Posts Tagged “Graham Cooke”

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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Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Colossians 3:12 (NIV)

God is changing me! (And for that I am eternally thankful!) I am finally realizing that my “job” as a Christian is to bring the Kingdom of God into every place I go and every situation I face. Further, I’m realizing that the way I do that is not so much with my words, although as a speaker and writer, I place great importance on words. Before the words can have impact, though, the atmosphere must be one in which they can be heard.

Phil and I met my aunt at a restaurant recently to catch up. We’d heard good things about the restaurant and none of us had been to it yet. Boy did we pick the wrong restaurant! There was so much ambient noise in the restaurant that we couldn’t hear one another across the table.

Often, the ambient noise in our lives is like that of the restaurant – our circumstances scream so loudly that we can barely hear what others are saying to us. I suspect that the ambient noise for many who don’t know Christ is several decibels higher than for those of us who have the relief valves of prayer and worship. At least we have the opportunity to open the relief valve and let the noise drain into quietness and peace of God. (The more we abide in Christ, the more that relief valve is constantly open.)

When we bring the Kingdom of God into places and situations, we change the atmosphere from being highly charged with screaming voices to being highly charged with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood
John 1:5

People may not understand the light we’ve brought into the darkness (to mix metaphors), but they can’t help but notice it.

What a wonderful opportunity we have! All we have to do is be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient! Piece of cake, right? OK, maybe not. So let’s start by focusing on kindness.

In preparing for this blog, I did a search in the NIV translation of the Bible. I was surprised to find the word kindness used 56 times, mostly referring to the kindness of God. Author and speaker Graham Cooke often describes God as the kindest person He knows. Clearly, the Bible places great value on kindness. American culture – not so much! Our definition of kindness has deteriorated to the canned “Thank you shopping at WalMart. Have a nice day!” Nice sentiment; meaningless when expressed in a toneless manner and unaccompanied by a smile. If we are to imitate Christ, if we are to be “practicing Christians,” our lives will be different from those around us. One of the ways it should be different is that we ought to become “the kindest people others know.”

I’d sure like to get better at it, and the holiday season is the perfect time to begin.

What leads to un-kindness?
Unkindness says a great deal about the person practicing it (yes, unkindness is a practice just as kindness is). It says things like:

  • I’m more important than you are and don’t have time to treat you with respect.
  • I don’t value you as an individual so you are not worthy of my kindness.
  • I’m selfish and self-absorbed in my own issues – I don’t care enough about you to show you kindness.
  • I’m impatient (which is a whole lot like selfish and self-absorbed) and don’t have time to be kind to you.
  • I’m lazy and don’t make the effort to be kind to you.
  • I’m ignorant, believing anything or anyone who is different from me is just wrong and/or inferior. You happen to be different from me so I will treat you with the contempt you deserve instead of the kindness God commands.
  • I am disobedient to God’s Word which tells me to treat you with kindness, and my actions demonstrate that deep down inside, I’m unappreciative of the kindness God has shown me.

Ouch! The truth is that I am all those things without Christ. Each one of those sinful qualities can be found in my heart. I am thankful that I am forgiven and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There is, however, the constant urging to become the woman of God that He created me to be. There is the constant urging to beome the man or woman of God that He created you to be. So let’s look at the positive and turn our thoughts toward practicing our faith by demonstrating kindness toward others.

How might we show kindness in every day life?
Kindness is a virtue that has largely gone out of fashion. Let’s bring it back! Try these things:

  • Smile! Genuinely smile! I’ve lived most of my life not smiling at people and I’m ready to change that. I’ve found that when I do genuinely smile at people, I love the results! I feel better about myself and about life. And the people I smile at are often encouraged – they respond with surprise and their eyes light up.
  • Say “Thank you!” and mean it. Our response to the WalMart employee can easily be as automated as their thank you. When they say “Have a nice day!” don’t just mumble “thank you” as you pick up your bags and walk away. Pause and say “Thank you! I will. You have a nice day, too!” You’ll be surprised at some of the responses you get. It might even open up an opportunity for you to pray for them.
  • Do helpful things when you see people in need.
    • When you see someone struggling with something – carrying too many bags or wrangling children and groceries or about to drop the many papers in their hands – offer to help.
    • Have a co-worker that is suddenly under a pile of work? Offer to help.
    • How about taking time to help a neighbor rake their leaves or pull weeds?
    • When the snow begins to fly, don’t just shovel your walkway, do your neighbor’s (especially if you have a snow blower and they don’t or if they are elderly or a single mom).
    • Get into the habit of asking “How can I help?” At first, people will usually say that you can’t, but if you keep at it, many of them will become comfortable enough to let you help in some way.
  • Don’t respond with rudeness –no matter how rude they are to you!
  • Share your life. This season, invite others to become involved in your life. Here are some ideas:
    • Put up your Christmas trees together – first at their house, then at yours.
    • Go shopping together.
    • Share a soup & salad dinner during the week. Soup & salad is easy and fast, but gives you an opportunity to share life with someone who just might need a friend.
  • Use your talents to show others kindness. I have a friend who makes special memory cards when a family member dies. Another friend makes personal greeting cards for special occasions. If your strength is in business, mentor someone who is just getting started.
  • Be thankful for the kindness God has shown you.

Well that exhausts my list – at least for now. What suggestions do you have for making kindness a part of your every day life?

Let’s become better at being PC! Challenge yourself this season to show more kindness each day.

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
Romans 2:4

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This blog is the next in our “Heart of a Worshipper” series (HWS). You can find all of the blogs that have been published in this series listed here.

A Transparent Heart is…A Vulnerable Heart (Part 2)

Yesterday’s blog focused on the vulnerability that results from having a transparent heart and why that is so very scary. We only dealt with half the equation, though – that is, being vulnerable before God. Today we’ll look at being vulnerable in our relationship with other people.

Vulnerable Toward Others – Christ is Our Example

Having a vulnerable heart doesn’t apply only to our attitude toward God. If Christ is our example, we see that He chose to be vulnerable here on earth. He chose to love first. And it led to His death. To become Christ-like, then, we would also choose to love first and to die to self. We shouldn’t in any way deceive ourselves into thinking that the process of transformation is an easy one. Changing us into the likeness of Christ means methodically killing our flesh and our fleshly desires.

I heard one speaker describe it this way: God and Satan have one goal in common: They both want us dead – Scripture tells us that Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy; it also teaches that one of the Holy Spirit’s primary functions in our lives is to kill our flesh.

Being transformed means being reshaped and remolded; it means changing and most of us kind of like things the way they are. Remember the phrase from William Temple’s definition of worship: Worship is many things, all “gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore [worship is] the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.”

Worship, by its very essence, attacks our selfishness and self-centeredness, working the transformation process in our hearts, making it easier to work the transformation in our actions. Can the transformation happen without worship? Perhaps. But worship makes the transformation so much easier because it changes our heart, making it easier for us to work with the Holy Spirit to change our actions.

In his book A Divine Confrontation, Graham Cooke reminds us that God is not seeking a powerful people to represent Him. Rather, He looks for all those who are weak, foolish, despised, and written off; and He inhabits them with His own strength. He has not come to give strength, but to be strength to us as we relate to Him in weakness. If we do all that we can to NOT be vulnerable (which is our natural response), we quickly disqualify ourselves as people God can use. Keeping a transparent heart in worship allows us to remain vulnerable to God and He teaches and enables us to be vulnerable to others.

We must understand the difference between vulnerability and insecurity. All God’s dealings with us are to create maximum dependence upon Him. He calls us to do the impossible. He demands that we see what is invisible. He thrusts us into situations that overwhelm us. It could be rescuing more than a million people from bondage to the most cruel, occult, and oppressive regime of the day. (Moses managed to do it.) Or it could be…living a Godly life in an ungodly work environment. Either way it requires that we be vulnerable to God and to others.

When we are vulnerable, we see our inadequacies in the light of God’s sovereignty and power, and we discover hope and faith. Like Paul, we rejoice in our weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest upon us (see 2 Cor. 12:9-10). The whole point of vulnerability is to bring us to a place of restful dependence in a powerful and overcoming God. Vulnerability is knowing that God is happy to send us out as lambs amongst wolves because He is hugely confident in His own ability to watch over us and work through our weaknesses.

Graham Cooke concludes his short discussion with this sentence: “Vulnerability is given by God to release His presence, which builds self-esteem and confidence in God’s sovereignty.” Again, we see transformation in worship.

Lord, grant us vulnerability in worship. Give us transparent hearts. Grace us with a confidence in Your sovereignty and ability to use us in our weaknesses.

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I attended a conference over the weekend during which Graham Cooke, the speaker, said the following: “There is something beyond faith. Beyond faith is knowing.” Wow! He’s so right. Faith is something you must activate or exercise. Faith is a choice – choosing to believe that God is who He says He is and He can do what He says He can do. Knowing doesn’t require faith. I know God is good, so I don’t have to exercise faith to believe it. I know God forgives me, so I no longer have to use faith to walk in His forgiveness. There was a time when I didn’t know these things and I had to exercise faith to believe them.

I remember saying many years ago that one of the blessings of getting older in the Lord is that you develop a history with Him and a confidence in Him. You can walk in confidence in many areas where you might have once doubted. I was saying what Graham said so much better. At other times in my life, I’ve said that I was so glad some difficult event didn’t happen when I was younger in the faith because instead of worrying or doubting, I was able to have confidence in God and walk through the situation.

Knowing God gives us vision and energy to see His goodness in the midst of difficult circumstances. When I have to focus my energies simply on believing what He has said or promised, my vision is often closed off to His goodness in the situation. Growing up in God is a process of choosing to believe Him and walk confidently in that belief. At some point, He will give us experiences that solidify our belief transforming it into knowing. I know God my God will supply all my needs (Philippians 4:19) because He has provided for me every day of every year of my life. He has demonstrated and proven to me His promise to provide for me so much that I don’t doubt it. I know He will provide.

God in His graciousness and wisdom helps us to grow our faith by giving us ever-increasing challenges to conquer to transform our faith into knowing. What challenges are you facing right now that God has tailor-made to help you grow up in Christ? God has allowed them to help you know Him better. And knowing God is peace. Be blessed, friends, with knowing God.

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