Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Strength of the Lord

"For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him…"
2 Chronicles 16:9

So often when I am struggling and need God the most, I find myself pulling away from Him. I have realized that it is important for me to remember that God is still God no matter what my circumstances are in the moment. He is still sovereign even in the midst of chaos and confusion. He is still love me when I blow it or when others reject me. He is still the Savior and His blood still cleanses me when I stumble and feel dirty. He is still all powerful, when my situations seem insurmountable and I feel so powerless. In fact, when I feel the most unlovable, undeserving, and confused is when I need to be sure to continue to look to Christ! For God is continually looking for committed people to strengthen.

I looked up the word "strengthen" in the New Testament to see how and in what ways God strengthens us. The first passage I found was Ephesians 3:16-19. Paul says that he prayed that Christ would strengthen us in the deepest parts of our hearts through His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can give us the power to grasp how deep the love of God is. Through knowing the love of God we would then be filled with the fullness of God…in other words bear the fruit of His Spirit which is love, joy, patience, kindness, etc. I have tried to figure out why we need to be strengthened to know His love and come up with only two possible explanations. The first is that God's love is so pure and passionate and deep that without God's help I will never understand it nor be able to demonstrate it to others without His strength. The second is that God has told us that we will suffer because Christ suffered. As we face different situations similar to what Christ faced, we will begin to understand His love at deeper levels as we choose to love during the most difficult times. Christ chose to suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually for us. Physically…He faced great pain when He was beaten and hung on a cross . Emotionally…He wept and experienced emotions that come with rejection, being misunderstood, and falsely accused. He also faced the painful grief due to sin and broken relationships. Spiritually…He bore the Father's wrath for our sin and felt the same feelings we feel in sin and failure as our sin was laid on Him. He chose to face all these different realms of suffering to demonstrate His great love for us. I can’t help but think I will need His strength to face those situations that provide that the opportunity to love like Him.

Another passage I found was Colossians 1:10-11. Paul says that he prays that we will live a life worthy of the Lord and will bear fruit in every good work. He also prays that we will grow in the knowledge of God and be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that we will have great endurance and patience and joyfully give thanks to the Father. He strengthens us with the same power that overcame death so that we can endure the Christian life with patience and joy! If we are at a place that we want to give up on our walk with the Lord that is when it is the most important that we stay fully committed, because that is when HE WILL STENGTHEN US! In and of ourselves we don't have it in us to be patient and endure in the lonely, stressful, or painful times. However, if we simply stay fully devoted to Him He will strengthen us so that we bear fruit, endure, and joyfully sing no matter what comes our way.

In Philippians 4:11-13 Paul said he learned to be content in all circumstances whether he was well fed or hunger, had plenty or had wants…that he could do everything through Christ who strengthened him. God will use circumstances to teach us to be content in Him and to put us in that place of depending fully on Him. If we have physical needs we can learn a lot about His provision if we take those needs to Him. If we have emotional needs we can learn a great deal about God as we allow Him to meet those needs. If we have Spiritual needs He will satisfy those if we remain fully committed to Him.

Lastly in 2 Corinthians 12:15 Paul said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I think the biggest battle we face with the enemy is that in our weakness we draw away from Christ because we believe the enemy’s lies. The enemy wants us to believe that because we are weak, the Lord could be tired of us, disappointed in us, or we are unworthy of His fellowship, but this verse makes it clear that it is in our weaknesses that Christ's power is the most fully demonstrated. The encouragement and exhortation for today is that no matter where we are at in our walk with the Lord is to guard our heart and keep it fully committed to Him. He will strengthen us with knowledge, with power, and with love through His Holy Spirit. Remember it is in our weaknesses, our most stressful times, and in our deepest pain that His work, His Character, and His love will have the opportunity to shine through us. The question of the day is how strong is our commitment to the one who desires to strengthen us in the deepest parts of or hearts.

Prayer: Father, thank you for searching us out and promising to strengthen us when our hearts are fully committed to you. Help us to refute the lies of the enemy and to cling to you when it is the most difficult to do so. Thank you for the promise of strengthening us…help us to cling to your promise and to wait on you for the strength that we need to live lives that honor and glorify you. Amen.

Wrestling in the Night

"…Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome…"
Genesis 32: 22-31

In the story that these verses are taken from, Jacob was returning to his family of origin, having lived in exile for betraying his brother. Both of his parents had died and his only brother had wanted to kill him because Jacob had used deceit to obtain the birthrights and power that came from holding the first-born position. In truth, those things were God's to bestow or not, not Jacob's to usurp. On the last night before he was to meet his brother, he was stressed because he didn't know what would happen. Was his brother longing for family since their parents’ deaths and looking forward to the reunion? Or with out his parent's in the picture would Esau decide to meet him with an army to take his life? 

He spent the night wrestling with "a man" whom we later learn was God. At the end of the night he was physically spent and grabbled on tight to the "person," exclaiming, he wouldn't let go until the person blessed him. The person who was the Lord responded with the blessing of changing his name from Jacob to Israel, from "Deceiver" to "Struggles with God and Prevails." The Lord then touched Israel's hip, leaving him with a limp to remind him of the striving he had done. 

Every sermon I have heard on this passage said that the wrestling represented prayer, which did not make sense to me at first. However, when I compared it to the scene of Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane it seemed similar to the same type of deep, intense prayer Christ prayed in the Garden. There He didn't want to face God's wrath for our sin, not the pain of being separated from His father. At the same time He wanted to obey His Heavenly Father. Christ's wrestling prayer was so intense that drops of sweat tinged with blood dripped from His brow.

Jacob who strived hard with people, began to pray about his future meeting Esau. He was probably tempted to run, yet believed God was calling him home. He was most likely afraid for both himself  and his family. He also may have been overwhelmed with shame over his past actions and the grief he felt at not seeing his parents before they died. The wrestling Jacob did revealed to him that his real battle was not with his brother, but with his God. In His wrestling, he at first seemed to hold his own, but God in a single moment disabled him and Jacob's heart softened as his will became secondary to receiving God's blessings. This is the lesson God would have us take from this story.

God has brought this story alive for me in two ways. First was when I was a dean at a camp there was a girl who was struggling with some things the speaker said that mirrored her own experiences. Her pastor had given her godly advice she had needed to hear, but the idea of doing as he suggested upset her. She wanted to argue with him, but avoided him and refused to come to chapel instead. He asked me to find her and talk to her. So, she and I went for a walk and as I heard her story, I pointed out the love behind her pastor's words and that her real fight was with God, not the pastor. I told her about Jacob and suggested that she tell her youth pastor it was hard to hear what he said and that she had been afraid for the communication to continue. I also told her it was important that she get real with God and tell Him why she wanted her own will more than His. I suggested she wrestle with the truth of His Word until she could give her unmet needs to God and tell Him all the "buts" to which she was holding onto so she could get to the place she could express a willingness to allow God to change her heart. I told her I hoped she would yield to God quickly so she would not have to walk with the limp like Jacob did. For the first time that night she started laughing. I gently told her, "You know God loves you and that His plans are always good. Yet, you want to argue with Him about things that could very well destroy you. Don't make God give you a "limp" to prove to you that He is God and you are not. Remember He is the a process of molding you into His image and you can either yield to Him or resist Him. It is okay to wrestle when we are real and honest because intimacy with God can grow from that. However, the sooner we yield our will to His, the sooner we get to enjoy Him and His blessings and the less likely we will be left with a limp that reminds us of our strife." 

Another way God brought this story alive to me for me is through my own healing journey. I entered counseling for an eating disorder and found my intense fears of the disorder masked an intense fear of feeling emotions. I had buried pain of hurtful traumas deep and though my counselor took me to those dark places, the moment the feelings surfaced I pushed them further down with exercise and business. Then I suffered a severe fracture to my ankle and couldn't exercise or stay busy. The moment it happened, I had this strong sense it was from God.  and was housebound for a year. During that time I faced the fear of feeling and went to those painful places, finding God sufficient to meet me in the pain. I was able to reach a point that my forgiveness was from the deepest part of my heart and was no longer just an exercise of my will. I still physically limp and it does remind me of that year of healing I had sitting alone with the Lord, wrestling with His sovereignty over painful things and over the deeper level of forgiveness to which He called me. Out of the wrestling grew an acceptance of His sovereignty, a deeper faith, a deeper desire to know Him more and a new ministry.

God used Jacob's wrestling match to get him to the point of not wanting to win as much as he wanted to hold on tight to God so he could live a blessed and transformed life. Jacob wanted God's forgiveness, and God wanted Jacob's heart. When we experience ambivalence over wanting to do both our will and God's we, too, can cry from the depths of our souls, asking God to change us. Wrestling can come in the struggle of waiting on God and wanting what we want now. It can come from the ambivalence of wanting our way and His at the same time. It can come from knowing God's call on our lives and resisting it. It can come from wanting change and being afraid of it. It can come form wrestling with God over painful losses, over moving to new locations, or from giving up sinful relationships. It really is easier to honestly pour our hearts out to Him and ask Him to align our will to His to resist Him.

Finally, sometimes we have a wrong perspective of God, His commands, and His sovereignty. When we tell our children, "No," it isn't to deprive them. It is for their health, their wellbeing, and their safety. The same is true of God. The commands given in His Word are truly His loving protection and love over us. When we choose our own way, we remove ourselves from His protection and end up wounding ourselves emotionally, physically, mentally, or relationally. It doesn’t mean He won’t continue to love us or draw us back to Himself, but the harder we hold on to what is not of Him, the more likely we are to experience “injuries,” that result from walking in ways that we were never designed to walk.

Prayer: Father, you are so gracious to invite us to have a relationship with you and to give us the freedom to be real with you. You are God and You are sovereign. Help us to come to the place that your sovereignty is not something that we rebel and struggle against, but something in which we accept and rest, maybe even something in which we stand in awe! May it be something that causes us to cling to you all the more tightly. Amen.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Heartfelt Worship

"The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.""
Isaiah 29:13

What is the first thing you think about when you wake up? I would have to admit that most of the time the things I think about when I first wake up are the things that I am struggling with, things I enjoy, or things I need to get done that day. Sadly, those thoughts preempt my thoughts of God. It is only occasionally that I wake up with a Bible verse, a praise song, a hymn, or a God-centered thought running through my mind and believe that in my sleep I had already entered the presence of God. Most of the time I have to work to draw my thoughts away from life issues to focus them on God, so I love when I find myself already there. I hope as I continue to study and learn about God that He will more and more consistently occupy my thoughts whether I am asleep or awake.

In our culture today we can easily be considered fanatical if we get emotional about God. It is okay to get about hobbies and sports. But we have have been called to love the Lord with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. That means God wants our passion, too. It’s not enough to praise God with our mouths as that honor is given with empty words. He wants our love and passion for Him to rise up from the very depths of our souls. 

There are two Biblical examples that explain what I mean. The first is the passion King David felt when his infant son became ill. He was told by a prophet that the child would die. So, David fasted, prayed, and wept before God, hoping the baby might live. His servants were so afraid of David’s emotions, they thought he would kill himself when they told him the baby had died. David didn't, he got up, bathed himself, and He worshiped God. The passion David felt as he prayed and fasted for his ill child is the same passion God wants from us. The worship born out of David's passion is the kind of worship God wants from us. I had a friend who lost a six-month-old baby and I watched as she and her husband worshiped God in the midst of their deep grief. While their emotions were the most raw, there was something more beautiful and real about their worship than I had ever seen in anyone. The thing the farthest from their thoughts were rules about worship and emotional expression. They simply poured out their hearts to the God they served.

The other example of passion in worship was when David exhibited a worshipful heart was when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to its rightful place in Israel. It meant God could dwell among His people again. David was so excited he danced before the Lord in front of the people in his kingdom. At the time it wasn't considered dignified for a king to do so and one of his wives harshly criticized him. In spite of her criticism, his heart was so full of joy he could not contain it.

I realize I am so fortunate to have the Holy Spirit, because it means I live continually in the presence of my God. I can sing, dance, laugh, and even weep with my whole heart before God at any time. But I ask myself, "What does it mean to worship God from the depths of my heart?" Sometimes I think, the longer I have been in church the harder it has become. In church, I've gotten into the habit of worshiping a specific way and have realized often that the familiarity is a breeding ground for me to simply go through motions, without fully engaging my heart. To honor God from my heart I need to be aware of my own heart and lay it bare before Him as imperfect as it is. That would include a confession of my tendency to hide pride, coldness, and unforgiveness. It would include an admission of how much I need Him. It would also include coming to him humbly to allow His holiness to expose my sinfulness so God can cut away all that is not holy. It would include standing in awe of His greatness.

When I realize I am coming to God as one merely going through the motions, I confess it to Him. He can expose what stands in the way of my being passionate about Him. I can ask Him to reveal Himself to me as I read His word. I recount past experiences with Him in the same way I would at a family reunion. I have a friend who was struggling in her relationship with God and I asked God to remind her of a time she had enjoyed God and had been passionate about Him, longing to live whole heartedly for Him. And God did it! It was not long before she was telling me she longed to be back to that place of heart-felt worship.

In closing, let me ask if you are laughing, singing, or dancing before the Lord today is your heart truly in it? If you are at a place in your life that you are weeping, is your heart in it? If you are serving faithfully, is your heart in it? If you are praying daily, is your heart engaged in it? If not, reflect on the cross a moment. Every sin, whether by thought, word, or deed, was paid for on the cross so we might be healed and enter a love relationship with God whose very character is love. His love is the type of love that demands a response from our hearts not merely our mouth. How are you responding to God today?


Father, I pray each of us would love, trust, and serve You whole-heartedly. Help us to be focused on You in our worship and not a bunch of man made rules and regulations. Give us hearts that are sensitive to Your truth and to Your Holy Spirit that we might respond from the very depths of our souls. Let us enter our worship of you with all that we and with hearts laid bare before You. Please let your holiness and Your goodness lead us to repentance and purity. Please help us be humble and gracious like You. Amen.


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!