I’m SUPPOSED to Be Afraid? Part 1

 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
~Proverbs 9:10

 

If you have grown up in the church, perhaps you have heard this verse often enough to be thinking already, “It’s not really fear though.  We’re supposed to have a healthy respect for God, but we’re not supposed to run away screaming at the thought of Him.”

Well, there is a bit more to it than that.

True, we aren’t meant to dash out of the room when we start praying because we felt the presence of God (though I have been in the place of feeling that way, as well I should have at the time), but we cannot simply treat God the same way we would a tame fire in the fireplace.  We know not to touch the fire because of its power, but having that casual respect is not the relationship God wants with us either.

Here is an example that may help to shed some light on the topic.  I love animals, and am often very good with them.  I have never been afraid of dogs because, since I was a kid, even the big hyper ones listened to me when I told them what to do.  None of the local wildlife scares me, because I know enough about them to know how to react to them to make the most of the situation.  Deer won’t hurt you unless they’re cornered, coyotes get timid if you make loud noises and wave a stick, black bear will charge you if they’re really scared, but if you hold your ground, they lose their nerve.  All of these creatures have their own comfort zones, and I respect that and don’t go out of my way to bother them, but none of them have ever really scared me.

However, I was at a museum recently, and met a creature that made me feel rather differently from my relationship with the locals.  It was a tiger with paws the size of my head and a head four times bigger.  The fact that it was stuffed did not keep my stomach from dropping.  As I stood in front of a hunter that was all muscle in life, and as long as a small car, I knew I had no tricks that could save me.  I just stood there a moment and thought that if I had met this tiger in life, there would be nothing I could do to be in charge of the situation.  I like knowing that I have a way to be in control of things, but I wouldn’t have in that case.  If I were to survive, it would have to be his choice, not mine.

The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom,
And before honor comes humility.
~Proverbs 15:33

That tiger gave me a very small hint of what it is like to fear the Lord.  Still, admitting that we are not in control is only scratching the surface.

I was curious to see if there were different words used in the Greek and Hebrew for fearing God than there were for fearing other things.  Often the original languages add so many helpful visuals because of how specific words can be in their original context.  There are dozens of words for fear in the Bible.  Here are a few that I found most interesting: (If you’re a nerd like me, I hope you enjoy these, but if things like this overwhelm you, just meet me at the bottom of the list.)

‘arats: fear, oppression, to break (Joshua 1:9)

Charadah: take care of, dread, extreme anxiety, trembling (Proverbs 29:25)

Chuwl: dance, writhe, wait anxiously, suffer torture, pain of childbirth

Dechal (Aramaic): fear, make afraid, awesome, dreadful (used only in the book of Daniel [which was Aramaic in part] to refer to the greatness of the king, the statue, terrible dreams, and fear of God)

Giyl: rejoice, be glad, tremble with fear (Psalm 2:11; Psalm 51:8)

Guwr: be a stranger, sojourn, dwell, stir up trouble, dread, stand in awe

Zachal: to shrink, crawl away (sometimes used as a word for reptiles [called crawling things])

Did any of those give you a picture of different kinds of fear?  It was hard for me to keep the list short…  Now, I’m not a Hebrew scholar (yet), but every word I found but one was used to refer to fearing God as well as to fearing other things. ‘arats is used in a positive way when fearing the Lord, even though it is a horrible thing when fearing man.  The words that mean “reverence” are also used to mean being utterly terrified, even in the Greek, where we get words like Phobeo.  Yare’ is a form of the most common word for fearing the Lord.  It literally translates as a feeling in the pit of your stomach.  It is the word used in Proverbs 31:30.

Charm is deceitful, and beauty if vain,
But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.

 

The only word that I found which did not refer to fearing the Lord was chath.  It is only used twice in Scripture.  Once in Genesis 9:2, speaking of how all creatures will be afraid of mankind, and in Job 41:33, to refer to fear that God does not have.  Every other word seems to be used to refer to being afraid of God Himself.  Now, sometimes that is the difference between enemies being afraid of God, and God’s people being afraid of Him.  The creeping away describe in zachal is not used in the same way as the fearful joy of giyl.  Neither is deilia, the Greek word used in 2 Timothy 1:7 used in a positive light.  We are not meant to flee the presence of God, but if we are pursuing sin, we will want to hide when He is in the room.  Even that fear is a gift to remind us that we must become right with Him again.

One last thought before we leave the linguistic discussion.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
~1 John 4:18

This is a verse where we love to take comfort, but it can also be tricky.  To help understand how it fits in with fearing the Lord, remember that it uses the same words as this next passage, phobos and phobeo.

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
~Matthew 10:28

 

Does it feel kind of like we’re back at square one?  Fear involves punishment, so we should not be afraid if we love God, but Jesus Himself said that we should fear God because of… punishment?

by Stephanie H.

Lord, Will I Be Remembered?

 

I’m off like a shot again as soon as I get the inkling that there is something more I can do for the Lord.  Whenever I get antsy, I want to do all of the things that have brought me close to Him before.  I hate to waste a moment, so let me read one of the thickest books in the Bible all in one sitting, or let me fast for a day or two, or pray for someone for a few hours so that they can know the peace and joy of the Lord.  And that does not even cover active ministry.  Let me give everything I have to offer to care for others.  Let me spend all of my free time sharing with everyone the truth of the gospel.

And I get to the end, and I fall apart.

There are so many people around me that need Jesus.  There are so many which He has entrusted to me.  My heart has ached to see how much suffering there is in my small corner of the world.  And yet I can see no fruit…  I have done what I know the Lord has asked of me.  What have I missed?  I know that I get more busy than I should when the Lord would have me be still; He has to remind me so often to be patient and to wait on Him.  He also has my failures and shortcomings with which to work.  I know that I have so much to learn, and that He is used to working through the most broken of people.  It hurts to accept that I have failed, but I know that my God is bigger than that.

I know that I am young.  I do have so much to learn.  The Lord will grow me into the roles and ministries He has prepared for me, and open them to me when His time comes, but for now, I have none of it figured out.  I don’t regret anything I’ve given to the Lord, but I know that He fed over five thousand with a boy’s five loaves and two fish.  Sometimes I wonder if what I have given Him has even fed five.

Retrospect can make it so difficult to relate to the stories in the Bible.  I can quickly read through to see how they end if I do not know already.  The outcome of my own actions lacks that handy feature, so it is easy to forget or simply not understand what it was for patriarchs and disciples to have faith in the moment, because from my side of history, they are all great historic figures and heroes already.  I can hope to be remembered the same way, but how can I know how to live so that I will be when so much that I do seems to come to nothing?

“Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be spoken of in memory of her.”
~Matthew 26:13

Can you imagine how this woman must have felt, to hear Jesus say this of her?  My heart yearns to know that what I do for the Lord can have that lasting impact.  So how did this woman do to gain this priceless recognition from the Son of God?

If we start back at verse seven, we read the story of a woman who comes to Jesus and anoints Him with perfume.  The book of Mark adds that this perfume could easily have been sold for three hundred day’s wages.  This perfume, worth almost a year’s labor, was her life savings.

It makes me ashamed to admit that when I give as generously to the Lord as she did, and do not see the results I expect, a large part of me comes to Jesus with His other indignant disciples and wants to demand “Why this waste?”  Nearly a year’s labor, and no one is fed, no one is clothed, and no one seems to love You any more than the day I started!  I don’t mean to blame Jesus for what I perceive as failures, but that is what I often end up doing.

How we measure success is everything.  This woman’s main goal was to show Jesus how much she loved Him.  Is it any surprise that John chapter twelve identifies her as Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha?  I still have so much to learn from her example.  When all is said and done, I want to know that I did what I did to show Jesus how much I love Him.  It is a struggle, but I want to give to Him unreservedly, regardless of what I or the world see because of it.  He sees, and He understands that same struggle.  When there were five thousand people following Him, He fed them with abundance.  They followed Him after that so that they could see more miracles and eat more food.  Instead, He began to feed them with the truth of salvation, and many of them left because it would cost them too much.

That success I have desired is not as valuable or long term as I would have thought.  The Lord has promised that His people will be fruitful, but I’m not always sure what that fruit is.  When I think I know, I often end up chasing the results rather than my Jesus.  I still have much to learn, but I want to spend my time sitting at His feet, giving Him all that I have, and seeking no more than seeing the love in His eyes, whatever may come.

by Stephanie H.

Following Jesus Like Crazy

 

I was speaking to my mother recently about some of the reactions I received from friends and peers when I first stopped watching television, and her observations led me to do a lot of thinking.

When I stopped watching movies and TV shows, and stopped reading books and listening to music that I knew were not honoring Jesus, my social circles didn’t take it very well.  Some of my friends really listened.  A few were even excited to see where the Lord would lead me.  I lost some friends who were very dear to me.  Most, however, turned it into a debate on theological and cultural relevance.  The arguments were generally the same; they talked about how important it is to have common ground with the rest of the world, how Jesus has called us to be very “in the world” people, and how cowardly or deceived they themselves had been when thinking the same way as I now did.  When they could see that I meant to follow Jesus without popular media and wouldn’t change my mind, the discussion would end with the promise that they would pray for me—in the way that indicated they would ask Jesus to make me normal again.

As I was recounting this to my mother, she tacked on an interesting thought.

“If you had told them that you had been reading way too much of the Bible lately, and that you were going to take a break–”

I was baffled at the truth of the thought before she even finished saying it.

They probably would have been fine with it.

Some probably would even have been curious and interested in it.  I don’t say that simply because any of them disagreed with my either.  I know there would have been some who would have at least cautioned me not to take it too far.  Others would probably give me the conversational equivalent of a tackle, or hold an intervention.  Still, most of those to whom I spoke about giving up television—knowing me to be a theology nerd—would have been at least curious, if not in full support of me cutting back on my time with Jesus.

I had to think on it for a while after that conversation.  I thought of the fact that most Christians probably wouldn’t notice the difference in a fellow believer’s life if they stopped reading their Bible.  As long as they are still involved in church, and do their best to be nice, would you or I know the difference?  Would they even seem more normal and pleasant?  Do we even know how much the Christians around us spend time with Jesus?

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the path of recent Christian history, it became embarrassing for Christians (the people who name themselves after Jesus) to know Him, talk about Him, spend time with Him, obey Him, and love Him more than life, limb, family, and the world around us.  It is hardly even spoken of if a Christian is acting in a way that pulls them away from Jesus, because “we shouldn’t judge them” and “we don’t know what is in their hearts.”  So we all label ourselves as “Christians”, but we identify with sports, or characters in movies, or celebrities, our our favorite hobbies, or what school we attend.  That is why so many became offended when I stopped watching television.  In many ways, Christianity is a label, but popular culture is a lifestyle.

Does that make your heart weep?

It all reminds me of what C.S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle.  All of the talking animals were afraid to speak up when there was a fake lion pretending to be the real Aslan.  They had always been told that Aslan was “not a tame lion,” so how could they argue if He was not the way they thought He would be?  They didn’t know Him.

The real devil has done this in the real world so long, that we are afraid to imagine that there is a true Jesus who can be seen, and heard, and touched, and known.  What if we offend Him be presuming to know Him when we do not?  Best to leave Him as a symbol, and Christianity a label, and focus on things in the “real” world, like celebrities and long novels.

So then, the very reason that Christians are offended when I give up popular culture, and when I talk too much about Jesus and read my Bible more than is natural in someone my age, is exactly why I must talk about Jesus even more and read my Bible more than anyone ever has, if I can.

Because Jesus is real.  I know Him.  True, I don’t know Him much when compared with how infinitely more I can know Him, but how can that mean that I should never try?  It would offend Him to presume that He lies when He says that He wants us to know Him more than anything else in the world.

My dear Sister, never compromise your relationship with Jesus in order to be trendy or culturally relevant.  Trust Him.  Trust Him, and when your friends, family, and peers push you to be normal again, push harder into His presence.  Push like crazy, because crazy is all that the world will see.  Pray.  Seek Him, know Him, obey Him, and watch all that He will show you along the way.  The adventure of knowing Him is without compare.  After all, He isn’t safe, but He is good.
He’s not a tame lion.  We cannot be docile Christians.
by Stephanie H.

How to Have the WORST Valentines Day EVER!

 

“‘Worst?’ Why would I want to have the *WORST* Valentine’s Day ever?”

 

Well, that is a good question. But…you’re reading the article now, aren’t you. 😉
However, this sentiment is basically exactly what our actions speak about what is going on in our hearts. The moping, the self-pity, the long sighs…all these things shout, “I’m having a terrible Valentine’s Day! Pity me!”

Now, being a single-twenty something has its perks. More time to myself, the ability to travel freely, lots of ‘girl time’ with friends, and being able to pour out into others’ lives in a unique way. Even though I have hard days where I’m longing over Pinterest boards, I am learning to be honored that the Lord entrusted me with this time of my life. I want to learn every lesson He would teach me. Right here. Right now.

This being said, when February rolls around, it is associated with a magic number. “14”.

Ahhhh..Valentine’s Day.

Jokingly called Singles Awareness Day (S.A.D.), it is one day where singles tend to feel left out of the ‘club’. Advertisements for Cards, Roses, and Chocolates bombard your senses in every store. Exclusive ‘Valentines Day’ perfumes tantalize your sense as you walk past Mall kiosks.

So what’s a (single) girl to do? I mean, aside from buying all that chocolate for *yourself*?

As I alluded to before, one of the most common (and easiest) reactions is self-pity. ‘Another year…alone’. I fall into this snare often; however, I don’t want to stay there and I don’t want YOU to stay there. My social circle consists of mostly 12-19 year olds, most of whom are girls. I don’t exactly have hoards of young beaus flocking to my door. But this year, I want to share with you a few things (personal and then practical) that the Lord has reminded me of this week—truths to cling to when you feel alone.

1)      God honors prayers. He hears us. He hears our heart’s desires. He remembers prayers that have been prayed, even when WE don’t remember praying them! If you have a desire to be married, know that God hears you. I don’t know what the future holds for you. But, the truth is, He has HIS best in mind for us. It may not always be clear—but He knows and remembers us. Even this week, the Lord reminded me that I have prayed for my heart’s protection ever since I was little. Even though it is “natural” human desire to appreciate attention, I have earnestly prayed that the Lord would be my Guard—that He would keep all the “Mr. NOT-Right”s away. I don’t want attention for the sake of attention. I want God’s best. In little steps, He is teaching me to be thankful and cherish His protection over my heart.

 

2)      The Lord reminded me this week that singleness is also His opportunity to care for me in a special way. It may not always be the world’s perspective of ‘fun’, but it is so special. To curl up on your bed and spend time talking to the One who understands the core of your soul? Priceless. I have seen the Lord care for me as a Father by providing for my every financial need, my emotional needs, and my spiritual needs. Ask Him to take care of you. He loves to do it!

 

3)      He is the best Valentine Date. Ever. Last Valentine’s Day, I went on a walk with Him through the field near my house. I cannot express the contentment of a soul when it is in the presence of Jesus Christ. In Him, we are made whole. In Jesus, insecurities don’t exist. There is no comparison. There is no size requirement. There is nothing lacking, because He is our all. His voice is the one we long most to hear. His is the wisdom which baffles man. His is the love which isn’t hinged upon our “performance”. He is God. The one whom my soul loves, and longs to know MORE. He is my favorite Valentine…and He can really be yours, too.

 

So, here’s the practical. If you WANT to have the WORST Valentine’s Day ever, feel free to wallow in self-pity. But…if you want to have a joyful, and even fruitful day…why not try out some of these ideas instead! Here are a few things I have done which get my focus off myself and back on serving others.

1)      Get dressed up and go out to eat with some girl friends

2)      Host a girl night at your house/dorm room

3)      Make Valentines and send them to Widows, Single friends, etc.

4)      Bake Cookies and give them to others (Law enforcement, mail carriers, etc)

5)      Make a special dinner for your family

6)      Find verses about “love” and make decorations for your house/room

7)      Watch a couple’s children so they can have a (probably much needed) night out

 

What about you? How do you celebrate Valentine’s day—single or married! Do you have any new ideas for this year that you’re going to give a try??

by Anna Faith.

Is Giving Better than Receiving?

 

by Stephanie H.

 

Is giving better than receiving?

 

The obvious answer is, yes, of course it is.  And that is very true.  Focusing on what we have and what we get immediately puts a wall between us and God.  The last of the Ten Commandments tells us that coveting what belongs to others, wishing we could have it as good as we think everyone else has it, turns our eyes away from Jesus, and leads to a whole host of other sins.

 

So it does seem like a silly question.

Let me continue.

 

I grew up wanting to be very independent, and learned to be very good at it.  My grandparents were raised to be hard workers who took care of themselves, and considered it a matter of honor not to “take charity”.  You do what it takes to provide for your family, and for your neighbors in need, but there are always others who will need the help more than you do.  They never wanted to be a burden to anyone else by not being useful, or being unprepared for whatever life had to throw at them.  That work ethic trickled down into me as well.

 

Determination not to be idle, and to do one’s part are very valuable traits to have, but they can also be used to focus us on ourselves and to distract us from Jesus’ work in and through us.  For years, my determination to be independent and to be useful to others led me to bottling up every problem I had so that I would never have to be a burden to anyone.  Even now, being blessed to bring my every fear and concern to my Savior, it is easy for me to use that as an excuse never to rely on others for prayer, especially when I am stressed or feeling inadequate.

 

Jesus knows me so well though.  There are times that He draws me away from others so that I can spend time alone in the quiet with Him.  Then there are times when I can hardly pray a word or read a verse without Him pressing me to seek others out, share my weaknesses, and pray with them.  When I obey those promptings, it is such a blessing.  There are so many intricate ways He has to urge me to overcome my proud independence.

 

I had to confront all of this rather recently at work.  The Lord has blessed me with coworkers who truly love Him, and they have been a wonderful blessing to me.  The path on which Jesus is leading me had me living on very little, and they provided help for me in that time.  It made my independence squirm.  I hadn’t realized I had so much pride left!  At first I wanted a reason not to accept their gift, then I wanted to find someone who needed that help more than I did, and give it away as soon as possible so that I could go back to having only a little again!  Do you ever feel that it is easier to accept reluctant help than it is to accept help eagerly given out of love, without even having to ask for it?

 

Receiving sincere gifts, with no obligations and no flattery attached, really forces us to be vulnerable.  It forces us to admit a need.  How often do we want to do that?  In those times, it can be so easy to hide behind Jesus as an excuse for not needing help from His people.  Sometimes He does have us accept less from others than they are willing to provide.  Think of Paul, working as a tent-maker so that the churches he was helping would not have to pay for his needs.  Other times, we stubbornly choose to live in the wilderness out of habit, rather than allowing Him to show us the joy and glory of relying on our brothers and sisters, even as He has them rely on us.  That relationship, and the vulnerability that comes with it, strengthens us together as the body of Christ, and teaches us so much about Him that we never could have known on our own while resisting the call to depend on each other.

 

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. ~James 1:17

 

When the Lord calls us to give of ourselves, He is allowing us to be involved with Him in what He loves most.  Yet He shows us something so magnificent when we sit and watch with Him as others have the opportunity to experience that same joy of giving.  It is also a strong and comforting reminder that we are not the ones who cause good things to happen.  He loves to have us involved, but it is such a humble blessing to be taught to close our eyes and hold out our hands for the blessings He has prepared through others.  Be willing to receive, and see what love He will shower upon you.

Count the Towers

 

by Stephanie H.
“Walk about Zion, and go around her; 
Count her towers; 
Consider her ramparts; 
Go through her palaces; 
That you may tell it to the next generation.  
For such is God, 
Our God forever and ever; 

He will guide us until death.”  ~Psalm 48:12-14

 

I really loved what Tai had to say in her post about Psalm 84 and the highways to Zion.  It was on my mind when I read the above passage.  We have such a great blessing in the history that has gone before us.

Sometimes it can be easy to look back on the heroes of the Bible and think they had it easy, but can you imagine what it was like for Abram to hear from a God no one knew, and simply obey the call to leave everything he did know?  Perhaps, even Abram fell back on the story of Noah.  Noah’s son, Shem, was still alive when Abram left Ur, after all.  It wasn’t a story; even if it was nearly a thousand years later, it was recent history to Abram.  What about Noah?  What did he have to fall back on when God told him to build an ark in order to survive a weather phenomenon that had never happened before?  Well, Noah’s father was born before Adam died.  Even the first people to put faith in God with radical results were not operating on blind faith.  They faced great opposition, but they could see that putting their trust in God was trusting in a stronghold that has never yet been taken by the enemy.

We are very small people.  God’s work will never be undone, but sometimes it is the easiest thing in the world for the enemy to convince us that we are not allowed into the stronghold of Zion.  We have trusted the Lord this far, but we get to thinking that maybe next time our luck will run out, or that we will fail Him, and He will be right in leaving us in a situation for which we blame ourselves.

In times like these, I have found that my greatest comfort and encouragement comes from going about Zion, and counting her towers.  Often, that means going into Scripture and reading of all of the faithful who have gone before me with the Lord.  Hebrews eleven is wonderful on this point.  Who was Abraham?  Just a man who trusted enough to leave his home when God called.  Who was Moses?  Just a man who trusted enough to return to the nation that had wanted him dead, in order to bring over a million people out of slavery and into a desert with no food and hardly any water, all because God told him to do it.  Who was Rahab?  Just a woman who had heard of what the Lord God had done, and trusted the safety of her family to Him.  None of these people are very shining examples of natural trust or skill.  Don’t be afraid if you’re not either.  Consider the ramparts.  A castle is meant to hold the weak inside it.

One of the other ways in which I love to walk about Zion is to recount the ways God has worked in my life, particularly within the past year.  There have been circumstances that would have made me feel like a colossal failure if I had not already seen my brothers and sisters go through the same things, and seen what God had done for them through those situations.  Recently, I received a strong reminder that I am not at all naturally good at the job God has called me to do.  I grew up believing that the best way to be a better person is through militant perfectionism that never shows any weakness.  It has been something that the Lord has been lovingly addressing in my life, but I realized recently what an influence that mindset can still have on the way that I act.  It was a cause of distress, but I have seen the Lord soften my heart so much before now.
“I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in [me] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 1:6

 Our strongest faith comes when we believe that God is more real than our fears and circumstances, and that Zion is a stronghold that is greater than the weapons of the enemy.

We are just one small piece of the history of God’s faithfulness.  We rely heavily on those who have gone before us, but there are also those who will see what God has done in our lives and find strength to trust in Him because of it.  Count the towers to strengthen your faith, and to tell it to the next generation.  Faith takes us out on limbs when God calls us to live in deserts with no water, and to receive our daily bread from ravens.

Sound crazy?  Excellent.  That is when others will see that it is the Lord who can be trusted, and not our own worldly wisdom.  It is in the against-all-odds circumstances that He shows Himself so that we may shout “Such is God!  Our God forever and ever!  Who is like our God?  Just wait and see what He will do!”  And such is God.  Our God forever and ever.  And He will guide us even until death.  Keep counting the towers.  Keep considering the ramparts.  Keep going through Zion’s palaces, until you finally enter the throne room in person.

Kneeling to Pray

 

 

by Stephanie H.

 

We can read about it in classic literature, we see it in paintings and other art in the church, even modern comics and movies that feature little children show little pajama-ed knees bent in prayer, sometimes with teddy bears sharing the same posture.
So why do we kneel to pray?
Sure, we don’t always have to kneel to talk to the Lord.  If we’re to pray without ceasing, we’re going to have to stand up and walk around at the same time!  So why is it so traditional to kneel while praying?
Consider this parable from Luke 18:10-14
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, on a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer.  The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer.  I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all I get.’  But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating 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 shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
 
Now, don’t think that the only way to approach the Lord in prayer is to crawl up in agony because of all of your sins.  Look at the contrasted postures of these two men.  The one was praying “thus to himself” (an interesting choice of words), thanking God for how great he himself was, but talking of himself more than anything.  If this were a conversation with the Lord, what would the Pharisee expect Him to say?  Meanwhile, the tax-gatherer begs God to act on His promise to be merciful to the repentant.  He is humble, and knows that the Lord is the one with the power to be merciful, rather than believing, like the Pharisee, that he is the one who can make himself good enough to talk to God.  We don’t earn the privilege to talk to God by being important enough for His attention.  No one could ever be important enough to get the attention of an eternal God.  We can best approach Him in prayer when we realize that He is willing to come down to listen to people that will never really be worth anything all by themselves.
Have you ever tried to make a business deal with God?
“Dear Lord, I would really like to have this, and here is what I would do for You if You let me…” or “Dear Lord, my friend needs help, and here are all the reasons they deserve the best…”
They are sincere prayers, but when I pray this way, it always leaves me anxious, wondering if I have said the right things in the right way to convince God that it really would be in His best interest to listen.  Sounds rather like the Pharisee again, doesn’t it?  It is so easy to imagine that prayer gives me the power to tap into God’s attention and favor if I can just say the right things.
I teach at a small Christian school, and one of my favorite portions of our morning prayers reminded me recently of the true posture of prayer.  Every person that is able kneels on one knee as the Great Commission is read:
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”  ~Matthew 28:18-20
 
What are those first words?  “All power is given unto me…” 
 
Jesus is the one who has all power in heaven and in earth.  Because of that, He’s given us a job to do.  It isn’t a project we are left to figure out on our own, execute on our own, and then hope that it is good enough for His liking.  “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
 
If your reading this, I’m guessing the world hasn’t ended.  That means that the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is present with you, and eager to show you the work that He has prepared for you to do.
Imagine a good and honorable king, at war with a vicious enemy.  At the moment, his wise eyes are surveying little figures on a mapped table that represent the movements of his troops and the enemy’s.  A knight rushes in and kneels before hastily making his petition:
“Sire, several of your men have been captured, and are being held in the enemy’s fortress.”
Or perhaps…
“Sire, the battalion on the northern front is desperate for supplies.”
“Sire, the enemy is spreading lies that are crippling morale, and causing many of your troops to lose hope.”
What is this knight expecting to hear?  An order.  Of course, he will eagerly watch to see how his king will respond to this news.  If he is a young knight, he may worry when his king acknowledges the need and dismisses him, or when his king gives him an order that does not make sense, but the king is wise and careful.  His plans have far-reaching results beyond any short term solutions his young knights may offer.
Our prayer is when we come into the presence of the King, remember that the battle is His, and spend time in His presence, to learn the depth of integrity of His character, and be involved in His will in whatever way He chooses.
Now, the effectiveness of our prayers do not rely on us literally kneeling, or imagining kings and knights and battles when we pray, but it has been something that has really helped me in my prayers lately.  The more time that I spend in prayer and in the Word, the more I come to trust the Lord with some things.  Even so, it is very easy for me to work myself up into distraction as I try to pray in such a way to earn immediate results.  When that happens, one of the quickest ways out of that state of worry…
Surrender my plans.
Kneel before the throne.

Contentment in Serving God…His Way.

 

 

servinggodblog

 

I struggle with lots of things. Shocking, I know. 😛

But one of my biggest ongoing struggles has been wanting to be more fruitful than I am…and, in spite of being on tour half of the year specifically to go around sharing the gospel with people all over North America, with my family, I often feel so useless….and have a list of TONS of things that *I* want to do for the Lord that would be *way* more fruitful than what I’m doing….at least, in my mind, that’s the way it seems.

But, the other day, a thought suddenly came to me…that  my struggles are just like this scenario:

What if my husband came and asked me to go out to dinner with him…and I responded with, “Well…that’s nice, BUT…I already have a list of things that I’m going to do for you that will make you REALLY happy. I’m going to clean the house, vacuum, scrub the floor, and mow the lawn – because I know all that will make you really happy!”

But…what my husband actually wanted was just for me to go to dinner with him. And, while all of those other things might actually *be* a blessing to him at a different time, at that moment, if I was refusing to go out with him so that I could do all those other things instead, OR if I went out, but I was continually talking about how I should actually be doing all of those other things instead because they would have been more useful or more of a blessing to him…..that would NOT be actually blessing his heart. AND it would probably both take away from the sweetness of the time that could have been had, and also it would ruin his plans for blessing me and just having a sweet night.

Well, it’s the same with God. There have been times that I know He has asked me to do some “projects” (like my magazine, books, etc.), and when He has asked it of me, He has made it to be in the perfect timing and has blessed it, and caused it to be completed, making my small windows of time to be very efficient.

BUT…if I am continually wishing I could do all these “fruitful” things that I feel would bless Him *more* than what He has set before me right now (like being on tour, being a mommy to two kiddos, etc.), that is really not a blessing to His heart, and in fact, it takes away from the sweetness of being with Him and being faithful in what He has set before me, and fills my heart with discontentment and endless struggles.

I’m praying that God shows me how to be JOYFULLY content in His will, as well as fruitful in being faithful with what He has set before me.

What about you?

 

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Attitude Is Everything

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By: Sarah Louise

So you’re absentmindedly walking down the sidewalk with your dog Maggy in tow (who doesn’t really want to be there any more than you do) and the sky starts to cloud over. You were too lazy to pull on a jacket on your way out the door, so the chilly air is too cold and the sprinkling rain is gradually starting to soak through your clothes. You kick at a rock and grumble something about why doesn’t Mom ever make your little brother take Maggy for a walk, and as the cars go by and the raindrops get bigger, you’re thinking that this is not exactly what you had in mind for your Saturday afternoon. You would rather be almost anywhere else but here. Grumble grumble grumble. Life stinks.

 

But what if you were to stop right there, turn your thoughts on Jesus, and allow Him to turn your sour mood into cheerfulness? What if you stopped dragging your feet through the puddles, picked up the pace a little bit, and looked up to Jesus through the rain with a song in your heart and a smile on your face and start to tell Him how much you appreciate the opportunity to get out of the house and get alone with Him? This would please Him so much, and it would turn a drab walk into a sweet, beautiful opportunity to be with Jesus. He may even bring someone across your path whom you could bless with a smile on a rainy day or a little bit of sunshine in a kind word or deed. But not if you let that bitter attitude get the best of you!

 

Think about this: The attitude that we have in any given moment will give others around us a glimpse either into our own selfish flesh or into the heart of Jesus.

 

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” 

Philippians 2:3-4

 

Being female, with all of our unruly and seemingly uncontainable emotions, and added to that, all of our insecurities and selfishness, can make having a Christ-like attitude very difficult. Let’s face it. We can try all day long to be loving, selfless, and sweet, but in the end, we are still weak, broken, and full of ourselves, only looking out for our own needs or desires. There are so many different types of bad attitudes that we can fall into!

 

Our natural impulses and responses are always bent toward self-preservation. It is so much easier to just let a sassy or sarcastic remark tumble out, or to roll our eyes as a show of disdain, or manipulate people with a pouty face or a look to get what we want. We have a natural bent toward laziness, wanting everyone else to do what we are unwilling to do ourselves because it inconveniences us.

 

If you feel that none of these things apply to you, just examine your attitudes throughout the day today and pray that God will help you see sin clearly. You’ll probably be sickened to realize how often your attitude is actually very wrong, even in subtle ways!

 

On top of our own natural flesh (our sin nature) working against us, as we go about each day, we are constantly immersed in a culture that exalts self, encourages girls to be flirty and sassy, and throws away femininity as if it were a thing of the past. I’m sure many would agree, that the words “sweet,” “gentle,” “caring,” and “lovely” could never be used (in general) to describe the females of this generation, and most women have no desire to be seen as sweet, gentle, caring, or lovely because these things have gone out of style today.

 

Though it can be a fierce struggle, like taking a bull by the horns, we who belong to Jesus must allow the Lord to search our hearts and change our very natures in order that our attitudes may be conformed to His image. We must pray that God would help us to respond the way He would instead of the way we always do.

 

“A tranquil heart is life to the body,” Proverbs 14:30

 

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb,

                        Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24

 

“Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man,

                        But any fool will quarrel.” Proverbs 20:3

 

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing [arguing];” Philippians 2:14

 

Practically speaking, what can we do differently? Do we have to stop being female? No, of course not! We need to learn how to behave the way that God intends females to behave, allowing His Spirit to take over our words, thoughts, and actions, and stamping down our flesh so that it doesn’t have a say in how we react or respond.

 

“But let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” 1 Peter 3:4

 

Just think about it! We have amazing opportunities every day to shine for Jesus. You can make someone else’s day brighter and add a little sweetness to their world.

 

Try starting simple!

–       Smile! Consciously make an effort to smile throughout the day! Smile at the people you are around at the store, at school, at home, at work. Smile when you are asked to help with something.

–       Add some sunshine to someone’s day! Be cheerful! You will need a lot of help from the Lord to be cheerful for even a few minutes, but if you pray, He will help you! There are so many people who go about depressed and full of fear and worry. Don’t be like that! Jesus was not depressed or somber. He was the most cheerful person there ever was and many people were filled with hope and felt His love because He was so joyful and glad all the time! Greet people kindly as you walk down the street or through the store, and looking up instead of at the ground will make your day bright and sunny!

–       Make eye contact! When you look people in the eye it makes them feel like you really care and are interested in what they are saying. It shows them that you acknowledge them and that you want to be there talking with them.

–       Don’t join in the bad attitudes of others. When you hear or see others feeling depressed or speaking rudely about or to others, don’t join in. Don’t be rude or sassy just because you want to fit in with someone who is.

 

Another important thing to watch out for is your attitudes when you go to pray. Is your attitude toward Him complaining or whiny? Do you pray actually expecting Him to answer or do you dryly and indifferently run through your prayer list feeling as though you have accomplished your obligation to Him? Cheerfulness in prayer is part of having faith that God hears and will answer. It shows Him that you really love and trust Him! You can brighten God’s day!

 

This goes for when you are joining with other believers in prayer as well! Do you participate in prayer at Bible study or youth group or church? Do you join in with real intent and focus? Or do you quietly sit back bored and yawning wondering when it will ever be done? Or are you concentrating so hard on making your prayers sound good to the people around you that you don’t even connect with God? Remember, God is the one you are praying to for real answers. It’s not about trying to impress God by having your body present, and it’s not about impressing people with how you worded your prayer. Both of these attitudes are pride and you might as well not even be there!

 

Attitude is everything! Whether we are just going about our day or whether we’re in prayer or whatever we’re doing, whoever we’re with. Allow the Lord to show you the areas in your life where your attitude has been wrong and let Him help you to change! With His help, and a little bit of effort, your day can be full of sunshine, even on those chilly, rainy days!

A Prodigal Constraint

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by Stephanie H

My dearest, most beloved son whom I have forgiven,

Please do me the kindness of reading this letter through to its end.  Do not be afraid of the words I have written in it.  Do not be afraid of what I will think of you for having read them.  I love you, my son.  It is a fact that will never change.  You are as dear to me as a son now as you were when you were born, when you left home, and when you returned.  I welcomed you with all that I have.  Do you still not believe it?

The first days after your return, there was joy and peace over your entire face like sunshine.  What crept into you after that?  You grew quiet when I would enter the room.  I would hear you as you told your brother of the time we had spent together, but you held your tongue whenever I joined you, and refused to meet my eyes.  When I ask, you tell me everything is fine.  You made excuses then, now you only mumble.  I am not blaming you.  My dear son, you have not failed me.  I see your fear at what I might say, but how can I comfort you if you will not let me in?

You know that I found your ring back in the chest where I used to keep it.  I wish that you would keep it.  I gave it to you as a reminder of my love.  Have you forgotten?  I love you, my son.  Yes, you are my son.  That will never change.  You could not hide it when you stopped wearing the robes that I gave you.  Do you mean to prove that I have not loved you after all?  You cannot convince me that you are too much a failure that I cannot love you.  I will always love you.  If scrubbing the floor instead of eating at my table, mucking the stall instead of riding your donkey, and sleeping on the floor instead of your bed are not enough to prove your humility, will you run away from home again?  I cannot help you if you force me away.

How could I not see your earring?  Would you declare your loyalty to me as a slave when I have offered to you my heart and everything that I own?  Oh, how it grieves me!  You know as well as your brother the number of servants in my pay.  Shall I lose a son that I would gain a stable boy?  The work I taught you when you were young was so that we could be father and son together.  Every task I desire is done at the snap of my fingers, if that were what I desired.  I desire your love infinitely more than your gestures of humiliation.  My son, I love you.  Why will you not spend time with me?

What will it cost to prove to yourself that you have repaid me?  Do you count the hours you have worked as wages with which you could replace what you lost in your days of sin?  Do the tears that you hide come when you weigh yourself against a vanished fortune and find yourself wanting?  It is true, the loss was great.  Beloved son, I forgave you that debt.  Even if it were small enough to be repaid, would I choose to gain back a few tarnished coins rather than receive the son of my own blood?  I have made the way for you to return to me.  Do not weep to think that your hard labors are your only hope for salvation.  You would see it if only you would come into the light.

There are so many things that I have wanted to share with you these past years.  The joyful hours we were meant to spend together while you were lost, now again waiting for you while you work yourself to exhaustion.  If you will come with me, they are still waiting for us.  It is not too late.  I have asked your brother and sisters to tell you the same.  You still speak to them, but they have yet to convince you.  Have you not seen how I have forgiven them their faults?  Why should you be any less precious to me, my beloved son?  I received you with open arms when you returned to my house.  Will you forever shy away from my heart?  Please, come home to me.

I love you eternally,

~Abba