Be Still and Listen

In recent weeks, I’ve set aside time each Wednesday morning to pray and seek God’s direction about what to share in the God-Living Girls Thankful Thursday post that I do each week. Then, after doing my regular morning devotional time, I’ve started writing.

But this Wednesday was different. My husband Mitch and I have been working with a dear couple from our church who are helping us as we walk through some challenging circumstances we’re currently facing, and we had plans for that evening, to share a meal and a Christian movie my husband had gotten from the public library.

I got up in plenty of time to get my article written and ready to post before they were scheduled to arrive around 4pm, but with my mind focused on these future plans instead of on my current task I skipped one very important step in preparing to write. I failed to seek God’s direction concerning the topic, grabbed the first idea that came to mind and started writing. Not the best way to try to communicate effectively for the Lord!

The Lord was determined to get my attention, and eventually He did – but not until He used some interesting circumstances to slow me down. First, I used my WordPress.com site to start writing an initial draft of the article. When our daughter Amy came down to fix lunch, I clicked on my work to save it and took a lunch break, knowing I still had plenty of time left to finish the article before our friends arrived.

Then after lunch, I opened WordPress to get back to work – and the article I had started was no longer there. Puzzled, I started the process again, still not seeking God’s direction. I remembered the basic outline of the article I had been writing and started a second time to complete the post.

By now, it was almost time for our guests to arrive, so I decided to save my work and come back and do my final edit after our evening plans. I clicked on the article to save the latest draft – and my iPad which I was using to write locked up and again the article disappeared. (I learned later when I received a “Like” on my blog that the lock-up had actually caused my article to post on my blog, well before it was completed.)

This time, God finally had my attention. I stopped and prayed, asking God what was going on. His answer came quickly, “Be still and listen.” As I continued to pray, the message was clear. What I was writing was not His focus for this week’s lesson on gratitude. And my eyes were opened to exactly what had been going on all day. By now, it was time for our guests to arrive, so I shared with Mitch what God had shown me and we had a good laugh and relaxed to enjoy the evening with our friends.

The lesson God taught me on Wednesday was not a new one, but apparently one I was needing a refresher on. The key to walking in the will of God is setting aside our own understanding, being quiet before Him, and listening for His direction. Only then are we ready to step out and follow Him into His purposes. But when we ignore this essential step – in writing, but also in every aspect of living our daily lives in a way that is pleasing to the Lord – we will miss the mark. And our efforts will be fruitless.

Today, I’m grateful for the lessons God teaches me as I imperfectly seek to follow Him. He knows us completely, and still loves us with an unending and steadfast love. We will make mistakes, but our blunders don’t have to hinder His plan if we simply choose to remain teachable. When I finally slowed down enough to realize God was trying to get my attention, the lesson came quickly and clearly. And I realized this lesson, not the one I had been trying to write based on my own understanding, was what God wanted me to share this week.

On this Thankful Thursday, I encourage you to slow down and take time to hear from God. Rushing forward based on our own understanding is never the best way to live. Has the Lord ever used your blunders to teach you a lesson in how to effectively walk with Him? If so, feel free to share your experience with us in the comments.

Advertisements

Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

It was very early Wednesday morning, after an almost sleepless night. As I sat in the hospital room with our special-needs son David, still in the recliner that I had attempted to sleep in and the light finally off after a night filled with medical tests, IV replacement, and excellent nursing care for David’s complex medical needs, I heard four clear words in my spirit. “Don’t waste your sorrows.”

This wasn’t an original thought, but actually the title of a book I read many years ago, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows, by Paul Bilheimer. I’m not even sure we still have a copy of this book, but even if we do I haven’t read it for at least fifteen years. Yet it holds a permanent place in my memory because of the clear message it presents.

Suffering is a part of life on this earth. It’s a major part of God’s plan to grow us up into a mature faith in Jesus Christ and prepare us to rule and reign with Him in His eternal kingdom. But how we handle suffering is more important than what we are actually going through. Our own attitude toward God in the midst of suffering determines whether our hardships develop Christ-like character or if instead the suffering we go through is wasted.

Whether you are among my readers who suffer with chronic illness or your trials are in a different form, suffering is not a stranger to most of us. Often, we face multiple trials in our lives at the same time that really stretch our endurance. I’m sure all of us acknowledge the truth that suffering is a fact of life. When it comes, we face a choice. We can revolt in anger or resign in apathy, both resulting in wasting our sorrows. Or we can choose instead to draw closer to God, seek His perspective of what we’re walking through, humble ourselves to learn the lessons He wants to teach us, and spiritually grow from the circumstances we never would have chosen.

One verse God has been using recently in my life, showing me how to walk through our current difficult circumstances in a way that pleases Him is 1 Peter 3:4.

“But let it (your adorning) be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a MEEK and QUIET spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” 1 Peter 3:4 KJV

Modern translations usually use the word gentle in place of meek because our culture wrongly equates meekness with weakness. One definition of true biblical meekness is “strength under God’s control.” Matthew 11:29 describes Jesus as “meek and lowly in heart” and He is our example of how to walk in meekness.

The Greek word translated meek when used in relationship to God means “that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.” A quiet spirit is one experiencing “tranquillity arising from within,” undisturbed and undisturbing. (Vine’s Expository Dictionary)

The Lord has been speaking to my heart that to not “waste my sorrows” in a variety of difficult circumstances our family is currently walking through, I need to grow in the areas of meekness toward God and work on developing a quiet spirit, undisturbed by anxiety and discontentment.

Are you currently facing some circumstances that you never would have chosen? If so, make the decision today not to waste your sorrows. Draw close to God, ask Him to help you see your circumstances from His perspective, and let Him lead you through the lessons He wants to teach you during this season of life.

Battling Anxiety by Prayer with Thanksgiving

“BE ANXIOUS FOR NOTHING , but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians ‭4:6‬ NASB

The above Bible verse has been one of my favorites for many years. I memorized it at least ten years ago. I’ve tried to live it out whenever circumstances came that caused anxiety, even studied Max Lucado’s book Anxious For Nothing last year and found help in overcoming some anxiety I was battling during that time.

Yet when I learned about three weeks ago that our home was no longer insurable due to extensive damage during the last two hurricanes that hit the Houston area – that to have continued insurance coverage on our home we had an estimated $40,000 of repairs (not covered by our insurance company) that we needed to find a way to cover – I still had a major battle with anxiety. Yes, I tried to cast my burdens on the Lord, but the anxiety remained. I prayed, but I still was waking up in the middle of the night feeling so anxious about this situation that I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Knowing I needed to find a way to deal with this before it started causing major problems with my health, I prayed and sensed the Lord speaking to my heart that I needed to reach out for help. We had already shared some of the details of what we are facing with the couple who lead our iConnect Bible Study class at church, so I made a call and explained the problem I was having to my friend Donna.

After listening patiently to my explanation of what had been happening, my friend gave me several practical suggestions to use to conquer my fears. First, she reminded me of the above Scripture. We discussed some of the specific fears that were keeping me awake at night. Donna asked me to make a list of those fears and others that came and then find Scriptures I could use in prayer to combat the nighttime fears. And she reminded me of the second action called for in Philippians 4:6, giving thanks to the Lord in the midst of our current circumstances. She also gave several other practical suggestions, which I’ve been putting into practice.

This was nearly two weeks ago, and nothing in our circumstances has changed. But my outlook on the circumstances has turned 180 degrees. Yes, I’m still having an occasional battle with anxiety keeping me from getting a full night of sleep some nights. But the combination of identifying my fears, reminding myself of what God’s Word says about the things I’m fearing, and looking for things to thank God for in the midst of this situation has made a big difference.

Dr. David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, said:

“No matter what our circumstance, we can find a reason to be thankful.”

I don’t believe Philippians 4:6 is telling us to give thanks FOR the problems we are walking through but rather IN the troubles that are causing anxiety. Frankly, I’m not thankful about the damage that happened to our home or the fact that neither the government disaster relief agency nor our insurance company did anything to help after hurricane Harvey last summer. I’m not thankful that our attempt to find a new insurance company that would actually do more than take our money ended up causing our insurance to be cancelled because my husband was honest about the current condition of the house. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to give thanks for in this situation.

I am thankful that the damage to our home last summer did not mean we had to move out, which would have been a huge problem with the medical needs of our son David. Many in the Houston area were not so fortunate. I’m grateful that God provided enough money to repair the leak in the roof so that future rainstorms did not result in even more damage. And I’m thankful for supportive friends who are helping us through this difficult time in a way that encourages us to honor God and His Word. And above all, I’m grateful that God has been with us as we walk through this difficult season, doing a work in both my husband’s life and my life.

Prayer is an important key to getting past our anxious thoughts. But remember when Philippians 4:6 gives us counsel on how to overcome anxiety it adds something to prayer. Thanksgiving.

My husband and I have prayed about our situation, reminding God that without His help there is nothing we can do to turn this around. We are doing the things He has shown us to do. And we are thanking Him daily for His blessings in the midst of the hardship.

Are you currently battling anxiety over some circumstances beyond your control? If so, I want to remind you that they are NOT beyond God’s control. He loves you with an everlasting, steadfast love and He has a track record from Creation till now of faithfulness. So instead of giving in to anxious thoughts, pray. Tell Him what you need. Praise Him for who He is. Thank Him for how He has come through for you in impossible situations in the past. And even look for something you can thank Him for in your current stressful circumstances.

The situation may not change overnight – but I suspect YOU will begin to change. And according to Romans 8:28-29, that’s one way God uses everything we face for our good and His glory, as we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Add giving thanks to your prayers and see what happens.

 

Boundaries and the Christ-Controlled Life

I woke up at 6am today, with the pulse-oximeter alarm going off in our special needs son David’s room. He has drops in his oxygen level and changes in heart rate that require monitoring using an oximeter, and when his numbers go outside the pre-set boundaries an alarm sounds. It doesn’t mean he is in grave danger, but it is an indication he needs to be checked and possibly some treatment done. This morning he simply needed some oral suctioning – he was sound asleep with his mouth open and saliva was blocking his airway.

After taking care of this routine care of our son, something I’m well acquainted with during the hours when he doesn’t have nursing care, I sensed God speaking to my spirit. “Setting boundaries is necessary for David’s physical health and for your spiritual health.”

I have heard of the concept of establishing boundaries in Christian circles for many years, but during the last year it has become a daily part of my life through Taste For Truth, a Christian weight loss program I’ve been following. This program does not recommend a specific diet to follow, that is between you and God. Instead, it has two main emphases, renewing your mind to replace the lies you are believing with the truth of God’s Word, and prayerfully setting boundaries concerning eating and exercise. Through these two principles, an area of my life that has been a lifelong struggle is coming under God’s control.

But boundaries are needed in more than just eating. Any area that needs to come under God’s control in our lives requires these same two steps of renewing our mind and setting boundaries. This applies to our thoughts, words, actions, relationships, how we use our time and how we spend our money. Without renewing our minds to know what God says in His Word about each of these areas and then setting boundaries we will follow, change won’t consistently happen. These two principles are our part in being conformed to the image of Christ.

Boundaries alone do not result in change, but when we renew our minds according to the Word of God and yield our lives to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who lives within every person who has acknowledged Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, transformation will come. It may not be overnight, but if we do our part in the transformation process it will result in change.

So what exactly are boundaries, and how do we set them? A boundary is something that indicates a border or a limit. With property, it may be marked by a fence that indicates the end of one piece of property and the beginning of another. Biblically speaking, boundaries are related to self-control. For example, as I set my boundaries in Taste For Truth, they limited how many calories I would eat per day and how many days per week I would exercise. With managing money, a budget sets boundaries concerning how we will spend our income. Relationship boundaries might include separating yourself from people who pull you down or ridicule your faith.

So how do we go about setting and keeping within wise boundaries? First, seek God’s will by praying about the area where you recognize a need to set boundaries. See what God has to say about the issue in His Word. Consider the consequences of failing to set boundaries in this area, and make a decision. Trust God to lead you and empower you to change this area of your life. For me concerning weight loss, having an accountability partner was also helpful, someone I could contact for encouragement when I was struggling.

Boundaries have been a part of life on earth since shortly after creation. The first boundary given to man mentioned in Scripture is in the second chapter of Genesis. “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’ ” (Genesis‬ ‭2:16-17‬ ‭NIV). ‬‬Living within this boundary would have brought Adam and Eve and their descendants blessing, but unfortunately they chose instead to overstep the one boundary God had given and as a result sin entered this world. Boundaries are an effective way to limit destructive behaviors and take personal responsibility for our lives. They are a key to overcoming besetting sins and learning to walk in freedom from bondage. Are there some boundaries God is calling you to set?

Learning To Be Content

God has been speaking to me this week about being content as I face some difficult circumstances that I am trusting God to take us through. Being content in the way the Bible describes this quality will result in an attitude of gratitude that is unhindered by outward circumstances.

We live in a society that focuses on accumulation and consumption. But God’s Word teaches a different lifestyle, one in which we free ourselves from the world’s insatiable desire for more and learn to be mentally and emotionally satisfied with things as they are.

The Greek word arkeo which is used in most of the New Testament references to contentment, goes a step further than the English definition of being satisfied and not wanting more. According to Vine’s Complete Expository of Old and New Testament Words, “arkeo primarily signifies to be sufficient, to be possessed of sufficient strength, to be strong, to be enough for a thing.” Contentment starts with understanding that in Christ Jesus we have sufficient strength to walk in contentment through whatever circumstances God allows to touch our lives.

Rob Kuban, author of the book Christ-Centered Contentment, sees contentment as “the currency of God’s economy and God’s people.” Biblical contentment, Kuban says, is a commitment to choose Christ over consumption.

“The Bible calls us to allow our convictions, not our circumstances, to govern our sense of contentment. True, biblical contentment is a conviction that Christ’s power, purpose and provision is sufficient for every circumstance. We are to learn how to walk through all kinds of adversity believing in and experiencing Christ’s sufficiency. We have to choose to rest on God’s good promises despite what may be going on in our lives.”

CONTENTMENT IS CENTERED IN GOD’S PRESENCE

“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.” (Heb. 13:5)

CONTENTMENT IS EQUALLY ATTAINABLE IN ABUNDANCE AND IN NEED

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:11-13)

CONTENTMENT IS POSSIBLE IN EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE

“And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” …Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

I love this poetic description by American author, speaker, and pastor John Maxwell, which gives a clear picture of the lifestyle of contentment to which the Lord is calling us to walk, in contrast to the life of one who lives in discontentment.

“The contented man looks beyond his circumstances and sees a better day; the discontented man looks at his circumstances and sees no other way.

The contented man understands the purpose for which he was born; the discontented man looks at other’s success with a face that is filled with scorn.

The contented man has surrendered to a purpose that demands his best; the discontented man has selfishly hoarded much and grasping for more, will not rest.

The contented man has placed his values on things which will forever last; the discontented man has placed his values on things which will soon be past.

The contented man is anchored to clear goals and is hardly ever swayed; the discontented man has no goals that anchor him and is many times dismayed.

The contented man counts his blessings and names them one by one; the discontented man counts other’s blessings and thinks he has no fun.”

I’ve spent long enough living in discontentment. According to Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11-13, we can learn to be content in the midst of circumstances that are not those we would have chosen. Our part is to make that choice, God’s part to enable us to walk it out by His power. I know it’s time for me to make that choice. How about you? With you join me in a commitment to learn to walk in contentment in spite of the challenges you are currently walking through?

God’s Unfailing Love

For many years, Bible reading and study has been a major priority in my daily life. The primary way God speaks to us is through His written Word, and in the weakness of my flesh I need to hear from God daily to know how to walk victoriously through the many challenges of this life.

This past week was not an exception to my habit of beginning my days with time in God’s Word. But it was an exceptional week of hearing from God. It was a week where God’s message to me was coming through loud and clear. It was a week of hearing over and over again: “Trust in My unfailing love.

Unfailing love is how the New International Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word checed. Other versions translate it steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercies, faithfulness, kindness, mercy, and love. Why so many different translations for one Hebrew word? Simply because there is no single English word that fully expresses the meaning of checed.

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says there are three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: strength, steadfastness, and love. This word is used 240 times in the Old Testament, most often in the Psalms. Vine’s says, “The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics.”

This single Hebrew word also includes the concepts of generosity and favor, of loyalty and mercy, of grace and faithfulness, of goodness and devotion, of protection and blessing. When used to describe our God, it applies primarily to God’s particular love relationship with those who are His chosen, those who have entered into a covenant relationship with Him. That includes you, if you have placed your faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross.

As I did my regularly scheduled Bible reading last week, each day it included this concept. God was obviously trying to show me something important about His character. Then the day after this began, we learned that we need around $40,000 in repairs on our home, due to damage from Hurricanes Ike and Harvey that was not covered by our insurance. I was feeling overwhelmed.

The next morning, one verse about God’s unfailing love especially stood out to me. It was Isaiah 54:10.

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

‭‭As I read these words, I realized God had given me a promise to hold onto. What we are facing feels huge, but it isn’t bigger than our God. No matter what lies ahead, we can walk through it in confidence that His unfailing love for us will not be shaken and that His peace won’t be removed.

This week, I’m especially grateful for the special words God brings to life from His written word, when a verse or concept in the logos, the written Word, becomes a rhema word that we personally hear and receive as we spend time in His presence. For that to happen requires a commitment to open your Bible (or a Bible app) every day with expectancy that God will speak to you.

Is there a verse of Scripture or a concept taught in the Bible that God has used to encourage you recently? Give thanks to the Lord for being a God who speaks to His people. If God has spoken a special verse or passage to your heart that has encouraged you, don’t keep the good news to yourself. Share it with someone else. It may be just what they are needing to get through a difficult day.

Beware of the Counterfeits, Embrace the True

In my walk with Christ, I’ve noticed that the world often presents us with alternatives, counterfeit versions of the spiritual disciplines we are taught in God’s Word.

For example, God’s Word clearly teaches the key to success in life is to meditate on and then obey God’s Word. Joshua 18 says, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” The world promotes other types of meditation that have nothing to do with God or His Word.

The Bible also calls us to the discipline of giving thanks in all situations. One well known Scripture that teaches this is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The world likewise acknowledges the value of giving thanks.

Earlier this week, I received a video on a secular app I use to help me in my weight management entitled “Gratitude Meditation.” It basically combined the two spiritual disciplines of meditation and giving thanks, but in a strongly distorted way. And it opened my eyes to the truth that while the world sees value in the practicing gratitude, it isn’t the kind of gratitude we as Christians are called to express.

The world’s idea of gratitude often begins with looking inward and is little more than a form of positive thinking. It looks at blessings, but fails to see their true source.

Christ-centered gratitude begins with looking upward. It is centered in the unchanging character of our God and the promises of His Word. A life of gratitude without Christ misses the mark – it is still empty and purposeless, because it leaves God out of the picture.

It’s much healthier spiritually to turn our focus on Christ-centered gratitude. The best description I’ve found of Christ-centered gratitude comes from Bible teacher Kay Arthur.

“God is in control, and therefore in EVERYTHING I can give thanks – not because of the situation but because of the One who directs and rules over it.”

Therefore today I am grateful for…

☆ 1. Christ’s provision for today’s needs, even when I’m not sure how the overwhelming needs ahead of me will be met.

☆ 2. The strength I have in Christ to do the things He has called me to accomplish today, even in the midst of my physical weakness.

☆ 3. His grace and loving care, even in the midst of a day of physical and emotional pain.

Christ-centered gratitude acknowledges the reality of what we are walking through, but it also acknowledges and gives thanks to the Lord as our help in the midst of the storm.

Remember, Christ-centered gratitude is possible because no matter what you are going through, Philippians 2:13 reminds us we are not left to our own resources, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”