David, A Man of Wholehearted Devotion to God

Only a few biblical personalities are said to possess wholehearted devotion to God.  What qualifies such a description? How can one develop this attribute? Who were these individuals?

All were exceptional yet ordinary people. They are people God continues to look for and calls us to emulate.

“For the eyes of the LORD move
to and fro throughout the earth
that He may strongly support
those whose heart is completely His.”
2 Chronicles 16:9

The list of those who possessed wholeheartedly committed to God reads like a who’s who in the spiritual hall of fame:

  • Noah was called “righteous and perfect in his generations” and built a means of salvation for all who would listen. (Gen 6:9)
  • Mary Magdalene followed Christ with wholehearted devotion in her worship, attentiveness to his teaching, faithfulness at His crucifixion and stalwart declaration of His resurrection to His unbelieving followers.
  • Job was declared to be a “perfect and upright man, one that fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8)
  • Because of Hannah’s unwavering commitment and sacrificial devotion her nation was turned to God in a single generation (1 Sam 1 & 2)
  • Hezekiah’s self assessment reads, “I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion” (Is 38:3)

What about Abram and his wife Sara, Esther and Mordecai, or many New Testament forerunners, world changers, fearless defenders and promoters of the faith? The Bible says of Jehoshaphat,

“His heart was devoted to the ways of the LORD…”
2 Chronicles 17:6

Above All Others

The Hebrew words often translated as “devotion” have the sense of “being complete or full, whole and wholesome, innocent, and having integrity.” It also stands for “truth, virtue and uprightness.”

The person the Bible describes as having wholehearted devotion above all others is, beyond a doubt, King David. Every succeeding king and ruler would be measured by the devotion found in this godly man.

David was a young shepherd tending “a few sheep” — out of sight, unnoticed, and insignificant by all earthly perspective. In obscurity, however, David’s heart became a God-shaped container of radical devotion to the one and only true God!

Even David’s son Solomon, the wisest of all men, was unable to emulate his father’s example,

“…his heart was not
fully devoted to the LORD his God,
as the heart of David his father had been.” 
1 Kings 11:4

I appreciate the honesty with which David judges his own heart, however. He, as much as any other man, knew the pitfalls of walking wholly committed to God while living with human passions, desires and weaknesses. 

I’m trying my best to walk in the way of integrity,
especially in my own home.
But I need your help!
I’m wondering, Lord, when will you appear?
I despise what is evil
and anything that moves my heart away from you.
I will not let evil hold me in its grip.
Every perverse and crooked way I have put away from my heart,
for I will have nothing to do with the deeds of darkness.”
Psalm 101:2-4 TPT

A Committed Path

Do you ever feel like David? “I’m trying, Lord, but I could use some help!” I sure do!

Wholehearted devotion requires a commitment, a predetermined resolve to allow nothing and no one to separate us from our allegiance to God. But how exactly did David foster and protect such an attitude?

David makes no excuses for himself. A quick glance at Psalm 51 reveals his all-to-real struggle with human weakness.

“For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me…”
Psalm 51:3

Four key elements are evident in David’s life: a soft heart, value for God’s Word, persistence in prayer, and unrestrained worship. All are essential to obtaining wholehearted devotion.

Soft Heart

David’s hope and anchor rested in his personal relationship with his Heavenly Father. A soft heart, quick to repent, always leads to wholeness and restoration.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.”
Psalm 51:10-11 

Humility, a quickness to forgive, concern for the oppressed, and genuine love stood as witness to the softness of David’s heart. 

Value God’s Word

David wisely established godly disciplines to live above reproach. The Hebrew word for “fully devoted” also  means “truth, virtue, uprightness and righteousness.” It is impossible to possess these attributes without saturating ourselves in the oil of divine truth, the Word of God.

David attributed many defining benefits to God’s Word.

“… perfect, refreshing the soul…
trustworthy, making wise the simple…
giving joy to the heart…
radiant, giving light to the eyes…
pure, enduring forever…
 firm, and all of them are righteous… 
more precious than gold…
 sweeter than … honey from the honeycomb.”
Psalm 19: 7-10

Persistence in Prayer

Maintaining an undivided heart toward God also requires transparency and vulnerability. David recognized God’s law as a perfect light shining upon his heart, revealing what would otherwise remain hidden even from Himself. He prayed,

“But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgressions.”
Psalm 19:12,13

Because hidden faults and willful sins are common to us all, Jesus told us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” God lovingly reveals our hidden faults when we ask — either speaking through the Holy Spirit or mentors and trusted supporters He has positioned in our lives. 

Unrestrained Worship

The Hebrew word for “steadfast” also means “get ready or be prepared.” The attitude of prayer turns the key to wholehearted devotion, while the practice of worship opens the door, preparing us for godliness.

The psalms ring with David’s anthems of adoration and worship. Communion with God in prayer, combined with worship, prepares the hard ground of our hearts, tenderizing and mellowing it into fallow soil, yielded to God.

“You, God, are my God, 
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
Psalm 63:1-3

Wholehearted devotion recognizes God as the sufficient Source of all we need.

God’s Promise

Let’s finish where we began,

“For the eyes of the LORD move
to and fro throughout the earth
that He may strongly support
those whose heart is completely His.”
2 Chronicles 16:9

God is looking, scanning the nations, browsing the streets of our cities, searching through our homes, peering into pulpits and pews, desiring to find someone, anyone, he can “strongly support”! His eyes are watching for those He can strengthen, fill with unwavering courage, and give power to overcome all opposition, because that is what strongly support truly means.

Oddly enough, this same word for “strongly support” defines David’s “triumph, prevail, and defeat” over Goliath (1 Sam 17:50). When God found a boy whose heart was fully devoted to Him, He moved with strong support to help the lad. The shepherd’s stone hit the mark with supernatural accuracy and force.  The giant fell never to rise again!

As God gazes upon our generation, may He find many, young and old, men and women, with wholehearted devotion to Him above all else.

**********

 

Wait Patiently for the Lord: The Lord is Sufficient

More than once someone has encouraged me to “wait patiently for the Lord.” Dare I say these are not my most cherished words!

My dictionary defines patience as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delays, problems or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.” Understandably, my name is not inserted near that definition as a prime example. As a matter of fact, my children laugh at the way I carefully choose routes of travel to avoid stop signs, traffic lights and construction zones. Neither the words “wait” nor “patiently” form the foundation of my genetic makeup.

How about you? What thoughts enter your mind as you read this passage?

Wait patiently for the LORD.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.”
Psalms 27:14

Note the double emphasis David used. Perhaps first to remind himself and then a second time to remind the rest of us.

Wait Patiently

The Hebrew word for “wait” means to bind together and to expect. I’m not alone in choosing more tangible, readily available things or people to “bind” myself to rather than trusting and relying confidently in God as my soul support.

Israel had a similar problem. They had a habit of “going” when God specifically asked them to “wait”; they “mumbled and grumbled” instead of “patiently” binding themselves to God as the source for all they needed. No finger pointing here! I associate more with their twisted attitude and off-centered focus than with the psalmist’s clear directive.

God is loving in all He does; He is an inerrantly good and gracious Father. As such, He works His friendly persuasion to lead us to rely on Him as our soul support and help.

“The Lord, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies
will take away from Jerusalem and Judah
everything they depend on:
every bit of bread and every drop of water.”
Isaiah 3:1

If God were to do the same with me, removing every level of support and supply, every attempt to protect or sustain myself, every self-created prop I so confidently depend upon, what would remain? I fear that I would quickly realize how little, rather than how much, I am actually waiting patiently on God.

Trusting on God

Two years ago, I purchased a small weeping birch tree. Although it was about eight feet tall, the trunk was quite slender and weak. To protect the new addition to my landscape, I staked it firmly on three sides, and tied it securely with soft cords. Weekly, I gave it the water and fertilizer it needed for steady growth and  root development.. There it stood flexing and bending during the summer storms.

In early winter, however, a fierce winter blizzard hit with freezing rain. The gale force winds and weight of icy boughs broke the support cords, pressing my little tree horizontal to the ground. All natural support had failed! I gently broke the ice from its frail branches and retied the little sapling, hoping it would somehow survive winter’s assault.

“But I am trusting you,
O LORD, saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.”
Psalm 31:14-15

Man made help and support might be adequate for the everyday “storms” of life, but only God is sufficient for all seasons and circumstances. David learned this truth on the hillside protecting his sheep from lions and bears — a truth reinforced while hiding in desert caves from a king who put a bounty on his life.

How willing am I to wait patiently on the Lord declaring, “my future is in your hands?” If I find it difficult to trust Him in this moment, with patience, how will I possibly trust Him with my unknown tomorrows?

Grace to Wait

Though I look impatiently to the destination God is pointing me toward, He is creating in me the grace to wait. He patiently develops my character with a greater “capacity to accept or tolerate delays, problems or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.” With God, patience is an attribute of His character: for me, however, patience is a process.

Although I don’t experience it moment by moment, through hindsight I vividly see the grace, strength and ability to endure taking form. What once caused a great deal of anxiousness and annoyance, now has far less power to control my emotions. Progress may be slow, but God continues to faithfully work in me.

My little tree doesn’t need artificial staking and support any more. It has developed an ability to bend and flex in the wind and endure extreme conditions. The trunk has thickened sufficiently to support the tree through the worst weather thrown its way. The unseen roots have spread out to securely anchor the sapling, producing vibrancy and growth. I hope the same can be said of each of us.

If we back up a few verses in Psalm 27, we discover the reason for David’s ability to wait patiently for the Lord with strength and courage. We see clearly where he plants his spiritual roots for optimum growth.

The LORD is my light and salvation —
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life —
of whom shall I be afraid?”
Psalm 27:1

The Lord Is!

When God removed every previous support system that David had once depended on, David was still secure, confident and solidly grounded. Why? God was enough! When all else is stripped away, we discover (often to our surprise) that the Lord is enough — He is sufficient to satisfy our every need.

Herein lies the joy of having all human and artificial supports removed from our lives. What nothing and no one else can bring, God supplies within Himself.

One thing I ask from the LORD this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock. . .
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!
Your face, LORD, I will seek.”
Psalm 27:4-8

When we finally come to realize that the Lord is all we need, the essential for our lives, we too possess an ability to wait patiently for Him. In Him, we find the strength and courage not just to wait, but to move ahead into what God is calling us to do — trusting fully that our future indeed is in His hands.

Looking Ahead

This one thing I want to remind myself of and encourage you with, “God is enough!” As we enter a new year, either with trepidation or optimism, we wait patiently for the Lord to lead us through.

“Do not be anxious about anything,
but in every situation, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6,7

Adonai Jehovah – The Giver – The One Who Pours Out

As we approach the season of giving, I’m reminded of the ultimate Giver who continues to out-give us all. His very name means “The One who pours out.”

During our first years of marriage my husband and I often tried to out-give each other. Our giving started out with loving intentions, but it didn’t take long for our practice to become foolishly insane. Eventually, we realized that it was the simple day to day giving of ourselves that reaped the greatest relational dividends. Over the years, we developed an ever deepening appreciation for each other as we increasingly valued the moments we shared.

These lessons came with much struggle. Yet, the joy of daily serving each other in a thousand little ways out measured the futile task of finding the perfect gift to demonstrate inexpressible gratitude.

The Inspiration

Around $10 billion flows into charitable donations annually in Canada alone. Thirty percent of those donations occur during the Christmas season. Why? It’s recognition of the Giver, the One who poured out His very best to us all through the Gift of Jesus Christ.

“For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish
but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

That most precious of gifts, generously given by a loving Father to us, His needy children, continues to inspire giving globally. Of course, no monetary giving compares to God’s ultimate gift of salvation through Jesus. Yet, out of gratitude, humanity imitates God’s example becoming givers and thereby meeting the needs of others. Even in this small way, we reflect His compassionate heart.

Adonai, one of the names for God, means “Giver or “One who pours Himself out.” Giving is who He is, not just what He does. It is an attribute of His nature.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
who does not change like shifting shadows.”
James 1:17

Out-Giving the Giver

David also captured a bit of God’s heart wanting to give something back to Him. David wondered how he could live content in “a house of cedars” (1 Chronicles 17:1) while God inhabited a tent. He wanted to build a house for God to dwell in, giving God the best he could.

Just like in our marriage, the desire to give backfired for David. As soon as he disclosed his aspiration, God turned the tables out-giving David’s greatest intentions. First though, God reminded David of his humble beginnings.

“…I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock,
and appointed you ruler over my people Israel.
I have been with you wherever you have gone,
and I have cut off all your enemies from before you.”
2 Samuel 7:8-9

David’s desire to give reflected God’s own gracious favor. His capacity and opportunity to give originated from the heart of The Giver. In response to David’s intention, God opened His treasure trove of promises offering even more gifts of grace, to not just David but to all his descendants.

“...I will make your name great,
like the names of the greatest men on earth.
And I will provide a place for my people Israel
and will plant them so that they can have
a home of their own and no longer be disturbed…
I will also give you rest from all your enemies…
the LORD himself will establish a house for you…
I will raise up your offspring to succeed you…
And I will establish his kingdom…
I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…
But my love will never be taken away from him…”
2 Samuel 7:9-16

Relationship

Can you imagine how David felt in that moment? His intended gift to God held no comparison to what God now presented back to him. Immediately, David sensed an even greater awe and reverence for the God he thought he knew.

“Then King David went in and sat before the LORD…”
2 Samuel 7:18

Something became more intimate about their relationship. Deeper revelation of the Giver above all givers permeated that moment. Seven times in the next ten verses David refers to God as “Sovereign LORD” — Adonai Jehovah, the One who continually pours Himself out to the unworthy and undeserving.

I’ve experienced brief encounters with God, coming into His presence for no purpose other than to offer my little in worship to Him. Consistently, He turns the tables and lavishes upon me such a sense of His favor and grace it has left me in a weeping heap — speechless and helpless.

Though undefinable, something supernatural triggers a divine flow through even our limited imitation of the heart of The Giver. He sweeps in with love that will never be taken away.” He plants us secure in Him “no longer disturbed” as He welcomes us to come and sit close. Over and over again, God gives us the gift of His Presence!

Adonai Jehovah

Adonai Jehovah speaks first of relationship, either as Master and servant, or as Husband and wife. Both a slave and a wife in biblical times were “not their own,” but rather bought with a price. Whether voluntarily or involuntarily they became the property of their lord, fully dependent upon His faithfulness. But the Master made the first move through covenant willingly pledging Himself to sustain, keep and provide.

Paul and the other apostles considered it the highest honor to be known as a servant of the Lord, their beloved. In the Old Testament, Adonai Jehovah, signified a person’s hope in every weakness and encouragement in times of great struggle. God’s covenant presence guaranteed security and favor.

When everything around Isaiah seemed to have reached its darkest most desperate level, he says,

“In the year that King Uzziah died,
I saw the LORD (Adonai),
high and exalted, seated on a throne;
and the train of his robe filled the temple.”
Isaiah 6:1

In times of despair, Adonai comes giving Himself in the most intimate of communion with His people.

“For your Maker is your husband
the LORD Almighty is his name —
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.”
Isaiah 54:5

The images of God’s loving care to his bride abound throughout the Bible, lavishly providing for her, extending all He is and has for her benefit.

The Giver

Just as the Lord loved us and gave Himself to us, He desires that we now give ourselves to Him. This personal relationship between the Giver and His people flows with intimate and mutual confidence.

“They that know His name will put their trust in HIm.
And they that trust in Him shall never be confounded.”
– Andrew Jukes

Adonai came to humanity over two thousand years ago, pouring Himself out in complete servanthood — through life and death — that we might give ourselves back to Him. The best and greatest Gift has already been given. In receiving Him, we, like David, enter into a new sense of reverence and ever deepening fellowship with Him.

Adonai, the Giver, pours Himself out to a world in need of The Gift that all earth’s riches could never purchase. In both the giving and receiving resides great joy.

The Privilege of Prayer – I Am Praying for You, Pray for Me

Praying for others is an amazing privilege. Though I don’t know each of you personally, I’m praying for you. I humbly ask that you pray for me as well. This kind of praying network, connecting one with another, releases anointing, provision, protection, and power for Christians.

For many years, I thought that praying for myself or asking for prayer was selfish. I’m not even sure how I got such a distorted idea, but I’m glad it finally shook loose. It was when I began to ask people to pray for me that I experienced serious breakthrough. Whether it was for a major project, a decision, or another specific need, I immediately noticed the difference when others were praying.

There is perhaps no higher honor than being able to take the requests of others before God. It amazes me every time! Yet, I continue to struggle to ask for prayer for myself.

Jesus Prayed for Himself

The Bible passage that awakened me to truth came through the Gospel of John. Jesus wasn’t ashamed to ask for His Father’s help, how much more should I be willing to ask!

“…Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
John 17:1-5 

Ultimately Jesus prayed that God would be glorified, that others would receive life, that He would finish well, and would receive His reward in heaven. Sounds like everything we would also like to accomplish.

God has given each one of us a work to complete. He desires that our lives would bring love, life and hope to the people around us. We cannot do that in the fullness that Jesus did, but we certainly can in part. Ultimately, we want our lives to reflect Jesus and bring as much glory to God as possible.

So in many ways, Jesus’ prayer for Himself, is one that we can continue to pray for ourselves as well. Jesus taught by example, “Pray for me!”

Pray for Ourselves

In the darkest moments of Jesus’ life, while in heavy travail in Gethsemane, Jesus commanded his disciples to

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Matthew 26:42

Even His three closest companions couldn’t keep awake to pray, failing the test. Even though Jesus was in great duress, His concern was more for those He loved than Himself. Prayer would give them the support and help they needed to triumph during the next hours and days. Jesus wanted them empowered and enabled to withstand the upcoming events.

It is interesting that this is the last directive Jesus gave to His followers before His death. His words question my heart as He surely as He questioned them,

Couldn’t you… keep watch with me for one hour?”
Matthew 26:40

Prayer cooperates “with” Jesus. What is on His heart? Am I willing to “keep watch with” Him? My willingness to join with Him will help me to overcome the weakness of my own flesh. “Pray for me?” Jesus asked.

Pray for Others

I have partnered with others in prayer and reaped undeserved rewards. Together we have seen miraculous births (naturally and spiritually), supernatural healings, financial breakthroughs, miracles of provision and dire events turn around to become overwhelmingly good. That’s not all but it’s a beginning! Praying together  unleashes God’s power.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions
with all kinds of prayers and requests.
With this in mind, be alert and
always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
Ephesians 6:18

Paul instructs the believers to “be alert and always keep on praying.” The word “alert” means to stay awake or sleepless. Sounds like the same thing Jesus asked of His disciples to do, doesn’t it?

Just yesterday, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, my husband and I stretched out for an afternoon nap. Neither of us could sleep, however. Thoughts about one young couple were continually stirring in our hearts. Though we had just seen them a few hours earlier and appeared to be doing well, we sensed God calling us to pray for them. Immediately, we got up, shook off our sleepiness and prayed. It really doesn’t matter if we ever know what the need was. God knows their need. This was one time we were alert; but unfortunately, we’re not always that responsive.

Have you ever been woken up in the middle of the night to pray for someone? Good for you, if you did! I’m so thankful for those who are alert and willing to pray even before I ask.

Pray for Me

Paul goes on to express his personal need to the Ephesian church,

“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak,
words may be given me so that
I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel
for which I am an ambassador in chains.
Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
Ephesians 6:19-20

“Pray for me,” Paul asked. He knew that prayer is the work! There is nothing done for the Lord of any value apart from prayer.

Prayer prepares speakers, writers and artists to declare fully and freely the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It removes fear replacing it with boldness and tenacity to share God’s message succinctly and boldly. Prayer also prepares the hearts of listeners, stirring the seed bed for the word of truth to land and grow.

Let’s all try to be alert, praying for those who carry the weight of sharing the Gospel locally, nationally and internationally. Heaven will reveal the difference that our prayers will made.

“What difference does the prayer of one person make?
You will never know until you pray.
– Anne Graham Lotz

Your prayer might very well be the prayer that tips the scales releasing God’s intention to those around you.

I’m Praying for You

Perhaps the response to my writing that inspires and excites me the most is when someone leaves a request for prayer. I never allow these personal requests to be seen by the public, but I certainly make them known, loud and clear, in the heavenly realm.

What an honor it is to pray for you? That occurs mostly in a general sense. My daily clicks and likes are very small on my website, but I consider it an awesome responsibility to  pray for those individuals and nations that check in.

May it be an encouragement to know that someone is praying for you. What joy when we will one day be eternally united in heaven! Thank you for trusting me to be praying on your behalf. I know that many of you pray for me too. I send a sincere thank you!

 

The Kingdom of God – Righteousness, Peace and Joy

Why would Paul include righteousness, peace and joy as the key ingredients in the kingdom of God? What sets these three qualities above all others? Why are these components indispensable?

“For the kingdom of God
is not a matter of eating and drinking,
but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,
because anyone who serves Christ in this way
is pleasing to God and receives human approval.”
Romans 14:17,18

I confess to having more questions than answers. However, one thing appears certain, righteousness, peace and joy create the fertile soil from which they each thrive, co-existing for their mutual benefit.

Righteousness

Recently, I’ve had more than one conversation surrounding the frustration we can feel regarding righteousness. (Or perhaps the lack of it.) Why does it seem to be too easy to do the things we would or should not do, while at the same time difficult to do the things we truly want to do? Oops! That’s another question!

Before the initial sin, humanity could freely choose to obey God and maintain close relationship with Him without feeling pulled and tugged in other directions. Since that time however, our propensity bends continually toward disobedience and rebellion. For every son and daughter since Adam and Eve, we now need to make a deliberate choice for righteousness — to walk in innocence and freedom. Without this focused attention, we automatically default to sin and error.

Just a few verses earlier Paul despaired of the same frustration I experience, “Who can possible help us?” he asks. Then immediately he gives the answer,

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me
through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Romans 7:25

There’s hope! Righteousness means to be faultless, innocent, and guiltless or observing divine laws. Only God fits this description. In light of His holiness, we all end up far short.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,
so that in him we might become
the righteousness of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:21

God solved the problem in Jesus. Through covenant relationship with Him, God counts us as righteous. Because of Jesus, righteousness now becomes the hallmark of all other relationships as well.

Peace

Through the liberty of Jesus Christ, we are no longer forced to continue in negative patterns. He came to deliver us from the stronghold of sin. With righteousness in place, we can start growing upward and onward. Maturity and development in any area isn’t always easy, but possible through Christ.

“The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.”
Isaiah 32:17

The apple tree in my yard doesn’t have to work at producing apples; it simply bears what it is genetically designed to produce. The fruit of righteousness however does take work, or at least active involvement. “Fruit” here is an activity or byproduct of action taken.

Isaiah says with certainty, the byproduct of righteousness “will be” peace. Peace effects us inside and out, giving us a sense of undisturbed quietness, complete safety and absolute security.

When I’ve violated God’s standards, I’m immediately robbed of peace and void of internal quietness and confidence. In Christ, however, I am able to be restored again to right relationship with God, producing “fruit” naturally.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.”
Romans 12:18

Peace works its way outward spreading to others with enough fruit to share!

Joy

It’s hard to believe that someone like me, whose life was marked by depression and anxiety for decades, could experience such complete joy. But it’s true! Perhaps more than any other quality, joy marks my life . Because of what Jesus Christ has done in me, I easily share the overflow of joy with others.

“Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul,
produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ
in the word and in the world.”
– John Piper

When we begin to walk in right relationship with God, living at peace with ourselves and others, we possess an ability to see the world in a new light. God enables us to view His Word and the world around us from kingdom perspective.

In a sense, God gives us spiritual contact lens, that allow us to see those we encounter here on earth from His viewpoint. At the same time, we are able to maintain clear focus on Him. Righteousness, peace and joy retrains our minds to see with His vision.

Paul prayed,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy
and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 15:13

Righteousness produces more and more. This time in the form of overflowing, bubbling over and abounding hope.

Kingdom of God

Listen to how the Message Bible phrases our original verses:

“God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone; pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.”
Romans 14:17-18

The kingdom of God isn’t so much about what we do, but what God does in us. He “sets it right, puts it together and completes it with joy.” He does it all!  What we need to do is rest in the process, co-operating with the Holy Spirit, while He does the heavy lifting.

 

We have only one part to play — “single-minded” service. By keeping our eyes on God, all the pressure falls off of us. No matter how old we become, how mature in the faith, or how seasoned in the Scriptures, we constantly depend on Him to lead, equip and enable me.

Though we try our best to please God in every way, our own efforts matter little. Through righteousness, peace and joy we automatically become pleasing to God and valuable to others.

Righteousness, Peace and Joy

Righteousness, peace and joy are byproducts of living wholly for Christ. Through my vain efforts to try to do and be, I actually hinder the natural flow of God’s design.

God has planted us firmly. The Holy Spirit washes us continually with the Word, watering us deep to the roots. We rest in His finished work producing the fruit of the heavenly kingdom to which we belong.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control.
Against such things there is no law.”
Galatians 5:22-23

Don’t ignore the last sentence. “Against such there is no law.” We no longer have to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or the law pointing out right and wrong, like our first ancestors did. Because of God’s grace, we eat freely and fully from the tree of life where righteousness, peace and joy thrive.

No wonder Paul declared these three ingredients as essential in the kingdom of God. This is how God sets our lives right, puts them together, and completes them with joy.

 

“I AM WHO I AM” – He Is Who He Is!

When I talk about God, I say, “He is!” When God speaks about Himself, He says, “I AM who I AM!” Is who I say He is, the “I AM”? Or when I speak about God, do I speak of someone less than the “I AM”?

I am not a self-professing theologian. Although, theology is simply the study of God, so in some ways, I classify as an amateur in the field. The more I see of God, the more I want to see; the more I know of Him, the more I want to know. I often feel like the seraphim who surround the heavenly throne, one faint glimpse throws me face downward, crying “Holy, God, You alone are amazing!”

“What comes into our minds when we think about God
is the most important thing about us.”
– A.W. Tozer 

What does come into our minds when we think about God? A white haired anarchist holding lightning bolts, ready to hurl them at any moment in our direction? A soft, fluffy, weak and disinterested once-was? What is our honest perception of God?

Only when we possess an accurate view of God will we obtain an accurate view of ourselves and the world around us. The link between the Creator and His created inseparably joins us, like it or not.

Here I Am

Moses had spent 40 years on the “far side of the wilderness,” ending up at “Horeb, the mountain of God.” My running from God and everyone else may not have lasted 40 years, but I ended up deep in the wilderness, nonetheless. Not to worry! No one can run so far or fast they can outrun God. The harder we try to run from Him, the harder we will run into Him when we least expect it. 

Even in the desert of our own choosing God calls us by name.

” When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look,
God called to him from within the bush,
“Moses! Moses!
and Moses said, “Here I am.”
Exodus 3:4

When we don’t know Him, He knows us. When we would rather hide out incognito, He finds us, redirects our wandering into purposeful walking, and speaks identity and value into our being. Eventually, like Moses, we are prepared to respond, “Here I am!”

“Here I am” for Moses was an admission to 40 years of aimlessness: circling, re-circling and swinging back to circle again.

The I AM

God calls the once-upon-a-time prince, now full time shepherd, into a new career path — a path Moses wasn’t exactly enthused about. God had heard the miserable cries of His enslaved people, who just happened to be Moses’ relatives. The Sovereign Lord used those 40 years of shepherding as His perfect training ground to prepare Moses to lead several million people out of Egypt. 

Moses argued and quickly excused himself. He hadn’t yet learned that those who argue with God always lose!

“So now, go, I am sending you to Pharaoh
to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Exodus 3:10

Moses argued on! “Who am I?” “Who are You?” It’s one thing to know our own inability; it’s quite another to not know God’s ability! Moses confidently knew that he could not possibly be the one for such an important task. At this point, he wasn’t sure God was either! 

“God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.
This is what you are to say to the Israelites:
I AM has sent me to you.'”
Exodus 3:14

He Is

In determining relationship there must be an unchanging fixed point of reference. God introduces Himself as “I AM,” establishing Himself as the only fixed point from which everything and everyone else can be measured. 

“I the LORD do not change.”
Malachi 3:6

He is our moral compass point, the place from which we get our bearings. 

“We are right when, and only when,
we stand in a right position relative to God,
and we are wrong so far and so long as we stand in any other position.”
– A.W. Tozer

So here is the million dollar question, “Am I willing to receive God as He is — the center of everything else?” All difficulties we face as Christians stem from our unwillingness to take God as He is and align ourselves accordingly. Too often, we insist on attempting to modify Him to our liking in our image of what we need, want and wish Him to be. 

Alignment

Comfort and inexpressible joy flows from acknowledging God for who He is and loving Him as He is — the unchangeable I AM! The most holy moments we will ever encounter will be spent in the awareness of the reality of I AM. 

To the degree that I am out of alignment with Him, I will miss those opportunities of beholding and loving Him in the pureness and power of who He is. I don’t have to be running away on the back side of the wilderness to experience such loss. I can be standing beside Him, but turned ever so slightly away, and yet completely miss out

As we pursue knowing God for who He is, we embrace the labor of conforming ourselves to Him — bringing ourselves into complete alignment of His identity and purpose.  Then we worship Him as He is.

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
Revelation 4:11

Here, centered around worship, we find alignment as our eyes and hearts are fully focused on Him alone.

Worthy

It is complete contradiction to see Him and not worship. All worship, adoration and praise rests in Him. Do I know and worship the I AM for who He is or something less?

God Most High, The LORD of Angel Armies,
King Eternal, Yahweh,
Creator and Sustainer,
Great Deliverer, Mighty Warrior, 
Wonderful Counselor
Redeemer and Savior of all,
the Healer and Shepherd of our souls. 
the Anchor that holds us fast, 
the One who sees and knows,
our Light in darkness and Hope in despair.

There are no words to define the greatness of His being, no adjective that completes the image. The I AM is and always will be the fullness of Himself — incapable of being any more or any less.

Who do I say He is? Is who I say He is all that the I AM truly is? If so, bravo! If not, I need an alignment! My life will continually be a pursuit of knowing, discovering, learning, seeing, and possessing the greatness of I AM. But today, right now, I set myself on course to know Him more.

To know Him is to love Him; to see Him is to stand in awe.

Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.”
Psalm 96:9
 

 

A Time to Dance – Lavish, Unrestrained Worship, Warfare and Praise

It’s time to dance!  The bible affirms dance, both individually and corporately, as a significant and powerful expression of worship, celebrating God’s presence. Many Christians around the world freely worship God through dance. North America perhaps lags a little behind, however.

Clinical studies have shown the positive effects of dance for both physical and mental health. One study using MRI scans showed that even people watching dance “activated the same neurons that would fire if they themselves were dancing.” Is that why dance mobilizes the Body of Christ to deeper levels of worship?

Even today, worship leaders echo Solomon’s words, “Everyone should dance!”

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
…a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…”
Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

Over twenty five years ago, I stood awestruck as I watched worship dance for the first time. I had danced before God in the privacy of my own basement many times, but to see it as a public form of worship stirred something deep within me to pursue worship in every dimension.

It’s Time

The first bible reference to corporate dance in worship involved over a million people. It was led by a woman over 85 years old!

“Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister,
took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her,
with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them:
‘Sing to the LORD; for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.’ ”
Exodus 15:20,21

This brother-sister dual of Moses and Miriam led the greatest worship service ever conducted. On the banks of the Red Sea, they watched their mortal enemy floating dead on the waves. Four hundred and thirty years of oppression broken! (Ex 12:40)

From slavery to freedom,
oppression to deliverance,
poverty to abundance,
captives no more!

When I remember what God has done in my life, separating my past from my present, I can’t help but break into worship. He released me from a inescapable pit, shattering the chains of addictions too strong for me to break. He softened my hardened heart. This mind clouded with depression, He renewed. He filled me with a passion to live sold-out for Him.

For me, it is time to dance!

Everyone Together

David was also lifted “out of the depths.”

“You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and
clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises
and not be silent.
LORD my God, I will praise you forever.”
Psalm 30:11-12

Israel knew how to dance through oppression. Dancing as joyous praise weaves throughout the psalms.

“Then young women will dance and be glad,
young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”
Jeremiah 31:13

Sometimes dance expresses joyous gratitude toward God. At other times, God himself inspires and motivates believers to dance. Either way, it is time to dance!

God of Movement

The very first verse in the bible describes the Holy Spirit actively moving over the void establishing rhythm.

“In the beginning God created
the heavens and the earth.
Now 
the earth was formless and empty,
darkness was over the surface of the deep
and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Genesis 1:1-2

Hovering describes an eagle fluttering over her young, shaking and trembling, vibrating and moving. By divine strategy and in preparation for creation, Holy Spirit actively moved, fluttered and shook. Then God spoke the elements into existence.

In preparation to creative release, Holy Spirit knew it was time to dance!

Bringing in the Presence

Perhaps, David best illustrates another purpose for dance. He longed for the Ark of God’s Presence to return to Jerusalem. His first attempt failed with Uzzah losing his life, but David didn’t give up.

“Wearing a linen ephod,
David was dancing before the LORD
with all his might,
while he and all Israel
were bringing up the ark of the LORD
with shouts and the sound of trumpets.”
2 Samuel 6:14-15

David danced “before the LORD with all his might.” He poured himself out in lavish praise with dance as an offering unto God. Dressed as a priest, the king led. All Israel followed.

Extravagant, vulnerable worship is risky. Some, like David’s wife, will misunderstand such devotion, rejecting what God calls pure and beautiful.

David remained unwavering,

“…I will celebrate before the LORD.
I will become even more undignified than this,
and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.”
2 Samuel 6:21-22

For those desiring to usher in the Presence of God, the time to dance can be costly.

Collaborative Dance

Zephaniah reveals God in collaborative dance with His Bride, Israel. First, “Daughter Zion” celebrates in her God.

Sing, Daughter Zion;
shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
Daughter Jerusalem!”
Zephaniah 3:14

Shouting aloud and other whole-hearted expressions of adoration and worship becomes contagious.  Expressions of utter joy radiate from faces turned God-ward. The word “rejoice” means jumping for joy, triumphant leaping forth.”

Worship includes quiet, solitary encounters with God. Instrumental, vocal and dance movement also create beautiful expressions of adoration to the Lord as a demonstrating of worship.

How does God respond to such extravagant worship?

“The LORD your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17

God, the Mighty Warrior, rises with great delight and absolute joy. He breaks into twirling and spinning “over you with singing.” Am I exaggerating? Not at all! “Rejoice” here means to be “bright, cheerful, having great joy, twirling and spinning.”

When God rises in collaboration to our frail but expressive worship, dancing breaks forth on earth and in heaven!

Warfare Dance

Dance also fights spiritual battles.

“Praise and worship is the highest form of warfare
that is possible against the enemy of our soul.
Worshiping God…is the best form of warfare —
refusing to give the enemy our time or attention!”
Called to Flag

The united activation of people in extravagant praise and adoration to God, ushers in God’s presence in powerful ways. Although biblical flags and banners were not used in the same context that dancers use them today, dancers often symbolically use flags and banners as instruments of worship movement.

When dancing and flagging is used as an expression of worship to God, it is a powerful, non-verbal declaration of love and adoration to the King of kings and Lord of lords.

David’s wife Michal misunderstood David’s worship and criticized him. As a result she remained barren all her life. (2 Sam. 6:23) God takes worship seriously. He honors and protects those who without reservation give Him all their worship.

“…Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength
and with all your mind.”
Luke 10:27

The dance of worship truly includes all these aspects. Perhaps for all of us, it is time to dance.

**********

(Special thanks to RAC Worship Dance Team for their inspiring movements through dance and breathing life into my worship. Photo credits Amanda Chernesky)

Boast in the Lord – You May be Good but You’re Not that Good

Boast in the Lord and Him only. We may think we’re pretty good compared to others, but not compared to God. We’re just not that good. All other boasting is ludicrous and dangerous.

The other day, I laughed as I overheard four siblings constructing a major building block project. They had gotten along quite well, but now were disagreeing on the finishing touches. Finally, Evan announced, “Here let me do it! Boys are better than girls!”

Shayla, the oldest of the group, placed her hands on her hips, and with eyebrows lowered glared at him in disbelief. His remark obviously stuck a uncomfortable chord with her. Karli, the younger sister, backed off obligingly, pondering the weight of her brother’s comment while beginning to question her own ability. Four year old Sara didn’t miss a beat. She gently but firmly shoved the boaster off to the side, “You’re good, Evan, but you’re not that good!”

I laughed until I felt the nudge of Holy Spirit gently, but firmly, speak similarly to me. He was reminding me how easily I too step in with over-confidence, when humility and tact would be more appropriate. Boasting in ourselves usually doesn’t end up well — for kids or adults, male or female.

“Let someone else praise you,
and not your own mouth;
an outsider, and not your own lips.”
Proverbs 27:2

Boasting

Such boasting in ourselves never produces the results we would like. Boasting must have been an issue in the Corinthian church because it was the first problem Paul dealt with.

“Therefore, as it is written:
‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.‘”
I Corinthians 1:31 

I have discovered that often boasting partners with insecurity rather than confidence. Those who accurately measure their talents, abilities or expertise, don’t need to boast; their works speak for themselves. Those who feel a need to be publicly noticed or appreciated tend to boast as a way to elevate and validate themselves before others. Such tactics usually backfire.

Pride goes before destruction
and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Proverbs 16:18

Unless you think, for even a moment, I am pointing my finger at anyone else, rest assured, I’m not! God orchestrated this little incident with these young children to get my attention. Although amusing, it speaks directly to some boastful thoughts incubating in me.

Not That Good

Sara’s small but firm voice, “You’re good, but you’re not that good” has been resonating in my ears. I’m asking God to show me places where I overthink my own worth or accomplishments. I have always struggled to receive compliments well. Insults, I’m able to handle more readily, but accolades can trip me up.

I’m not alone! Perhaps the chief danger zones for most of us are pride, praise, and power. These each have a way of ultimately revealing our true nature.

“Brothers and sister, think of what you were
when you were called.
Not many of you were wise by human standards;
not many were of noble birth.”
1 Corinthians 1:26

Having no claim to either nobility or wisdom, this verse resonates with me. Though my parents gave me a generous start, my beginnings were humble. Any wisdom I possess, came from a gracious God and the school of many mistakes.

Quite frankly, I’m not that good! I hate to break it to you, but in the words of Sara, “You’re good, but you’re not that good” either.

Who Are You?

Just this week, someone confessed that when they heard me teach a class for the first time, they thought, “Who does she think she is?” Believe me, I wasn’t offended! It was obvious to everyone in the room, including me, that I wasn’t anybody special. I hold no distinction, certification, title or degree. Nothing set me apart from anyone else.

But here is the kicker! What does set each of us apart lies entirely in the extra-ordinary mercy of God!

“But God chose the foolish things
of the world to shame the wise;
God chose the weak things
of the world to shame the strong.
God chose the lowly things
of this world and the despised things —
and the things that are not —
to nullify the things that are,
so that no one may boast before him.”
1 Corinthians 1:27-29

Good news! We qualify among the ranks of those God chooses. Honestly! Who else but God would choose us, when we are “good, but not that good?”

This beautiful, intelligent woman felt a little uneasy about her thoughts. I didn’t! God and I both know, I’m just one of the “foolish things…weak things…lowly things…the things that are not.” And boy am I glad! No one can look at me and say I got where I am on my own efforts, intelligence, economic status, or by any other human means.

In Christ Alone

I constantly need to remember what Paul told the Corinthians believers,

“It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus
who has become for us wisdom from God —
that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
1 Corinthians 1:30

 

Everything originates in Christ — everything. Wisdom? From Him! Health or wealth? From Him! Loving relationships, warm home, security, hope, peace, destiny and promise? From Christ alone!

When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he said,

“May I never boast except in the cross
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world
has been crucified to me,
and I to the world.”
Galatians 6:14

The cross puts everything into perspective. So no matter how good we may think we are, we know that we’re not that good.

Boast Please!

Not all boasting is bad, however. Paul wasn’t disqualifying all boasting. A few verses later, He lets us know that most of their boasting was in specific leaders. He warned about this propensity to boast about ourselves or others, whether a favorite leader, music group, sports team, college, or whatever.

“Therefore, as it is written:
‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'”
1 Corinthians 1:31

Here Paul quotes from a much larger portion found in Jeremiah:

“This is what the LORD says:
“let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.”
Jeremiah 9:23-24

God Delights in Boasting

God delights when boasting is directed toward Him. Not because He is in any way self-centered or needs such acclaim, but rather boasting in God is healthy and beneficial.

David said,

“My soul will boast in the LORD;
the humble will hear it and rejoice.”
Psalm 34:2

Boasting in God has a spin off effect on others, positively turning their eyes toward Him. I’m so glad God didn’t have to use a donkey to speak to me, like He did with Balaam. He chose a four-year-old child to make His point in my heart. I hope her words will stick with me for a long, long time, “You’re good, but you’re not that good.”

A little humility goes a long way!

Seeing is Believing – Look up in Faith!

For many people, like me, seeing is believing. First we look up, and then we rest in the enduring fabric of faith we find in God. Faith weaves through the pages of biblical history uniting man and God. It’s a history filled with divine encounters passed down from generation to generation.

My grandchildren delight in passing on the exciting things they are doing and showing me their recent accomplishments.  Their experiences mark milestones of achievement or are just plain fun things they want to tell me about. They are happy to share; I’m equally happy to listen and encourage them.

On the other hand, I have stored more than a few bone-headed blunders in the “open-at-your-own-risk” file! Seeing is believing there too. During those episodes, I hoped no one witnessed my absent-mindedness. Even I can’t believe how or why I stumbled into such predicaments.

I’m not alone! Israel had just about had enough of circling the wilderness. Even though God had faithfully led and cared for them the whole way, instead of gratitude, they were growing impatient.

“They spoke against God and against Moses, and said,
‘Why have you brought  us up out of Egypt
to die in the wilderness?
There is no bread! There is no water!
And we detest this miserable food!'”
Numbers 21:5

Look Around

Actually, I empathize. There are days when I’ve thought, “Enough is enough! God where are you?” Thankfully, my words aren’t recorded for everyone to examine in microscopic detail.

This wasn’t the first time complaining rose among this discontented mob. They had experienced the severe consequences of such mumbling before. You would think they had learned their lesson, but they were human — just like me!

How many times do I know better, but look at my self-made circumstances and grumble? The depraved condition of my own heart expresses itself: dissatisfied, malcontent, self focused, entitled, glum, disheartened… The longer I look at my surroundings the worse it gets.

“Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them;
they bit the people and many Israelites died.”
Numbers 21:6

We reap what we sow! Their sharp poisonous words reaped the consequences of equally sharp venomous bites by deadly serpents. God allowed them to see the snakes and feel the poisonous effects of their actions. Seeing is believing and so is feeling!

Look to Man

Instead of looking up to God, their first response was to point their rigid fingers toward their leader. Their second response was, “Help! Get us away from the problem!”

“The people came to Moses and said,
We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you.
Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.’
So Moses prayed for the people.”
Numbers 21:7

It’s a familiar refrain from fallen and broken humanity. Yet, even when it is obvious how wrong we have been, we refuse to look up to God for help. We choose rather to look for another savior, someone else to rescue us from our trials.

God neither removed them from their circumstances, nor did He remove the snakes.

The Serpent

The Israelites witnessed the effects of mankind’s fall in the most tangible of ways. I hear the silent echo of words spoken to the first serpent in the garden of Eden.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
Genesis 3:15

Here they were sinning like their original parents, Adam and Eve, feeling the serpent’s poisonous bite. God neither removed the serpent from the garden, nor from the wilderness. He doesn’t always remove our situations that strike with equally deadly force today either.

A Savior

However, God doesn’t leave us helpless or hopeless, but provides a permanent solution to our temporary problems.

“The LORD said to Moses,
“Make a snake and put it up on a pole;
anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”
Numbers 21:8

Talk about faith! Look up at a man-made bronze snake hanging from a pole and you will live! What does looking have to do with halting poisonous venom? Only one look brought life — it worked! Seeing is believing when we take time to look up.

“…Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and
looked at the bronze snake, they lived.”
Numbers 21:9b

Jesus, the Savior of the world, compares this very act to Himself.

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,
so the Son of Man must be lifted up,
that everyone who believes
may have eternal life in him.”
John 3:14-15

Faith looks up and believes. We are like the people in the wilderness being struck by a deadly serpent. We too desire safety, away from the evil intentions of our enemy. Rather than remove the enemy, God still provides a solution — look up in faith and believe!

Faith Looks Up

“Looking” and “believing” are synonymous. When the Israelites looked at the serpent, they believed in their Deliverer. When we look to Jesus, that same faith rises within us.

“Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.”
– A.W. Tozer

Without faith there’s no approaching God, no forgiveness possible, no deliverance available, no spiritual life obtainable, no community of believers accessible.

“Without faith it is impossible to please (God)”
Hebrews 11:6

Jesus represented active faith. He looked up to the Father, doing only what He saw the Father do, speaking only words He heard the Father speak. When faith looks up everything else falls into place.

Unfortunately, we bend our gaze toward each other — mirroring ourselves in smug content. We try the same things other churches try, imitating explicitly, with very little variation. It is all a substitute for looking up to the real Savior Jesus Christ.

If only we would recognize that seeing is believing. Faith actively looks up!

Eyes to See

The serpent’s strike of the heal has inflicted us all with near-sightedness. We are blinded even in our looking.

Faith gazes outside of human perspective. With eyes inside the heart, we look intently upon the all-seeing God. When we look and see, we find One sitting upon the throne.

“At once I was in the Spirit,
and there before me was a throne in heaven
with someone sitting on it.”
Revelation 4:2

If there is one verse that speaks peace to my troubled heart, it is this one. Someone, The Savior, remains on the throne. When I feel the poisonous strike of the enemy upon, my marriage, family, church, community, nation or world, I know there is still One upon the throne. No one and nothing can remove Him from His position of ALL authority and power.

Seeing is believing! So in prayer, I look and see as faith moves within me stirring up peace beyond understanding, joy unquenchable and love irreversible.

Faith is a heart action beholding God from the inside out. We look up to Him, by looking into His Word, the Bible. Our gaze refocuses as we soak in His Presence. Nothing can replace these solitary times of meditation and prayer, seeking His face.

At the root of all faith resides the habitual intention of looking up, gazing upon, and beholding God. While our outward eyes know there are serpents among us, with inward eyes we see the solution, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Look up! Seeing is believing!

Speak Blessing, not Cursing! Love is a Verb!

Paul boldly challenges the Roman Church, and us, to “speak blessing, not cursing.” All of us, from every generation, need the reminder that love without action is not love at all. Love is a verb!

Though many themes ebb and flow through his writing to the Roman church, personally none pierces my heart more than the theme of grace. The study of this epistle a few years ago reformed my thinking and rearranged my heart to love in a new way.

Love is a verb, not a thought or emotional response.  As a new Christian, I prayed, “Lord teach me to love.” I knew as clearly then, as I do now, that love requires a breaking of my self-centered, self-righteous, independent motivations. God alone gives the ability to love in a genuine, transforming way.

Grace and love flow outward to the deserving and undeserving.

Mankind prefers rather to

crush and control,
condemn and judge,
manipulate and intimidate,
strong over the weak,
healthy over the sick,
wealthy over the poor.

This ungodly propensity exists in every culture — Christian and non-Christian. Paul calls for an intentional turn-around in these natural tendencies, no matter how justified we may feel.

Transformation

Transformation starts from the inside infiltrating attitudes, words and actions. Paul sets the defining tone of love and grace in action.

“Let the inner movement of your heart
always be to love one another,
and never play the role of an actor wearing a mask.
Despise evil and embrace everything that is good and virtuous.
Be devoted to tenderly loving your
fellow believers as members of one family.
Try to outdo yourselves in respect and honor of one another.”
Romans 12:9-10

“Lord, teach me to love,” remains a key prayer decades later. Why? Love is tough!

I once read Neigel Bigpond’s story:

“My mother was sick in the hospital, and I went to visit her one day. When she opened her eyes, she looked at me and said, “Nin-zo-de-tow-yoot.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It means I love you,” she replied.

“I love you, too.”

My mother responded, “No son, you don’t understand. Our Yuchi word for “I love you” is not like English… “Nin-zo-de-tow-yoot” means, “You are like a river that brings me life, and without you I cannot exist.”

That’s loving like God. Surrendering to Him so completely that others “are like a river that brings life and without them we know we cannot exist.” Quite frankly, God is asking for the impossible.

The Key

God knows I can’t! I know it, too! So He gave us the key to loving fully.

” Be enthusiastic to serve the Lord,
keeping your passion toward him boiling hot!
Radiate with the glow of the Holy Spirit and
let him fill you with excitement as you serve him.”
Romans 12:11

Love comes from God through the Holy Spirit. God is love — strong, unmasked, raw, pure. Only in passionate, “boiling hot,” relationship with Him will that love be evident in any of us. The dissipating of love in any dimension should drive us to our knees, “Lord, set us ablaze! Holy Spirit burn in us!”

Love is a verb! Active and powerful!

Circle of Love

Paul identifies the elements found within the larger sphere of love.

“Let this hope burst forth within you,
releasing a continual joy.
Don’t give up in a time of trouble,
but commune with God at all times.
Take a constant interest in the needs of God’s beloved people
and respond by helping them.
And eagerly welcome people as guests into your home.”
Romans 12:12-13

Another version says, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.” Love hangs in there faithfully praying. At the same time, a season of withdrawing from gross dysfunction or severe abuse may be absolutely necessary.

I have helped people recede from unhealthy relationships, giving individuals time to regain personal health and wholeness. The goal of the separation isn’t to harm, but rather to restore.

Unbroken fellowship with God remains essential for individual and corporate relational health. In Him, we regain godly perspective and the ability to love genuinely and radically.

“Freedom is not the license to do whatever we want;
freedom is the choice to love.”
– Danny Silk

Love is a Blessing

I cannot imagine a life without love — either the pure joy of loving others or experiencing being known and loved. Love is a blessing, a grace gift from heaven.

“Speak blessing, not cursing,
over those who reject and persecute you.”
Romans 12:14

The things that come from our mouths disclose the reality within our hearts. When communication becomes judgmental and negative, we can be sure we have a serious heart condition.

Words are indicators and predictors!

The words of our mouth create the highway of our future — whether the way of blessing or cursing.

When David became an object of cursing and scorn, he appealed to God for help and strength. He gives a warning to his mockers.

“He wore cursing as his garment;
it entered into his body like water,
into his bones like oil.”
Psalm 109:18

Negative talk about others deeply affects our own health — spiritually and physically, individually and corporately. How important to speak blessing!

Bless Actively

Just like love is a verb, so is blessing. Blessing goes far beyond the words of our mouths spilling out through active care for others. Paul lays down concrete ways to demonstrate a heart that releases blessing.

Celebrate with those who celebrate,
and weep with those who grieve.
Live happily together in a spirit of harmony,
and be as mindful of another’s worth as you are your own.
Don’t live with a lofty mind-set,
thinking you are too important to serve others
but be willing to do menial tasks and
identify with those who are humble minded.”
Romans 12:15-16

Paul calls for a sensitivity, wisdom and humility to mark our relationships. Every word challenges me! Every action is to be focused on the needs of others:

promoting others when we would rather be promoted,
serving from a state of fatigue and personal need,
setting aside personal agendas to elevate those around us.

Love is a verb – selfless and fearless!

Conquering Love

Love conquers with blessing. God’s instruction through Paul becomes even more difficult:

“Never hold a grudge or try to get even,
but plan your life around the noblest way to benefit others.
Do your best to live as everybody’s friend
If your enemy is hungry, buy him lunch!…
Never let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.”
Romans 12:17-21

This is where I often feel overwhelmed. I hear within these lines a call to Christian extremism showing extreme love and compassion to our most oppressive enemies and most aggressive persecutors.

“Through the power of Christ’s blood,
we can exchange such things as curses for blessings;
guilt for purity; sickness for health;
lack for provision; sorrow for joy;
slavery for freedom; and death for eternal life.”
– C. & R. Wagner

How? In Christ and Christ alone! Unless the fire of Holy Spirit burns intensely within us, we will miss this incredible opportunity to live, love and bless. “Set us ablaze, Lord, and start with me.”