To neglect communion with God

“Some things may be neglected with but little loss to the spiritual life, but to neglect communion with God is to hurt ourselves where we cannot afford it.”- A. W. Tozer

“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.  Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”- Ephesians 3:19 (NLT)

In John Eldredge’s foreword to Susie Larson’s book  Your Powerful Prayers, he compares giving up on prayer to a solder laying down his arms in the midst of a firefight.  Prayer, Mr. Eldredge adds, “is something you grow into, something you mature in and get better at over time.”  In addition, John adds that prayer’s far more like learning to drive than sneezing.

Thus, as Ms. Larson notes in her introduction, Jesus wants us to be comfortable with, as well as undone by His great love for us. As a result, God’s love and acceptance of us has everything to do with prayer.  Furthermore, Jesus invites us to:

  • know Him more intimately
  • walk with Him more profoundly
  • trust in His Word more confidently

Most importantly, Ms. Larson exhorts, as we get to know God’s love, our life spills with grace, insight, and power.  The author explains:

“If we want to be powerful in prayer, we must spend our lives learning to accept and embrace how fiercely God loves us.  We must continually stand in awe of the fact that Jesus defeated death and sin for us.  And then from there, live our whole lives in response to what Jesus has already accomplished for us.  This is what it means to stop striving and to know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).”

Today’s question: During your desert, land between time, what circumstances cause(d) you to neglect communion with God?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the new Short Meditation, ”

Tomorrow’s blog: “That place where joy and faith collide”

Real freedom = internal freedom

“Real freedom is not the external freedom to gratify every appetite; it is the internal freedom not to be enslaved by our appetites.”- John Ortberg

In Chapter 12 (“Temptation: How Not to Get Hooked”) of The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg tells of when he and his wife fly-fished for the first time.  Reflecting on what he learned from the guides, John quips: “To a fish, life is ‘see a fly, want a fly, eat a fly.’  A rainbow trout never really reflects on where his life is headed.”

You’d think, Pastor Ortberg wryly observes, that fish would wise up when they see their friends go for a lure, fly off into space, and never return.  Aren’t you glad, John asks rhetorically, that we’re smarter?

Obviously, we give in to temptation as well.  Pastor Ortberg notes that temptation:

  • creates pain from the inside
  • tries to get our appetites and will to override our deepest values
  • strikes where we’re the most vulnerable

As a result, John offers five steps to stay in the flow when temptation knocks on your door.

1.  Ask for help.  Isolation makes temptation most powerful.  Therefore, John believes, the most common “way out” of temptation involves talking about it with another person.

2.  Ask, Where will this lead?  When living in the flow of the Spirit, it actually requires more mental gymnastics to walk down the wrong path than the right one.  You must silence God’s divine voice with you.  In turn, that keeps you in a state of spiritual and mental vagueness.  God never leads you to manage a desire sinfully.

3.  Remind yourself of your deepest values.  Simply trying to repress a desire wears you out.  John defines real freedom as the internal freedom from appetite enslavement.

4.  Monitor your soul satisfaction.  When we live with a dissatisfied soul, sin begins to look tempting.  God blesses you not through fulfilling every one of your desires, but freeing you from them.  Therefore, through Jesus, love, life, and connection are yours for the asking.

5.  Don’t stay down!  In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg offers a little picture of grace.  God’s glad you’re here.  Consequently, He’s not neutral about your existence.  As a result, never allow your feelings to discourage you.

Today’s question: Do you experience real freedom or internal freedom?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Sin – the deadliest force”

Like a river of living water – the Holy Spirit’s flowing

The only way to become the person God made you to be is to live with the Spirit of God flowing through you like a river of living water.”- John Ortberg

Jesus stood and cried, saying, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink.  He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”- John 7:37-38 (KJV)

In Chapter 3 (Discover the Flow”) of The Me I Want to Be, John Ortberg states it’s impossible to become the person God created you to be through your own strength.  It’s comparable to skiing behind a rowboat.  In contrast, Jesus made a staggering promise about this ability to transform human lives in John 7:37-38.

For example, Pastor Ortberg notes, the Greek word for belly is koilia.  Thus, we speak of getting colitis as a result of rivers of stress running in our belly.  The belly – the deepest place inside you – represents where you get anxious and afraid or feel hollow and empty.  However, Jesus targets that very deepest place to produce vitality in you.

Therefore, God’s plan for you = to become the best version of you.  Right now, though, two versions of you exist:

  1. the you God made you to be
  2. the you that currently exists

As a result, the following question arises: What do you do with the gap between the two versions of you?  Our problem, John observes, centers on the fact that we believe we’re able to close the gap through:

  • our own ingenuity
  • just trying harder
  • a more heroic spiritual effort
  • pretending – learning how to fake it

Yet, as Pastor Ortberg concludes, “God’s plan is not just for us to be saved by grace — it is for us to live by grace.”

Today’s question: How does the Holy Spirit help you believe so that rivers of living water flow out of your belly?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: What spills out of me reveals what’s inside of me”

Learning to hear the voice of God

“In learning to hear the voice of God, one thing is certain — if you cannot hear a ‘no,’ you will have a hard time hearing from God at all or believing that what you think you’ve heard is in fact from God.”- John Eldredge

As John Eldredge begins the Winter section of Walking with God, he presents two crucial concepts necessary for hearing the voice of God.  John states that hearing God:

  1. requires surrender, giving all things over into His hands
  2. not abandoning your desires, but giving them over to God

Romans 4:21 tells us Abraham based his faith on a clear and specific promise of God.  John observes that the passage states that “God had the power to do what He had promised.”  Thus, John notes, when it comes to our faith, we must be careful that our earnest hopes and desires don’t lead us to claim a promise God hasn’t given.

Furthermore, no matter how hard our adversity hits us, those adversities don’t have to be brutal and lonely.  Most importantly, accept the grace of God when it comes!

However, we must remain aware that Satan loves to act as an opportunist.  Mr. Eldredge explains:

“He is always looking for open doors, opportunities, a chink in the armor.  He’ll seize what might otherwise simply be an event- an argument, an emotion, a loss- and he’ll use it as an entrée for his lies, deceit, and oppression.”

Thus, even in moments of tenderness and sorrow, we can’t drop our guard.  While that seems unfair, Satan never plays fair!   In that way, we remain free to bring our hearts to God sans Enemy interference.

Today’s question: What Scriptures assist you in learning to hear the voice of God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Worship language – or the living God?”

A fundamental reorientation

“It’s hard to accept a fundamental reorientation of one’s approach to life.  The old ways are so deeply woven into our personalities, so grounded in our core assumptions, so rooted in our wounds and in what has worked for us over the years.”- John Eldredge

“Above all else, guard your hearts, for it is the wellspring of life.”- Proverbs 4:23

John Eldredge titles the next section of Walking with God “Fall”.  Next, he describes Fall as “a season of crisis and struggle, but then breakthrough and discovery.”

Therefore, the key to processing crisis situations involves a choice between God and understanding.  John explains:

“When it comes to crises or events that really upset us, this I have learned: you can have God or . . . understanding.  Sometimes you can have both.  But if you insist of understanding, often it doesn’t come. . . . so you withdraw a bit from God and lost the grace God is giving.  He doesn’t explain everything.  But he always offers us himself (emphasis John’s).”

Furthermore, there’s nothing like a crisis to expose our wounds and core assumptions.  As long as the old ways seem to be working, there’s little, if any, motivation to change.  Yet, in moments where we struggle deeply, we must take great care of our hearts.  In fact, the spirit of Proverbs 4:23 cautions us to be really careful of (1) what you give your heart over to and (2) what you let in your heart.

As a result, in the midst of struggle, we cannot afford to make agreements with discouragement, unbelief, striving, or resignation.  While we wait for light on the other side, we must shepherd our hearts.

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you establish a fundamental reorientation of your life?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the new Short Meditation, “But even if You don’t, my hope is you alone”

Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story

Grace Is Greater (Baker Books, 2017)

Kyle Idleman titles his latest book Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story.  Kyle, teaching pastor at southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, uses Hebrews 12:15 as the inspiration for his book.  The verse reads: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.”  However, our familiarity with the word grace creates a problem.  Society’s frequent use of the word grace makes it so common it ceases to amaze us.  Consequently, when we miss grace things become toxic, and a bitter root begins to grow.  Thus, we must face the truth that we’re worse than we want to admit.  But, God’s grace is greater than we could’ve imagined.

Pastor Idleman asserts we best and most fully understand grace “not by way of explanation alone but through experience.”  Furthermore, our ability to appreciate grace directly correlates to the degree we acknowledge our need for it.  For if we cover up sin, we cover up grace.  Therefore, Kyle stresses, we need to confront this hard truth.  Before we collide with the grace of God, we must collide with our own sin.  In fact, the author coined the phrase beautiful illusion for the moment God’s grace finally catches up to someone’s mess.   God doesn’t give up on you.  It’s never too late.

Yet, grace is a two-way street.  Because grace flows, it’s not an option to receive grace from God, but then refuse to give it to others.  Hence, Pastor Idleman defines the litmus test of grace as “the extent to which you give grace and offer forgiveness to the person who’s hurt you the most and deserves it the least.”  Also, extending grace and forgiveness constitutes more than a decision we make.  It’s a journey.  Living in grace means releasing your pain to God.  In other words, while letting go of what happened to your isn’t fair, it is grace.  So, you forgive and remember.  And when you remember, remind yourself: “I forgive that.”

In conclusion, Kyle observes that complaining is the rival of grace.  Therefore, to help you give thanks in all circumstances, Pastor Idleman suggests, reverse engineer God’s grace in your life.  Specifically, find reasons to be grateful for God’s grace at work (1) in situations you’d like to change and (2) in much of what you’ve complained about in the past.  Since God authored your story, trust that grace has the final word.  Kyle summarizes:

“Life is hard.  God is good.  Just keep reading.  Grace is greater.”

How we define the word good

“One of the reasons we have a hard time believing that God’s grace is working for good in our lives is because of how we define the word good.  We have our own ideas of how God should work for our good . . .”- Kyle Idleman

Pastor Kyle Idleman concludes Chapter 10 of Grace Is Greater as he talks about how we define the word good.  We tend to believe that if God works everything for our good, the results should match how we define the word good.  Conversely, when adversity strikes, we feel that God’s failed to keep His promises.

However, Kyle observes, God’s grace works in the midst of our pain to bring about goodness in two ways:

  1. God’s grace works in your pain to draw you closer to Jesus.  The worst thing that ever happened to you ends up as the best thing that ever happened.  Why?  Because that event brought you closer to Jesus.
  2. God’s grace works in your pain to make you more like Jesus.  God uses all you’ve been through to make you more like Jesus.  Therefore, your pain always has a purpose.  And when pain has a purpose, we’re able to find the strength to endure.

In conclusion, Kyle finds it helpful to distinguish between reason and purpose.  That’s because we don’t always know if there’s a reason for our pain.  But, we do know that God, in His grace, always provides a purpose.  Hence, Pastor Idleman compares reason and purpose.

Reason:

  • looks for a because
  • wants a logical explanation that makes sense out of what happened

Purpose:

  • focuses on the for
  • offers us a hope that God is able to work good out of what happened

As Kyle encourages, just keep reading.

Today’s question: How do you define the word good?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the Annotated Bibliography of Grace Is Greater

What feels like the end of the story

“What if what feels like the end of the story is actually just the middle?  When God is the author of your story, you can trust that his grace will have the final word.”- Kyle Idleman

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”- romans 8:28 (NIV)

In Chapter 10 (“More Hopeful Than Your Despair”), the concluding chapter of Grace Is Greater, Kyle Idleman states we reach a point in our story where we want to stop reading.  Our challenge overwhelms us, the situation seems impossible, the pain too much.

Yet, in Romans 8:28, Paul tells us God will bring a good ending to our story- no matter how bad our current chapter seems to us.  That’s the promise of grace.  However, when adversity strikes, Kyle states, it’s easy to view Romans 8:28 as at best naïve, but more likely offensive.

Pastor Idleman researched the Greek word translated “we know.”  As a result, he discovered the Greek word means “an absolute, unshakable, confidence.”  In addition, Kyle notes, Paul also uses the word translated “we know” in Romans 8:22.  That passage reads: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning.”

In other words, Paul says, we can count on two things:

  1. Life is hard (v. 22)
  2. God is good (v. 28)

But, Kyle adds, sometimes the space between these two truths feels like an eternity.

As Pastor Idleman concludes, he admits it’s fun knowing the end of the story before the actual ending.  Perhaps that’s because once we know how the story turns out, we’re more comfortable processing the information.  Therefore, we turn our focus on a deeper understanding of the story.

Although we lose some of the suspense, that allows us to not only just enjoy the journey.  It allows us to actually enjoy it.

Today’s question:  What feels like the end of the story for  you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “How we define the word ‘good’ “

The more we need to lean on God

“I have learned that the weaker we are, the more we need to lean on God, and the more we lean on God, the stronger we discover Him to be.”- Joni Eareckson Tada

“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure.  This happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God, who raises the dead.”- 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

Pastor Kyle Idleman concludes Chapter 9 of Grace Is Greater as he asks us to identify our thorn in the flesh.  He continues: “What have you begged God to change, to heal, to take away?  What in your life forces you to acknowledge weakness?”

In response, Kyle reiterates the key concept of this book.  It’s not as important that you learn grace is greater than your weakness.  But, you must experience God’s grace as you receive His power in your weakness.  As Kyle adds, “God’s power is attracted to weakness.  His grace comes running to those in need.”

Therefore, the apostle Paul’s weakness excited him more than his human power.  Paul’s weakness created room for God to show up and demonstrate what He could do.  Thus, we find unlimited strength in God.

In conclusion, Kyle urges, we need to admit our weakness and ask for help.  Yes, we can stubbornly insist on bearing that load ourselves.  However, the longer we refuse to admit our weakness, the longer we miss out on God’s strength that’s available to help us.  The moment we drop our baggage we discover a grace that carries not only our baggage, but us as well.  Kyle summarizes:

“You’re never in a better position to experience God’s grace than the moment you realize you don’t have what it takes.”

Today’s question: What Scripture verses help you lean on God?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “What feels like the end of the story”

Just embrace the shake

“Why don’t you just embrace the shake?”- artist Phil Hansen’s neurologist

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”- 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

In chapter 9 (“More Powerful Than Your Weakness”) of Grace Is Greater, Kyle Idleman tells the story of artist Phil Hansen.  Phil worked for years toward developing expertise in the technique of pointillism.  However, years of tediously making tiny dots left him with permanent never damage.  Thus, it left him unable to hold his hand steady.

Most importantly, Phil’s breakthrough came when his neurologist pointedly asked, “Why don’t you just embrace the shake?”  As a result, Phil’s limitations turned into a catalyst for creativity.

As Pastor Idleman notes, it’s quite difficult to “embrace the shake.”  We live in a culture that highlights strengths and hides weaknesses.  Yet, we all experience times when we must confront the truth of our limitations.  Then, our powerlessness sets the stage for us to experience  God’s total power and presence.  In addition, moments of pain possess the greatest potential to fill us with God’s power.

Next, Kyle describes the relationship between grace and weakness.  He explains:

“Grace enables us to celebrate our weakness.  When we celebrate our weakness, it opens the floodgates for grace to pour into our lives.  When grace pours into our lives, it allows us to celebrate our weakness all the more.  It’s a circle, a beautiful circle.”

Therefore, identify the areas where you don’t have what it takes.  Also, be intentional in asking for God’s help.  In the process, His grace and power abound.  In contrast, refusing to be honest about your struggles and weakness costs you much more.

Today’s question: In what area(s) do you need to just embrace the shake?”  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The more we need to lean on God”