Archive for the ‘Get Close to God’ Category

the_secret_place5Forty-sixth in the series Get Close to God

Back when I worked on multifunctional office machines, I learned the value of preventive maintenance.  Those workhorses could copy, print, scan, and fax all day long, week after week.  But if they were not allowed to go off-line long enough for a good cleaning, calibration, and replacement of worn out parts, pretty soon their performance would suffer and they eventually broke down before their time.

We are also multifunctional in our roles as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and employees, aren’t we?  We are constantly pushed and pulled in many directions and after a while we begin to wear down.  Some of us are driven by the almighty dollar and some of us try to please everyone but up end not pleasing anyone well. Doing our best is admirable, but if we don’t take scheduled maintenance breaks to let our heavenly Technician clean, adjust our focus and energize us, we will break down before our time.

Serving God and trying to live right is very important, but how many of us prepare properly before we go out?  How many of us just wing it without first putting on the armor of God?  But how can we take up the shield of faith or swing the sword of the Word if we’re not prayed up or filled up with scripture?  Reading your Bible and praying may seem like a counterproductive use of your time at first.  But if you stick with it, you’ll soon acquire a taste for your “daily bread” and your soul will begin to crave for spiritual food.

He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1)

I think one of the reasons it’s called the secret place is because so many of us never find it.  Our restlessness keeps us so busy we don’t slow down enough to become restful.  We need to go off-line and get alone with God, rest for awhile and quit trying to figure everything out on our own.  We don’t have to pray long, elaborate prayers.  Sometimes I don’t know how to pray or even have the energy.  That’s when I just sit down with my hands open and relax in his presence. I usually don’t hear or sense anything from the Lord, but that’s OK.  He knows I’m surrendering some time to be with him and I usually come away refreshed and confident to tackle whatever the day will bring because I know he’ll be with me.

We’ve got to dwell in the secret place before we enter the public place.

My quest to know Christ on a personal level is accomplishing at least two things for me.  First, it lifts me out of dependence on apologetics to try and convince me of the reality of God.  The closer I get to him, the more affirmations I receive of his existence, which removes my doubts.  Second, I have found no greater satisfaction in life than seeing God do something through me that I could not do on my own.  My pride wants to pull myself up by my bootstraps, but the only way to real and lasting change is walking with the Spirit.  It is not simply letting go and letting God.  It is shifting my focus and energy from trying to do it all by myself, to seeking God with all my heart before and while I work.  I have found this to be more of a challenge, actually, than just staying busy “doing things for Him.”  Yes, I have to fight my urge to go it alone, but his joy is stronger than pride, trust is stronger than fear, and peace is the glorious result.  This is heaven on earth, a preview of the eternal bliss that awaits us.  Don’t leave home without Him!


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Forty-fifth in the series Get close to God
 

If you were going to promote the Christian lifestyle, would you tell your prospects what Jesus did in Matthew 16:24?

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

We don’t like someone telling us how to live our lives, much less denying us the freedom to pursue our desires.  We are not willing to sacrifice our comfort or safety unless it is for a pleasure source that is worth the inconvenience or the risk.  Some find it in a cause, or for love, and some recklessly abandon all restraint for another fix for their addiction.

Is Christ asking us to give up every pleasure or go live as a monk? A.B. Simpson said,

“The meaning of self-denial is not an infliction of personal torment nor penance, but it is simply the giving up of the very principle of living for ourselves. It is completely changing the direction of our being and will, so that no longer in any sense do we act with reference to how anything will affect us, but our one thought is how it will affect God or others.”

It is the difference between waking up in the morning and evaluating how the things on my calendar for today will make me feel, versus asking the Lord to show me how I can be used by him in the midst of those activities.

Buried beneath the layers of religiosity and grandiosity lies a precious little secret that can fill and energize our hungry souls like nothing else.  We try so hard to be good and please people and please God, but what does he want the most from us?  Are you ready?  Here it is.  He wants…us.  He wants us more than our programs and committees and initiatives.  Those things are important, but they must involve working closely with him.  He wants us to work with him, not just for him. We need to work closer, not harder. Not only does he become more real to us in the process, but we accomplish so much more, at least at what matters the most.

Is pursuing Christ worth risking everything for?  Let’s hear from someone who thought so: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”
Paul, Philippians 3:8

The more we become captivated and consumed with the love of God, the more we will recklessly abandon all restraint on our time, talents, and treasure, and willingly release them for his purposes and glory. Only then will we understand the motivation behind Paul’s devotion and the testimonies of the “I Am Second” movement. They have discovered that being a willing slave for Christ is better than being free to follow their own desires which never stay quenched.

How do you know if you are denying yourself or not?  Listen to how many times you hear me, myself, and I in your thoughts: I don’t want to do that.  I’m not comfortable doing that.  That bothers me.  That’s awkward for me.  What will they think of meI don’t have time for that.  I don’t want to give that much of my money.  I know those thoughts because I think them.  But I don’t want to.  What I do is not the good I want to do.  Sound familiar?  Yes, Paul, again, in Romans 7:19. But he goes on to say, “Thanks be to God-through Jesus our Lord!” 

I don’t want my life to end before I come to the end of myself.  I don’t want my pride to fill my final years with regret.  Admitting we need God doesn’t make us weak.  It makes us stronger as he empowers us to be all he made us to be.   And just what is that, you might ask?  Well, if you’re still trying to find yourself, then read the next verse: 

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”

 

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hamster wheel

Forty-forth in the series Get close to God

Well, it’s that time of year again. When we try to muster up enough self-control and self-confidence to accomplish some self-improvement to boost our self-esteem as a result of our self-reliance. I don’t suppose I need to ask you if you see a pattern here.

I’m not against trying to become better at something or aspiring to get into shape or wanting to kick a bad habit. I just think it’s time we got off the hamster wheel long enough to share our desires and dreams with the one who can help us get past January 31st before running out of steam.

When Israel’s biggest enemy, the Philistines, heard that David had been anointed king, they came out in full force and spread out in the valley. David had already accomplished much success in his military campaigns, including sneaking into the water shaft to take Jerusalem from the Jebusites. If anyone had a right to feel self-confident, it was him. But he still checked in with the Lord before the battle. “Shall I go and attack them? Will you hand them over to me?” The Lord said, “Go, for I will surely hand the Philistines over to you.” The enemy was defeated but undaunted so they came back for more. David might have been tempted to try what always worked before, but he paused to consult again with his heavenly General. It’s a good thing he did, because he received a different tactic that time, instructing him to circle around the enemy and attack them from behind, resulting in such a devastating blow that it launched Israel as the super power in the region.

Can we learn from David as we consider our goals for the New Year? “Should I do this, Lord? Will you help me succeed?” Don’t wait until you have improved yourself enough before you approach God. He wants you as you are right now, warts and all. Come to him with a repentant heart, ask him to help you, and then give it all you’ve got!

Is there something that you have been wanting to see happen in your life? Is there a desire or dream about some kind of ministry that’s been haunting you for a long time but has remained dormant, a casualty of a lack of confidence or procrastination? Do you feel distant from God and long for the kind of closeness that brings peace and joy that is now alien to you?

Six years ago I was pretty bored and kind of depressed with how my life was going. That’s when I realized I needed to learn how to connect closely with my Creator and with brothers and sisters in Christ. Since then he has given me new opportunities for ministries that have infused excitement, enthusiasm, and purpose into my soul. I still have the same job but somehow it has become more meaningful now when I take the Lord to work with me.

Maybe life is pretty comfortable for you right now and you see 2014 approaching as just another year of doing what you’ve always done before. If you’re that confident in your abilities and don’t feel you need God very often, perhaps it’s time to take a risk and tackle something that you need God’s help for in order to succeed. Or maybe just try involving the Lord in what you’re already doing. You’ll be amazed at how much more you’ll be able to accomplish with him and how your career can also be your mission field. Either way, I guarantee it will bring you closer to him!

No matter what I would like to see happen in my life, I need to remind myself that I won’t make it to February without keeping in step with the Spirit. Getting and staying close to God needs to take priority over all my other goals. That foundation has to be solid or the building will come tumbling down.

Do any of you have an aspiration of the spiritual kind? Please share it by replying to this post so we can come alongside you and earnestly seek the Lord concerning it. Your dream may become a reality by next January, or sooner! After all, “with God all things are possible” (Mathew 19:26.)

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Forty-first in the series Get close to God

My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.  Psalm 63:8

I like to watch my cats, Raya and Sunny, climb trees.  Sometimes they run up trying to get away from something but I also think they do it just because they can, because it’s fun.

It’s amazing how their limber bodies and claws enable them to scale and cling to the limbs so high off the ground.  It makes me nervous when they venture out on skinny branches which give and sway under their weight.  They almost lose their balance as they precariously turn around and walk the tight rope back to the safety of the trunk.

This makes me think of how much farther I can get in my life when I cling to my Creator instead of venturing out on my own.  When I’m afraid, I can climb up into the safety of my Heavenly Father’s lap and find refuge under His wings, high above the problems I left below.  But it’s also fun to see where He takes me when I give Him my hand and He pulls me up to see and experience things I would never have known had I stayed down in my own little world.  It’s amazing how our perspective is lifted when we keep looking up!

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  (Psalm 61:2)

 

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page in BibleFortieth in the series Get close to God

Reading through the entire Bible in one year is a worthy goal, but three Chapters a day in one sitting is quite a commitment and encourages one to rush through the verses instead of taking the time to study and prayerfully meditate on them.

However, you can read the entire New Testament and the book of Psalms in one year if you read just one chapter a day, which is only about one page in your Bible.  If you do this in the morning, you can read two chapters from the Old Testament at bedtime and be finished with it by the end of the year as well.  Or read one chapter a night and be done in two years.  There’s no hurry.

There are many Bible reading schedules out there but I personally don’t like reading all of the gospels together.  I would like to hear from Jesus all throughout the year, so I mix them in with the rest of the New Testament.  I do this with the Psalms as well.

While most chapters average about 32 verses, they can vary between 2 to 176, so the best way to pace yourself is to go by pages.  Most Bibles average about a page per chapter, but some big letter and study editions can take up two or more.  To determine this for your Bible, divide the total pages of your New Testament by 260 (the number of chapters in the New Testament) to get the number of pages to read per day.  Since the chapters in the Psalms average only 16 verses per chapter, you can read two of those per day.

This schedule leaves 30 days left over so you can miss a reading every other week and still stay on track.  You can start anytime; it doesn’t have to be January First.  How about today?

First half of the year:
Matthew
Psalms 1-18
Acts
Psalms 19-31
Romans
Psalms 32-42
Mark
Psalms 43-56
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
Psalms 57-69
Galatians
Ephesians
Philippians
Colossians
Psalms 70-78

Second half of the year:
Luke
Psalms 79-91
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy
Titus
Philemon
Psalms 92-105
John
Psalms 106-116
Hebrews
James
Psalms 117-130
1 Peter
2 Peter
1 John
2 John
3 John
Jude
Psalms 131-150
Revelation

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Thirty-ninth in the series Get close to God

Sam Paris recently introduced the S.M.A.R.T. criteria to me as a way to possibly evaluate where we’re at with the Lord.  Is it Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely?  So, let’s see if it works.

Picture what you would like your relationship with Christ to look like.  Do you have any role models that inspire you?  Have you heard of Brother Lawrence?  He served in a monastery in Paris in the seventeenth century working in the kitchen and repairing sandals.  This is how his relationship with the Lord was described:

“For about 30 years his soul has been filled with joy and delight so continual, and sometimes so great, that he is forced to find ways to hide their appearing outwardly to others who may not understand.”

I don’t know about you, but I would like to know God like that.  We’ve discussed the benefits of a close walk with Christ on this blog, and while I advocate pursuing him out of love and not just for the perks, the degree to which we enjoy the perks is an indication of how close we are.  Does God fill your hungry soul better than anything else?

One thing that’s really cool is we don’t have to hope and pray that someday we’ll experience what it’s like to be close to God.  Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)  And James said in chapter 4, verse 8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  The ball is in our court.  We can start right now.  It’s not an easy process.  It will involve some lifestyle changes, but it’ll be worth it.

We can begin by expressing our desire to God and ask him to help and guide us on our quest.  Then, we can set some action goals.  We need to be specific.  Concerning time alone with God: when, where and for how long?  How often do we want to talk with him?  Just when we need something, or do we want to stay in touch throughout the day?  How much reading and reciting his Word would be appropriate?  How dependent on God do we want to be?  Do we want him involved with everything or just keep him handy for a backup up plan?  We should then consider if these goals are attainable.  As Monty Waldron says, “God will always give you what you need, to do what he wants you to do.”  So, let’s not settle for business as usual.  Aspire for more!

A friend of mind recently advised me to ask the Lord how I’m doing.  Turns out, that’s Biblical:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  (Psalm 139:23, 24)

We can also ask a friend, and finally ourselves: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves.”  (2 Corinthians 13:5)  To what extent are the fruits of the Spirit being manifested in my life?  How much love, joy, peace and patience oozes out of me?  Do I have a thankful or critical spirit?  Am I greedy or generous?  How often do I enjoy the presence of God and just burst out with a worship song?  Do I ever cry tears of joy?  I know we can’t always go by our feelings, but how can we delight in our heavenly Father without emotions?  I don’t think he intended for us to rejoice in him from a cold heart.  Have fun with God!  Let loose, dance, shout, it’s OK, really.

I don’t want to appear legalistic, but if we find it useful to evaluate our secular job performance, then perhaps we can use our spiritual fruit for some key performance indicators to help us measure our progress.

Don’t just think about your evaluation, write it down.  Be realistic, but stretch yourself.  Then give it some time.  Fruit takes a while to grow.  Joy and peace are not something you can whip up.  They are the results of a life committed to Christ, moment by moment.  Just pick one or two action goals you feel will get you closer to him and then give it all you’ve got.  Find some Christian friends to join you and hold you accountable and pray with them.  You just might be amazed to see what Jesus does with your willing spirit in 2013.

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 Thirty-eighth in the series Get close to God

In my younger years I went canoeing quite often, usually on the Fox River in Northern Illinois where I grew up.  These pictures are from one of those trips from the early seventies, the one on the right highlighting my sister, Karen, and my dad.  The Fox usually had just enough current flowing to make it an easy ride downstream.  If you wanted to go upstream you had to work at it, but progress could be made if you stuck with it.

Our faith is like that.  It is not static, it’s dynamic, and is directly proportional to our thoughts, actions, and environment.  If we neglect our faith, our environment will take over and we’ll float downstream, blending in with the world.  If we want to make a difference, however, we need to paddle!

Our faith must be nurtured, just like any living thing, and will thrive or die depending on the care it receives.  Our relationship with Christ is only as close as our efforts to stay connected with him.

We should always be asking ourselves, “Is what I’m doing right now glorifying God or dishonoring him?”  The answer sometimes may be “Neither.”  Maybe I’m just ignoring him which is also a bad choice.  I may not be doing it intentionally, but it’s very easy to get so wrapped up in my thoughts and pursuits that I completely crowd out God.  Many of my thoughts and pursuits are perfectly fine to think and do; I just need to learn how to take the Lord along for the ride and to include him in everything I do.  He’s already with me, so it’s about time I acknowledge that!

We  spend a lot of  time taking care of our bodies and outward appearance with proper nutrition, grooming, and what we wear, but God is more concerned with the condition of the inner man, and that’s the one we’re taking to eternity with us.  If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, like I do, then we need to make it a part of our daily diet and commit as much of it as possible to memory.  “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  (Matthew 4:4)  This is food for the soul!

If you want to be good at anything, it takes:

desire, determination, and discipline.

How desperate are you for God?  How badly do you want to know him, to please him?  How passionate is your worship for him? Our walk with Christ is just that-a walk.  We reap what we sow.  I’m not talking about legalism here.  I think those of us in the “grace” camp are so afraid of  “earning our salvation” that we’ve become lazy and not willing to give up much of our time, talent, or treasure.  I don’t work so God will love me, I work because he loves me.  I know I can’t live the Christian life on my own without his help, but that doesn’t mean I should do just enough or give just enough to get by.  When I work with my heavenly Father I grow closer to him, which returns more joy and satisfaction, even while immersed in difficulties and sadness.  In fact, its more often in the hard times that I see him work most for me and for others.  As the hymn says,

“The things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
(Turn your eyes upon Jesus
, Helen H. Lemmel, 1922)

My sister, Deborah, is enjoying the ride in the photo above!

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