Posts Tagged “James”

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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2Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:2-4 (NLT)

It seems to me that a study of joy would take us through a study of suffering. I haven’t done such a study so I can’t say that definitively, but the two seem to be intermingled frequently in the New Testament.  In this passage, James writes that “when troubles come” – because they surely will – “consider it an opportunity for great joy!” Anyone who preaches that life after Christ will be free from troubles is not preaching true to Scripture. Don’t listen to such preachers. They are not honestly and accurately delivering the Word of God.

When trouble comes, we to consider it an opportunity for great joy! That amazes me a bit. If you were to ask me “what opportunities for great joy are you seeing in the coming months?” my answer wouldn’t include the troubles I see on the horizon. (Obviously, I haven’t internalized and “owned” this teaching yet.)

By the way, that’s a great question to ask yourself periodically – “what is coming in the months ahead that will bring me great joy?” It’s also a great question to ask others. It helps to refocus us from the troubles of the moment to the blessings of God. But I digress.

My answer to the question would tend toward the more natural – I expect business to improve, I am looking forward to the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I am participating in a mother-daughter pageant with my mom in a couple of weeks, I am looking forward to just being with my husband and hoping for some special time with him, I am expecting to learn some new skills in the next two months. All those things have the potential of bringing me great joy.

You didn’t find in my list the challenges I see in the coming months. But James tells us that those challenges are opportunities for great joy! Imagine how different my outlook would be if I considered those opportunities I listed and the challenges I anticipate as opportunities for great joy! How much better my outlook for the future would be!

Faith Requires Energy
Verse three tells me that the challenges I anticipate in the next few months have the potential for increasing my endurance. Endurance increases as we increase our ability to maintain a higher level of energy. So whether running longer or standing in faith longer, we’re building endurance. Faith requires energy! It is not a passive thing. It requires actively engaging our faith muscle. And challenges increase our ability to do that. It increases our endurance.

I am not a marathon runner, but I have some friends who are. As they train, it is hard work, but they are so joyful when they have reached the finish line of their marathon. Exhausted, yes. But joyful at the accomplishment. How much more joyful can we be when we remain standing after battles that have challenged our faith? Yes, the training is hard, and yes, the battle is exhausting. But the victory in Jesus is sweet and precious and joyful!

So Let Your Faith Grow!
The phrase that stopped me in this passage this morning was “So let it grow.” I tried to keep reading, but I couldn’t. “Let it grow” Scripture says. Don’t do anything to hinder the growth of your faith or to limit the increase in your ability to endure. Hang on to faith and let it grow.

What might we do to hinder the process. Well, worry is the first thing that comes to my mind. When I worry, I am not increasing my faith muscle. I am increasing my ability to distrust God. I am feeding the thing inside me that believes that satan will win and God will not be my Savior and Redeemer and Protector and Giver of Life. I am feeding my unbelief. How can my faith grow in that environment?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me”
John 14:1 (NIV)

Wow! Two blogs on the same subject in two days! I guess God is trying to get my attention. Or perhaps yours! I thought I had gotten over my tendency to worry. Perhaps I’ve fallen into old habits. Perhaps at an underlying level I am stewing (aka worrying) over things I shouldn’t.

“Let your faith muscle grow”, God is saying. He’s got a good reason for saying it:

4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:4 (NLT)

As I grow in faith, as my ability to faithfully endure the challenges of life, I am made more perfect and complete in Christ. That’s the place I want to be.

This week, my personal assignment is to settle into God regularly throughout the day, enabling His peace and wisdom to be the place I live. More about that in upcoming blogs! For today, let your faith grow!

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

October – the month of beautiful trees, a briskness in the air, bonfires and the annoying start of Christmas items in stores! It’s also the month for reading the books of Jeremiah, James, 1 and 2 Peter and Luke.  Throw in 2 Kings if you’re reading the additional readings. And the encroaching coolness outside makes it a great time to curl up and read.

If you’ve fallen behind and are looking for a good place to jump back into the readings, this month is perfect. Start on September 30th and you’ll join us at the start of Ecclesiastes and James. From here, the readings provide a great build up to Christmas. The New Testament readings will put you in a perfect place to enjoy the holiness of the upcoming season.

The following buttons will open PDFs of the September/October bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the Sept/Oct 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

The October Reading Schedule also appears at the end of this blog.

Enjoy your reading! We’d love to hear what God speaks to your heart.  Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for October is below.

Resting at the River's Edge October 2013 Recommended Reading Schedule

Here’s how the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules are organized:

  • The first two columns of the schedule allow you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice over a two-year period. You will typically read about three chapters a day if you follow this reading plan.
  • The “Additional Readings” column put you on a plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. You will read between four and five chapters a day if you follow this plan.

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Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2013

While fall doesn’t officially start until about three weeks into the month, the beginning of September always feels like the beginning of fall to me. And it’s always a time when routines are adjusted to the change in schedules. Be sure to keep your Bible reading in your schedule! Our Resting at the River’s Edge schedule will help you stay on track, reading four or five chapters each weekday. If you fall behind, don’t worry about it! That’s why we only schedule readings on weekdays – so we can use the weekend to catch up. And if you can’t catch up on weekends, still don’t worry about it! Just keep reading at a pace that allows you to enjoy God’s Word. I’m confident that God will reveal Himself to you as you take time to get to know Him.

Click on one of the following buttons to open a PDF file of the September/October bookmark or all bookmarks. After the file has opened, you can print it or save it to your hard drive from your browser’s file menu.

Click here for the Sept/Oct 2013 recommended reading bookmark. Click here to download all bookmarks for 2013.

The September Reading Schedule also appears at the end of this blog.

I look forward to hearing from you about how God is speaking to you through His Word during the coming month. Email me, leave a message on our Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Blessings, Friends!
Sandy

The recommended reading schedule for September is below.

Resting at the River's Edge Reading Schedule for September 2013

Here’s how the Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedules are organized:

  • The first two columns of the schedule allow you to read through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice over a two-year period. You will typically read about three chapters a day if you follow this reading plan.
  • The “Additional Readings” column put you on a plan to read through the entire Bible in one year. You will read between four and five chapters a day if you follow this plan.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartThe world thinks it has the market cornered on celebration. They’ve got it wrong!

They think that Christians are sour and serious all they time. When we’re living as God wants us to live, they’ve got it wrong!

Ahh, there’s the rub – the “living as God wants us to live” part. It’s easy to get caught up in the seriousness of following God. When that fails, the seriousness of life is a huge draw. There’s so much to do and so little time. There’s so many challenges and so much frustration out there. Yes. There is. But God calls us to pull away from all that and enjoy life!

God instructed the Israelites to observe seven feasts each year. Two of them week-long celebrations of God’s goodness. The Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost, is a “festival of joy.” It celebrates the giving of the Law to Moses. Isn’t that interesting – it CELEBRATES the GIVING of the Law. The world thinks the Law – any law or restriction – anything that hampers one from doing their own thing (or what seems right in their own eyes as Judges 17:6 and 21:25 put it) – is a bad thing. Yet James says that the “perfect law” “sets you free” (James 1:25). The Psalms say that it revives the soul (Psalm 19:7). So God instructed the Israelites to have a week-long celebration commemorating the giving of the Law.

The second week-long celebration is the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, rejoicing over the harvest, which represents God’s goodness and blessings. God instructed the Israelites to set aside a week each year to celebrate His goodness to them!

Other feasts included elements of celebration in their observance, but these two call for all-out, prolonged celebration. Stop your work. Interrupt your routine. And celebrate God!

God wants us to be joyful! Rejoice! He says.

And I’m guessing you’re like me and don’t do it enough.

The One who created us knows what we need. He knows we need to rejoice. He knows we need to celebrate.

A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Proverbs 17:22 (NASB)

Developing a joyful heart by celebrating God’s goodness is “good medicine.” The phrase translated “is good medicine” literally means “causes good health.” Being joyful contributes to being in good health.

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve had a very tough week. Not just a normal tough week, a very tough week. Rejoicing hasn’t been easy. But life is easier when I push myself to rejoice. Before beginning to write tonight, I listened to some reggae Christian music (Christafari). Its fun, reggae beat, weird (to me) words and phraseology, yet honest message gave me reason to rejoice. That’s what it took for me to rejoice today. I started by reading Scripture and it laid the groundwork, but I was a hard case tonight. Scripture alone didn’t do it. But before turning off the music to write, I was singing at the top of my lungs with joy in my heart.

A joyful heart is good medicine. Push yourself to enjoy God this week. I know that sounds wrong. But it’s right! Because God wants us to celebrate! Enjoy God! Enjoy life!

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Seeing Through a LensI woke up today thinking about lenses! I guess that makes sense:

  • I need to have my eyes checked. It seems I have been consistently making text on my screen larger over the past few months and everything looks a bit fuzzier than it used to.
  • A friend of mine has started taking photography classes and it is changing the way she see things.
  • Yesterday I started reading a book about confidence in God. It’s a lot about the way we view life.

I’m reminded this morning that you can only see the shadow when you turn away from the light. Standing facing the sun I am unaware of the long shadow it creates behind me.

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.
James 1:17 (NLT)

He created the lights in the heavens. Doesn’t it make sense to keep our eyes on Him to light our path?

Some manuscripts have the second half of this verse differently. They read “He never changes as a shifting shadow does.” (NLT footnote)

The One who created the lights in the heavens and causes them to move to His consistent rhythm, remains unchanging. “There is no shadow of turning with thee.” Can there be a better lens from which to view our lives?

As I’ve thought about this, the question that comes to me again and again is this: “What lens are you looking through?” Two that seem likely candidates are these:

Self – my abilities – Am I looking at my life, my circumstances, challenges and opportunities through the lens of my own abilities? If so, I can tell you that I will be overwhelmed with my inadequacies for dealing with the circumstances, challenges and opportunities. At my very best, I’m not enough – not good enough, not smart enough, not energetic enough, not creative enough, not wise enough, not compassionate enough, etc. The list goes on and on. But God is enough. We could find Scripture for each of the “not enoughs” in my list, but let me just share two all-encompassing verses that promise God’s provision

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.
2 Peter 1:3 (NLT)

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19 (NASB)

Other people’s opinions – Am I looking at my life, my circumstances, challenges and opportunities through the lens of what other people think? Danger, danger, danger. People are fickle. Our opinions change from moment to moment. Look at the crucifixion of Jesus – one moment the people are worshiping Him as the coming King “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” and they next they are shouting “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” (Matthew 26 and 27). When the opinion of others affects the way I approach my life, how can I be anything but like a child “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming”? (Ephesians 4:14, NASB).

Viewing life through either lens leads to a pretty miserable life. With the former, I am overwhelmed and defeated. With the latter, I am thrown this way and that – and again overwhelmed and defeated.

There is a third and better option: Viewing life through the lens of faith – Trusting in His faithfulness and ability to meet all my needs. We have a choice. It doesn’t always seem like it, but we do. In the physical realm, I can choose to put my glasses on so I can read the text in front of me more clearly or I can continue to squint and read fuzzy words. I can turn on a light or sit in a dark room. I can turn toward the sun or stare at the long shadows that hint of dark forces.

If I stay in the world of fuzzy words, dark rooms and long shadows my life suffers. My emotional stability suffers. My ability to live for God’s Kingdom suffers.

If I turn to the world in which God is sovereign, in control and loves me unconditionally my life prospers. My emotional stability remains strong and sure (because it is held together by the One who holds the universe together). And living for (and in) God’s Kingdom is a reality.

Why would I choose any lens other than God’s? Why would you?

An afterthought: Are you looking at the doors God has closed or the ones you don’t see yet – remember, we walk by faith not by sight. (But that’s fodder for another blog.)

For fun:

Old Woman or Young Woman?

Do you see a young woman or and old woman?

  • If you see a young woman, and wish to see the old woman, imagine the ear as an eye, the necklace as a mouth and the chin as a nose.
  • If you see an old woman, and wish to see the young woman, imagine the eye as an ear, the mouth as a necklace and the nose as a chin.
  • Your brain wants to flip to either one or the other image but if you study it long enough you might see both images at once. Can you do it?

From: http://www.nobeliefs.com/puzzles/illusions.htm#checker

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But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.
Daniel 1:8 (NLT)

In 605 BC King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Judah. Most citizens of Judah were forcibly taken to Babylon. Soon thereafter, Nebuchadnezzar decided to bring some of the Israelites into his service:

3Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives.

4“Select only strong, healthy, and good-looking young men,” he said. “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon.”

5  The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service.
Daniel 1:3-5 (NLT)

Daniel and three others from the family of Judah were taken. (You’ve probably heard of the three others. They were renamed by King Nebuchadnezzar and you mostly likely know them as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. But that’s another story.)

Put yourself in Daniel’s place. You are part of Judah’s royal family. You are conquered. Your enemy captures you and takes you to his country. Things are looking pretty bad for you. Then the king selects you to be part of his elite counsel of advisors. You’re to be fed the same menu cooked by the same chef as the king and you’re to receive the best training. It’s a lot better than living out your life in a dungeon. But it means serving the king who conquered your land and brought you to his.

Would you be angry or thankful? Would you oppose the king who conquered you or serve him? Would you pretend to be a friend of the king while secretly working against him?

Let’s look at how Daniel responded:

But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.
Daniel 1:8 (NLT)

Daniel made a firm decision. Various translations make this clear:

“Daniel was determined…” (NLT)
“Daniel made up his mind…” (NASB)
“Daniel purposed in his heart…” (NKJV)
“Daniel resolved…” (NRSV)

Daniel made a firm decision, not a wishy-washy, wishful-thinking decision. He didn’t think “well, maybe it would be best if…” He didn’t think “I’m going to try …” His approach wasn’t “if I can, I’m going to…” He made a take-a-stand, Joshua-like decision – “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Often the first step we need to take is simply to make a firm decision. I have been working toward a healthy weight for more than a year now. I am only successful when I make a firm decision to work toward my goals. When I approach them half-heartedly I fail. Consistently. When I approach them with resolve, with purpose in my heart, with a made-up mind, I am successful.

Daniel decided to honor God by remaining as pure as possible in a pagan culture. Daniel’s first recorded challenge to his decision came when he began receiving meals prepared by the King’s chef. There is little detail here about why Daniel might consider it inappropriate to eat the food, but it’s not unreasonable to conclude from the use of the word “defile” that Daniel had concerns about the type of meat he would be served, how it was prepared, and/or whether it may have been offered to Babylonian idols. Without knowing the details, however, we can identify with Daniel because we live in a culture that is increasingly unfriendly toward Christians. We live in a culture that encourages and celebrates lifestyle choices that are not consistent with serving God.

Every decision we make throughout the day involves a choice between honoring God or living life according to our own rules and wants and wishes. Every decision? Yes, every decision – every piece of food we eat, every television program we watch, every word we say to our coworkers, every assignment we complete for our boss, every look we give our spouses, every traffic law we obey or disobey, and every thought we nurture or kill. Regardless of the situation we face, we can choose to honor God or not honor God. But it’s not just the decisions we make, it’s also how we implement those decisions.

Daniel honored God by living respectfully in a pagan culture. When I read the words of verse 8 – that Daniel was determined and resolved, that he had made up his mind – an image begins to take shape in my mind of a man who is going to stand up boldly to authority and resist it if necessary to accomplish his goals. That image is inconsistent with the second half of the verse: “He [Daniel] asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.”

Daniel didn’t approach the chief of staff with a demand or refusal – he asked for permission. This caught me by surprise. Having made a firm decision to remain pure, Daniel then seemingly puts his ability to keep that commitment in the hands of his captors. There is an expression that I truly hate: “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission.” That statement doesn’t honor God in any way. Daniel didn’t subscribe to that statement. Daniel’s approach showed respect for those in authority. It actually went much further than that.

Daniel trusted God to make a way for him to fulfill his commitment. Choosing to ask permission instead of taking matters into his own hands, defying authority and then asking forgiveness, Daniel demonstrated trust in God. Daniel may have made the commitment to honor God, but he also recognized that it would only be by God’s grace that he could keep the commitment.

I realize that Daniel’s humility takes me by surprise in light of his determination because I view determination as strength and deep down inside I view humility as weakness. That would be because I have a flawed view of humility. In God’s economy humility is king:

God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
Matthew 5:5 (NLT)

But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
James 4:6 (NRSV)

And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5b (NRSV)

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
James 4:10 (NKJV)

It certainly proved true in Daniel’s case. What was the result of Daniel’s actions? Read it for yourself:

18When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. 19The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. 20Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom.
Daniel 1:18-20 (NLT)

Determination and humility – two great qualities that work great together. Who knew?

Do you need to make a firm decision to honor God in a greater way in some area of your life? How’s your humility quotient?

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Firm Foundation Brick wallby guest blogger Pastor Dan Caudill

Yesterday’s blog looked at some of the things we might be tempted to build our lives on…things that we soon find don’t stand up to the storms of life.

Now let’s look at some pillars we can use to build a firm foundation. Let’s travel in the Scriptures to Ephesians chapter 6 and what is commonly called “the armor of God”. Verses 10-13 say this:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Ephesians 6:10-13 (NIV)

Let’s look more closely at our armor:

Belt of Truth
It’s been said if you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember what you said. Since “the devil is the father of lies” and “there is no truth in him” (John 8:44), if our lives are filled with anything less than the truth, essentially they are built on him (the devil). However, if we are bound by God’s truth, John’s gospel says that will set us free (vs. 32). I don’t know about you, but when I don’t physically wear a belt with my jeans, they tend to want to fall down. I would say the same about our lives and the “belt of God’s truth”. It truly will help to hold us together!

Breastplate of Righteousness
If we were to imagine a real suit of armor we would see that, along with other body parts, the breastplate covers the heart. Proverbs instructs us: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (4:23). A life of righteousness, or “rightness,” according to God and his will, protects our heart from the ravages and disappointments of sin. Just as weeds choke out the good plants in the garden, sinfulness chokes the life out of the goodness God wants us to have in our hearts. As David prayed may we too “hide his Word in our hearts, so that we would not sin against him” (Psalm 119:11).

Shield of Faith
Our cars are equipped with windshields, an umbrella shields us from the rain, and our deodorant shields us (and others) from odor. In other words, a shield is a protector. Scripture affirms that with a shield of faith, we can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. When we live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), we disarm two of Satan’s greatest weapons; doubt and discouragement. In Genesis, God saw Abraham’s faith (belief) “and credited it to him as righteousness” (15:6). He will do the same for us.

Helmet of Salvation
The helmet, obviously, is a covering for the head. Far too often, we allow Satan to trick our minds into questioning or doubting our salvation, resulting in the loss of the joy that should be present in all those who are the redeemed of the Lord. The Scripture says that if we “believe in the Lord Jesus” (Acts 16:31), “believe and are baptized” (Mark 16:16), “confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9), we will be saved. If we truly know and believe we are saved, it will change how we live.

Sword of the Spirit (Word of God)
Satan has no defense against the power of God’s Word. When Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted, every time Satan opened his mouth with a temptation, Jesus quoted Scripture. He didn’t yell or threaten or call down fire from heaven. He simply said, “It is written” and quoted God’s truth from the Scripture. If it worked for Jesus, it will work for us. Satan doesn’t have to obey us no matter how loud or sincere or threatening we try to be. But he does have to obey God.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
James 4:7, NIV

Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Matthew 4:4 (NIV)

God provides all we need to develop a strong, firm foundation – one that doesn’t crack, crumble or fall. But unless we cling to those pillars, unless we build upon them, there is nothing that can make our foundation firm.

Yesterday’s questions bear repeating: How is my foundation? On what or who have I built? Is my life staked upon The Rock, who is Jesus, or am I trusting in one or more false pillars?

Build your foundation on Jesus and practice putting on and using the full Armor of God every day. It will make the difference between losing and winning the battles you face.

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Resting at the River’s Edge provides an opportunity to participate in reading through the Bible in a systematic way. Here’s more details about the plan and our schedules.

Track your reading along with us using the table below, the downloadable half-page PDF or the May/June bookmark.

Share what God is teaching you with otherse. E-mail me, leave a message on the Apprehending Grace Facebook page, or post a comment at the end of any blog.

Enjoy God as you watch spring unfold!
Sandy

Download All 2012 Bookmarks Here

Download only the May/June 2012 Bookmark Here

Download a Half-Page PDF of the May Reading Plan Here

Here’s May’s reading plan:

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I took a trip out of town a few months ago. While driving an unfamiliar freeway, I rounded a corner and saw the most beautiful billboard! The earth was shown as if seen from space and it was beautiful shades of blue and gray. It was set against a midnight blue sky with stars that seemed to twinkle. Whether they actually twinkled or not, I don’t know, but I know I was spellbound. Then my eyes and mind took in the whole billboard. Moving past the image, I saw the words that were plastered in large letters overlapping the earth just a little and splashed across the midnight sky: ADULT WORLD.

I was so saddened that this beautiful billboard would be advertising such sin. Isn’t that just like Satan – to make sin attractive and inviting. Truly, the billboard was one of the most eye catching things I’ve seen in a long time.

Scripture says the woman looked at the fruit and it was appealing to the eye (Genesis 3:6). She was in the Garden of Eden. Everything was appealing to the eye! God had planted Adam and Eve in the middle of paradise, which included a close personal relationship with the Creator of all things. And satan put up a billboard that said “ADULT WORLD.” “Come, experience things that God has restricted.” “Come, see how attractive they are.” “You’re an adult, you can make your own decisions. Come check it out.”

God gives wonderful gifts to His children. He also provides instructions about how to use His wonderful gifts. Satan takes those good instructions and twists them and challenges God’s authority. “Did God really say…” “You will not surely die…” (Genesis 3:1, 3) “Come on, nothing bad will happen.” “Come on, no one will know.” “Everyone else is doing it.”

Satan’s influence in our world is significant. God’s Truth is no longer respected by many people. Many Christians struggle to maintain their agreement with God’s standards when family members and friends follow the world. Yet it is upholding God’s standards that bring power into our lives. It is living righteously that brings God’s blessings and anointing. It is knowing and trusting His Word that brings victory.

The better we know God’s Word, the less attractive sin becomes. The closer we draw near to Him, the less we desire the things of the world. Let me share an example in the natural. After my husband’s heart attack, certain foods became much less attractive to him. He understood more intimately the devastation that a diet heavy in saturated fats could bring. Most of those foods became like a poison to him. In three years he’s had two pieces of cheese cake. And for the most part, he hasn’t been severely tempted to have more. Yes, he might have wanted them, but saying “no” was easier because he understood the consequences.

The more we know God’s Word and the more we experience intimacy with Him, the more we understand the negative consequences of sin.

Friends, the world is constantly bombarding you with messages that are contrary to God’s Word. Immersing yourself in Him and His Word is the best antidote to living in 2012. Temptations are all around us and the world encourages us to enjoy them. The weapons we wage war with to fight those temptations are not the weapons of the world. Scripture says “on the contrary, [our weapons] have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 NIV). Take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17 NIV) to “demolish arguments [of satan] and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and…take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Satan may make sin appear beautiful. Don’t fall for it. Trust the Truth of God to find the true beauty in His gifts.

7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come near to God and he will come near to you.
James 4:7-8a (NIV)

Oh – and by the way –should you fall, remember that we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ. He offers complete forgiveness to us every time we turn to Him in sincere repentance. His grace is that real and that powerful.

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