Monday, July 13, 2015

Spongy



Lord Jesus, I have this need to delve deep into Bible study again, more than just my daily reading.

I've sat in this chair too long, distracted by the amusements of the computer. I feel dessicated, dry, useless, and stiff. 

I need the water of Your Word, Lord Jesus. 

You know me, Lord. I like to define words, and discover other places in the Bible where You've placed them, to help me sort out what's really there.

I want to apply the Word to my everyday life, as I rediscover those beautiful details in Scripture. 

No, I don't want the study to be all about me, but wisdom takes the truth to heart and lives it out, right? 

At the end of the day I want to lay my head on the pillow and acknowledge without a doubt the ways You moved, "transformed by the renewing of [my] mind, so that [I] may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans12:2.)

What Christian doesn't want to know Your perfect will? It's always so good to determine what is good and pleasing to You and then do it. 

Studying the Bible changes me, Lord. I feel so refreshed when the old, familiar words suddenly say something to me that I need to know. 

My dry little spirit is suddenly saturated, kind of like when that hard, whitish sponge is run under water in the sink. It swells up, turning a rich color, relaxing in my hand, ready to be used. 


Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
 ~John 4:13-14

Monday, June 8, 2015

Trying. Willing.

Lord Jesus, sometimes I get twisted up in feelings and can't seem to think clearly.

You know that on those days I lecture myself, "Don't think with your feelings." Wrong organ.

I try to chase my heart out of the driver's seat and get my head there instead. 

That rarely succeeds. It's a little like the old Just Say No campaign. It sounds right until you really think about it. If that was going to work it would have been effective when Eve was walking through perfection and spotted that fruit.

I'm so grateful for good days, giving me a chance to think. Then I can provemake real, live out, touch and see—Your good, acceptable and perfect will, my mind transformed by the renewing of the relationship with You.

So, Lord, help me think through those dank, emotion-driven days when I spin in strange circles, now, while I’m not there. Let me unravel what happens inside when I'm troubled by the have-nots or the should-have-beens or the could-have-dones, and my contorted thought processes suck me downward, raw-skinned.

When I'm there, I feel so justified in my anger, fear, pain, whatever emotion is uppermost. I'm held captive, the emotions clogged inside me. These miserable feeling-thoughts don't let me rest. I stew and simmer instead. If I'm walking through the day, at best I'm snappish. If my head is on a pillow, the lights out, all I do is rehash circumstances.

I feed the feelings, tumbling my petty thoughts like worry beads through my fingers, blame my comfort food and self-righteousness my banner.

My spirit is slowly and gradually dragged down deeper into the death-grip of self.

But a small light glimmers at the edge of my misery, and I recall there is peace out there somewhere. I must breathe again in the realm of light and life and good.

That's where trying comes in.

Your Word floats into my thoughts, Lord, pulling me closer to the surface. I can't remember chapter and verse. All I know is they come:
“Do not fret...”   
“I shall not want...”  
“Do not be worried... do not worry... do not worry...”  
“Be anxious for nothing...” 
But HOW?

I know all the tried-and-true Christian rules of thumb. Forgive me, Lord, for the times I've doled them out to those who were trapped and wanting.
Pray, we advise.
Worship.
Read the Bible, of course.
But all that takes trying. I don't have it in me. Spiritually I'm still too rigid, still choked.
“Casting all your care upon Him...”
Slowly, instead of clawing my way out, fixing my own feelings, trying, which I can't do, I  make one small choice.

Lord, how hard it is to choose to let go. This is self we're talking about. This feels like the real me. Doesn't the real me need to be in control? Let go of what, exactly?

"Be still and know that I am God."

So I simply, lucidly decide. I become willing to be willing. 








And the change is instant. My center is no longer Me but You. 

The weight lifts and sparkling clear thoughts bubble up. Light gently caresses me again. I can breathe, though I might also weep.

Lord Jesus, I realize I did almost nothing. I let go. Before that, I couldn't do anything to help myself.

It turns out self, the feelings, the choking emotion I defined as the real me, was my jailor. Self held me in bondage. It's only in letting go of all the putrid me-stuff that Your Spirit inundates me, filling that sudden void.


This is crazy, Lord. Me holding me captive? You freeing me from myself?



Oh. Yes. I took one thought captive to You. 

Chained it up and plunked it down, and shoved it over on Your side of the table.

One thought: Willing to be willing.

The power in that is stunning. Not mine.

Yours. 





Saturday, June 6, 2015

Wanting. Waiting.

Lord Jesus, teach me to pray unceasingly, expectantly, leaning forward to wait with my eyes wide open. I don't want to miss seeing what You do.

I often fall into praying for my will to be done. (So human of me.) 

Surely what I want is good, right? It feels that way. 

I can reason out that if this whatever it is were to take place, it would help. All the circumstances point to it.

Yet as I pray fervently for it to come, I'm transported through time. I'm ten, swinging my feet as I sit in the pew. I want to go play, to escape the somber grown-up world. You, my Daddy, lean forward to place a hand on my shoulder, giving me a look that firmly and lovingly says “wait.” 

But I want it now. 

Wait, You assure me. Wait.

Ten fades, the fifty-odd intervening years resume their weight of reality, and I read:

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."
2 Corinthians 4:18

The here-and-now can be so persuasive. What I lack presses on my thoughts, goading me, a constantly recurring frisson of anxiety nipping at parts inside me, the not-yet-here robbing me of peace.

On the days when I perceive life as going the way I think it should, I feel happy, yet I know that happiness is time-bound. It has a shallow root—it blooms and fades in a day. 

No, this isn't waiting for the other shoe to drop, it's just a fact that what is seen really is transitory.

Johnathan Edwards said, “Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” I get that. I want to view life through an eternal lens, focused on the unseen. 

Why does it seem so hard?



I groan again as I realize I have to try.







Lord, self-discipline is a fruit of the Spirit. Let trying grow out of me as naturally as a plum follows the pink blossom of spring. 





I will sit still on my pew, quietly trusting that today is custom made for me. 

Today I have. Don't let me poison it with wanting, when I can rest beside still waters, soul restored.











Each day lean over me, placing Your hand on my shoulder again, teaching me to trust You and wait. 

Remind me: Don't swing your legs, anticipating what hasn't come yet. Lean forward in prayer, yes, but abide in what is now. Today. 

Your will, Lord. Done






Thursday, June 4, 2015

Joy

Lord Jesus, this is the day You have made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.

That's a choice I can make. Too often I think of my circumstances as definitive. If the sky is gray, I feel down. If there's an onerous task to be done, I dread it. If someone I love is upset, I join in. But when I really think about it, I can choose joy any day. Why don't I?

Joy isn't happiness, of course. Joy is the rock solid foundation beneath the circumstances. 




That's why it makes sense when I read in Hebrews 12:2, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame”. There was no happiness in the cross. It was designed to shame a criminal to the utmost, along with excruciating pain.

Yet we know there was joy in it for You, Lord. What was that joy? 

I love Eugene Peterson's take:
Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! Hebrews 12:
If joy is the rock solid foundation beneath the circumstances, I should be able to endure anything. You kept Your mind fixed on the outcome, Lord.

You've promised me a future with You in heaven, in the presence of God the Father. You paid the price of admission for me already. Why would I not seek joy daily, knowing that? 

I can't discount feeling happy, of course. I like happiness. Who doesn't? There are good things that please me, little things: a smile or a good laugh, a hug or kiss. A point in time, it brings momentary blessing, like sunlight coming out from behind a cloud.


















Happiness is like a balloon. When it's filled up, it floats around, dancing in the sunlight, bringing smiles, until it pops and is gone in an instant.











Joy is much bigger, more like the air itself. 

Joy is knowing. It's quiet and peaceful. It fills me up on the inside, like a bubble that's increasing in size and scope, filling me far beyond myself.

And so this morning as I read this,
We know how much God loves us...God is love...all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 1 John 4:16 
I understood. God's love living in me is the joy. 

The best part of this is that love has won, is winning, and always wins! And it's available to me every day, all day, into eternity, if I will simply choose joy and not let myself become enmeshed in the web of my surroundings.

Those circumstances are temporary, I know that. Even happy ones don't last. Yet there's a more demanding quality to momentary discomfort. Rediscovering joy isn't always that easy.

But it can be done, with Your help, Lord Jesus.

Once we know joy, it's like a breath of fresh air to reach down into that inner landscape, tear away the layers of distraction—failure, injustice, bereavement, woundedness, entitlement, anxiety, despair—and take a deep, clean breath of joy.




Lord, on some days I have to do that reaching thing over and over and over again, reminding myself joy is there for the taking, while some days it rises up inside like a tide, filling me with the certainty I need.

Whatever its course, I know the source.

You.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

God's Word is Good

'Coming Storm', gouache, (c) D. Secor

This morning I read Isaiah 39, the chapter where King Hezekiah shows the Babylonian ambassador all his treasure, and then hears some really bad news from the prophet Isaiah.

“Hear the word of the LORD of hosts,‘Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house and all that your fathers have laid up in store to this day will be carried to Babylon; nothing will be left,’ says the LORD. ‘And some of your sons who will issue from you, whom you will beget, will be taken away, and they will become officials in the palace of the king of Babylon.’”Isaiah 39:5-7 NASB

If you've studied the Bible, you know the outcome. The rest of the chapters in the book of Isaiah warn of the coming time when Babylon will destroy Jerusalem. In the first chapter of the book of Daniel we see a firsthand accout of when he, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (whom you may know better as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego) are taken captive. In other words, we know that the prophecy came to pass.

But we have the perspective of time on our side. The fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC is ancient history to us. To King Hezekiah, Babylon looked like a really good ally, I expect. They were the archenemy of Assyria, which was the immediate problem plaguing the king.

Okay, stick with me here. You need a litle background to get this next part. You see, God had just granted King Hezekiah fifteen more years of life!

“‘Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city.”’ Isaiah 38:5-6

Yes, this man was blessed with the knowledge that he had these remaining years--can you imagine? How many of us would like to have a pretty good time frame like that, direct from God? Not to mention the assurance that looming national security issues would be eradicated.

But put yourself in Hezekiah's shoes. He just heard some really good news: Fifteen more years, plus national deliverance, so he's more than happy to work with the Babylonian ambassador. In fact, maybe he figured this was the means God was using to work out the promised deliverance from Assyria. He had no idea at the time that this guy was the spear point of a coming invasion.

But then he hears the really bad news: Babylonian captivity. Don't you think his heart had to be hitting the floor at that point? So when you read the next verse, what do you think he meant?

Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “For there will be peace and truth in my days.” Isaiah 39:8

Huh? 'Scuse me? What did he say? Surely the Hebrew has some obscure meaning here.

Uh, no. No, that's pretty much just what he said.

Are you as boggled by that as I am? It stopped me cold.

But then I spent a little time meditating on his response, and after mulling it over for a while I think that even though the way it's said is grating, it's okay. Hezekiah trusts God.

You can review the little power demo God did for him in Isaiah 38:8, turning back the clock for a few minutes. I think Hezekiah knows God's power, and as a result he believes God's promises. So when the bad news comes, even though he knows his actions precipitated things, this maturing believer chooses to respond in faith:

God's word is good. In my lifetime there will be peace and truth.

That's a marvelous thing to know. He's old enough to recognize that life is full of trouble, and that even though he's the king, he doesn't hold the future in his grasp.

Any more than you do, or I do.

Trouble is coming, friends. As my beloved Pastor Bob Brown often said, either you're in a storm, you're just coming out of a storm, or you're heading into one soon. I think Hezekiah knew this and could still say with certainty that God's word is good.

But he had been told that in his lifetime there would be peace and truth. Do I know the same thing? There's no prophet standing in front of me speaking for God.

Oh, wait, maybe there is.

I have the Bible sitting in my lap. It's open to John 16:33, where Jesus says:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. 
In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; 
I have overcome the world.”

I live in a world full of tribulation--that word means oppression, affliction, trouble, distress. This place is a mess. No one escapes. And the longer you live, the more real those things become, right?

So, yeah, it sounds really jarring to hear Hezekiah call all this bad news "good," but then again, what better response is there to trouble than to stand on the promise that God's word is good?

Jesus promises peace. He said it clearly. IN ME YOU MAY HAVE PEACE.

Today. Now. In real life. Whatever is happening. So you and I, like Hezekiah, may also say:

The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good... 
For there will be peace and truth in my days."

Saturday, September 6, 2014

One Thing

One thing I have desired of the Lord That will I seek:  
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, 
To behold the beauty of the Lord 
And to inquire in His temple.  
(Psalm 27:4


Above all I want to do God's will in my life every day. That's what "dwelling in His house" means to me. It's more than just living with God nearby, it's literally leaning forward and reaching out for Him every day, finding out His ways, and doing what He wants me to do because I love Him. 

When you live with someone, they know you differently than anyone else. They see you at your worst, when you're grumpy, sick, or sad--or worse than that. 


God is none of those things, of course, but I certainly am. And at those times I look to Him for whatever I need. He's so perfect! 

Inexpressibly beautiful. 

Reverence is the only reasonable response. Worshiping Him inspires me. I want to be changed from within. Tears slide down, tracing my trembling smile. I can't speak aloud but my heart swells with mute expressions of indescribable love.


It's so beautiful that I want to spend time with Him, to "inquire." I dig in, longing to be shown the answers I need. He shines the light. I stand revealed in His radiance. 


Sometimes it's something in me that needs to be plucked out--anger, bitterness, selfishness, pride. What relief! 


Sometimes it's something He's placed in me that sparkles like gold. What joy! 


I want that one thing. Him.