Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Focusing Your Spiritual Life

Have you ever wondered why we aren't growing more spiritually, even though we are exposed to great sermons in more ways than any other generation in history? There is not only the sermon in church on Sunday, but numerous opportunities to hear famous preachers on TV or through the Internet. Christian books abound, and many people have the opportunity to attend one or several Christian conferences a year. Spiritual food is everywhere, but we seem to be unchanged and even starving in spite of the spiritual buffet.

It's not that we aren't trying. Most of us want to implement the truths we hear. The problem is that they come at us too rapidly and in too great numbers. Who can learn to love their spouse in their love language, start a disciplined Bible study program, spend more time in prayer, implement the three points of Sunday's sermon, apply what they've read in the latest Christian books they've read in their spare time - all in the span of a single week while they are taking care of a hundred other details in the rat race called life? Little wonder that the Bible truths we hear seem to have so little impact on us. They simply become one more thing on the to-do list of our busy lives.

Little did I realize, when I surrendered my devotional life to the Lord, that He would want to break that cycle. For years I've been trying to grow in many different directions, but He wants me to focus on one thing at a time. For me, right now, it is learning to abide in Him - thinking like Him, having His passions, seeing with His eyes. And I will stay focussed on this until He shows me the next step.

What does it mean in a practical way? In a way, it simplifies life, for I can tune out what doesn't fit with what the Lord is doing right now. I don't have to listen to all these sermons - but I do have to learn to commune with Him. His goal is nothing less than teaching me to abide in Him continually. Everything else will flow of it eventually.

What is the Lord emphasizing in your life? How might He want you to focus on that?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Abiding in Christ

I mentioned before my great "experiment" ten day ago of giving over control over my quiet times to the Lord. He continues to surprise me.

This morning I felt led to go John 15: 1-8 (At first I wanted to start reading at John 13, but then thought better of it.) The passage is very familiar, and full of details. I will leave it to the Holy Spirit to speak to you about being a branch, bearing fruit, being helpless without Jesus, etc.

What stopped me short was verse 4, "Abide in Me, and I in you." Clearly this is a command with a promise. If I abide in Him, He will abide in me. The question is, how do I abide in Him? What does this mean? How do I do this, 24/7?

I'm not the only one asking this, of course. I remember reading an autobiography of Hudson Taylor where he describes wrestling with this question. He kept wondering how to "get into" Christ, until a brother in Christ pointed out that God had already done it, and he only needed to accept it. But just reading what worked for Hudson never worked for me. Typically my hang-up is that I try to understand, thinking that if I understand I can implement the solution. But I'm beginning to see that it doesn't work that way.

After going round and round a few times with this question on how to abide, the Holy Spirit reminded me that I was trying too hard. "Simply ask and believe that I have heard you." So I wrote this simple prayer into my journal: "Lord, I ask that I may abide in You. Thank You for hearing me. I'm eager to see what this will look like!"

"Continue to draw close to Me during the day. You are only abiding in snatches right now. I was in constant communion with the Father when I walked the earth as the Son of man to show you that it could be done. (Why else would I have cried out 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?' when I was dying at the cross, unless my continual communion with Him was interrupted?)

My response, "Lord, I ask that I may be in constant communion with You through the Holy Spirit."

It's been an interesting morning so far. I find the Holy Spirit saying no to things I want to do, and I have to decide whether to yield to Him and abide in communion with Jesus, or give in to the flesh and live according to the old man. And that while I'm on vacation!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Give me your eyes, Lord!

A couple of Sundays ago a phrase in my pastor's sermon struck me. He was talking about John 4:35, where the fields were already ripe for the harvest, although they thought the harvest was still four months out. "Jesus sees from the other side of faith," he said. Hm, that is true a lot, I thought. Jesus saw redemption where the world saw prostitutes and tax collectors. He saw provision where the disciples could only see that they had forgotten to take bread (Mk. 8,16). He sees the heart, we see the outside. The list is endless.

The only remedy seems to begin seeing like Jesus, and the only way to do that is simply by asking in faith. It's like that song, "Open the eyes of my heart, Lord," only on a more permanent basis. When I prayed this prayer, "Give me your eyes, Lord," I sensed the Lord asking, "Do you really want this?", and when I said yes, He reminded me of 1 John 5,14-15 and I had faith that He heard me and is answering that prayer.

At first I thought He would give me deep insights into the needs of people I met (and He might well do that at some point) or enable me to have a positive attitude of faith about everything. Alas, I'm still as blind to the spiritual needs of those around me and how I could meet them, and only occasionally do I seem to have a bit more faith. (But then, it's been only nine days since my prayer.)

Have you ever wrestled with a Scripture or a passage, wondering what on earth it means, and the harder you try the less you seem to understand it? For years, Romans 6 with its insistence that I had died with Christ was such a passage for me. No matter how hard I tried, I didn't feel dead, and besides, when would that have happened? How could it have happened at the cross, when I wasn't even born yet?

This morning the Holy Spirit has been showing me that I've been going about it all wrong. I've been trying to understand with my mind first and then engage the heart. But it is the heart that needs to understand first (another word for "believing with the heart"), and then the mind will catch on.

And then He just about blew me away when He opened my eyes to John 3:5, and I saw it with the eyes of Jesus: "... unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." This familiar verse has been interpreted in various ways when it talks about being "born of water." It hit me that both parts, the birth of the Spirit and the birth of water, are spiritual events. Jesus is talking of water baptism here, something He always stressed as being necessary for being saved (Mk. 16, 16). (The fact that there are exceptions to the rule, like the thief on the cross, doesn't mean it's not mandatory for believers.) Moreover, Romans 6:3-4 tells us that through our baptism we were baptized into Christ's death and buried with Him, so that we could walk in newness of life. Our baptism is the point of contact where our old self dies with Christ on the cross and we no longer live (Gal. 2,20). We are born again and enter the Kingdom of God.

I've been baptized as a believer more than 30 years ago, but I believe this is true even if I wasn't aware of it at the time. God has been faithful to do His part to join me ito Christ's death and bury the old self. Now He's beginning to open my eyes to this powerful truth, and I understand why Paul can exhort us to put off the old self like filthy rags and put on the garments of the new self which is being made to be like Christ. I wonder what this will mean on a daily basis...? I'm excited to find out more about it as I'm seeing a little more with the eyes of Jesus each day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Revolutionary Thought

The other day, when I was in prayer, I had a revolutionary thought - so revolutionary that it must have been the Lord, because I never thought of it before in over 30 years of daily devotions.

First, the Lord reminded me that He, too, was looking forward to our daily time together. Though this wasn't a new idea, it warmed my heart. But then, a little later, as I was praying, I heard Him saying, "Why don't you give Me control over our time together?"

This really shocked me. As a young Christian I had learned about the necessity of daily Bible reading and prayer, and I had stuck to it fairly faithfully throughout the years. Since my strength is studying the Bible, I actually spent most of my time in Bible study, and comparatively little in prayer. Lately, I'd become so dissatisfied with my personal prayer life that I kept crying out to the Lord, "Teach me to pray!"

At first I hesitated. What would happen? Would I have to stop following my Bible reading plan which worked some days but not others? What if nothing happened? What would be my part? I did get the impression that my part was to continue showing up daily, faithfully, seeking Him with all my heart. But He wanted me to let go of my religious rituals and let Him take over.

The more I thought about His request to have control over our time together, the more it made sense. He is just as interested in our time together, and of the two of us He clearly is the senior partner, the One with more experience. He loved me, and I could trust Him. When I thought about Jesus meeting with the Father, I just couldn't picture Him spending all of His time talking and none listening.

Anyway, anytime the Lord asks you a direct question like this, you say yes. I did, excited to see what would happen.

Well, this has been a week ago. The main change so far has been that I'm spending a lot more time in prayer, even if I spend less time reading Jeremiah or Ezekiel. During some of my early-morning prayer time I'm reading a book by Lynne Hammand on spirit-led prayer called, "The Master Is Calling", which is exactly what I need right now. All of a sudden, since the Lord (Jesus, the Holy Spirit?) took over control over my quiet time, I'm spending time in real communion with Him, and prayer seems to flow out of it.

I'd like to invite you to consider giving over control of your time with the Lord to Him. It's an act of faith, a step of trust that He will not let you down. It doesn't mean you never get to talk again - in fact, one of the first things He said to me was, "Be honest with Me." Scripture confirms that we are to pour out our hearts to Him. I can't tell you what will happen if you take this step of surrender - it will be different for each of you. I only know it will be good.