April 2010


Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26: 41

Whether you think that this is a good thing or is troubling, God knows everyone of us in ways that no one else will ever grasp. He is aware of the half-hearted commitments that we can make so readily, and He is also completely tuned into the passionate yearnings for righteousness that fuel our best acts of loving service and times of deepest interaction with the Lord. For most of us, we live a life that is filled with times of contradiction as we may desire to always respond to others in a manner that speaks Jesus’ love; yet, we actually deliver a message that is a potent brew of frustration, anger, and self-defensive criticism. Jesus responds to me in these times by saying, “Keep watching and praying.”

So what does Jesus want me to keep watching for and what is the subject of all that prayer? It seems that the Lord is mostly interested in the fact that we are pulled to Him by this process; for, as we take up our vigil and allow our hearts this calm time of prayer, amazing visions and powerful words of truth and enlightenment will come out of God and into our hearts and minds. The visions may be as grand and as powerful as an epic film, or they may be seen as a spirit-lifting impression that is planted deep in the heart. At times we will hear and see words that clearly state God’s will and desire for us, and at other times, we will be left with the reassurance and the understanding that all is well with our life’s direction.

Jesus is not calling us to a specific time of watching and praying; this is not an hour on a daily calendar or a week out of a month; for, the Lord doesn’t see time as we do, and He doesn’t plan His involvement with each of us around that sort of human concept of relationship. Jesus wants to watch and to pray with us through every beat of our hearts for the balance of our lives. He knows me too well, and He is fully aware that for me to resist temptation and to continually seek to live righteously, my weak flesh needs His strength to hold me upright and strong in order to fulfill Christ’s calling for my life..

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Then Jesus said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

Matthew 26: 38

There is pain, and there is anguish, and sometimes they collide with each other in a way that can completely overwhelm even the strongest person’s ability to hang in there and to keep going. This is where Jesus was on that night in a garden of prayerful anticipation of all that He was going to endure for my soul’s sake; for, He was fully aware of how much the sacrifice that He was about to make would cost Him, and in preparation for that time of exquisite torture, Christ sought to connect with His closest friends, and He asked them to join with Him in a time of prayerfully seeking the comfort and the encouragement of the Father.

Jesus continues to ask us to do this same thing. He wants us to gather near to Him, to take a seat on a humble rock, and to commit all of our attention and the focus of our hearts to speaking with the Father and to listening to His response. This seems like such a simple request; yet, it can become one of the hardest things that we will ever attempt to do. For myself, I am not very good at quiet reflection, and I am really poor at the sort of humility that Jesus asks of me, for this is the sort of attitude that considers the hard stone seat as a leather recliner and that takes delight in the simple fact that Christ wants to include me in this most intimate of times.

There is no question in my mind that this life is saturated with the tears of hard times; for, we all experience physical hardships, emotional turmoil, and spiritual struggles, and they usually seem to conspire together to come at us from all sides at once. Jesus experienced all of this Himself, and He knows and goes through every harsh and painful moment of our lives. Still, He speaks to us with the same request on His lips as He uttered on that singular night so long ago; Jesus asks us to come and to join Him in keeping a watchful eye and a listening heart focused on the comfort and on the answers that God will give to us. My Lord, Jesus, is with me for every moment and in every situation that will come to me in this life.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Psalm 19: 1

This is the passage that the Spirit of God lead me to reflect on during the first two mornings that I was in the hospital. It is interesting how the effects of having pain medication soaking your body impact so many really basic aspects of function. Reading is certainly one of those. The surgeon didn’t work anywhere close to my head, and it would seem reasonable to think that with all of that uncommitted time on my hands, I would be able to at least get in some good reading; yet, I would find myself reading the same sentence over and over, often four or five times in a row, without making any progress through a page.

If I had possessed the ability to care about such things, there was something in the ingested medication cocktail that made caring rather unimportant, this could have become frustrating. Instead, it seemed that God was telling me to slow down, to take in His word more deeply, and to allow His Spirit to speak to my heart from the treasure chest of rich understanding that is behind every single word. I must have read this verse a dozen or more times in two days, and every time through it, God spoke to me in a new way.

The Lord’s words of love, provision, care, and strength came drifting out of my surroundings, for they were apparent in the high tech equipment that was monitoring my moment by moment condition (we all did come to agreement that when the heart rate monitor’s alarm went off because I had no heart rate, the monitor was probably wrong, bad sensor connection), and in the very low tech hands of the nursing staff as they provided a cold cloth for my head when I was feeling ill. The Lord was present in the first rays of dawn that brought the night sky out of its restful slumber and in the reassuring light from the hallway outside my room that told me that the nurses were there if I had any needs. God’s voice speaks clearly and continually through all elements and aspects of Creation, and He wants us to take the time to look closely at the depth of His love until we can see Him in everything that surrounds us.

I will be taking a short break from writing until early next week.

Blessings in Christ,

Steve

Lead me, O Lord, in Your truth and teach me,

For You are the God of my salvation;

For You I wait all the day.

Psalm 24: 5

Every thing that we do, and all that we encounter is a part of the process of following and of learning from God. There are no situations that we will ever encounter that He can not and will not use for these purposes. Even the fears and the concerns that are a natural part of how we people are wired have a role to play in the classroom of life that we occupy, for the Lord uses them to lead my trembling hands and faltering heart away from the lies that they so quickly embrace into the truth of His eternal love and care.

There are real things to be concerned about, and it is within God’s expectations for us that we will have issues to deal with that raise anxiety and that are too big to face alone. Yet, that is the point; for, our Lord wants to join us in all of these times, and He does have a response for everything that we face. God wants us to turn to Him, to focus on His face, and to open our hearts to His instruction; that is His will for His beloved children.

Sometimes the Lord’s response comes in an instant, and sometimes the lesson is learned through a time of waiting; yet, He is continually with me, and He always answers. In fact, the most important thing that I often get out of these situations is a greater understanding of the reality of God’s presence in my life. He is consistent, my faith waivers; He is in control, and my grip grows weary; and the Lord is patient with my weakness; so, who else should I trust?

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.

Romans 14: 22

Although through history God has spoken directly to nations and a number of countries have considered themselves to be Christian, God has always been primarily concerned with developing individual and personal relationships. The Lord calls to every person on earth to come and accept His gift of saving grace, and His heart is heavily burdened for each of us; since, God wants to be close to all of us. Even after we have accepted the gift of salvation and entered into a relationship with Him, God continues to care greatly about the way that we choose to function; for, the nature of our thoughts and of our actions directly impacts the intimacy of our time with Him, and it also greatly influences our ability to fulfill the Lord’s calling to us to spread the truth of His loving grace throughout our world.

Thus, God wants us to develop our own understanding of His personal and specific direction for our lives, and He wants us to continually seek to know Him better and to know His word more fully. So, the Lord wants us to listen to other people, to consider their understanding of His word,  and to carefully contemplate the perspective that they bring to the complexities of living righteously; however, God also tells us to test everything that others tell us and the thoughts that we devise ourselves against what we see written in His word. Additionally, we need to open up our minds and our hearts to the input and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is through this process of listening, reading ,and learning combined with seeking the Spirit’s guidance that we develop our own understanding of who God is and of how He wants us to live.

When the relationship with God is forged through personal thought, prayer, and meditation which are followed by seeking to live in the manner and to take the actions that God is revealing to each of us, true and deep conviction is the result. This is exactly what God wants; His desire is that everyone would seek to know Him as deeply as He already knows us and that we would develop a passion for living in the center of His will that will impact our world for the Lord’s kingdom.

Put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Ephesians 4: 24

This may not be a very popular thought to share, but it does seem that in the world of Christian faith many of us get really focused on the anticipation of the return of Jesus and on all of the good things that we believe will be accomplished at that time. We look forward to the end of the struggles that are so very real in our lives, we anticipate the day that our knees and our backs won’t ache, we dream of a day when we will no longer be forced to count our pennies in order to try to figure out how to handle the mountain of dollars that our bills are demanding, and we fixate on a moment when our hearts will no longer be broken. These are good things to anticipate, but they should not represent our greatest form of hope, and that form of change must not be our primary interest.

You see, Christ has already come; He is here; and He is alive and in command of this world. Certainly there is a promised future time when the Father will send Jesus back to this world to take it away from Satan, and at the end of that process, the universe will be restored totally to its created state of glory, but there is a much quicker way to get there for people who are willing to respond to God’s call to our hearts and join Jesus in the fight for the souls of people. We need to accept the fact that volitional changes, the things that we agree with God and seek His work on us to do in us, are even more important for us and for God’s kingdom than that final permanent transformation. For as we are changed from our sin-afflicted human parent images into our grace of God given created image, we are made over into people who bring that same grace and love into this world, whose ability to remain hopeful through all that life throws at us is noticeable, and who are never self-satisfied but are always seeking to know the lord more fully.

The pain of life and of living is real, the challenges are grueling, and the fears that it all generates are intense; still, these are the elements of our existence that demonstrate the need for a relationship with God, and living through these events and times should cause us to seek to know Him better, for the Lord does have answers for us, and He seldom responds to our needs by removing the source of the struggle; rather, God usually brings about another step in the life-long process of change from old self into Christ-like newness. How much we embrace transformation is our choice; yet, as we seek it and focus on it, we bring the glory of the lord more fully into our lives, and we spend more of our time in the real presence of God.

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