Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Do We Mean What We Say?

Guard my life, for I am devoted to you. You are my God; save your servant who trusts in you. Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God. Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.
Psalm 86:2,8,10-12

I’m making an effort to mean what I say.

Don’t worry. When I speak with you I’m truthful, but I’m not always honest with God. When I read prayers in a devotional or bulletin, it’s easy to read the words and not think about what they say. In fact, my mind easily drifts to notice the piece on lint on my pants. 

That’s not praying. That’s reading. Maybe.

Today’s prayer in my devotional book reads “Almighty God, in whom I find life, health, and strength, and through whose mercy I am clothed and fed, grant unto me a thankful and faithful heart.

The italicized piece jumped out at me. Truly, only through God’s mercy am I clothed or fed, have shelter or money or life. Everything I have is His and He could remove it from me in an instant if He chose to. Remember Job? That prayer is easy to read without an ounce of the deep gratitude God deserves.

Lord, may my prayers and worship to be sincere. (tweet this)

Please reread today’s scripture with a sincere heart.

Does it express your true feelings?
Are there phrases you can’t speak honestly?
Ask God to speak to your heart.

#SeedsofScripture #prayer #sincere

Monday, October 9, 2017

Pleasantly Surprised by Prayerful Poetry

Surprise! I am enjoying poetry as prayer.

Poetry is usually too flowery for me, but this poem is practical and straightforward. Except for the ‘thee and thou’ language, it expresses my heart. I invite you to read the following poem slowly as though it were your personal prayer to God:

Oh Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end;
Be thou forever near me, my Master and my Friend:
I shall not fear the battle if thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway if thou wilt be my guide.

O let me feel thee near me! The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me, around me and within;
But, Jesus, draw thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin.

O let me hear thee speaking, in accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will;
O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen, thou guardian of my soul.
O Jesus, thou hast promised to all who follow thee
That where thou art in glory there shall thy servant be;
And, Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend. Amen.
-John E. Bode

Do you recognize the hymn?

Slowly reading the words without accompanying music helps me express my deep desire to serve God well. (Unlike me, you can probably sing and pray at the same time.) I beg for His presence to provide strength to face temptation. I need a clear encouraging and correcting voice in order to stay on His path. I need His grace.

Reading a hymn as a personal prayer helps me express my heart to God. (tweet this)

Does reading or singing feel more personal for you?

#SeedsofScripture #hymns #prayer

Sunday, October 1, 2017

What I Miss When I Don't Pray

Photo: Lightstock
Father, I am beginning to know how much I miss when I fail to talk to thee in prayer, and through prayer to receive into my life the strength and the guidance which only thou canst give. Forgive me for the pride and the presumption that make me continue to struggle to manage my own affairs to the exhaustion of my body, the weariness of my mind, the trial of my faith.
In a moment like this I know that thou couldst have worked thy good in me with so little strain, with so little effort. And then to thee would have been given the praise and the glory. When I neglect to pray, mine is the loss.
-         From The Prayers of Peter Marshall edited by Catherine Marshall

Oh, how I identify with this prayer.

When I have morning time with God I am at my best - centered, filled, energetic, encouraged, strengthened and focused. Why, then, do I struggle making it a habit?

Paraphrasing the Apostle Paul: Why do I keep doing the things I know I shouldn’t and don’t do the things I know I should?

For my spiritual formation class, I must spend 45 minutes daily in scripture reading, prayer, reflection and journaling. Studying scripture for another class doesn’t count. This is dedicated time for God’s Word to shape me, to form my spirit.

It reminds me of other life changing classes when I consistently drew near to God. I felt God’s presence and knew I walked in His will. But the devotions were always assignments. Can you tell I’m a ruler follower?

My daily scripture and prayer time centers and fills me. Why do I struggle with consistency? (tweet this)

Do you struggle to find daily time with God?
Help! What draws you into His presence?

#SeedsofScripture #prayer #inHispresence

Sunday, September 24, 2017

What Does it Mean to be Holy?

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written; “Be holy because I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:14-15 (NIV)

One of the first things I’ve learned in seminary that holy (or sanctified) doesn’t mean perfect, except when referring to God. To be holy means to be set apart from something else - to be distinct. God is set so far apart from anything else, He is ultra, super duper, beyond comprehension holy. He is perfect.

So, please reread today’s scripture replacing the word holy with ‘set apart’.

With the understanding that you are distinct because you are made in God’s image and He is unlike anything else, read this story about two friends, Lax and Thomas, taken from Thomas’s autobiography*. At the time, Thomas was a graduate student studying English at Columbia University in NYC. I quote:

Lax and I were walking down Sixth Avenue one night in the spring. The street was all torn up and trenched and banked high with dirt and marked out with red lanterns where they were digging the subway, and we picked our way along the fronts of the dark little stores, going downtown to Greenwich Village. I forget what we were arguing about, but in the end Lax suddenly turned around and asked me the question:

“What do you want to be, anyway?”

I could not say, “I want to be Thomas Merton the well-known writer of all those book reviews in the back pages of the Times Book Review,” or “Thomas Merton the assistant instructor of Freshman English at the New Life Social Institute for Progress and Culture,” so I put the thing on the spiritual plan, where I knew it belonged and said:

“I don’t know; I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.”

“What do you mean, you want to be a good Catholic?”

The explanation I gave was lame enough, and expressed my confusion, and betrayed how little I had really thought about it at all.

Lax did not accept it.

“What you should say” – he told me – “what you should say is that you want to be a saint.”

A saint! The thought struck me as a little weird. I said:

“How do you expect me to become a saint?”

“By wanting to,” said Lax, simply.

“I can’t be a saint,” I said, “I can’t be a saint.” And my mind darkened with a confusion of realities and unrealities: the knowledge of my own sins, and the false humility which makes men say that they cannot do things that they must do, cannot reach the level that they must reach: the cowardice that says: “I am satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin,” but which means, by those words: “I do not want to give up my sins and my attachments.”

But Lax said:

“No. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

With your cooperation, God will make you holy. (tweet this)

Does being holy feel impossible?
Does it help to think about being holy as being set apart for God?
Do you believe God can make you holy?
Will you agree to let Him try?

*The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton

#SeedsofScripture #ThomasMerton #Iwanttobeasaint

Thursday, September 21, 2017

An Appropriate Portion of Humble Pie

Image created using Typorama
And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe in the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 3:6 (NLT)

I was confident.

I thought I knew enough Bible to test out of the Old and New Testament overview classes. I’ve led a study that covers 85% of the Bible eight times in addition to several other studies. “I’ll study a little” I thought, “and save a few bucks by skipping two classes.” My well intentioned friends affirmed my confidence saying, “You’ll sail through the test.”

But I failed with flying colors. I know something, but not nearly enough. I swallowed some much needed humble pie.

I’ve had other prideful thoughts. Entering as an older student I thought, “What meaningful life experiences could these ‘kids’ possibly write about in their personal statements?” Again, God exposed my pride. Students come here from all over the world, Brazil, Africa, South Korea, Nebraska, Texas, Tennessee, California…. They have life experiences I can’t even imagine.

The word that’s blinking neon at me from today’s scripture is ‘equally’.

Paul was celebrating that through Jesus the Gentiles are equal heirs in a unified family. The Jews don’t hold any advantage; they are not superior. Jesus was humbling the Jews and I am duly humbled.

That’s not to say I bring nothing to the conversation, just that I am not better as I have secretly thought. God gathered these particular students to learn from and challenge one another.

It’s comforting to know I’m not alone. Even Henri Nouwen, famed theologian, wrote:

Have mercy on me, a sinner. I am impressed by my own spiritual insights. (tweet this)

Have you caught yourself having prideful thoughts?

#SeedsofScripture #HenriNouwen #pride

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Devil Nearly Won

The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you can endure.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT)

The devil nearly won this round.

Gordon-Conwell Seminary offered me a generous $5000/year scholarship. Thank you God, right? I simply had to maintain an acceptable GPA and attend full time - 4 classes spring/fall and 2 over the summer. Even better, 10 was the minimum – I could gobble up as many classes as I wanted at no additional cost.

When applying, I planned to dip my toe into seminary by taking one class per semester. That quickly became two because I could schedule them together and maximize my hour commute. As my excitement over the course descriptions grew, three courses sounded feasible. One more would make me full time. Why not accept the scholarship and dive in?

The scholarship was enticing.

My thoughts wavered daily. The workload would be tough but I’d save $15,000 getting my degree. I investigated weekday housing options to reduce commute time. I consulted friends and attended orientation undecided.

After “Where are you from?” orientation discussions shifted to “Why are you here?”

That was the decisive moment in my battle with the devil’s temptation. God, in the form of fellow students and professors, helped me resist the lure of money.

I’m in seminary to delight in His Word, absorb the knowledge and let it transform my soul. Plus, I hope to maintain my writing and share my discoveries with you. I don’t care about the degree, I want to revel in the process. A frenetic pace would ruin everything.

Today’s score: God 1, devil 0.

God helps us avoid temptation. (tweet this)

How is the devil luring you away from God’s purpose for your life?

#SeedsofScripture #leadusnotintotemptation

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Good Fear of Missing Out

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Romans 12:2 (MSG)

I encourage you to embrace FOMO – the fear of missing out.

FOMO has gotten a bad rap as we over-commit ourselves by not wanting to miss out on the conversation… the experience… the culture. We join clubs, accept invitations, watch television series, and follow social media pages, then complain that we’re exhausted.

The one thing deserving FOMO is God’s best for our lives. (tweet this)

However, one thing deserves our fear – missing out on God’s design for our lives. It is God who brings out the best in us. He created us with a purpose and only through Him can we experience maximum fulfillment. We ought to fear missing it.

I resisted God’s nudge toward seminary for 10 plus years. I was afraid. The student in me knew I’d love it. I longed to learn Greek so I could dig into the original New Testament text. Excitement surfaced whenever I considered studying more deeply.

God was calling, but I made excuses.

My children needed me. I was busy teaching and writing. The commute was an hour without traffic. I was too old.

In reality, I was scared of not measuring up, being graded, being wrong, failing. Heck, it’s the first week of classes and I’m still scared. But I’m stepping out in faith.

Are you allowing God to bring out the best in you?
Is He calling you to something that feels uncomfortable?

#SeedsofScripture #FOMO