? In the times we live, I believe the most significant way we rely on human strength is when we set our own agendas and determine how we will use our time, money and talents. When we make these decisions on our own, it’s the equivalent of saying “I don’t have time to ask God how He wants me to spend my time.” Or put more bluntly, “I don’t have for the Lord.” Whether it’s not having enough time to worship, read, pray or serve, it all adds up to the same thing – we’re trusting in our own efforts or the efforts of others instead of subordinating our to do list to God’s priorities. We are trusting in mere humans.

As I considered this, I began to think about how much time I spend with God. Let me share with you the calculations I did. There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say I spend 2 hours on Sunday morning and half an hour each day with God – that would be 5.5 hours each week. (Now in all honesty, I’m being a little generous because I don’t always spend 2 hours at church on Sunday morning and it’s not all that unusual for me to spend less than half an hour in morning devotions.) But if that were my pattern, I would be spending 5.5 hours with God each week. That’s less that 3.3% of my week! If your pattern is like mine, you spend less than 3.3% of your week with God!

Now you may say “but I pray throughout the day.” OK. But be honest with yourself and with God. How much time, really, are you in fellowship with God? My guess is that if you added up all the time throughout the day that you are praying – talking and listening – you’d have another half hour or so each day. So when we add that in, we’re up to spending about 5.5% of our week with God.

Do I really think God is honored by that? No, I don’t. What do you think?

Another important question to ask is “Do I really believe that God will bless that person?”

Out of His goodness, He will bless that person. But not in all the fullness and richness of blessings He offers.

Both the Old Testament Israelites and the New Testament Church lived in community that centered around God and His presence and His commands. Today, our lives center around our jobs and our families and our hobbies with God attached on the side. Most of our lives don’t reflect God as the central focus.

What did the passage say? Verse 4 said “The wonderful possession He has reserved for us slips through our fingers.” And verse 6: “We live lives that are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. We live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.”

If you feel like that, perhaps it’s because you’re only giving God 3.5 or 5.5% of your time.

Friends, it’s not my intention or desire to bring condemnation on you. That’s not God’s desire either. It might, however, be His desire to bring conviction. If we want to see revival in our lives and in our land, it’s time to up our game. It’s time to pursue God more wholeheartedly.

I wrote most of this blog about three weeks ago. In the past week, I’ve read a letter and a blog from two very different sources – but they were on the same topic: The need for the church to feel a sense of urgency about our mission. I didn’t go looking for these articles. One came in a regular newsletter I get from a missionary. Another came through a Christian ministry group I belong to on LinkedIn.

Church, it’s time to set aside some of the good things in our lives for that which is better. I love the story of Mary and Martha. Scripture says that Mary chose the “better” part. Martha wasn’t choosing a bad thing, she just wasn’t choosing the better thing. She wasn’t choosing to spend her time with Jesus.

We can’t give more to God unless we specifically set aside those things that aren’t the better part – that is, sitting at Jesus’ feet. We can’t give more to God unless we specifically and purposefully schedule times throughout the week to be with Him and to serve Him. Pause to look at your calendar. When during the coming week can you sit at Jesus’ feet? Write it in ink on your calendar. Make it a “#1 priority” in your electronic calendar. Do whatever it takes to choose the better part.

Turning Our Hearts Away From God
There was another phrase in verse 5 that caught my attention: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.”

Friends, the very act of relying on human strength turns our hearts away from the Lord. The two go together. One thing I’m learning is that there are actions that have the direct result of pulling us away from God. Worry is one of those things. We can’t hold on to faith when we are worried because worry is like a force that pulls the suction cups of faith loose from the hope to which it’s attached.

Trusting in ourself or others is like that as well. It has the direct result of pulling us away from the Lord. As your worry rises, your faith falls. As your trust in yourself rises, your trust in God falls.

You can make a conscious decision to turn your heart from the Lord, but what I think happens more often is that our hearts are turned from the Lord as a byproduct of placing our trust in what we can do on our own.

And that leaves us no hope for the future. There is no hope because we have put ourselves under a curse.

Curses or Blessings
In Deuteronomy 28, God identifies the blessings for those who follow God’s ways and then describes the curses for those who disobey. Jeremiah 17 follows the opposite pattern. We’ve just looked at the curses for those who trust in human effort instead of God. God’s prophecy to the Israelites balances them out those curses starting in verse 7.

7“But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. 8They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT)

This is a familiar passage that many people love: I’m guessing the earlier verses have been passed over by most of us. I love verse 8. I want to have roots that reach deep into the water. I don’t want to be bothered by my environment. I’d rather produce good fruit than be a stunted shrub. The key is trusting in God – putting all our hope and confidence in Him, not in our own effort.

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. His desire is to bless us. When we trust Him, we put ourselves in the place of receiving His blessing, His Kingdom. God has been encouraging me and I want to encourage all of us to give more of your day to God, to give more of your week to Him. Challenge yourself this week – start with just a week – and this afternoon look at your calendar and carve out an evening or a morning to spend a longer period of time with God.

Don’t put yourself under a curse by relying on your own strength. Put yourself in a position to receive God’s tremendous blessings.

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It started with a Christian novel written by Charles Sheldon. In His Steps was subtitled “What Would Jesus Do?” It’s a good book and worth reading. The question became popular in Christian circles in the 1990s. It’s not a bad question, but I think it’s time to move past it to an even better question:

“Jesus, what would You do?”

You see, one is a mental exercise. The other invites relationship. Asking “what would Jesus do?” begins a process of me evaluating the situation and what Scripture says about how I should act in that situation. Asking “Jesus, what would You do?” pauses for fellowship with the One who holds the world together, loves us enough to pay the penalty for our sins, and longs for us to be with Him. It invites prayer – a conversation with Jesus.

The mental exercise is good. And there’s nothing wrong with bringing our minds into our faith – God created our minds and He wants us to use them. But He also created us for fellowship with Him and wants us to build that relationship.

The next time you’re faced with a decision, don’t ask “What would Jesus do?” Instead, turn to Jesus and ask “Lord, what would You do?” After all, wisdom comes from God.

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The message of yesterday’s blog was that in order to be obedient to the Lord, we must first hear what he says, and to properly hear him, we have to be listening. We want to be able to say like Peter said “Lord, because you say so, I will do it” (Luke 5:5). When Peter responded, Jesus turned a night of fishing with no catch into a morning of one last dropping of his nets and a boat overflowing with fish.

Ezekiel responded much as Peter did when He heard God’s instructions – instructions that were crazier than those He gave to Daniel. The results were crazier, too. And the whole story, although far removed from our lives, has application to it. God explained to Ezekiel that the prophecy was meant for the people of Israel, but I think we can look at the whole of it and apply it metaphorically to our lives. We can take the principles from it and apply them to each of our lives.

So let’s go to Ezekiel 37 and read about Ezekiel’s experience in a valley filled with dry bones. God grabbed me in the first verse!

The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones.
Ezekiel 37:1 (NLT)

I have a question for you – Are there dry bones in your life?

One of the commentaries I read about this passage described the scene this way: Ezekiel was taken “to a valley filled with many bleached bones, scattered on the ground, the skeletons of corpses long ago decomposed and devoured by carrion-eating birds and animals.” Are there areas of your life like that? I have some. Some dreams that have been waiting to be fulfilled for a long time. Some areas that I’ve neglected for so long that they are decomposing. Perhaps some relationships or disciplines that in the busyness of life I’ve left scattered on the ground in my haste to do the next thing on my list. The longer I’m away from the discipline, the more it dies and I die with it. It might be your prayer life or Bible reading or the practice of giving thanks or praising God. Are there areas of your life that feel brittle and wasted or wasting away?

“The LORD took hold of me…”

This first phrase got my attention. “The Lord took hold of me.” You are probably more accustomed to reading it in the NIV or King James Version, where it is translated “The hand of the Lord was upon me.” While both translations mean the same thing, the New Living Translation connotatively seems radically different. When I hear or read “The hand of the Lord was upon me” I think of my Father resting His hand on my shoulder and leading me somewhere. The phrase “The Lord took hold of me” implies that I have no choice, that He’s grabbing me by the collar or with both hands and forcibly taking me somewhere. And that’s truer to the meaning of the verse. The word translated “hand” in the NIV means hand, but it means “a hand with power” – which is consistent with the rest of the verse that talks about being carried away by the Spirit, Ruach, of the Lord.

So the first thing I heard the Holy Spirit asking me was “Have you allowed the Lord to take hold of you? Or are you resisting Him? Are you yielding only a little when He wants to take hold of you and take you places you couldn’t go on your own?” Lord, I’m listening…how can I obey?

Have you allowed the Lord to take hold of you? That’s the first thing God is asking you today. He is encouraging us to yield to His power. He is encouraging us to yield to His Spirit’s working. Ezekiel would not have had the experiencing of speaking to the dry bones if he hadn’t allowed the Lord to take hold of him and take him to the valley of dry bones.

One of the things I like about this passage is the interaction between Ezekiel and the Lord. Ezekiel doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. He’s just been forcibly taken and gently placed in a valley filled with bones. Imagine his confusion. Let’s read more about the valley:

1The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. 2He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out.
Ezekiel 37:1-2 (NLT)

Basically the Lord led Ezekiel on a tour through the dry bones. They walked among the dry bones. The bones were all around him.

I think we often avoid those valleys of dry bones in our lives – the valleys of decay and brokenness – because they were created by some kind of devastation. The valley of dry bones is a place of death. Something horrible happened to create that valley. Lord, I don’t want to go back there. Don’t take hold of me and take me there!

But if we listen to the Lord, the panic or depression that can take hold of us in the valley is held at bay as He speaks. When God takes us to the valley of decay and brokenness – it’s not to cause us more pain. It’s to bring us back to life. So let Him take hold of you and lead you to the dry places. Then listen.

It’s interesting that when God spoke, it was in the form of a question.

Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
Ezekiel 37:3a (NLT)

God often asks us a question simply to open our mind to possibilities. “Sandy, can this dream live again?” “Sandy, can this relationship be repaired?” “Sandy, can this spiritual discipline that has been long forgotten come back to life?” “Sandy, can our relationship be restored – returned to what it once was?” Maybe that’s where you are – feeling alienated from God. It’s a painful place to be. And maybe you’re feeling like you’re doing everything you can and still you’re far from God. “Can this relationship come alive again?”

“O Sovereign LORD,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
Ezekiel 37:b (NLT)

Ezekiel answers God’s question honestly. I don’t know. Only You know, Lord. I have no power to change the situation. But You do. Can this dream come alive again? I don’t know. Can this relationship be repaired? I don’t know. Hidden in Ezekiel’s answer is a question – the same question God asked him – can these bones come alive again?

So God answers his question:

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, …
Ezekiel 37:4a (NLT)

God says – “You, Ezekiel, you speak to the bones. Speak a prophetic message.” The word “prophecy” means “speak by inspiration of God” – Listen to hear what God has to say, then speak it!

4Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, LISTEN to the word of the LORD! 5This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
Ezekiel 37:4-6 (NLT)

God goes on – “Speak to these bones. Call the dry bones to attention even though they are dead.” What is Ezekiel to say to the bones – “Listen up!” The word translated “listen” also means “obey” – What did Peter say? “Because you say so, I will do it.” (Luke 5:5)

Broken dreams, LISTEN to the word of the Lord. Dead relationship…LISTEN to the word of the Lord.

“Dry bones, listen for the voice of God! The sovereign God says…”

Who says? The Sovereign God – Adonai Jehovah – the self-existing God who controls all things – Listen to what He says!

“The sovereign Lord says “I.am.going.to.put.breath.into.you.and.make.you.live.again!”

Read that passage again. “The sovereign Lord says “I.am.going.to.put.breath.into.you.and.make.you.live.again!”

God says we’re to speak to the dry bones in our lives: “Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again!” Do you believe He can do it?

Well, in case you doubt that it will be a full and beautiful life, let me be more clear God says – “I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you and you will come to life.”

You know, there’s life and then there’s life. There’s life and then there’s life abundant. Life abundant isn’t just life made alive, it is life adorned – with flesh and muscles and skin! It’s life with the breath of God inside us. It is knowing that He is the Lord. That’s God’s promise.

Let’s step back for a second. Who again was he making this promise to? The decimated Israelites who were nothing more than dead, dry, brittle bones because of their own disobedience! So you know what? I may have messed up big time and that’s why my dreams are unfulfilled or that’s why my relationship with God has gone stale or that’s why my relationship with my husband is distant or cold. But God…But God…offers grace and through that grace and His sovereign power, he offers life.

Scripture says that faith comes by hearing. In this passage, life comes by hearing – listening to the word of God and speaking it as He instructs. Faith and life are inseparable. They cannot be divorced from one another! God says “listen, speak and live…”

Let’s see what Ezekiel does:

So I spoke this message, just as he told me.
Ezekiel 37:7a (NLT)

Like Peter, Ezekiel is saying “Because you said so, I will do it!”

7bSuddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
Ezekiel 37:7b-8 (NLT)

And an amazing thing happened! God was true to His word! He caused the bones of each body to come together and attach themselves as complete skeletons.

Mr. T on the old television show The A Team? “I love it when a good plan comes together!” I love it when God is true to His Word.

As Ezekiel watched, God did what He said He would do….almost. He got all the way through putting skin on the bodies, but still they had no breath. What God did was amazing, miraculous. But it wasn’t finished. So He gave Ezekiel another task:

9Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man.
Ezekiel 37:9a (NLT)

Remember, we said that the word “prophecy” means “speak by inspiration of God” – Listen to hear what God has to say, then speak it!

9Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

10So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
Ezekiel 37:9-10 (NLT)

God gives Ezekiel a second assignment required to finish the task.

Too often we watch and are so amazed at what God has done that we are satisfied with a partial fulfillment of God’s promise. We’re satisfied with a partial healing or a partial restoration. “Then skin formed over them but they still had no breath in them.” Don’t settle for half of what God has promised. Yes, half of what He promised is amazing, but it’s only half. It’s not the glass that’s half full, it’s our life that’s half full. Don’t settle.

Speak again. Call on the Lord. Don’t settle for half healing. 

I’ve been watching our plants grow. They grow fast and I love it. Then they bud. Then they produce fruit. I mean, the process is amazing. But if we stop watering and nurturing at any point in the process, the plant dies. Words of prophecy are the watering and nurturing that our bones, our souls, need. So, we listen for His voice…and we speak as He commands.

Let’s finish the passage.

11Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ 12Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the LORD. 14I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!’”
11zekiel 37:11-14 (NLT)

That brings us back to our first question: Are there dry bones in your life? Let God “take hold of you,” have control, “carry you away by the Spirit.” Don’t give God just a little control, let Him carry you away. Yes, even to the place of the dry bones – because sometimes we have to visit those dark places to let God heal them. If we don’t give Him all the pieces, He can’t make us whole.

There is a line in the Christafari song in yesterday’s blog that I didn’t really hear until I listened to the song for about the tenth time. It’s during the extended “reggae speak” portion and they say “With God’s all seeing eyes you will see clearly that your day to day life it is just prophecy; to be fulfilled by God Almighty.”

Your life – the life God wants you to lead – is waiting for you to prophecy it so God Almighty can fulfill it.

“Speak a prophetic message to these bones” God told Ezekiel. Speak a prophetic message to the broken, dead bones, so that they might live! Listen up, broken dead bones – The Sovereign Lord wants to impart life to you.

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Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Luke 5:5 (NIV)

That was a key verse in our Pastor’s message a few weeks ago. At least it was the key verse for me. I was struck by the phrase “Because the Lord says so, I will do it.” Doesn’t matter if I want to or not. Doesn’t matter if it’s morning and I’ve worked all night and I’m exhausted…or in my case, it’s evening and I’ve worked all day and I’m exhausted. Doesn’t matter if I’m discouraged because I’ve worked all day and haven’t made any money.

“Because the Lord says so, I will do it.”

Those were the situations Peter was in when he spoke those words. Peter, the professional fisherman, had fished all night – and he hadn’t caught anything. Jesus, this carpenter, came along and suggested he throw out his nets again. Peter could have had many responses, not the least of which was offense that this carpenter had the audacity to tell him how to do what he’d been doing all his life. But he doesn’t take that attitude. He calls Jesus “Master.” Then he explains the obvious (because he’s not sitting there cleaning fish, he’s sitting there repairing his nets) – that he worked all night and didn’t catch any fish. Put yourself in Peter’s sandals – he’s tired, he’s frustrated and he’s not getting paid for anything he did last night. Still, his attitude is respectful, humble and obedient. “Because you say so, I will do it.”

Are you ready to be obedient when you hear God’s voice? I sure want to be. I know I have a predisposition toward it – my spirit and heart want to say “yes!” For me the challenge is more likely to be hearing God’s voice than saying “yes.” Because I can get caught up in what I’m doing and forget to listen. In order for me to be able to say as Peter did “Because you say so, Lord…” I have to listen – I have to hear God’s voice.

A few days after our pastor preached about Peter’s obedience, Phil and I were listening to Pandora in our office. As we were working, this reggae song came on and a couple of minutes into it, I began to understand the words. The key phrase was “Listening for your voice!”

Take a listen to Christafari’s song Listening. I’ve included the lyrics after the song.

 

 

LISTENING by Christafari (I Kings 19: 11-12)
Lyrics from elyrics (modified by listening to the song)

So it seems sometimes that I grow weary (Isa. 40: 29)
and that the world around will overtake me.
And all the things I pray just seem to float away
as I stand alone and dream of you.

Listening – For your light to shine the way through the darkest night (II Cor. 4: 6).
Listening – For comfort and love to feel all right (Ps. 119: 50-52, 76)

Chorus: So I’m listening for Your voice to softly call my name.
I’m listening for Your voice to help me on my way.
Yes I am listening for Your voice I long to hear You say
“My child I’ve come and here I’ll stay.”

It is the still small voice the man listens for,
sometimes He shouts more time He whispers.
(2X)

For there are times in life I feel quite empty,
and there are times when nothing will prevent me
from striving day to day trying
to find a way to a love I can only find in You, ya you.

Listening – In moments, when I find it hard to hear you.
Listening – I find the solution in your Word.

Chorus

I want you to listen the tear from my eye well shines and glistens.
God’s Word is sweet as honey and it heals as medicine (Ps. 119: 103, 107: 20)
It soothes my soul what the pastor says to do (Heb. 13: 17)
[He also speaks] Through your brothers and sisters and the mind of Christ in you. (I Cor. 2: 16)
So I want you to listen and to listen cleanly.
With God’s all seeing eyes you will see clearly
that your day to day life it is just prophecy; to be fulfilled by God Almighty. (Deut. 30: 20)

Chorus

~~~~~~

Somehow I think the voice Christafari’s listening for sounds a whole lot different from the voice I’m listening for! But it’s the same God. Each of us hears God’s voice differently, but the key is listening. Because sometimes He SHOUTS, but more time he whispers. So we have to be actively listening. Being aware that He wants to speak and listening for His voice.

And then when we hear His voice, saying as Peter did “because You say so, I will do it.”

Ezekiel responded much as Peter did when He heard God’s instructions. In Ezekiel’s case, God gave him some pretty wild instructions. But because it was God who said so, Zek obeyed. Tomorrow we’ll look at Ezekiel listening to God’s voice and speaking it into reality. Stay tuned.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartChoosing to take offense brings a seed into our lives that is the antithesis of the joy God wants us to have. It becomes a matter that occupies our thoughts, pulling us down from the heights of enjoying God’s glory to the depths of allowing satan to rent space in our head and heart. Offenses can easily take root that creates a stronghold of bitterness. Bitterness can result from two sources: disappointments of life and painful relationships. Let’s look at both.

Disappointments of Life
We will all experience disappointments in life. When those disappointments cause bitterness within us, it is because we have taken offense at the way God has dealt with us. We have ceased to practice thanksgiving. We have ceased to remember His goodness to us. Instead, the disappointment takes root and we believe the lies the enemy shouts in our ears.
You deserve better! God doesn’t care about you! God has rejected you and always will reject you! You’re not good enough for Him.
Lies, friends! They’re all lies! They lead to bitterness in our heart and soul. They rob us of all joy. Combat the lies of the enemy with the Truth of God’s Word.

It is out of God’s great love for you that He sent Christ to die for you. He has saved you and gifted you and has a purpose for you. He has gone to prepare a home for you so that one day you will be with Him. No, you’re not good enough for Him on your own – but He has credited the righteousness of Christ to you.

Make a concerted effort to practice thanksgiving – first thing every morning and last thing every evening. Praise Him before each meal. Look for His blessings instead of at what you haven’t received.

Painful Relationships
Just as we will all experienced disappointments in life, we will all experience being betrayed or hurt or disappointed by someone we love. If we take offense when that occurs, the bitterness root extends its tentacles. Those betrayals, hurts and disappointments must be released to God and healed by God. Forgiveness is not an option in the Kingdom of God.

14“If you forgive those who sin against you, [Jesus said,] your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Matthew 6:9-15 (NLT)

We forgive out of obedience, but the wonderful thing about God’s economy is that obedience always carries a blessing. When we forgive, bitterness has no place in our heart or soul.

And that leaves lots of room for joy. Taking offense is the root of the two causes of bitterness. When we develop the unoffendable heart, there is bad soil in our heart in which bitterness can take root. But there is plenty of good soil in which joy can grow…and grow and grow.
A joyful heart is a blessing that transcends our circumstances. It pins its hope on the deep, abiding knowledge that God is good, that He has saved us and transformed us, and He will accept us with loving arms in heaven. In fact, Jesus is eagerly waiting for us there. He longs for us to be with Him. We are His bride.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartI find that there are certain conditions in my life that lead to holy boldness:

Confidence – When I am feeling confident, I am bold, not timid.

Freedom – When I am experiencing freedom, I am bold because there’s nothing that is hindering me from being so.

Security – When I am feeling secure, I can make bold moves instead of playing it safe.

Being loved – When I know I am loved and will be loved even if I fail, I can step out in boldness, not being limited by any fear of what others will think.

Having hope – When I have hope, I can climb mountains that are otherwise too overwhelming.

All of these things are found in faith. All of these things are results of a faith-filled heart. Boldness – holy boldness – comes from a faith-filled heart, and it is the difference between timidly attempting the assignments God has given me and boldly attacking the assignments He has designed for my life.

All these conditions come from our faith in Christ. Let’s look at Scriptures that relate to each.

Confidence – Our confidence comes from Him – knowing what He has done for us and what awaits us:

Since this new way [that is, faith in Christ] gives us such confidence, we can be very bold.
2 Corinthians 3:12 (NLT)

Freedom – Oh, the freedom that comes from knowing God:

He gave himself for us to set us free from every sin and to cleanse us so that we can be his special people who are enthusiastic about doing good things.
Titus 2:14 (GW)

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)

Security – Having security means I am not worried about what will happen to me; I’m not to take action.

But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
Psalm 3:3 (NLT)

2He sang: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; 3my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence.
2 Samuel 22:2-3 (NLT)

Being loved – Knowing that we are loved brings the greatest freedom and in turn, the greatest boldness. It is what causes us to run freely in the wind and fiercely into battle.

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

But God showed [demonstrated] his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 5:8 (NLT)

Having hope – Hope gives us reason to look forward – reason to live boldly today because of what awaits us tomorrow.

18So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.19This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.
Hebrews 6:18-19 (NLT)

Faith in Christ is the key to conditions of the heart that lead to a holy boldness.

Similarly, there are conditions of the heart that lead to reckless boldness. This may not be an exhaustive list, but I find these conditions to be the most common reason we take recklessly bold actions:

Fatalism – When I believe that “whatever is supposed to happen will happen,” I am less careful about where I step and the path I take. Fatalism is a lie from the enemy. Scripture is clear that we have personal responsibility to pursue God, to choose to obey Him by taking the actions He assigns to us, not waiting to see what will happen and trusting it has been His will.

Utter sense of futility – When “who cares” and “what difference does it make” are phrases that have captured my mind and heart, I either fall into the depression of nothingness or take rash action. Of course these phrases are also whispers from the enemy. They are signs that he has been on the prowl, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He’s trying to devour you. God cares and He has purposes for your life that reach into eternity.

Rebellion – When I’ve become tired of following my King and decide to go my own way and make my own decisions, all of my actions can be labeled reckless boldness. We can’t blame the enemy on this. This is sin. It is our own selfish pride. It is thinking we have a better plan than God. It requires repentance – a genuine sorrow for our attitudes and actions, a turning to God for forgiveness and a change in our behavior and thoughts.

Disappointment with God – When God doesn’t live up to our expectations (oh, Lord, it is difficult for me to even write this, but I know there are time when we feel like this – forgive us when You are so worthy of our worship even when we feel disappointed) – when God doesn’t live up to our expectations, our hearts can grow cold. Our minds build a case against Him and our attitudes turn to rebellion. Being disappointed with God doesn’t have an easy solution – it’s usually a combination of repentance for our own wrong attitudes with a heavy dose of experiencing God’s great love. It requires an understanding that God’s plan is greater than our earthly desires.

The antidote to all of these conditions that lead to reckless boldness is faith. A faith-filled heart is the greatest weapon against these conditions. A faith-filled heart is the greatest weapon against reckless boldness. That faith comes from being with Jesus. We see it again and again in the New Testament.

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.
Acts 4:13 (NLT)

Because the men had been with Jesus, they had a holy boldness that confounded the leaders. We can have that same holy boldness.

It is also because of our faith in Christ that we can come into God’s presence freely – and it is in God’s presence where we find the source of all the conditions that lead to holy boldness:

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.
Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.
Hebrews 10:19 (NLT)

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)

Our faith-filled heart enables us to fulfill God’s purposes in our lives – it gives us the holy boldness we would otherwise lack and it keeps us from acting recklessly, without caution or care.

We have been studying Ephesians with our nursing home Bible study group and I have been so strongly impacted by Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians. I have been praying this prayer at every gathering since we studied the passage and regularly for myself and Phil. It seems so appropriate to every venue. And it is totally appropriate here. I pray for you as Paul prayed for the Ephesians:

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

I can’t pray it any better. Knowing the vastness of God’s love for you, may you be filled to the “measure of all the fullness of God.” Whew! That’s gonna lead to some holy boldness!

If this blog has blessed you or helped you live in holy boldness, please share it with others. You can use one of the buttons below to share. Let’s help one another become a people worthy of God’s calling (Ephesians 4:1).

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