Saturday, September 5, 2015

EFFECTIVE QUIET TIME IN FIVE STEPS

I’m semi-retired but still enjoy an active and full life. Looking back over the past year, I can see the benefits I’ve gained from spending quiet time with God in the morning, before the busy day begins. Here are five steps that have helped me get a spiritual boost that lasts the whole day. They just might work for you too.
Unplug: As much as possible, I try to get away from distractions and disturbances such as electronic devices that are constantly popping up reminders, notifications, text and voice messages, and emails. I like to sit on our porch with just my Bible and a notebook and pen.
Relax: I’m someone who is very “task-oriented.” If I’m not careful, my quiet time can become just another to-do to check off. I have to consciously choose to relax and enjoy my time with God. He’s not in a hurry, so why should I be?
Be thankful: I start by writing down five things I’m thankful for from the previous day. This generally provides an instant mood lift. As God’s Word says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”
Follow a reading plan: Having a reading plan so I know what to read helps me get right to it. I also pray before starting, in case God wants to suggest a change.
Focus: Because I have a hard time focusing on what I’m reading, I have found the S.O.A.P. method helpful:
Scripture: After reading a Bible passage, I look back for a verse that particularly catches my attention and I write it in a notebook.
Observation: I write a brief summary of the passage.
Application: I write about how my day will be different because of what I’ve read, lessons to learn, promises to claim, examples to follow, etc.
Prayer: I write out a short prayer for myself based on what I just read.
The early morning may not be the best time for everyone, but no matter what slot we use in the day or night, we can all benefit from stepping back and spending time with God. Without it, we’ll get stressed and wear thin, but with it, we will be better prepared to tackle whatever challenges life may throw at us.
Romans 12:1-2 ESV / I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2 ESV / Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Colossians 3:10-12 ESV / And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,

Friday, September 4, 2015

SAVE YOUR SANITY!

Resting in the Lord is putting your weight down on Jesus and spending time in deep communion and fellowship with Him so that He can infuse you with strength and renew your vision. It’s carrying a spirit of peace and faith and putting Jesus first. Resting in the Lord is pleasant because it involves thinking about Jesus and spending time with Him, and in that sense, it’s not hard or taxing, although it does take commitment to slow down and stop our other activities in order to do it.
Most of us lead busy lives, so we need the calm and peace and strength that come from resting in the Lord and taking time for meditation. Each of us needs to learn that secret of leaning hard on Him, committing our work to Him, resting in Him, and looking to Him.
So many people long for peace. When we’re resting in the Lord, our spirits and minds are more filled with His Spirit, and we’re able to pass this on to others. The more at peace we are, the more faith we manifest, and the more they will want what we have.
As we slow down in order to spend time resting in the Lord, meditating on Him, and getting His take on things, He can show us what our priorities are, and we’ll have increased faith to act on them. Resting in the Lord and meditating brings a whole lot more peace and calm to our spirits, and that makes it a sanity saver during busy times.
Resting in the Lord
In place of our exhaustion and spiritual fatigue, God will give us rest. All He asks is that we come to Him … that we spend a while thinking about Him, meditating on Him, talking to Him, listening in silence, occupying ourselves with Him—totally and thoroughly lost in the hiding place of His presence.—Chuck Swindoll (b. 1934)
Once I knew what it was to rest upon the rock of God’s promises, and it was indeed a precious resting place, but now I rest in His grace. He is teaching me that the bosom of His love is a far sweeter resting-place than even the rock of His promises.—Hannah Whitall Smith (1832–1911)
Joshua 1:8 ESV / This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
Psalm 1:2 ESV / But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalm 19:14 ESV / Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

REACHING “PLEASANT PLACES”

I love Psalm 23. Perhaps it’s because I especially love the verses about being in calm, beautiful, and peaceful situations: “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”
I was meditating on this psalm and realized that it’s somewhat of a snapshot of life. In that short chapter, just six verses, you get a brief picture of the cycles of life—the highs and lows, the good times and bad, the peaceful and chaotic. Yet through it all, one thing remains: God’s presence. The enduring and unchanging truth: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
I’m a creature of comfort and routine. I like the times in my life when I’m resting in the green pastures and drinking from the beautiful still waters—those periods when everything is going well, when I’m seeing and feeling the blessings, when everything is chugging along pretty seamlessly.
I naturally feel God’s presence more during times of peace and plenty. There’s not as much need, and I feel more confident that He’s there and with me. We don’t usually need to be reminded of God being with us during such times, because we already feel it—we’re in the green pastures and beside the still waters.
Sometimes, though, when things go haywire or not according to plan—the “dark valley” parts of life—I start to feel less like He’s with me. King David was no stranger to times of difficulty, perhaps that’s why he reminds himself of God’s presence in verse four: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
God is with us, He is comforting us, even if we can’t sense His presence as strongly. He’s there, even if the dark valley portion of our journey is a little bit longer (or maybe even a lot longer) than we had hoped.
I’m going through a dark valley time right now. And unfortunately, I’m impatient. I want the challenge over and done with. I want God to supply what I need right away. I want to move from the “dark valley” part to the “green pasture” part as quickly as possible—and when I get there, I know I will want that portion of my life to last as long as possible before I’m interrupted by another dark valley.
I read a quote this morning that clearly expressed my natural inclination and yet reminded me that God’s perspective and plan is so much bigger and better than mine. So often I want Him to be “done already,” whereas it’s going to take that little bit longer for Him to set everything in place as He has planned. Here’s the quote:
“God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple, predictable ease—smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see—but God likes to go off-road. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension—and yet don’t. By His love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.”
I’d like the stomach churning to end, but I also like the thought that God is loving this ride. I know that He’s somehow going to work things out for my good. And in the meantime, I hope that I will gain all that He has for me to experience before this off-road journey ends and I reach the green pastures again. I just need to be patient and wait for His timing.
Another personal favorite promise is, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” I know that verse is talking about what God has prepared for us in heaven, but I like to also claim it for the things that I’m sure He has prepared for me here on earth as well. Since I love Him and He loves me, I know that He has good things lined up ahead.
Psalm 23:2-3 (NIV)
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)
However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him—
Psalm 34:10 (NIV)
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

LIGHTS WILL GUIDE YOU HOME

I was driving home one night with the windows rolled down, the wind making a mess of my hair. The radio was playing, but I was mostly absorbed in my own thoughts—that is, until the first words from “Fix You” by Coldplay caught my attention.
When you try your best, but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep …
I began listening to the rest of the song. And I found that it was as if I was listening to a story—my story.
Lights will guide you home …
The song came to a close as I pulled into the driveway. “Lights will guide you home,” I repeated. What a simple yet profound thought. I leaned back and closed my eyes. Thank You that Your light has always guided me home.
I remembered the many times when I’d felt lost or alone or confused, but then the light of God’s love and care was always there to guide me home, back into His loving arms. This light has come in many forms—a friend who came to see me at just the right time; my mom or dad; a stranger who shed some new perspective on my life and thinking; and, of course, the love of my life, my husband, whose passion for life has many a time been like the sun breaking through the clouds on a stormy day.
I realized that God’s light has always shone on my heart. It has never turned off, never run out of power, never dimmed. Whenever I have stopped and looked, His light has always been there to guide me home.
Jesus told His disciples, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” He is a beacon of hope, a guiding light showing us the way to walk to reach our destination and fulfill our destiny; He is a warm glow that keeps us feeling loved when we may feel unlovely. Whenever we look up and away from what surrounds us, we can feel His light and His brilliance.
Every single time I’ve stopped and looked up, the light has guided me home. And I know it always will.
Psalm 32:8 ESV / I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV / Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
John 16:13 ESV / When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

OVER THE PRECIPICE

Over forty years later, this episode from a holiday in Scotland is still vivid in my mind. That morning, my friend Adrian and I set out from the youth hostel in Fort William, intent on climbing Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain (1,344 meters [4,409 ft]). We were a pair of adventurous teenagers and brushed off warnings from the locals that it was not a good day to climb.
We took warm clothing, strong boots, ice axes, and Kendal Mint Cake (a peppermint confectionary popular with mountaineers for its high energy content), and started out, even though the pale wintery sun was already becoming clouded over by a thick mist. We’d chosen the harder north ridge ascent, and surrounded by a blanket of white snow and fog, we soon lost all visibility.
We continued climbing mostly in silence. I was holding the compass, map, and illustrated guidebook—though these had limited use under the circumstances. When I thought I recognized a landmark, I paused to try to make out my surroundings… and realized that Adrian was no longer there! I squinted, then jumped back in alarm: the thin gray line just inches in front of my feet was the edge. I realized with horror that my friend must have gone over.
My immediate instinctive reaction was to pray for his safety. Prayer was not a regular habit for me at the time, but I knew how to pray from rare church visits and religious education classes in school.
Then I remembered a mountain hut lower down the slope and turned back to get help. Soon, though, I ran into Adrian, who was also heading down! It turned out that he had in fact fallen several hundred feet, but he had bounced off the snow-covered outcrops. Remarkably, his only injury was a scratch on his wrist. It seemed I was more shaken by what had happened than he was!
I don’t know the exact details of what happened, but I truly believe that my prayer, unpolished but sincere, played a part in saving my friend that day.
Psalm 34:7 ESV / The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Romans 12:19 ESV / Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
Psalm 17:8 ESV / Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,

Monday, August 31, 2015

THE ROCK

My wife Maria and I recently returned from a trip to Switzerland where we stayed with some friends who live by a lake. While there, I would often look out the window at the beautiful lake and surrounding mountains. There was one mountain in particular which stood out to me. It jutted up like a gigantic rock, and each morning when we opened the curtains, I would look at it and marvel at how majestically it towered over the lake.
Whenever I went in and out of the house, I’d pause for a few moments to take in the beautiful view and scenery, and would invariably end up focusing on the mountain. Some days, the sky was blue and clear, and the mountain seemed close enough to reach out and touch. One day, the top half of the mountain was covered in clouds, and all that could be seen were the trees which reached halfway up, while the rest was obscured. Another morning, because of fog, it wasn’t possible to see the mountain at all.
On our last morning in Switzerland, I was thinking about a number of friends and the various experiences and challenges they had been facing. One found himself fighting a severe life-threatening illness virtually from one day to the next, which required months of being in the hospital, uncertain whether he would recover or not. One couple had plans in place which would help them financially, but at the very last minute these fell through. Another was moving her family to another country without knowing all the details about how things would work out once she arrived. One couple’s Christian work, which they’d had for years, was coming to an end, and they didn’t yet know what God wanted them to do next. Another man lost his job at the same time as he and his wife were facing some sickness in their family, and he hadn’t yet been able to find a new one.
As I thought about these dear friends, and so many others who are faced with uncertainty, I was reminded of what I had observed while looking at the mountain over the previous days—how on some days the mountain was so clear, so obviously there, while on other days parts of it were obscure, and on the foggy day I couldn’t see it at all. And yet, whatever the weather, even when it couldn’t be seen, the mountain was there. Fog or clouds or raging storms might make it difficult to see, or even invisible, but it was still there, standing strong and immovable.
I was struck by the courage of these people and of countless others who face the uncertainties of life with deep faith, even when God’s presence in their lives is less evident. The Bible verse “we walk by faith, not by sight” came to mind. The fact is that, like the mountain, God, in all His majesty, is always there. Whether we see or feel Him is irrelevant to the fact that He is there. Through all the storms of our lives; through the times of uncertainty or confusion or weakened faith; through the fears, the questions, the doubts, the loss, He is there.
Sometimes things are bright and sunny in our lives, and God’s blessings are very clear to us. At other times, like when the top of the mountain is covered in clouds, it’s a bit more difficult to see or feel His presence; and in the dense fog of uncertainty, one can question if He’s there at all. But He is like the mountain; nothing has changed on His side. He is there, solid, immovable, ever loving, ever caring, never failing.
Looking at this mountain—this gigantic rock rising above the lake—brought to mind the stability of God, the sureness of His presence and help, regardless of the circumstances. We may worry or fear; we may doubt or be unsure. The storms that seem to engulf our lives at times can make it seem like He’s not there, not listening, or not concerned. But the simple fact is that the storms, the fog, and the winds in life don’t affect the presence of God any more than these elements in nature affect that mountain.
God is there, always. He will never leave or forsake us. Our faith may fail, but He isn’t dependent on our faith, for He is the Rock, the mountain, the faithful one upon whom we can depend. Always.
Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
2 Corinthians 5:7 (NIV) For we live by faith, not by sight.
Psalm 62:2 (NIV)
Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

THE MASTER’S HANDS

A mother once took her young son, who was just beginning to learn to play the piano, to hear the world-famous pianist Jan Paderewski in concert.
After an usher showed them to their seats, the mother spotted a friend in the audience and walked down the aisle to greet her. The little boy saw that as his opportunity to explore the wonders of the concert hall, and eventually explored his way through a door marked “NO ADMITTANCE.” When the house lights dimmed and the concert was about to begin, the mother returned to her seat and discovered that her son was missing.
Suddenly, the curtains parted and spotlights focused on the impressive grand piano on stage. In horror, the mother saw her little boy sitting at the keyboard, innocently picking out “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” At that moment, Paderewski made his entrance, quickly moved to the piano, and whispered in the boy’s ear, “Don’t quit. Keep playing.”
Then Paderewski leaned over, reached down with his left hand and began filling in a bass part. Soon his right arm reached around to the other side of the child and added a third part. Together, the old master and the young novice transformed a frightening situation into a wonderfully creative experience. The audience was mesmerized.
That’s the way it is with our heavenly Father. What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy. We try our best, but the results aren’t exactly graceful, flowing music. But with the hands of the Master, our life’s work truly can be beautiful.
Next time you set out to accomplish great feats, listen carefully. You can hear the voice of the Master, whispering in your ear, “Don’t quit. Keep playing.” Feel His loving arms around you. Know that His strong hands are there, helping you turn your feeble attempts into true masterpieces. Remember, God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called. As long as you’re trying your best to do what He knows is best, He’ll always be there to love and guide you on to great things.
1 John 4:8 ESV / Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Romans 8:37-39 ESV / No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
John 3:16 ESV / “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.