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Preparing in Advance to Give and to Worship

1 Chronicles 16-29As I walked into the grocery store yesterday, the bell ringer standing outside caught my eye. I was trying to avoid this because I had no cash on hand; I just wanted to sneak quietly by. But he blocked my path just enough to get me to look up, then he wished me a merry Christmas. This determined bell ringer was on a mission to make eye contact with and speak to every person who entered the store. On my way back out again, about forty minutes later, he was still at it. This time he said, “God bless you!” I appreciated the fact that he wanted to offer Christmas blessings to everyone, even those who had no money that was drop-in-the-bucket-able.

I went on about my day and forgot about the whole encounter, but God brought it back to mind this morning. I wondered if that group gets fewer donations now than they used to because people are less likely to carry cash. Then I realized that it is December after all. This is the only month of the year they are out. We know they are going to be there, so if we want to give, why not go prepared? Would it really be so hard to keep a little bit of money on hand for worthy giving opportunities that arise not only for this group, but others we might encounter? —not only in December, but all through the year? God’s instructions to the Israelites on intentionally leaving some of the harvest in their fields for others to gather as they have need comes to mind. (See Deuteronomy 24:21 for one example.)

As I continued to think about this, read, and pray, I came to this verse in my day’s reading: “Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his presence. Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.”1 Chronicles 16:29, NLT

When we give in God’s name, we enter His presence—even if we’re entering the grocery store! As we prepare to give, we’re preparing to worship anywhere! When the Spirit prompts us to follow through, we’re doing so with our Lord.

Father, thank You for giving me something to think about this morning. Please remind me to be prepared. I want to share the gifts You’ve given with others who may need them. I also want to enjoy Your presence everywhere I go. I’ll prepare, You lead, I’ll obey. Together we’ll encourage others and magnify Your name. Thank You, Lord! Amen.

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The Conversation Begins: Worship

Psalm 34-3Worship. Praise. Adoration. Acknowledging the greatness of God and declaring our love for Him. This is what He created us to do! What’s more, doing so reminds us of our place and helps us to keep everything else in its place. Only God is worthy to be over all—always! Everyone else, everything else, must be of less importance than Him. Worship helps us to remember this.

But as a form of prayer, worship hasn’t always come easy for me. Sitting down with God to tell Him how amazing He is often feels like a contrived activity. I can make a list of words that describe God, believe with all my heart that these words belong to Him, and present the list as a prayer, but somehow, for me, this always seems to lack something. God deserves so much more!

Of course, no word in the human language will ever be enough for God, so perhaps I’m experiencing the limitations of language and becoming frustrated with them. But David didn’t seem to have this problem. His worship psalms have inspired countless numbers of lovers of God.

So have many modern hymns and praise songs. I was standing next to a new acquaintance at an event that included a time of worship recently. She leaned over and whispered, “I just love singing! These songs are prayers to God.” She was so right.

This is probably why when my words feel inadequate, I turn to the Psalms or turn on my favorite worship music. I hear those words, take them in, voice them myself, and add prayers of my own to them as I sing. I have a few books of written prayers that help me in the same way. The original words may not be my own, but when I consider the words carefully, then express the thoughts to God in my own way, sincerely from my heart, I can’t help but worship God. Music and written prayers are helpful tools when we allow them to prompt prayers of our own.

I’m coming to realize, however, that worship can go even deeper than that. This morning, I read Isaiah 64:8, “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” This analogy is perfect for what I’ve been coming to understand. The clay exists for the potter’s use. It has no say in what the potter does with it. The potter takes it as it is and molds it into something beautiful. Then its beauty reveals the potter’s skill.

When we strive to live every moment of our lives in submission to God, making ourselves totally available for His purposes, then all of life becomes a form of worship. Our lives begin to reveal the majesty and worthiness of God. His work in us shows through our lives, effectively demonstrating His ability, His nature, and His character for the world we encounter to see. Under His authority, everything we do becomes a genuine act of worship.

Living this way isn’t easy; we want to live our way. But our God deserves no less than our belief that His purpose for us is better than anything we can imagine for ourselves. When we truly want to worship, we place our lives in His capable hands.

Father, You deserve all worship, all glory, all adoration and praise. Please help us to surrender our lives to You daily, knowing that the result will be better than anything we ever could think up on our own. You are worthy of our trust. Your decisions are the best. You love us more than we love ourselves. Make us over in Your image for the glory of Your name. Please use us as You will. Amen.

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How Do We Pray?

The Conversation BeginsWelcome to the fifth installment of The Conversation Begins, my 31+ non-consecutive-day series on prayer. (If you missed the first four posts, you can click here and scroll down to read through them. The oldest posts will be at the bottom of the page.)

Today I want to talk about how. How do we pray?

We simply talk to God.

God doesn’t make prayer complicated; He loves us and He wants to hear our voices. He also wants us to learn to listen for His, but that’s a subject for another post—or two—or more. Learning to recognize God’s voice is a skill to develop over the course of a lifetime, perhaps the most worthwhile skill we can develop in the time we have on Earth.

When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, He didn’t tell them to bow their heads and close their eyes, to kneel or lie prostrate. He simply gave them words. We call these, The Lord’s Prayer, of course, and they model prayer perfectly! (Of course.) Many books and sermons have been written on this prayer, so I’m not going to analyze it here except to note that this prayer acknowledges God’s Fatherhood, sovereignty, and holiness, surrenders our will to God’s, asks God to meet needs, asks forgiveness and forgives others, seeks protection from temptation and evil, and ends in worship of our always-worthy God. These are elements of prayer we can strive to cover in our conversations with Him every day.

But we don’t have to cover them all every time we pray. There are a lot of helpful formulas out there that we can use as tools for prayer, but please remember, they are tools—not rules. When you learn about a friend’s tragedy, make that the focus of your prayer. If a conflict arises or a financial need, talk to God about it right away. If you’re fighting temptation or catch yourself in a sin, tell God what’s going on, confess your wrongs, ask Him to help you choose right or to make things right. We don’t have to focus on every aspect of prayer every time we pray. Instead we have many conversations with God covering different subjects throughout each day.

How We PrayAnd we don’t have to wait until we can kneel or close our eyes or get to church to pray. If the clock tells you it’s time for your dad’s surgery or your son’s test while you’re sitting in a meeting, think a prayer right where you are. Kneeling, bowing, and closing our eyes can help us to focus or remind us of our position before God. Praying at church allows us to be heard with other believers who are all talking together to God about the same thing. It’s important to pray in these ways sometimes, but they aren’t essential every time we pray.

There is one how that is essential to every prayer, though. This concerns our attitude. Whether we’re approaching God on our knees or while driving in the car, we need to approach Him with respect, humility, and a sincere heart. If we don’t believe He is listening to us, that He loves us, that He is able to keep His promises, and that His plans are perfect whether we understand them or not, our prayers will be hindered.

Suddenly I’m remembering the climactic scene from Gone with the Wind where Scarlett is ill. She has just suffered a miscarriage after falling down the stairs. She’s been crying out for Rhett, but no one has heard her. When someone finally does, when she finally has the opportunity to ask for him—something he’s desperately waiting for—she says, “Oh, what’s the use.” And that’s the end of the relationship. If Scarlett had only believed that Rhett would come if she called, he would have, and the story could have ended happily.

That said, our God will never give up on us like Rhett gave up on Scarlett, but He will wait until we call on Him . . . in faith . . . with the right attitude. Desperate for more of Him in every area of life, eager to see His Kingdom come and His Will done, that is how we pray.

Father, thank You for making it so easy to come to You. Thank you for encouraging us to do so. Thank You for waiting patiently. You are God, and there is no other. We need more of You. Amen.


 

Today I’m sharing this post at the Thought-Provoking Thursday Link-up. Click here to see what other posts are being shared there!

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Surprising Lessons from the Mighty Bay Leaf

Bay LeavesI tried a new recipe today. I made my very own red beans and rice from scratch. Well, according to the recipe, they were Jessica’s Red Beans and Rice, but I made a few adjustments—such as leaving the jalapenos out and cutting the amount of red pepper flakes in half. Trust me, there was plenty of heat without that extra bit!

As I was nearing the end of the cooking time, I saw the bay leaf sitting on top and pulled it out to discard just as the recipe told me to do. I looked at it for moment and couldn’t help but wonder if adding one little leaf to a recipe for such a short time could really make a difference. I asked my Facebook friends.

Wow! I had no idea people felt so strongly about the bay leaf! My friends quickly spoke up in its defense. I promised never to question its power again.

Along with his defense of it, my brother made a helpful suggestion, though. He told me to boil a bay leaf in water then smell it and taste it, so I’d know just what flavor I was adding to my recipes. I tried it! I think I understand now why I’m not a big fan of Italian food—that’s the taste I don’t care for. But I can see it adding something worthwhile to beef stew.

My friends were absolutely right! The bay leaf is a powerful addition—even after you pull it out and throw it away. And my brother’s suggestion will help me to use this power with wise discrimination. I may get a handle on this cooking thing yet.

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I feel like that little bay leaf. I wonder if my presence is really making any difference in this great, big world chock full of amazing people. Would anybody notice if I disappeared? Would the aroma of my life linger? Does it make a difference now?

The answers to those questions, though, if I’m trusting God, I don’t need to know. God has already told me everything I need to know about the significance of my life. I know God loves me. I know He created me with purpose—whether I recognize it or not. I know He placed me here—right here, right now, intentionally, knowing exactly what He was adding to this world and the impact my life would make.

Lavender PansyHe did the same for you! Knowing what we know, we can trust that since God chose to add our lives to this world’s mix that He did so with purpose. (Kind of like I can now add bay leaves with purpose—or choose to leave them out. Regarding bay leaves, I know what I’m doing now. God has always known what He’s doing regarding each of us!)

There’s one more factor to consider, though. The bay leaf won’t release its flavor alone. It needs the heat from the water or soup or sauce or stew. Likewise, we can’t be the people God planned for us to be without Jesus. His sacrifice, the one we especially consider today, provides redemption from sin and makes it possible for us to live for Him. When we choose to accept Him as our Lord, to gratefully accept His sacrifice on our behalf, He begins to transform us into the people He always planned for us to be. Best of all, He invites us to get to know Him right now, to grow closer to Him every day—probably the greatest purpose and privilege we can enjoy. As we live in submission to Him, what our lives add to this world turns out to be just what the recipe needs.

Jesus, thank You again for all You have done and are doing for us. We don’t deserve any of it, but You gave Your life—and now You offer Your life that we can seek You and find You and get to know You better each day. You have blessed us greatly! We thank You. We adore You. We’re Yours, Lord. Amen.

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Loving Just Because

The Four LovesI started reading The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis this week. I’m still working through the introductory material, but I’ve already gained so much insight into this word, Love. Today’s revelation was so powerful, I’d like to share it, and some of the practical applications that came to my mind as I read, with you.

In the pages I read today, Lewis was discussing what he considers to be the lowest form of love, pleasure. He identified two kinds: Need-Pleasures and Pleasures of Appreciation. We only experience the first kind of pleasure when a need is being met. For example, as a general rule, I don’t enjoy drinking water, but if I’m really, really thirsty, finally being able to drink water will be a pleasurable experience because it meets a need. On the other hand, if I’m walking on the beach with my bare toes in the sand and a cool breeze with a slight smell of salt comes up to touch my face and play with my hair, I will enjoy that, not because I need it but because I appreciate the gift, the existence of the breeze. I like carrots if I’m hungry. I like chocolate because it tastes good. I like air-conditioning in the summer because it keeps me cool. Once the need is met, however, I don’t like it so much. Wildflowers, I like all the time. Just because they exist. They don’t meet a life-need, but they make the world a prettier place.

Lewis goes on to compare this to love. If we love people only because we need them, the love is temporary. It’s real, but not really. It’s not unconditional or forever or true. If we love just because, however, the love is lasting and sincere. Of course, only God can truly love in this way. He has absolutely no need for us, and yet He loves us more than anyone else ever will.

Loving Just BecauseIn a perfect world, that would be our primary reason for loving Him back. A primary reason among countless others: He created us. He redeemed us. He is preparing a home for us in Heaven with Him for eternity. He is with us. He will never leave us. He provides and protects. He is everything; He is love.

But the truth is, we need Him. Every heartbeat, every breath comes because He allows it. We are absolutely dependent on the God Who loves us perfectly. We truly are clay in His hands. That makes me very thankful that He loves me; I can’t imagine what life would be like if He did not.

Two practical applications came from this train of thought:

1. In order to move from a need-love relationship with God to a pleasure of appreciation relationship, we need to spend time praising Him every single day. Yes, it’s important to thank Him for all His gifts, for all He does for us. We must continue to do that, but we also must worship Him sincerely for Who He Is. We need to get to know Him, discovering every aspect of His character we can. We need to grow in our appreciation of His very existence every day.

2. We need to examine our relationships with the people in our lives. If any are based solely on need, these are unhealthy (except in the case of babies, who are born completely dependent and must learn how to love). Genuine love is unconditional. It loves just because the other one exists (which means, perhaps, that one comes closest to being able to love in this way when one becomes a parent). I think this is why Jesus told us to serve one another in love and to reach out with hospitality to people who can’t pay us back. It’s in service, in showing and giving love, that we learn to appreciate just because.

Along these lines, if anyone loves us just for what we can provide, we need to be aware that once the need is gone, the love will probably go, too. (It may even go sooner. Just as addicts come to resent the drugs they depend on, people often come to resent people they depend on.) This doesn’t mean we stop loving, but we hold the relationship loosely, refuse to let people idolize us, point them to the One they truly must depend on, and ask God to help us love wisely and well.

We can’t control how others love. It hurts to be loved only because someone wants something from us. It hurts to be rejected when we no longer have anything to offer that someone wants.

Thankfully, there will always be One Who loves us just because He does. He loves us perfectly. Our value rests in His opinion alone. And if we learn to love like He does, He’ll lead us to others who love well and whom we can also love.

Father, please teach us to love as You love because You do. Amen.

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Book Review: “Gospel Formed”

Gospel Formed“The power that raised Jesus from the dead is also for everyday life.” In his book, Gospel Formed, J.A. Medders helps readers understand this truth and apply it to life. The book contains 27 short meditations full of Bible verses to consider, simple teachings to grasp, and a quirky bit of humor to entertain while clarifying the point. (Evidently, I am a member in good standing of Medders’s diet soda denomination. You’ll have to read the book to learn why.)

The book is divided into five sections that progressively take the reader deeper into the gospel-formed Christian life, from the starting block to worship, identity, community, and mission. The section on community was my personal favorite. Under the title of each section’s introduction page, Medders has placed two simple definitions of the term he’ll be exploring within. These were useful points of reference to return to as I encountered these terms in each chapter; they kept my thoughts on track.

I especially recommend this book to growing Christians, those who’ve experienced the thrill of salvation and are ready learn how to serve their great King. Medders helps readers discover the life part of the Christian life. I enjoyed reading his book and am passing it on to someone else whom I know will enjoy it, too. I thank Kregel Publications for sending a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.

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Appreciating the Master

Parachute PrayerThe next time you see a work of art—a painting, a sculpture, or some such masterpiece—pause to consider the work the artist put into it. Each brushstroke, each cut into stone, each smooth curve—the artist puts serious thought into every detail of a creation. (“Just as a writer deliberates over every word,” she realized as she rewrote that last sentence four times.)

When I pause to reflect on the artist at work, my thoughts naturally turn to my Creator and His work and all we take for granted. He plans. He designs. He configures. He molds. Sunsets. Flowers. Creatures that fly and crawl and run and climb. People—every one as unique as the legendary snowflake.

Today’s Parachute Prayer is to let the works of art you see draw you from appreciation of the piece to thoughts about its creator to worship of Your Creator, the greatest artist of all.

Father, Your works are wonderful. We know that full well.* Thank You for giving us all things to enjoy* and for using this enjoyment to draw us closer to You. We love You, Lord! Amen.

*Psalm 139:14, 1 Timothy 6:17

 

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Psalm 86:11-12 on My Mind

NewOMMThis week, I’m trying to memorize Psalm 86:11-12. Won’t you join me? Or leave a comment to let me know what you’re memorizing. (I may want to memorize that next!)

“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”Psalm 86:11-12NRSV

Notice that the Psalmist makes two requests, yet longs to do four things. He asks God to:

  • teach him His way and
  • give him an undivided heart.

He wants to:

  • walk in God’s Truth,
  • revere God’s name,
  • give thanks to God, and
  • glorify His name forever.

Lord, the Psalmist longed to live fully for you. Please give us everything we need to do so, too. You are worthy, Lord, of all we have to give—our undivided and grateful hearts most of all. Thank You for teaching and providing, so we may walk with, revere, give thanks to, and glorify You alone, forever and ever! Amen.

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Book Review: “The Butterfly and the Violin”

The Butterfly and the ViolinThe Butterfly and the Violin is two stories in one, a contemporary story and an historical one, both centered around the same piece of art. The main characters in the contemporary story are seeking the picture. The historical story tells how the picture came to exist. Back and forth clues from both times help readers unravel the mystery and gain understanding into the author’s message.

When I first learned of this book, I wanted to read it, but held back for a while because of its Holocaust setting, Auschwitz-Birkenau in particular. But then I came across several reviews that told how much the readers had enjoyed the book. I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. Though the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau are there, Kristy Cambron, the author, doesn’t dwell on them too much—she gives just enough detail to make her point, to lead the readers’ thoughts where she wants them to go. Enough reality, but not too much—she trusts her readers to get the idea.

The Butterfly and the ViolinAnd, if the reader doesn’t quite get it, Cambron spells it out in her author’s note that follows the story itself. This was a sweet, concluding touch to an especially meaningful story. I am glad I overcame my hesitation and chose to read this book. I’m looking forward to the next in this Hidden Masterpiece series.

I received a complimentary eCopy of The Butterfly and the Violin from the BookLook Blogger program in exchange for this honest review.

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Giving God Time to Heal Our Wounds

“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.'”Luke 10:41-42, NIV

“Be still, and know that I am God.”Psalm 46:10, NIV

A few weeks ago, God pointed out an unhealed wound that should have been taken care of long ago. He let me know He’s ready to heal it; I’ve been trying to ignore it, you see.

California PoppyThe problem, though, with ignoring an emotional wound is that you still feel the pain. Figuratively, you slap a bandage on it, so you won’t see it. Then you cover that bandage with a cast to protect it. You lock yourself in a room, so to speak, so no outside force can cause more pain; then you surround that room with an impenetrable wall. Finally, you dig a tunnel under the whole thing, creating a bomb-shelter-type panic room that totally isolates you from anyone or anything who can cause you more pain. But none of it helps because the pain is inside you–and the wound is festering.

As God revealed the problem, I prayed, “Lord, I agree. I’m broken. Please fix me.” He kept sending gentle reminders. I kept praying the same prayer, expecting God to act. Until Monday morning in the middle of my quiet time, when God responded by pressing this thought into my head: “I’m trying to help you, Janet! But you won’t sit still!”

I almost laughed out loud as I realized the absolute truth of that statement. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten a good Martha scolding. But God showed me I needed it this time. Even my quiet time with God has developed an agenda, a to-do list for the time. Some days God calls me to look at something a little more closely, and I’ll pray, “Sorry, Lord, I’d love to talk with You more about that point, but time’s up. We must move on for now.” I’m pretty sure that makes God sigh.

How did I slip so subtly into that?! No wonder that wound hasn’t healed.

If our car has a problem, we don’t expect the mechanic to come to us, strap himself onto the bottom of the car, and do his job underneath while we drive the car down the road. If our appendix bursts, we won’t expect the surgeon to operate while we type at our computer or wash dishes at the sink.

No. That would just be absurd–and seriously painful.

Just the same, when we suffer an emotional wound, we must make time to sit in God’s presence to let Him deal with it.

That same Monday when I felt like God was scolding me, I read a chapter in Richard Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. Each chapter explains a different kind of prayer. That day I read about the prayer of rest. Such perfect timing! This prayer involves sitting quietly in God’s presence, listening for His voice. As we do so, outside stresses will come to mind, things that normally demand our attention, claiming urgency. And as each one arises, we choose to let it go, giving God all rights to our time. It’s only when we’ve let all other claims to our attention go, that we’ll discover genuine rest in God’s presence. That’s when healing can begin.

And the process will go much more quickly and involve less pain if we’ll simply take our wounds to Jesus while they’re still fresh or merely bandaged instead of waiting for Him to coax us out of underground panic rooms. Thankfully, He hates to see His children hurt. He seeks us out with gentle reminders of the work we must let Him do.

Lord, thank You for calling us to be still, to know that You are God, and to let You do Your healing work in our lives. You are our Lord, exalted above all things! You are also our loving, heavenly Father Who cares. Whenever we hurt, please call us to come to You first. When we’re broken, You long to fix us. Yet You will wait until we are still. Thank You, Lord, for Your patient, yet persistent work. We love You so! Amen.