Tuesday, February 28, 2012

His View is Straight Through

No matter how many times I travel on an airplane, the privilege of getting a birds eye view, or should I say a "God's eye view", of the earth never ceases to take my breath away.

I flew to Peoria, Illinois, this past weekend to speak at a wonderful Winter Conference. My seating preference when I am flying is always a window seat for two reasons: 1) if I want to sleep, I can lean my head against the window instead of risking it bobbing around like a fishing lure in the ocean, and 2) I love to soak in God's view of the world from the skies.

On Sunday, my flight home from Peoria was connecting through Chicago, and upon our descent to the airport, I could see the layering of snow from the snowstorm that had swept through that area on Friday. Although this unexpected snowstorm caused me great travel angst and stress on Friday, causing flight delays and detours which resulted in my arriving at the event fifteen minutes before I was supposed to be on stage, this light blanket of snow now seemed peaceful and beautiful.

As I peered out the window at the snow covered ground, my eyes fell upon the sheets of ice that covered the bodies of water. But as we slowly glided over them, I noticed something unique - I could see straight through the lake water, getting a glimpse of the huge rocks and canyons that hid deep beneath the surface. It was a sight that would never be seen by the human eye when standing on the shores of the lakes.

As I tried to focus on the murky objects tucked under the freezing water, I thought about how God has this amazing view of the earth every day. How He is able to see straight through to the ocean and lake floors and get a glimpse of even the tiniest of tiny fish. How He can see straight through the ground into the innermost portion of the planet.  And then I pondered the thought, of how He can see straight through us as well.

He sees the caverns of our heart, the hurts buried within, the insecurities embedded into our subconscious spirits, and the unspoken fears in our minds. He sees through the tough facades that we put on every day as we mask our feelings from others and bury our concerns so deep that they will never be seen by the human eye. He sees all the things we try to hide from others, and maybe even from Him.

He sees our true hearts, and knows our real motives, for all that we think and do.  God sees straight through our exterior surfaces, viewing deep into our interior lives.

Here are a few verses that portray that truth:

Jeremiah 17:10 "I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve."

1 Samuel 16:17b "... God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

Revelation 2:23 ".......I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds."

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we often feel convicted by the Holy Spirit when our actions go against what would please God. I should know - I keep the Holy Spirit pretty busy in the daily conviction category.

Yet, we may not be as quick to feel that conviction when it comes to our thoughts - but whether we feel convicted or not, God sees straight through us. He knows what we are thinking.. all.. the.. time.  I am the first to confess that all too often, I would love to hide my thoughts from God.

For you see, He knows how much truth we have in our hearts, and how much hypocrisy we hide. He knows how much compassion we really have, and how we secretly begrudge others. He knows how much grace we give, and when we are merely pretending not to judge.

He knows how content we are with what we have, and our level of inner discontentment. He knows when we forgive with our lips, and then secretly harbor unforgiveness and anger. He knows when we smile at our 'neighbor', but curse them under our breath. He knows when we congratulate someone for an accomplishment, and then feel envious because we did not receive that same blessing.

We might be able to fool other people, making them think we have it all together or that we are all "spiritual" all the time. We might even be able to fool ourselves for a while. But God can never be fooled. Scripture teaches us that God not only knows our hearts, He "searches" them, constantly exposing us for who we really are. 

In John 4:29, the Samaritan woman ran back to her village and told everyone, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?”

This woman at the well did not know exactly who Christ was at the time, and could not understand how He knew so much about her - but we do know. The mere thought of anyone, much less our Sovereign God, knowing everything about our past, present and future, including our most private thoughts, can cause even the strongest Christian to shudder in shame and fear.

Oh what a friend we have in Jesus though. A friend who does not condemn, but understands, and is quick to forgive upon the asking. A friend who does not keep record of our wrongs, but renews our mercies every day. A friend who offers forgiveness and grace. A friend who sees straight through us, but loves us just the same.

Knowing that He sees through us does not need to provoke shame, but rather should fill us with an ambitious desire to take a long hard look at our thoughts and actions, or our patterns of thoughts and actions, and determine if they are pleasing to Him.

If we were to wake up every morning remembering that God sees every action and hears every thought, do you think we would go about our days with a different perspective? Would we be as prone to sin, inwardly or outwardly, if we truly lived in an acute awareness that God sees straight through?

One of the most challenging things God calls us to do is admit our need for more of Him, and lay down any patterns of thought, behavior or sin that might be a barrier to living fully in Him. I am certainly up for the challenge today... what about you?

Let's take a moment to meditate on Psalm 139, asking God to bury the truths found in these verses into the deepest caverns of our souls, so that when He searches our hearts and sees straight through, He sees more of Him, than us.

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Craving Unlimited Portions

 Psalm 16:5  LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.

If the term "you are what you eat" was literally true, my son would be a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

He is now twelve years old, but before he was even old enough to say 'ice cream', he loved ice cream. But only chocolate. In fact, when he turned six years old, he wanted chocolate ice cream for his birthday breakfast, so he got it, of course. And every year since then it has been his special birthday tradition.

Once when Michael was four years old, he pleaded in his sweet little boy voice for some chocolate ice cream. "Pleeeaaassseeeee, mommy" (with blue eyes bulging and bottom lip poked out). I could never resist that adorable cherub face, so I agreed, and pulled the gallon of ice cream out of the freezer. I pried open the lid and realized it was nearly empty, so rather than exhaust my arm muscles trying to scoop and scoop and scoop to get that little bit of ice cream out, I told Michael to just get a spoon and eat it straight out of the gallon.

I created a monster that day.

Once he discovered that eating "out of the gallon" meant that his portion would not be limited to the few scoops I put into a bowl, life changed. Never again did he ask for ice cream without taking a shot at proposing that he eat out of the gallon. If I had a dollar for every time he asked me to eat out of the gallon for the past few years, I would be rich!

I can't help but smile every time he asks me that question now, because it has become a running joke between us. That boy loves him some chocolate ice cream, and simply never wants his portion to be limited.

One day during one of his "can-I-eat-out-of-the-gallon" requests (of which I usually answer with 'no', because nobody needs to eat that many calories every day) I thought about how great it would be if I considered God's Word in the same way that he feels about chocolate ice cream.....

With a hunger that can never be satisfied. Always longing for more. And a desire for unlimited portions.

Psalm 73:26 says "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. "

This verse refers to "portion" to describe that although we will fail, God is enough to make up for our human-ness. He is our inheritance and our heritage. And in Him, we can know we are safe and taken care of, because He determines our destiny and holds our future in His hands. God offers us us the exact portion of Him that we need to get through life - not a piece of Him, but a whole portion.When we choose to rely on His portion for our strength, we have His favor.

We never have to feel hungry or dissatisfied with life, because God is our portion. And when it comes to His Word, we can always eat out of the gallon! In fact, we can have as much we want, whenever we want it!

But...... we have to want it, hunger for it, desire for its taste in our spirit, and continually consume it into our hearts, all the while knowing that we will never be too full for more.

I have been saying a simple 10-word prayer for the past few years, which goes like this:  "Lord, help me to hunger and thirst for your Word."  I can honestly say, that over time, He has answered that prayer. In fact, just the other day as I was studying the book of James, I found myself feeling like I was reading a suspense novel, sitting on the edge of my seat, and I couldn't wait to read more! When I realized what I was doing,  I actually chuckled at myself, and paused to thank God for finally giving me a sincere love for His Book.

You see, when we learn to love His Word, we realize that God can fill all our empty spaces, broken hearts, unmet needs,  and spiritual complacency, and we truly understand that we never have to feel spiritually or emotionally hungry again.

What would happen if we developed an insatiable craving for God to be our portion every day?

What would happen if we really depended on God to be our portion during the most difficult days, when we are starving for peace, comfort and freedom from pain and adversity?

What would happen if we asked God to be our portion during the happy and care free days, causing us to pause to express gratitude for our blessings?

What if we gave Him the best portion of ourselves each day?

If we did these things, do you think our perspective on every day life, and our every day God, would change for the better?  I am sure of it.

I don't know about you, but I want to eat out of the gallon of God's Word every day. He always has just the perfect, delicious portion that our hearts hunger for, and He knows just which flavor we need.  He knows the portion that will satisfy our soul, and fill us up with peace, yet leave us longing for more.

And good news.......... it is all 100% calorie free.  Smiles.

(Little Michael, 4 years old, with his beloved birthday breakfast ice cream.)

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Little Things Matter After All

Luke 16:10 If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. (NLT)

I honestly did not know that such a little thing would matter.

You see, a few days ago, I had charged my daughters with the tasks of emptying the dishwasher and cleaning up the kitchen, including washing out the coffee pot.

Although I love coffee, I don't make it every morning, and I had not made any since my daughter's had cleaned the kitchen.  But there are days when I feel an overwhelming need to enjoy a hot cup of java before I can function, and yesterday morning was one of those days.

After shuffling into the kitchen in my half-asleep state, I switched on the light over my sink, and reached for the coffee pot,  immediately realizing that only the shell of the coffee maker was sitting on the cabinet. The coffee pot itself was nowhere to be seen.

I groaned under my breath, wondering why no one can ever put things back where they belong, and began frantically searching for the pot. I sifted through all of the cabinets and drawers, and even in some of the least expected places, and finally my eyes fell upon the beloved glass pot. I grasped the handle and turned to fill it with water, only to discover that the coffee pot lid was missing.

Houston - we have another problem.  Heavy sigh. 

Despite my meticulous search efforts, I could not locate the little black lid anywhere, and needless to say, my patience had worn thin by this point.  I momentarily contemplated tromping upstairs, flipping on lights, and abruptly waking up two sleeping girls, but then decided that my coffee-pot-lid-crisis was not a worthy reason to rudely wake them. So as a last resort,  I convinced myself that the lid was just a 'little thing', and it probably didn't even matter anyway.

I filled up the filter with coffee grounds, breathed in a good long whiff of the flavorful smell, and poured in the water. I then tiptoed back to my bedroom for a few minutes, while anxiously awaiting my first cup.

But when I walked back into the kitchen, I saw a horrible sight - no coffee was in the pot!!! Instead, all of the water was trapped in the filter, creating a dirty pool of coffee grounds which was slowly overflowing all over the counter.

Hmmmm....I guess that little black lid mattered after all.

You see, until that very moment, I had never noticed that the bulging, small, plastic bulb hanging under the filter area, had to be pushed up by the placement of the lid on the pot, in order for the water to come down properly. (You are probably thinking a big fat "duh" is warranted here, but have mercy, it was early.)

I just never imagined that one small, flat, seemingly purposeless lid, played such a crucial role in the proper functioning of an entire coffee maker.

After begrudgingly cleaning up the mess and succumbing to the reality that I was not going to get any coffee that morning, I thought about how such a 'little thing' made a huge difference. My mind wandered to how easily we overlook the little things in life, that we think do not matter, but that actually are of utmost importance.

Little things like loving our neighbor (or spouse, child, co-worker, or relative), when that person is not being lovable. Little things like guarding our heart, when temptations of the world seem alluring.

Little things like forgiveness, when we want to stay vengeful. Little things like letting go of anger, when we feel justified in being bitter.

Little things like patience, gentleness and self control.

Little things like taking time to visit someone in the hospital, even if it means fighting rush hour traffic and getting home late after a long day at work.

Little things like listening to a friend who is going through a hard time, while putting aside the urgent to-do's on our personal agenda. 

Little things like holding our tongue to keep peace, even when we know we are right, and they are wrong.

Little things like putting aside envy when someone receives a blessing we have prayed fervently for, and focusing on the blessings that we have already received.

Little things like trusting God in all His ways, even when His ways are not at all what we would have chosen for ourselves.

Seemingly little things, that when overlooked or viewed as unimportant, can have serious negative consequences that overflow out of the filters of our soul, all over our life, and even onto the people around us.

Little things that may seem unimportant at first glance, but that will actually affect the entire functioning of our heart.

The importance of many of the little things in life are often underrated because they seem small and insignificant in the grand scheme of living, but it is exactly those little things that God places in our path as stepping stones to the bigger things, and greater blessings, that He has in store for us. When God can trust us with the little things, He will begin to entrust us with the big things.

I guess little things really do matter after all - sometimes more than we will ever know.

What 'little things' might God be calling you to see as important today?

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Friday, February 17, 2012

D.I.E.T. Tips For Staying Strong

Earlier this week I talked about how hard it is to stop relying on our own strength, and rely on God's strength instead. However, even with the best intentions, fully relying on God is easier said than done.

When life is full swing, stress is high, and time is stretched, it's hard to remember to pause, and pray for strength. It's easy to keep plugging along in our habitual ways, even when we know that depending on Christ is the best way.  In fact, staying spiritually fit and healthy is affected by some of the same challenges as staying physically fit and healthy.  

For example, on a busy day, it's easier and quicker to drive through and get a fattening hamburger for lunch, than go inside the restaurant and sit down with a salad. When you get home late from work, it's easier and quicker to throw a frozen pizza in the oven, than to grill some chicken and steam broccoli florets.  Or when we are just plain worn out from trying to offer encouragement and prayers to everyone we love who needs our support, it's easier to lazily slump onto the couch and eat Oreos, than it is to take a brisk walk and spend quiet time with God to feed our spirits.

Let's face it, easier and quicker is not always better. When it comes to staying physically healthy, we have to commit to healthy habits, even though meals may not be as convenient to fix. In the same way, when it comes to staying spiritually healthy, we have to deliberately choose to focus on our faith, even though it may take more time and effort to do so.

Just like we have to make a conscious choice to make a healthy lifestyle a priority, we have to make a conscious choice to choose a spiritually healthy lifestyle as well, and we can do that by committing to a spiritual diet that feeds our spirits, lightens our hearts, and nourishes our souls.

Here is some 'food for thought' for a strong spiritual D.I.E.T. :

* training to act in accordance with rules; activity, exercise or regimen that develops or improves a skill

Being strong in Christ has to start with a strong commitment to living for Christ, and by His "rules". Christianity is based on a personal relationship, and not rules or regimen of religion. However, Christ gave us guidelines for living because He knows the consequences of living life apart from Him.  1 Chronicles 16:11 says "Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always."  As we seek God's face, He infuses us with strength - not because we followed rules, but because we followed Him.  A daily dose of disciplined faith, which includes setting aside time every day for prayer and bible study, goes a long way.

* done with intention, or on purpose;done in a way that is planned or intended; deliberate

A strong faith does not happen on it's own. It is intentionally sought after, strived for and worked towards. It will happen when a deliberate effort is exerted, not by chance or just because we want to have it. Inner strength from Christ is the reward we derive for intentional devotion.  Acts 2:42 says "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."   The believers of the early church were intentional in their faith - they broke bread daily together in homes and shared the Lord's supper. They were excited about the grace they received from God and anticipated living out their faith. Their intentional faith is a strong example for us to follow.

* serious in intention, purpose, or effort; sincerely zealous: showing depth and sincerity of feeling: earnest words; seriously important; demanding or receiving serious attention

In some ways, the words 'intentional' and 'earnest' are similar, but being earnest in our faith really takes our intentional efforts to the next level. Have you ever read a passage of the Bible, and then forgot what you read within five minutes? Have you ever sat through an entire sermon, and then an hour later, could not recall the topic that the preacher spoke on?  We can intentionally do something, without showing depth and sincerity of feeling, or giving our action serious attention.  Hebrews 11:6 says "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." When we sit down to spend time with God, read our Bible, or listen to a sermon, He longs for our full, serious, zealous attention - not a half hearted attempt at meeting a rule-based feeling of religious obligation. Intentional faith should fill us with an earnest longing to talk with God.

* reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence; confident expectation of something; hope.

In my own experience, I have found that the times when I am least trusting God's plans or purpose for the adversities I am facing, are the times when I feel the weakest. When I begin to doubt if God is really looking out for me, it is as if my strength plummets and my spirit wanes.  Trusting God, in the good and bad times, is an essential part of a healthy spiritual diet. Without trust, we are left to depend on ourselves, and when we depend on ourselves, life gets even harder.  Psalm 9:10 says "Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you."  Doubting God's sovereignty is a sure way to have weakness and discouragement become the reigning force in our hearts. What peace it brings to know without a shadow of a doubt, our Lord will never forsake us, and we can put our trust in Him. 

Could you benefit from starting a new spiritual diet this week? Have you been taking the easier and quicker way when it comes to your faith?  Is it possible that your spiritual diet has been causing you to feel weak, zapping your strength to handle life? Do you need to form some new spiritual habits?

These four little tips for staying strong in Christ may seem like a lot at first glance - but when we make them a priority in our faith walk, our spiritual health will soar. When it comes to learning to be strong in Christ, easy and quick is never the best route. Remember, anything worth having, is worth working for.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Who Will Be Your Strong One?

This past weekend I had the precious privilege of going on a 'retreat' with many of my sisters in Christ from Proverbs 31 Ministries. Most of the time when we are able to all get together, the focus is work, work, work!  But this was a special weekend of nothing but rest, rest, rest... and a lot of pajamas, coffee, chocolate, fellowship and fun (and a few tears, which is to be expected in a group of emotional women, right?!)

Yet in the midst of all the calorie intake and laughter, we also invited Jesus to meet us there.  Our Mama Lu as we all call her (Luann Prater) and our sweet Amy (Carroll), had planned some special quiet time activities for each day that would nourish our hearts and feed our spirits for the days ahead.

On Saturday morning, after many breakfast delicacies, we discovered that there were five different "stations" prepared, with each one focused on a specific quiet time activity. Soft music filled the silence as we all quietly wandered through the house from station to station,  reading our Bibles, journaling our thoughts, and spending time in prayer, as the calmness of the Holy Spirit permeated the air.

At one particular station, we were instructed to randomly draw a piece of paper out of an envelope, which held the many names of God, then journal about what the name we selected meant in relevance to our life. So I closed my eyes and reached into the envelope, grabbed a piece of paper, and pulled it out. The holy name that God led my fingers to, was "El: The Strong One".

As I allowed this name of God and the verses provided to seep into my heart, these were the first words that I scribbled into my journal:

"Jesus, I have always tried to be the strong one. Strong for my mom... my dad... my sister... my brother... my husband... my children...my friends..." and after each person I listed, I gave a reason why it was often so hard to be strong for them.

As the words poured out of my pen, I laid at His feet the exhaustion that comes from trying to be strong for everyone in my own strength.  I admitted my tendency of masking my own emotional weaknesses, so that I could be strong for others, and so that others would think I am strong.

I don't normally set out to be self-sufficiently strong, it is just a habit that has evolved throughout my lifetime.  I could try to attribute my strong-willed habits to being a Type A personality, or maybe because I am the first born child in my family and have a built in sense of responsibility for others, or maybe because life has been hard at times, and I had to be strong.... or I could be honest, and attribute it to not always remembering that God's strength is fully sufficient for my needs.

So as I took this peek into my inner self, my heart was pulled towards asking for forgiveness, for having ever thought that I could be the 'rock' for myself or for others.   I remembered the verse in 2 Samuel 22:3 which says "my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior....." God gently reminded me that I am no one's rock - that is His job, and His job alone.

As I soaked in the whispers of His spirit, my heart lightened, and I found myself journaling about how far I had come in learning to rely on the strength of Jesus when faced with adversities; in finding peace, when life was far from peaceful; in seeking - and discovering- guidance and wisdom, when I needed hope and direction; in learning to rely fully on Him.  As I glanced over the written words that had spilled out from my deepest thoughts, I realized that over time, I have cultivated a habit of seeking God's strength, when I have none left to draw from.  

I think I finally understand that God is strong, so we don't have to be. Although I will always have the human tendency to try to be strong on my own, I can ask God to prick my heart each time I begin to do so.

If you have been trying to be strong for everyone else, and find it exhausting and joy robbing, would you be willing to loosen your grip on your problems and emotions, and let God carry them for a while? 

Are you willing to let go of your habit to appear strong and in control, and let God be the Rock?

If you have been depending on another person to be your strength, will you give God a chance, and discover how His strength alone is sufficient?

Life is too short to depend on ourselves, and stay weighted down with things we were never meant to carry. The Strong One, our Rock, is ready to be our strength, but we have to be willing to let Him be.

Who will be your Strong One today?

Exodus 15:2
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise him— my father’s God, and I will exalt him!  (NLT)


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Friday, February 10, 2012

Joy Amid The Anguish

I am in the middle of going through the new James study by Beth Moore, called Mercy Triumphs. Trust me when I say, that the timing of this bible study could not have been more God-ordained in my life.

Had I done this study a few years, or even a few months ago, I am not sure whether it would have had the same impact on my heart as it has right now. I don't know why I always act so stunned when I see God's perfect timing woven through our lives, but isn't it wonderful?!

I shared with you earlier this week that myself and my family have experienced some hardships within the past year, and as a result, I have felt an oppression on the inside, portraying itself in discouragement on the outside. But God chose this new bible study to be one of the many tools He would use to dig deep into the pieces of my soul - not only where I needed healing, but where I needed hope.

A few weeks ago, Beth's session was focused on John 16:20-24 (in addition to the teaching on James about "consider it great joy... whenever we experience various trials"). I've never liked that verse, have you?  I doubt it..... yet the older I get, the more I understand the truth in it.

John 16:20-24 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (NIV)

Do you see a few repetitive words here? Such as "anguish" and "joy". Two words in stark contrast to each other, but which are actually intertwined simultaneously throughout our lives.

Beth said so many life changing truths during this message, that I could scarcely write them all down fast enough. The way she words her statements, dripping with eloquence and spiritual depth, never ceases to astound me. But there was one absolute truth in this particular teaching that caused a well of hope to spring up from somewhere deep within me:

"There are times when God brings an unrelated joy to our time of anguish to help us get through it."

When I heard her say these simple words, my heart leapt. It was as if God sprinkled a little holy dust over my head and it fell gently into my spirit.  I began to think of the things that would bring me great joy, and consider my deepest longings.  I felt a bit like a little child anticipating her birthday - knowing she was going to get lots of wonderful presents, and excited about the possibilities of what they might be.

I went from feeling hopeless, to hopeful. In fact, I wasn't wondering "if" God would bring joy, but "how" and "when". I found my heart expectant with excitement to see Beth's biblical truths play out in God's perfectly designed plan for my life.

There is one particular hope that I have been praying for over the past six years, always asking for God's perfect timing, but always hoping His timing would be sooner than later. The waiting game had become so long, that I had nearly lost sight of my original dream, and had begun to wonder if maybe I had stepped ahead of God, and was working on goals that were outside of His will.

But as Beth reassured us that God always provides something good and joyful in the midst of the anguish and hard times, my hope was renewed. I found myself daring to believe that this might be the time when God  would act upon my simple prayers that have been floating up to heaven year after year.

For a few weeks, I dared to believe that maybe, just maybe, He would bring light to the little dream that's been in my heart.  And this week, His light began to shine on my dream with the force of a lighthouse in the middle of the darkest night.

An "unrelated joy", which I might have taken for granted years ago, was dropped from heaven, right in a season of life that has been filled with its fair share of anguish.  God used Beth's words to fertilize the soil of my heart, so that when He watered the seed that He planted long ago, it would be ripe for sprouting.

Next week, I'll share with you what joy God has bestowed upon me. In the meantime, I want to give you some thoughts to ponder this weekend about your ability to enthusiastically and expectantly look for God's joys, even in the middle of very hard trials. Maybe it is not something you have done in a while. Maybe life has been filled with so many heartaches, that you don't even expect to feel joyful anymore. It is never too late to believe that God loves to give gifts to His children, and He has something special waiting for you.

I want you to search within yourself how this concept of "joy amid anguish" has been true in your life.  It's something we rarely give thought to, but believing that God longs to bring us joy can open the door for us to begin seeing past our own perspective, and into God's. And that is where true hope begins.

* Have you seen God use a difficult experience in your life to draw you closer to Him?
*Have you ever thought the worst was going to happen, but then something good happened in the end?
* Has God ever used a hard trial in your life to equip you to see His power at work?
* Have you ever prayed a repetitive prayer, never ceasing to stop asking God for that blessing?
* Do you believe that God's timing is really always perfect?
* Consider how God used something painful in your past, to fuel a passion inside of you for something.
* When is the last time you were down on your knees, and truly believed that God heard every word?
* When is the last time you felt hope, about a seemingly hopeless situation?
* Have you ever experienced a time when great joy came in the middle of a very difficult time?

Get excited!!!! Get expectant!!! God's gifts are better than anything we could ever imagine.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When Spiritual Warfare Strikes

I found myself in a dark field, in the middle of the night, yet I was not alone.

Although I could sense the presence of other people scattered throughout the field, I could not see them clearly since the only light was coming from a few slivers of moonbeams that danced across the acres. Then I looked up, and saw a figure hovering near me, as my eyes strained to try to make sense of what I was seeing. 

This figure, along with all the others roaming throughout the barren field, seemed to be shaped in the silhouettes of army soldiers, exuding the odorless scent of control and power. Suddenly somewhere deep in my soul, I felt an overwhelming sense of danger, so thick it was almost as if I could reach out and touch it, although I had no idea what danger lurked in this unknown place.

Before I could comprehend what was going on, I felt my weak body being thrown to the ground with great force, landing hard on my back as my head hit the cold dirt. One of the silhouette figures then pressed its weight on top of me, pinning me firmly to the ground with my arms crossed across my chest, prohibiting me from fighting back or trying to defend myself. 

I could feel the hatred spewing from their spirit, and the presence of evil dripping from the empty face that I could not see. I could hear the wails of the other people in the field, and my mind was encompassed with fear and confusion about what was happening. Then in the midst of this heart ripping struggle,  I had a divine revelation, as if God's voice were echoing through the air, but only I could hear Him.

I became acutely aware to the depths of my soul that God's Words were my only hope. My only lifeline. I knew His promises would protect me. I knew His Words held power over evil. I knew His Sovereignty was my only chance in this battle against unseen forces.

As could only happen in the context of the imaginary dream world, where anything is possible, my body instantly shrunk down to the size of a pencil. I wriggled out of the evil one's grip and slung myself onto the pages of an open Bible that just happened to be lying in the tall grasses beside me.

I then reached over and grabbed a handful of pages by the corner with both hands, and began to roll with all my might; tearing the holy pages from the creases of the Book, and wrapping myself tightly into the pages of God's Word, as if I were a caterpillar entombing itself in a cocoon.  

Instantly, the faceless enemies retreated in fear. My spirit felt the evil leap from my presence, and I was freed from its weight upon me.  Then suddenly, all was quiet. My heart was beating quickly and my breathing was labored, and although I was shaken up, I was left unharmed.

And then -  I abruptly awoke from the deep slumber that had been holding me captive in this nightmare.

As I lay there, staring out at the pitch black darkness of 3:00am, my mind raced in every direction. My thoughts stumbled over each other, with each one trying to be the first to figure out what had just occurred.  Although I knew I was safe and sound in my own warm bed, with my husband sleeping quietly beside me, my heart felt ravaged by this battle between good and evil that I had just experienced in the deepest recesses of my mind.

In that fragile moment with God, as my dreams still hung in the quietness of the air, I could do nothing else  --but pray. I spent the entire next hour in deep conversation with Jesus. Then as if a lightbulb burst on in my head, it suddently became clear that myself, and my entire family, had been engaged in a fierce battle of spiritual warfare. The past year seemed as if one blow after another kept coming, but we had merely attributed it all to 'life', instead of giving credit, where credit was due. 

So during this quiet time with Jesus, when the house was silent and it was just me and Him, all the fears and hurts and longings of my heart overflowed onto His feet like never before, and amid my pleas for His forgiveness and mercy and compassion, I felt a sense of freedom overtake my spirit. 

It was a freedom I had not felt in a long time. A peace that had been escaping me for months as my mind struggled with negative emotions that had kept my heart trapped. As I allowed my mind to be engulfed with God's love, I was overcome with gratefulness.  I could not help but ask Him ....why?  Why would He would care so much about me? Why do I matter? Why would He go to such lengths to get my attention, and to rescue me from this invisible battle, not only in the dream world, but in the reality of my life? Why did He die for me? Why does He love His children so much?  Why were we worth it?

The only answer - a love that we cannot comprehend, from a Father who will fight to the death for us. In fact, He already did.

I believe with all my heart that God was showing me through my most subconscious dream-induced thoughts, that I had been living as an oppressed woman lately, fighting a battle that I was slowly losing. I had been trudging through each day, unknowingly carrying the weight of the enemy's oppression, because I had given Him a foothold in my life by not guarding my heart from the enemy's tactics. In Proverbs 4:23 we are instructed to "Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." (NLT).... and I now fully understand the importance of this command.

You see, I have been harboring anger and resentment for an adversity in my life, and although I know God commands us to choose faith over feelings, I was completely unaware of the toll my emotions had taken on my spirit. Therefore, over a period of time, a wall had been erected, blocking my view of what God wanted to do in my life and in the lives of those I love.

I had temporarily and inadvertently allowed the frustrations to become my focus, instead of the life saving promises of my Bible. So although my physical body was not actually at war with the unseen enemy as it was in my dream, my spiritual body was -and the time came for God to pry away the life robbing grip that the devil was trying to have around my throat. The time came for God to remind me that He does not leave His beloved ones to fight the battle alone.

Friends, this may be a lot for you to digest today, and I will admit, I hesitated about sharing my dream with you, for fear that you may question my mental faculties, or maybe wonder if I need serious professional help. But I deeply believe that when God speaks to our hearts this profoundly,  regardless of what method He uses to make His voice known, that it is not meant to be kept a secret.  So even at the risk of ridicule or being called a religious fanatic, I felt called to share this with all who would listen.

God blessed me with a glimpse of the unseen spiritual battle that takes place every day in our spirits. A battle that is waged against us by the prince of this world, through the adversities, circumstances and heartaches that we endure. A battle that we are hopeless to win, unless we wrap ourselves in the promises and truths scrolled onto every single page of God's Word. 

I will never again merely treasure my Bible as a possession that I often take for granted. Instead, I will treasure the Words within it as my lifeline,  and my only hope for fighting this battle against the one who wants to destroy us from the inside out.

Ephesians 6:12 says "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places." (NLT) 

There is a battle going on for your mind and your heart, even if you have a hard time grasping the reality of spiritual warfare. You don't have to believe in spiritual warfare, for the enemy to wage war on your life. In fact, he'd rather you not believe in it, because that makes his battle much easier. But when it strikes, and it will, know that you have the power within you, and at your fingertips, to fight it.
Maybe you have felt an unrest in your life lately, as I had.  Maybe you have felt oppressed and distant from God, but haven't been able to pry yourself free from negative memories or emotions holding your heart captive. Maybe you have been feeling confused and alone, but unsure what steps to take to make things better.  Maybe your unwillingness to let go of anger, or unforgiveness, is building a wall that you can no longer see over.

Maybe you have accidentally, gradually and unknowingly given the devil a foothold in your heart.
Sweet sister, you can be set free today. Surrender to God whatever it is that is weighing your heart down, and pray for spiritual freedom. If you ask you will receive, and the battle will be won - until tomorrow. 
The war continues, but the Prince of Peace will always have victory. And freedom is ours for the taking.

Isaiah 43:1-3a   Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (NLT)

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

God Is Better Than The Secret Service

I am an avid reader of the Jesus Calling devotion book, written by Sarah Young. I love the way it is written, as if God were speaking directly to the reader, in modern day terms. But more importantly, I love the way  God uses it as a way to speak truth to my heart, each and every day.

Yesterday's devotion became especially meaningful, for reasons I'll tell you in a moment, but look over the words of that devotion below:

January 31
I am your strength and shield.  I plan out each day and have it ready for you, long before you arise from bed. I also provide the strength you need each step of the way. Instead of assessing your energy level and wondering about what's on the road ahead, concentrate on staying in touch with Me.  My Power flows freely into you through our open communication. Refuse to waste energy worrying, and you will have strength to spare.

Whenever you start to feel afraid, remember that I am your Shield.  But unlike inanimate armor, I am always alert and active. My Presence watches over you continually, protecting you from both known and unknown dangers. Entrust yourself to My watchcare, which is the best security system available.  I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.

Yesterday morning as I read this devotion, the words "protecting you from known and unknown danger" seemed to stand out. I didn't really understand why it struck a chord in my heart, but I silently thanked God for His protection, and took comfort in knowing that God was watching over me.

This morning my mother called, still a little shaken up from the events that had occurred last night. You see, about a week ago, she had taken her car to the shop to get her brakes checked and repaired. She waited several hours for the work to be done, and then went on her way - completely unaware of any danger.

Last night while driving, her car began making some odd noises and she felt it running differently, as if the tires were flat. She was alarmed, but fortunately had arrived at her destination. She parked the car and was perplexed when all the tires were full of air. She then asked an acquaintance (who just happened to be a car mechanic) if he would mind taking a look at it.

This friend started the car and planned to take it for a quick spin around the block to assess the noise, until he immediately became aware that there were no working brakes whatsoever. Apparently the person who had worked on her car the week prior, had inadvertently neglected to tighten up the bolts, and after a week of driving, the bolts had loosened up so much that they actually had fallen off and out of the car. The vehicle was completely void of any way to stop.

When my mom heard this, she gasped and shuddered at the thought of the tragedy that could   have occurred.  She had been driving around completely unaware that serious danger was lurking - but just as the devotion said, God was alert and active, and He knew what was on the road ahead, even though she did not have a clue.

Do you think it was a coincidence that her brakes stopped working the exact moment that she pulled into the parking place, shortly after having pulled off of a  fast busy interstate, driving through several busy intersections, and pulling into a parking lot where many people and cars were on the move? Of course not!  Do you think it was coincidence that a friend/car mechanic just happened to be at the same place she was? Of course not!

Both of these situations were huge, unmistakable, undeniable God-incidences.  God had put a shield around her car and protected her from harm, in addition to all the innocent people that could have been in danger as well.

Now I can understand why those words jumped off the page into my spirit yesterday. It was because today, God wanted to me remind me, my mother, and maybe even you....  that He is always watching over us,  even when we don't know we need protection.

He knows what danger lurks. He knows what the next day will bring. And He knows how to handle whatever that may be. What great comfort it brings to be reminded that God knows our needs, even before we do.

Are you facing a situation today that has caused fear to enter your heart?  Do you ever wonder if God is really looking out for you?  Would you like for me to pray for you, as you tuck the verses below into your heart and allow God to bring you peace?  If so, just leave a quick comment on my blog.

Or has God protected you or a loved one in a special way that left you speechless and praising Him? Has there ever been a time when you became aware of "what could have been" if God had not intervened? If so, consider leaving a comment as well. We would all be encouraged by hearing about your God-incidences.

Whatever situations we find ourselves in today, let's refuse to waste energy worrying. Let's spend our energies praising God for the known and unknown dangers that He is protecting us from, and concentrating on staying in touch with Him instead.

After all, who could ask for better secret service protection than from God Himself?  

Psalm 28:7 The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

Matthew 6:34  So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Psalm 56:3-4 But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?

Genesis 28:15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

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