Monday, March 26, 2012

what truly satisfies

Over the last few months I've come to a deeper understanding of my relationship with the Lord.  This is not to say that I've in any way "arrived", in fact, with this understanding comes a renewed urgency to know Him more.  Nonetheless, it is an amazing feeling to realize that when God says's He is enough, He is.  I don't say this to be flippant or to in any way simplify this notion, but to enhance it by stating it plainly. 

In relation to this, we are studying through Psalm 119 in our women's group at church (The Aletheia as I've mentioned before).  I have been so encouraged by breaking this large Psalm down into manageable chunks and really trying to dive into what the Psalmist is saying.  Over and over again it is repeated that the word of God & His commandments are what establishes us, what we give thanks for, how we remain pure, what we praise Him for, what comforts us...and the list goes on.  I have never before been so challenged to ask myself what the word means to me and if I'm desiring it like I should. 

I've also recognized the longing the psalmist has for the Lord.  Just a few phrases from the beginning section of Psalm 119 (emphases mine):

v2 How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart
v10 With all my heart I have sought You
v20 My soul is crushed with longing after Your ordinances at all times
v31 I cling to Your testimonies
v40 Behold I long for Your precepts
v45b For I seek Your precepts
v48 I shall lift up my hands to Your commandments, which I love and I will meditate on Your statues
v57 The Lord is my portion
v58 I have sought Your favor with all my heart

In my mind, I picture the psalmist on his knees in utter disbelief that God is his portion and strength.  The words he uses are not fluffy, soft words but intense, deliberate words like all, sought, crushed, longing, cling, seek, and love.  There is so much passion and emotion and clear thought wrapped up in these words and phrases bringing me to a clearer understating of what it means to truly desire God.

In every day life we are faced with countless distractions.  With magazines and adds that show 'perfect' people and bodies, with endless things to desire and lust after either owned by our neighbors or displayed in store windows, and with television and movies that allow us to escape our own (sometimes bleak) reality.  We are constantly hit by a barrage of stuff that is supposed to make us happy but in the end will let us down.  We'll get old and, no matter the amount of botox we use, we'll still have wrinkles.  No matter the quantity or price of stuff we buy, it will never last forever and will always need to be replaced by the "next greatest thing".  Our lives will continue on and we wont be able to escape the reality of death.

Compare this reality with that of the psalmist and you see a stark contrast.  Desiring stuff versus desiring the Lord.  For me, it's recognizing that the desire of the psalmist is the only desire that can be truly fulfilled.  "I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:4) and "...Seek, and you will find...for everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds..." (Matthew 7:7).  God promises to answer us and deliver us when we seek Him.  God is there to be found.  These are just a few of the promises He makes to us! Can a magazine give you that?  Can a movie truly change your life?  Can stuff really fulfill a lonely heart?

The best part is found in Romans 6:8-11...
"Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him...Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus".  God promises us life. True life!  Not just someone elses life or someone elses stuff, but our very own, personal relationship with the creator of the universe.  He hands that to us free of charge.  A gift.  The best gift. 

I know it's easy to get caught up in the things of this life but we must remember that they are hazards to us.  They sneak in and shift our focus from what truly satisfies to a momentary fix that, once it's gone, will leave you wanting more.  I know that, for myself, the only thing I want established in front of me is the Lord and His precepts and I know that that will satisfy me completely.  Nothing I could purchase or even make myself become would come close.  It's amazing the complete satisfaction and confidence that can be found in our relationship with the Creator.

Who or what is satisfying you?

How can a young man keep his way pure?  By keeping it according to Your word.
Psalm 119:9

Thursday, March 15, 2012

comparison & perfection

Comparison kills.  I heard it described once (and I'm totally paraphrasing) that if a girl walks into a room with other girls around she will automatically compare herself to all of those girls.  She'll eventually end up deciding that she is equal to some, better than others, and not as good as some too.  The sad thing is that this is all too true. 

What is it that makes us do this?  Girl or not, I'm sure everyone has struggled with comparing themselves to others when it comes to their relationship with God.  This too is a grievous thing.  We start to analyze our relationship with God and then we see others who we think are better at it than we are, and we get discouraged.  Suddenly, this newly established standard of "near-perfection" is unobtainable and results in a few different responses.  We can become despondent and apathetic, thinking that our faith will never be that great or that inspiring and we slide down the slippery slope of self-deprecation.  We can become angry and frustrated, blaming God for our own lack of zeal and motivation.  We can become drastic, thinking that, at this point in time, we are not what we should be so therefore we never will be, which can lead to giving up.  Or we can see the inspiration that someone elses walk with God can be, latch hold of it, and use it to fuel a desire for deeper devotion to the Lord.

This last option is of course the best response, but isn't always the easiest.  There have been so many times in my life that I've seen someone else react to a bad situation with such hope and strength that I've been tempted to respond like the prior three.  There have also been times where I've gotten to know someone and thought, "I wish my faith was as deep and genuine as theirs - I fear I'll never be that devoted to God".  It's easy in those situations to compare my situation or my faith with theirs but what a ridiculous thing to do.  If I were to be advising myself in the situation I would have said something like, "Really?  You're comparing your faith to someone who has been a Christian for at least 10 years more than you?". 

When I really stop to think this through, I almost laugh (almost) because, no matter the situation I'm in, someone has probably gone through something similar to it and more than likely they responded poorly the first time.  I hype these things up in my mind and think, I'm hopeless because my first response wasn't what it should have been.  Praise God I even recognized that it was a poor response!  The right reaction and response, I believe, comes from responding poorly the first time.  This may not be the case in every instance, but how do we as humans learn?  We fail, and then we adjust the next time by His grace. 

I am saddened to see myself fail or to see others fail as well, but that doesn't mean there isn't hope for the future!  When we compare ourselves to others we are setting a standard for us that God never intended.  I think we forget one BIG truth that supersedes all of this - Who should we really be comparing ourselves to?  Christ!  And, if we all were compared with Him, we'd all fall short (Romans 3:23) so that puts us all in the same sinking boat!  It's only by God's grace that any of us is saved or that any of us can respond in the correct manner and that is a huge relief!  When we realize this, we are no longer convicted by others faith that seems 'greater' than our own but instead we are inspired. 

I guess this has just been heavy on my heart recently.  My eyes have been opened by conversations with women who I would have initially thought were perfect but, when it comes right down to it, struggle with the exact same things I do.  It's a danger when we feel as if we need to appear like we have it all together.  It creates this false sense of security for ourselves as well as a false image for others.

The only Perfect One is Christ.  By His grace He has allowed some to be a little 'further along' in their walk and that should never been seen as a hindrance but rather an encouragement!  Paul said, "I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children...I urge you, then, be imitators of me." (1 Corinthians 4:14,16).  Let's be real with one another, encourage one another, and not let the shame of our own failings seep in and cause us to disrepair.  

Friday, March 9, 2012

true strength

I've heard the phrase "in God's strength" a lot recently - whether it is from my own lips or from someone I know.  I like those words, but this morning I stopped and asked myself what does "doing something in God's strength" really look like?  It's kind of like a buzz-word (though it's a phrase) for us as Christians and I think (as with many other things) we say it without stopping to think what it truly means.

In God's strength.  Where is that found in the Bible?  Well, here are a few instances though not all...

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
Psalm 73:26
"Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob!"
Psalm 81:1
"The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation."
Psalm 118:14
"He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength."
Isaiah 40:29
"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
Isaiah 41:10
"That according to the riches of His glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being..."
Ephesians 3:16
"I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

Philippians 4:13
" I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service"
1 Timothy 1:12

Wow!  I can honestly say I didn't realize how many verses there were in the Bible where God promises to be our strength (and there are even more!).  Reading through these, it's easy to see that God desires to give us strength.  The wonderful thing is that, though He asks much of us in the way of obedience and doing His will and many other things, He is faithful to give us the strength to accomplish these deeds.

Unfortunately, I know that I personally don't always actively remember His strength.  In fact, I think sometimes I take on the attitude of saying, "Thanks Lord, but I've got this."  How utterly ridiculous is that?  With this in mind, I came up with an example for what this kind of attitude is like - hopefully it will make sense.

It would be a similar concept if you were going in to surgery for a very rare procedure that only one doctor in the world knew how to preform.  In fact, this doctor had invented and perfected the technique and he was willing to preform the surgery on you.  But, instead of accepting this surgeons help, you chose a nurse who had never done this procedure, had never even heard of the doctor, and just got her license a few weeks before.  Not the wisest choice eh?

I think we chose the nurse over the doctor so often!  In fact, to bring the metaphor home, I think we become that nurse who decides to take on a case that is clearly way beyond her field and expertise.  We think, yes, I can handle this, but when it comes down to it, we realize we cant.  The amazing thing is the nurse could potentially preform the surgery if the doctor was there to help her.  He could instruct her movements, advise her, and teach her how to accomplish the best out come if she would let him help. 

This analogy is so simple and cannot completely explain the complexities of how God gives us His strength, but for me, it helps to point out many of my weaknesses.  I fail all the time by thinking that my plan is better than His plan.  I attempt to make things turn out the way I want.  When the going gets tough, I try and get tougher but eventually end up crashing and burning - exhausted and disappointed that I messed up.

That's not how the Lord wants us to live.  "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." That, to me, does not sound like God is sending me on my way to make my own mistakes.  Instead, He says He will be my strength and portion forever!  I want to live understanding that and putting it into practice.  How, you my ask?  I think sometimes it is as simple as recognizing in any situation that we aren't in control (we're not even asked to be).  Taking a step back, opening up our tightly clinched fists, and handing it all over to Him.  Being aware of His leading and prayerfully considering life gives Him the necessary room to instruct us.

I'm looking forward to (and praying about) enacting this in my own life on every occasion - not just the times where life gets rough. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

taking the easy way out

Have you ever thought about the whole Cain and Abel situation with regards to their offerings?  I was just reading in Genesis  and stopped to think about that.  I mean, they both brought good things to the Lord, and yet Cain's offering was rejected.  Why?

I had a few thoughts of my own before reading some commentaries on it, but found all to be helpful nuggets of truth.  First, this is the scripture I'm talking about:

"3 In the course of time Cain brought to the  Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground,  4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering,  5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell." (Genesis 3)

I noticed how it says that Cain brought "an offering of fruit of the ground" but when it explains what Abel brought it says "the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions".  That's a lot more detailed of a description versus the one for Cain's offering.  In addition, it doesn't say that Cain brought the first of his crops - just that he brought some fruit.  Even on those descriptions alone, it sounds like Abel's offering was more of a sacrifice (but that's just a personal observation). 
The commentaries that I read pointed out that it wasn't necessarily about the sacrifice that was brought, but more so about the heart behind it.  Abel obviously took time to bring the best of what he had while Cain threw some fruit in a basket and called it a day (I'm assuming here).  In another commentary that I read though, he mentioned that Abel's sacrifice was probably also accepted because it was in line with the instructions the Lord had set up for offering sacrifices and that those instructions were just not mentioned yet in Genesis.  That made a lot of sense to me especially since it gives credence to Christ's sacrifice in the New Testament.  Christ died and was sacrificed for us.  His blood was shed for us.  He was the ultimate, spotless lamb.  "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before it's shearers, so He did not open His mouth." (Isaiah 53:7)

That is truly amazing but I digress...

Back to Cain and Abel for a second.  As I read this and thought through the ramifications of everything that happened because of Cain's thoughtless sacrifice, I analyzed how that can apply to us in 2012.  It's not like we go to the temple to offer sacrifices anymore (praise God that that is no longer needed) but we do offer things to the Lord and, if Cain is any indication, we can offer the wrong thing in the wrong way (or even the right thing in the wrong way).  

Do we try and give the Lord something that is easy for us to give?  Something that we think He wants from us yet is not what He is asking of us? Or maybe we give what is easy to give?  It doesn't require any sacrifice on our part, it really doesn't take much thought at all.  What if God is asking us to give not only what we want to give Him, but what He wants us to give Him?  I have a feeling that's the most likely case. 

The words of Psalm 139 come back to me from the women's conference this last weekend.  "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."  It's scary.  It's hard.  Sometimes I'm even afraid of the answer, but it is always best to ask the Lord what He wants me to give.  It is always best to trust Him and His gentle, lovingkindness when it comes to matters of the heart.  

What is He asking you to sacrifice to Him?  Better yet, how will He help you do that?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

unexpected answers

This morning I was reading in 2 Kings 5 where this guy Naaman learns of a profit of God (Elisha) who could heal his leprosy.  Leprosy isn't something you want to continue to have, so he packs up all sorts of fun, expensive things and heads over to the King of Israel.  He asks if he can be healed but the King tears his clothes (he's not having a good day) and cries out thinking that the King of Aram (whom Naaman serves under) is just trying to pick a fight.  Naaman then goes to the household of Elisha (who has heard about all of this and the King's torment) and, rather than talking to him face to face, sends a servant to Naaman who tells him all he must do is wash 7 times in the Jordan and he will be healed. 

Naaman won't have any of that.  He's thinking to himself, "Wash in a river?  Yeah right, like that is going to do any good let alone heal me!"  So he storms away until one of his servants comes up to him and humbly says, "Had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?  How much more then, when he says to you, 'Wash and be clean'?" (v13).  Naaman listens, washes in the Jordan, and what do you know?  He's healed.  He goes back to Elisha and tries to pay him for the service but Elisha will have none of that.

Ok, simple story right?  Kind of fun, short, simple, easy to understand - right?  Wrong. 

I read this and it hit me that we do the same thing Naaman does all the time!  I think our behavior shows itself in a few different ways though.  One way would be that God gives us an answer to a prayer we had and we think "that can't be it, there has to be more" when really, God is simply giving you the answer.  Maybe it's just something you know, or maybe it's as simple as a passage  you read in the Bible but it gives you the answer and you just need to accept it.

Another way may be that the answer is not only simple, but it's not the answer we were looking for.  I think Naaman went to Elisha with grand ideas of hocous-pocous in his mind - maybe some smoke and lasers or even a little bit of dramatic flair brought on by costumes and intense music.  Instead, Elisha sends his servant to Naaman (a captain of the entire army of the King of Aram) and the servant tells Naaman to wash in the river. 

In our own lives, I think we do just what Naaman did.  We come to God expecting something miraculous (not that God doesn't do miracles) but we walk away disappointed when He's clearly given us the answer.  Just because we didn't see a blinding flash of light or something doesn't mean God wasn't there and working! 

Plus, are we willing to look for the unexpected answers to our prayers?  Or are we just excepting God to answer them in one way and, if it doesn't happen that way, we give up and think His answer is no?  We could be missing out on a completely different route to something we desire just becuase we're so focused on ourselves and our way and we miss God's way.

Just something to think about (for myself included!).