Walking With the Spirit

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.       Galatians 5:25

N1509P37009CI have been very interested in understanding what walking with the Spirit entails. Since God knows best where I should go, when, and how quickly, why not submit to Him instead of challenging Him?

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far…

1. Walking with the Spirit is not walking with an equal.

We submit to God and agree to stick with Him, no matter the path or timing or seeming confusion.

I think of a young child with his parent running errands. Usually the parent walks slowly for the child to keep up comfortably. But sometimes the parent rushes (for reasons unknown to the child) and he just plain needs to keep up! We opt to hold God’s hand and He is also holding ours. We like the security usually but here and there He holds tightly to keep us from running off in dangerous places or when He knows we don’t need another “gimmee session” in the toy store.

2. Walking with the Spirit requires trusting God.

He gets how all these crazy circumstances fit together to end up best. He has the best plan so we can stop planning and focus on obeying. It’s a challenge but it works so well. Why slow God down by constantly trying to pull Him other ways? Or by throwing fits? I hope to please God and be a pleasant and obedient child, not slowing things down and needing to be disciplined every few steps. It usually comes down to Him pointing to that next step and me taking it. When I obey, He reveals just a bit more. It’s probably smart He doesn’t give me the map, because I’d be tempted to go run off and do it all myself. 

3. Walking with the Spirit halts when I grieve Him.

We can’t trick God – He knows everything about us! But, if you’re like me, I sure have tried to do that frequently. Like a child sitting in “time out” with chocolate smeared all over his face, I can refuse to admit, “Yes, I took my brother’s candy.” I can beg and plead and cry, but in the end, the only way I’ll get out of the chair is to confess and make things right. 

When I think through my life, I’d say too much of it has been spent in that time out chair. I feel really bad about that now, but I can’t change the past. What I can change is my obedience now! God forgives and every day is fresh and new. I don’t want to keep Him waiting any more. I think of all the complaining I’ve done that God just “didn’t seem present”and how He seemed to “forget about me”. Well, yeah! I have been stuck many times, but it hasn’t been Him, it’s been me being stubborn! God’s wanting to move too, but it’s hard when we refuse to talk with Him about what is grieving Him! I pray I will be quick to repent and He will keep my heart soft towards Him from here on out!

There are so many wonderful places God wants to take us. Some are hard, but many are full of joy! The nice thing is, regardless of the places we are in, we always are with the absolutely best travel companion and friend ever!

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Who Is This God?

I watched a great sermon on YouTube yesterday by Francis Chan, The Cost of Discipleship. I’d highly recommend it! He spoke about knowing who this God is we serve. Do we know Him? Or do we just latch onto one part of Him and leave it at that? Isn’t that what the world does? They only want God to be love, and not even real love. The world’s definition has more to do with God’s leniency- He should let me do what I want and never cause me pain. Isn’t that more the definition of indifference?

It’s true that no person will ever fully know God, even spending eternity with Him. But we can make it a point to know Him better, can’t we? If I have a million piece puzzle and I have 2 pieces, it’s impossible to know anything about the picture. But if I keep gathering pieces, won’t I have a better idea when I have 20 then 200 then 2000? Of course. Or if I moved to another country, although I may never speak as fluently as a native, wouldn’t I still do my best with that goal in mind?

As we get to know God better and understand Him more day by day, His complexities become clearer. I can get how God can be love and still have annihilated all but a few with a flood in Noah’s day. I can get how He tells us murder is a sin and yet in Numbers this morning, I read how He let 250 people get swallowed up into a crack in the earth for rebelling against Moses and Aaron.

All these puzzle pieces fit together to perfectly show this God who is love and holiness and justice and many other noble characteristics all at once. He is holy, extremely holy. He is very serious about our obedience or lack of it. He loves us more than we will ever understand AND He is perfectly just. He will be sure that every unjust thing is brought to justice. He knows what’s best for us and that can include times of suffering and pain. We try to hide our wounds but He lovingly tends to them, digging out debris, changing the bandages, even grafting skin and giving us transfusions when needed. We yell, stop it! Leave me alone! You are so mean! We don’t know Him very well.

Knowing God better helps me face life more realistically right now. When I want to do things my way, I can’t just focus on how kind and loving God is and not how holy and righteous He is too. That’s making up my own “god”. Or if I’m angry with someone, I can’t just focus then on God’s justice and holiness and forget His compassion and mercy.

In the end, we just need to realize how we view God and who He really is, is constantly changing and hopefully improving. He will point it out if we’re listening and He will help us know Him better. He is unchanging after all. I hope I can know Him a bit better today, place one more puzzle piece into the picture.

I try to remember on days I feel I really don’t understand God very well, that it’s God that initiated us being able to know Him at all. It’s God that is revealing Himself to us and softening our hearts to even hear Him. It’s God that has come up with our amazing world and everyone in it. And best of all, it’s God that figured out a way to save us from the eternity of wrath we all deserved. He is for us. He loves you and me more that we will ever know. Seeking to know Him better and love Him more should be our top priority in this life. He makes all the difference.

The Abundance of God

girlonmountainAs I think about God’s abundance today, two Old Testament stories come to mind, both involving Elisha the prophet in the book of 2 Kings. The first account is of a desperate widow that will soon lose even her sons in order to pay her debts. 

2 Kings 4:4  Now the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.”

 

We may feel we have nothing, and in our eyes, we don’t. But, God sees all sorts of possibilities with the little we have. It all hinges on our trust and obedience. What Elisha told the widow to do seemed odd really, silly. But she did what he said and therefore was part of a miracle, an unending jar of oil. I love how that oil didn’t stop flowing until they ran out of jars. God’s abundance is only limited by our low expectations and our lack of faith and obedience.

The second account takes place right before the prophet Elisha dies. The king of Judah, Joash, comes to Elisha unsure what the future will bring the divided country. Elisha instructed him to strike the ground with his arrows. Again, a strange request. But Joash obeyed and was blessed. He could have been blessed even more had he struck the ground a few more times. Just another reminder to do what God tells us to do whole-heartedly and with abandon!

II Kings 13: 14-19 Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash king of Israel went down to him and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” 15 And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and arrows.” So he took a bow and arrows. 16 Then he said to the king of Israel, “Draw the bow,” and he drew it. And Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. 17 And he said, “Open the window eastward,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. And he said, “The Lord‘s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Syria! For you shall fight the Syrians in Aphek until you have made an end of them.” 18 And he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground with them.” And he struck three times and stopped. 19 Then the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Syria until you had made an end of it, but now you will strike down Syria only three times.”

God cares about everything that happens to us. He loves every person and wants each of us to come to Him to be forgiven and saved from our sin. He sees us in our need and in our fear and wants to encourage and strengthen us. It doesn’t matter if we seem to have nothing, materially, or socially or inwardly. He does. And He is the giver of good gifts.

It takes faith though. We must believe in Him and be obedient to His commands. It may not make a lot of sense. Why collect jars from all over town? Why strike the ground with arrows? Why give that last bit of money to a needy person? Why give up your day to work on a friend’s house when your own house is a wreck? Why meet with that hurting friend when you don’t really have any answers? Why…

What God instructs doesn’t always make sense but we should all agree, He knows better than we do what needs to happen. Right? And most likely He will be blessing not only that needy person, but the one that chooses to obey Him as well.  God is a God of abundance and excess. He doesn’t do things halfway. And when we obey Him with that same whole-hearted abandon,  He gets the glory and amazing things happen.

 

With God in the Wilderness

DSC00024I’ve made peace with my lack of directional sense in daily life, but I am still terrified of getting lost in the wilderness. Since my family hikes a lot, and the majority of us have a great “inner compass”, I try not to voice my “Are you sure we’re going the right way” comment repeatedly.

My walk with God can seem a lot like hiking in the great outdoors. God is a great hiking companion and He never gets lost, so that’s a plus!

I still have one little problem though…… me!

I’ll be walking along, keeping pace with God and enjoying the day. I’ll be watching Him for His subtle cues to slow down, or take that side path, or stop for a second. Then at some point I just seem to get cocky and start heading the way I want to go. The trail seems well-marked and it’s nice and bright outside. Running feels exhilarating!

So off I run.

Yeah, bad idea, but what can I say. I’m forgetful.

Of course, I end up getting lost eventually. Different trails start veering off this way and that way. It’s getting dark outside, and now I’m confronted with my fear – I’m lost. I panic. God, where are you? I can’t see you! Why did you leave me? Emotions rush in…doubt, fear, anger. God has deserted me. I want to blame Him for this place I’m in… yet it was me that ran off.

God never leaves any of us, of course, but neither does He always immediately come to our rescue. I’m understanding that more and more (after doing this hundreds of times.) He’d like me to learn to stick with Him all of the time. He’s a good parent, and good parents teach their children to make better choices. I’m amazed He is so patient with me, but He is. He corrects me of course, but He doesn’t punish me or load guilt and shame on me.

It is quite difficult though, to have to stand here and wait, feeling lost and alone. I’m hoping I’ll learn the lesson and stop doing this already! I know He’ll come get me in whatever timing and way will help me learn to trust Him more and stop being foolish.

Instead of throwing a big fit (um, yeah, done that before too….) I think about how I can handle the next urge I have to go my own way, or run ahead or just plain stop paying as much attention to Him. Would note cards and reminders help? Permanent tattoos all over myself? Probably the best bet is just to talk to God about those feelings when they occur and know He’ll help me do better.

All the other ideas I can come up with have too many negative consequences. I wouldn’t want an injury to keep from running. I wouldn’t want to stop exploring with God. He isn’t much for me tethering myself to him since it limits much of what we must do crossing the rough terrain. He’s happy to carry me for stretches but I like walking, so that’s not a permanent solution I’ve asked him tons of times for the map and he always says no – he’s the map.

God chooses the pace and we need to match it. It’s really not that complicated! (That’s why it’s hard not to feel very foolish that I continue to encounter this problem.) He is such a good God. He has so much more grace and patience for us than we do for ourselves. He will help us get where we need to go. I look forward to seeing what adventures we will be having, TOGETHER, side by side.

Fearing Nothing

Have you known the weight of nothingness? I have. The fear of nothingness has chased me my whole life. I’ve feared that if the nothingness ever caught up with me, that’s what I would become as well – nothing.

All my waking hours used to be spent proving myself to everyone – see, I have worth! See, I’m someone! Don’t overlook me! Don’t look through me! It became second nature. When I don’t have the energy to be proving myself, then I’ll just hide until I do again. It’s an exhausting existence.

Being alone is a huge problem when we fear nothing, because there is no one there to prove our worth to. My emotions would go numb and my mind become blank. No purpose. No meaning. “Nothing” was seeping in, cancelling out all the progress I thought I had made.

This impending leak could be remedied by doing things, I thought, even simple things like cleaning. And really, cleaning can be very satisfying and it is necessary. Suddenly all sorts of cleaning projects are a necessity. They fill all my free time. The nothingness is held at bay for a while.

There are countless other anesthetizers and lesser pleasures to choose from when this one fails me. Perhaps work – again we have to do it usually and we want to do it well, right? We do all things as if to the Lord after all! But working and serving aren’t meant to be our identity. God also wants us to rest and to get our meaning from Him, not anything we do.

Hobbies can be quite fulfilling and another way to serve. But as much as I enjoy hobbies, they eventually fall short of being totally fulfilling…just more doing to find purpose and satisfaction. Even the most noble hobbies can’t completely satisfy what is missing.

Pleasures, well, I don’t I have to say much about these. We all find them quite easily and they can brighten days, weeks, years, lifetimes. Too much of anything ends up bad, I’ve found. Outside of the pleasure of knowing and loving God, other pleasures will rob us of our joy and end up enslaving us.

So, what’s left? What can save me from this fear of nothingness? God. Only God really gives me worth. Only God can step into the reality of my desperation and brokenness and really change things. He says, go ahead, expect it all of me. Go ahead and be addicted to me, fill your time and thoughts and hopes with me. You’ll never be alone – you never have been, you realize. You’ll never expect too much of me or be disappointed by me. You don’t have to fear the nothingness of life apart from me because I’m always with you and I completely fill every nook and cranny of your heart, soul and mind.

The world teaches us fear is necessary to keep ourselves safe from all that can and will hurt us. But the world knows nothing of God or his heart for us. Perfect love drives out fear and God is perfect love. He made every one of us with worth and purpose. If we choose to spend our time knowing Him better, we will find our fears dissipate and our thirsty hearts are always satisfied. Each of us is someone to God, someone He loved enough to sacrifice His only Son, Jesus, for. If you’re tired of running, like I am, you can stop and turn to our amazing God to be cleansed and forgiven and absolutely loved….forevermore. “Nothing” will no longer have any power over you!

Keeping My Room Clean

Ah, these hearts of ours…when it comes down to it, we don’t really know them very well. Often they are a mess of conflicting hopes and desires. Thankfully, God does know our hearts and He helps us sort through them to keep them clean and beautiful to Him.

It reminds me of a child and his messy room. At some point, one of his parents will step in and say, “OK, this isn’t the way to do things. You may be ok with wrappers and junk and smelly clothes all around, but that’s not the best for you. I’ll help you out.”

Help sounds great at first! But it doesn’t take long to see the goals of the child and the parent differ. The child would prefer to find places to keep everything, maybe just have a walkway through the mess. But the parent wants a healthy, clean, safe and inspiring place for him to enjoy.

Dad or mom starts throwing things away, changing things around and reorganizing everything. It can be difficult for the child, hard to fully understand. Neither can we always understand God’s work in our hearts. He knows us better than we do ourselves. He knows what should be thrown out and what should stay. He knows how best to organize all the stuff in there and takes into account what brings us joy as He decorates it.

Our pride often gets in the way as God works away on us, our own worst enemy. It creeps around in the shadows and injects, “Don’t I have a say? Why should you get to make the decisions?” God seems to be unfair or cruel. We start to plot how to get Him out of our room so we can undo His changes. We can pause His good processes as we become blinded to our own sin. Self-righteousness and stubbornness get in the way.

Every day I feel like that child. I say, “Come on in, God! I need your help!” But after a while, hopefully increasingly longer periods, I can become suspicious. I want to yell out my objections, “NO! NOT THAT! Wait, you already cleaned there. It’s done, right? You said that was ok last month. Now what? But under the bed isn’t even seen! Leave it be!”

God remains and accomplishes wonderful things I’ll love in my own heart. But He doesn’t force me to change. I get the say on how much I let Him in. I always regret the times I let my pride get in the way and shut the door on Him. He’s still right there of course, waiting. Hopefully the next day, I ask Him to come back in. But truthfully I don’t always. I may stew, stomp around, have a pity party. But thankfully His perfect truth and love soften my heart again. Maybe it’s days or weeks. I’m embarrassed to say it has been years at times. But I pray I learned a little more and will just let Him do what He wants and never push Him away. It’s possible, right?

Really, I love what He’s done as He is working on my heart. He’s right – I love the way He organizes everything and makes it beautiful. Sometimes I’m surprised at His choices for me but I really do end up finding His choices my absolute favorite. And He’s so very good and kind. Come on in, Dad. Will You help me, please. What should we do today with this heart of mine? Oh, and next time I say, “Leave,” please don’t! I want You to always stay. Whoa, what are you doing there with my closet, um God?

Like Wasps to a Light…

images-1I love nature, but moreso when it is outside of my house. This morning, two wasps were zipping around my kitchen and gave me quite a scare. Before I could decide what to throw at them, they both became obsessed with the kitchen light, and within moments, that was the end of the wasps. The problem was solved without much effort from me. As I watched those wasps, what popped into my head was, “Wow, you’re going to fall for that one?” I did feel bad for them (once they were dead). They gave up so much, their freedom, their wasp families, their wasp things they do. Now they are in the pile of dead bugs in the kitchen light. What a waste.

What “light” might we be obsessing over instead of enjoying our lives as we should?

God has given us so much freedom, as well. We have freedom to explore, purposes to accomplish, adventures to experience. We feel we can give our attention to multiple things, but we can only walk one direction. Will we choose God’s paths and plans, or veer off the path to those other lights? It’s like Gollum’s warning in Lord of the Rings….“This way! Don’t follow the lights!”

Fame?   Wealth?   Power?   Pleasure? What draws us in?

“But, you don’t understand”…is what we say. “My circumstances are different. I really can’t help this situation. And really I deserve it.” We may be complex to ourselves, but we are an open book to God. He knows our hearts, our motives, and our propensity to sin. We aren’t a mystery to Him. He can easily sum us up and I think we’d be surprised how similar our struggles and temptations are.

Jesus, too, was tempted on this earth, and he did remain sinless and therefore can be our substitute, the perfect Lamb of God on which all the Father’s wrath for our sin, was poured. In this sacrifice, our grim future is remedied. An answer was given.

There is a brighter light that attracts us and it is Christ.

Christ far surpasses whatever momentary and partially fulfilling temptations we consider. We run to Him and find forgiveness and satisfaction. We find a new way.

Hebrews 4: 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

I’m not saying it’s easy, it isn’t. It’s a struggle every day to live as God requires. There are lights around us that do capture our attention, but we don’t have to continue staring at them. We choose to look to Jesus for salvation and forgiveness and then ongoing strength and power to live godly lives. He helps blind us to those lesser pursuits and instead focus on living holy and blameless lives as children of God.