Tuesday, December 31, 2019

the blue book is now available on amazon


Exciting News!  The Blue Book is now available on Amazon!  And not only that, but it also has a bunch of new content!  I've been working for the past year or so to write an opening reflection for each chapter and I'm really excited about the end result.  I hope you will be too.  So please spread the word.  Tell your friends that the strange blue devotional book that has always been so hard to find, is hard to find no more.

*Update: Thanks for the great response!  Glad to see the book still seems to be helpful to so many in making space to hear God's voice and know of his great affection.  Since the book has been released on Amazon I do, however, find that I miss the contact with many of you.  I miss hearing the stories of how God has used the book in your life or ministry.  So, if you have the time, I would love it if you would just leave your comments here, or drop by Amazon and give a review.  And, as always, feel free to email me with your Blue Book story if you'd like.  I love hearing them. Blessings, Jim



Saturday, August 31, 2019

Just Released





















Hi friends.  Thought you would want to know that my new book Teach Us to Pray has just been released on Amazon.  Tell your friends!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

word

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he mediates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalm 1:2-3)

The scriptures are not merely an ancient book of wisdom, or a self-help guide, or a proof-text for a certain brand of theology; they are the very words of God himself.  They are not a text book, but a love letter.  Therefore, they must be read in a different way than what we are used to.

They are one of the most tangible places we encounter the Living God.  They are living and active, they are powerful and authoritative, they are God-breathed and God-saturated.  They are the most audible and reliable voice of God that we’ve got.  They guide, they correct, they encourage, and (by the power of the Spirit) they transform.

The words of the scriptures are deeply relevant and personal, they speak to each life specifically and to each community corporately.  They tell us what God is like and show us how to live like him.  They are like a javelin aimed at the target of the human heart, always hitting their mark with their life-giving power.

When we delight in the words of the scriptures, and meditate on them day and night, they produce the fruit of life and love and freedom within us.  They plant us in solid soil and keep us from being blown around by the winds of mood and whim and circumstance.  They make us more into the people God intended us to be.  They make us more able to love the way God intended for us to love.

Thus, when we ignore or dismiss or belittle the words of the scriptures—when we make them less than they were intended to be—we do so at our own expense.  If we untether ourselves from their power and their authority, and become the authority ourselves, we drift aimlessly into our own version of the truth, which is not really truth at all.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

the fourth watch

“During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.” (Matthew 14:25)

Why the fourth watch?  Why did Jesus wait so long to go out to them?  After all, they had been out on the lake, buffeted by the wind and the waves for as many as twelve hours.  Why not go out to them sooner?  Why wait until they had been bruised and battered and beaten?

Do you ever ask that question?  Do you ever wonder why God seems to let the storms of life go on for so long before he eventually shows up in the midst of them?  Is he testing our belief?  Is he trying to see if we really believe that he is able to calm the storm?  Or is he trying to see if we really believe that he is willing to?  I know that I have little trouble believing that he can, but much more difficulty believing that he will. 

Regardless of the reason, I have found that Jesus is a fourth-watch-kind-of-a-God.  He tends to wait a while before he comes out to us.  And even when he does, sometimes our circumstances are so chaotic that we still cannot recognize him.

The fourth watch is the point where we just cannot do it anymore.  It is the place in time when we can row no more.  The fourth watch is the time when we finally cry, "Uncle!"  When we say, “I just cannot do this anymore.  I’ve got nothing left.”  It is the time when we have finally been brought to the point of total desperation and absolute dependence.  It is the time when we have finally come to the end of ourselves.  And unfortunately, for most of us, that is a long, long journey.  For there is something God is trying to do deep within us and bringing us to the end of ourselves is the only way to make it happen.  Otherwise we would just keep on rowing and rowing and rowing.

It’s like God finally says: “I want you to trust me.  Not me and your own gifts and efforts, not me and your circumstances, not even me and your friends and family; but me alone.  And you will never trust me alone until all of the other things have been stripped away.  Until you have come to the end of yourself and there is nothing else, and no one else, left to cling to but me.  That’s when I’ve finally got you where I want you.  That’s when true growth and transformation can take place.  That’s when you finally reach the point where you can become all that I dreamt you to be.”

So if it takes until the fourth watch to get me there, then I suppose it’s worth it, huh?

Lord Jesus, help me to know that when you wait until the fourth watch to come out to me, you are not just being difficult.  You are trying to accomplish something very good in me.  Help me to never let the storms of this life, or the timing of your coming, make me doubt the goodness of your heart.

Monday, July 29, 2019

pursued

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,” say the words of the ancient prayer.  And even as I utter those words something within me comes alive.  For somehow, throughout the course of my days and my years, I have convinced myself otherwise.  Somehow I have convinced myself that it is I who am constantly in pursuit of him, the elusive God, rather than he being in pursuit of me.

And a careful examination of these words show just how wonderful this pursuit really is.  Goodness is a hallmark of our God, as well as a hallmark of his very good creation.  Thus, the goodness that pursues me is the very good-ness (Genesis 1:31) of his creation intent for me.  Not only is the One who pursues me very good, but the one he intended and designed me to be is also very good.  His very good desire is that he restore me to my very good-ness.  To remake me into the fearful and wonderful creation that he intended me to be.

The other thing that is a hallmark of our God is his unfailing love.  The Hebrew word is hesed.  It is the word for love that highlights the eternal nature of God’s love.  It is forever, it is unchanging, it is not going anywhere.  Nothing can stop it.  It is a pursuit that will not rest until it captures completely heart of the one being pursued. 

And finally, there is the word follow, which is not nearly strong enough to describe the picture being painted here.  The Hebrew word is radaph, which is most often translated pursue.  It is used 143 times in the Old Testament, mostly in reference to armies pursuing their enemies.  And on one occasion (1 Samuel 26:20) it is even translated hunt, as a hunter would stalk his prey.  That is the kind of following we are talking about.  It is not a casual, haphazard type of thing, but a relentless pursuit.  God relentlessly pursues me with his goodness and his unfailing love “all the days of my life.”  Thus, my relationship with him is not dependent on my feeble pursuit of him, but on his relentless pursuit of me.  It is not so much about finding him, as it is about being found by him.  It is dependent on him, not on me.  Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

stubborn

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
     Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
     He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
     “No,” they answered.
      He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. (John 21:1-6, NIV)

I can be pretty stubborn at times.  I can keep my head down and plod right along without even noticing that I might have been toiling all night and still have empty nets.  I guess I figure that if I keep doing the same old things, the way I have always done them, that eventually it will work out.  It might never occur to me that I need to do something different, to change my ways.  It seems like I remember someone very wise once saying something about the definition of insanity being to continue to do the same old things over and over and expect to get a different outcome.  Well, call me crazy I suppose, because I tend to do that a lot.  I fail to recognize—or refuse to acknowledge—that my way just isn’t working.  After all, who is a better expert on my life than me?

I guess that’s why this passage haunts me a little bit.  The disciples did the exact same thing.  They worked and worked and worked, all night long, and caught absolutely nothing. The only difference is that when someone made a suggestion that they might want to try another way, at least they listened.  They didn’t even recognize it was Jesus until after they had taken his advice and caught a massive amount of fish.  And it wasn’t the first time this had happened.  But give them some credit.  They weren’t so hard-headed that they refused to acknowledge that their way just wasn’t working, and were willing to embrace a new way of doing things.

I need to follow their example.  For it is quite possible that I get so busy toiling all night long that I, like the disciples, fail to recognize that Jesus is standing on the shore.  It is quite possible that when someone brings up the possibility of doing things in a new and different way, that it might actually be Jesus trying to open me up to the possibility of new ways of seeing or being or doing.

The beautiful thing is that even if I do not always recognize Jesus, he always recognizes me.  Thanks be to God!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

weakness


“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I don’t know about you, but I go to great lengths to try and hide my weaknesses.  I even go so far as to try and never operate outside my areas of strength.  I do this, I suppose, because my goal in life is for everyone to think the best of me.  The problem is that when I live my life trying to make everyone think the best of me, I leave one significant thing out—God!  I forget that this life is not about me at all, but about him.

Paul got that.  I guess that’s why he could make this outlandish statement about gladly boasting about his weaknesses.  I mean, who does that?  Someone who cares more about God’s glory that his own, that’s who.  Someone who realizes that God’s power is on full display when we are completely out of the way.  Someone who understands that we actually block people’s view of God when we are trying to get them to look at us.  Someone who realizes that when he is operating out of his own strength, he is actually keeping God’s power from being made perfect.

O Lord, help me to be more like Paul.  Help me to embrace and celebrate my weaknesses, because they are opportunities for you to show your power.  For when I try to hide my weaknesses, I am actually hiding—or denying—the sufficiency of your grace.  Lord Jesus, give me the power to be weak.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

my grace


My grace is sufficient for you.  No, really, it is!  So stop trying to earn my love and favor.  Stop trying to make it on your own.  Stop beating yourself up and wearing yourself out.  Stop trying to arrange your life in such a way that you won’t need me quite so much.  My grace really is sufficient for you.  It is all you need.

Help me to let your grace be enough for me today, Lord Jesus.  For if I really believe your grace is enough, it changes everything.  It totally changes the way I live my life.

Friday, July 5, 2019

the tale of two men

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, ESV)


Once upon a time there were two men; one who thought he had it all together, and the other who was painfully aware that he did not.  One who was pretty sure that he was God’s gift to humanity, and the other who was pretty sure humanity didn’t even know his name.  One who was constantly seeking the spotlight, and the other who was content in the shadows.  One who was ever climbing upward, and the other who was well acquainted with the downward path.  One who was so in love with his own observations and opinions that he couldn’t wait to share his "wisdom" with anyone and everyone in his path, and the other who was fully aware that the only thing he really knew was that he did not know.  One who thought he knew how to pray, and the other who realized he didn’t even know what prayer really was.  One who was so full of himself that there was not any room for anyone or anything else, and the other who was so empty that there was plenty of room for God and others.  One who was destined to be humbled, and the other who humbled himself.  Which one would you rather be, one or the other?


He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’  Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'" 
     Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” (Luke 18:9-14, The Message)

Thursday, July 4, 2019

freedom

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14, NIV)

How would you define freedom?  What does it look like to be truly free?  How we answer both of those questions has a whole lot to do with whether or not we will ever experience true freedom in our lives.

Freedom is not about personal rights and privileges, it is not a license to be self-consumed.  Freedom is about us collectively living the lives we were intended to live—being the people we were created to be.  Loving and serving one another the way we were intended to love and serve.  It is not about doing whatever we want to do, whenever we want to do it.  It is much bigger than that.  It is about living a life of love.  Freedom is not about being consumed with self, but about not having to be consumed with self.  It is so easy to be held hostage in the prison of self without even realizing we are in bondage.

Jesus came to show us a different way.  He came to show us what freedom really is—and what it is not.  True freedom is about living a life of love.  It says, “I do not need you to tell me who I am and why I am valuable, therefore I can actually love and serve you without trying to squeeze or manipulate love out of you."  That’s true freedom.

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. (Galatians 5:13-15, The Message)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

rest and unrest


We were made for rest, not unrest.  Our hearts were designed to find their rest in God.  Thus, deep soul rest was intended to be our natural state.  But for most of us, true rest is an anomaly rather than a normality.  The rest our souls so deeply long for—the rest our souls were actually created for—is far from our daily reality.  That is why Jesus comes to each of us and says: “Come to me and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, for it fits you perfectly.  I made it just for you and it is the only thing that can make you your truest and best self.  In fact, I am the only one—including you—who even knows who that really is.  So come to me and know the rest and the peace and the wholeness of being who and what you were created to be.  Then you can stop trying so hard and can be free to be your true self.”

Monday, June 24, 2019

still

God works in subtlety
he does not tend to wave his arms
in big sudden movements
but comes in a whisper
like a gentle breeze
that is easy to miss
if we aren't paying attention

Thursday, June 20, 2019

God and or God alone

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2, ESV)

The Hebrew version of Psalm 62 starts with the word only:  “Only for God does my soul wait in silence.”  It then repeats that word numerous times over the next eight verses.  Needless to say, it is the major theme of the psalm.  God is the only one who is worthy of our trust, and we are only trusting in him when we trust in him alone.  A. W. Tozer says it this way: “When religion has said its last word, there is little that we need other than God himself.  The evil habit of God-and effectively prevents us from finding God in full revelation.  In the “and” lies our great woe.  If we omit the “and” we shall soon find God, and in him we shall find that for which we have all our lives been secretly longing.”

Unfortunately, it is a very short trip from God alone to God and.  It is a very subtle shift in thinking and in being that is very hard to recognize.  We start out trusting in God alone, and then, before we know it, we begin to trust in God and our own comfort, God and our own opinion, God and our own agenda, God and our own desired outcome.  Somewhere along the line our desires have shifted from God alone to God and, and we didn’t even recognize it.

So how are we to know when we are trusting in God and rather than God alone?  The psalm, once again, gives us a clue.  Whenever we trust in God alone, we are not shaken (v. 2, 6), whatever that may look like.  It is our reaction to circumstances and situations that will let us know where I real trust lies.  If I am too attached to a certain outcome or opinion, if I am consumed with a certain situation, if I am frustrated or defensive or argumentative—all of those are signs that I might be trusting in God and rather than God alone.  Which means that I must recognize it, confess it, and repent (turn around).  I need to turn from God and, and return to God alone.  For trusting in God alone takes a good healthy detachment from my own desires, preferences, and opinions.  It requires us to be indifferent to anything but the will of God.  God become the end, not merely a means to an end.

O Lord, help us to recognize all of the ways and all of the places where we are trusting in you and something (or someone) else.  Help us to let go of those things—whoever or whatever they may be—and return to you alone.  For you alone are my rock, my refuge, and my fortress.  My salvation and my honor depend on you—alone.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

with you


"Don’t try to fix it, just be still.  Don’t start running around like a crazy person trying to manage and manipulate and control things, just know that I am God.  Whether you believe it or not right now—whether it looks like it or not—I will be exalted.  Do not allow fear and anxiety and disappointment to get the best of you.  Nothing has changed, I am still the Lord God Almighty.  And I am still with you."

Saturday, June 8, 2019

low

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me." ~Psalm 131:1


     The Water Song

Come, oh come!  Let us away
Lower, lower every day.
Oh, what joy it is to race
Down to the lowest place.
This the deepest law we know—
“It is happy to go low.”
Sweetest urge and sweetest will,
“Let us go down lower still.”
Hear the summons night and day
Calling us to come away.
From the heights we leap and flow
To the valleys down below.
Always answering the call,
To the lowest place of all.
Sweetest urge and sweetest pain,
To go low and rise again.
~Hannah Hurnard

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

find rest

My soul finds rest in God alone, my salvation comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.  (Psalm 62:1-2)

The only place your soul will truly find rest is in my unfailing love.  You will not find it in circumstances.  You will not find it in your own efforts.  You will not find it in the praise and admiration of others.  You will not find it in achievements and success.  You will not find it in what others think or say about you.  You will only find it in me…alone.  And only when your soul finds rest in my unfailing love alone, will you be able to love others the way I love you.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

becoming together

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1)

“We are never more ourselves than when we pray.  But if we remain only ourselves, then we are less than ourselves.” ~Eugene Peterson

We can only become our truest selves together.  It can never fully happen alone.  Only together will we ever have the courage and the strength and the wisdom it takes to stop listening to the lies of the world—and our insecure hearts—and listen to the Voice of the One who whispered us into being.  Only together will we ever be able to let go of the false self and become who and what we were really intended to be.  Alone we will always either cave in or chicken out.  Alone we will always be at the mercy of mood and whim and circumstance.  But together there is strength.  Together we are able to call each other to more—to being all that God desires us to be.  Now that really is good and pleasant!


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

and know

Be still and know that I am God...(Psalm 46:10)

The words of this ancient prayer teach us a great spiritual truth: It’s not just “be still,” but “be still and know that I am God.”  Both are required.

It is being still that makes it possible for us to know that he is God.  It helps us to make space and time for that knowing to take place.  But being still on its own is not enough.  In fact, the being still part doesn’t do a whole lot of good without the knowing he is God part.

It is a beautiful thing that God longs to be known.  In fact, that’s where we get it from.  He made us for the purpose of knowing he is God.  Not just intellectually knowing him (that’s part of it), but spiritually, emotionally, and relationally knowing him as well.  God wants us to know him intimately.  And when we do—when we know to the core of our being that he is God—it changes everything.  Everything else comes into perspective.  Everything else falls into its proper place.

So let us take the words of this ancient prayer to heart today.  Let us be still and let us know that he is God.  For being still is of some value, but being still and knowing that he is God is of value for this life and the life to come.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

progress

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourselves wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” (1 Timothy 4:15)

How do you define progress in your spiritual life?  And more importantly, how do you think Jesus would define it?  Think about that for a moment.  In fact, make a list of both and see how similar—and how different—they are.

Were the words poor in spirit or meek or merciful on your list?  How about hungry and thirsty or pure in heart or persecuted?  How about least or last or selfless or humble?  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control make your list?  The fact of the matter is that Jesus’ definition of progress in the spiritual life is often much different from our own, so it is probably a good idea for us to try and get on the same page.  That way we can actually look at our lives and determine whether we are, in fact, becoming more like Jesus or not.

The older I get, the more I am coming to believe that when I think about myself less, I am actually just beginning to make some progress.  When I care less about what other people think and care more about what God thinks.  When I begin to let go of what I know and begin to embrace the fact that I really don’t know much of anything.  When I am more content with being unseen and unnoticed—because I am fully seen and fully noticed by Jesus—rather than always trying to be the center of attention.  When I finally start to listen more than I speak.  When being loving becomes more important than being right.  When I stop climbing up and allow Jesus to lead me down.  When I stop wondering so much about who I am, and become more concerned with whose I am.

Those are the types of things I’m trying to pay attention to these days.  What about you?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

blessed are the meek

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) 

We live in a day and age, it seems, where the things this world values the most are in direct opposition to the life Jesus describes as blessed.  That would be especially true when it comes to being meek.

The word meek is a hard one to define.  In essence, it means to be gentle or kind.  It is generally associated with a spirit of kindness, humility, and submission.  The word Jesus used in Matthew 5:5 is prays, which means gentleness of spirit or mildness of disposition.  Thus, meekness is the opposite of self-assertiveness or self-interest.  The meek are those who are not occupied with self at all, but totally reliant on God.  Meek people don’t stomp around, but tread lightly.  They don’t feel the need to continually air their opinions, but listen carefully.  They do not see people as threats or competition, but look tenderly.  They do not fight and grab and push their way to the front, but they touch with reverence.  Meek people know that true growth requires nurture, not force.  In our rough and tumble world, meekness can be a vivid, tangible reminder of the presence of God among us.  The meek do not posture nor promote, they do not campaign nor draw attention to themselves, but they offer their contributions to the world in quiet tenderness.  Therefore, the meek are able to inherit the earth because they are not trying to control, conquer, manipulate, or impress it.  They are blessed because they are a blessing.

Lord Jesus, if we ever hope to be anything like you, we must learn to be meek.  Unfortunately, that is so much against our nature that we can never hope to do it on our own.  You must grow it in us.  Have mercy on us, Lord Jesus!  Make us more and more like you each day.  Amen.

Monday, May 13, 2019

occupied

Occupied: to be filled up (space, time, etc.).  I find that I am often occupied.  And at times even preoccupied.  The problem is that I am not usually occupied with the right things; or at least not the things that lead to life and freedom.  I am all too often occupied with my own worries and insecurities and fears—which makes me a really bad version of myself.  And at times I am occupied with my own opinions and plans and agendas—which leaves me oblivious to anything other than my little corner of this great big world.  But the bigger problem is that when I am occupied, I have no room.  I have no room for God and I have no room for anyone else.  I am far too full of myself.

I think that’s where Psalm 23 comes in.  It comes in and tries to reorient me.  It tries to shift my focus from being occupied with self—which wears me down and burns me out—to being occupied with God—who longs to renew my soul and make my cup overflow.  Which can sound self-centered in and of itself unless we realize how the spiritual life is designed to work.  It is the overflow of the life of God within me that is supposed to pour out on those around me.  True ministry is always designed to happen as a result of this overflow.

Psalm 23 is God’s attempt to say, “How I long for your attention and your affection.  And the things that occupy you only distract you from what is most important—me.  So stop.  Just stop.  Let go of all of the things that fill your space, and make time and space for me.  Here is what I want you to do today: lay down, be still, be mine.  Everything else will take care of itself."

Lord God, I am still so full, it seems, of everything but you.  Help me to let go of all that occupies my heart and soul, and help me to take hold of—or be taken hold of—by you alone.  Make me lie down in green pastures and lead me beside still waters, that my soul may be restored to its creation intent.  Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

blessed

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” ~Matthew 5:3

Jesus certainly turns everything upside down, doesn’t he?  The poor and the mourners and the meek and the hungry and the merciful and the peacemakers and the persecuted are the ones who are blessed?  Most of us would normally think the opposite was true.

If he is right, however, that the ones on the bottom are the ones who are really blessed, then why do I keep trying to get to the top?  If it is true that the nobodies are the ones who are living in line with his will and his desire, then why do I keep desperately trying to be somebody?  If it is, in fact, accurate that the poor are the ones who are better off, then why do I keep trying to get rich?  If being hidden and unnoticed and lowly and small is the path to true blessing, then why do I keep trying to be visible and noticed and well thought of and important?

Blessed is the man who is not constantly consumed with himself, but is consumed with the things of God.  Apparently Jesus needs to turn me upside down as well.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

ask, seek, and knock

It sounds pretty simple, right?  Jesus tells his disciples, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)  So all we have to do is knock and knock and knock, until eventually Jesus gets so tired of the knocking that he opens the door and gives us what we want?  I don’t think so.  What if we are knocking on a door that was never supposed to be—or never intended to be—opened?  What then?

I think that’s where the ask and the seek parts come in.  There is a sequence here that we must pay attention to.  These verses are not carte blanche to ask for whatever we want, knowing that if we are persistent enough in our asking, God will eventually break down and give it to us.  I mean, what if we come to him asking for a snake or a scorpion?  What then?

Perhaps ask does not mean asking for whatever we want, but asking him what he wants.  And perhaps seek does not mean seeking our own will and preference, but seeking God’s will and God’s preference.  For after we ask God what he wants and seek his will and his way in whatever we might be praying about, then we can knock and knock and knock, and rest assured that when the timing is right he will open the door.

For at times it is just as likely that God’s answer to our deepest prayers might come in the form of a closed door, as it does an opened one.  And far be it from us to keep knocking and knocking on a closed door, and not receiving the guidance and direction it has to offer.  That is why ask and seek must come first.  And that is why Jesus used all three of these words as he was teaching the disciples how to pray.

Monday, May 6, 2019

watchful and thankful

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” (Colossians 4:2)

If you had to pick two words that you wanted to describe your prayer life, what would they be?  Would you want it to be described as fervent and diligent?  How about powerful and passionate?  Or what about tender and intimate?  And what two words do you think God would pick?  Of all the words that God could have chosen, who would guessed that he would have picked the words watchful and thankful?  Two great words no doubt, but probably not the first two I would have thought of.  I guess that shows what I know about prayer.

In Colossians 4:2, Paul encourages us to be devoted to prayer.  It is the same word used in Acts 2:42 to describe the four things the new community of believers devoted themselves to in order to nurture and grow the fires of God’s Spirit that were burning among and within them.  The Greek word (proskartereō) actually means to be strong toward.  So, here in Colossians, Paul is encouraging us to always be strong toward prayer.  And the way we do that is by being both watchful and thankful.

To be watchful (grēgoreō) means to give strict attention to, to be vigilant, or to stay awake.  Thus, a significant part of the life of prayer is relentlessly paying attention to all that God is doing within and around us.  Having eyes to see and ears to hear exactly what he is up to.  I guess he knew how easy it would be to get distracted, or to be lulled to sleep, by all of the daily tasks and worries and chores that compel and consume us.

And he also tells us to be thankful.  The word used here is eucharistia, which comes from the word eu, meaning good, and the word charizomai, which means to grant favor.  Thus, we are thankful when we realize that we have been granted good favor.  When we begin to see that all things are a gift and that God is the giver of all good gifts.  Life is not a right but a privilege.  It is something that has been given to us and, therefore, is something to be cherished and nurtured.

Thus, prayer is a way of being with God that nourishes and sustains these two things.  It helps us stay awake to him and all that he is up to, and it fills us with gratitude for both who he is and for what he does.  It makes us grateful that we belong to him and that we have the privilege of living both for and with him each day.  Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Friday, May 3, 2019

guidance

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” (Psalm 32:8-9, ESV)

God never promises that he will give us the answers to our deepest questions of life and vocation, but he does promise that he will always give us himself.  He will instruct and teach and guide us.  He will be with us and walk with us and give us understanding about the things of God.  The rest is up to us.

All too often we look for writing in the sky, or a voice from the clouds, when he has already given us everything we need.  He does not want us to be like a horse or a mule who have no understanding and must be controlled by bit and bridle.  That is not the kind of relationship he wants with us.  That kind of life requires no faith, no trust, no dependence.  He wants us to live in continuous union with him, so that when a decision does need to be made it will flow out of an ongoing, intimate inner life with him.  That’s why he reminds us that “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.” (Psalm 32:10, NIV)

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

humble yourself

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

When will you ever realize that you can’t do this thing on your own?  When are you finally going to admit that you need my help?  When will you finally stop trying to do it all yourself and turn to me?  What will it take?  How much must you go through?  When will you finally humble yourself and pray and seek my face?  When will you finally turn from your wicked, self-centered ways and acknowledge that this life is too big for you to manage?

When you get to that point, then we are getting somewhere.  Then we are just beginning to make some progress.  Then you are starting to mature.  After all, this life is not about you in the first place, but about me.  The sooner you realize and acknowledge that the better off you will be.

So here’s the thing, you can either humble yourself, or I can do it for you.  Which one would you prefer?  Because one way or another, we are eventually going to get there.

O Lord, our God, forgive us when our pride and arrogance and self-centeredness keep us from turning to you in humble obedience and dependence.  Forgive us when we get a little too full of ourselves and a little too big for our britches to realize that apart from you we can do nothing.  Forgive us when we fall in love with our own opinions and observations and stop listening to your voice and seeking your face.  Forgive us when we begin to think that we can handle this life on our own, or make things happen for ourselves.

Humble us, O God, and remind us of who we are and of who you are, that we might, once again, return to you with our whole hearts in prayer and self-surrender.  We pray this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Monday, April 29, 2019

proactive

Well, it happened again—I reacted.  I let my fears and my anxieties and my insecurities get the best of me—and turn me into the worst possible version of myself—and I reacted.  It seems like at some point I would learn.  At some point I would stop living a reactive life and start living a more proactive one.  The kind of life Psalm 1 encourages me to live.  Oh, I do get it right from time to time, or from season to season, but I still get it wrong so often.

When will I ever learn that I cannot stop delighting in his law and meditating on it night and day or this will be the end result?  I cannot grow tired or lazy or lax in my practice, or I will quickly turn into someone that I really do not like at all.  I will suddenly be at the mercy of the winds and waves of circumstance and emotion and be blown like chaff once again.  Maybe that’s why the psalm includes the words day and night as it talks about our meditation on the law, because the psalmist knows the relentlessly ongoing nature of this battle—the battle between being proactive and being reactive.

And it is never very hard to see who is winning this battle at any given moment, all you have to do is look at the fruit.  If the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then all I have to do is see if those things are present in my life to know whether I am living a proactive life of being planted by streams, or a reactive life of being blown like chaff.

Luckily, there is repentance.  Luckily, each and every minute of every day we have the opportunity to choose to return to God, to plant ourselves by the stream of Living Water.  Even after we have, once again, forgotten to do that and allowed emotion or busyness or insecurity or circumstances to blow us away.  That is the beauty of repentance.  Blessed is the man who practices it regularly.


O Lord, how I long to be different.  How I long to turn from my twisted and dysfunctional patterns and habits, in order to be more whole and holy.  I long to be set free from my own self-consumed ways of being and seeing, and to become more and more like you.  I long to be more loving instead of self-centered.  I long to be more compassionate rather than competitive.  And I long to care more about your will and your work than I do about my own.  Continue, O God, to transform my heart.  Grow your grace in me and let it flow freely and effortlessly from my heart and life.  Change me from deep within. Give me more peace and less frustration.  Make me more rooted and less reactive.  Help me to be more caring and less annoyed.  O Jesus, fill me so full of your love that there will be no room in me for anything else.  (Room to Flourish by Jim Branch)