Friday, January 22, 2016

HELP! I Don't Know How to Pray!


I'm staring into space again. I'm supposed to be praying, but honestly I don't know how to pray. My sister and brother are gone, I'm having relationship issues with Kim, Lucy's making some bad life choices, Renee has health issues, Michelle is struggling with depression, and I'm supposed to be praying for all of them, but honestly I just don't know how. There is so much I could be praying for, yet here I am struggling to pray. How do I pray for others? 

I’m sure at some point in your life or perhaps right now you can relate to my own situation of ‘prayer uncertainty’. I had gone through the easy prayers "Please help so-and-so, protect blank, heal you-know-who--but beyond that I didn't know what was acceptable to pray. It was at that critical point in my spiritual life that I learned to pray the word; my prayer life flipped upside down. 

I must share that a lot of what I learned about prayer I gleaned from reading “A Praying Life”. Praying the word did three things in my life:
  1. Praying the Word made me confident in prayer. As Don Whitney says “Can you have any greater assurance that you are praying the will of God than praying the Word of God?” There is no fear involved when I pray the word, no question of whether it's 'ok' to pray for this or that--I have confidence in prayer because I'm praying the very words of God! 
  2. Praying the Word taught me how to pray. Scripture is full of models of how we are to pray. From the Old Testament prayers and psalms to the Lords prayer and Paul’s prayers in the New Testament. The biblical authors are constantly praying to God because they see their need for him. As I have prayed the word, I have learned what prayer means from the best prayer warriors. 
  3. Praying the Word requires you to learn the Word; I can’t pray for what I don’t understand. Praying the word caused me to be intimate with the Bible. I wasn't just reading a text, I began to really think upon it and in turn see God more deeply. The more I learned about God in his word and more I knew what caused his heart grief, what he was worthy of and what I should change in my own life. In brief the more I read the Bible the more I ran to Jesus in prayer. 
MY CHALLENGE TO YOU

If you’re struggling to pray, I challenge you to read through a Psalm a day focusing on how you can pray the Psalm for yourself, friends, unbelievers & the world. Pay attention to the life sustaining character of God—pray that you and your friends would experience that character. Look at the effects of sin and pray that God would protect you and your friends from sin. See the satisfaction found in Jesus and pray you & your friends would be satisfied in Jesus. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

What Do I Say?



In every baby picture of mine, my mouth is open. I blame that on my dad, who's always been great at making me laugh. My family, on the other hand, teases that I was getting an early start on something I've always been really good at: talking. 


The problem with those of us who talk a lot is that we frequently forget the incredible power words hold. Power to build up, and power to destroy. Words express love and destroy relationships. Each one of us has experienced the life-giving power of words and been hurt by the deathblows of words.

As believers, how can we use our words build up and give grace? After all, telling a discouraged friend to "get over it" may not be the most effective method of help. Likewise, someone who is incessantly lazy doesn’t need encouragement to continue as they are. We have to go beyond what we’d like to say or the point we think needs to be brought up and consider:

What does this friend need to hear right now?

This is biblical love, seeking to put the needs of others before our own. And there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. It takes wisdom, biblical knowledge, and dependence upon the Spirit. And we will make mistakes with our tongues. When that happens, go back and confess sin, and make things right. Then what are some practical steps to edify others with your speech?

Look for ways to affirm. Where do you see God’s work in the person in front of you? Affirm that! Affirm Christ-like actions, godly character, and wise decisions. This is not merely a pat “You’re doing great!” type of encouragement or flattery, but one that points the person to the goodness of God.

Hold your tongue. Sometimes the most edifying thing to do in a conversation is to not say anything. Lashing out, over-critiquing or criticizing, or debating an issue doesn’t generally help anyone.

Ask for wisdom. Next time someone shares something with you, instead of trying to solve their problem, pray! Ask God to give you wisdom in how you respond. Pray with the friend and admit that you don’t have all the answers.

QUESTION TO PONDER: 
        How will you use your words to bring life today?


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Are You Thirsty?


Over the summer I spent a month in the desert. Oh not a spiritual desert, mind you, a physical desert—and boy was it HOT. Less than 120 degrees was a cool day. Of course, being the adventurous type, I would valiantly march outside in spite of the heat to view the city, only to run back inside shortly after desperately longing for a cup of water.

If you haven’t been in a desert than imagine with me a bleak dry place scorching with heat, gasping for life that comes from water. Desperately crying out for water, according to Psalm 63, is the longing our souls are to have for Christ.

Psalms 63:1 says “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you; as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Psalms 63 gives us three ways we can choose to increase our thirstiness for Christ.

  • Seek: “earnestly I seek you” (v.1) When you are parched the need for water drives you to seek unendingly for it. Psalm 63 calls us to passionately seek for God to fill us. We seek after Christ by being constant in reading his word.
  • Look: "I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory” (v.2) We increase our desire for God by choosing to look at him. Thirsting after Christ is a choice. Just like we choose what movie we watch or book we read we can choose to focus on Christ. Choosing to fight the battle of gazing at Christ results in a desire to continue beholding Him.  We look at Christ by looking at God’s revealed character in his word.
  • Remember: “When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night” (v.6) Remember the past grace God has showed you in salvation or during a hard circumstances. Meditate specifically on the character God has showed you through circumstances, prayer and through his word, whether mercy, grace, faithfulness or love.

While in the dessert I found the longer I stood in the heat of the sun the thirstier I became. Nothing felt better than walking into an air-conditioned room to drink a cup of cold water. What’s interesting about Psalm 63 is that David was in the desert of Judah when he composed it. David knew how it felt to be physically in need of water and the wonderful satisfaction of being filled with it. David's physical need to be filled with water paralleled his spiritual need to be filled with Christ. David was desperately thirsty. 

The beautiful result of being thirsty for Christ by taking time to seek, look & remember Him is that you are filled with Christ! And as David shows us in Psalm 63, being filled with Christ produces an out-pouring of thanksgiving for Him “my lips will praise you” (v.3) “I will bless you” “in your name I will lift up my hands” (v.4) “I will sing for joy” (v7) “the king shall rejoice in God” (v.11)

QUESTIONS TO PONDER:
  • Are you thirsty for God?
  • Do you find yourself overflowing with thanksgiving for Jesus?

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Day at the Movie Theater & God's Love for Me

On New Years Day I went to the movie theater. Now I don't go the movies very often, so it was super fun! The movie was nice, but what struck me the most was the previews.
A majority of the previews featured a catastrophe coming to take over the world, or something like that. All were full of violence; violence done in the name of defeating evil and defending good. Most singled out a seemingly ordinary person who would shape the world's future. And all tried to answer the questions "where did the world come from?" and "why are we here?"
It may sound funny, but I was reminded in those few previews of the lostness in our world. We all desire to know where we came from. We all long to have purpose. Something found only Christ; a Christ the world rejects. The world finds its purpose in thwarting evil, so they naturally think violence is the answer. If we defeat the bad guys we'll have peace. If I'm not careful I start functioning as if I could destroy all the evil surrounding me. I think "If I could just change this situation... I would be happy." 
The gospel tells me that the biggest evil around me is me. It's the hidden evils of my heart that create the great chasm between me and God. Paul describes himself in 1 Timothy 1:15 as the foremost of sinners because he sees his sin in light of God. I once heard Richard Chin say that, “the only thing we contribute to our salvation is our own sin." 

I really wish I could be the hero of my life, I wish I could protect myself and the world from evil.  But the truth is my sin is the very reason I need to be saved. And no matter how much I'd like to be the hero of my own story I cannot save myself from my own heart.
That is why the gospel is such good news! Jesus didn't conquer sin by physically tearing apart his enemies. He didn't grab an automatic weapon and run around shooting his enemies while dodging bullets.  He conquered evil in a way that seems so backwards to the world and to me--with love.  He died so that I could be saved from myself. Jesus conquered sin with love. 1 John 4:10 has new meaning to me: "In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
Oh how grateful am I for the undeserved steadfast love of the Lord!

QUESTIONS TO PONDER: 
  • Do you want to be the hero of your own story? 
  • Do you think if something outside of you (a person or circumstance) changed everything would be ok? 
  • Have you ever thought about how backwards God's love is to the world?
  • Have you confessed to God that you can't save yourself?
      

Friday, January 1, 2016

When the Resolutions Fail


2015 is over. You might look back now and think, “I didn’t accomplish almost anything I planned to do.” That can lead to disappointment and despair, and a resolve to try harder. It is good to plan ahead and to set goals. In that sense, New Year’s Resolutions can be helpful. But the problem is, sometimes we set goals for the year and neglect to follow through with them. 

So why don't the resolutions last?

Sometimes our goals are too broad. 
A goal to read the Bible more is admirable, because we must seek the Lord and saturate our minds in the truth. But just putting that on your list of New Year’s resolutions won’t guarantee that you’ll accomplish it. Set specific goals. Figure out what distracts you. Make war with the flesh and prioritize steeping your mind and heart in the Word. Ask someone hold you accountable. Seek wisdom from others on ways to do this. 

And ask, "How can I focus on deepening my relationship with God and not merely making a checklist?" 

Sometimes we put too many expectations on ourselves.
Goals are great. Perfection isn't. Think pinterest fails. Many of the beautiful things we see aren't quite attainable, at least as we'd like. And that is perfectly okay. If you don't get to everything on your to-do list, that's ok. If unexpected changes keep you from accomplishing your goals, don't sweat it. It reminds us that we are frail human beings. We can't do everything. If we could, we wouldn't need God. Sometimes we gain more from our plans getting set-aside than when we run people over because we're so tunnel-visioned with our plans. 

Ask God each day, "What priorities would You have for me today? How can I love and serve those around me?"

Sometimes we don't establish habits.
It takes a long time to establish a new habit. And even longer to break an bad one. Discipline to read Scripture and pray daily takes hard work. It never "just happens". Keep disciplining yourself for godliness. Keep fighting the sin that so easily entangles. And always look to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. We can't establish any long-lasting change in our own strength. 

Ask, "How can I seek to establish the right habits and priorities in 2016?"

Life is bigger than New Year’s resolutions. Your hope is not found in what you did or did not do in any given year. You will never perform enough to make yourself right with God. God's acceptance of us is not based on how perfectly we live, it's based on the finished work of Christ. When we sin, when we fail, instead of scolding ourselves, we need to repent, but we need to run to the cross, where Christ performed perfectly and cloaked us in His righteousness. We can run to His mercy and forgiveness and lean upon Him for grace to accomplish what we need to do. 

If 2015 holds regrets for you, don't live in light of those. Live in light of who you are in Christ, and by His power, seek to be more faithful in 2016. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Seeking the Savior

For the past several Christmas seasons our family has sat down to watch the classic nativity story. Over the years we’ve gotten into the habit of skipping through the two-hour movie to watch our favorite scenes—which never fails to include all the wisemen scenes!  

This December I've been thinking on the wisemen. Though the Bible details little specifically on these wise old men, I imagine it took an incredible amount of faith for them to journey to see Jesus. Though they were rich, I can’t imagine a journey of months was without great discomfort and problems—aches and pains that would have been avoided if they had just stayed in the East. But they didn’t. Just think: The Israelites had been eagerly waiting the coming of their Messiah, but when he came they missed Him, because they were seeking after what Jesus could give them, not who he was. While the Israelites demanded something of Jesus, the wisemen sacrificed to see Jesus. 

My very favorite scene in the nativity story is when the third wisemen approaches the manger. When he finally sees Jesus, all his complaining and second-guessing vanishes because he knows without a doubt that Jesus, the Son of God, is worthy of sacrifice.  As Christmas comes to a close this 2015 year, my prayer is that in 2016 I would sacrificially seek after the Savior. For 2016 it may mean giving up sleep, time, desires, or comforts and it will most certainly mean having my sinful heart exposed. But, as the third wisemen saw, that’s all ok if it means that in 2016 I see the Savior! 


QUESTIONS TO PONDER
  • What are you willing to sacrifice to see Jesus?
  • What discomforts will you endure just to see Jesus? 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Amazed by Grace



I woke up one morning with a song on my heart; an old one, but one that resonated with me in that moment:

Each day I fall on my knees
Your grace still amazes me
(Your Grace Still Amazes Me)

I was suddenly humbled by how much grace God has shown me. How could I ever doubt His love, when He sent His only Son to die in my place? How quickly I forget the magnitude of the grace He's shown me.

When things are hard, we often find it difficult to recognize God's grace. We doubt His love or think He's acting harshly, when in fact, it is grace! 

And in that vein, walking out of a difficult childhood, painful experiences, or burdensome situations hardened and bitter mainly results because of one thing:

We fail to be amazed at God's grace. 

This truth convicts me. I'm not often amazed with God when things don't go my way! And in I'm generally not quick to identify how much grace God has shown me. 

Do you know what's even more amazing? As I fail to notice God's grace, and respond complaining, angry, or bitter, God continues to lavish His grace upon me. Because He loves His children and treats us with great gentleness.

Sometimes God's grace is uncomfortable. It comes in a form of a friend pointing out sin. It comes through vulnerability. It comes as we persevere for an unanswered prayer. It comes in the midst of hard decisions. It comes when we admit we are weak. It comes through someone praying for you, or the truth penetrating your heart, or the breaking down of walls that you've put up. Those things, though immensely hard, can exhibit God's grace in unique ways that we cannot see when things are going well. But we have to be on the lookout for how God manifests His grace in these seemingly strange ways. 

I still don't understand what God is doing in my life a lot of the time. I have many questions. But no matter what's happening, I want my life to have a spotlight on His grace. I want the first thing I seek out in the middle of any situation to be: What are evidences of God's grace to me right now?

So then, no matter what's thrown at me, I can remind myself of God's grace to me in that moment. 

Because His grace towards me is amazing. For that I'm grateful.

QUESTIONS TO PONDER: 

  • Are you still in awe of what grace God has lavished on you?


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christ In Me

As Christmas continues to approach at a rapidly increasing pace, I continue to contemplate the beauty of the manger. What has captured me the most this season is the mere importance of Jesus birth. I believe I often peg the cross as more significant than Christ's birth. It dawned on me, this Christmas season, that the presence of Jesus in me sustains me throughout the entire year. I have confidence in Christ—despite circumstances—because I know that Christ is IN me! I can trust him when things are difficult, I can fight sin because he is with me—all of these things are based on the fact that he came! And that is so glorious! 

This December Christy Nockles song “Everything is Mine in You” has really resonated with me as I look back over 2015.



Everything is mine in You
Even when my heart is breaking
Everything is mine in You
Even when my hands are empty
Everything is mine in You
Oh, in You

Everything is mine in You
I can trust You with my longing
Everything is mine in You
Even though the road is lonely
Everything is mine in You
Oh, in You

‘Cause You are, master over all
And You say, You are my inheritance
And in You, I have everything I need
And You are, seated in the heavenlies
And You say, forever You’re my hiding place
And in You, I have everything I need
Everything is mine in You
And I know my future’s bright
Everything is mine in You
Past or present, death and life
Everything is mine in You

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Cultivating Love for God



I developed a love for photography from a young age. Back in the day, I received my first disposable camera as a gift to use during a family vacation. I used it to take quite pointless photos. But it was a blast.

By age 11 I started doing mini “photo shoots” with my friends in the backyard, capturing the moments on my film camera. I always loved people, so photographing my friends was a natural outcome. Eventually I moved to digital photography, and finally invested in an SLR. 15 years later, I still love photography.


All of us delight in something. It could be a hobby, a friend, sports, a form of entertainment. But how to we delight in what's most important? 

  • We start by recognizing our need to increase our delight for God. 
In order for one thing to increase, another must decrease. Just like Eve in the garden, who saw the tree as a “delight to the eyes” (Gen. 3:6), so we often turn to temporary things for delight. We must confess this and recognize that only the Lord can satisfy with true delight. 
  • Steep our hearts and minds in the truth of God's Word. 
Great are the works of the Lordstudied by all who delight in them." (Ps. 111:2)

Think about it. How do you increase love for a sport or a hobby? Study! Because I love photography, I choose to learn from those who are better than I, gathering ideas, techniques, and methods. It might be a lot of work, but it isn’t drudgery. It’s fun, because I delight in it. Similarly, we must spend time in God's Word if we desire to delight in Him. Psalm 1:2 pictures this when it describes the blessed man: "his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night."

  • The third step to increase our delight for God requires walking in obedience
"I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart." (Ps. 40:8) 

As we delight in God and obey His Word, His desires begin to permeate our hearts. We increasingly love Him more and abhor our sin more deeply. Our own selfish desires fade compared to His lasting fulfillment. 


There is nothing that can ever come close to the delight that comes from God. But there is nothing that is more difficult. Choose to fight the battle for delight. "There is no greater battle than the battle to delight in God above all else." John Piper


QUESTIONS TO PONDER: 

  • What am I delighting in today? 
  • How will I fight to delight in the Lord today?


Monday, December 7, 2015

Relishing God's Word


A couple months ago, Revive Our Hearts held their 2015 conference entitled Women Helping Women. Allison and I didn’t attend, but we set aside Friday & Saturday to live-stream the conference. Boy was it worth it!

If I had to pick a favorite speaker I would choose Jen Wilkins. Jen’s heart for the word was contagious and inspiring. I was challenged to start thinking deeply about God’s Word in order to feel deeply about God!

During the conference Jen said “We should feel deeply about God but that feeling should come from thinking deeply about him.  We are transformed not by our feelings but our thinking. Right thinking should inform right feelings.” Her goal was to show us that deep feeling about God comes from studying him in the word. We don’t often rush to meditate on God’s character when we read a text of Scripture; I know I don’t. I rush to the application—what can I take away from this passage to get me through the day? What God has shown me is that when I see Him in his Word it will affect my life. I can’t behold God and not be changed.

In light of Jen's sessions, I was challenged to start asking these three questions while reading the Word.
  1. What do I see about God in this passage? 
  2. What does this passage say about me in relation to God? 
  3. How should seeing God in this passage change me? 

A second thing Jen Wilkin said that stood out to me was, “The best tool you can give women is to pray. Any study of God’s word that doesn’t involve prayer before, during and after will not be felt deeply. We become what we behold—stop and look at Jesus.”

It hadn’t really dawned on me the importance of praying that God would show me himself before, during and after I read the word. I pray for God to show me more of himself often, but not alongside reading the Bible.

Guess what? The Review Our Heart conference sessions areavailable online! I hope you’ll take time to listen to at least one of the sessions that you too may be challenged and encouraged by the Word!

QUESTIONS TO PONDER:

  • Do you cherish your time in the Word?
  • Do you rush through your Bible reading to get to the daily application?
  • Are you ready to think deeply about the passage you read?