Learning to Long for God

Contentment, or the lack of it, is really an issue of the heart. In order to really understand our own feelings we need to look at our wants and longings. We cannot be content apart from knowing what we want or long for.

I took a long hard look at my wants and longings when I went through my first Recalibrate Life read, Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. And I revisited the responses of my heart again as I read Abundant Simplicity by Jan Johnson in February.

One of the questions at the end of the second chapter in Abundant Simplicity is,”How would you like to see your life progressively more organized around God and His eternal life?” This is a question that intrigued me– especially since it came near the end of a chapter about contentment, wants, and longings.

The question took me back to my responses in Sacred Rhythms on my wants and longings. The act of talking with the Lord about my hearts’ desires was very precious, it was a very tender time. I shared about this in my post last month, My Response to Sacred Rhythms. I think this was true because I finally realized that all of my longings come out of a deeper neediness for more of the Lord.

In a way that surprised me, even though I knew this truth as head-knowledge. But the things we want whether it is about money, deeper intimacy in our relationships, feeling more loved, having more or better possessions, or accomplishing certain goals, are all rooted in our hunger for God and His love. I believe our longings are God-given. But, our longings are put in us to draw us to know Him more, to depend on Him more, and to find what we need in Him more.

In looking at my personal longings and seeking to reach for them, I realized that when I am not reaching for the Lord and especially for Him to meet my hearts’ longing, I am on the wrong path. If I am instead pursuing the end product or result for my own glory or others’ acceptance or personal security, I am missing the point.

The Lord delights in meeting our needs and satisfying our hearts’ desires, but if He sees those desires leading us away from Him, He will try to turn our focus back to Him.

So, back to that question, the one that has really tugged at my heart: How would you like to see your life progressively more organized around God and His eternal life?

Simplicity and contentment of heart depend on my focus. If my focus is scattered and I am living distracted, going after all of my desires to fulfill my own longings, the Lord will intervene. He will intervene because that is the wrong path. and He knows that I will not find contentment in the chaos that brings.

When I pursue God and my focus is on my relationship with Him, when it is on pleasing Him, and living for Him and His will, then, that is where I will find the heart of simplicity. And I have found that He will grant me contentment as I recognize Him as my All in All.

So, yes, I may want to grow my blog or finish my manuscript. But what do I do with that longing? My goal is to connect with the Lord in each longing. It is about wanting to bring Him into the longing, for Him to be at work within it and within me. And in that longing, as I prayed, I realized that I want Him to work in me and my life so other lives can be touched by Him through my words. I need to know Him more. I need to see His hand and heart touching my life, so I can share the glory of His wondrous work.

This demonstrates “organizing my life around God and His eternal life.” No matter what the longing is, if my life is to be more organized around God, I have to see that He is always what I want, or Who I want more of, more than anything else.

Our longings can so easily be mixed up with wrong motives. That is why Johnson’s question is so important to explore. We can get so caught up in self and self-sufficiency. We tend to live so unaware of the relationship of our longings and our need for God. It is so very important that we take it all, each of our longings, into His presence.

As I took each of my longings and brought them back to my deep need for the Lord, I sought to see Him as the center of my longings. This process helped me to see the path to simplifying my life. I also came to learn much about my deep-ceded personal fears. Fears of rejection, fear of replacement, fear of not belonging, or of lack of acceptance, fear of being misunderstood, and the fear of not having all I think I need. I discovered lots of fears within my longings. But all of this took me back to seeking God. That is what organizing my life around God is about.

Johnson says, “If we want to want God our next step is to come to terms with our underlying fears. We start where we are. We invite God to work with us on these fears so we can begin drinking God’s living water, God’s own Spirit…”

I know that I want to want God more, I want to love Him with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength, but I continuously fall short. So I must daily look at these inner longings and talk with Him about them. I need to look at my calendar and my planner and see what my life and my schedule really say about what I want. Where am I spending my time? How am I spending my money? Where am I seeking security and acceptance? The proof and truth will shine brightly there.

This isn’t a “one-time-and-done” response regarding how to organize life around God. It is an ongoing check and re-check of our longings and what our lives are says about how we are living them out.

So, I am learning to long more for God in all of life. And it takes time and focus and prayer and soul-searching. I want to live my life longing for God moment-by-moment. This is becoming an important part of learning to recalibrate life here in 2019.

What about you? What are you longing for? Have you looked deeply at your longings and how the Lord is such an important part of your hearts’ cries? Take some of your longings to Him today. He wants to hear about your deep desires.

 

 

*Note the featured image is a photograph by Paul Varnum on Unsplash.

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My Response to “Abundant Simplicity”

My recalibrate life read for the month of February has been Abundant Simplicity: Discovering the Unhurried Rhythms of Grace. This was a book I had read a few years ago but I connected with its contents much more this time as I read it.

The phrase that really stood out to me in the first few pages of the book was “The Christian focus of simplicity is to abide in Christ.” I loved that the author geared my focus toward making the Lord my Treasure.

The process of learning the disciplines of simplicity brings us to a couple of very important realizations. First of all, Johnson points out that “[we] don’t yet trust God to help us feel acceptable when we’re not managing what others think of us.” How often do we purposely try to make others like us or think well of us? And secondly, she reminds us that “[it] is not just others who have “the self-serving motives” of “pride, greed and desires to control”. It is so hard to take a long, close, hard look at our own motives.

Self-awareness is very important in our lives as it is the gateway to transformation. As we grow in self-awareness, we can take our thoughtss before the Lord to have Him search out our hearts. He can shine a light within to show us our motives and help us to know the path we should take. When we fail to do self-examination or soul-searching we miss this opportunity to talk it over with the Lord.

I mentioned in my response to Sacred Rhythms that doing the activities of self-examination and discernment were some of my favorite. I have learned a lot about myself through this process. When I take time to look back on my day and week and look at where I recognized the presence of the Lord and where I felt alone, when I take time to think about my attitudes, responses, and reactions, and then talk about all of this with the Lord, I gain new insights about myself.

I have learned about boundaries I need to set with people who push my buttons and bring me to a state of fuming. I have learned how my being available to others and fully present with them truly leads to deeper closeness, bonding, feeling loved, belonging, and acceptance for me. For me, that means putting down the planner, or my tablet, or setting aside my task list, and maybe asking my husband how I can help him, or what he wants or needs. Or maybe it means just being really present in the conversation, not allowing my mind to race on with a million other random thoughts.

I never really realized how all of this was impacting my life. The more I choose to do self-examination, to talk with the Lord about what is going on in my heart and my life, the more I learn to know Him as my Treasure. Because in those moments when I take time with Him to be real, I grow in trusting Him and my relationship with Him grows in intimacy.

One of the chapters discusses contentment with what we have and the importance of resisting the impulse for more. It was interesting to me to learn how our wounds from the past can play into our level of contentment. Later in the book frugality and generosity are further discussed.

Johnson also leads her readers to consider doing a heart exam to help us discover our longings and priorities in life. She says, “Simplicity strips away the things that distract us (sometimes good things), helps us to re-evaluate where our heart is, and provides room for God to speak.” Simplicity is all about being intentional rather than living “on autopilot.”

I once again realized that, all too often, I am trying to just do too many things, I have too many focuses. Narrowing my focus reduces my stress level a great deal. I have learned that choosing to slow down has given me space to hear the Holy Spirit convict my heart of wrong. Being busy all the time, failing to do the soul-searching, often left me unaware because I was barreling through life as a bulldozer. I realize how often I have missed the gentle nudges that could have led me down a better pathway, whether that be a calm response, a space for silence, or the learning of new wisdom.

The disciplines of practicing simplicity of speech, as well as, silence and solitude are discussed. Johnson found that in her practice of simplicity and gentleness of speech, her words “imparted grace” to her hearers. The importance of really thinking about how my words are being used and considering what the motive behind saying them is, became very clear to me. It surprises my how often my words are manipulative, such as trying to get another to do something I want them to do, without actually asking them to do it. I recognized how that annoys me a great deal when I feel manipulated by others, but I had not realized how often I do it. Another point the author made about our speech is that it is most important that the Lord hears all about it, and it is not necessarily important that others hear it. Oh, how often I run to tell others, by phone call, or via text, or email, when I could just turn that worry or concern into a prayer, or when I could turn that joy into a praise.

As I eluded to earlier, both frugality and generosity were discussed, The importance of how we use the gifts the Lord has given us was reiterated. Again the emptiness of our souls is a factor. This emptiness plays a role in our purchasing of items because of a personal need to fill an inner hole. Johnson reminded us to ask ourselves what we want and what we need. Unfortunately, that is not something that I have often done in the past, but it is something I am choosing to do more and more often now. Johnson states that “Practicing frugality involves two changes, limiting what we already own… and limiting what we acquire.” Her goal in this is to have us limit our possessions, so that we have space to treasure the Lord. As well as limiting our purchases so we can “live a generous life rather than a grasping life.”

The chapter that spoke on simplicity with time was one of my favorites. Johnson said, “Simplicity with time requires the diligent intentionality of creating enough space that I may say yes to treasuring God and loving people.” This is an area that I want to work more and more on.

The discussion on the importance of putting “margin” in our days or “serious nothing” in our weeks has led me to rethink my schedule as I continue to recalibrate life, We need the “free in free time.” Johnson gave a list of leisure opportunities and suggested choosing one to try.  I need to be even more intentional about putting “margin” in my days and “serious nothing” in my weeks. I frequently fail to follow through on this even if it is written in my planner.

The bottom line is living simply in all of life, the way we dress, the way we take care of our bodies, and the way we use media.

Johnson says that as we learn to live in simplicity and draw nearer to God we find less reason to worry. That in itself is encouraging as worry can consume so much of our lives.

Each chapter had questions to answer and experiments to try. I completed all of the questions but am still working my way through some of the experiments of simplicity that I want to try. Some of these experiments will be my topics for my next months posts.

This was an excellent read on my journey to recalibrate life. Next month I will be reading GodSpace: Time for Peace in the Rhythms of Life by Christine Sine, M.D. I look forward to sharing my response with you.

Delighting in Devotion

Do you take delight in devotion to the Lord?

The definition of devotion is “love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause.” It is in the loving, being loyal to, and having enthusiasm for, that we actually flesh out the true delight.

In my journey of recalibrating life, I am trying to make everything less complicated and overwhelming. I want it all to be less about doing and more about being. And learning to delight in devotion is totally about being.

First of all, delighting in devotion is about living out loving the Lord.

In Matthew 22:37 (NIV), Jesus tells us to: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind.”

1 John 4:7-8 tells us “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

We can show love to others by giving them honor and respect, giving them praise and encouragement, spending time with them, sharing with them, giving them gifts, and telling them how much they mean to us.

We can show love to the Lord in many of the same ways. We can give Him honor and respect as we go through our lives living out our moments according to His will. Honoring and respecting His name in our words and showing reverence to Him in our choices. We can praise His name as we converse with others and also in our prayers as we talk with Him. We can give Him gifts of sharing our time, of our presence with Him, and of our finances.

Secondly, delighting in devotion is about living loyal to the Lord. When we are loyal to others we show our faithfulness to them. We speak well of them and do not slander them, we keep our promises, and we make ourselves available to them because they matter to us. We journey through life with them.

Ephesians 4:2-3 tells us to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

The Lord also has something to say about our loyalty to Himself as well.

2 Chronicles 16:9 tells us “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…”

The Lord desires that His people give their hearts fully to Him. He wants us to be loyal to Him. And He promises in the above verse to reward our faithfulness by showing Himself strong on our behalf. The Lord also wants us to commit our plans to Him.

Proverbs 16:3 reminds us to “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.”
Proverbs 3:6 explains that we should acknowledge the Lord and He will make our paths straight. God wants us to be obedient like Peter who told those who wanted him to dishonor the Lord, “we must obey God rather than human beings (Acts 5:29).” Our loyalty to the Lord is very important to Him.

Thirdly, delighting in devotion is about enthusiasm for the Lord.

When we are devoted to the Lord we are enthusiastic about our relationship with Him.

Romans 10:11 “Don’t be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”

In 2 Kings 20:3, Hezekiah tells the Lord, “Remember, LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes…” I want to be able to say this to the Lord as Hezekiah did. I want to walk faithfully with wholehearted devotion.

Titus 2:14 says that we should be eager to do what is good, and 1 Peter 5:2 says that we should be eager to serve.

When you think of devotion, as you consider living out love, loyalty, and enthusiasm, do you see how our delight can be evidenced in these? It is all about living out the devotion and delighting in the opportunities that arise in doing so. Somehow I can’t help but think this is really what the Lord meant all along.

Savoring the Sweetness of Soul-Restoration

Psalm 23:3 “He restores my soul”

Last week I shared how I was knowing simplicity in my faith-walk through lingering with the Lord (The Luxury of Lingering). This week I want to share how I am knowing simplicity in my faith-walk through savoring the sweetness, as I am recognizing in slowing down, how the Lord restores my soul.

It is amazing to me how much you miss in life by rushing through and being too busy. Quite often I still am in that mode of rushing and busyness, but recently, as I have started to be intentional about slowing down, I began to notice the reality of soul-restoration. But before I recognized the reality of it I had to dig into what it really meant. I had studied Psalm 23 in-depth before, but this time as I looked at just this small portion of verse three, it wasn’t about learning for knowledge. This time it was about learning out of desperation and neediness. And there is definitely a difference between the two.

When you study for knowledge, you just want to gain information, most often head-knowledge. When you come to the Lord in His Word hungry and needy, desperate to find out how to receive what His Word tells you is reality, you look at the Word totally differently. It is personal, heart-to-heart, I no longer just want to know about it, I want it in my life.

So that is how it came about, I looked at those four simple words: “He restores my soul.” And I thought how much I need restoring, and how my life is in need of restoring. Then I began to look in Bible commentaries to learn what that could mean for me.

I learned that it literally means that “He causes my life to return to me.” “He causes me to live.” The word soul in this verse “refers to the spirit when exhausted, weary, or sad; and the meaning is, that God quickens or vivifies the spirit” at those times. The commentator clarifies that this has nothing to do with backsliding or wandering away from the Lord. Instead, it refers to “the life or spirit as exhausted, weary, troubled, anxious, worn down with care and toil…” This explanation spoke directly to my heart. The commentator went on to explain that in the restoration the Lord brings back the soul’s “vigor. He encourages it; excites it to new effort; fills it with new joy.” This explanation is taken from Barnes Notes on the Bible.

I took this all in hungrily, ravenous for this newness in my life. But. when would it happen? I didn’t know, and I took with me just a few words, a breath prayer for the day. “Shepherd Guide, Restore my soul.” And as I went through my day finding those times of depletedness (is that a word?) I cried out to the Lord.

It was a few days later when I was looking at Psalm 31:7 NLT “I am overcome with joy because of your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles and you care about the anguish of my soul.” (Sidenote, most versions say “I will be” rather than “I am.”) Hmmm, David again is sharing about his recognition of the Lord’s presence in loving him in the tough times and knowing what he is going through. It must have been all those hours out in the fields with the sheep, much time to reflect on the Lord, His loving presence, and His work in David’s life. You see that is the savoring I am talking about.

That verse there in Psalm 31 started me on a journey of hunting through my mind of how the Lord has shown me His unfailing love, and how He had demonstrated care for the anguish of my soul. And I began to write down those instances that came to mind.

I wrote how the Lord had provided step-by-step help throughout the process of moving my mom. First, it was a Christian liaison, a go-between for Mom and her doctor. This kind lady came to Mom’s house and gave us so many resources. One of those resources led us to our Christian realtor. What a precious blessing! Then when the realtor came to mom’s house, because I had a few faith talks with the him previously via phone, I suggested praying before we began discussing the business of selling Mom’s house and so I prayed. At the end of that visit he closed our time with a beautiful prayer for peace and guidance. Then a day-and-a-half after the house went on the market it was sold, what an incredible blessing. And just a few days ago when the realtor delivered the check for the house to mom, he said prior to leaving, “We began this process in prayer, I think we should complete it with prayer too.” And he proceeded to pray with Mom, a meaningful, heartfelt prayer and it meant the world to her.

So very precious is the unfailing love of our God. He truly knew the anguish in our hearts as we worried about selling the house as winter approached. He knew how my need to attempt to control everything would come to a halt as He taught me to begin to learn to abandon control and He has shown His awesomeness through it all!

The Lord helped me to realize so many more ways that He has recently shown His love for me. I am sad to say that in the moment I missed that they were of His unfailing love. They slipped by in my busyness, and I was unaware. But I am changing that too now in this year of recalibrating life. I am beginning to slow down and savor the sweetness of the way He restores my soul. Those little things like an encouraging word from a friend and the bigger ones like an unexpected helping hand from my husband in the midst of my overwhelm. Most recently I have been looking back at His sweetness to me and not always catching onto it in the moment. But since the day this verse made me look for Him, I am growing more aware of how His love touches my life and how He truly does know the anguish of my soul in very real ways.

I have known what a personal God He is, but I have often let it go by only to allow the next thing to discourage me and bring me down. But savoring the sweetness to me means that I taste and see His goodness and don’t set it aside, but instead remember and hold tight to the love He touches my life with. And then along with David I can proclaim that I too am “overcome with joy.”

How are you tasting and seeing the goodness of God? How are you savoring the sweetness of His soul-restoration in your life? It doesn’t have to be so complicated, our faith-walks with the Lord can be simplified in the lingering and savoring. When we take the time to slow down and realize His love He truly will lead us to be overcome with joy. I pray that you will find that to be your experience also! He restores my soul.