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On Choice: a Psalm of Sorts

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“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.” -Psalm 9:1-2

I will thank, tell, rejoice, sing praise.

I choose to do so; this is a choice I make.

God is worthy—worthy of more than I can offer.

When I think, when I write, when I move, I can choose to offer my thoughts and words to Him instead of to past and present concerns. Or maybe in sync with these, letting Him align it all.

I can choose to focus on His never-ending Presence, the most priceless gift, and enjoy it as fully as I can—soaking it all in, though I may feel duty-drawn away. My energy, both physical and mental, it all belongs to Him.

I will choose to surrender it in thanksgiving, in stories, in joy, in praise—I love You, Lord! Amen.

Sometimes I treat spending time with God like an extravagance—a luxury instead of a necessity. I feel responsible to do so many other things first. But my relationship with God matters most. He is my life—my strength—my purpose. God first—essential to my spiritual and emotional health . . . His right as Lord of my life. I enter His Presence every morning—I try to remain there always. This is how I trust Him with the details of each day.

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Prowling Devil, Crouching Sin

abel“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” -Genesis 4:7

The Bible doesn’t tell us, specifically, why God looked with favor on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s. It only hints that perhaps Cain gave less than his best, a token offering of obligation, in place of a gift of worship from a fully grateful heart. In contrast, Abel brought fat portions from the firstborn of his flock, showing thanksgiving for all he’d received and trust that God would continue to give more.

Cain became angry, though he probably knew what he’d done. But God responded with kindness and grace, gently letting Cain know that he could have favor, too. He only had to choose to do right. Instead, Cain followed the path he’d set out on when he chose to give God less than his best. He received God’s response to his gift with an angry heart. Then he made his situation worse, murdering his brother in a field. (See Genesis 4:8.)

When we do what is right, following God obediently with love and gratitude, He blesses us with everything we need to live out His plan for our lives. We enjoy His Presence, the knowledge that our lives honor Him, and His Spirit within. This Spirit gives us guidance and strength as we continue to walk with God.

If we choose not to do right, though, making selfish choices and holding back from God what is His, sin crouches at our door. We give the devil an opportunity to tempt us even further from God. Peter warns us just as God warned Cain:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” -1 Peter 5:8

It works like this:

If we think of life as a journey toward greater knowledge of and a closer relationship with God, every right choice is a step toward that end. Our obedient choices draw us closer to God Who makes us more like Christ, developing strong character and a healthy heart. Every wrong choice, though, is a step away from this that gives the devil an opportunity to lead us further away. Too many steps away, steps we might not even realize we’re taking, can leave us wandering like Cain, a lion’s meal in the making.

This is why we must live alert and keep a sober (as in contemplative or restrained) mind. As we make daily decisions, we must ask what draws us closer to God, what makes us more like Him, what honors His name, what helps His Kingdom grow?

Though Abel’s life was cut short, he earned a place in Hebrews’ Faith Hall of Fame:

“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” -Hebrews 11:4

He didn’t set out to do anything special, he simply lived to honor God and offered his best to Him. We can choose to live this way, too.

Father, help us to remember that our choices matter. Open our eyes to clearly see which decisions honor You, draw us closer to You. We choose to live by faith, with gratitude. You are our God, and we love You. Amen.

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Progressing through Hurt with Hope

Progressing

“Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.” -Deuteronomy 26:7

I like Deuteronomy 26. It shows a common progression through life – something we all experience, yet all in different ways. It also reveals the hope that comes from trusting God through it all.

As we travel through life, we all experience times of “misery, toil and oppression.” The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt. Most of us experience different kinds of troubles, trials, and pain. If we’re wise, though, we cry out to God through these times, knowing He will hear our voices and deliver us at just the right time. He did this for the Israelites – then He did it for them again and again. He has done it for His people throughout history. He has also rescued you and me from one thing or another all through our lives. Ultimately, He’ll come a final time to take us home to heaven where all suffering will go away for good. This recurrence of pain on earth will end.

Back to life’s progression. 1) We experience some kind of suffering. 2) We cry out to God. 3) He rescues us – in His time . . . at just the right time. 4) “Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household” -Deuteronomy 26:11. We praise Him. We thank Him. We celebrate His victory on our behalf.

But that’s not all.

Verses 12 through 15 talk about living faithfully for God after He rescues us. We follow our celebration of God’s goodness and our freedom with obedience and by reaching out to others who need rescue as well. Moses told the Israelites to care for the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless, and widows. We can ask God to show us who to strengthen, encourage, and comfort in His name.

And then, (yes, there’s another then) when we least expect it while we’re still living on this earth, we’ll probably get to go through the whole process again because, as painful as it is, each time we go through it, cooperating with God’s Spirit, crying out to God, He’ll draw us closer to Him. He’ll make us more like His Son. He’ll use our experience to build new skills that we can use to minister to others more effectively. He’ll reveal His glory in and through us . . . again.

You’re probably wishing I’d have left at least the first part of that last paragraph out. Me, too. But as I struggle through a season of crying out, I’m trusting that all I’ve written there is true. Our God is in control. He sees. He hears. He uses all for good.

“You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in obedience to him, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws—that you will listen to him. And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.” -Deuteronomy 26:17-19

We have declared that we will follow Jesus no matter what. God has declared that we are His treasure and He will keep His promises to us. This is what really matters whether we’re crying out, rejoicing, or serving others in His name.

I thank You, Lord, for Your continued interest in me. I know You will use every painful experience for good. In You all is redeemed. Please work in and through me as You want to for the glory of Your name. In Jesus, I pray. Amen.

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Thanking God for What He Gives Us to Give

Thankful Giving

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’”Matthew 26:26

A new thought occurred to me when I read this passage yesterday morning. As many times as I’ve read the story of the Last Supper and heard it read during communion celebrations at church, I’m surprised—and thrilled—to have a new concept to consider. For me, it has come at just the right time. (Our God tends to work that way.) My husband and I are fairly new empty-nesters, entering what some generational researchers are starting to call our second adulthood. It’s a tempting time, a time when people are tempted to say, “We’re done! Let’s go play for the rest of our lives.” But we’ve still got a lot of life left in us—at least we still feel like we do—most days. We’re asking God how He wants us to spend this next phase of our life and thanking Him for every opportunity to serve.

This is how Jesus taught His followers to live. His actions at the Last Supper are the prime example for all of us.

Matthew 26:26 tells us that Jesus took the bread and gave thanks. I’ve always pictured this as Him saying grace before the meal, thanking God for the food as many of us do. But what I noticed yesterday was that, in this instance, Jesus didn’t give thanks for what He was about to receive, like we do at meals. He wasn’t simply and routinely thanking God for food that He was getting ready to ingest. Look more closely here. He gave thanks for what was already His, for what He was able and preparing to give—His life for us. Jesus gave thanks—then He gave.

Jesus gave thanks for the bread that represented His body which He gave away. He gave thanks not for what He had to keep for Himself but for what God had given Him to give away— to save everyone else.

It occurs to me that if we want to be more like Jesus, we have to realize that life isn’t about collecting and keeping and giving thanks for what we claim as ours. It’s about thanking God for the resources He provides that enable us to participate in His plan to provide for others wherever we see a need: our money, our time, our strength, our ideas, anything we think we possess. We trust God to care for us; we use His gifts to care for others in His name. And we celebrate the blessing of being able to do so. We give God our thanks.

First Peter 4:10 says it this way: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

What gifts has God given you that you can thank Him for and give away in Jesus’ name? Ask Him for what purpose He has graciously placed various resources in your care. Ask Him to help you use them to meet needs, and thank Him for every opportunity you seize.

Father, thank You for all of the resources You’ve entrusted to our care. Show us how to share them for the benefit of others, for the health of Your Kingdom now. In Jesus, we pray. Amen.

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Trying to Pray Daniel’s Way

Praying Like Daniel“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” –Daniel 6:10

“Then they told the king, ‘That man Daniel, one of the captives from Judah, is ignoring you and your law. He still prays to his God three times a day.’” –Daniel 6:13

The Bible tells us that Daniel prayed three times a day. But it doesn’t tell us how long he prayed each time. I kind of wish it did. Daniel is such a great role model; I’d like more detail, please. But maybe the leaving out of the detail was intentional. I’m guessing Daniel probably talked with God about whatever needed talking about at the time for as long as it needed to be discussed. If we’re going to follow his example, that’s probably a good way to start.

Then why does the Bible tell us, specifically, that he prayed three times a day? I think that little detail is helpful. If we want to talk with God about whatever needs talking about, having set times to sit down and ask Him if there is anything that needs to be talked about is a good thing. I imagine Daniel greeting God each morning, worshipping Him, thanking Him, asking for guidance for the day to come. Around midday, he probably checked in to thank God for how the day was going, to make sure he was still on course, to present any new business or concerns, and to learn if God had any new directions for him. Then maybe just before bed, he’d meet with God once more to go over the details of the day, thanking God for its surprises, asking forgiveness for his own failings, and enjoying God’s presence as he prepared to go to sleep.

Of course, I don’t really know if that’s exactly how Daniel prayed, and I certainly don’t believe we have to pray at three, precisely-specified times each day. But I like the idea of starting and ending the day with God, checking in with Him as needed in between. Daniel is such a great role model. I’m glad God gave us all the detail about his life we need.

Father, thank You for giving us everything we need to live faithfully for You. Thank You for Daniel’s example and for the examples of other people we meet in Your Word. Help us remember to communicate with You often about anything we need to discuss and with listening hearts to hear anything You may choose to impress upon us. We love You, Lord, and long to live Your way. Thank You for teaching, guiding, and correcting. Amen.

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Memory Gratitude

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The Conversation Begins: Thanksgiving

The Conversation BeginsThis post is the first of our discussions about the many different kinds of prayer. Considering the holiday, Thanksgiving seems like a great place to start.

An obscure childhood memory popped into my mind this week regarding this theme. I was only five- or six-years-old when this happened, so the details may or may not have happened exactly as I recall. If my mom reads this and calls to correct me, I promise to post an update. For now, here’s the story as I remember it:

My mother, little brother, and I were at the check-out stand at the grocery store. While mom was paying for our groceries, the somewhat elderly (from my point of view, at least) gentleman who was bagging the groceries leaned over to offer my brother and me some candy. (This was back in the days when this was still considered a nice thing to do, not something that should get you arrested.)

He asked me if I wanted a piece of candy. I looked at my mom. She nodded, so I said, “Yes, please.”

He started to hand over the treat, then pulled it back and asked, “What else do you say?”

What else was there to say? Confused, I said the only thing I could think of: “Yes, I want the candy, please.”

The man gave my mother one of those looks that all moms of young children hate. You know the one. The one that says, “Haven’t you taught your children any manners, Ma’am? What’s wrong with you?” I looked at my mother, too, just because I had no idea what this strange person wanted and figured I needed a cue.

The man repeated his question, “What else do you say?” I told him I didn’t know. He put his hands on his hips and said, “You say, ‘Please and thank you.’ If you want the candy, you have to say, ‘Thank you.’” He gave my mom a pointed look.

I realized this man was confused and needed to be set straight. Evidently, his mother was the one who forgot to teach manners. I said, “I’m not supposed to say, ‘Thank you,’ until after you give me the candy. I say, ‘Please,’ before and ‘Thank you’ after. That’s the rule.” I may have crossed my arms over my chest in stubborn indignation at this point.

The man looked at my mom then laughed out loud. I didn’t know what was so funny and was feeling kind of mad. My little brother just wanted some candy. Poor kid!

The man leaned over again and said, “I’ll let you get away with it just this once. But next time, say, ‘Please and thank you’ when you want something.” He gave us each a piece of candy, refusing to release mine from his grasp until I spoke those last two words. (And, if I remember correctly, my wise mother took the candy away when we got to the car with a promise of something better when we got home. I guess people didn’t completely trust strangers bearing candy for children even then. She handled an incredibly awkward situation with patience and grace.)

1 Thessalonians 5-18Unlike the man at the grocery store, our God gives good things lavishly. He even gives good things to those who deny His existence! Everything we have . . . every . . . single . . . thing . . . comes from Him. The man at the grocery store wanted his please and thank you up front, demanded good manners—by his definition—before giving the offered treat, and gave my mother a hard time in the name of teaching her children. She had nothing to thank him for, and in the end, neither did we. But our God just gives . . . abundantly . . . because He loves us. For example:

“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

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”Romans 5:8

The man at the grocery store held on to the candy until I said, “Thank you.” He wasn’t taking any chances that he wouldn’t receive his due. But God sent Jesus to die for us—so He could offer us salvation—while we were still sinners, and He continues to give good gifts to everyone with or without their gratitude.

Does He want us to thank Him? Of course! He loves us and wants us to return His love. He knows us and wants us to know Him. He wants us to recognize His involvement in our lives and to thank Him for all He does. But He won’t insist on a response. Thanksgiving has to come from a person’s heart.

Let’s not wait until tomorrow! Let’s start right now, this day, and continue for the rest of our lives. Let’s learn to recognize God’s gifts, and thank Him continually.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! I thank God for you.

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Thanksgiving and Prayer

Thanksgiving and Prayer“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people.”Colossians 1:3-4

Paul starts his letter to the Colossian church with thanksgiving and prayer. He tells them that he is thankful for them and why. He is thankful for them because he’s heard of their faith in Christ and their love for His people.

  • Who are you thankful for today and why?

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.”Colossians 1:9

Because Paul is thankful for the Colossians, he and his ministry team pray for them.* They pray that:

  • God will fill them with the knowledge of His Will (v. 9).
  • They will live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way (v. 10).
  • They will bear fruit in every good work (v. 10).
  • They will grow in the knowledge of God (v. 10).
  • They will be strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might (v. 11).
  • They will have great endurance and patience (v. 11).
  • They will be joyfully thankful for the inheritance they share with all of God’s people (v. 12).

What a beautiful way to honor someone you are thankful for!

  • What blessings are you asking God to bestow on the people you are thanking Him for today?

*Click here to read the full passage at BibleGateway.com.

I’m sharing this post with the following sites today: Word of God Speak and Spiritual Sundays. Click on the links to see what others are sharing there too.

 

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Where Can We Pray?

The Conversation BeginsJust in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m starting this 31+ non-consecutive-day prayer series by answering the five W’s and H: Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How—not necessarily in that order, of course. I can’t be too predictable. So far I’ve written about what prayer is and who can pray. I’ve also touched on why and how we pray because it all kind of goes together. That’s okay. Repetition reinforces learning no matter our age.

Today I want to look at the question, “Where can we pray?”

Anywhere!!! Prayer is communicating with God. God is everywhere. Therefore, we can pray anywhere.

We don’t have to wait until we go to church or kneel beside our beds or sit down for a meal. If you feel grateful for something God is doing in your life, thank Him where you are. If you see an accident on the highway, pray for the victims as you drive past the scene. If you receive an e-mail notice with a prayer request, pray over it as you read. This kind of praying is the topic of my book, Parachute Prayer. I invite you to read it for many more prayer prompts like these.

In the meantime, let me throw out a few more ideas regarding where we can pray. These are for when we’re craving times of deeper, more focused prayer:

  • My personal favorite place to pray is in my journal. When I pick up my pen and start writing in that book, it doesn’t matter where I’m seated physically—my mind is focused on God as I’m writing. This doesn’t work for everyone; God has wired us all a little bit differently when it comes to how we concentrate best. My journal just happens to work best for me.
  • Hiding in the closet is another favorite of mine. Until recently, I thought this was unique—maybe strange. It’s not. It’s actually a pretty common mom thing. For some inexplicable reason, a closed closet seems to be an effective kid-free zone. That makes it Mom’s Sacred Space. Maybe there’s just something more personal about talking to God while seated . . . or lying . . . or crying in a small, enclosed place. (Just be sure your kids know where to find you if they need you. We wouldn’t want them to think that you abandoned them.) If there’s no room for you in your closet, try the Susannah Wesley approach and pull your apron over your head. This amazing woman taught her kids to respect this signal that she was taking a time-out for prayer. The concept is the same.
  • One church in our community has developed a prayer trail—a place where people can go to pray as they walk the carefully maintained path. I also know of people who simply pray for their neighborhoods as they walk through them. Studies have proven that we think better when we’re in motion. I’ve experienced this as some of my favorite writing ideas have come to me during long runs. God’s Spirit can also use the opportunity we provide by walking to help us remember things for which we want to pray. I do think our intent matters, though. God may take our prayers less seriously if we’re thinking, “I’m running, so I may as well pray,” rather than if we deliberately go on a walk because we want to pray. Let me clarify just a bit. If I’m running, and God brings a prayer concern to mind, I can pray while I’m running. That’s a Parachute Prayer. It’s a good thing. God gets my attention, and I respond to Him. But if I know God is calling me to a more focused time of prayer and I say, “Sure, God. But how about letting me accomplish two things at once? Let’s talk while I run,” my need for real communion with God probably won’t be met. God will patiently wait until I choose to set my heart wholly on Him.
  • I also like to pray while I’m driving. Sometimes if I have a ways to go, I’ll turn off the radio and have a talk with God. If you choose to give this a try, please remember not to close your eyes. Keep them on the road. Turning off the radio demonstrates an intentional decision to set our hearts on God and pray.
  • One final idea: we can pray in bed in the middle of the night. Sometimes this one really is more of an “I’m awake, God, so I may as well pray” kind of thing. But I don’t think He minds under these circumstances. Sometimes He wakes us up to talk to Him, putting specific concerns in our hearts. Other times He listens to whatever we have to say then helps us fall back to sleep—not unlike a parent who helps a child who wakes in the night.

We really can pray anywhere! God loves it when we choose to set our minds and hearts on Him.

Where do you like to pray?

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The Roundabout Straight Way

Finding Home“He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”Psalm 107:7-8

Psalm 107 starts with a call to thank God for what He has done and a command to testify. I especially love verse 2: “Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out! Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies” (NLT). The Psalm goes on to do just that—to speak out and tell. The rest of Psalm 107 is a collection of testimonies about what God has done to redeem His people.

The psalmist starts this collection of testimonies with a summary of the Israelites’ forty-year journey through the wilderness, ending this section of the Psalm by thanking God for leading His people to a place where they could settle at last. This is what I’m focusing on today. I find it interesting that the psalmist tells us the Israelites’ wandered for forty years yet also says God led them by a straight way. How can both be true?

Where Janet Has LivedHere is what I think: if I look at a map with each location my husband and I have lived in marked with a green dot and lines showing movement from place to place to place, I see what looks like a tangled mess of wandering. But when I remember each place, I know God led us straight there. Deliberately. With clear intent (sometimes only revealed to me in hindsight, if at all). I also know that had we skipped any of these places—and the experiences we gained in each—we wouldn’t really be where we are today. And we wouldn’t be able to go where we’re headed tomorrow. From His unique vantage point, God sees the only straight way.

In other words, what looks straight on a map, physically, may not be the most direct route in the spiritual, emotional, mental realm. Physically, I could have traveled straight from California to Texas without experiencing any of the places where I lived in between, but I wouldn’t have experienced Texas in the same way—and the people I know now wouldn’t have met the person I am today. God led me where I am and made me who I am by leading me straight here—in the perfect, roundabout way.

He did the same thing for the Israelites.

He’s doing the same thing for you—whether you move often or are currently living in the same place you’ve known all your life.

God defines point A and point B differently than we do. Who we are becoming and how we influence the people we meet along the way are more important to Him than travel between two dots we can see on a map.

So what does this information mean to you and me?

1. We know that God is preparing us and the people around us now to settle in His heavenly kingdom forever. So we can trust that He’ll use every stop along the way as part of this process. We may not know what He’s doing or why, but because of Who God Is and what He knows, we can gratefully accept the opportunity to learn and serve in each place.

2. We can view each place, even if we know it’s temporary, as a place to settle, do just that, and be thankful. The Israelites settled in the Promised Land, but only temporarily. God moved them again because they still had a lot to learn. He’s in the business of preparing His people for the ultimate Promised Land. He has lessons to teach and character to develop. He leads us where He must, so we can grow closer to Him.

3. As we settle in each temporary place, we can joyfully anticipate that final place. Wherever God leads us in this world, Heaven is straight ahead.

Father, thank You for leading us by the straight way, according to Your perfect point of view, to a place where we can settle. We’re following with confidence. Prepare us for Heaven and use us to help others get there, too. We love You, Lord! Amen.