My Response to GodSpace: Time for Peace in the Rhythms of Life

My recalibrate life read for March was GodSpace: Time for Peace in the Rhythms of Life, by Christine Sine, M.D.

The focus of this book is to invite its readers to “make space for God” and “discover a Christlike pace that liberates us from the frenzy of a culture enslaved by time.”

She begins the book by leading the reader to see the problem of chaotic busyness in life and how it “constantly leaves us gasping for breath.” She helps us to recognize that God desires rest for both our bodies and our souls.

As Christians our lives should look different, we should be living with different priorities. Our life rhythm should be fulfilling, yet it seems that many believers live a life of frustration in the same kind of rat-race as everyone else.

Sine encourages her readers to be intentional about putting forth effort to “develop spiritual practices that put our faith and its rhythms at the center of all we are and do.”  This immediately caught my attention, as I know that I have not lived this way. I have only started to make a few changes in this direction as I work to recalibrate my life this year.  She says that “we need spiritual rituals to anchor our lives and give them meaning.”

I initially cringed at the word “rituals” because I usually equate a ritual as a go-through-the motions activity that lacks whole-heartedness. But I came to a new understanding, and am beginning to look at this word a little differently. I see rituals now more like “pillars” in our days, pillars that lead us back into the doorway of deeper relationship with the Lord.

When we set in place a plan of spiritual rhythm and set aside specific times throughout our days to find our way back to Him in the busyness of our day, we find there the reality of His loving-presence.

These “pillars” can look different in each of our lives. It may be times of short prayers, like breath prayers, or meditating on a section of Scripture at various times during the day. Or maybe you choose a different attribute of the Lord to concentrate on each day at lunchtime. It could be setting aside time for a weekly prayer-walk or planning for Sabbath rest, even just a few hours during the week. It may mean that you attend an annual spiritual conference or plan for quarterly personal prayer retreats. There are so many options! Sine suggests many different ideas.

Most importantly, you must decide what nourishes your heart and feeds your soul as it draws you into deeper intimacy with the Lord. What quiets the chaos that races through your mind? What brings you back to center?

Sine explains that although we recognize our need for prayer and Scripture reading in our lives, it seems that in the midst of our busyness these spiritual practices that are the first things we let go of. Life begins to feel out-of-control and we try to gain control by cutting back on a few things. Unfortunately, we cut back on the ones that are most necessary.

So, it comes down to, once again, this matter of being intentional. You start out by choosing to set aside the time and make some important choices of spritual practices. I am trying to do this, and it takes time to see what fits. I am starting out by finding a daily/weekly spiritual rhythm. My quiet time has been a set part of that rhythm, but I want more “pillars” in my day. Right now some of my “pillars” are as follows:

  • I am writing a breath prayer out of my Scripture reading to take with me through the day. And I am trying to remember to say it at times when I feel anxiety building. It takes repeated practice to make that happen, I often forget, but it is definitely a pillar I want in place.
  • I am choosing one to three Psalms to pray each day. My goal is one for morning, one for noon and one in the evening, but I am not there yet. I am getting one or two in on some days. But I know that benefits of praying Scripture and I love the Psalms, so it is something I will continue  to work at.
  • I am working through the book Whispers of Rest by Bonnie Gray. She has a beautiful way of leading you into the presence of the Lord through her writing. It is all about learning to rest in His love (something I definitely need and want to do). During this time, I respond to questions, journal, and pray. She has a one-word theme for each day to help draw you into the Lord’s presence.

The practices I have chosen are not direct suggestions from GodSpace, but I am seeking to find what works for me. I need practices, or “pillars” as I choose to call them, that invite me into God’s presence. The ideas that you choose for your own spiritual rhythm can be directly from Sine’s suggestions (if you choose to read her book), or they can be different ones you find and decide on. It is not about the “what” you use. The importance of all of this is being drawn back to the Lord and deepening the intimacy of your relationship with Him.

So, I have to admit, I have not read all of Sine’s book yet. I still have a few chapters to read, and I am working through the questions at the end of each chapter as I go. The questions are thought-provoking, they are helping me to take a closer look at where I have been and where I want to go in my walk with the Lord.

In the past I probably would have rushed through the book in order to say that I am finished in time to write this post, but finishing the book isn’t my goal, living a recalibrated life is. Seeking to know the Lord’s presence more in my day, being intentional about, both, remembering to breathe deeply and to have slow feet; those are some of my goals in this process. This journey will be one of trial-and-error as I try different practices and see if they are successful in helping me meet my goals.

Sabbath rest is another one of the spiritual rhythms Sine discusses in her book. It is a practice I want to learn to live, and I have been choosing certain practices of Sabbath that work in my life. Next month’s blog posts will center around the subjects of Sabbath-keeping and Sabbath rest. I hope you will continue this journey of recalibrating life next week as we delve into that.

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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.

The Luxury of Lingering

My goal of recalibrating life is leading me to desire simplicity in everything. Last month the sermon series at my church concentrated on the subject of prayer. Prayer can be a complicated part of life mostly because of our personal understanding and expectations of it.

Too often prayer becomes a time of laying out a laundry list before the Lord of the needs we know we and those we love have. At least that has been my experience. And, in time, that can become cumbersome. In fact, in reading off our long lists we can become bored, at least that has been my experience. It begins to get repetitious. Unfortunately, it seems that I circle back to this problem time and time again. I go for a while praying the Scriptures, and then one morning I will lazily pick up my list and read it off. It will be a disconnected task that I try to complete in a short amount of time, just to get it done.

When we concentrate on a list we can lose sight of the relationship we are suppose to be living with the Lord. Our requests get made and we are ready to move on with our days. Does that ever happen with you? Maybe it’s just me, because I do know people who do just fine with a prayer list. I just know that I want the intimacy of a deeper relationship with Him and the list method does not seem to take me there.

As a part of our church services during the month of January we have been breaking into small groups to pray. One Sunday as I was joining a few people to pray it occurred to me that prayer is meant to be so much simpler than I often make it out to be.

That Sunday the sermon had been about the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus turned to prayer often in His life, and it is obvious that His disciples had observed this and were interested in learning more.

Jesus saw the neediness of the people surrounding Him, He recognized the effects of sin on mankind, and although these were pressing issues He needed to share with His Father, I think that His time of prayer was more about abiding and finding restoration. Jesus simply wanted to linger with His Father. Sadly, that is not what prayer is for many of us.

But I am learning to linger with my Heavenly Father. And I am learning that in the lingering I receive luxuries of the Lord’s compassion. I am finding that I want to linger with Him more and more to know His heart in a deeper way. I think you too will feel a desire to abide with Him in that sweet spot, the place where He teaches you of His endless compassion for you. So please take time to use the following verses as places to linger. Before the verse is the topic they fall into and then before each verse I will share with you what it is that touches my heart about that verse, what makes me want to linger.

Love:

He loves me so much that he sings over me, he delights in me. I yearn for His song over me and His delight in me.

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17

His love is unfailing, no matter what. Unconditional and forever! I need that kind of love in my life.

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”  Isaiah 54:10

His compassion never ends, His love is that great. He does not let us be consumed, (and some days it feels like the overwhelm could quite literally do just that.)

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumes, for his compassions never fail.”  Lamentation 3:22

Instruction

He promises to give us the instruction we need and to teach us the way. I know I need direction for my day, for my life. Life is complicated and confusing, but He sees it from beginning to end and knows the path He has for us. 

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Psalm 32:8

His Word lights the way, we need not stumble through the dark.

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” Psalm 119:105

The Holy Spirit gives us truth for the way and helps us to know about the future.

“But when he the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” John 16:13

Nourishment

He meets our needs for all of life. Life, at times, can seem so empty and we can become so discontent. The Lord fills us and quenches our thirst.

“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

Grace

He promises us grace and mercy in our neediness. He wants us to call upon Him.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

He promises us forgiveness and purification. I am realizing more and more the sin-sickness of my heart. But the Lord gives me hope in knowing He will forgive me and that I have righteousness through Jesus.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

He grants us eternal life through our faith in Jesus.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Encouragement

God is always available to us, He helps us in our times of trouble. I can always call on Him, I just need to choose to do so.

” God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

We can find peace as we take our worries and anxieties to Him. I get caught in the quicksand of worry and anxiety all too often instead of knowing the peace the Lord promises.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7

God is our salvation, our strength and defense. He is trustworthy. There is no need for fear. Fear ties me in knots and paralyzes me, I get stuck in it. But I have a Deliverer, He is showing me that, more and more, as I linger with Him.

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.”  Isaiah 12:2

Rest

In our overwhelm, He promises rest. Rest is something that He has most recently shown me in Psalm 23, but the verses below are verses I visit time and time again.

“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.” Matthew 11:28-30

He promises His presence, as well as to give us rest. I am finding the reality of His presence more and more as I remember to call on Him through the use of breath prayers. These little prayers are bringing me into connection with Him throughout my days.

“The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14

He is our Fortress, and Rock, our Resting Place of safety. This verse has been especially helpful just recently when I was struggling.

“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62:1-2

In lingering, we are restored. As I continue on with recalibrating life, I am learning to linger with the Lord and receive from Him what He has for me. For me, it is much less about asking. It is more about learning to be with and take in His Word for me in those moments, receiving what I need to help me through the day. And daily I have been taking a breath prayer with me. Some of them have been:

“My Sweet Abba; Help me abide.”

“My Shepherd Guide, Restore my soul.”

“On Life’s rough terrain; Lord help me be surefooted.”

“Make my heart steadfast; Fully trusting in you.”

One day I just took the word “Fortress” with me because I felt shaken by what was ahead of me. So now it is in those times of fear or upset, I continue to call out to my Fortress. I need His help to trust and I need His protection (most recently in icy travel).

He has brought me to short passages or sections of Scripture that speak to my need and then have restored me as I linger there. It is from those portions of Scripture that I choose a word or find a breath prayer to take with me for the day.

Lingering with Him in the quiet or in His Word, He gives me just what I need for the day. Oftentimes the verse will remind me of requests I have and I will seek His help through deeper prayer. But the simplicity of lingering in these luxuries of His love has been a path to restoration. It is all a part of me recalibrating life.

Take time today to linger with Jesus and learn more of His love.

My Response to “Sacred Rhythms”

I am happy to report I completed my first Recalibrate Life Read for 2019. The book I read was Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. I went through this book chapter by chapter, and took time to engage in most of the practices suggested.

Barton shares in the introduction what spiritual transformation is. She explains that it is “all about choosing a way of life that opens us to the presence of God in the places of our being where our trust, desires, and deepest longings stir.”

The book begins with a chapter on our longings and the importance of recognizing them. We need to honestly reflect on what we want and then bring those longing before the Lord. Barton uses the Bible story of Bartimaeus to help us reach deep inside to find our own longings. In that story Jesus asks blind Bartimaeus, “what do you want me to do for you?” Barton asks us to ask ourselves the same question as if from the Lord and share our responses with Him. I took time to do this, it was refreshing. Some very deep longings came to the surface. My time of telling the Lord what I longed for was so filled with tenderness. I think I have voiced needs that come out of these longings, but I do not think that I have ever really talked about what was at the bottom of those needs, the longings beneath my neediness. I felt vulnerable and exposed in being so real, but I left that time with the Lord feeling held and heard in my reaching out to Him.

Barton continues the book discussing solitude and how taking time alone creates space for God. Life gets so busy and with technology we are constantly on call. Barton shares that she has found how important it is for being present with what is real in her life. She talks about sitting in our feelings, our grief, our tears, our questions, our anger, and our loneliness, or whatever we are feeling or experiencing, allowing the Lord to be with us in that place. Knowing His presence in that deep place leads to a deeper intimacy with Him and it helps us to know ourselves better. Too often in the crazy chaos of life we instead bury our feelings not even taking time to acknowledge their presence, let alone sit in them.

Another discipline discussed in this book was that of reflecting on and responding to small portions of Scripture through the practice of Lectio Divina. I took time to linger in the Word and to linger with the Lord savoring what He was showing me in the Scripture I selected for this time. I had chosen Psalm 23 verses 1-3a to read, a very short selection, but it was so full and rich. Lingering there in the tender, green pastures and the still, fresh waters, I learned more about true rest. In these verses I also recognized my need for soul-refreshing restoration. Just rest. Just trust. I am your protector and provider. I will restore and refresh your weary soul. That is what the Lord told me in these words of David’s precious Psalm. And I took that with me through my day.

The next chapter was on Prayer. Barton says,“Prayer is all the ways in which we communicate and commune with God. The fundamental purpose of prayer is to deepen our intimacy with God.” What could be more important than that? The practice in this chapter was “breath prayer.” It is about learning to be present with the Lord throughout your day. I chose my prayer to be, “My Sweet Abba. Help me abide.” The busyness of life often keeps me from abiding, but taking time to come to the Lord throughout my day with these words, relaxed me, and drew me in. My first experience with breathing this prayer touched my heart deeply. The picture that came to mind was that of being in the shadow of His wings, so close, so protected, so safe. It brought me to tears. Breath prayer has become a daily slow-me-down prayer and it has been wonderful to stop momentarily and remember I am not alone in my day. How very important it is to draw near to Him and know His loving presence in the midst of the frenetic pace of our days.

Barton discusses honoring our bodies in another chapter. This one is about considering how we have been created for wholeness. She suggests intentionally connecting spiritual practices with physical activities like walking meditation. I did not work through this practice. It is something that I am hoping to go back to.

Barton also discusses self-examination. She explains two practices of examen, as well as confessing our sinfulness, and asking for forgiveness. It is all about taking time to look deeply at the week you are in or the day you have just completed and really consider how you have lived it and responded to it. The thing I recognized in this practice is that in my busyness I often miss recognizing the Lord’s presence with me. I have considered this before, but it became very real to me here. I also realized how easily sinful attitudes and responses can be completely dismissed as I continue through my day. It is difficult to look so closely at your attitudes and behaviors and realize how focused you are on the tasks at hand. This practice is one I want to repeat weekly (at least), it seemed very important to me.

Discernment was one of my favorite chapters. Barton says that discernment is “a way of looking at all of life” then “sensing the movement of God’s Spirit and abandoning ourselves to it.” I love that definition. The other thing that stood out to me in this chapter was where she talked about the need for indifference to anything but God’s will. She suggests that we ask ourselves the question: “What needs to die in me in order for God’s will to come forth in my life?”  I will be returning to this chapter often also.

Another discipline discussed was that of Sabbath-keeping. Sabbath-keeping is about establishing rhythms of work and rest in our lives. This is not at all a legalistic practice, but instead a gift from the Lord for our good. He offers us time to find rest for our bodies, replenishment for our spirit’s, and restoration for our souls. Barton offers a lot of good ideas or options for practicing this discipline, even if we just start small. There are so many benefits.

Finally, the book ends with chapter on cultivating rhythms for spiritual transformation through the structure of a “rule of life”. Barton says the “rule of life” makes us ask ourselves the question, “How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be?” A rule of life is a means of “opening ourselves in a consistent manner to God’s transforming work in us.” This chapter forced me to decide if I would intentionally put any of these disciplines into practice in my life and how I would do that. I definitely want to put some of them into practice. I am starting small and hoping to grow in into practicing more.

I enjoyed this book a lot, I learned a lot, and I feel that the practices I choose will definitely be helpful in growing in intimacy with the Lord as well as in recalibrating my life.

I especially enjoyed the questions she brought to the chapters, they caused me to deeply reflect and encouraged me to respond in prayer. So many ways to deepen my intimacy with the Lord. Even if there was only one practice that pulled me in, this book was well worth the time it took to read.

When Fear Blinds You

Numbers 13:27-28 “They reported to Moses and said,”We went in to the land where you sent us and it certainly does flow with milk and honey and this is its fruit. But the people who live in the land are strong and the cities are fortified (walled) and very large; moreover, we saw there the descendants of Anak [people of great stature and courage]… “

The Israelites were ready to enter the Promised Land that the Lord had told them He would give them. We learn in Deuteronomy 1:22-27 that the Israelites, in their lack of trust, decided that they should check it out themselves. They did not take God at His Word believing His promise to be true, but wanted to see it with their own eyes and decide for themselves what would be best. So the verses you read above from the book of Numbers records what the spies saw when they scoped out the land.

They saw fortified cities and giants, and fear blinded them to the truth of God and His faithfulness. Have you been there? Have you been blinded to what God is able to do in your trials and difficult times? Have you lost sight of His faithfulness because of the impossibility of the situation? Has the reality of His strength and willingness to fight your battles, His ability to work on your behalf, has it all been lost to you in your trembling fear?

Caleb and Joshua were two of the men that had accompanied the spies and they came back to the Israelites with a different report. The spies saw defeat and felt that they did not have a chance. Caleb and Joshua said, “Let us go up at once and take possession of it for we will conquer it” (Numbers 15:30). But the spies replied that they could not do it because the people of Canaan were too strong for them.

What giants are you facing in your life?

What is causing fear to engulf your heart?

The truth here is that God made the Israelites a promise. He promised to give them this land. They only had to step forward in faith. The spies focused on the impossibility of the situation, Caleb and Joshua saw what God could do. The spies were looking at the problem and it blinded them to God, while Joshua and Caleb looked at God and found hope.

Life can lead us into place where we may face looming giants.  Our hearts tremble in fear. Yet the Lord calls us to trust when we are faced with insurmountable giants.

Psalm 28 is a psalm of David, it is a plea of his for help. David calls on the Lord because enemies of God that he is facing cause him to feel fear and hopelessness. David is earnest in his prayer, he calls the Lord his “rock.” David is believing and trusting in God’s power. He is choosing to depend on God. He feels as if death is at his door and focuses on God, crying out and pleading with Him to answer his prayers, to not be silent. David prays for deliverance, he recognizes apart from God’s deliverance there is no hope.

Later in the Psalm, David goes on to speak of how the LORD heard the voice of his supplication. David prayed in faith and rejoices as he finds hope in God. David encourages himself to live in that hope,  trusting that God will perfect everything concerning him.

We see his dependence on God in verse 7, “The Lord is my strength and my [imperishable] shield, my heart trust [with unwavering confidence] in Him and I am helped. Therefore my heart greatly rejoices. And with my son, I shall thank Him and praise Him”

David is trusting God to be his strength, to support him, and to carry him through the difficult times. He is trusting God as a shield to protect him from all that his enemies can throw at him. And in trusting, David finds God to be faithful. David trusted in God’s power and His promise and was not disappointed. David finishes this psalm by telling us he is standing firm in the Lord.

Fear is at the bottom of so many reactions and emotional responses. My desperate need to control has been fueled by fear. At the base of my anger and frustration I find fear. At the bottom of my people-pleasing behaviors I find fear. Where do you find fear in your heart today? Satan uses fear to cripple us. He uses fear to blind us to the truth of who God is and what He can do.

In Jennifer Kennedy Dean’s study,  Live a Praying Life Without Fear:Let Faith Tame Your Worries, the author states: “The situation causing you fear or anxiety right now is an opening for God to show Himself strong on your behalf and He delights to do so. ” She goes on to quote one of my favorite verses (written here from the Amplified version).

For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth so that He may support those whose heart is completely His. ” 2 Chronicles 16:9a

God wants to support, help, and strengthen those who are fully committed to Him.

Dean goes on to say,  “He is not aloof from your struggle or inured to your pain. He is eagerly waiting for you to turn to Him so He can do for you what you cannot do for yourself. ”

The part that is most difficult is recognizing that I cannot do it myself and then for me to be willing to let Him do it His way. When we choose to acknowledge our need and relinquish our grasp on the outcome, then we allow Him to have His way with us. That is the surrender He calls us to.

We, then, are able to praise God with David, Joshua, and Caleb, with all those who have trusted in His way and found Him faithful. He is the One who gives us victory!

So today in the midst of your fear, seek Truth.

1 John 4:4b AMP “… He who is in you is greater than he (Satan) who is in the world [of sinful mankind] .”

Isaiah 41:10 AMP “Do not fear [anything], for I am with you; Do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you; I will certainly take hold of you with my righteous right hand [a hand of justice, of power, of victory, of salvation].”

Philippians 4:6-7 AMP “Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. And the peace of God [that peace which assures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus [is yours]. 

Allow His Truths to encourage your heart, and in your fear step out in faith. Rely on Him who is our loving, sovereign God!

Letting Go; Knowing Truth Can Help

 

Living with stress sure causes problems! But how do we let go?

My thoughts pressure me to try to stay in control, to get it all done, to please everyone and gain approval. Yet, when I work hard to make it happen and the outcome isn’t what I hoped for I get frustrated and angry. It seems that it is a vicious cycle, and I am stuck in it like a revolving door.

My recent realization of how my stress is directly related to my need for control has led me to choose to make changes. These changes will not happen overnight, they will take time and practice.

I have been thinking a lot about my control issues, and realize how I am tied up in the temporal, looking for approval of man. Colossians 3:2 AMP says, “Set your mind and keep focused habitually on the things above [the heavenly things] not on things that are on the earth [which have only temporal value].” The Truths of God’s Word are things from above, and my need for human approval is definitely temporal. I need to fill my mind with His Truth, especially the truths regarding all He gives me. These are things that I miss out on when I am wrongly focused.

The changes I am going to make involve taking the following truths into my heart, and focusing on them throughout my days.

1. First of all, I need to focus on God’s great love. Jeremiah 31:3a AMP, tells us: “The LORD appeared to me (Israel) from ages past, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with loving-kindness I have drawn you and continued My faithfulness to you… “ When I am feeling like I need to try harder and do more in order to earn love I will think on His everlasting love that does not change or diminish.

2. God also promises us peace of mind and heart in John 14:27 AMP, “Peace I leave with you; My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.” Yet, even so, I strive and worry and sit here with aching shoulder and neck muscles. When I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed I need to think on the peace He gives. Do you need His peace today for whatever you are struggling with?

Isaiah 26:3 AMP promises us peace as well. Isaiah tells us this about God, “You will keep in perfect and constant peace the one whose mind is steadfast [that is, committed and focused on You in both inclination and character], because he trusts and takes refuge in You [with hope and confident expectation]”. When we keep our minds stayed on Him, we will have His peace!

3. I know that I end up in bondage to others as well as to my to-do list and, as their slave, I grow more and more tense and worried, continually striving. Bound to these, I am weighed down and overwhelmed. Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us that because so many have witnessed the truth God’s absolute faithfulness, we can strip ”off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily entangles us” and stripped of these, we can “run with endurance and active persistence the race set before us [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus who is the Author and Perfecter of faith, … who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work]”. The Lord has given help to us to run this race of life. We have freedom in Him, the pressure is off. We only have to throw off the weights and run this race free of all that keeps us tethered.

4. The Lord also has given us access to Him in prayer. Hebrews 4:16 AMP tells us: “Therefore, let us [with privilege] approach the throne of grace [that is, God’s gracious favor] with confidence and without, so that we may receive mercy [ for our failures] and find [His amazing] grace to help in time of need [an appropriate blessing, coming just at the right moment.” I can come to Him, we can come to Him, freely anytime and tell Him about our struggles and trust Him to supply mercy and grace to help us. What do you need to talk with Him about today?

5. The Lord also wants to gift us with joy, peace, and hope; gifts that, like the sun behind dark clouds, are missed or seemingly lost as I focus on the wrong things. Paul tells us about it in a prayer-like verse in Romans 15:13 AMP. This is a favorite verse of mine. It says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing [through the experience of your faith] that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will abound in hope and overflow with confidence in His promises. “ In the midst of our overwhelming lives these are offered to you and me! I want to say,“Yes Lord, bring it on!”

6. And one last verse I want to focus on is James 1:5 AMP. James tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide him through a decision or circumstance], he is to ask of [our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to him.” When we are at a loss as to what to do or how to do it we only need to ask the Lord and He will lead us in His wisdom. What a wondrous gift this is! So often, in times of stress we come to a place that we don’t know what to do next, and knowing we have help can really bring relief in times of worry.

Wow, what a list! Looking at these truths I wonder why I get into such bondage and overwhelm. I only need to remember all I have in my Lord. Each one of these verses gives us a way to set our minds on Him to help us take our focus off of the outcome that has us bound in knots.

I realize that what we each need to let go of probably is different, but when we transfer our focus to Him and seek Him for help, we are given exactly what we need to make it through. He helps us let go by leading us to focus on Him and on what we have in Him. He helps us focus on Who He is and what He can do for us and that is what we will be looking at next week.

The tighter I hold on to getting my way or to finding ways to fill my empty, the more frustrated, angry and short-tempered I become. My neck and shoulder muscles continue to tighten as I stress about how I can do everything so I get the response I need. I must turn my focus to Him!

What are you in need letting go of? Maybe you do not realize what is at the bottom of your clutching on so tightly, ask the Lord to show you what it is. He knows why you are feeling (emotionally and physically) the way you do. He knows what you are in bondage to and He wants to deliver you! He wants to deliver me. Ask Him to show you the Truths of His Word that counteract the lies that keep you bound. When you know the truth you shall be free indeed (See John 8:31-32)!

I pray that some of these verses have helped you and that you will join me next week as I share more about letting go!

Growing in Grace through Meditation, Reflection, and Journaling

Are your growing in grace as you take time to reflect on God’s Word?

Do you see the relevance of His Word for your life as you read it?

Do you feel yourself taking it to heart and really living out the truth nuggets that stand out to you?

Last week we talked about the importance of soul friendships in our lives to help us grow in our relationship with the Lord. There is so much growth that can occur as we share with a spiritual friend about the Lord, His Word, and His work in our lives. But we need to be intentional in our daily lives to grow in grace through being in the Word and in being alone with God.

We can take time to read our Bibles, check the box on our to-do list that says “done” to us, and move on with our busy days. I sadly have to admit I have done that. And although I could say that I was reading the Bible, I took nothing into my heart and it had very little effect on my life.

So what can you do? How can you make it matter? How does this growing in grace stuff really happen?

I think it is really important to come to the Word wanting to know the Lord more, wanting the Holy Spirit to lead you and to give you awareness of what He wants to show you and teach you. I haven’t always done that. I suppose it is because it means slowing down, being quiet, and stopping to pause as He leads. All too often my mind is racing ahead to my to-do list.

The Lord knows our hearts, our minds, and our lives. He knows where we need wisdom, knowledge, conviction, and guidance. So, I am trying to slow down more and more. I am taking to time to really meditate and reflect on the Word as I read. This means I choose a portion of the Scriptures to read, read it through, and slowly take in what is being said.

I find it helpful to compare translations of the Bible as I am reading. I especially like to look at the Amplified version alongside a New International Version or an English Standard version.

Many times I take time to rewrite some of the Scripture I am studying. I may rewrite it in my own words just to help me personalize it or oftentimes I write it into a prayer. I read a few verses and realize I want the Lord to work that in my heart and life and I turn it into a prayer.

Recently I was reading in Acts 11 and came to verse 23, I read:                                                                                      “When he arrived and saw what grace (favor) God was bestowing upon them, he was full of joy; and he continuously exhorted (warned, urged, and encouraged) them to all cleave unto and remain faithful to and devoted to the Lord with [resolute and steady] purpose of heart.” (emphasis mine) 

Immediately I thought, I want that (the portion in bold in the above passage). I rewrote it into a prayer asking the Lord to help me to cleave to Him and to be faithful and devoted with a resolute and steady purpose of heart. The words of that verse perfectly declared what my heart yearns for in my relationship with the Lord. I actually didn’t write this prayer in my journal instead I just wrote it in my Bible near the verse.

As I read there are often keywords that stand out to me. Words that I need better understanding of, or words or phrases that just touch my heart and I want to know more. Sometimes I use my Concordance to compare the words in some other verses, and other times I research meanings in a Bible dictionary or other Bible helps.

There are also times when those keywords stand out, that I realize it is truly the Holy Spirit shining a light into the dark crevices of my heart where I have hidden sinful attitudes and thoughts. At those times the Spirit convicts me and leads me to repentance. I recognize that I am doing what the Lord commands me not to do, or I am not responding in the loving way I should. And once again, the Word leads me to prayer. I talk with the Lord about why I am struggling with this issue, that person, or both. I ask for forgiveness from Him, and for help with the person or issue, whether that be for help to forgive or accept or to just know what He wants me to do.

When I slow down and take time to reflect on the Word, I relate it to my own feelings, actions, behaviors, attitudes, and situations. I think about what I may need to change, what areas I need to grow in, and seek guidance as to how to go forward. There are so many lessons in the Word. We can take the key words and phrases to heart and chew on them all day long taking them with us in our minds and thinking on them as we move through our day consciously aware of what the Lord is teaching us.

Of course, since I love to write, much of this process is recorded in my journal. I want to remember what I am learning as I read the Word. I want to remember what the Holy Spirit shows me about me that I have been blind to. I want to be able to see the Lord at work on my behalf helping me to grow in grace as He answers my prayers. I write key verses, I write my thoughts and my questions. And I write my prayers.

I use to write out all of my prayers years ago, but after a while I felt like I was just repeating some of the same things and it became a chore. Yet, I knew I wanted to record my prayers. I felt stuck and was unsure what to do. I have since found that keeping a small booklet with prayer lists for the people I pray daily or frequently for works very well. As I read my Bible I find verses that seem to say exactly what I want to pray for those dear ones and I write these verses on that person’s page and pray through the verses as I bring their needs before the Lord.

I still record prayers in my journal but they are the prayers I personalize from the Word and prayers for things that I want the Lord to work on in my heart and life. I record prayers that come out of “the cellar of my soul.” I record my confessions of bad attitudes, and sinfulness, I write about my fears, my personal heartache, areas of neediness and hurt, and things relevant to that day that I want to give to the Lord.

Yes, this all takes time, and some days I get bogged down because I get frustrated but I am continuing to grow. I am learning and I am excited about the things the Lord is showing me and helping me with.

I have found a couple of books along the way that have been very helpful, I am sure there are many others you may be familiar with but these have led me in my learning.
1. Journal Keeping: Writing for Spiritual Growth by Luann Budd
2. Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney

The Lord desires that we come to know Him more and we do that through learning in His Word, and experiencing His presence in our daily moment-to-moment lives. I hope that you have found something here that will help you in your journey in growing in grace.

Next week we will look at Growing in Grace through Celebration: Praise and Worship.

Love in the Loneliness

Until I find community enough in being with Jesus first, the entire restaurant wouldn’t suffice the aching that loneliness hungers to fill.”
Choosing Real Bekah Jane Pogue

Loneliness is very common. Loneliness is a neediness within that eats away at your heart like a cancer.

Loneliness is defined as a “sadness because one has no friends or company.” I think that at first glance this definition may seem true, but when you really think about it, loneliness can be present even in a crowd. It is the depth of connection with a spouse or a friend that bridges the gap. You don’t feel lonely when you feel understood, known, loved, and you’re your heart is safe.

I learned through my depression that the pain and neediness of my heart cried out for understanding and love. My depression left me feeling as if I was drowning, suffocating, and overwhelmed with so much pain. I mostly pushed people away, but when I found that my neediness wouldn’t annihilate another, then I would cling. It was through this that I learned how needy I really was, I became aware of the emptiness and loneliness of my heart. I recognized how much I had been hiding, how deeply my real self was really buried.

It was in the midst of learning these things, in the midst of my clinging to another in hopes for healing, that the Lord made me to know that He wanted me to give Him my neediness.
It is so easy for us to run to others with our needs even when we know that the Lord is the One with the power to heal, to comfort with His love, to give understanding, and to lead in His perfect wisdom.

The Lord wants us to run to Him with our neediness and loneliness. It was when I began to pour out my heart to the Lord, and really give Him my neediness that my healing began. He desired me to see Him as my greatest need, the All-Sufficient One, my Healer.

Life can just be lonely because of the mundane of everyday. We get so busy with all we try to do that our lives may be spent in living solitary lives. If that is where you are at, Pogue suggests that “maybe solitary isn’t something we need to run away from” instead she suggest it may be our cue of to run to the Lord.

Loneliness can flood your heart throughout many moments of life for many very different reasons, the loss of friendship, the death of a loved one, moving away, isolation, or divorce. It is in these times we need to cry out to the Lord. Maybe it’s just the day and the way it’s going down, or maybe it’s the place you are in life right now, that the string of days, weeks, or even months leave you feeling lonely. Cry out to God. He hears and He answers our prayers. He deeply cares about the neediness in our hearts.

Remember, after you give the Lord the neediness of your heart to look for His answer. It is easy to miss His answers when one’s mind is set on wanting the prayer answered in our own specific way. I share this thought out of my own experience, because it was what happened with me in my depression. I knew what I felt my heart needed and I prayed for the Lord to do it my way. Instead, He showed me His way repeatedly, He wanted me to trust Him with my neediness. He wants to be the One we run to, He wants to be the One to meet our needs in the perfect ways that come out of His wisdom and love.

So, from our knees in prayer, we must get up and look to see what He is doing, where He is leading, who He is bringing or in some cases, whom He has already brought that we have missed. He knows who He has put in your life, or wants to put in your life. He knows the purpose for which He brings them.

I believe that as He sees and hears us bringing the neediness of our hearts, He will lead us to the quenching of the thirst in our loneliness through relationship with Himself, as well as with specific people He puts in community around us. He has a beautiful way of touching our neediness with His love so specific to our personal desires. He truly satisfies our hearts when we give Him the need and trust Him for the answer.

Are you lonely today? Call out to the Lord with your need.

Do you know someone who is lonely? Ask the Lord if there is a way to meet that person with His love.

The Lord is always near and never will abandon or forsake us. In moments of loneliness cling to Him and watch Him work! He is at work because He loves you!

What Benefits Scripture Praying Brings

I have found that praying the Scriptures is invigorating to my time with the Lord. I have used this method much more recently than in the past. I had used the scriptures for prayer in the past, but mostly by reading a prayer I found in the Scriptures and putting in names or praying it specifically for myself. But the game changer came when I read the book, Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney. He helped me to learn so much about prayer, as well as a wonderful way to pray using Scripture. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is struggling in their prayer-life or just needs some encouragement.

There are many benefits to praying Scripture, and Donald Whitney especially highlights using the prayer-book in the Bible, specifically the book of Psalms. He explains how to use other portions of Scripture for prayer as well.

Let me specifically share the benefits I have found.

First of all, the most obvious benefit is it gets you into God’s Word. There are so many books about the Word, and studies that use the Word to answer questions, that it is easy to just use the Bible as a reference book. When you use Scripture for prayer, you choose a portion and read it slowly. You meditate on what the author says. So for me right now that means I choose a Psalm and I read through it once to become familiarized with its content, and then I begin the process of praying through it.

Donald Whitney explains in his book that as we read the chosen Psalm, you slowly read and use it to prompt a prayer need, and you pray that need then go on reading. You may have many prayers for one verse and none for others, but it is not about using all the verses, it is about being drawn into God’s Word and praying it back to Him. Whether that means worshiping Him in a praise of the Psalmist or confessing how much you do not feel like worshiping because of the overwhelming concerns in your life. Praying the Scriptures may mean recognizing more about Who God is in ways that are new to you. It may mean your heart becomes burdened for the lost because of what you read. It means being open to the Holy Spirit prompting your heart with His Word to pray whatever He brings to you, and that brings us to the next benefit.

I have found in praying Scripture I have a new openness to the Spirit. My heart and mind are fully focused on God’s Word, and the Spirit uses His Word to touch my heart with Truth that easily relates to my life and the lives of those around me. The Psalmist may share the thanksgiving of his heart in a portion of the psalm and one word he says may prompt me to recognize so much that I have to be thankful for.

For example, Psalm 9 begins “I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart. I will tell of all Your wonders. I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.” Well reading that made me realize first of all that I was distracted and overwhelmed, I wasn’t attending to Him with my whole heart, so I had to ask for help to concentrate and really be present with Him. I had to quiet my soul, my heart, and my mind. It was then I could share all that I had on my heart to be thankful for, telling Him of the great wonders He had shown me, being glad and exulting in Him, and even being drawn into songs of praise. Later in this Psalm David speaks of the Lord being a “Stronghold.” Here I asked the Lord to be a stronghold for certain people in my life who were going through difficult times and needed Him even more than we need Him every day. I shared my own troubles, and how my heart needed protection because of certain hurts. Just one Psalm gives us an open door to so many prayers of our hearts as the Spirit opens our eyes to what He sees and knows and reveals things we have missed in our busyness or distraction.

I also have found praying the Scriptures beneficial because there are so many Psalms, with the Psalmist’s sharing their hearts out of different circumstances. Each prayer-time is new, a different perspective, a different way to bring my needs before the Lord highlighting these needs in a different way.

And finally, always amazing to me, but a known truth is the fact that the Lord makes His Word fresh and new to me each time I read it. I am in a new place each day emotionally, and spiritually. My outlook on life may be different, my neediness for the Lord may be different, my understanding of the Word may touch my heart in a different way dependent on my perspective on life that day.  I may reread a Psalm I did a different day and totally different words and truths stand out to me and my prayers are voiced in a new way about the same people and the same things. It is never boring.

God’s Word gives us all we need to learn to pray and to pray from the depths of our hearts with earnestness and also finding the depths of our very real desperation for our Father God.

His Word is written for us and we can benefit so much as we read it and use it in praying. I hope that your heart is encouraged to open up your Bible and use it for prayer.

Yielding in Prayer

Hebrews 4:16 “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Do you have an attitude of entitlement when it comes to what God does for you, gives to you, and how He works in your life?

Do you think the Lord should do things in a particular way for you?

Do you tell God how to answer your prayers?

I find myself answering varying degrees of yes to each of these questions. How about you?

It makes me cringe to think that I come before God, the Creator of the universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lord’s, and act as if I deserve anything or as if He owes me answers to my prayers.

Prayer, communication with the Lord, and fellowship come to us at great cost. We wouldn’t have these privileges apart from the work Jesus did for us on the cross. His death and resurrection gives us access to our Heavenly Father as we accept Jesus as our Savior, the One who took away our sins so that He might present us before the Father in His righteousness.

So Hebrews 4:16 isn’t saying we can come to God demanding our desires and wants. Rather it is saying, come boldly, robed in Christ’s righteousness, knowing that you have access to God, your Heavenly Father. Come boldly knowing that He will have mercy on you and out of the graciousness of His heart He will meet you in your neediness.

The Lord desires us to come as a child comes to his father. He wants us to come:

  • to tell Him what we need
  • to ask for help
  • to seek Him for wisdom
  • to find rest in Him
  • to be rooted in His love
  • to know contentment in His presence and in knowing His presence. He never leaves us.
  • totally dependent on Him, knowing His sufficiency is available

The Lord is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful). He is love. How can we think that He, in His perfect love, would not do what is best for us? How can we think we need to advise Him or manipulate HIm?

But how do we yield in prayer? The transformation occurs in and through our time in His Word, in His presence, and through knowing His magnificent love for us.

Gradually our hearts transform, through the sanctification process, growing from:

  • impatient to more patient
  • mean-spirited to kind
  • boastful to humble
  • self-serving to honoring others
  • easily provoke to calm spirited
  • delighting in evil to rejoicing in Truth

Gradually throughout life, as we grow in relationship with the Lord, we grow in Christ-likeness.

Like a daisy that changes from white to pink as it drinks in the rose-colored water, we too are transformed as we are infused with Christ and His truths.

We grow in Christ-likeness and are transformed. It is through this transformation our hearts are changed by Him. It is then we learn to submit, we learn to yield to Him in our prayers. We begin praying for what is important to Him.

What are you praying for?

Have you asked the Lord what He desires regarding that prayer?

Is your heart growing in yielding to Him in prayer?

Think about these questions. Talk with the Lord about where you are in the process of yielding to the Lord in prayer.

Lord, help each one of us to open our hearts up to You as we pray. Lead us in yielding to You. Lead us Lord, in each cry of our heart, as we pray to You. Hold us in Your love as we patiently wait for Your perfect answer. Amen.