If you’re thoughts have been a mess, maybe it’s time you gave yourself a little time-out

Here’s a peak at some thoughts I journaled earlier today:

I can’t sleep and I’m kept awake in the wee morning hours by the thought that if I could flawlessly execute a request to God I could beat the system. Pain could be a distant memory if only I could unlock the code of my deep desires and get God to grant them! What a lie for Satan to feed me. He pushes me to believe words that are contrary to my Savior’s words: You’re not making the best use of God; His best for you is dependent on the activation of your initiative and imagination, in lieu of these you’ll be neglected.

How many of you are aware that Satan has been feeding you the same deceptions? Your nights are too often ones in which you kept awake by conflicts that He arranges in your head–conflicts that are made of fear and dread toward your Maker. You go over your actions and misdemeanors of the day again and again in search of the secret solution that will deliver you from guilt for what you did wrong (or not quite right). Somewhere in the back of your head you’re convinced that this is what God requires of you at the close of each day. If you don’t have your nightly guilt-session then something must have come unglued your conscience-to-brain wiring.

But is this really what God wants for you? For this to be the case, you must assume that God expects you to be drowned in obsessive thoughts about yourself on a consistent basis. And, you must suppose that He sees this as a good thing–both for your sake and for His. I don’t think you can do that if you really understand God’s character. For Him to be a proponent of self-centered thoughts in you would mean that He could not be steadfast proponent of having your thoughts diligently trained on Him.

The more I get to know God, the more I become convinced that He wants nothing less than for each of us to have our thoughts consumed with thoughts of Him. He was meant to be the focus of our thoughts, of our very beings, and if this is not the case, we are out of focus. Hence, being endlessly focused on self.

There is no good thing that can come out of me pouring over my own performance. I know, that sounds so contrary to what we would expect to be the case! We think there is nothing that God cares about more than our performance–isn’t that the greatest thing that He puts emphasis on when it comes to salvation?

Well, if we look at His plan of salvation, we must be convinced that this idea couldn’t be farther from the truth. God didn’t make a big deal of our performance in salvation–except to show us that it was forever insufficient to be called righteousness. He chose, instead, to put His Son’s performance in the place of ours and make us righteous by grace and not by law-keeping on our part. He revealed His character in His desire to draw us to Himself.

This is a reality that Satan would forever seek to hide from us. In fact, he does all he can to obscure the truth that God is for us. Everything he tells us he twists–whether he makes the love of God a reason for us to legitimately destroy ourselves or the judgment of God an excuse for us to rebel against God. The things I find most tricky are when he makes himself seem so superior in spiritual affairs. He convinces me of what God wants of me–usually with a strong emphasis on the wrath of God. He implies that God’s wrath is His most dominant characteristic–the one thing with which I must steadfastly occupy myself.

I often do not realize that while the wrath of God is a very biblical concept, it cannot be properly understood outside of its boundaries. The import that Satan gives it strips God’s justice of all its passion for holiness. He makes it appear directionless and unavoidable. His constant reminders dull my sense of the blessing it is that my God is just and good. The fact is that Satan doesn’t ever draw my attention to one of God’s characteristics and link it with the idea of that being good; he brings a negative connotation to everything about God.

Therefore, I need to be careful to submit my thoughts to Christ and ask Him to train them in the ways of His mind. I do not want to be dominated by the mind of the devil–I want his schemes against the fame of God to be defeated every time and in every place he tries to lodge them within me. The more I surrender my thoughts to God’s directing, the more I discover the blessing He meant for me to have in His presence. My thoughts become a joy and even a weapon of defense against the tempter who tries to steal my sleep. Now that we’ve gotten our minds settled, what do you say if we both go get some rest?

 

The hardest sinners I find to love

This post started out with the title The sinners I find it hardest to love. But, as I thought more about what my greatest frustration with others is, I found that I fail to understand how to love what is hard. For example, how do you love someone who is more like stone than pliable personality? Even more simply, what does one do with such an individual? When someone is like a stone–harsh and unmoving with a “set” quality to their character–how am I supposed to give and receive life while I am with them? I have spent many hours puzzling over this in the course of my life, and the only thing I’ve decided so far is that it impossible–from my viewpoint, anyway.

The hardest part in trying to learn how to love them is not their sin–in itself–but their commitment to it. Their heart is hard and unable to be molded. I resent their comfort with themselves; the lack of acknowledgment they show towards their own need for change. Often, they are the first one to tell you that you need to change. On the one hand, I agree with them. Yes, I do need to change. It is a given. But, please, whatever you do, don’t use my need to change as an excuse for you to not regard change as a necessity for yourself.

An unwillingness to change or be challenged seems like a kind of death to me. People who live out such a commitment seem to breathe out the death that they allow to stay shut up inside. It’s a fearful cycle. And I so often wish I had the liberty of removing them from it. I think, Why wouldn’t you want to be the best you can be? Why wouldn’t you want to mend your broken ways? I don’t fully understand the unwillingness to acknowledge personal brokenness. That seems so childish to me. Grow up and face the truth, I think; don’t you see that you’re caging yourself up because you don’t?

But no one heeds my internally voiced suggestions. Naturally, this aggravates me exceedingly. Don’t they know I want what is best for them? How can they be so blind to what is needed in their life? It is evident to me, as I write this, that in all these detours, I am trying in vain to take on the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those around me. I think He is somehow to weak and if I take on the job their could be powerfully positive developments. Clearly God needs my help.

But maybe I’m just as blind as the people with whom I’m angry. Maybe the reason for my disgruntled attitude is a problem that is deeper and more personal than I think. Could it be that I’m trying to control more than God has given me power over? If so, this could only be because I was making an idol of the contributions others make to my life–I am lifting them above God and thinking that’s okay.

Has my thinking become an expression of self-exoneration? My actions–even when they are solely at the heart level–reveal my propensity to play the God-puppet in the production of my life. I have commandeered His part so that I can be sure it is acted-out right. But this makes me wonder if I quench the Holy Spirit in myself when I try to play Him for others.

Am I condemning God with my beliefs? If I diminish the usefulness of His ministry to others, I cannot properly be reverencing His presence and activity in my own heart. I must choose whether I will see Him as sovereign in all parts of life or in none.

When I think about what I’m not satisfied with around me–even when it comes to spiritual things–am I putting my own comfort become God’s Lordship? If I think God has to earn the title of Lord, then I have automatically usurped His reign. I think He must prove Himself to me and I do not even see the error in this.

The last question that comes to mind invites me to recognize my ignorance about myself and the graciousness of God to put me in situations that reveal this in ways that move me to action: Do I need to change more than I thought? Perhaps God has not revealed to me all the hardness of my own heart, yet, and I need to encounter the hardness of others hearts to be able to recognize the inflexibility in my own.

I haven’t solved the love problem yet–that is, how I will love others that I currently don’t–but maybe me being able to love others is not the central problem. Maybe God’s love completely permeating me is the problem. Perhaps my greatest concern daily should be that my own heart is being made ever-more tender toward God. Maybe seeing the hardness of others hearts should be a reality check for me–

Lord, I can easily see their hardness toward You, but please show me my own hardness toward You that I can’t see. I know I’m not as tender as You want me to be; I’ve come a long way, but I’m not as far as You dream for me. So please, remove some more of the obstacles in my heart to the change You yet intend for me. I may just find that I’m harder in places than I thought I was–and I need just as much Holy-Spirit softener to act upon me as the person I can’t stand right now!

 

Funny for no fantastic reason!

Funny things happen to each of us every day. They hide under the guise of ordinary things. Sometimes we need to sharpen our radar so we don’t miss them. They are God’s little gifts to help us walk through life and its trials with resilience and joy. Crack a smile today and let go of a little laugh. If you need a little help, sample some of these tummy-tumbler tee-hees.

Toto, tata, tee-tee…today is your day to get your teeth waxed!

Aren’t you glad you didn’t treat your sinus infection back when it was weaker, now that you need an excuse to stay home from work?

Don’t remember where your keys are? Try checking the attic, where you sent your husband long before dark…

People who doze, grouse and mosey around…they just don’t come around as often now that I cleaned out the flower beds of all my pet-une-yas that kept calling them over.

Remember how things were when you kids were young, because you are the only one who will…

Think you’re having a day of trauma today? Why not look ahead at the stuff planned for next week and be pleasantly relieved that God didn’t let Satan have a heyday and schedule it all for you today! Perhaps today isn’t so un-fantastic as you thought!

Feel like you’re wilting in the sun? Maybe you should be glad that you’re not blooming in the shade.

Studying Scripture–what a bore, right?

I don’t know about you, but more than thinking studying the Word of God is boring, I have thought it was impossible. I mean, reading I can do…sometimes. But, getting deep into the meaning of the passage and dissecting the intention behind what is written–how can I be expected to plunge into such religiously intense depths?

It’s not just because I don’t see myself as that kind of person, I also feel that I lack the knack to succeed at it. Of course, I want to know God and understand Him as well as I can, but I just don’t study and I are compatible to that end. Other things do it for me, like prayer, reading Christian living books, listening to sermons, talking to friends who are walking with God. These are all great ways of engaging truth about God, but I sense His Spirit calling me to go deeper. I just wonder, How?

Maybe you find yourself in the same place. You don’t know what to do with yourself when you’re in the place of digging deeper into the Word of God. Maybe you have been in contexts where studying Scripture was one of the assigned activities you had to engage in. Perhaps you sat there with your Bible open, willing to study, if only someone would show you just how you should do that.

Don’t be discouraged if this is you. God knows where you’re starting out when He calls you to investigate the truth of His Word. He knows your obstacles and your insecurities–and He knows just how to help you!

Now, granted, being a great Bible-studying person will not come over night. There is trial and error with this. Lots of it. But, there is the quiet moving of the Holy Spirit behind all of this too. Here is there to strengthen our desire and subsidize our ability. He is eager to lift the deep and unsearchable things of Christ off the page. The only thing He really wants to work on in you is that you would want to receive these things, that you would be willing to work persistently after having them.

He does not want you to feel that the burden is all on you to discover who He is and what He wants to say. Instead, He asks that you acknowledge that He is the only One Who is qualified to teach you all that pertains to His grace and His truth. You discipline yourself, therefore, to put yourself in a place fitting one who waits for God and is ready to receive what He gives. Why don’t you try this the next time you pick up His Word. Disregard your own ability to understand the text and welcome Him to come share the truths with you, to make them relevant to your life and applicable to your heart. Ask Him to give you a heart that receives and obeys His Word and then watch Him give you everything you need to handle His Word the way He wants you too!

What gives you a testimony–and why do you consider it worth sharing with me?

Have you ever wondered what people mean when they say they have a testimony? You may think, How could believing in Jesus–an ancient Jewish rabbi–give you a testimony–especially since you’re better off than He is…being alive and all? That’s a good question, my friend.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, testimonies are not glossed over sales-pitches for a religious conversion scheme. We have more to our testimonies to communicate than that. We want you to hear what God’s done because it has made a difference. We want to share with you the doubts we came into this journey with and how they have one-by-one been laid to rest.

Not all of it is going to make sense to you–we know this because it didn’t make sense to us in the beginning either. We experts on what we speak about, so you needn’t feel intimidated. We just want to share the little of what we understand concerning monumental and infinite things. We want to introduce you to the One Who exposed us to Truth greater than anything we ever dreamed of so that you will not miss the opportunity to see things for how they really are–both now and in eternity. This is the greatest gift we can give you, and we don’t want to be lax in extending it. We only have something to give you because we have received it first ourselves.

That’s all. Now, if you’d like to hear a really good one, go ask that friend of yours who doesn’t seem to make any sense because they’re now “born-again.” Find out what happened to bring the change; and, perhaps in the process, you’ll learn why you’ve been thinking so negatively of the change. Maybe they really are better off than they were to begin with…and maybe you will be too!

 

Why should I keep at this when it’s so hard?!

I feel tired. Worn down. Empty of anything to give. My words on God’s activity in me once sounded so grand, even eloquent. Now, what I wish I could tell, I can’t. This has turned into a longer journey than I thought it would be. One with few get-up-and-shout-in-celebration moments along the way. There are wonderful moments all along the way–don’t get me wrong–but they often spontaneously arrest me as spots of beauty and hope amidst an otherwise ambiguous journey.

These days those spots God nestles in my life seem less and less the substance of things seen. They are deep workings of God’s Spirit in my heart. The surprising thing, to me, is that what cannot be seen with the physical eyes can often be difficult to speak of as well. This makes these wonderful moments feel like a bit of a handicap when I consider them after they’ve passed. They worked well in connecting me with God, but they seem to do little in connecting me with others. Who will understand me with stories like these? I find myself asking.

It’s not just that what I would have to share is so crazy, but that no one talks about the things that I would like to say. I get the feeling, sometimes, that no one really goes that deep, and they would prefer that I didn’t either. I try my best to comply in a way that puts the interests of others above my own, but so many dreams of highly meaningful relationships must die as I do this. That’s why I love to write–or am learning to love writing–because I realize it is the doorway to greater possibilities than I often find in normal conversation. Here, as I write, I get to share the perfusion of my soul and find others who identify with the words these things compel. What a blessing!

Lately I’ve been identifying with Mary (the mother of Jesus), concerning how she once hid away in her heart the many astounding things that she was a witness to from the point of Jesus’ entrance into her life to the climax of His mission at the cross. I imagine the quiet wonder she must have daily been infused with as she encountered the rare operations of the Holy Spirit upon her and upon her Son. How it must have plagued her heart to not be able to share so many of the amazing things God was doing with the family, friends and townspeople that she would have grown up with! Her soul was blossoming all the time, while her friendships probably wilted–not for lack of care, but for lack of deepening identification.

I think there is a special kind of pain known to the disciples of Christ who go through many trials in His name. There are so many who sit on the sidelines and suppose that people so near to Jesus should not have to go through such horrific or continuous tests. Or else they wonder at why a person should make such a big thing of walking with God–as though it were an all-encompassing thing. They recommend a break from such things, a chance to get ones thoughts and life in order. What they really mean is find out how to escape the very things that God’s using in your life to mold you into the image of Christ. They attempt to encourage a sufferer to remove ones presence from the gifts God gives.

This discourages me. I wish there could be more encouragement available to those of us who walk through difficult seasons with our Lord. I wish there were more understanding, more rejoicing with us in the monumental things God works out of monumental pains. But so often there is either quietness or rejection to meet our attempts to share what goes on between us and God. Thus, my following Christ has become a quiet thing–something I pour my heart and soul into, but mostly in the context of private interactions with the Lord.

I want to give Him everything I have–even when I don’t always fully understand what He will do with it. This is something I wouldn’t take leave of or give up. I just don’t understand why so many of the side-benefits that used to go with this relationship have faded as my intimacy with God has deepened. I guess somethings don’t go with us when we commit ourselves to running after God. For one thing, we’re not plodding along in a covered wagon that pulls along all our belongings behind us. Some of us have left that behind to be able to walk and keep pace with God in a much more unhindered fashion. We have wanted nothing between Him and us. I guess it’s just that sometimes we forget…that comes with a price.

I don’t know how God can possibly change me enough to make me congruent with everything that He stands for. I’ve done all that I can do in giving my life over to Him and asking Him to do what He wants with it. Now, I must wait. I cannot accomplish the change that remains for Him to make: the change that transforms me into a person who delights in His will in all things and wants what He wants as though it was the only thing worthy of concidering. That is a great work; when I surrender, I do not perfect that. I simply invite God to begin the work that will deliver me to that end. I’ve never seen it in full, but I’ve seen some pretty fantastic glimpses! I don’t know how, but He will change me to match the experiences of my life that He’s allowed to change.

I’ve found, so far, that where God raises the stakes, He raises my expectation and perception of Him–and that’s worth everything He takes me through to get there. I will take this journey. I shall consider myself blessed to be given the honor of being raised to such glories in Christ. I will consider God as One bestowing blessing on me and not a curse. I will ignore my feelings to the extent that I will not let them rule how I see God. This is not easy. God will have to do it in me. But, I believe if He got me on this path, He can furnish the means for me to walk in it and trust Him all along the way. He knows each new doubt I face and how to bring it down, to bow before His majesty. I want Him to do it and He wants to do it more. Hallelujah!

 

Withheld affection breeds a deeper affection for Christ–we just aren’t sure exactly how…

Do you have a friend or loved one who stands against your faith; who rejects the God you spend your life investing in? Do they think you’re weird and off-base and a little taken in by foolish notions? Are you thought of as a naive individual because of your decision for Christ? Do you wonder why it has to be so hard–why the world around you has to reject you so fiercely?

Do you lose sight of your reward because so many earthly rewards are being stripped away? If the communication lines have gone down between you and some of your loved ones because of this, perhaps it is because God wants to deepen your personal fellowship with Him.

You can never underestimate the worth of this–no matter how great the challenges that He uses to bring this about. Your life is of more worth to you than anything, but so often the things you and I count as life-giving fall so far short of the real thing. God’s care for us in trials like the one we’re discussing here are often an expression of God’s will that we be not cut off from the life that only He can give. God’s wealth of life goes deeper than anything we can experience apart from Him. Because this life is so good for us, God will push us to mortgage all the other forms of life available to us on the hope of finding and resting in His.

As He does this, He teaches us to go deeper with Him. To lay aside short-sighted and shallow affections for the sake of pursuing Him into places sometimes so sparse that He is the only one present to treasure. This is good for us, my brother/sister. God could not give us a better gift. It is the gift of Himself.

Certainly, it comes at a cost. But this cost reveals the genuineness of our affection for Christ as it tests our willingness to count all things as loss compared to Him. Therefore, as hard as the trials that confront us from every side are, they come with the power to make Christ the central object of our faith and the fullness of our confidence. We learn to want nothing but Him because we know that there is no one to compare with Him.

That’s a blessing wrapped in grace that does not shy away from thorns or ridicule–this was the fare of our Master who passed this grace on to us, let us also receive it as fare befitting we who have taken on the glories of fellowship with Him.