“I am the vine;
you are the branches.
Whoever abides in me
and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.“ John 15:5 (ESV)
“With God, all things are possible.”
When I read, hear or say this, I usually emphasize the “all things are possible” part.
Today, I can’t get past the “WITH GOD” part.
The hard truth – one that I don’t like to admit – is that I have a tendency to be more self-centered than Veruca Salt. The hard truth is that I want what I want when I want it. and often, “I WANT IT NOW!”
If God isn’t in it.
If God doesn’t want it.
If God doesn’t want it for me.
If God knows that it will lead me away from Him.
If God knows that my current desire ALREADY pulls me away from him.
If God knows that my current desire might be counter to His plan to draw people to a saving knowledge of Him and to accept His gift of grace.
If God knows that my current desire might be counter to His desire for a living, intimate, dependent relationship with me and/or someone else…
then, God’s not in it.
Even if “it” is possible and I go after it on my own – withOUT God, I will fail. Maybe not fail in the eyes of the world, under the world’s definition of success, but I will fail.
Because all my dreams and goals, if pursued withOUT God, lead me away from Him. And when I fill my life with things that exclude Christ, those things amount to a
“I am the vine;
you are the branches.
Whoever abides in me
and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (ESV)
“When a worship leader reads the Bible you can tell.”
Carlos Whittaker is a worship leader, author and speaker. So I’m betting he knows that his statement extends from “worship leader” to “writer” to “speaker” to “someone.”
Personally, I can spot “trite” messages in a New York minute. I’m betting I’m not the only one.
Worship leaders who speak in the vagueness of song lyric poetry and speakers who spend extended time telling stories and weaving metaphors without connecting them to truth in scripture. Words dripping in entertainment, feel good inspiration or contrived attempts to stir emotion. Words that don’t lead to deeper understanding or dredge up self-examination. Fluffy words that don’t scrape the bottom to dredge up conviction or reveal underlying pride or fear.
Carlos Whittaker is right. When someone reads the Bible, you can tell.
For me, the opposite is true as well. When I’m NOT spending time in the Word, you can tell. My words turn thin, losing both depth and meaning. And if you know me, you know I love me some depth and meaning. When I’m not spending time in the Word – and in prayer – my perspective shifts to my own little corner (yes, that is a R&H Cinderella reference).
But when I let go of the grip I have on “my” day and ask God to bless me with a desire for Him, I find myself drawn to Him. I actually WANT to read the Word and spend time with Him.
Notice I didn’t start with “If I just read the Bible.” I started with prayer asking God to bless me with a desire to read the Bible. Because, I know me. On my own, my tendency would be to curl up with a cuppa joe and a good book ABOUT the Bible.
Some days, my tendency is to curl up with a cuppa joe and my laptop and allow the internet to suck the time out of my day.
But when I spend time in God’s living Word, it lives in me and there’s no keeping it in check. My perspective shifts from my own limited and skewed point of view to consider people and relationships and circumstances from God’s greater vantage point.
I ABIDE in Him.
So I pray for a desire for the Word. And I pray for the motivation to actually READ it. And I pray for the Holy Spirit to open the scriptures to me and help me to understand and apply its timeless truths to my life TODAY.
And I pray for the Holy Spirit to equip me – and put words in my mouth when I speak so that the word “trite” is never an adjective anyone could or would ever use to describe the words that come out of my mouth.
“By this we know that we abide in him
and he in us,
because he has given us of his Spirit.” 1 John 4:13 (ESV)
I used to think the word “abide” referred to that part of prayer where I was supposed to shut up and listen. Like God and I were taking turns doing the talking.
Prayer: My turn to talk, God’s turn to listen. Abide: God’s turn to talk, my turn to listen.
Over the last 7 years, I’ve come to realize that abiding is so much more than me shutting up and listening during “prayer time.”
I think I first began to realize that my definition of abiding was much too narrow when I began to understand that my definition of prayer was much too narrow.
I used to think of prayer as dedicated time talking to God. These days, I call that type of prayer “event” prayer because it takes place like an event – it has a beginning and an end. Often, it’s prayer that opens with a salutation, like “Dear Lord” or “Heavenly Father” and always concludes with the word “Amen.”
And then it’s over until next time.
By the grace of God, I’ve come to understand that while “event” prayer is good and necessary, it is only one kind of prayer.
Now, the most common type of prayer I engage in is practicing the presence of God. It’s an ongoing, no holds barred conversation with God. What used to be that constant inner conversation with myself all day long has shifted and now it’s [almost always] directed to God. The shift in direction has transformed self-directed self-talk into intimate prayer with the Holy Spirit who dwells within me through my faith in Christ.
When prayer began to saturate my moments and my days in this way, abiding began to take on new meaning. When I talk to the Holy Spirit about everything, all day, it’s because Christ is answering my prayer with a big “YES!” when I ask Him to bless me with an awareness that “the Lord my God is is with me everywhere I go.” (Joshua 1:9)
When I’m aware of God’s presence in my moments and my days in this way, I’m abiding in Christ.
“[…this is the Word of the Lord…] ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty”
The other day, I listened as someone told my daughter that she needed to find and rely on her “inner strength.”
What exactly does that mean? Determination? Confidence? A recognition of personal identity and worth? Where does inner strength come from? Do “broken” people have it and just can’t find it because it’s buried under layers of pain or fear or hopelessness?
My problem with “inner strength” is that it waxes and wanes, usually parallel to my circumstances. And there’s no rhyme or reason to it. Crisis is just as likely to discourage me as it is to fuel me to action. Criticism is just as likely to fill me with doubt as it is to spark a fire of determination. Rejection is just as likely to send me running as it is to compel me to plant my feet. Inner strength seems to be dependent on how I feel and think about myself at any give time.
Inner strength is shifting sand. I can’t plant my feet in shifting sand.
Thankfully, my daughter already knows all this. We were both gracious, both engaged and fully listening to the well-meaning giver of unsolicited advice, but as the young woman spoke, I prayed. “Lord, should I tell her? Have you prepared her mind and heart to hear?” She paused, raising her eyebrows, looking for a response, seemingly expecting affirmation and agreement.
My daughter and I looked at each other. We both knew what could be shared in that moment.
I said, “As Christians, we believe there’s even more to it than that. The Bible tells us that because we have a relationship with Jesus, we have a helper, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so we are never alone. God is always with us. Everywhere we go.”
There was a brief pause. She hadn’t expected that response.
She broke the awkward silence by turning back to my daughter again. “That’s good…but sometimes, you’ll feel like God isn’t there…”
She continued a few more minutes, paused again, and looked at me. I had been praying about what to say, if anything.
I said, “It’s true, there are times when it doesn’t seem like God is there. It’s like when you learned to ride a bike. Whoever was teaching you was running behind the bike, holding the seat, and then he let go. You didn’t feel his hand on the bike anymore, but you knew he was still there. When you fell, he was there to pick you up and comfort you and encourage you to try again. He didn’t keep you from falling, but he never left.”
I could tell she had heard me. I didn’t push. I hadn’t stopped her as she explained to my daughter that she needed inner strength for those times when she didn’t “feel” God.
My daughter knows her faith isn’t grounded in her emotions. My daughter and I both know how to practice the presence of God and that sometimes, He is silent. We both understand that the source of our inner strength is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that whether we “feel” God or not, we can have confidence that He is with us. I knew I had planted a seed and that the young woman would think about the conversation later.
God would not be revealed to her as the ultimate source of inner strength through our effort or will. We just planted a seed. Now, it’s up to the Holy Spirit to soften her heart, open her mind and “draw her to Himself.” (John 6:44)
If you’ve entered into a relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within you. When you lack confidence in yourself, I pray you are blessed with confidence in Christ. I pray you find your identity in Christ and understand your value through a deep understanding of His unconditional love for you. I pray that regardless of how you may feel on a given day, you will remember, “God is with you, wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
“[…this is the Word of the Lord…] ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty”
Have you ever been in a situation where the harder you try, the farther away from your goal you seem to get? No matter how focused and determined you are, no matter what you do or say, the distance between what you’re striving for and what’s actually happening just continues to grow.
What begins as a desire to set things “right” can birth a desperation that leaves a knot in the pit of your stomach and a frantic anxiety that drives us to push and try to manipulate circumstances.
One of the most difficult lessons I’ve experienced in this area has been a situation where I was trying to explain something God was teaching and revealing to me and the more I talked (or wrote), the more people misunderstood and rejected what they thought I was saying and my actual message was lost. The more angry they became, the more they dismissed me and distanced themselves and in many cases, the more people cut off our relationship completely, choosing instead to talk about me behind my back and on the internet.
You just want to fix that kind of thing, ya know?
But no matter how hard I tried to explain what I was discovering and feeling, the more I realized I was talking (and typing) to air. I knew I was supposed to share what God was teaching me and I did. Reluctantly and after months of arguing with God, with love and heartache for people I cared about, despite growing awareness of the bridges that were being burned.
But over the last two years, I’ve come to realize that my obedience in sharing my lesson wasn’t to change hearts or minds or even just circumstances. It was to be a witness to Christ’s influence in my life. And it was to plant seeds. God would bring the rain for growth.
and the drought to create thirst.
and the fire to test.
The growing season has not been short or free from pain, for me or for others. But in hindsight, I can see how God has been moving. Slow and steady, softening hearts and opening minds. Teaching lessons that, while different from mine, have and continue to produce the best harvest – hearts drawn closer to Christ. And while it’s heartbreaking to see the pain that’s had to be borne through this season, The Holy Spirit has reminded me that when hearts are closer to Christ, it’s impossible that they remain unchanged. Through the change – the transformation – of the heart, other changes automatically come to fruition. Those circumstances that I desperately tried to change on my own, God has changed and continues to change.
My job was to seek and listen to the Voice of Truth. My job was to be a witness to what God was doing in my heart and mind. My job was to plant seeds, regardless of the consequences. My job was to pray, in faith, trusting that God would work all things for His greater, ultimate good, which is to draw people into intimate, living, dependent relationship with Him.
Not by my might.
Not by my power.
But by His Spirit.
So, whatever your impossible circumstances, pray. Persistently. and wait. His timing is perfect, even when He delays.
“He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24 “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Corrie ten Boom
I’ve been posting memory verses on facebook for a few weeks now, a new verse starting every Sunday. Every day, I post an new image from pinterest and sometimes write a short commentary on the verse. We’ll find out how consistent I am, both on facebook and now here on my blog. Here’s the first post for this week:
“[…this is the Word of the Lord…] ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty” Zechariah 4:6b
I don’t know about you, but when there’s a problem, I want to fix it.
Whether the problem is mine or someone else’s, the most frustrating thing in the world is when I am powerless to change circumstances for the better. But what is better? Who am I to decide that? Who are you?
We can be so arrogant in our pain sometimes, thinking a loving God wouldn’t – couldn’t possibly – want or use this circumstance to accomplish His omniscient understanding of “better.”
The first image for this week’s #memoryverse reminds me of a story. I’ll paraphrase, so if you’ve heard it before, bear with me. A young man asks God what He wants him to do with his life. God tells him that every day, he is to go and push a giant rock at the bottom of a valley nearby. For twenty years, the man pushes the rock. All. day. long. After twenty years (I would have lasted a day), the man finally cries out in frustration “God, I’ve done EXACTLY what You’ve told me to do for TWENTY years and that rock hasn’t even moved a fraction of an inch!” God looks at the man with compassion and replies, “I didn’t ask you to MOVE the rock. I only asked you to push it. Look at your arms. Your legs. Look at your body. Look at how strong you’ve become.”
oh. I didn’t consider that.
The promise of Isaiah 66:9 tells us “‘In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,’ says the Lord.”
Are you suffering and all your efforts feel as futile as pushing against a giant rock all day long? The rock may not be moving, but REMEMBER.
It’s possible, that in His sovereign will, God may have placed that rock in your life. He may have just allowed Satan to throw a rock at you. Regardless of the source of the rock, there is peace that comes from the confidence that God is redeeming every pain for ULTIMATE “better.”
Sometimes, He uses rocks to make us stronger.
While I don’t claim to know what God’s “better” is with regard to the circumstances of your life, I can say with confidence that, above everything else that’s going on in your life, His “better” is that you will be drawn closer to Him and that through an intimate, living, dependent relationship with Jesus, you will be transformed. I pray this confidence and peace for you today.
I was recently part of a discussion about a church supported service project. A number of different ideas were on the table, none of them mine. The project itself wasn’t my priority. They were all good ideas. All needed. All would “do good.”
My concern, what I had been thinking and praying about for over a week prior to this meeting was that whatever service project we decided upon, it would track back to Jesus Christ.
Over the years, I’ve observed and/or been a part of a number of church supported service projects, at a number of churches – very, very few of which led to an open door to share the gospel.
All were good. All were needed. All did “good things.”
But serving those in need without tracking back to Christ is just philanthropy, not Christian mission.
Both my daughter and my son are having a full and stress filled week. A VERY full and stress filled week. Sleep is going to come at a premium.
It’s “tech week” for a show PinkGirl is teching. She’s not performing in this show. She’s one of the people wearing all black who works behind the scenes and helps keep things moving smoothly during a show, no matter what the need. That means rehearsals every night this week – for her own show Monday/Tuesday night and rehearsals for the show she’s teching Wednesday/Thursday night. The show opens Friday night and additional showings are Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
FavoriteSon is in the final week of his spring semester and he works as a tutor, so he literally did math for over 12 hours on both Monday and Tuesday, either learning it or teaching it. He has two finals today and another paper due tomorrow. His week started after an exhausting (but great) weekend. Saturday the weather was rare and perfect on the ocean, so he and his dad got up at 5am to go on a PHENOMENAL fishing day on our boat.
They got home late and stinky. Then, he got up Sunday at 6:45 to run sound for the K-5th grade worship services at his church from 8am to 1:30pm. (He does that every Sunday.) He spent his Sunday afternoon writing a paper and finished off his weekend tutoring a friend till late Sunday night.
It’s only hump day and both PinkGirl and FavoriteSons are already tired. This means one thing. They both need grace from me this week. (And from my husband, but he is admittedly better at patience and giving grace than me. I’d like to think it has something to do with the fact that due to his work schedule, I see the kids more hours in a day, but the fact is, he’s more easygoing than I am.)
Giving grace takes prayer. Some might say it takes patience.
I’ve been praying for patience.
Because I knew cranky was coming. I knew frustrated snark was in my future.
I’m still praying. For patience like manna. My schedule is pretty calm these days, so I ordered my week in anticipation for their growing exhaustion by making myself available to help them. Little things, like picking up some of their chores, typing a handwritten paper, putting healthy snacks down in front of them, prepared and ready to eat, pushing them to go to bed when they are still worked up from their day, and praying for them and with them for strength and stamina, among other things. Praying for myself to be able to give them grace in response to cranky snark.
Some might say I’m a patsy.
If this happened all the time, I’d entertain that thought. But it doesn’t. It’s rare and temporary. Both these kids and my husband are there for me when I need them to pick up my slack or help me out, and I don’t take that for granted.
Is someone in your life dishing up a full helping of cranky snark?
I don’t just assume I can muster up patience and grace on my own.
I already know I can’t.
Pray for patience and for God to bless you with a supernatural ability to extend grace. His grace is sufficient in your weakness and He is glorified when His strength is visible in your life.
Me: “Well…for me…the way I find joy in God is to grow closer to Him. There are a few things you can do to grow closer to Him. You already know what’s first though, right?”
Me: “Yep. There’s lots of different ways to pray, but I think the way that brings me closest to God is practicing His presence. You remember what I told you about practicing the presence of God? How I first started doing it?”
Me: “I imagined Jesus physically with me everywhere I went – in the passenger seat of my van…”
PinkGirl: “oh yeah.”
Me: “Jesus is right here with us now.”
I pointed to the chair next to us.
“If you imagine Him sitting right here with us – not just sitting here, eavesdropping on our conversation, but actually participating in it, it changes everything. And sometimes not in a way you might expect. It won’t be all rainbows. You won’t be thanking Him and praising Him all the time. If you really do imagine Jesus with you wherever you go, you may find yourself crying and yelling at Him sometimes. Telling Him all the things you don’t think are fair, begging him to help you and heal you and protect you and getting frustrated or mad or even heartbroken when He doesn’t do what you want or expect or if He’s slower than you think He should be. But you have to be honest with God.”
PinkGirl: “He already knows anyway.”
Me: “Yeah, He does.”
We sat there for a while, talking about all the different ways to pray. We talked about honest, wide open prayer, without holding anything back. We talked about how authentic prayer helps us to grow closer to God and how growing closer to God helps us find joy in Him, no matter whether we’re happy or sad about what’s happening in our life. We talked about how happiness is temporal and based on our circumstances, but joy in God is eternal and based on who He is and our relationship with Jesus.
Me: “Prayer is when we tell God everything. But we also need to listen to Him. What’s the best way to hear from God?”
PinkGirl: “Be alone with Him?”
Me: “That’s one way. I call that abiding in Him. But that’s next. Something else comes first. The best way to hear God speak to us is to read His Word.”
PinkGirl: “I try, but I don’t understand a lot of it.”
Me: I get that. There’s a lot I don’t understand either. But here’s the thing. There’s a lot you do understand – way before you even get to the stuff you don’t understand. You understand what you learn in Bible [class], right?
Me: “So, see? You understand more than you think. Outside of Bible [class], what’s the last thing you read on your own?”
PinkGirl: “I don’t remember.”
Me: “You understand the scriptures in your devotion book, right?”
Me: “What was your last devotion about?”
PinkGirl: “I don’t remember.”
Me: “When do you do your devotion, in the morning or at bedtime?”
PinkGirl: “In the morning.”
Me: “After your devotion time is over, how often do you think about the scripture you read later in your day?”
Me: “Just reading the Bible isn’t enough. You won’t grow in your relationship with Christ if you don’t remember what you read. You have to engage in God’s Word. That takes effort. How can you remember the scripture from your morning devotion throughout your day ? And for days after that?”
We talked about how on our own, reading the Bible isn’t something we want to do all the time and that God knows that. We talked about forgetting to read the Bible or not making time for it. We talked about how we make time for the other things we love. We talked about the first and constant thing we should do: pray and ask God to give us a desire to read His Word. We talked about the fact that we can’t just “do better” on our own. We talked about asking God to give us – to bless us – with a hunger for His Word – with a hunger for Him. We talked about setting reminders on her iPod, bands on her wrist, special jewelry, even writing notes to herself on her hand.
Me: “After reading the Bible, another good way to hear from God is to abide in Him. You called it being alone with Him. When are you ever truly alone. Quiet and still?”
PinkGirl: “When I’m in my room.”
Me: “I mean really alone and quiet. No itouch, no iPad, no tv, no internet, no youtube, no text, no instagram, no facetime…”
Me: “Sleeping doesn’t count.”
Me: “If you want to be closer to God, if you want to find joy in Him, you have to spend time with Him. Think of it this way. When you and PeterPanFan (her BFF) hang out together, you grow closer, don’t you think? You talk to each other, you have inside jokes, you start to think alike, finish each other’s sandwiches…even when you two are at your own houses, when you interact over the internet through text or instagram, you’re still spending time with each other even though you are miles apart. But if you were at your house and she was at her house and you weren’t interacting over the internet, you wouldn’t be able to hear her. What would happen to your friendship if you didn’t spend time together?”
Me: “How connected can you be to God if you don’t spend time alone with Him?”
Me: So. Prayer. Reading God’s Word and Abiding in Him. There’s something else you can do to find joy in God.”
PinkGirl: “Thanking Him?”
Me: “Actually there’s two kinds. Giving thanks for His blessings and praising Him for who He is. When you thank Him for blessings, you begin to recognize those blessings in your life more and more. And when you praise Him for who He is, no matter what your circumstances are, it helps you remember that God is sovereign and nothing happens to you that He doesn’t will or allow.”
We talked about disappointments, God’s providence and the peace that comes from trusting that all circumstances – which lead to both happiness and sadness – are God’s providence. We talked about tapestries. And praising Him, no matter what.
We talked about a lot of things. The things I’ve shared here are the things she gave me permission to share.
Afterwards, I realized.
Prayer. Reading God’s Word. Abiding in Him. Gratitude. P.R.A.G. The first four chapters of the book I was writing about how to experience a more intimate relationship with Christ. Seems so easy, just looking at them here. Not so easy. To do or to write about. If they were easy to do, every Christian would do them. If they were easy to write about…I haven’t been able to write for months. But in these precious moments with my daughter, I was able to articulate a summary in kid language.
He has been preparing me. Not only for that question at that moment.