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..

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,


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.

How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?

Genesis 39: 9b

 In this part of the story, Joseph has been faced with a strong form of temptation, and he is responding about why he can not do what he is being asked to do. In his circumstances, as is the case with most of the things that temp all of us, there would be people to answer to and people who would be hurt by the sinful actions. In Joseph’s case, he would be answerable to one of the most powerful men in all of Egypt, and given the situation at hand, that response would not be pleasant. Yet, Joseph responds that his highest concern and his greatest motivation for doing what is right is based not upon his fear of people but upon his relationship with God.

There is a simple truth in this thought, for when we do what is wrong by God’s standards, when we sin, there is always an impact on other people, and when we do things or think in ways that are harmful to others, these actions and thoughts are always sinful in God’s eyes. We need to view our way of living and everything that we do from the Lord’s point of view; for, He is concerned with relationship building, peacemaking, and the restoration of our relationship with Him. God’s law is designed to bring us closer to Him, and it is intended to provide us with a framework for loving others in a manner that will lead them to seek to close that same gap between themselves and the Lord.

It is true for each of us just as it was true for Joseph that the foundation for living righteously is found in our focus on God’s character and on His will for us. Sin is not overcome through strength of will, by determination, or by fear of the consequences. Strength, determination, and genuine concern for others come as an outcome of our relationship with God. If I want to deal with temptation or with any sin issue in my life, I need to seek God’s understanding and wisdom on that issue; then, as I get to know my Lord better, He will reveal the answers to my challenges, and He will give me the strength to respond to them with His righteousness.

Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.

Acts 8: 4

One of the most important things that people gain when we enter into a relationship with Christ is the unifying effect of God’s Spirit; for, through this miraculous event in which God comes to reside in our previously sin-separated bodies, everyone who believes in Jesus is adopted into a single family. We are given the gift of a core unity of heart, mind, and purpose; and we gain the strength and the sense of security that comes from that larger group. The word scattered means: to be dispersed far away from each other, and one of the images that comes to my mind when I think about scattering something is that of how farmers, in the days before machinery, used to take handfuls of seed from a bag and toss them about as they walked through a field. Satan also works at scattering God’s people.

In the situation that Luke was describing in Acts, there was large scale, aggressive, and violent persecution of God’s people; in other times, large numbers of believers have been arrested by those in power and removed to new locations; and most of us have been impacted by the sort of scattering that happens when the normal connections of our lives are changed through job loss, relocation, or other forms of life change. Regardless of what causes the separation, it is often hard to regain that former feeling of connectedness and to become fully involved in serving Christ in the new setting.

Yet, engagement, involvement, and pursuit of our calling is exactly what the Lord wants us to do; therefore, it is precisely what Satan wants to keep us from doing. When there is disruption and interruption in the normal flow of our lives, we need to seek God’s wisdom and find His purpose for us in the new setting, for there is one thing that I am certain of and that is that God always has a plan for each and every situation and circumstance that I will encounter in my life. Although it is honestly and legitimately uncomfortable to be that seed in the hands of the Lord and the speed of the flight and the impact of the landing can be very harsh, our God promises that He will feed, water, and care for us in the new field where we have been sent, and that field is full of people who need to experience the love of Christ as delivered by our hands.

And Jesus said to them, “Why are you so timid? How is it that you have no faith?”

Mark 4: 40

The story behind this statement is very familiar. There was a boat that was out on the open water of a large lake when the weather turned very nasty in a hurry. Now there were several able bodied and very experienced seamen in this boat, and they were, frankly, frightened and truly concerned that they were going to die; yet, their leader, Jesus, was sound asleep in the back of the boat; at least to them, He seemed to be sleeping through it all so that He had no involvement and no influence on their survival. Of coarse, these great men of faith, these men who had walked away from their former life’s callings to follow after this man, Jesus, and to seek to do God’s work in their world had it all wrong, and when I look at their response to the situation, they make me think of myself.

You see, I think that Jesus wanted them to keep sailing the boat in the full knowledge of God’s continual involvement and care for them; although, Jesus did use the moment to demonstrate God’s mastery over all of His creation, it wasn’t really necessary for Him to do that. There are a lot of situations that I encounter and that most of do, too, where our tendency is to stop moving forward when we think that the way has become too challenging or the danger has exceeded our capacity to handle the risk. Yet, when we are traveling along God’s path and seeking to do the Lord’s will, we have His promise and His commitment that He is with us and that He will guide our steps and protect us.

The Lord wants us to realize that there are no seas too high for Him and that there is no wind so strong that His will can be crushed by it; additionally, God’s hand will redirect the path that we are traveling if it is not one that fulfills His will. Jesus is telling us to trust Him and to keep using the skill, the wisdom, and the experiences that He has given to us in conjunction with the truth that He provides through His word while relying on interaction with our spiritual family and the Spirit of God to keep our boat upright and on top of the waves of the storms that strike us every day. I don’t need for the winds to calm and the waves to cease, for the great miracle has already been performed in that Jesus is my savior who will go with me through everything. He simply needs me to trust Him enough to have faith in the fact that the will of God will triumph in every situation in my life.

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