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Archive for the ‘Relationship with God’ Category

Do Not Fear in the Face of Change

SOURCE:  Christina Fox/Desiring God

When you first have children, you quickly learn the importance of establishing a routine and some structure in their lives. Meal times and nap times are sacred. It’s always three stories before bed and Mr. Bear must lie next to the pillow, or life just isn’t right. Children thrive in a routine. And when things change, when anything changes, they are quick to let you know that they don’t like it.

The same is often true for us, as adults. We don’t like change either. We like things to be familiar and predictable. We like to know what to expect when we wake up each morning. But life is constantly changing.

Our kids seem to grow inches in a day. New gray hairs emerge every time we look in the mirror. The clothes we wore a year ago just don’t fit the way they used to. We lose jobs, relationships end, and churches transition or split. All while our society changes its values and mores as often as a preschooler changes into dress up clothes.

When such changes enter our life, it’s overwhelming, confusing, even terrifying. We can go to bed at night to one reality and wake up to a completely different life. Change can make us feel lost and abandoned, like we’ve been tossed overboard in the midst of a storm. We’re left reeling, trying to grab ahold of anything we can find that’s strong and stable. We’re tempted to run from change, as though we could ever escape it.

The God Who Never Changes

As we all encounter major changes in our individual lives, and as the world around us continues to change, we need a place to find hope. We need somewhere to stand when we wake up to news that a loved one has passed away, or our job is in jeopardy, or the last candidate we would want was elected into office. The truth is, there is one thing that never changes, the one thing that stays the same: our unchanging God.

The Bible tells us that God never changes. “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6). There is no transition, inconsistency, or change in this God. The same God who spun this massive blue marble into space is the same one who met Moses on Mount Sinai. The same God who forgave David for his adultery is the one who crushed his own Son when Christ became sin at the cross for us.

Yesterday, today, and forever he is the God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:8–9).

The Truth That Never Changes

Because God never changes, his word never changes. All that he has said about himself remains true forever. Everything he has told us about why and how the world came to be, about what’s wrong with the world, and about what he has done to save the world will never change. No matter what anyone may say, no matter who denies or defies God’s word, it remains firmly fixed. “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

And because his word never changes, his promises for us remain true:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38–39)

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Our Rock and Anchor

The unchanging nature of God and his unchangeable word are real things on which we can stake our life. It is a rock big enough and strong enough for us to build a house on it, and an anchor big enough and strong enough to hold our souls in the midst of life’s waves and storms.

Because of these truths, when everything in life seems flipped upside down, we can say with the psalmist, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalm 46:1–3).

Things will continue to change — in the world around us and in our lives. Some of those changes will feel like a tiny ripple, and others feel like a ten-foot wave. But no matter what changes we face, we need not fear. We need not hide. We need not despair. Our rock and anchor is our unchanging God, whose character and promises remain fixed forever.

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(Should I Pray) Whatever It Takes, Lord?

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

Whatever It Takes, Lord

We want to be people who love Jesus with all our heart, who trust him fully, follow him faithfully, and bear maximum fruit for his name. We want to be filled with as much God as we can possibly hold (Ephesians 3:19). We don’t want to be lukewarm (Revelation 3:16), or waste our brief life here on earth (Ephesians 5:16).

So let’s lace our prayers with whatever it takes requests.

The Safest Prayer

Over the years, many people have told me they fear praying “whatever it takes” because God just might actually answer. And if he does, he might make them do hard things or go to hard places where they might suffer. He might take away people and things they love. He might make them miserable.

Praying whatever it takes feels dangerous.

I understand this fear. I used to feel it, too. We look at what some saints endured and we think, “No thanks.” But if we read Hebrews 11, we find that saints who seemed to pay a significant cost to fully follow God were not holy stoics who chose obedience over joy, but holy hedonists who, like Jesus, chose costly obedience for the sake of their joy (Hebrews 12:2). They considered any hardship they endured worth the cost because the joy of their reward was so great (Hebrews 11:26).

After years of praying whatever it takes, I can tell you my former fears were misplaced. I used to fear the wrong thing. It isn’t dangerous to pray this way; it’s dangerous not to pray this way.

Whatever it takes praying is a means to experiencing inexpressible joy (1 Peter 1:8), not misery. I’ve learned that choosing not to ask God to do whatever it takes out of fear I might lose something is like declining Thanksgiving dinner because I fear giving up my bag of Cheetos.

We are never safer than when we are in Jesus’s hands (John 10:28). And the safest way we can pray is to ask God to do whatever it takes for Jesus’s joy to be in us and for our joy to be full (John 15:11).

God Only Wants to Give You Good Gifts

I don’t want to mislead you. God’s answers to my prayers have resulted in some of the most difficult experiences of my life. But hear me: I would not trade any of those experiences for the world. They’ve only encouraged me to pray all the more because of the joy-infused hope I’ve tasted through them (Romans 5:2).

It is true that God frequently answers our prayers in ways we don’t expect. But he only does this for our joy. God is always pursuing us with goodness and mercy (Psalm 23:6). Listen to how Jesus describes the Father’s disposition toward us when he encourages us to pray:

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7)

The Father has no desire at all to give us misery when we ask for joy (Matthew 7:9–10).

Don’t Be Afraid to Pray, “Whatever It Takes, Lord”

So don’t be afraid to pray, “Whatever it takes, Lord.”

All we are doing is asking our Father for what will make us and others most happy (Luke 11:13;Matthew 13:44; Ephesians 1:17–18; Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 4:3). This will not endanger our joy, but result in more of it (John 15:11; Psalm 16:11).

Any suspicion we have that God will make us miserable in answer to our earnest prayers for more of him is a demonic deception. Satan is casting a lying light on Scripture and our experience, playing on our fears, so that he can cheat us out of the joy God wants to give us. We must not let our unbelieving fears determine the nature of our prayers.

That’s why it’s actually more dangerous not to pray such prayers. We live in a cosmic war zone, opposed by spiritual forces of evil far beyond our strength (Ephesians 6:12). We really need God to do whatever it takes to defeat them. And he chooses to do so often through our prayers (Romans 15:18;Philippians 1:19).

So let’s boldly approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), and ask for as much of it as we can get, whatever it takes. For it is asking the One we love most to give us what we need most that will make us most happy. We should not fear, for there is no safer prayer.

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Doing “Honest Business” With God

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

The First Step to a Clear Conscience

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT, second edition).

The first step on the path to a clear conscience is to take a personal moral inventory or a personal spiritual assessment.

You need to sit down with God in a quiet space by yourself when you’re unhurried and say, “God, I’m going to do business with you. I’m going to make a list of anything that’s between you and me that’s wrong in my life. Help me to see the things that I know are wrong and the things that I don’t know are wrong.” Ask God to clear your mind and reveal your sins.

You can pray Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (NLT, second edition). You’re saying, “God, turn your spotlight on my inner self. Find the stuff in me that’s entangled me and that’s holding me back.”

It’s important to take your time. Don’t rush it! Don’t say, “God, I’ve got five minutes for you to reveal every sin I’ve ever done.” Take your time. Write it all down.

Why is it important to write it down? Writing makes it specific. Thoughts disentangle themselves through the lips and the fingertips. You speak it, and you write it. If you haven’t written it down, you haven’t really thought about it.

Let me ask you a very important question. How serious are you about wanting God’s blessing on your life? Enough that you’re willing to be gut-level honest? Are you willing to be honest with God? Are you willing to be honest with yourself? Are you willing to be honest with other people? Or are you just going to live in denial? Denial and God’s blessing do not go hand-in-hand.

If you’re serious, then you’re just a step away from liberation! You are one step away from a feeling of joy and purity that you’ve never experienced. You are so close to freedom from the habits and hurts and hang-ups that are messing up your life.

Don’t procrastinate. There is nothing more important in your life than to have the blessing of God. Take time today, get alone by yourself, and do a personal spiritual assessment. It will change your life!

5 Things to Do When God Seems Distant

SOURCE:  Rebecca Rene Jones/Relevant Magazine

A few ways to wait well.

That June, I stood at the podium draped in black cap and gown. I was 18, my tassel dancing as I lifted lips to the mic and delivered a valedictory address full of all the right bluster: Drive slow and enjoy the brave journey. Believe in your beauty. Live out loud.

Two months later, in August, I moved into my freshman dorm. Three days in, my dad died.

After his funeral, I unplugged my mini-fridge. I hiked across campus to the registrar’s office, surrendered my meal card, un-enrolled. I stripped my mattress clean of my new sheet set and hugged my roommates an awkward goodbye. On the ride home, I began what would flower into months of questioning all of it: my dreams, my design, my direction. I balled my fist, banged hard on heaven’s screen door, and here’s the hard part: For a while, God kept quiet.

If you, too, find yourself here, on this same front porch, famished for even the faintest nudge in the right direction—sit down. Here’s what I know about waiting when God feels distant.

Know That What You’re Experiencing Is Normal

It is so unshockingly normal that C.S. Lewis actually said our fluctuating feelings about God were perhaps the only constant of our faith. “The law of Undulation,” he nicknamed it. In a nutshell, “undulation” implies that the Christian walk is a back and forth rocking between sweet “communications of His presence” and then, later: wilderness and soul-numbing silence.

In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis writes that God “withdraws, if not in fact, (then) at least from … conscious experience … He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.” This may seem unpleasant, but it works in us something that’s critical to our spiritual maturity: a decoupling of our faith from our feelings about it.

Undulation forces us to go beyond our own gut—and beyond our circumstances—and agree that God is good and attentive even when life suggests otherwise.

Embrace Boring Things

Today’s temptation is to bide time by distracting ourselves. We are categorically bad at waiting, at welcoming quiet, at actively wanting from God. We are much better at filling in downtime and numbing our aches with Pinterest, Twitter and Netflix.

But God dares us to do something different: To stay expectant. To stay hungry. To practice hope, as Paul says, by patiently and confidently fixing our attention on the promises we don’t yet possess (Romans 8:24-25).

Carve out quiet places to remember what you’re hoping for. For me, after Dad died, that meant taking lots of lonesome bike rides and a tedious part-time job counting pills at a local pharmacy. It’d be a stretch to call these spiritual disciplines, but I’ll go to the mat for this: they helped me protect a precious hush that God eventually spoke into.

Tell God What You Think

It’s OK to be blunt. The great prophet Elijah even prayed to die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said (1 Kings: 19:4). His earnestness isn’t exactly an anomaly, either: so many psalms echo some version of this, peppering God with the same rolling questions: Why haven’t you moved sooner? Or in quite the way we’d hoped?

On the surface, they might seem presumptuous, but at their heartbeat, these questions are actually something different: They are appeals to God’s good character. They’re sincere questions that finger a perceived disconnect between who God says He is and why His action—or seeming lack of action—seems out of step with his nature.

Sometimes, we confuse waiting on God with plunking down until we’re handed crisp itineraries.

Don’t Demand Burning Bushes

God can use pyrotechnics, of course, but our brushes with Him aren’t always so theatrical. When we knock, ask and seek, sometimes He doesn’t match our decibel level.

God honors and often uplifts the quietly faithful, and what’s more: He often comes in the quiet. When God tells Elijah to wait before Him on the mountaintop, we witness something remarkable: God doesn’t show up where we think He’d appear. He’s not in the snapping windstorm, or the earthquake or the blaze. Elijah can’t find God’s voice in any of them. Then comes a gentle whisper, and it is so divinely flooded that Elijah covers his face with his cloak.

What if God intends to meet us precisely in the places we’d least imagine?

My Emotional Affair

SOURCE:  Family Life Ministry

Had I been physically unfaithful to my husband? No. Had I committed adultery in my heart? Yes.

About 15 years into my marriage, my heart started turning cold toward my husband. He had an odd schedule at work, and then he spent most of his leisure hours volunteering at our church. When I tried to talk to him about spending less time at church and more with me and our children, he angrily shot back, “You’re just trying to hold me back from doing God’s work.” He then began punishing me by turning his back to me in the bedroom.

Feeling lonely and rejected, I confided my misery to a friend who had called about an upcoming ministry project. My friend was kind and understanding. Unfortunately, no one had ever told me to guard my conversations with the opposite sex. The friend was a man and a very good-looking one at that.

We began talking more frequently. I thought the conversations were innocent, even though they now included discussions about the struggles in his marriage. Gradually, our phone relationship escalated to flirting, and his calls were the highlight of my week. Neither of us told our spouses.

At church, I noticed that he watched me a lot. I admit that I enjoyed the attention, the affirmative words, and the “high” I got with my schoolgirl crush. If someone had asked me if I was having an affair, however, I would have denied it. After all, there were no private lunches, there was no secret rendezvous, and there was no physical touch except for a public hug now and then or a slight touch of the hand. Everybody in our church hugged anyway so no one was the wiser … or so I thought.

Our emotional affair rocked on for over a year until the day he said to me, “I think I’m in love with you.” Honestly, I felt the same about him, but hearing the words jolted me into reality. I was so upset afterward that I looked at myself in the mirror in shock and cried, “What have I done?”

I didn’t like what I saw as the Holy Spirit replayed the ugly truth of my actions back to me. Had I been physically unfaithful to my husband? No. Had I committed adultery in my heart? Yes.

I plowed through days of agony before finally falling to my knees before God in surrender. One definition of relinquishment is “giving up title, releasing possession or control and yielding power.” How could I do otherwise? I had been a Christian for 16 years. My body was not my own. I had been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20), so it was no longer my will that counted but His (Luke 22:42).

I confessed to God that I felt nothing for my husband, but that vows are not made to be broken. I would rather be unhappy the rest of my life than bring reproach to God’s name, embarrass my children, or break up my family or anyone else’s. As the Holy Spirit strengthened me, I heard the words in my heart that Jesus spoke to Peter over and over (John 21:15-17): “Do you love Me?”

“Yes Lord, I love You, and I repent.”

“Then trust Me,” said the still, small voice.

With my hands shaking and my heart racing, I made the call to tell my friend it was over. “I can’t do this anymore because the Lord has convicted me,” I told him. “Please don’t call me again.” Being an honorable man, he had never pressed me into anything, and he didn’t now. He graciously made it easy for me to say goodbye.

I didn’t think I would have to tell my husband. We changed churches for other reasons and, frankly, I was afraid to confess. Meanwhile our new church had a positive effect on both of us and our relationship was slowly improving. We spent more time together and our intimacy returned.

Finally, when I felt comfortable and with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we sat down together one evening and I confessed. I didn’t want any secrets between us.

My husband had some questions and then he shocked me by saying, “I knew it all along. Do you think I was blind to the looks and banter between you two?” He couldn’t really explain why he had not confronted me, but I was so touched by his grace and forgiveness. For the first time he, too, confessed that he shared the blame for neglecting me and our family. It was a holy moment I’ll never forget. Neither will I forget the surprise birthday present he presented to me a couple of weeks later—a 14k gold ring with my birthstone in it.

I learned five important things from this experience:

First, there’s nothing more important than my relationship with God. I had to acknowledge that I had drifted from Him. When I got into a crisis, I became distracted and compromised, which led to sin.

Second, the feelings of love for my husband are a direct result of my love and obedience to God. He rewards obedience. He would not have blessed my sin and disobedience. When I put Him back on the throne of my life, I started receiving everything I needed for life, love, and happiness.

Third, married women should not pour out their troubles to another man, or vice-versa. It’s a trap of the enemy. Satan wants to derail lives and marriages. Don’t let him!

Fourth, infatuation is not love. It is selfish and doesn’t meet the criteria of righteous love in 1 Corinthians 13:5-6.

Finally, I chose to lead my heart instead of continuing to let it lead me. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick.” I learned not to trust my heart for guidance or truth.

Now, many years later, my relationship with my husband continues to flourish. I never dreamed I could love him as much as I do. The Creator of marriage knows how to redeem it—for those who are willing to relinquish and lay down their own lives for the glory that is to come.

God Doesn’t Promise You’ll Be ‘Successful’

SOURCE:  Relevant Magazine/Rachael Graf

How Jesus turned the system upside down.

As a young adult who was raised in a Christian home and who attends a Christian university, I have experienced a phenomenon I like to call “Christian success.” Usually, it runs along the lines of something like this:

“We broke the box office!”

“Trending on Twitter!”

“Number one for eight consecutive weeks!”

“100,000 members strong!”

Where did this idea of “Christian success” come from, and why have we equated influence with notoriety?

To many people of his day, Jesus was a poor, homeless, blaspheming rabbi. He was hated and rejected by many. He spoke of a kingdom not of this world, spent most of his time with sinners, broke the rules and washed dirty feet. And he claimed to be the Messiah—the king. Jesus did not fit the description of a successful, conquering king. If we really think about it, Jesus, from the perspective of his culture, was a failure.

Even Pope Francis thinks so. In his homily at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral back in September, Pope Francis spoke about Christian hard work and self-sacrifice. The danger, he warned, is when we

Get caught up measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success which govern the business world. While affirming the desire for Christian excellence, he reminded his audience to look to the example of Jesus, “The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus … and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, in the failure of the cross.

When Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, He did not promise them success. In fact, He guaranteed them failure: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Luke 21:17).

He told his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him (Matthew 16:24-26). He told them that the gate is narrow and the way is hard (Matt. 7:13-14). He told them that whoever wanted to be the greatest had to be a servant (Mark 10:43-45). He told them that he was going to the cross (Matthew 17:22-23). And he did. And many of his disciples deserted him.

They left because they did not understand why Jesus came. They thought he had come to overthrow Rome, to sit on a glorious throne and rule over Jerusalem. The Pharisees wanted an earthly king, and the Zealots wanted a rebellious revolutionary. Jesus was neither. He was fighting a different battle.

Jesus came to deliver mankind from its enslavement to sin, Satan and death. He knew when he came to earth that he would be reviled, but he came anyway. That is the greatest act of love imaginable.

“Christian success” does not come from rising to the top, being the most popular, having the most likes or followers, or sitting at number one on the list. That is how the world defines success. “Christian success” comes from following in the footsteps of our Savior. Although Jesus was God, he became a man and accepted the limitations of human flesh.

He was tempted in every way and was well-acquainted with suffering. He was cursed, denied, spit upon, mocked and condemned. He died the most brutal, humiliating death imaginable for our salvation. The sinless one became sin, crying out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46.) Yes, Jesus was familiar with failure.

But three days after He was buried, he walked out of his tomb, thereby defeating death with its own weapon. That is victory. That is success in its truest form. Sacrificial success.

We serve a paradoxical God, one who says that worldly gain is loss if it costs you your soul. That in foolishness there is wisdom and that in dying we live. That in failure there is redemption. Jesus does not promise us earthly success if we choose to follow him, because earthly success was never his aim. What he does promise us is a future so glorious that it cannot be fully described in human language (1 Cor. 2:9).

Success is not inherently wrong, and achievement is good cause for celebration. But we must remember that if we succeed—at anything—it is only because our abundantly gracious God has allowed us, for His glory. When we let the world define our success instead of Jesus, we fall into idolatry.

Because, at the end of the day, it is not what we do that is of lasting significance, but for whom we do it.

Change The Way You Pray

SOURCE:  Paul Tripp

At some point in our life, we had to memorize The Lord’s Prayer, but just in case you need a refresher, here’s the first half again: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10)

As historic as these words have been for the church, I’m afraid that they have simultaneously become some of the most clichéd words in the Christian faith. In this case, I think we have memorized one of God’s most important commands without actually understanding what he’s telling us to do.

Remember, Jesus says to his disciples, “Pray then like this” before delivering these lines. So what is Jesus telling us to do? Change the way we pray, and pray for God to glorify himself.

I know for myself – and I know I’m not alone – that so much of my prayer has nothing to do with the glory of God. Regrettably, in much of our prayer, we’re actually asking God to endorse our pursuit of self-focused little glories. But we phrase it in a way to make it sound not so selfish:

  • “God, give me wisdom at work … (so I can make more money and acquire more power)”
  • “God, alleviate my financial woes … (so I have more money to spend on the pleasure and possessions that will make me happy)”
  • “God, help my child to be more respectful … (so that my evenings will be more peaceful so I can get the things done that I want to get done)”
  • “God, work in the heart of my spouse … (so I can finally experience the marriage of my dreams)”
  • “God, give me a better relationship with my neighbor … (so he will like me enough to make his dog quit trampling on my flower beds)”
  • “God, please heal my body … (so that I can do the physical things I love to do)”

We need to change the way we pray.

The first thing we should do in prayer is to ask God to glorify himself, or love himself, more than anything else.

But doesn’t that seem selfish and narcissistic of God? I thought he was generous, selfless, and loved the world so much. These are all very good questions, and worthy of answers.

First, don’t evaluate the character of God as you would a human being. God is not a man and cannot be judged by the same standards he has set for human beings. For a human to be obsessed by his own glory would be a horrendous spirit of pride and self-aggrandizement. But not so with God. God is a being of a different kind, in a position unparalleled in the universe.

Second, if God were to deny his own glory, he would cease to be God. To be God, he must be above and beyond every created thing. Willingness to subjugate himself to anything other than himself would cause him to no longer be Lord over all.

Third, God’s zeal for himself is the hope of the universe. If God would forsake his glory (and therefore, his glorious purposes), all of his promises would have less value than the paper on which they were printed, and the hopes for the salvation of every sinner would be dashed.

Finally, by calling us to pray for God to glorify himself, Jesus frees us from our self-destructive addiction to self-glory and the endless catalog of false glories that comes with it. God’s unshakable commitment to his own glory is the most loving thing he could ever do for us. It’s what redeems us from us and breaks our bondage to all the things in life that we wrongly think will give us life but lead only to emptiness and ultimately death.

I hope this helps you to change the way you pray!

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