Intentional Space for God’s Grace in Your Words

Last week I shared about Living Intentionally or on Autopilot .  I want to choose to live intentionally in all of life.  In Simple Abundance, Jan Johnson devotes a chapter to talking about simplifying the way we speak; how much we talk, our motives for saying what we do, and being intentional in our words. The experiments suggested in this chapter are ones that require great intentionality. This one chapter taught me so much, not easy lessons, but very important ones. Johnson gave me questions, regarding my words, that I repeatedly ask myself throughout my days now.

Johnson says, “Simplicity of speech flows from a heart that has bonded with the heart of Jesus, compassionate and truthful, loving and good.” This statement sets the tone for what I want to share with you today. Our speech, what we say, and how we say it, has a huge impact on those who hear us.

When our tongues are on autopilot the flow of our words is often left unchecked. We may find ourselves exaggerating to gain self-importance, using words to manipulate and to get our way, telling white-lies, or even raising our voices and repeating ourselves to be heard. Do you see a pattern here? Each of these measures points back to the importance of self. Johnson says that simplicity of speech is about “[words] that are few in number but deep in fullness” these words “rise up from a heart that has examined and distilled its motives and given up trying to push itself forward or win over others.”
I am intrigued by her use of the word “distilled.” Distillation is used with water to remove the impurities by boiling the liquid. Distilling my motives means putting a fire under them to separate out the impurities in them as well. This is such an important process in being intentional. Johnson mentions in this chapter that she began to ask herself why she was talking. When my tongue is on autopilot it just goes on and on and I think very little of my motives. I have decided that her idea may be a beneficial practice and I have started asking myself “why am I talking?” Many times I cannot come up with a good reason.

Ephesians 4:29 tells us that the talk that “comes out of [our] mouths” should be “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Are my words helping to build others up according to their needs? Are my words really benefiting the one who is listening? Maybe the distilling process would leave me with words that have these effects.
[Communication] doesn’t work if our goal is to express ourselves rather that create space for God’s grace to flow.”

I am afraid all too often my communications are more about me getting my point across than creating space for God’s grace to flow. What about you? I need to learn to create space for God’s grace to flow. Johnson tells how she chose to experiment with the practice of not giving her opinion unless she was asked for it. I tried that and it really was a struggle. It seems that my mind is always racing ahead thinking about what I want to say rather than listening to what is being said. But the occasions for my opinion to be asked for, those were definitely rare. I am not sure that I ever realized that before.

Johnson suggests that “[instead] of thinking of what we want to say, we work at silencing our thoughts and [become] fully present to the other person.” It is such an intentional practice to focus fully on what the other person is sharing. This means silencing the constant inner-chatter and just listening. It is not easy to do. Reality is that we often just want to be heard more than we want to listen. Or at least that seems to be what happens with me.

Proverbs 10:19 explains, “Sin is not ended by multiplying words but the prudent hold their tongues.”

So, as I learn a few of the practices shared in this chapter on the simplicity of speech, I realize I must work to hold my tongue. I must learn to listen more, and I must learn to create space for God’s grace to flow. This was an amazing chapter and I have only shared a few of the ideas she offered. I have shared the ones that I am trying to practice. I know I will go back to this chapter again and again, to learn to practice others, as I am now very aware of my tongue so often on autopilot.

Is simplicity in speech an area you desire to be intentional with?

Talk to the Lord and seek His directions, ask Him how you can create space for His grace to flow.

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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.

Being Intentional with the Essential

The busyness of life so often keeps us focused on the world, our possessions, and our to-do lists. We get thoroughly bogged down and we frequently are blinded to what is essential. I must admit I have been hi-jacked by my to-do list, by the overwhelm of life, or by the want of more material items, etc. This has been the case more than I care to admit.

As I continue to look toward Recalibrating Life in 2019, I want to refocus my lens in order to make it all about what the Lord tells me is essential in living for Him. Too often it is and has been all about me, what I need and want, what will fit into my schedule, what will make me happy. Well, quite honestly, I have found that in the end self-focus is not very satisfying.

A few years back I went to a conference. My mom had given me a sweatshirt that said, “It’s All About Him” with a couple Bible verses on it. The gift was one I had requested. Anyway, I decided to wear it to the conference. The Lord had a lesson to teach me there. That day we broke into small groups to discuss something the speaker had spoken on and I felt very excited to share my opinion, except everyone took a turn, I seemed to be invisible and suddenly time was up. I never got a turn. My shirt said that it is all about Him, but in my mind and body that certainly was not true. It was all about me and what I wanted to say, and how upset I felt that I did not get a turn to share. Self-focus at its worst. I couldn’t even concentrate on what the others had to say, and I left when the speaker called us to go back to our seats. I have not worn that sweatshirt since. I want it to be all about Him, but my flesh says it’s all about me in all too many incidents.

Living to control everything or manipulate it all, to get my way or to be heard or to protect myself or check off more things on my to-do list, all of these end up leaving me empty. I realized, that day, to a greater degree my selfishness and my need to be seen and heard. It is a lesson I will never forget. It is these kind of lessons, when the Lord helps us to see self clearly through His eyes, that make me want to make some changes.

So, as I think about Recalibrating Life and recognize all that the Lord has taught me so far in 2018. I decided the place to start is in regard to what is essential according to God’s Word. There are some key verses that are essential to the way of intent that I want to live by. Here are the verses:

Psalm 62:8 NIV  “Trust in him at all times you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Luke 10:41-42 “Martha, Martha” the Lord answered,”you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed– or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Proverbs 3:5-6  “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.”

Psalm 62:5-7 “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Proverbs 4:26 “Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.”

Proverbs 19:20-21 “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’S purpose that prevails.”

I want to learn to live intentionally out of each of these essentials. But how? My times the overwhelm paralyzes me, rather than leading me to, as Elisabeth Elliot says,”just [doing] the next thing,” I get stuck. I forget that it doesn’t need to be big and epic. The Lord isn’t taking my performance into consideration in order to decide how much love He will pour into my heart and life. His love is unconditional.

Each one of the essentials can stop us in our tracks if we think that we must do them in a perfect way. Just think about it with me for a moment. Have you ever sidestepped praying or seeking direction because you were fearful that you could not do it well enough? What if you prayed the wrong thing? What if you misunderstood what God was directing you to do? Or what if you sought counsel but like Rehoboam took the wrong advice?

When my intention becomes about proving myself or about controlling things to turn out for my benefit I am in error. The Lord looks at our hearts and He searches our motives. He knows we are dust, He knows we are sinful. Yet, He also knows whether our error is born out of selfishness, hatred, or if it is because of honest misunderstanding. God is a loving God. He knows the depths of our heart better that we do.

Fear can be a guard rail of protection or a prison cell. I want my intentionality to be coming out of a heart that just wants to grow in intimacy with the Lord. Intimacy with Jesus is the bottom line of all the essentials I have listed. Each one is either a pathway to intimacy or a pathway out of learned intimacy.

So, seeking to grow in intimacy with Jesus changes how I approach each essential. You see, many times we confront our intentions like a checklist of things to be done, with the goal just to get it done. But this is about being relational, not about an accomplishment.

As I look back over my walk with the Lord, I see Him being the One drawing me into deeper intimacy through life lessons, through meeting me in His Word, through speaking to my heart as I pray. But none of it was anything I could control or make happen. The soil of my heart is what matters here. It is about my readiness and willingness and the Lord’s perfect timing.

So, my intention her must not be about accomplishing things on a list but instead about using these essentials as pathways to drawing nearer to God’s heart.

As I contemplated this, I came up with a list of intents to focus on, they are as follows:

  • to pray out of a heart of desperation and vulnerability.
  • to set aside the busyness and enjoy times of quiet before  the Lord, developing and practicing out of desire, not another thing to do.
  • to look for His love in His Word and moment-by-moment in my life so I grow in knowing Him more.
  • to choose to abandon control in life, resting His control, acknowledging that He is God, and letting Him work.
  • to rest as I wait for His deliverance in whatever the situation may be, rather than fretting and manipulating.
  • to learn His “unforced rhythms of grace” and rest, rather that seeking to prove.
  • to seek His direction and listen to the counsel He provides rather than trying to figure it all out on my own.

These are the intents of my heart that I recognized as I realized the error of my ways in the past. No, I am not beating myself up, the Lord has worked in me and through me despite my bulldozer style, despite my need to control, and despite my checklist and pencil. He is slowly teaching me and growing me up, growing my trust, helping me to know His love in a very personal way. And as I look back over this past year I see clearly how I want to grow in intimacy with Him in a new way. Not methodical and calculated, but in trusting Him in a love relationship as He refines my heart.

I must say once again, what an amazing God we have! How patient and gracious He has been with me through the many years I have walked with Him. He loves me and works with me where I am at. He is gentle and kind. His yoke truly is easy.

I am slowly learning to trust and learning to rest. I praise Him for showing me His loving presence and perfect understanding.

Journeying with Jesus truly brings joy even when we are on the rough, rocky roads with sharp rocks cutting our soles, or our souls. He never leaves us and He is always loving.

How is your journey going? What is He teaching you? Is He taking you on a new path? I pray that His lessons bless you as He has blessed me.