“ Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Rev. 21:5
As I’ve been walking in a new beginning, a new life in a new place, I’ve been thinking about the act of beginning. Specifically I’ve been thinking about the risk it requires and the way it can deepen faith, trust and hope. As followers of Christ every day we wake up and find fresh mercy and grace for our journey — if only we will open our hands and our hearts to receive it. He gives us our daily bread, fresh manna, just enough for today’s journey.
The “with God” life requires a constant state of new beginning. We are faced with a continual stream of choices. We must choose to trust in His grace each time we stumble, each time we fall. We must choose over and over again to humble ourselves, to walk with one another in love. There is coming another beginning in a new heaven and a new earth. But even here and now, today, Christ is resurrecting and re-creating. He offers us new beginnings. He is making all things new. He is making us new.
Where in your life are you are being called to a new beginning?
Here is a quote that I’ve been turning over in my head about the risks and rewards of new beginnings.
“A beginning is ultimately an invitation to open toward the gifts and growth that are stored up for us. … There can be no growth if we do not remain open and vulnerable to what is new and different. I have never seen anyone take a risk for growth that was not rewarded a thousand times over. There is a certain innocence about beginning, with its excitement and promise of something new. But this will emerge only through undertaking some voyage into the unknown. And no one can foretell what the unknown might yield. There are journeys we have begun that have brought us great inner riches and refinement; but we had to travel through dark valleys of difficulty and suffering. Had we known at the beginning what the journey would demand of us, we might never have set out. Yet the rewards and gifts became vital to who we are.” John O’Donohue
“Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness;
let the whole earth tremble before him.”
As I read these words I reflected on how they could be seen from two directions.
At first glance I see a call to worship the Lord, who is beautiful in holiness. The beauty of holiness covers Him like a garment. It surrounds Him. Holiness defines God and we worship the One who radiates Holiness in all that He is, all that He says and all that He does. We enter in to the beauty of holiness when worship the One who is holy.
Yet, at second glance I see another call; a call to worship the LORD with the beauty of holiness. It is in the beauty of living holy lives that we worship. I remember a speaker teaching on Ephesians chapter six and explaining how our mode of living allows us to enter into the protective armor of God.
For example, we are given a positional righteousness in Christ, but we put on the breastplate of righteousness when we live repentant, humble and righteous lives. Our righteous living identifies us with our righteous God and so we enter into His plan and purposes. I believe that the same principle can apply here. God is clothed in the beauty of holiness. As a child of God, through the blood of Christ, I am covered with God’s own holiness. Yet, it is when I identify with the Lord by choosing to walk in holiness that I truly begin to worship Him in the beauty of holiness.
“Let the whole earth tremble before Him.”
Have you ever seen a sight so beautiful that it made you weak in the knees, where you catch your breath and grab something to stabilize you? There is a beauty that makes the heart tremble with both inexpressible joy and awe. And we rejoice that we have been given such a gift of grace, that we should with unveiled faces behold His glory.
But for the nations, for those who do not worship in the beauty of holiness, there is another type of trembling. There is a trembling of terror in the presence of the Light that breaks forth like the morning sun; a trembling where darkness flees and finds no place to hide.
Today my prayer is that we will worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. May we tremble in awe of His beauty as we bow our knees in worship.
LORD, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps. Jer. 10:23
Thoughts from Augustine of Hippo…
“…in these trials which can either benefit or destroy us, we don’t know what we should pray for as we should. Precisely because they are hard, negative, painful things that go against the sensitive feelings of our weak nature, we naturally want to pray that they be removed from us. This is what every human being wants. But if the Lord does not take them away, we must not interpret that to be that God is indifferent to us. Rather we should seek to interpret that to mean God is going to bless us in ways we don’t yet understand. For that is how God’s power is made perfect in weakness. There are instances of how it was in anger that God granted his people what they had asked for in impatience … as we read in the book of Numbers how the Israelites asked, and received, what they wanted, but their impatience was severely punished. So they asked for a king – a king after their own heart – so they got what they deserved, a bad king indeed! … These are object lessons for us …never to doubt that it is right to accept God’s will, and not ours. For Jesus Christ, our Mediator, has given us an example of this. Humanly he prayed, ‘Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,’ but then he transformed that human will by adding immediately, ‘nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’
Those then, who ask for the ‘one thing’ [*] of the Lord, and who ‘seek’ it, ask without doubt or anxiety…. The only one and true happy life comes when we contemplate the beauty of the Lord, as our primary, basic desire. Then for the sake of this ‘one thing,’ we will seek and pray rightly about everything else….”
Here are some questions that came to mind after I read Jeremiah 10:23 and Augustine’s quote.
What would it look like in my life today to seek God as my ‘one thing’?
Will I place my desire to know Him and to reveal Him above every other desire?
What would it look like for this to remain my primary desire when trials abound?
What could my life reveal about God if I were to truly trust Him to direct my steps in whatever way will most clearly reveal His beauty, even if that means walking through hard and painful things?
What would repentance of my impatience and trust in His perfect ways look like in my life?
How could praying rightly, praying to know Him as my greatest desire, transform my life?
* Psalm 27:4
You are good and you bring forth good; instruct me in your statues. Psalm 119:68
At times there are certain verses that I memorize and carry with me through my days as a prayer. This is one of them.
As I repeat these words to myself I remember the character of God.
He is good.
And I remember the works of God.
They are good.
Sometimes, often, I have to redefine my definition of good, for there are things that I call good that are not necessarily the deepest good for my soul. I find this is especially true in regard to suffering and desires denied. But the Word tells us that He is always working for the good of those He calls His own; those who love Jesus and come to salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of the Son. Even in the middle of what seems painful and hard I can trust and believe that God is good and He is bringing forth good.
So I ask Him to instruct me. I ask the Father to teach me His ways and I ask the Spirit guard and guide my mind.
I long to know God as my deepest good today and always.
So I breathe these words as a prayer…
You are good and you bring forth good; instruct me in your statues.
“As long as I live, I don’t think I’ll ever comprehend why God has allowed me the unspeakable joy of serving Him through full-time ministry. Goodness knows I didn’t deserve it. My entire life has been a mission of God’s mercy. I am increasingly awed over my salvation and find the privilege of knowing and loving God to be unfathomable. A long time ago I had to accept the fact that I could do nothing to repay God for His bountiful grace to me, for if I could, grace would be nullified. What I could do instead was pour my life on His altar and make every effort to “press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Phil. 3:12). Translation? Fulfill my calling. Not anyone else’s – just mine. To know Him. To love Him. To serve Him. I believe that is what He’s called you to do too.”
Beth Moore – Praying God’s Word
I’m forgetful. I think to some extent we all are. Maybe that’s why remembrance is such an important topic in the Bible.
What do I forget?
I forget that God has chosen me, re-created me as a new creation and given me a calling specific to the woman that he created me to be. My calling doesn’t look like someone else’s calling because it is uniquely designed for me.
I forget that it’s a journey, not an errand where I sweep in, get the thing I’m after and complete my task. It’s a bit ironic actually. I use the email ID of sojourner. My domain name is Land Of My Sojourn. And yet I so often in the times of waiting and long empty stretches of road I lose sight of the reason that God has taken hold of me and directed me down this particular path. I try to compress a plan that stretches out through all eternity and condense it to make sense of this one season.
I forget that eternal life is about relationship with God and that it is solely from that relationship that ministry happens. (“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3) I miss the blessing of the moment, growing in relationship with God and others, because I want to be doing something more “useful” for the Kingdom.
Beth said it perfectly and I’ll let her reminder speak to my soul today. What can I do for God? I fulfill my calling. No one else’s – just mine.
May we all live to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in the works that He has planned for us.
God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us new people so that we would spend our lives doing the good things he had already planned for us to do. ERV
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout,
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more,
“Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”
Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
What do you want me to do for you? Jesus asked him.
I find this passage in Mark captivating. Knowing the man’s need Jesus could have walked directly over to the roadside where Bartimaeus was begging, but he didn’t. He continued passing by until Bartimaeus called out, above the protests of the crowd. Then He stops and asks, “what do you want me to do for you?” The patience of our God is an amazing thing. He will wait and he will pass by the place where you are a hundred times waiting for you to recognize your need. He knows that we need Him, but He waits. Will we set aside our pride and call out to Him in humility and faith? Will we cry out like Bartimaeus? Will we come as a little child?
I’ve been watching this illustrated in the lives of my friends’ children. They run up to their parents and are swift to interrupt. It’s a form of crying out. Here I am mom. Here I am dad. I need your attention. I need you. And the younger they are the less aware they are of the reality that there is anything apart from their need. The crowd tried to quiet Bartimaeus. They were aware of many things including the fact that Jesus was an important man with an active life on his way to another destination. But Bartimaeus was only aware of his need for mercy and the fact that he was in the presence of Jesus.
In Michael Card’s book, The Hidden Face of God, he talks about the storms of life and states: “This is not a time to try harder. This is not a moment to strain to manufacture more faith. It is an occasion to cry louder to the One, though He may seem asleep, is most significantly still present with us in the boat. He is there to be awakened by our cries. He is moved to act by our tears. If you think about it, this is the very first lesson we learned as infants — a persistent cry will bring help.”
A persistent cry will bring help.
Jesus is present in the boat.
Jesus is present, walking by on the road.
He knows that we need Him and He waits.
“Search for the LORD and his strength, continually seek his face.”
“I have said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord, my good above all other.’”
Perhaps, the life of a believer always involves some level of continual mourning as we daily come face to face with the startling reality of the effects of sin on our hearts and our world. For me personally, there has been a great deal of mourning that has accompanied my days these past months. And yet, I cannot deny that there has also been a great deal of thanksgiving welling up in my soul. I am learning, slowly, oh so slowly, I am learning what it looks like to give thanks always.
It’s a continual seeking of His face.
There is no other remedy for grief.
There is no other source of joy.
I must seek Him. Not the god that I want Him to be, but the God that He is. The Most High, the Most Loving, Sovereign and Mysterious: He is good above all.
His strength is available to me when I lay down my demands that life work out differently, my impatience with His timing, my arrogance that tells Him that my way is the best way. In release I can rest in His character. In surrender I can trust in His goodness. I may not receive the answers that I want. I may never understand the wisdom of His will. But I believe that He, Himself, is good and that He is always working for the good of those that love Him.
“May God, our very own God…keep us centered and devoted to him, following the life path he has cleared, watching the signposts, walking at the pace and rhythms he laid down for our ancestors.” 1 Kings 8:56-59 MSG
This season is whirlwind busy.
For some it is Christmastime rush. For me it is Stateside Assignment travel. A couple of days here, a couple of days there, connecting and disconnecting. Though there is great joy in the midst of it all, I’ve lost my sense of rhythm. Life swirls around me and I long to walk with God thankful and aware of His presence. But honestly, I find it hard to give thanks when night after night after night I come awake in the dark. Sometimes it’s simply different places, different noises, different beds. Sometimes it’s pain in my body. Sometimes it’s pain in my heart for people I care about, prayers spilling from my soul before I’ve even roused fully from my slumber.
Through my Facebook participation Grateful November I created a tiny microcosm of rhythm in the midst of this season. One thing every day for which to give thanks. One tiny rhythm in the middle of a symphony of activity. One little anchor for my soul. And I began to wonder if all these December sleepless nights are perhaps also a gift – a hidden gift of rhythm.
In the busyness of my days, the continual motion and activity, I’ve lost the stillness, the rhythm, of solitude and silence. Perhaps these wakeful nights are simply a gift of Presence allowing me to curl up in His embrace, listening and offering up my heart’s cries. Perhaps being awake in the night season is an invitation for my heart to search for the one it loves.
“All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves.” Song of Solomon 3:1a (NIV)
Sometimes gifts come in such strange packaging.
Not unlike this Advent we celebrate.
The God Most High wrapped in fragile flesh and blood.
Immanuel, born to die.
I wonder what it was like for God the eternal to step into our finite world? How was he impacted by the pace of our days, the rushing of our worries, the impatience of our demands. Did his flesh push against the constrictions of time? When Jesus declared “how often I have longed to gather your children together…but you were not willing” did his heart ache as mine does with the cry “How Long?”
God wrapped in flesh, walking among us.
Gifts in strange packages.
I don’t want to miss it this year, these gifts in disguise.
Lord, give us eyes to see the gifts that come in disguise this Christmas. May we find Your Presence waiting for us around every turn.
“May the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you…”
(From 1 Thes. 3:11, The Message)
“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else…” (NIV)
“If then you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir than a canal. A canal spreads abroad water as it receives it, but a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, and thus without loss to itself [it shares] its superabundant water.” Bernard of Clairvaux
I’ve been pondering this truth, these words:
I know in my head that all the love and all the service that I have to offer is in direct proportion to my intimacy with God. I know this. And yet I wrestle with it as well. I’m an introvert (which doesn’t mean I’m withdrawn, but it does mean that I get my energy from time alone and time in small, intimate togetherness). But life is busy and noisy and the pace around me is often dizzying. So why do I resist stepping back, taking time out with God to be quiet, to be still, to listen? Especially as an introvert who is aware that I will burn out without this restoration? If I believe that I am in desperate need of His filling and that I have nothing to offer apart from Him then why do I resist the very thing that restores my soul and equips me for ministry?
Here are just a few of the reasons I believe this is true.
First, it is a scheme of the enemy to keep me moving at his pace rather than at my Father’s pace. Relationships take both time and communication. If all my communion with God is grabbed piecemeal as I rush through my days then the relationship suffers.
Second, I live without awareness of the truth that I know in my head. I am not awake to the spiritual reality beyond the sheen of the surface of life. I go through the motions of my day, my week, my life without discernment. I think I am fine when in reality I am poor and needy.
Third, I do not deeply believe in my heart the truth that I believe in my head. Unbelief is a serious sin that separates me from the life in God that I so desperately need. Without time in intimate communion with God, through prayer, His Word and spiritual community my belief becomes shallow acknowledgement of truth rather than truth deeply lived out in my life.
There are more reasons, but I’ve been pondering these things.
What would it look like for me to stop resisting and live in a completely counter cultural way? Unhurried: like Jesus. [Note that unhurried is not necessarily the same as slow…it is a mode of determination to be at the Father’s pace, like Jesus, not scurrying around under the pressures and influences of the world. Jesus ministry was full and busy, yet He remained unhurried. For all the demands on Jesus during His ministry we never once see Him rushing.] How can I, even in this busy, traveling season make intimate time with the Lord and an unhurried determination to listen for His voice my priorities? Not as a duty filled action because I have a need for these things (which is true), but as a release of the deepest desire of my soul. For in all of my resistance I am fighting the very thing that I most deeply desire – intimate relationship with the One who calls me His beloved.
I want to overflow. I want to splash over life and love and “bountiful fruits from the soul” onto the people around me as I walk in intimacy with Him.
Jesus, teach me how to live.
“So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.” Phil. 1:9-11 (The Message)
Everybody who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him walking around and woke up to the fact that God was alive and active among them. – Acts 9:35 (MSG)
In Acts chapter nine God uses Peter to heal a man who has been paralyzed for eight years. It’s a brief incident, only three verses are given to it, but I just can’t get this verse out of my mind.
Everyone saw him and woke up to the fact that God was alive and active among them.
I wonder what it would look like for my life to be that kind of a testimony. I’ve been healed from far more than paralysis. My healing is so much more than just physical and temporary. My healing is eternal. I was dead and now I’m alive. What a miracle! What a testimony to proclaim to the world. I was DEAD, but now I LIVE. And this life I’ve been given, it’s not just for now, it’s forever! What would it look like for my all my days to proclaim the wonder of my Healer the way that this man’s mere walking proclaimed the presence and work of God?
I want that.
I want my life to wake people up to the fact that God is alive and active among them.
He opened the rock, and water flowed, so the river ran in the dry places. —– Psalm 105:41 (NRSV)
I am sitting here listening to the rain on the metal roof of the trailer. It reverberates, each drop of water a note in the symphony of the storm. The tree frog on the window joins the chorus of praise and the ground soaks in the water.
Yet, just this morning I read a missive from someone whose farm is gripped by drought. Crops withering and dust swirling, they long for rain to fall on the dry and parched soil.
This land has both dry places and rivers of water. As does my soul.
“He opened the rock.”
A couple of months ago I was in Slovenia and had a chance to explore some of the Unesco World Heritage cave systems. I hiked through fancy tourist caves and carefully preserved natural caverns. And one of the things that I found most fascinating is the system of rivers and lakes inside the rocks. When the rains come, the rivers and underground lakes swell causing the water to spill from its rocky home in glorious waterfalls. Then when the water level drops the water flow ceases and the openings in the rocks run dry.
“He opened the rock and the water flowed.”
I don’t know if there was an underground stream in the desert or if God simply created one for his people, but either way – He Himself was the source. He opened the rock and the water flowed so that “the river ran in the dry places.”
Can you picture it?
I imagine the scene.
I see that pure blue Slovenian mountain stream, the one that never ceases to take my breath away with its beauty, springing forth. This time, it’s not gushing into a lush alpine setting, but into the desert. Dry and dusty encompassed by rich hues of blue. The sand greedily sucks at the water, but it can’t swallow it up.
The water flows.
The river runs.
And the thirsty are satisfied.
“The river ran in the dry places.”
Like this land, my soul is a multifaceted thing. There are lush alpine hills in my heart. But there are also areas of drought, corners that I enclose with rock walls, cutting off entire areas of ground from the life giving flow. I daily need His presence and His power to demolish strongholds and renew my soul. I need the power of God to continually break through and open the rock, so that the living water will flow through me until it is overflowing to all around me.
“He opened the rock, and water flowed, so the river ran in the dry places.”
This is my prayer.
“So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’ “ Exodus 3:10-12 NRSV
In this text God comes to Moses with a task that is in keeping with a desire that God had already created in Moses’ heart. Years had passed since Moses had first been deeply moved by the Egyptian injustice against the Israelites. Moses had handled that passion incorrectly. Instead of submitting that passion to God he acted in anger and murdered a man, which led to exile in the desert.
I wonder what became of that desire over the desert years? Did Moses suppress it? Try to kill it? Become bitter over it? Was it still present and laced with regret? Did he ever wake up at night wondering about his people? Did he come to fear his desire and his inadequacy in the light of his failure? I wonder what was going on inside of Moses’ heart when he heard God say that He would bring about deliverance for his people and that He was sending Moses for this task? When God spoke about what had once moved him so passionately into unholy action, what was on Moses’ mind? How did it feel to have God say that He would use Moses in this very area of his failure by making his desire into a holy thing, used of God for holy purposes?
I wonder what made Moses shrink back from this invitation. It seems like there is a deep fear of inadequacy in Moses’ response. Why would God choose to work in his weakness? How could God redeem and actually use the very desire that led to sin and banishment? Was God really going to create beauty from the ashes of his failure? Moses asks, “Who am I?” It reminds me of another Biblical author who asked God in Psalm 8:4 “What is man that you are mindful of him? Or from The Message, “Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?” Isn’t this a question common to man? Will God really make something beautiful out of a sinner such as I? What kind of love is this that He should take a second look our way?
In the NIV, Exodus 3:10 reads, “So, now go.” It’s a command. But I was struck by the NRSV rendering of the text as “So, now come.” It changes the tone and brings the fullness of God, who is both invitational and incarnational, to the text. It makes me wonder what Moses heard. Did Moses hear the invitational call of God? “So, now come” echoes with the promise of verse twelve, “I will be with you.” It literally rings with hope. Did Moses hear it? Or did the sound of his own fear drown out the voice of promise?
I hear God saying to Moses:
Come with me.
Join me in what I’m doing. I am the one who is going to accomplish this and I, Myself, will conquer your inadequacy with my power. You failed, but I never do. I will be with you.
Let me redeem the passion that I birthed in you. Your desire for justice comes from me, for I love justice. But I am Holy and I am merciful.
Your desire is distorted by sin, while my desire is pure.
Let me show you how I will bring justice while offering mercy through the Passover.
I will be with you.
I’m inviting you to know me. I’m inviting you to walk with me.
I’m inviting you to watch me as I work redemption in your life and I’m sending you to be a part of my redemptive work.
So Come, heed my invitation.
And Go, fulfill my command according to my power and presence with you.
And I hear God as He continues to speak these words to us today:
Come with me.
Join me in what I’m doing. I am the one who is going to accomplish this and I, Myself, will conquer your inadequacy with my power. You fail, but I never do. I will be with you.
Let me redeem and release the unique person that I have created you to be.
I will be with you.
I’m inviting you to know me. I’m inviting you to walk with me.
I’m inviting you to watch me as I work redemption in your life and I’m sending you to be a part of my redemptive work.
So Come, heed my invitation.
And Go, fulfill my commands according to my power and presence with you.
Hebrews 12:1-3 have long been favorite verses of mine.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
In the past weeks I’ve been meditating on what it means to fix my eyes on Jesus. What does it mean to be so centered on him that whether my day is slow and steady or fast and full, I move in unhurried awareness of his presence? What does it look like to live in steady rhythm with the movement of His Spirit? Isn’t it amazing that no matter how busy Jesus was He was never rushed. Isn’t it beyond comprehension that in the midst of crowds he consistently turned to give his full attention to a single individual. “Who touched me?” Why did he even ask? He knew who touched him and he also knew she was healed. He had important things to do, a little girl was dying. (Luke 8:40-53) But he stopped. He asked not because he needed to know, but because she needed to be known. She needed the look of love in his eyes. She needed the full attention of his gaze of love. She needed the gift of being drawn into relationship.
It’s a counter-cultural way to live. Counter to every earthly culture I think. We’re born with a sin nature that is moving away from God and from each other. We were created for relationships. Relationship with the Trinity. Relationship with each other. And these relationships remain the broken battleground of our lives.
But in Christ we’ve been given a key. We can fix our eyes on Jesus, just as Jesus fixed his eyes on his Father. Our focus determines so much.
If we’re looking at him we move differently. We slow down. We fall into step beside him as he moves in his unhurried manner. We become aware. It doesn’t mean our days are any less full, but we start to see them in a new light. Suddenly pleasing the crowds doesn’t seem so important. As we look into his eyes we hear him whisper, “Trust me, we have time for this precious soul. She needs the gift of undivided focus, unhurried attention. The crisis will wait. I have a plan for that too. Just stick with me.”
When I fix my eyes on Jesus I start becoming more attuned to his pace, to his voice, his movement. So I’m looking for ways to become more aware of Him moment by moment.
I started with a gratitude journal: a record of the ways I witness his presence in each day. But I’ve been inconsistent. I added the practice of breath prayer: a simple repeated prayer, a breathing in and out that refocuses my gaze. But it too is hard to maintain. I’ve begun praying the hours (using this great website) – a few minutes of each hour given over to the one who set me in time and space, but I’ve yet to hit every mark in a given day. New habits are hard to form.
And the spiritual disciplines are just that, habits. They are simply ways to assist me toward awareness; tools to help me fix my eyes on Christ.
I want to move like him. I want to walk his unhurried rhythm in the middle of busy days. I want to keep pace with the Spirit rather than the world. I want to look into the eyes of others and offer them my full attention. I want to offer relationship that models the Trinity. I want the miraculous, super-natural life of Christ to flow through me.
Extraordinary desires like this can’t be met through fleshly strength. Only God can make this a reality. But I have a starting place. I fix my eyes on Jesus.
“A man can only receive what is given him from heaven.” John 3:27
There’s a mountain of trust in that statement. God is the one who determines our kingdom role.
No one would argue that John the Baptist had a wildly successful ministry. He was the voice that prepared the way for the Messiah. Men came from far and wide to hear him teach and to be baptized. The people so universally claimed John as a prophet that the chief priests were afraid to say a word against him (Matt 21:25-27). Yet, before all of that, John spent time in the desert with God. Before he was the voice calling in the wilderness, he was a man listening in the wilderness. His ministry was birthed from a place of isolation and intimacy with God. Then “in those days” he came preaching. He showed up in the Desert of Judea with a message of repentance for the Kingdom and for a time he turned the world on end. His ministry reached its culmination with the announcement of the arrival of the Lamb of God. And then the people began to leave. They turned from John to follow Jesus and John’s disciples were troubled. But before John told them that “He must increase; I must decrease” he said this: “A man can only receive what is given him from heaven.”
I’m pondering that thought.
I can only receive what is given to me from heaven.
I can only receive.
I can’t, by striving or discipline or effort or desire, make any spiritual thing happen on my own. I can only receive what is given to me from heaven. And heaven has been giving me a lot of waiting and trust building. In this past year there’s been a level of isolation, without a team to serve alongside, that’s been a catalyst for a deepening intimacy with the Trinity. I’ve learned and grown, maybe more than any previous year in my lifetime. I told someone recently that one thing I have learned is that God is not in a hurry. I’m the one looking to make things happen.
Too often I want to produce, not receive.
But everything that John’s ministry produced and even his willingness to go unto his death all flowed from the intimacy with God that was birthed in the isolation of the desert. The desert was John’s preparation to receive what he needed for the specific service that God had prepared in advance for him to do. God has a way of preparing his people for service that doesn’t fit into our modern timetables. His people are often seen waiting to receive the promise, like Joseph and Moses and David and…maybe, like me.
I often wonder with profound curiosity what God is up to. I wonder about this calling that He has placed in my heart and I wonder how His plan for where I am today fits into His Kingdom. I see Him at work all around me and I am stirred. I watch Him move through me to touch others and I am both humbled and awed. And while I may long for clarity and definition, I wait with open hands and yielded heart, because I can only receive what is given to me from heaven.
Kierkegaard (1813-1855) said,
…if I could prescribe just one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, no one would hear it; there is too much noise. Therefore, create silence.
In my time traveling finding silence never came easy. This Advent, finding silence remains a struggle.
Not only is the world around me loud, my own heart is filled with the clutter of competing clatter: noisy thoughts that won’t be still.
And when I do encounter silence, I don’t always find it a comfortable friend. Sometimes silence is a like a yawning chasm, echoing with emptiness, far from inviting.
Yet, it is often into the silence that God speaks.
The psalmist says:
…but I have stilled and quieted my soul. (Psalm 131)
So I stop. And I pray. And I wait, in the silence of a stilled and quieted heart.
And I start to hear the flutter of wings and the arrival of impossible things.
I was sitting on the porch in Avila and a hummingbird arrived, wings beating impossibly fast, too fast to see, too fast even for my camera, a tiny miracle of creation.
And I stop. And I pray. And I wait, in the silence of a stilled and quieted heart.
Today, I am sitting in my home in Budapest marveling at the arrival of impossible news, impossible events, a miracle of redemption.
In the turmoil of a busy, noisy world – in a town overflowing with travelers arriving for census – in a whirlwind of everyday activities and the extra demands of governmental procedures –a sacred moment was born. A woman had stilled her heart and said, “I am the Lord’s servant.” And the impossible came to pass for “nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1)
The impossible was made possible in Christ! What a reason to be thankful today!
In the turmoil of this busy, noisy world – in a season overflowing with social invitations and expectations – in a whirlwind of everyday activities and the extra demands of the holidays – will you prepare to receive the sacred this Christmas? Will you still and quiet your heart to receive His miracle?
“After two days he will revive us; on the third he will restore us. That we may live in his presence.” Hosea 6:2
Over the past couple of months I’ve continued to meditate on what it means
to dwell in the presence of God:
to abide in Him,
to be aware and attentive to the fact that
in every moment of every day
I am invited to live life in His presence.
I am invited to bring my whole life
- every joy – every care – every fear -
everything that is true or longing to be made true about me,
fully before His loving gaze.
It’s a humbling and frightening prospect, this living in the light. For the light shows no partiality. It shines on the surfaces recently swept clean and tidy as well as on the cobwebs still hanging in the corners.
Yet it is the mercy of the cross and His gaze of love that makes me unafraid, longing to dwell wholeheartedly in the light.
The cross demonstrated His unfathomable love for us. His own loving sacrifice is the doorway to our restoration. He longs to revive us, to restore us, to heal us, so that we may live in His presence.
This is love.
Every barrier to our relationship with the triune God is swept away through His blood. We may live in His presence!
This is the mystery of the incarnation.
God became flesh to dwell among us. The Spirit inhabits our flesh to dwell within us. We can live in His presence.
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” Col. 2:9-10
All the fullness of the Trinity dwells in Christ and all of Christ dwells in fullness in the believer.
We dwell together.
I live in His presence and His presence lives in me.
Regardless of my circumstances, regardless of my feelings, regardless of the powers and authorities that fight Christ’s rule and reign, as a child of God the presence of the Almighty never leaves me.
This is truth.
This is an invitation.
We are restored so that we may live in His presence.
Every moment we choose to either dwell in the light and awareness of His presence or to turn our backs and go our own way.
“Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. They go from strength to strength till each appears before God in Zion.” Ps 84:4-5, 7
I love the truth of these verses.
Those who dwell in the house of the Lord continually give Him praise. And I believe that if we continually express our thanksgiving to Him, praising Him day in and day out, then we find ourselves dwelling in the house of the Lord. But this dwelling isn’t static.
It’s a journey,
Yet if His presence is continually with us, then the journey is not toward a place, but toward an awareness. For the believer, to dwell in the house of the Lord is to be attentive to His Spirit, to seek after a deeper awareness of His presence, until one day in the Kingdom there will be no more barriers. We will see Him face to face.
This pilgrimage toward dwelling in His presence is a journey undertaken in His strength. It is a journey of continually turning from my circumstances, from my ideas, from my emotions, from myself, toward His face.
On this pilgrimage to dwell in His presence I am asking the Lord to show me:
Where have I experienced Your presence today?
Where have I missed Your presence today?
How can I keep from missing Your presence in the future so that the indwelling Christ may live more fully in and through me?
Jesus, where are You in this very moment, in this very conversation, in this very action?
Teach me to be aware of You that Your Kingdom may be born in me.
“Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” Hosea 6:3
“Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”
“When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.”
Luke 22:39-40, 45
I’m in transition. Not the quick, screen fades to black then back again commercial break transition, but the long, slow, set sail across the Atlantic on a journey to reach the New World kind of transition. And like the early American settlers I’m not exactly sure where or when my boat will reach shore.
The disciples were entering a time of transition too, but they didn’t recognize that it was upon them. Notice in verse thirty-nine, Jesus was following his usual pattern. There was nothing spectacularly different about this night. They’d celebrated Passover. They had another deep discussion with the Lord. He’d taught them many things, then as usual, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. As usual, they followed Him. I imagine the command to pray was not all that unusual either. Jesus prayed often; alone, with them, for them. But by not being alert in this one, usual moment, they missed it.
Because they weren’t paying attention, because they let their sorrow and exhaustion overshadow the command to prepare themselves through prayer, they slept and entered a pivotal moment in the saga of redemption unprepared. If they had spent the night praying would they have run away? If Peter had spent the night asking that he not fall into temptation would he have denied Christ?
There are no “what if”s in God’s Kingdom, but there are “what then”s.
What then shall I do?
What then shall I learn?
I don’t want to be lulled to sleep by the usual. I don’t want to fill moments that are meant for prayer with busy activity either. I don’t want to miss what God is doing in this moment. I don’t want to miss the preparation that God needs to do in me right now.
I want to learn to listen to the Lord in every ordinary, usual moment.
What is He saying?
Am I sleeping when He is telling me to pray? Am I running ahead when He is telling me to wait? Am I hiding in fear when He is telling me to be bold? Am I speaking when He is telling me to listen? Am I focused on a project when He would have me give my full attention to a person?
I don’t want to miss the discovery:
what is THIS MOMENT made for?
Am I listening and responding to His voice in each and every moment
am I just heading on my way,
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” Luke 24:5b-6a
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” 1 Corinthians 15:19-25
Joyful Resurrection Day!
“Thy Kingdom Come!”
There by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer. Ezra 8:21-23
I was ashamed to ask the king.
How this phrase caught and held my attention.
How this thought cut deep in my soul!
In human wisdom there was no reason for Ezra not to ask the king for protection. Ezra chapter eight lists a stunning amount of gold and precious objects that the people are transporting through hostile territory.
I was ashamed to ask the king.
Asking the earthly king for protection, while a logical path of action, would have robbed the King of Kings of the glory due His name. The testimony of the Great King was on the line and Ezra realized that for protection and provision the Lord was the one to seek.
I wonder if like me, Ezra’s heart initially sought the practical solution. The text seems to imply that it was not his faith that directed his action, but his shame. Shame that his initial thought was to seek the help of man rather than God? Isn’t it often easier to trust in what we see than what we can’t see? Isn’t it often easier to make “logical” decisions than to walk in faith?
How often do I rob God of His glory by seeking strength from this world, by applying human wisdom and probable solutions rather than seeking His hand? How often do I try to walk in fleshly sufficiency rather than bowing humble before the throne of God?
Do I fear that He won’t provide? Do I somehow believe that I can get more favorable results if I seek man, as if God doesn’t bound every step of every man? Do I fear that if I call all eyes to Him that He won’t uphold His own glory in the circumstances that He allows?
Ezra lived in the age of Esther:
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16
And the era of Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego:
“If we are thrown into the furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18
Ezra, Esther, Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego: uncertain of their own fate, yet confident that the hand of God would work for His glory.
Will I be like them? Will I humble myself, setting aside trust in earthly security and the human logic that keeps me from faith to live for His glory alone?
I want to be ashamed to ask the king.
I want to seek the glory of the King of all Kings.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather healed.” Hebrews 12:11-12
A little over a year ago my knee went under the knife. The surgeon both scraped out and bound up.
I know what it means to have weak knees, to hobble without strength, to be lame.
In the months leading up to the surgery I compensated. I walked incorrectly trying to take the pressure off a weak and failing joint. I was admonished, over and over again told to walk normally to avoid further damage. But it was hard.
Isn’t life like that sometimes? Our knees are weak. Our hands droop. We lack strength. We are lame and all out of joint. We try so hard, but we fall down.
Again and Again.
I’m trying to see life through fresh lenses. I’m seeking to see His gifts of grace in the muck and mire of the everyday. And it will not come naturally. I’m tainted by the fall. I’m hardwired with selfishness and ingratitude. Thankfulness, real abiding thankfulness, the kind that remains through great joy, deep sorrow and all that comes in between takes work. It is a discipline. It requires practice and commitment.
But it heals. Knees are strengthened. No longer lame.
When I force my eyes open,
when I discipline myself to slow down and breathe it in,
when I chose to start over one more time and walk in deliberate gratitude
day by day by day,
then I start to witness the many reflections of His grace.
I am being trained by it.
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7
We have a ministry need that I would like to share with you in case you might like to participate in the blessing. For our bi-annual all Europe Missions Conference we are hosting a ladies event for all the women serving with PIONEERS in Europe. As part of the event we will be providing each woman with a copy of the book “One Thousand Gifts.” We believe this book will be an encouragement and will compliment the conference theme of “Strengthening Your Soul.”
Our budget for this event is currently $565 short of the amount needed. If you would like to give any amount toward this blessing for these ladies serving the Lord in Europe, then you are invited to send a tax deductible donation to:
10123 William Carey Dr.
Orlando, Fl 32832
Please place a note with the gift that it is for: 119060O Europe Area Conference Women’s Event.
If you give toward this event, please leave a comment letting me know. I designed a small piece of digital artwork for the session using Colossians 2:6-7 that I would like to send you as a thank you.
“As I watched, this horn was waging war against the saints and defeating them, until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom.” Daniel 7:21-22
Lately I see signs of war all around.
Casualties. Loss. Wounds. Grief. Hopelessness. Evil.
I was once told that if we forget we have an enemy who is intent on destroying us, then we have already lost the battle. And I wonder.
How many people see the collateral damage, but don’t associate it with the war? When this fallen world brings the consequences of a fallen humanity into our lives, our homes, our hearts, how do we respond? Where do we cast blame? Do we remember that there is a war spinning far beyond our control? A war in which we too once fought for the enemy? (Rom 5:10, Col. 1:21)
I can tell you that I don’t usually have proper perspective. I hold my grief, my confusion, my broken life up to God appalled that He allows such pain. I forget that I was once an enemy of God. That I contributed to His pain. I forget that it was at the cost of His only son that He chose to give us the Kingdom, to re-create our hearts and restore our broken relationship. I forget that eternity is reality and this life is just a shadow, a small battle in a mighty war. I forget that God didn’t die to declare a truce, to make this current world pain free. I forget His ultimate act of grace.
He became flesh and entered our world.
He died: For His enemies.
He rose again.
All this to give us the Kingdom.
The war isn’t over. The Kingdom has come through Christ to our hearts, but not yet to our world. And so we ache. We join in the fight for the restoration and redemption still to be accomplished. We engage in the war for the wounded and dying souls yet to be rescued. And we are wounded in the battle. And we bleed. But upon the cross the work was finished. At the empty tomb the battle was won. And one day God will announce that today, TODAY, is the day that I will bring to pass my final judgment in favor of the saints. Today I will vanquish all evil. Today I will banish all sorrow. “No longer will there be any curse.” (Rev. 22:3)
The day is coming. So while the battle rages let us seek the One who overcame even the grave. Let us hold on to hope.
“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” Luke 12:32
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD. — Jeremiah 29:11-14a
In reading through the Bible chronologically I’m just finishing Jeremiah. To be honest, it has been a long time since I studied Jeremiah. I’ve been surprised by how much God had to teach me as I once again delved into this book of judgment and hope.
One of the things that struck me here in chapter twenty nine was the context of this promise. We all know the promise God gave to His people. We quote it, write it on plaques and sing it in songs. It brings joy. God’s plans are for good! And that is true. But sometimes in dwelling on the amazing grace of such a promise we miss the context.
God tells the people that “I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to you to bring you back to this place.” (Jer. 29:10b) But, not yet. Not for seventy years. (Jer. 29:10a)
God has just told his people to build houses and settle in Babylon. (Jer. 29:5-7) He has judged their sins and removed them from the land of the promise. The people of the LORD have been carried away as prisoners and God is not going to deliver them, at least, not yet. In fact, regarding those that escaped captivity “this is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will send the sword, famine and plague against them [Judah and Jerusalem]…For they have not listened to my words,’ declares the LORD, ‘words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,’ declares the LORD.” (Jer. 29:17a, 19)
Captivity, swords, famine and plague don’t sound like plans for the people’s benefit, yet, the entire plan including their chastening, was ultimately for the good of God’s people. It was not only the promise of return that was in their best interest, but the suffering was for their good as well. The hardship of captivity was the tool God used to cause His people to seek Him. The suffering of their situation was part of the plan to give them a future. You see, God knew that without the captivity there would be no repentance and without repentance there would be no future. There could be no prosperity apart from humility. Their hope rested solely in their relationship with the LORD. That relationship was the blessing. That relationship was their future.
May we rejoice in this beautiful promise of God to His people by appreciating the whole truth of it. May we live giving thanks that God’s plan for us is to have a relationship with Him, a relationship that is the blessing, a relationship that is our future, despite our outward circumstances.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” — Romans 8:28,38-39
Rev 4:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…”
Back in August I felt a wild and restless sense of expectancy that God had something in mind, something unexpected and amazing and for His glory. Over time the feeling faded in the way that waiting often wears like water on stones. But tucked away in the back of my mind a niggling sense of expectation remained.
1 Chronicles 16:25, Psalm 96:4 “For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise…”
When confronted with the very real challenges of change, expectation enters a battle with exasperation. To actually walk by faith and not by sight tests every strain of humanity that wraps this soul in flesh.
2 Samuel 22:4, Psalms 18:3 “I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise…”
I’m doing a lot of calling to the Lord these days. Questions swirl. And answers are hidden. This is part of the mystery of faith, trusting in the midst of uncertainty; being certain of things yet unseen. Yet, before I even entered this season of change the Lord gave me a word to hold on to. He reminded me that “He is Worthy.”
Psalm 48:1, Psalm 145:3 “Great is the LORD, and most worthy of praise…”
I was standing among a group of church planters and Christian workers in Belfast, worshipping. And as I sang I had an overwhelming sense of the truth that God is Worthy. Not only is He worthy of all of my praise, but He is also worthy of all of my obedience, no matter what He asks of me.
Rev 5:9 “And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy…’”
In that moment it was as clear as if a voice had spoken to me audibly. He is worthy of whatever He asks of me! And I’ve carried that moment of truth into this season. Knowing something is true doesn’t always make obeying easier, but then again, sometimes it does.
Erwin Lutzer: Worship begins in holy expectancy, and it ends in holy obedience.
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As a woman with child and about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so we were in your presence, O LORD. We were with child, we writhed in pain, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth; we have not given birth to people of the world. ~ But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Isaiah 26:17-19a
I love the redemption themes in the book of Isaiah and this passage has always captivated me.
Israel cries out. We have tried LORD. We strived and groaned in agony. But we failed. We could not save ourselves. We could not bring life to the world or salvation to the people. All our efforts produced nothing lasting.
Then God speaks. He looks down on his children and says; I know, my children, I know. You are not able. That was never my plan. Don’t worry. I will do it. I will bring life to the dead. I will bring life through resurrection.
The message of Christmas is the message of redemption and resurrection. God Himself came to earth, born of a virgin so that He could bring us salvation. He came to walk among us; God with Us. He came to die, to pay the debt that we could never pay. He came to rise from the grave, to bring life everlasting.
The message of Christmas is a message of joy.
My mind turns to Martha in John 11. There she stands devastated by her brother’s death saying that she knows he will rise again one day. She understands the promises of Isaiah and of Daniel (12:2), but it all seems so far away, so removed from the place of her grief. Then Jesus proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life.” The fulfillment of the promise stands before her; God in flesh. Jesus is the offer of life, here and now.
Because of Jesus we who believe have been given the very life of Christ. Eternal life is born within our hearts. There is no need for striving and writhing in pain trying to bring about salvation! We must cease that folly for we can not do it ourselves. We must receive the gift of God in Christ Jesus. He stands before us offering forgiveness for our sins and everlasting life. Now that is a reason for us to “wake up and shout for joy!”
Joy to the World – The Lord Has Come – Let Earth Receive Her King!