Listening to God's Voice

For the last few weeks, God has been giving me little tidbits during my prayer time that have grown into a flood which I need to voice. Sometimes it is hard for me to know what God wants for my life because the world’s voices are competing for attention in  my head when I pray. It doesn’t help when people who are Christians say things that are mere platitudes and are not willing to enter into the broken places with me.

How did this all start? In my family, we’ve been praying about an answer to a situation that’s going to require finances. We had, I thought, been praying for God’s answer. It was brought to mind recently though that we had been praying for the world’s answer and not God’s. We had been praying for resources from the world instead of from God. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! The resources we thought we were going to have are not going to come to fruition. In fact, living for us is going to become more expensive because of health insurance issues which is another issue entirely.

But, back to listening for God’s voice. God has said I need to be on my knees to Him regarding this situation and only listen to what He has to tell me. He’s given me three specific things to pray for which I have started to do. It can be tricky though blocking out the world and only listening to God. People who are Christians can even say things to you that aren’t what God means for you to hear. So, what is the answer to getting past that block? I believe it is discernment. God can use other people to speak to you, but you need to talk to Him about what has been said and see if that’s what He means for you to hear. God’s voice is not always going to say things we like to hear, but He is always going to say it with love and not condemnation. That is Satan’s way, and that is the way he tries to discourage us.

If I wanted to boil it down to the very basics, to hear God’s voice, we need to be willing to pray and to stay in prayer for our families, for our communities, for our countries, and for our world. And we need to be willing to enter into the broken places and tell of God’s hope and healing. That is my goal, and if you are a person who claims Christ, I hope it is yours too.

God’s blessings on you today!

An Update on the Prayer Project

When I first thought of doing this, I had just finished reading and studying Philippians 3. It came out of a desire to know my Lord and Savior well and to go about doing His business no matter what was happening in my own life. Consistent and specific prayer for the people around me was what He wanted me to do.

I’m twenty-one days into this now and thought I would give an update. I’ve already said that the Lord had called me to consistent and specific prayer, but I didn’t outline any other details. I want to do that now so I have a record of what I’m doing. This all came about because I felt awkward about asking  people to pray for me especially for things that were not very serious except to me. When I was thinking and praying about this during my devotion time, God brought to mind that there were probably many others who felt the same way, and then I felt a strong pull to start this project. What I did was take my church’s directory and divide all of the people into groups of five. And I’ve taken time each day to pray for the people on my list. Now, you’re probably thinking, ‘She doesn’t know everyone in her church that well.’ And you would be right, I don’t know everyone at my church. But, we, as human beings, tend to have things in common. And so, for the people I don’t know well, I can still pray for them. I can ask God to bless their spouses, their families, their work, the influence they have on the community around them, that kind of thing. Of course, when I’ve prayed for the people I know better, I can bring specificity to my prayers, but that part is not the point. Everyone deserves to be prayed for, even for the little things. So, that’s what I’ve done. Prayed for my faith community, my faith family, specifically by name.

Now, to the specific impact this has had on me. Satan has tried to stop me. This past month has been a very hard one for me and my family. It has been difficult to maintain focus, but I’ve done so because I was committed to going through the entire directory and praying for each of the people I’ve come to love so much by name.

So, anyway, back to this project’s impact on my own prayer life. I’ve become more sensitized to the conversations around me at church. When people have mentioned certain things, I have made a mental note to put them on my prayer list. God has brought the request to mind each time I’ve prayed, and I have prayed for those requests as well as the people on my list. Calmness and peace are seeping into my life, sometimes through tears, but they are still there. This is not my calmness or peace. I don’t claim it is mine by any stretch of the imagination. Purely and simply, it is God’s, and I am grateful He is always there, in bad times and in good. I haven’t decided what kind of focus my prayer time will have once I am finished, but I know God will give me what I need when I need it.

God’s blessings on you today!

The Beginning of Building a Foundation of Faith

Ever since I came back to Christ a few years ago, I’ve regretted the time wasted. I’ve regretted not having a history of family faith to share with my children. My husband and I have been the ones to start the foundation, and it can be really discouraging. When you see people come to events with brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in tow, and it is just you and your husband and children there, it is…painful.

I realized something when I read my devotion earlier and then wrote in my journal. I do have a foundation. It just looks different from other people’s foundations. From the people who poured themselves into my life as a teenager and young adult to the grandmother who prayed for me though I was not the best granddaughter I could have been because of family dynamics to the people who are speaking words of encouragement into my sons’ lives now, I have gifts and a foundation that are worth more than a pile of precious jewels. Being related by blood is not the only way of building a foundation. Sometimes, the best way to build a foundation is by being a part of family by choice.

When my sons and their children and their children’s children look back on my life, it is my true hope that, through my words, both written and spoken,  that I have shown how much I love my Lord and Savior and that they have a foundation of faith to draw upon as they build their own faith.

God’s blessings on you today!

Philippians 4 – A Deeper Understanding

Finally, I have time to sit down and work on my write-up for this chapter which finishes out my study of this book. When I read through the chapter, I noticed a lot of the verses were already either highlighted or underlined. For me, this means that the verse has already impacted my life in some way. I’ll get to those verses in a minute though.

Paul uses this chapter to wrap things up in his letter to the Philippians. Now, think about this for a second. When you are writing a letter to someone (Yes, I know writing letters is rapidly going out of style), what do you want to finish up with? If you want to encourage them in some way or thank them for something they’ve done, you would be close to what Paul did in this chapter.

In the first section, he appealed for unity among the people at the church and mentioned the names of two women in particular.  Paul didn’t mention specific names a whole lot so this was important to him. He wanted to make sure everyone who would read his letter would know it was important to be unified in the Lord.

And, by staying unified in the Lord, they were also able to remain Christ-focused. The next section has two of my favorite verses in the Bible–Verses 6-7.

“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Paul was wanting to make the point that prayer brings peace. I think many modern Christians would do well to remember this. It is hard though. I find it hard myself. The cares, worries, and anxieties of this world take a hold of me and don’t let go until I remember to bring them to God. That’s the point. I need to remember to bring them to God like Paul says.

The next section takes it one step further. When we stay Christ-focused, it is easier to do what He wants us to do. The characteristics named in Verse 8 are all characteristics which God uses to bring us closer to Him. Paul wants the Philippians to take what they have learned and put it into practice.

And finally, Paul tells the Philippians how much he appreciates them for what they have blessed him with and for their willingness to be used by God for what He wants them to do. This part also has another one of my favorite verses – Verse 13.

“I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

This is really the whole point of Philippians and the Bible, for that matter. Once we have accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, it is not just us living our lives or at least it’s not supposed to be. We have a Friend, a Comforter, who is always with us, supporting us and loving us, someone we can go to for wisdom and guidance. We just need to take down all of our shields and let Him completely in.

God’s blessings on you all today!

The Beginnings of the Prayer Project – Reflections on Philippians 3

This has been a watershed chapter for me. It has granted me deep desires that I am acting on to help me grow in my faith. But, first, from the chapter itself.

In my Bible, the first part of the chapter is entitled The Inadequacy of the Flesh. Paul thought he was doing everything right by persecuting the followers of Jesus. His background, his zeal, what he was doing in his own strength would be what got him to heaven. Those thoughts are not very different from what a lot of people think today. However, Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and it changed his life. It turned everything he thought about himself and God upside down. He learned that Christ was sufficient.

Nothing else mattered. It was not the law that brought righteousness from God, but faith in Christ. And this faith gave Paul a deep desire to know Christ. I especially liked what Verse 12 had to say because it shows that Paul was a human being just like the rest of us.

“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.”

He doesn’t claim he is better than that rest of the people he is writing to. What matters is that Jesus is in him, and he is pursuing God’s call home to heaven.

This leads to the final section of the chapter where Paul appeals to the Philippians and to all of us. This world is not our home so our focus is not supposed to be on earthly things. As Verse 20 says, “our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now, back to what I said in the first paragraph. This chapter and other things in my life have brought out a deep desire to know my Lord and Savior. And the best way to know someone is to talk with them. With God, this talking is known as prayer. All of us who profess faith know this, but what I have realized is that my prayers need to go deeper than the prayers offered at mealtime or prayers offered in desperation. They need to be consistent and specific. So, today, I am starting something I am calling the Prayer Project.  I am looking forward to seeing how God moves in my community. Prayer changes lives, and it helps us to know our Lord and Savior better. All we have to do is pray.

God’s blessings on you today!

Reflections on Philippians 2

As I get further into this letter, I’m becoming more aware of how much a community the first century Christians were and how far present day Christians have gone from what God intended. Our time at church now is spent going from person to person and making sure we have surface conversations, not taking the time to really listen to the person we’re talking to because we want to make sure we get to the next person. How sad! God intended that we know the people we worship with, that they should be just as much family to us as the people who share our homes. But, I digress. I’m here to reflect on what I learned from the second chapter of Philippians.

This chapter starts with Paul saying how all believers should be of the same mind, think the same way, have the same love,  and share the same feelings as they focus on one goal. That doesn’t mean believers are all robots. It just means that we have Jesus in our hearts and minds, and we are loving and taking care of others like Jesus would. Verses 3 and 4, in particular, portray this message.

“Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

After this introduction, the chapter continues and tells the reader about having a Christ-like attitude and how we should be obedient to the point of going to the cross like Christ did. Verses 9 – 11 are verses that have been quoted often in songs and in sermons.

“For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow–of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth–and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

There are so many good verses in this chapter I almost hate to keep quoting them as this is supposed to be what I think about what I read. The next section talks about obedience and how we’re to work out our own salvation. I’ve not understood before what the difference was between the words Paul used about “working out your own salvation” and the grace and mercy we receive from Christ. I understand it better now though.  It means that God is working in us so we will desire what He wants and become more like Him. It’s what we signed up for when we asked Him into our hearts. And when we open our hearts like we should, He is able to do the work we asked Him to do in our lives.

And finally, Paul ends this chapter by telling the Philippians he will be sending Timothy and Epaphroditus to them. He does this so they will be encouraged in the faith and encouraged to have news of him. I believe this is also a way of encouraging us to take care of those who are in ministry and who minister to us.

I learned a lot from reading and studying this chapter and know that I will learn just as much from the other two chapters of this book.

God’s blessings on you today!

 

Stealing Our Joy

For those of us who claim Christ, this is what Satan most likes to do. He likes to steal our joy and take us away from the peace that is ours through Jesus. It can be an easy thing to do when you are worn down by life as I have been for the last several weeks. It can be an even easier thing to do when you have a hard time letting people in to your heart as I do as well. I don’t know what the solution is. I’ve been told I write my way through the things I need to think about well so this is my attempt to do so.

It’s hard for me to let people in when I hurt. I feel like I should always show joy because of my faith. There is a person at my church who is a good example of showing joy even though her mother died recently. People flock to her and are there for her. I know that sounds like jealousy, and I don’t mean it that way. I guess I just have fear that people won’t be there for me, and I believe a lot of that comes from my upbringing. My upbringing that taught me I wasn’t a valuable person. My upbringing that says I deserve it when people say cruel words to me. My upbringing that won’t let me let go of fear even when Jesus says I should. I revert back to my old patterns when life overwhelms me as it has in the past month.

So, is there any solution or is this something I will work through for the rest of my life? I think the answer to both halves of this question are yes although the question itself sounds like one of the answers should be a no. The solution is to hang onto my relationship with Jesus Himself which I have, sometimes with a desperation  that surprises even me. God hears my prayers, and He is always there for me even when no one else is. Even when I feel alone. So, in that sense, I will work through these feelings for the rest of my life.

In the previous paragraph, I state the most obvious solution to how I need to handle Satan’s attempts to steal my joy–to hang on to God with all my might. But, there is something else God wants for me, and it is something I am the most fearful of because of the chance of rejection. God wants me to let people, regular human beings, into my heart and have relationships with them. He is waiting to use them to bring joy into my life and allow me to show His joy if I will only let Him. Wow, the last sentence just jumped off of my fingers without me even thinking about it! I guess I know what I need to work on now.  🙂

God’s blessings on you today!

 

 

Reflections on Philippians 1

I began my study of Philippians last week with the first chapter. By reading the entire chapter first and then studying each section, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of what Paul, the writer, was trying to convey. And with this understanding, I think a lot of us who claim Christ, especially in the Western church, have missed the boat on discipling new believers. I’ll explain what I mean in a minute. First, though, I’ll discuss what I learned in each section.

The first two sections are where Paul greets the Philippian believers and gives thanks for them. I don’t believe we speak enough positive affirmation into the lives of other believers. God wants us to though; He wants us to live in community with one another, and using Scripture to speak affirmation is something, I believe, God planned when He gave us His Word. Verses 3 – 6 are especially good for this.

“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

This section and the next also talk about how we are to always pray for one another and encourage each other in our growth as believers. We are not to just pray for each other in serious situations. We are to pray for each other always. I have to admit I am not always the best at this. I have to work constantly on not thinking about myself all of the time and thinking of others instead. It is a constant battle, but one that Christ will help us with if we only ask.

In the next section, Paul speaks of his imprisonment and how it is in the cause of Christ. Most of us today, especially in the Western world, wouldn’t have that attitude about being imprisoned. We don’t understand that we need to proclaim Christ through our storm. I will admit this is hard for me though I’ve come to a greater understanding of why we’re supposed to do this over the last few years.

This understanding was cemented by my reading of the last two sections. Paul is encouraging the Philippians to be firm in their faith and to work together, to live in community. He says we will suffer in this life, but that God wants us to know we are NOT alone. We are never alone. And because of this understanding, I claim Philippians 1:20 as one of my life verses.

“My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything , but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”

Now, after I have explained all of this, let me explain what I meant at the beginning of this post. I think we miss the mark on accepting new believers into our faith communities and explaining what that really means. The emphasis on individualism in the Western world is not how Christ wants us to live. He wants our faith family to be just as much family to one another as our blood family. This requires  a fundamental shift in our attitudes especially with those in our faith families who are different than us. I pray my understanding of how to live in a community of believers will continue to grow.

God’s blessings on you today!

Studying Scripture

In the many years I have been a Christian, there have been three distinct ways I have studied Scripture. One has been by using a devotional book which usually has verses of Scripture related to the topics covered. I have then gone and looked at the verses themselves in my Bible.  The second has been to attend a Bible study and listen to what the instructor had to say about the Bible. And the third, which I have started becoming consistent with in the last few years, is to read Scripture myself and record my thoughts on what the chapters and verses were saying to me.

I studied the book of Psalms in this way last year and have hundreds of journal pages recorded with the knowledge God imparted to me. I thought I would try something different this year as it would serve two purposes for me–one, recording my thoughts on what I was studying, and two, topics for this blog. So, for the next several weeks, I’m going to be recording my reflections here on what I’m studying in Scripture.  My hope is that what I have to say would be of some value to the people reading this blog, and that you all would find ways to grow in your own knowledge of Scripture.

God’s blessings on you all today!

The Least of These

Matthew 25:35-40

” ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ”

Many of us are familiar with this passage where Jesus is speaking to His disciples. It is one of the fundamental tenets of Christianity — serving others in Jesus’ name. And it’s something that’s fairly easy to see when we’re doing the kind of work indicated in the passage. Feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, going into the prisons.

There’s one place though that it might not be so easy to see the least of these. That place would be in our own churches, the people sitting next to us. Now, the question might be asked. How are the people sitting next to us the “least of these”? They don’t look like they’re hungry; they don’t look like their sick; they are generally wearing clothes (and if they’re not, your church might have a whole other set of problems, lol). All kidding aside though, the people sitting next to us might need someone to say, “I love you,” to say, “Jesus loves you,” or to just give them a hug. Sometimes I think we take it for granted that the people who sit in our churches don’t need to hear this spoken out loud. But, they do. They most certainly do. It might be the only hug they get that week; the only interaction they get with someone who truly cares; or the only indication that they’re not alone.

See, this has happened to me. I have been in churches where no one has interacted with me during the whole service, where I have felt overwhelmed by pain. I know God loves me, but to hear it spoken by fellow Christians helps me to know I’m not alone. It’s part of being the hands and feet of Jesus, of letting others see Jesus in you. And I’m just as guilty as anyone else. I will go into my church, go to where I usually sit, and not interact with anyone during the whole service. Or if I interact with people, it will be the customary greetings of “Hi, how are you?” and not make a point of expressing how I really feel. I want to be different. I don’t want to be a passive participant. I want to look at the people around me and show Jesus’ love to them, by word and by hug, and to let them know they’re not alone.

I will end with the lyrics to this song by Kari Jobe. It is a song that has touched me to the very core this week and helped me to realize I’m not alone.

“When I walk through deep waters
I know that You will be with me
When I’m standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
I will not fear

I am not alone
I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me

In the midst of deep sorrow
I see Your light is breaking through
The dark of night will not overtake me
I am pressing into You
Lord, You fight my every battle
And I will not fear

You amaze me
Redeem me
You call me as Your own

You’re my strength
You’re my defender
You’re my refuge in the storm
Through these trials
You’ve always been faithful
You bring healing to my soul”

God’s blessings on you today!