Archive for the “Serving God” Category

I’ve taken up a new sport – target shooting! If you had told me a year ago that I’d be going to the shooting range on a regular basis I would certainly have told you that you had me confused with someone else. And I would have been wrong. There are many reasons why I’ve picked up this sport, and I’ll leave the discussion of those for another blog. Today I want to share general lessons about my journey to learn a new sport.

When Phil and I decided to take up target shooting, we first signed us up for a gun safety class. The class included eight hours of classroom instruction followed by a couple of hours at a shooting range.

I was intimidated. But the instructor was great and he quickly put us at ease in both locations. So eventually we were trained enough to feel comfortable to go to the range alone. With our new guns. And comfortable is a relative term.

I share all this so that you understand two things:

  1. We approached the sport with a “safety first” perspective. I understand that talking about guns and target shooting can make some people uncomfortable. It did me.
  2. I was way out of my element. I had one afternoon of pistol safety, handling and shooting instruction before I became an Air Force officer…thirty-five years ago! I didn’t shoot well enough then to “qualify” – that is, be recognized as passing the training. It was OK because I was clearly headed for a desk job.

Let me repeat: I was out of my element. No computer, no desk, no pulpit. Just guns, ammo and the outdoors. Oh, and hearing protection. Trust me, no one looks good in hearing protection. And I had absolutely no idea how to hear what Phil was saying to me when I was wearing it! Ears on, ears off…ears on, ears off. No one else on the range seemed to be having this problem. Ugh. (FYI, I’ve since cracked the code – you purchase special (that is, more expensive) ear protection that filters out loud noise but lets in conversation level noise. Phil got me a pair for Christmas!)

God has used this journey into a new sport to teach me some things about myself and my walk with Him. I’m finally ready to share them with you. (FYI, usually when God teaches me something you’re the first to hear about it. These lessons were different – it took me longer to process them and be ready to share them with you.)

I had fallen into a life that lacked risk-taking. The first thing that smacked me in the face when I took up target shooting was the realization that I was intimidated by not knowing things. I was embarrassed at not knowing what to do when things didn’t go as planned. I was intimidated when we went gun shopping. I didn’t know what questions to ask and I knew that I wasn’t using terminology correctly. “They must think I’m such a fool,” I’d think. I hadn’t realized that being knowledgeable was so important to me.

That’s when I realized that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less accustomed to not knowing how to do something. Not because I’ve grown older, but because I’ve lived a “safer” life during the process – I take less risks. I don’t like that. While becoming less of a risk-taker is normal as one grows older (it’s often called wisdom!), as believers in Christ, we ought to always be living a little on the edge. I was attending a business training webinar today and the speaker said something along the lines of your goals being too small (aka safe) if you can see yourself achieving them on your own. I want to have God-sized goals for my life. That means trying new things and taking God-ordained risks.

I like being good at things. (Hmmm, there’s got to be too much pride in that.) When we first started going to the range, it quickly became clear that I wasn’t very good at hitting the target! I was surprised by that but even more surprised at how much being good at something impacted how much I enjoyed it. I was consistently the worst person at the range. That embarrassed me. I struggled to enjoy a sport at which I seemed to have little ability.

I really liked many things about the sport – I was spending more time outdoors, I was getting more exercise, I was spending more time in leisure activities with my husband, I was learning something new. Those were all positives. The only negative was that I wasn’t good at it. And because of that, I really struggled to enjoy myself. It was as if my identity or worth was somehow connected to being good at a sport I was just learning. How stupid is that? Pretty stupid is the answer. Not being good at target shooting was the only thing that was keeping me from totally enjoying myself.

And I wanted to be enjoying myself. Phil was enjoying the sport a great deal and I wanted to share it with him. So I had to learn how to be happy with my poor performance – which is a strange combination of lowering my expectations while still keeping them high. If I was going to enjoy our range outings, I needed to not be negatively impacted by poor aim while still trying to get better at hitting the target. There are spiritual implications in that lesson. In Christ, I am called to always hope and always have faith, even when I don’t see the answers to my prayers becoming a reality. I’m to be content in whatever circumstances God has placed me. Enjoying target shooting has helped me to understand some of the dynamic tension at work in living contradictions.

Hitting the target requires keeping many disciplines in balance. There are many elements that go into accurate shooting – breath control, stance, site, trigger pull, for example. All are required to be successful. You can do pretty well by concentrating on just a couple of them, but to excel requires attention to detail in each area. I learned quickly that I could have everything right except trigger pull and I might as well have had none of them right. Conversely, when I got trigger pull down, I would shoot better if I remembered to breath correctly, but even when I forgot I’d hit still the target…perhaps not quite where I was aiming, but pretty close.

The same is true for our walk with the Lord. To have a healthy and dynamic relationship with God, we can’t rely on being consistent in just one discipline. I can pray regularly, but if I don’t pair that with reading Scripture, my prayers will soon be off the mark. They will quickly degrade into prayers that don’t focus on God’s desires and His plans. Similarly, I can prayer regularly and consistently read my Bible, but if I don’t put any of God’s commandments into action my spiritual journey will progress with a significant limp. If I don’t serve God and others in some way, I lose the opportunity to grow through sacrifice and working with others. And if I pray and read and serve well but my life lacks worship – spending time in intimacy with the Lord – I am at risk for becoming burdened by the disciplines and losing my first love.

My journey into learning a new sport has been interesting on many levels. Who would have thought that it would have included lessons about myself and God? I thought I was just humoring my husband because he thought it would be fun. God really does use all things for our good – even those things we’re not good at!

Let me encourage you today to challenge yourself in some new area. You, too, might be surprised at the lessons He has in store for you. So go ahead – make 2013 the year you learn something new!

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One would have to be in a pretty bad place for prison to be considered a promotion…at least as we view things. Perhaps, however, we’re not seeing with God’s eyes.

The story of Joseph is an interesting one. Sold by his brothers to traveling merchants, he ended up in the household of the Pharaoh’s (King’s) Chief of Security, Potiphar. He was quickly promoted to being Potiphar’s personal assistant and placed in charge of his entire household. Potiphar’s wife found Joseph quite attractive and begged him (repeatedly) to have sex with her. When Joseph refused, she accused him of trying to rape her. Without any investigation or even listening to Joseph’s side of the story, Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison. For the second time in his life, Joseph was dealt a tremendous injustice.

I don’t think there are any of us who would consider Joseph’s change in position a promotion. Yet when we see the whole of the story, we can see that it was.

Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison.
Genesis 39:22 (NLT)

In Potiphar’s home, Joseph learned how to run a home. In prison, Joseph learned how to run a prison. He got practical experience in how to manage the prison for the Pharaoh of Egypt. Yes, he was a slave in both cases, but running a prison is a much larger responsibility than running a home.

Being in prison also put Joseph in the place he needed to be to receive his next promotion. It was in prison that he met the Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer and baker. It would be the cup-bearer who would introduce the Pharaoh to Joseph. It would then be Pharaoh who promoted Joseph to Prime Minister of Egypt. It is this promotion that put Joseph in a position to save his brothers (yes, the very brothers who had sold him into slavery) and his father from dying of hunger during the severe famine. He learned and refined the skills he needed during his time as Potiphar’s assistant and head of the Pharaoh’s prison.

In each situation, God was preparing Joseph for his next assignment.

I can’t imagine that Joseph was happy about being sold to Potiphar or being thrown in jail. Nevertheless, he was faithful to God – which means more than praying – he was faithful to do his best in the situation God had placed him.

It’s painful to realize that it is God who has placed us where we are when we’re not where we want to be or where we think we deserve to be. I remember an exceedingly painful time in my life when thinking that God had allowed what had transpired to happen only magnified my pain. Joseph’s situation was worse than mine. I may have been betrayed, but I wasn’t sold to others and I wasn’t thrown into prison for staying faithful to God.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

But “working things together for good” is a process. The start of a project – whether it’s a painting or a building or cleaning the house – is often messy. And those involved in a project from the start can get pretty messy before they receive accolades for the finished product.

Our role in all this is to remain both faithful and full of faith – faithful to be obedient to One who knows the end before we even see the beginning and full of faith that He is good and is working for our good.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

Are you being challenged to be faithful or full of faith today? Don’t give up. God is working – in you, in those around you, in the situation and in your future. In the meantime…

  • Focus on God, not on your situation.
  • Remember His goodness and His faithfulness.
  • Know that His ways bring blessing even if your current circumstances seem to prove otherwise.
  • Remain thankful. Look for opportunities to be thankful.
  • Practice the sacrifice of praise – praising God in the midst of challenging times.
  • Find a church family whose love will help you through to the other side.
  • Seek His presence regularly.

These things sound like platitudes, but they are foundational actions that will help you remain steadfast during the challenging times in your life. They will help you remain both faithful and full of faith.

By the way…did you notice that all the words first words in the above list are verbs – action words. Be proactive when you’re in challenging situations. Work at staying close to God. Work at staying faithful and full of faith.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

The humble shall see their God at work and be glad;
And you who seek God, your hearts shall live.
Psalm 69:32 (NLT/NKJV)

A seeking heart is not simply a curious heart. Rather, it is a heart that approaches God with purpose and intent. Curiosity is simply a “wondering.” I wonder what’s at the end of this road. I wonder if that dog is friendly. We may begin our pursuit with a wondering – does He exist? Is He real? Will He answer me? God will respond to our wonderings – our curiosity, but only to a point. He will reveal a bit of Himself to the curious. But if we truly want to know God, we must move beyond curiosity to humility and obedience.

Satisfying our curiosity is something we do for entertainment and amusement. While God will provide entertainment and amusement, we don’t seek Him for that. We seek Him because He is worthy of our attention, praise and obedience. Curiosity is me-focused (satisfying myself); it carries a degree of arrogance in it. Seeking God is God-focused. A heart that seeks God recognizes the difference and approaches God in humility.

Let me pause here to say that there is a kind of curiosity that is truly innocent and child-like. That curiosity is filled with awe and it honors God. Curiosity in adults has been tainted by our sin and it places a distance between the one being curious and the thing being sought. It carries inside it a degree of arrogance that places the seeker above the thing being sought. Child-like curiosity is the very opposite. As we mature in Christ, He transforms our curiosity into child-like curiosity. That transformation occurs as our degree of humility grows.

The humble shall see their God at work and be glad;
And you who seek God, your hearts shall live.
Psalm 69:32 (NLT/NKJV)

The humble heart recognizes that He is the Creator and we are the created. It recognizes that we are but dust and He is all glory. It knows that He is King and we are His servants. We may not always act that way, but it is truth. If we want to know God we must seek Him with the proper attitude. He holds the power of life and death. We ought to tremble with both anticipation and fear as we approach Him; not simply with curiosity at what we might find.

As we develop a humble heart, we are being transformed into the image of Christ. Jesus described Himself as being “humble and gentle at heart” (Matthew 11:29). We not only honor God when we seek Him in humility, we become like Him.

An Obedient Heart
A heart that seeks God is a heart that desires – plans – to be obedient to Him. Samuel provides an excellent illustration of this. Samuel’s mother had been barren many years until God gave her a son whom she named Samuel. When Samuel was weaned, she gave him back to God and he grew up in the tabernacle being mentored and discipled by the priest Eli.

2One night Eli, who was almost blind by now, had gone to bed. 3The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle near the Ark of God.

4Suddenly the LORD called out, “Samuel!”

“Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” 5He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.
1 Samuel 3:2-5 (NLT)

This happened two additional times. Each time God called, Samuel immediately “got up and ran to Eli.” Samuel was sleeping when this happened, but when he heard his name called, he immediately inconvenienced himself and ran to be obedient. He didn’t roll over thinking “I’ll deal with it in the morning.” He was immediately obedient. It was in his heart to be so.

A heart that seeks God – one that wants to know Him more and more each day – will have the same disposition. Samuel was new at this – he didn’t know it was the Lord calling him, but his heart was already prepared to be obedient. After this happened two additional times Eli realized that God was calling Samuel’s name. He told Samuel to respond to the Lord when he called again.

And the LORD came and called [a fourth time] as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”

And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”
1 Samuel 3:10 (NLT)

Samuel has been quickly obedient to run to Eli each time he heard his name called. He was then obedient to Eli by responding to God when he heard his name called a fourth time. What is interesting about Samuel’s response to God is the word “listening.” It is the Hebrew word shama (pronounced shaw-ma’). It means to listen or hear with an intention to obey. What Samuel really said to God was “Your servant is listening and ready to obey.”

A heart that seeks God is one that has a predisposition to obey. God rewards obedience. No, our salvation is not based on our performance – our salvation, spending eternity with God in heaven, is based on our faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross. It is based on asking His forgiveness for the sins we’ve committed and placing our trust in Jesus who already paid the penalty for those sins. Period. Yet…God rewards our obedience. The Bible is as clear about that point as it is about faith being the sole requirement for salvation.

If you want to know God more, you must be willing to be more obedient. When He calls, run to obey. You will see Him perform things through you and you will get to know Him in a deeper and more wonder-ful way. It will build in you a more humble heart. It will cause you to seek Him more with a heart filled with child-like curiosity – a heart filled with awe and wonder.

God doesn’t speak because He likes the sound of His voice! He speaks to get our attention and to teach us or give us an assignment. The Lord’s voice is precious…don’t waste it!

Fortunately, He is willing to speak to us again if we’ve ignored Him in the past (and we all have at some point or another). Repent of having “deaf ears” and “slow obedience” in the past and ask Him to speak to you again. Then listen closely for His voice and when He speaks, respond as Samuel did “Lord, your servant is shama.”

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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?”

Meditating
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.

Worshiping
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.

Journaling
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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I wonder if the story of Noah impacts other people as much as it does me? I’ve already blogged about it three times:

In 2009 I wrote a blog titled Shut In & Remembered about how it was God who shut the door behind Noah and his family after they entered the ark, and then it was the Lord who remembered them and sent a wind to cause the flood waters to recede. What pictures of protection and compassion.

I wrote a second blog that year titled Worship First about how Noah’s first action – his FIRST action – when he got off the ark was to build an ark and worship God. After being cooped up in an ark with all those animals, he didn’t enjoy the freedom of running in the fresh air and he didn’t stand with the sun streaming down on him. He bowed and worshiped. Wow!

In 2012 in a blog titled A New Lesson from an Old Story I rejoiced at God going above and beyond when he repopulated the earth with plants before he even released Noah from the ark. I had always pictured Noah stopping off the ark into a world that had been devastated by the flood. Not our God! He prepared the land before releasing Noah and his family into it.

In today’s Resting at the River’s Edge readings, a different aspect of the account of Noah impressed me. The story of Noah begins with a simple verse:

But Noah pleased the LORD.
Genesis 6:8 (NCV)

It is followed several times by verses like this one

Noah did everything that God commanded him.
Genesis 6:22 and 7:5 (NCV), with similar verses in Genesis 7:9 and 7:16

Noah pleased God. And God asked him to do what would seem to be a wildly crazy thing – build an ark because it would rain for forty days and forty nights. Noah had never seen rain because the earth had been watered by springs from the ground prior to the flood. But Noah did everything that God commanded him. The desire of Noah’s heart was to please God. It was such a strong desire that he did an outlandish thing when God requested it. There isn’t a hint of complaint from Noah anywhere in the story. (And you know there was plenty to complain about – how foolish he looked to those around him as he built the ark (not to mention the cost of it), how closed in, dark and smelly the ark must have gotten, how long it must have seemed that he had to care for all those animals. It couldn’t have been a pleasant time of serving the Lord.)

Lord, I want to please You! Give me a heart that says “Yes!” to you without complaining!

The story ends with a lesson –

Then God blessed Noah…
Genesis 9:1 (NCV)

God blesses those who please Him and those who are obedient.

I would not have wanted the assignment God gave Noah. Sometimes I don’t want the assignments He gives me. I have found, though, that no matter how hard they seem at the time, they carry God’s blessings.

Next week we’ll begin a new series – Living from God’s Heart! It’s a series about developing a heart that pleases God and living out of that heart. Noah had a heart for God and lived from his heart. Be watching for our introduction to the series in the next few days.

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The LORD says, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on my name
Isaiah 65:1 (NLT)

This verse was a portion of our final Resting at the River’s Edge reading in 2012, and it seems a perfect verse to step us into 2013. God stands ready to help each of us if we will only cry out to Him.

What image comes to your mind when you read God’s exclamation “Here I am, here I am!” The first image that came to my mind was that of a little boy jumping up and down waving his arms in excitement as his grandparents get off the plane for a visit. He so wants them to find him.

Upon further reflection, though, I see parents reaching for their distraught child to protect and comfort her. The parents bend down to a level where the child can see them and are reaching out their arms to pull her in close saying “Here I am. It’s me. I’ve got you. You’re safe.” The child’s trauma begins to fade as the parents enclose her in the safety of their arms. Mom soothes her hair and kisses her forehead. Then Dad stands and turns his back to mom and child, facing outward to protect them from whomever and whatever would step forward to harm them. Those parents – both mom and dad together – provide an illustration of what God wants to be for us and do for us – save, comfort and protect. Later in the day mom and dad will talk with the child and explain how the child got herself into danger and how to protect herself in the future. God does that, too.

It is the story of the Old Testament and the New –

  • God gives us life – true life
    • He loves us
      • He teaches us how to live
        • He rescues us when we stray from that teaching
          • He loves us some more(!)
            • He protects us
              • He reminds us how to live
                • He loves us
                  • The process continues until our time on this earth is over, and then it starts all over with our life in eternity

That’s the God I want to serve in 2013. That’s the God I want to call out to in 2013. If you want that, too, pray with me. Here’s the simple prayer I prayed after reading this verse.

Lord, You are so good. Thank You for loving me. Thank You for seeking me – for crying out to me to follow you. Lord, keep me from my pride and sin in 2013. I am asking for your help now! Remind me to always cry out to you for help – when I am in great need and when my need is small. Lord, I want to find You in 2013. Help me to keep my eyes on You.

Friends, that is a prayer He will answer. I so look forward to what He has in store for me in 2013. Yes, I woke up this morning with the usual aches and pains. In fact, when I first woke this morning, the enemy tempted me to go down a long dark hallway with him. I fell into the trap for a short time until I realized how foolish I had been to not stop the thoughts immediately. We face choices many times every day – to look forward to what God has for us and call out to Him to bring that about (“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, Matthew 6:10, NASB), or we can let the forces of the enemy and this world trap us into living by its forces. God’s way is life! Let’s choose life.

Lord, we cry out to You for help! You are mighty to save. Save us now!

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About a week ago I blogged from Psalm 123:2

We keep looking to the LORD our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.
Psalm 123:2 (NLT)

In looking through some old notes, I found a link to this Chris Tomlin song with a note to add it to the end of the blog. Didn’t happen. But it’s worth adding even if it is a week late.

We’re to watch our Lord intense focus that catches His slightest move. The words to Tomlin’s song give us the purpose for our watching:

“Where You go, I’ll go. Where You stay I’ll stay. Where You move, I’ll move. Who You love I’ll love. How You serve I’ll serve.”

Lord, help me to watch You so that I can follow You. More today than yesterday, more tomorrow than today.
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Sit back and take a four minute worship break. Or make it eight minutes and commit again to follow Him.

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Watching Eye - Gray Background

1I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven.
2We keep looking to the LORD our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.
Psalm 123:1-2 (NLT)

Verse one made me smile. Because I love the imagery, He is enthroned in heaven and I know the peace that lifting my eyes to Him can bring.

Verse two challenged me. Because I know I don’t keep my eyes on the Lord as closely as servants watch their masters for the slightest signals.

All those movies about body guards and the Secret Service come to mind. Movies in which the protector watches the one being protected closely – their eyes constantly moving over the crowd for the slightest move or item out of place that might indicate a threat. Ready to spring into action. Always watching.

That’s how we’re to be with the Lord. Not watching the crowd for a disturbance as the Secret Service, but always watching the Lord for the slightest signal – watching for His mercy – watching so that we will recognize it when it arrives, watching so that we’ll be in the right place to receive it.

Of course we’re to watch for more than His mercy. We’re to watch for His signal to act, watch for opportunities to serve Him, watch for hints of His grace in our every day lives.

Are your eyes on Him so constantly that you see His hand in your circumstances? Are your eyes on Him so constantly that you see the sliver of light as He begins to crack open doors in the process of flinging them wide open? Are your eyes on Him so constantly that you see the twinkles of humor and love in His eyes as He watches over you and leads you?

Lord, teach me to keep my eyes on You.

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Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin…
Zechariah 4:10 (NLT)

I have been delaying starting several things for the Lord. In one case it’s simply a matter of not wanting to add something to my calendar. In another case, I’m not sure what the first step should be. In yet another case, I just haven’t blocked time into my schedule for it. In all cases, they are projects I believe the Lord initiated. (Do I really want to admit to you that I’m pausing at taking steps on projects the Lord initiated? I’m guessing you’ve done that too – sometimes we all need a bit of encouragement to follow the Lord’s promptings!)

Zechariah has been providing that encouragement to me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book over the last couple of weeks.

I have been asking the Lord a question in my special holiday getaways with Him“Lord, what in my life brings you joy?” Here’s one of the answers to my questions: “The Lord rejoices to see the work begin.” (Zechariah 4:10) My goal is to please the Lord – to bring Him joy because He gives such joy to me. Beginning these tasks is one way to bring Him joy.

I’m not climbing on a merry-go-round of beginnings (because we’ll see in future posts that the Lord is also pleased with continuing the effort begun). Nor am I overloading my schedule with things God is not calling me to. I am being encouraged, however, to begin those things that He’s prompted me to. And I don’t have to have a grand plan for the full accomplishment of them. Yes, I need a plan because without one, the projects are likely to die on the vine. But the full Scripture is this: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.” God doesn’t diss small beginnings. Rather, He rejoices that the project has begun.

I love that about God – He is such an encourager! I think I’ll go add something to my calendar and block some time into my schedule! But first…I get to finish decorating a Christmas tree that’s half covered in lights. Let the Christmas season begin!

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From Discouragement to Faith - FinalFaith is the confidence, assurance and substance of things hoped for – things we confidently expect to happen. It is the conviction and evidence of things not yet seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (expanded translation using NLT, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary)

The past week or two God has highlighted the word “perspective” for me – perspective in the sense of “how we choose to view things.” I want to choose to view things from a position of faith. That position is one of hope and confidence. That position is one of peace and calm. That position means living in the positive instead of the negative.

The key to living in the proper perspective is choosing to do so. My first blog in this series was all about making a decision not to camp out in discouragement but to move on to faith. I want to reiterate that important point in this last blog of the series. Faith isn’t a feeling. It is a choice.

It’s not a blind choice. It’s a choice made on evidence, experienced in both this realm and in the spiritual realm. Everything cannot and will not be explained in the physical realm in which we live. Otherwise there is no need for faith. There is, however, plenty of evidence that direct the reasonable person to choose faith. Having done so, God gives ample spiritual evidence – that is, the witness of His Spirit to our spirit.

Having chosen faith at some point – that is, having chosen to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for our sins so that we might share eternal life with Him, let’s choose to live by faith. Let’s choose to believe the whole Word of God and act upon it. Let’s choose to believe that God’s promises are real and that they were made by a God who delivers on them.

That means choosing to step away from discouragement. Discouragement hits everyone. It’s what we experience when what we were hoping for isn’t being immediately experienced. That happens. A lot. And it’s not fun. But we don’t have to react the way the world does. We can choose to respond by believing that God is good (He is, He really is!) and that He has our good in mind. Then we choose to wait expectantly for those good things to come.

Discouragement is a slippery place to be. It’s like a small plateau from which we can so easily slip over the edge and slide down into the valley, or we can purposefully look toward the hill and climb up to the next resting place. The valley will take your discouragement and turn it into depression. It’s not the place God wants you to settle. His desire is for you to dig deep and begin climbing up. Just as it does in the natural, climbing takes purposeful action and it takes energy. Sliding into the valley will happen on its own. If we want God’s best, we must make the choice to pursue it.

When you find yourself on that plateau of discouragement, don’t let yourself slip into the valley. Be purposeful in returning to a strong faith by taking these actions:

It’s time to go hiking! Let’s climb higher!

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