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.