Posted in Faith

Knowing His Invisible Kingdom

Know God, Know Peace

“Heaven is not here, it’s there,” Elizabeth Elliot writes. Jesus put it this way: “Store up for yourself treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).

We Christians know this truth, and yet we often have just as much trouble with a divided heart as any other human. We concentrate too much effort on thinking about the clothes we wear, the electronics we own, the kind of house we call home and too little time focusing on how great God is, how able He is to provide for each and every true need, just as He has promised.

Elliot continues,

“If we were given all we wanted here, our hearts would settle for this world rather than the next. God is forever luring us up and away from this one, wooing us to Himself and His still invisible Kingdom, where we will certainly find what we so keenly long for.”

In recent years, I am discovering that what I make complicated, God simplifies. I keenly long for peace, and yet I have spent a lifetime trying to accomplish things as if peace can be earned rather than accepted. If I could do enough, then I would feel better. If I was feeling nervous or off, then I obviously hadn’t been doing enough.

But God’s love for us isn’t based on a formula. He offers the gift of His grace, and when we truly accept it, we will know peace.

I know that intellectually, but only recently have I begun to understand the spiritual truth of God’s gift of grace. I have discovered that truth by following His instruction to keep my mind always on Him. That means I spend a lot more time thinking about the things around me I am thankful for. If I feel afraid, I have a conversation with the One who actually knows my future and has already planned for it. The more I put myself in conversation with God, the more I think about His Word, the more I am beginning to see the world from God’s view instead of my own.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding,” the Proverbs tell us (3:5). Take every thought and make it captive to Christ, Paul exhorts believers, and “set your mind on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2). A mind focused on God puts on the armor of God, and a mind shielded by the armor of God is a mind truly at peace—no matter what the world throws its way.

My focus has shifted gradually. At first, thinking about God, especially when I would rather be pouting or brooding, seemed awkward or artificial. But very quickly, I discovered that talking to God about things I was grateful for and asking about things I felt unsure about, even little things like sweet dreams, started to become more and more like second nature.

The really exciting thing about keeping my mind on God is that I know I am just beginning in this practice. I am sure there are times ahead when I will forget, get caught up in the things of this world even though I know better. But there are also plenty of opportunities for me to get better and better at putting God first. The rewards of balance and peace that putting God first brings are truly a glimpse of the invisible Kingdom for which we keenly long.

In Christ,
Ramona

 

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Posted in Christian Living

This House Divided

House divided

Rather than take away tomorrow’s trouble, worry voids today’s strength.  –Max Lucado, from Come Thirsty

Everyone talks about worry being a waste of time, but my morning reading pointed out to me a much more compelling reason to avoid this wasteful habit.  Worry actually divides my mind, keeping me from putting everything I have into today.

When Christ spoke about a house divided, He meant a couple of different things.  One time, He uses this metaphor to argue against the accusation that He is from the devil since He could cast out demons.  Why would Satan, Jesus reasons, do something to hurt himself?  Another time, Christ uses this metaphor to explain why it is so important to put our whole selves into the pursuit of our love of God instead of being distracted by the things of this world that tarnish and will do us no good in heaven.

When worry takes my mind away from the things of today, it also takes me away from my closeness to Christ.  I want to be engulfed in that closeness, not separated from it, for as Paul explains:

Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.  And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:6-7)

Paul’s words give us the steps for living what contemporary thinkers term “with mindfulness:”

  1. Pray about everything– I need to concentrate on what is happening to me and around me in every moment.  When we pray about something, we naturally focus our minds to what is most important.  By voicing what concerns us to God, we might even realize how ridiculous some of our concerns actually are.
  2. Be thankful– Gratitude makes us be more truthful with ourselves.  Often, my inner voice tells me things that are downright lies, but it can be hard to call myself on these unless I bring my mind to what is actually true.  When I take the time to name the many things I have to be thankful for, I inevitably unearth some of the lies I have been letting my worries tell me.
  3. Never stop– Paul says not to pray at certain times of the day or week, but about everything. It is possible to have hearts and minds that are in Christ as long as we actively engage our ability to foster our relationship with our Father.  We cannot be thankful and worry at the same time.  If we bring our concerns to God in prayer, we will find that what was a worry is overshadowed by the peace that is found in the presence of Christ.

How often because of worry have I raced through a day without giving full attention to really living it?  By being a house divided, I have lost many opportunities to fully participate in the gift of life God mercifully grants to each of us.

The next time I catch myself being engrossed more by my worry than by the beauty of the day, I think I will imagine the scene from II Kings, where Elisha and his servant face a horde of enemies, assured of victory because of the “invisible” army of fiery chariots prepared to defend them:

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. 

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (II Kings 6: 15-17)

Just as God protected Elisha, we are assured that He also has our best interests at heart.  He will be there for us during good times and bad.  He did not design us to worry, but to follow the two commands that Jesus said summed up everything:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

If I am truly working to follow both these important instructions, what time do I have to worry?  Indeed, if I truly love God with everything I have and then extend that love to others, when will I ever have time to worry?

A mindful life is truly a house undivided, unified in its goal to love God, obey His commands, and be thankful.  May your prayers leave you with a mind unified in the love of Christ.

Posted in Faith

This Walk By Faith

Footsteps_in_the_south_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1655352

Watching a video on early church history with my life group, I was struck by one of the biographies of early church leaders.  I believe it was John Wesley who was so zealous for God that he had even been to America to mission there.  On the return trip home, Wesley was caught in a great storm at sea and found himself falling way short in the faith department as he faced possible death.

I wondered why someone who had enough belief to go out and share God’s word would be so quick to fall from faith (or at least blame himself for falling).  Then, the documentary continued to explain the most important next step of Wesley’s faith story.  The man who would go on to lay the foundations for the Methodist movement learned the difference between a salvation that is earned and one that is freely given.  Wesley learned to embrace grace. 

As Paul teaches in many of his letters, our salvation is not earned.  We are saved from the damnation we deserve only because Jesus chose to die on the cross for our sins, make us right with God once and for all, and send the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and pull us toward the kind of living that reflects the kind of loving life Jesus lived.

When we have asked Jesus to be our Saviour and admitted our need for His offer of salvation, we are saved.  Even in the face of our most immediate, physical dangers, we can take comfort in knowing that our souls are safe.  We will join Jesus in heaven.  We will see God.  We will know that eternal place where there is no fear, no pain, no doubt.

When you release the need to earn salvation, you are free to embrace the humanness we all share.  You are free to love the way that God intended us to love.  You know that you cannot be proud since none of us are good enough because of anything we’ve done.  We are only good enough because God made us all equally “good enough” by dying on the cross for us.

What a different experience John Wesley would have had on that scary boat ride if he already understood that his faith was enough to ensure his salvation through grace!  He would not have feared his future thinking he had not yet sown enough fruit for God to be saved.  Instead, he might have felt that “peace which surpasses understanding,” knowing that whatever happened, it would be God’s will.

None of us know for sure how we will react to life-and-death moments until we have actually experienced them.  But all of us can practice living out our faith by doing what Jesus commanded:  “‘AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ “The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”… (Mark 12:30-31).

When we truly have faith, we act out our faith through our deeds.  We actively seek to shine the Light of God.  We study His word.  We seek relationship with Him in prayer.  We seek fellowship with other believers.  We do things for even strangers that we would appreciate being done to us.

I’m gonna walk by faith, an’ not by sight
‘Cause I can’t see straight in the broad daylight
I’m gonna walk by faith, an’ not by fear
‘Cause I believe in the one who brought me here

“Walk by Faith,” by Out of the Grey–Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/out-of-the-grey/walk-by-faith-lyrics/#kPBrrx4vIIO2CioE.99

 

Posted in Faith

A Mustard Seed Idea for Halloween

KSBJ

Many years ago, my local, Christian radio station was offering free “seed” cards to give away at Halloween along with whatever other treats you had ready for the costumed minions who traipsed to your door.  Since one of the pick-up points for the seed cards was right by where I work, I stopped in and got some.

It took just an extra moment to add the card to the candy I was handing out.  Some of the kids would ask me what it was.  Others were too eager to get to the next house.  A few said they listened to KSBJ as well.

The next year, when I was handing out candy, more than one kiddo remarked, “Hey, you’re the card lady.”  That made me smile.

In the past few years, I haven’t been handing out candy at my door.  For one, I had a curious cat who might just slip out if I wasn’t careful.  For another, I’ve had other things I have had to do.

But, this morning, I was asking God to give me some much needed guidance because I’ve been feeling in a rut lately.  I wasn’t even thinking about Halloween being this week.  It was just one of those times when I really wanted one of His angels to be right there in front of me so I could have a two-way conversation and get some answers.  You all know the kind of praying I am talking about here.

Anyway, hours later, the memory of my seed card experience of years past popped into my mind.  The only thing I had never liked about it was trying to get the cards separated fast enough and candy out too so the kids could keep going.  I don’t want to slow down their excitement.

So, I realized that if I got some of those treat bags like you do for parties and filled them with goodies and the card, I could quickly pass out a fun treat for the kids who have been growing in numbers on our street as they want to enjoy the kind of old-fashioned Halloween fun like I had as a kid.

Now all I needed were the cards.  I popped open my Publisher program, picked a pre-design and created what you see above.  I had the blank business card forms on hand, so that was easy enough to print.  Now, I’m ready to put together my bag of goodies, which includes candy, funny rings, rubber balls, and more.

Maybe no one will look at my little card promoting a truly awesome Christian radio station.  But, I like to think that the one person God needs to see that message will get it because I asked for an answer, I think I got one, and I acted on it.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, don’t be afraid to put a lot of God into your celebration of a secular holiday.  What we’re really celebrating here is the coming of Fall, cooler weather, and colorful leaves wafting to the ground in orange and red piles to jump in.

Jumping into our faith is just what any day living with God at the center of your life is all about.  Focus on HIM, and you will not be lead astray.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Do You Have The Guts To Pray This Prayer?

Find Your Daily Sacred Space
Find Your Daily Sacred Space

One of the phrases that Benedictine monks regularly use to help them stay in a meditative state begins, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner….”  The first few times I used it for myself, I finished it with phrases like, and help me shine Your Light or and help me be like Christ.  

When you first start to say those first words over and over, you are reminding yourself of your own human-ness.  We are all sinners.  We have no rights to judge other people for their actions because we have taken actions that are equally horrible in the eyes of a perfect God.  Luckily, that same God forgives us, so that the phrase, have mercy on me, a sinner, also means we can grasp that mercy and find peace.

In my perpetual quest to learn to give up the control of my life to Jesus so that I experience His peace, I am discovering some not so pleasant truths about myself.  I am always helping people out, it seems like to me.  So, I could pat myself on the back and say I’m doing pretty well.  I have a servant’s heart.

Here’s the problem.  Whenever I get stressed, I can get really angry about all this “helping out” that I am doing.  That reaction seems more like a martyr’s heart to me than a servant’s heart.  In other words, many times when I am doing things for others, am I doing it deep down because it feeds my feelings of self-worth instead of because of my unselfish love for others?

So, as I processed these thoughts lately, it came to me that I would probably be a lot happier, calmer, more peaceful in life if I could tame the beast that is my pride.

But, do I really have the guts to say the prayer that gets me help with that one?

I’ve prayed for humility before, usually by hedging.  Give me more humility, please God, but please don’t make the lesson painful.  That was usually the gist of my prayers.

This morning, as I began my phrase, God, have mercy on me a sinner, I knew what the ending needed to be.  But, I had to take several deep breaths before I could finish the statement.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, and make me humble.

Praying for humility with no qualifiers and really wanting it means I have to be willing to experience pain.  The Bible teaches that through perseverance we learn patience and through patience we build character.

I am not looking forward to the lessons I am going to be facing as I continue to pray to God to remove my pride.  But I believe in His blessings for the humble enough to know that this is one prayer I must have the guts to pray if I expect to allow God to work to the good what He has planned for my life.

His will, not mine.  His omnipotence, my humility.

What prayer have you not had the guts to pray?  Get on your knees now and pray it.  God will bless you for it, even if the initial answer seems truly painful.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Salvaging the Sacred

 

Find Your Daily Sacred Space
Find Your Daily Sacred Space

Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.
― Mother Teresa

Prayer is a sacred act we have a tendency to take for granted in a multitude of ways.  Many of us have a bad habit of not turning to prayer unless we are in some kind of trouble.  Others of us fail to appreciate the great gift it is to approach the Maker of Heaven and Earth in conversation just as we might speak to a respected friend.  Because Christ serves as our High Priest, we always have access to the inner sanctuary of the temple, so to speak.  All we have to do is believe, ask, and, as Mother Teresa so eloquently reminds us, to listen.

Unfortunately, our ability to listen is daily challenged by a bombardment of messages and information that is greater than at any other time in human history.  From television and internet to cell phones and radios, we are almost never in silence.  Unless, we make a concerted effort to find time to be quiet.

The first step to silence is to pick a time in each day when you plan to spend time with just yourself and God.  Enter a room or your closet, close the door, turn off the cell.  Begin by finding a comfortable position.  Take three deep, breaths.  Spend the first few moments with God concentrating on clearing your mind.  Don’t let thoughts about your To-Do list or the confrontation at work that day get in the way of this moment when you are preparing to speak to the Most Holy of Holies.

The ability to clear one’s mind and be comfortable in our own silence takes practice.  Don’t expect to get it right at first.  But having with you your two strongest weapons–your faith and your Bible–will certainly help you focus your mind on the things of God and not the things of this world.  Ask Him to help you listen.  Admit your fears and your hope to Him.

Eventually, you will be able to expand the time you spend in your sacred space.  In fact, you will grow to covet the quiet time.  You will find there is always something or someone to pray about.  You will also find that even just sitting and concentrating on your own breath once you have invited God in can be a holy experience.

But, be ready to check the answers you think you hear from God against what you know He says in His word.  Ask your spiritual advisors for confirmation of what you think you have heard.  Remember that our human hearts are known as “the great deceivers” for a reason.  Often, the truth God needs us to see is initially painful, but it always leads to a better us, to the healing that is the promise of Christ’s love for us.

The power of prayer is meant to be shared
The power of prayer is meant to be shared

Finally, remember that, as your ability to find the sacred places in your own heart and day increase, you are duty-bound to share what you have learned with others.  Sacred spaces are even more sacred when we learn together to be still and listen for God:

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them, Christ tells us in Matthew 18:20.

The family that prays together stays together, isn’t just an old wives’ tale.  It is the profound truth of the power of God when we truly let Him into our lives.

So, the next time you prepare to pray, take a moment or two to remember the value of the privilege it is that we Christians can speak, speak, to the One and Only in full knowledge that He is listening to us and that the One who died for us is sitting at His right hand to intervene on our behalf.  Now, that is a sacred truth worth feeling from the top of our heads to the tips of our toes.

Be on the lookout for the sacred this week.  Make time in your day for it.  All you need do is ask.

Posted in Christian Living

Leaning on Prayer

candle prayer

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing;  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

One of my biggest problems is that I seem to be always thinking.  Even when I pray, I often have undercurrents of the day running through my head behind the words I am saying out loud to God. If my mind is never still, will I ever really know that He is God?
That leaves me looking for the empty spaces in my brain.  I know they are in there.  God orders moments of rest for us.  He tells us to be still.  He spoke to the prophets, not in the whirlwind, but in a whisper.  In the quiet places of my mind, I’ll find the message of the Holy Spirit.

But where are my empty spaces?  I know where they are not.  Not in front of a blaring television or a flashing computer screen.  Not gossiping on the telephone or shopping in the mall.  Not fretting about chores that need done or stories to write.

There are times and places for all of these things (though some of them should have none of my time at all).  But there should be a time in each day when I can be still, stop thinking, concentrate on my breathing and wait for God’s whisper.  It will take practice, like all things worthwhile, but in a world full of information and distractions, it is necessary.

I know this to be true because in the last two weeks, I have had so many stressful things going on that I haven’t had time to find any quiet places.  Let me correct that.  I have let my anxiety rule me instead of following the Bible’s advice to thank God and pray to Him unceasingly.

If you get the opportunity to listen to those who have much practice in prayer, do so in gratitude.  Those who pray often have a way of pouring their whole selves into what they have to say to God.  They may use Bible verses or quote famous people.  But what all of them do is speak truthfully from the heart to a holy God whom they love.  The results are eloquent and uplifting.

We have the ability to be uplifting in this way every day, for even our mumblings are understood by God:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. . . . (Romans 8:26).

I hope to do a better job of leaning on prayer in the coming weeks, beginning with asking for God to help me clean out the clutter in my mind and create some empty spaces for His presence.  Have you found your empty spaces lately?