Do you want to be near God?

The October 11th Daily Light on the Daily Path reading touched off a quick study of the word “near” in the ESV. There are many passages that talk about drawing near to God without using that exact word. But what I found in this search was rich food for thought. I wanted to share just a portion from this study.

Writers and bloggers are advised these days not to just list a bunch of verses because people skip over them. And I agree, good teaching and writing is not just listing verses. But the meat of this topic is in the Word itself, so I hope you’ll follow the progression here and read the verses for themselves.

God is omniscient. He’s everywhere all the time.

“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 23:23-24).

He has promised never to leave and forsake His own.

He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

After Jesus ascended back to heaven, the Holy Spirit was given to live with believers. Can’t get much closer than that!

Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6).

You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Romans 8:9).

So in one sense He is always near. But it’s possible to be right next to someone and be miles apart in heart.

All through the Bible, God calls people to draw near:

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)

In the Old Testament, people could not approach God except through the sacrificial system. They could pray at any time, of course, and their relationship with God was based on faith rather than rituals. Nevertheless, God required them to draw near in various ways through a sacrifice which served as a picture and a foretelling of the sacrifice Christ would make on their behalf. Strict rules allowed that only the priests could offer the sacrifices, and even the high priest could only go into the Holy of Holies once a year. God’s holiness and the people’s sinfulness kept them separated until their sins had been atoned for.

In the New Testament, God is still just as holy and people are still just as sinful. But we don’t have that sacrificial system any more. Through Jesus, “a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God‘ (Hebrews 7:19).  Ephesians 2 explains:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

I don’t usually quote whole chapters here, but this passage is so marvelous and so perfectly expresses how we’re ale to draw near to God, I didn’t feel I could leave much out. As the Getty’s hymn, Beneath the Cross of Jesus, says, “hands that should discard me
hold wounds which tell me, ‘Come.'”

Because of Jesus’ holiness, because He is the Son of God, and also because of His eternality, He can save: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” Hebrews 7:25).

After Jesus’ atonement for us, the next requirement to draw near to God is faith:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6).

It’s possible to draw near hypocritically. God often remarked that Israel “[drew] near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13). Judas “drew near to Jesus to kiss him” in betrayal (Luke 22:47).

By contrast:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22).

The Lord is near to all who call on him . . .  truth (Psalm 145:18).

Drawing near to God also requires humility and forsaking of sin:

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.(James 4:6-8).

We can draw near for grace and help:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16).

We know that we can draw near to God to have our sins forgiven and to bring Him our requests. But when we’re undergoing some kind of trouble, often God seems far away. However:

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:17-18).

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

However, nearness to God is not a feeling. Nothing surpasses those moments of feeling close to God, but it’s possible sometimes to have faith, to have confessed every sin, and yet lose that sense of God’s nearness. Darlene Deibler Rose experienced this while in a POW camp in the Philippines during WWII. That closeness to God was what got her through her severe trials, and she was troubled when she didn’t feel it. She shares in her book, Evidence Not Seen:

“Lord, I believe all that the Bible says. I do walk by faith and not by sight. I do not need to feel You near, because Your Word says You will never leave me nor forsake me. Lord, I confirm my faith; I believe.” The words of Hebrews 11:1 welled up, unbeckoned, to fill my mind: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The evidence of things not seen. Evidence not seen — that was what I put my trust in — not in feelings or moments of ecstasy, but in the unchanging Person of Jesus Christ. Suddenly I realized that I was singing:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

I was assured that my faith rested not on feelings, not on moments of ecstasy, but on the Person of my matchless, changeless Savior, in Whom is no shadow caused by turning. In a measure I felt I understood what Job meant when he declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (13:35). Job knew that he could trust God, because Job knew the character of the One in Whom he had put his trust. It was faith stripped of feelings, faith without trappings. More than ever before, I knew that I could ever and always put my trust, my faith, in my glorious Lord. I encouraged myself in the Lord and His Word.

We can also encourage ourselves in the Lord and His Word. We were born far from a holy God who can’t tolerate or overlook sin. Our sin separated us from Him. Jesus took our sins and their penalty on Himself, providing access to God. We can draw near to Him in any need in truth through faith, repentance, humility. God wants us near. Will you come?

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. (Psalm 73:27-28).

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

Refrain:
O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God;
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God;
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

Cleland B. McAfee, 1903

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Making the Bible Come Alive

“He really makes the Bible come alive!”

Have you ever heard that about a preacher, speaker, teacher, or writer?

People could mean several different things by that statement. Perhaps they mean the teacher is exciting. They have a dynamic presentation. Or maybe they make the Scriptures seem particularly relevant. Maybe they help us understand things from the Scripture that we hadn’t before. They use a lot of eye-opening illustrations.

Those are all good traits. Years ago, at a former location, a Christian radio station ran a program from a local pastor who spoke in a monotone. I used to turn off the radio when his program came on. I actually got angry at him and thought, “Doesn’t the Bible deserve better treatment than that?” Then I got convicted of a wrong attitude. The man had been a pastor and had this program for years, so he obviously had listeners. Maybe some people like monotones, who knows.

But here’s the thing: we don’t make the Bible come alive. It IS alive.

Jesus said “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63, ESV).

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, ESV).

We’re the ones that need to be made alive. And what enlivens us? I like the King James word “Quicken,” which sometimes means to make alive, sometimes revive. God quickens us with His Word:

My soul cleaveth unto the dust: quicken thou me according to thy word. (Psalm 119:25)

This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me. (Psalm 119:50)

I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me. (Psalm 119:93)

God making us alive through His Word is not surprising, really. He created the universe and everything in it with His Word.

God’s Word can enliven us even if it’s read in a monotone.

That doesn’t mean we should be careless when we read, explain, or teach from it. There’s no virtue in reading the Bible in a monotone or presenting it in a dull way if we know better and can help it. We should try to present it in as understandable and winsome a way as possible.

Each of the Bible writers has a style about them: the Holy Spirit gave them the words, yet worked through each of their personalities to express truth.

But we should be careful of our tendencies to follow “exciting” teachers. If they can be exciting and Scripturally accurate, great. But too often, people gravitate towards excitement rather than truth.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4, ESV).

The Bible is so full of good truth that convicts, comforts, enlightens, teaches, rejoices our hearts, builds us up. We don’t need to dress it up or manipulate it to make it “interesting.” We just need to show people what it says. And we need to know it well enough to seek teachers who do the same.

Your words were found, and I ate them,
    and your words became to me a joy
    and the delight of my heart,
for I am called by your name,
    O Lord, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16, ESV)

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“That’s just the way God made me”

When my youngest son was small, he was a chatty little guy. In fact, sometimes he could talk too much. I didn’t want to squelch his openness with people or his ability to strike up a conversation, as those are valuable traits (which don’t come naturally to me!) But no one wants to be around someone who talks incessantly. Once he was talking to the wife of a visiting missionary family at church who was trying to soothe a fussy baby and graciously step away from him. He kept chatting merrily on, unaware that she was trying to escape. When I tried to suggest that perhaps he was talking a little too much, he flashed his bright smile and said, “That’s just the way God made me.”

“Well,” I thought, “What do I say to that?”

After a while the Lord did bring to mind a few principles to share with him, such as the fact that God made us to eat, yet it is wrong to eat too much or the wrong things; God made us to sleep, but warns against loving sleep too much and being lazy, etc. He gives us responsibility to use our natural bent and inclinations in the right way. We talked about the warning signs that you’re talking too much — when other people look bored, sleepy, or glazed, or when they’re trying to step away or start another conversation with someone else, etc.

It’s good to know how God made us. The preponderance of books and articles about personality tests and frameworks shows just how interested people are in this topic. Some of us have experienced major frustration trying to fit in a task or even ministry, only to realize later that we weren’t gifted for that position.

I participated in a particular ministry for years without really enjoying it. I thought I was guilty of a bad attitude and needed to pray more. When I was asked to take a different position within that ministry, I suddenly felt as if I had found my niche, and my attitude changed completely. That was one of my first inklings that the way we’re wired has a lot to do with what ministries and tasks we’re best suited for.

But knowing how we’re wired is only half the battle. Here are a few other considerations concerning our personalities and giftings:

We can’t insist on our own way.

I know I am an introvert. For many years introversion was considered negative, but books like Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power on Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking helped demonstrate that introverts have valuable and needful traits. That book helped me feel at home in my own skin.

But I can’t sit in my corner with a book as much as I’d like to. I can’t always leave greeting visitors at church to others who are better at it. I have to depend on God’s grace when I don’t get what I think I need.

Sometimes we have to extend ourselves outside our comfort zones. Our pastor has said that he’s very spontaneous, but he has learned that his wife and son need a bit of time to mentally change gears from what they’re doing to what he suggests. When we love, live, and work with others who are wired differently, sometimes we have to yield to them or meet them halfway.

When my middle son was in the 6th or 7th grade, he lamented that he studied for spelling tests and yet still received disappointing grades. A classmate hardly studied at all and yet made A’s. I explained that everyone has an aptitude for certain areas, and this friend obviously had an aptitude for spelling. My son brightened, thinking that since he didn’t have a natural aptitude for spelling, he didn’t have to worry about it. I had to say, no, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to work on your spelling: in fact, in means you have to work harder!

We have weaknesses directly related to our gifts.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, every strength has an offsetting weakness. An acquaintance is very much a take-charge person. When there’s a crisis, when no one know what to do first, this man is great to have around. He knows just what to do, how to organize tasks and people. But not every situation calls for leadership. When he tries to use those same skills when they’re not needed, he just comes across as controlling.

I used to really struggle under the leadership of someone who was an “idea guy.” When he overlooked something that caused problems, frustrations, more work, etc., for the people under him, he’d just smile and say, “You’ll have to forgive me, I’m not good with details. I’m just not wired that way.” I’ve heard someone apologize for an angry outburst by saying, “I’m sorry, I just have a bad temper.” I’ve known people who think they have the spirituals gifts of prophesy or exhortation to harshly lambast a person or movement (and take great pleasure in doing so), forgetting that “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Timothy 2:24-25).

We need to keep growing

No matter what our gifts are, we’re still tainted by a sin nature. We’re not perfect yet. God needs to keep refining us and developing us. We rest in Christ for our righteousness and salvation. But we can’t rest on past laurels or victories or even our gifts. The devil doesn’t rest in trying to trip us up or distract us. To keep growing, we need to keep abiding and keep letting God cultivate us and prune us.

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, (Philippians 1:9)

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 9-10)

Sometimes God calls us to a task outside our natural gifts.

Moses felt he could not lead or speak, yet God did not accept any of his excuses. Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, ‘Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak’” (Jeremiah 1:6-7). We think of the apostle Paul as bold and wise, yet he said, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom.” But he goes on to say he ministered “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:3-5).

Sometimes God uses people in the ways they seem to be bent, but other times He calls them to do something that doesn’t come naturally to them to show His power and His grace through them. While taking care of my mother-in-law a few years ago, I wrote in Rethinking Spiritual Gifts:

Someone I knew said of their daughter, who was training to be a nurse, that she was a “natural caregiver.” Another friend who is a nurse spoke of loving to use the talents God had given her to minister to people in that way—another natural caregiver. That’s not me. I want people to be cared for, particularly my mother-in-law. But I have never been good with or felt inclined to the hands-on type of caregiving she is in need of now, except with my own children.

Yet here we are. Do I tell God, “There must be some mistake. Not only am I not gifted for this, but it’s keeping me from what I feel I am gifted for.” Probably not a good idea. Spiritual gift tests can sometimes foster a “That’s not my job” syndrome when we’re asked to do something outside of our comfort zone.

Though we need to rely on God’s help, grace, and strength even for those areas where we feel He has gifted us, there’s nothing like being totally out of our element to make us lean on Him and plea for His enabling like never before. And though the main point of caregiving isn’t about me, but rather about showing love and ministering to my mother-in-law, perhaps one reason He has allowed this opportunity is to teach me lessons about my own selfishness as well as serving and loving others in the way they most need it, not in the way I am “comfortable” showing it.

The person who is not good with details is not excused from having to deal with them; in fact, he may have to work harder to handle them, or hire an assistant to help him. The person with a bad temper is not allowed to give it free reign because he can’t help himself. The shy or introverted person has to extend herself sometimes, even though it’s uncomfortable. Even spiritual gifts such as exhortation or mercy or giving have to be kept in balance. A person whose gift is giving for example, can’t run his family into debt or neglect their needs to give to others. He is responsible to exercise that gift in conjunction with other Scriptural instruction under God’s leadership. Scripture contains several passages of instruction concerning how to exercise spiritual gifts.

Understanding they way we’re “wired” does help us to know what direction to go in life, what ministries or vocations to choose, etc. For instance, I am not good with numbers: I can add the same list of numbers up three times and get three different answers—even with a calculator. So I would not look for a job as an accountant. I get rattled in a busy, noisy environment, so I wouldn’t likely work best there—as a teen I lasted working for a fast-food place for only a week.

Whether dealing with a sin issue, a personality bent, or even a spiritual gift, “That’s just the way I am” is not a good excuse. God wants us to seek Him for deliverance from the power of sin, for power and grace to maintain right balances and to be diligent even in areas where we don’t have natural gifts, and for help to grow continually more Christlike every day we live. He does not want us to remain “just the way we are.” “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). We’re changed by beholding Him.

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(Revised from the archives)

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Let us lift up our hearts to the One lifted up for us

Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven. Lamentations 3:41

Have you ever felt this way? Have you wished you could lift your very heart and soul to God?

God foretold through His prophets that one day His Son would be lifted up for the sins of His people.

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you—his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind. Isaiah 52: 13-14

Jesus identified Himself as the One who would be lifted up for mankind.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:14-15

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. John 12:32-33

God sits on a throne, high and lifted up, in holiness. But He lifts up the humble and the bowed down.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Isaiah 57:15

A tax collector, in his deep awareness of his sinfulness, “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!‘” Luke 18:13.

Because Jesus was lifted up on the cross, we can lift up our eyes:

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:1-2

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Psalm 123:1

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing. Isaiah 40:26-26

Our souls:

Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul. Psalm 86:4

Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Psalm 143:8

Our voices:

They lift up their voices, they sing for joy; over the majesty of the Lord they shout from the west. Isaiah 24:14

Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Isaiah 40:9

Our hands:

So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. Psalm 63:4

I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. Psalm 119:48

Our prayers:

Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary. Psalm 28:2

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling. 1 Timothy 2:8

Our song:

Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Psalm 68:4

Our praise and thanksgiving:

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! Psalm 141:2

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord! Psalm 134:1-2

Have you seen Him high and lifted up? Have you lifted up your heart and soul to Him?

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26

_______________

(This post was inspired by the September 6 Daily Light reading, which led to a rich study.)

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What if we really don’t measure up?

Theodore Roosevelt is credited with saying “Comparison is the thief of joy.” The Bible warns against envy and jealousy. “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

We know that no one’s picture-perfect online depictions convey real life, at least not all the time. Everyone has trials and issues, faults and failures. Yet we’re discouraged and depressed when we don’t think we measure up to everyone else.

But what if we really do fall short?

Different personalities and gifts

In early married life, I had a good friend who seemingly could do everything and do it well. While I seemed to struggle to keep my head above water with three children, she had the same number, her house was not only clean but well-decorated, she sewed for her family and for others for pay, she was active in a number of church ministries.

While wondering what was wrong with me for a long time, I finally concluded that God gave different people different capacities. Jesus told a parable of three men who were each given different amounts of money and then had to give account according to what was given them. I could learn from this and other friends and enjoy their different gifts, but I didn’t have to be just like them. God didn’t make us with cookie cutters. I could only be faithful with the abilities He gave me.

Offsetting weaknesses

One night this particular friend and her husband invited our family over for dinner. Everything was wonderful, as expected. But I noticed that this friend could hardly sit still for more than a few minutes. She would excuse herself to go do various things and then come back. It seemed like she didn’t know how to just sit back and relax for very long. And I began to think, if that’s the price one pays for getting so much done, then maybe I don’t that after all. I’m not criticizing her. We just had different personalities.

One former pastor used to say that every strength has an offsetting weakness. One organizational whiz I knew had trouble with flexibility. Someone with a take-charge personality is great when you need someone in charge, but they come across as controlling otherwise.  A person whose primary gift is mercy might have a hard time saying “no” when she should. If we find ourselves envying someone’s gift, we need to remember they have their weaknesses, too. We all have issues for which we need God’s grace.

God’s choices

Many times in the Bible, God set His choice and blessing on particular people. He chose younger Jacob over older Esau, even though by the standards of the times, the older brother received the family blessing and a bigger share on the inheritance. Peter, James, and John had more experiences with Jesus than the other disciples, and Peter got the lion’s share of attention in the gospels. All we know about some of the disciples is their names. Does that mean they were less special that Peter? No: God just had different purposes for them.

A former pastor who preached a series about the disciples said that these lesser-known ones were faithful in obscurity. That’s where most of us find ourselves. We’re not the big names. We don’t have the big followings. When I was growing up, I often heard the saying “God must love the common folk, He made so many of them.”

Accepted in the Beloved

We all fall short of God’s perfect righteousness. But He loved us so much, He gave His only Son to die for our sins, so if we turn from them and believe on Him, we’re saved and cleansed (John 3:16). When I really got hold of the idea that I’m “accepted in the Beloved,” as the KJV puts it, all my securities and self-image issues melted away. Our position in Him has nothing to do with our looks, our abilities, our works, our talents, and how they measure up to anyone else. He made us the way He wanted us. He gives us everything we need to live for Him and grow more like Him.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Peter 1:3-4).

Were not enough in ourselves, but we’re complete in Him. He gives us everything we need for everything He’s called us to.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8).

We each have a gift from God, a purpose, and a unique job to do. We may not have the same reach as others, but we each have a unique sphere of influence. God doesn’t call us to do what others do. He only calls us to be faithful to what He wants us to do.

Someone will always be better than us in every aspect of our lives: better-looking, better cooks, better writers, better home managers, etc. That’s no reason for dismay. We will be better than some in those aspects, too. That’s no reason for pride.

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
 (1 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)

The main point isn’t how we compare to others. The main point is being faithful with what God gave us. We seek His purposes and plans for us, grow in grace, knowledge and abilities, and use them to reflect Him, glorify Him, and serve others.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11, ESV)

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Forsaking Thoughts

Saturday morning I was arrested by a phrase in Seasons of the Heart, compiled by Donna Kelderman. One sentence of the day’s selection, written by Frances Ridley Havergal, said, “Oh, forsake the thoughts as well as the way, and return unto the Lord, and He will abundantly pardon.”

I’m sure the inspiration for her comment came from Isaiah 55:7: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

I’d read this verse before, several times. It and other passages talk about managing our thoughts, so the idea wasn’t new to me. But perhaps because the wording was rearranged just a bit, that idea of forsaking certain thoughts stood out. It’s not enough to forsake a certain sin if we’re still thinking about it all the time. And some thoughts in themselves are sins (lust, pride, etc.). We need to forsake sinful thoughts as well as sinful ways.

But how can we forsake thoughts when they spill into our minds unbidden? We might not want to think them, but we can’t seem to get away from them.

First, we need to pray. Something I sometimes pray is  Psalm 19:14: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Then, we can change our thoughts.

In How to Say No to a Stubborn Habit, Erwin Lutzer said that if someone told you to stop thinking about the number 8, suddenly that’s all you can think of. What to do then? Think of other numbers, do equations, arrange them in different orders, etc.

The best way to get rid of one thought is to replace it with another. Instead of passively being at the mercy of whatever thoughts assail us, we can actively think about profitable things. We can take our thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5).

David Martyn-Lloyd Jones put it this way in Spiritual Depression:

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.”

So what can we say to our souls?

We can turn our thoughts to anything active, really: planning our next week, what we’re going to serve at the next church fellowship, how to rearrange the desk or living room, etc.

But the best thoughts to turn to are God’s. After the verse about forsaking wicked or unrighteous thoughts and ways in Isaiah 55, God goes on to say His thoughts are higher than ours. Romans 12:2 says “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Sometimes in an urgent situation, singing a hymn (either out loud or to ourselves) helps in a couple of ways. First, it turns our thoughts to God’s truths. Then, once we start a well-known song, our minds want to finish it out. This has helped me a lot in times of anxiety. There was a period of time where I was often plagued by negative, almost blasphemous thoughts about God. I didn’t believe them. I was quite distressed, unsure where they were coming from. Finally I decided every time such a thought would begin, I’d start singing a hymn of praise to God. If it was Satan suggesting these thoughts, I guess he got tired of it after awhile when his efforts just led to more praise to God.

Either reading or remembering Scripture helps us center our thoughts on God’s. The more we read and memorize, the more the Holy Spirit can “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). If we’re wrestling with a particular temptation—lust, pride, gluttony, etc.—it helps to look up verses to combat those, list some to have them ready, and start memorizing them.

Then, it helps to concentrate on the positive and not just the negative, what we can do instead of what we can’t, doing rather than don’t-ing. 2 Timothy 2:22 says, “So flee youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Colossians 3 tells us to put off some things—immorality, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscenity, lying—and put on other things like humility, forgiveness, kindness, patience, love, compassion.

Just trying to stop thinking about what we can’t do is like trying to stop thinking about the number 8. Not only will our minds keep trying to go there, but we’ll be discontent. But if we focus on what we’re supposed to be doing instead, we’ll have enough to keep us busy for a long time.

How about you? What ways have you found to forsake wrong thoughts?

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When Interruptions ARE the Ministry

I hate interruptions.

One reason I dislike them so much is that I try, first thing in the morning, to give God my day. So then whatever plans I make under His leadership must be what He wants me to do. And anyone and anything that disrupts those plans must not be of God, right?

One former Sunday School teacher said that whenever his phone rang during family devotions, he was tempted to answer the phone saying, “Do you know you’re being used of the devil right now?”

I understand the frustration. But then I noticed Jesus didn’t react that way when people interrupted His time alone with His Father. The more I read the gospels, the more I saw that Jesus’s earthly life was full interruptions. But He never acted flustered or put out.

One of the most significant incidents that changed my view of interruptions was when Jesus went with Jairus to heal his daughter. A woman with an issue of blood touched Jesus’s clothes, hoping for healing. Immediately, Jesus, “perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him,” asked who touched Him. The Bible doesn’t say whether Jairus was patiently waiting or upset and fidgeting. While talking with this woman, a messenger came and informed Jairus that his daughter had died. But Jesus told him, “Do not fear, only believe.” And He went on and healed the girl.

That taught me that even if interruptions come, they are not a hindrance to God’s plans or abilities. Interruptions are often an avenue of service.

Take the story of the Good Samaritan. A man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Two whose jobs were ministerial passed him by, lest he hinder their calling. The Samaritans were at that time enemies to the Jews, yet one of them stopped and took care of this man. The Samaritan became the prime example of loving one’s neighbor.

Interruptions abound not only in Jesus’s life ministry, and teaching, but all through the Bible. When Abraham saw three visitors passing by his tent, he called them in to eat. That wasn’t just a matter of calling for pizza delivery or slapping sandwiches together. He asked his wife to make cakes (possibly bread) from scratch and one of his hired hands to prepare a calf. Even though the young man “prepared it quickly,” it had to have taken some time to kill and skin the calf and then cut meat and cook it.

Some Biblical interruptions, I noted, were from God Himself: Noah’s call to build and ark, Moses’s call to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Lot’s call to leave Sodom, Gideon’s call to save Israel from the Midianites, Mary’s call to birth the Messiah, Paul’s call on the road to Damascus, just to name a very few.

Though those incidents interrupted what each person was doing, they were of God. As C. S. Lewis said, “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day” (from a 1943 letter from C.S. Lewis in Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis). Claudia Barba put it similarly in her “Monday Morning Club” newsletter:

Are you annoyed this morning by the wrench some monkey has thrown into your careful plan for today? Relax and remember: interruptions aren’t hindrances to ministry. They are ministry.

So not only is God sovereign over all the interruptions of our day, sometimes He orchestrates them to call us out of what we’re doing into what He wants us to do.

But doesn’t Satan interrupt sometimes? Yes, he interrupted Eve in Eden, Jesus in the wilderness, Paul while he was witnessing to Sergius Paulus. The “strange woman” from Proverbs tries to interrupt people to sin. How do we know if an interruption is from God or Satan? Well, in these cases it was obvious by what the interrupter said or wanted. It’s vital that we know the Word of God so we can correctly discern between good and evil. Then we need to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

But sometimes it’s hard to discern whether an interruption is a call from God for service or a distraction from God’s will. Missionary Isobel Kuhn, when she was trying to discern if an obstacle was from God or Satan, used to pray: “If this obstacle is from Thee, Lord, I accept it; but if it is from Satan, I refuse him and all his works in the name of Calvary.” Jesus taught how to resist Satan: with the Word of God. If God allows temptation to come into our lives, He’ll provide a way of escape.

Satan’s catastrophic interruptions in Job’s life were allowed to by God. If God allows fiery trials, He’ll give grace to endure them.

On the other hand, Jesus did not view every interruption as a call to service. During one of those interruptions of His prayer time, Peter told Him, “Everyone is looking for you.” Jesus has spent the previous evening, as well as previous days before, healing people and casting out demons. Evidently people wanted Him to do more of the same. But instead of saying, “I’ll be right there,” He said, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:29-39). Though healing was a major part of His ministry, His prime mission until the cross was to preach and teach. And he was called to go to various places, not stay in one town.

It’s not wrong to seek to avoid interruptions. Jesus often went out alone late at night or early in the morning to pray. When He was interrupted anyway, He handled it graciously. He called the disciples to come apart and rest. As it turned out, the crowds followed them and they didn’t get to rest. Finally, when it grew late, the disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away to get something to eat. But He didn’t answer, “That’s a great idea: finally we can rest.” No, He said, “You give them something to eat.” What? They were depleted and weary. They had just a small bit of food. But Jesus told them to share that, and He blessed and multiplied it to be enough for 5,000+ people, with twelve baskets leftover.

I still don’t like interruptions. But I’m learning that dislike is usually due to my own selfishness and desire for control. I’m seeking God for help to respond graciously and His discernment to know what interruptions are from Him. And when I feel I don’t have any more to give, I’ll seek His provision and blessing, which abundantly cover the needs of the day.

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Biblical Prayers

I mentioned in my earlier post about prayer that I sometimes like to pray Scripture directly.

Of course, not every prayer in Scripture is something we would pray today. Sometimes people in the Bible prayed for specific situations or people that we don’t deal with. We can still learn from them, but in our day we wouldn’t pray the same thing.

Also, as I said earlier, praying isn’t a matter of finding a magic formula or reciting certain words rotely.

But some examples of prayer in Scripture lift us up out of everyday life into real soul work, for ourselves and others. Some years ago I started making a list of these prayers when I came across them, and I still add to this list occasionally. So I thought I’d share with you what I have so far (all are from the ESV unless otherwise noted):

  • May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6 (Though this is talking about the church, I often put this on wedding cards.)
  • For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. Ephesians 1:15-20
  • For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. Ephesians 3:14-20 (KJV)
  • And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11
  • For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Colossians 1:9-12 (KJV)
  • May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13
  • Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23
  • To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
  • Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (KJV)
  • And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ. II Thessalonians 3:5 (KJV)
  • Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. 2 Thessalonians 3:16
  • Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21 (KJV)

And that’s just the epistles!

Many of the psalms are prayers that we could pray in our day, like David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 or  his prayer of wonder and praise in Psalm 8.

A couple of Old Testament pleas come to mind often, like 2 Chronicles 20:12: “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” and 2 Chronicles 14:11: “LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let not man prevail against thee.”

Jesus gave us what we call the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-15:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
     and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

Phrases from the gospels come to mind as prayers:

Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). The more we read the Bible, the more the Holy Spirit can bring back to our minds what it says, the more our thoughts and prayers will be infused with God’s truth and will.

Of course, we can’t just rip words out of context and use them in prayer. But as we read the Bible and see how these prayers arise in context, our own hearts can be stirred up to pray according to God’s will.

Even verses that aren’t prayers in themselves can be turned into a prayer request that God will help us understand and incorporate the truth of it into our lives.

Writing this post has given me the idea for a project. Maybe the next time I read through the Bible, I’ll make note of any prayer that we could pray today. That would be an interesting study!

Are there prayers from the Bible you like to use when you pray?

Prayer: Talking with Our Father

Articles abound claiming ways of improving our prayer lives. Some tout titles encouraging us to try new or ancient “forms” of prayer, as if an improved prayer life is a matter of certain words in a certain order. Others proclaim “Five [or however many] Prayers to Unleash God’s Power in Your Life,” as if we have God on a leash.

I’m concerned when improving our prayer lives seems to be a matter of trying different fads or rituals.

We tell unbelievers that Christianity is a relationship with God to help them realize it’s not just a set of certain behaviors. But sometimes we forget the relationship in our own practices. Spiritual disciplines are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Improving prayer, Bible study, or any other facet of Christian life needs to be a matter of enhancing the relationship, not just finding a better form of practice.

Granted, most of us change and grow in how we practice these disciplines over the years. And different personalities gravitate to different “styles.” I attended a prayer meeting that was so regimented, it seemed to me to choke the life out of what we were doing. I felt constricted, burdened, and frustrated. But perhaps that style of prayer was deeply meaningful to the person leading the meeting.

What helps me most is remembering that prayer is just talking to my Father. Like any relationship, hopefully communication improves over time. But He doesn’t wait for me to get just the right form. He hears my heart.

The best place to learn how to pray is the Bible. God’s Word gives specific instructions about prayer. Just a few:

God also gives us wonderful examples of prayer. Some of my favorites:

From the examples in the Bible, we see how people prayed, in what attitudes and circumstances, and what specifically they prayed for.

One of my favorites of Paul’s prayers is Colossians 1:9-14:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

While it’s fine to pray for health and financial needs, how much more do we need to pray for these kinds of things for ourselves and each other.

Following a certain form would seem artificial to me. I don’t talk to anyone else in my life via specific forms. On the other hand, because we’re talking to someone we can’t see and who doesn’t answer us audibly, sometimes our minds can wander. So in some ways it does help our feeble flesh to have something to corral our thoughts and keep on point. Some use acronyms, like

Pray
Repent
Ask
Yield

Or:

Adoration
Confess
Thanksgiving
Supplication

When my thoughts seem too scattered to pray, most often I use what we call “the Lord’s prayer” as a jumping-off point. It might go something like this:

“Our Father in heaven.” Thank you that I can call you Father, that you loved me and saved me and brought me into your family. Thank you for forgiving, leading, and guiding me. Thank you for being a kind and gracious Father.

“Hallowed be your name.” You’re not just my Father, but also my King. Help me not to forget your greatness and holiness.

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I pray for Your perfect will to be done in these various situations I bring before You.

Give us this day our daily bread.” I’m grateful You know my needs before I even ask. I praise You that I can trust You to provide for me and those I pray for.

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” I confess these sins to You (naming them individually) and ask Your forgiveness. Help me to forgive others just the way I want to be forgiven.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” You know what’s ahead this day. I pray for your protection from evil that may come my way and from the temptations of my own heart.

“For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen!”

I’ve made a list of different prayers in the Bible that I like to use in praying for myself and for others. Many of them are from the epistles, like the one from Colossians mentioned above or from Philippians. When we pray God’s Word, we know we’re praying according to His will. But, again, it’s not just a matter of praying certain words rotely: it’s talking with our Father.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote once of waking up in the morning, cold, fuzzy-headed, not feeling very spiritual, stumbling into another room to spend time with the Lord. She felt she needed help putting her own heart in the right frame of mind, so she started her prayer and devotional time either reading or singing psalms or hymns (from the chapter “Meeting God Alone” in On Asking God Why). Many hymns are wonderful prayers, like:

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but Thou art mighty,
Hold me with Thy pow’rful hand.
Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more;
Feed me till I want no more.

(William Williams, 1745)

Or:

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night;
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

(Dallan Forgaill, 6th century; translated and published 1912)

Modern hymns like Speak, O Lord and O Great God are prayers meaty with Scriptural truth and greatly meaningful to me.

I also used to think I hadn’t “officially” prayed for something unless I mentioned it in my devotional time. But I learned we can talk to God all through the day. When my first clear thoughts form in the morning, I try to remember right then to give Him the day and ask His help for it. When I hear a bit of good news or find something that perfectly meets my needs, I can thank Him on the spot. When I come across a prayer request, I try to pray for it immediately.

Like with other relationships, we can touch base with God off and on all day. But then we also need times of setting aside everything else just to focus on each other.

And when we have no words, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

In the chapter I mentioned by Elisabeth Elliot, she said:

My own devotional life is very far from being Exhibit A of what it should be. I have tried, throughout most of my life, to maintain a quiet time with God, with many lapses and failures. Occasionally, but only occasionally, it is impossible. Our Heavenly Father knows all about those occasions. He understands perfectly why mothers with small children bring them along when they talk to him.

If hers was not Exhibit A, how much less is mine! I started to take all personal references out of this post for that reason (and due to length). But it has helped me to read others’ experiences with prayer, so maybe this might be a small help to someone else.

What I mainly wanted to share with you is this: if we feel our prayers need livening up, perhaps the first place to start is to remember who we’re talking to and why. Then, as we read His Word, we can take note of what it teaches about prayer and learn from examples there.

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“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith”

Several days ago, many American Christians reeled with the news that a prominent pastor and author announced that he no longer considers himself a Christian.

Speculation and commentary abounds concerning what led to this declaration. Some have traced his history and pointed out problems with the movements he has been associated with. But no one really knows his heart.

When a person becomes a Christian, he is “born again” (John 3:3-21, I John 3:4-10). That’s one of many reasons that a Christian can’t lose his salvation. He can’t become unborn spiritually.

Christians can sometimes fall away from what they’ve been taught to varying degrees. That may be influenced by listening to false teaching, failing to grow in the Lord, neglecting His Word, bitterness, or any number of things.

But that’s a different thing from repudiating their profession of faith alltogether. When that happens, all we can conclude is that they were never genuine believers in the first place.

I hold out hope, as do others, that the man I mentioned has not truly walked away from God and his core beliefs but is instead just confused and out of fellowship. Hopefully with prayer, contemplation, and counsel, he can get things straightened out.

But I shared all of that to say this:

Whenever this kind of thing occurs, I can’t help but ask myself, “How did that happen?

Jesus said one day people will stand before Him who called Him Lord, prophesied, cast out demons, and did mighty works in His name, and yet He’ll have to tell them, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:21-23).

I can’t imagine a more tragic or frightening prospect. For years I feared every time I heard or read this passage. How did I know I won’t end up like these poor people?

When I asked this of a former pastor, he said that these folks all pointed to what they did. None of them said, “I came to Christ confessing my sin, repenting of it, and asking Him to be my Savior and Lord.”

That helped me a lot. But, since then, I have known people who made professions of having done this, yet fell away in later years. How does that happen?

I think perhaps for people who have grown up in a Christian culture, it’s easy to just go with the flow. They’ve heard it all their lives. It’s part of their thinking. Isobel Kuhn was like this. She says in her autobiography, By Searching: My Journey Through Doubt Into Faith, that when she went off to a secular college, she could have held a debate with anybody defending doctrines of the faith. But all it took was one professor saying, “Oh, you just believe that because your parents told you it was so” for her to realize he was right. She went off to gleefully live for herself, free from the restrictions she had grown up with. But God, in His mercy and grace, brought her to Himself.

Perhaps others did not grow up in a Christian culture, but weren’t adequately taught. Some I know responded to “positive peer pressure”–when all their friends were making professions, they figured they needed to get in on it, too. Or the person witnessing to them was so aggressive, they felt they dare not refuse to pray with the person. I’ve heard of many people who raised their hands in a church service, walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, yet did not consider themselves truly saved until later in life. Perhaps they weren’t taught well; perhaps they placed their trust in those acts rather than in Christ. But however it happened, they realized some time later that they were not believers and needed to be. Some had been professing Christians for years and were even pastors or pastor’s wives.

The Bible tells us to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

The last thing I want to do is disturb the peace of genuine Christians. I lived nearly half my life unsure of my salvation, and that’s a miserable way to live. Just about the time I thought I had it settled, some new angle of doubt would creep in. I told more about that situation here.

But I’d dearly love to spare even one person from being told by Jesus, “I never knew you; depart from me.

For more information on how to become a Christian, see How to Know God.

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
 1 John 5:12

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. John 3:16-18

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

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