Satisfyingly Quiet

I love writing, it’s why I blog multiple times a week on several blogs and write newsletters and a devotional each week (I also happen to love to read both fiction and non-fiction, but one doesn’t necessarily relate to/influence the other). Sometimes when I sit down I’ve got something really specific on my mind or heart to write about, other times I’m sparked by something I read in an email or saw in the news, other times I’m sharing about something I saw out and about in the world, sometimes I write about something seasonal that I probably write about every year in one way or another.

Monday when I sat down to write this blog post I had a couple of ideas to write about but I kept getting stuck. I’m sure if you ask any author even those who are extremely prolific with book writing/publishing and put out several books a year can tell you that sometimes they sit down and either have a block or decide that everything they’ve written so far is better off deleted than shared. Sometimes like in any other aspect of life you decide that you’ve given it your best effort and accept it as it is, or decide that it’s going to fulfill the bridge purpose it has (i.e. it bridges between two books/posts/topics) because not doing something is not an option or you’re being too picky on yourself.

But as I was reflecting on what to write today I came back to something we’ve taken a bit of a step back from in recent days/weeks, and that’s quiet time. We sure had a lot of it in the earlier months of the year, but now we’ve gotten back into some social gatherings and the busyness that comes with autumn and school and I don’t think we’re stopping to reflect and listen and be peaceful and just appreciate being alive like we did several months ago. We’ve scaled back and made changes that can benefit us long term, but I don’t think we should lose the appreciation for life or the quiet moments that we added to our lives through the challenges of this year.

Yes, we like when we talk to God and when He talks with us. Yes, we like when we’re able to gather together, or at the very least chat on the phone or by video chat. But there’s something fulfilling and satisfying about being quiet and just hearing nature or being alone with your own thoughts or just sitting and meditating with God. So this week as you make plans (however tentative they may be) for the rest of the month and maybe the rest of the year, I encourage you to plan in some quiet time each day, or at least each week to give yourself time and space mentally and physically to just be.

God is Working Everywhere

One of the most well known books in the world is the Bible. Even if you don’t believe it or read it, you’ve probably heard of it. It’s one of the best opportunities to learn about the life and times of people who lived many years ago. It gives a much more personal look into people’s lives and decisions and interactions than most history books do with modern history. It also helps us understand on a very human level how God interacts with people, how much He cares about people, and how much He invests in people-often without their knowing until much later.

We don’t always know how God’s movements in our life will impact our lives, let alone someone many years from now. You can think about the story of Ruth for example, and how she could see God working in her life even though there were some tragedies, but she had no clue about being part of Jesus’ genealogy and all the other people who were born through her family line and God used and blessed before and after Jesus.

Ruth isn’t an isolated example, she’s a representation of all of us. We don’t know how that comment on social media will impact someone’s life, we don’t know the impact many years down the road that our donation to a non profit or charity will make, we don’t know how God wants to use the blog post we write, we don’t know exactly the benefit someone else will get because we didn’t take the last of an item, we don’t know how our prayer for/about one person will help the life of another we’ll never meet.

What we do know is that we have to trust God, do our best to follow the guidance He’s given us, and make choices believing that they may have an impact on someone else’s life. We should take note when we do see God working and let those be reminders and encouragements to keep on doing what we’ve been doing, but we don’t know how God is going to use each moment, or even if He will, or the other trillions of things He’s working on right now besides us and what’s going on in our lives. How are you seeing God working?

“God is doing 100 things in your life. You might be aware of three of them.” John Piper

A Little Spice to Life

You’ve probably heard the saying “variety is the spice of life,” and I believe there’s a lot of truth in that statement. I’ve always been someone who enjoys a variety of things (from dogs to TV to foods to people to places), but equally important with variety in that statement is the mention of spice. I know some people aren’t fans of spicy foods, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a life, food, job, relationship with vitality, personality, passion and flavor. I don’t believe life should be dull and uniform, I believe that we’ve been created to enjoy life and live a creative, colorful and meaningful life.

I’ve been sharing about this in recent weeks in my devotional, starting with sharing in May about the book of Ecclesiastes and how God would not have placed or allowed to be created all of the pleasurable aspects that we enjoy if we were not to enjoy them. This past week I shared about mornings, and while I’m not a morning person, I know that each one is different in the different ways the sun rises and colors the sky to the animals that move around to the flowers or plants that are growing and changing. God’s not a boring God, and in case you need more evidence, He created each of us different! That’s a huge challenge and investment right there and takes lots of creativity (over 100 billion individuals).

It can be easy to get wrapped up in your own little world and miss what’s going on around you. For example, I know that there’s a lot more that goes on throughout the day on the street I live on now that it’s summer and I’m outside to see it, than I could predict just from hearing the cars go by. But you also miss out on lots of God’s little blessings and signs that He has for you when you’re too focused on keeping your life status quo and not open to a little spice and variety. What’s the point of asking God for stuff if we’re not open and looking for it?

So this week I encourage you to add a little spice to your life and to be open to something new and different and whatever blessings God wants to send your way. I think you’ll be blessed and amazed with all that goes on around you that God has a hand in that you don’t know about, and those little blessings might be exactly what you need to give you the strength to navigate the challenges and changes that we’re going through right now.

How Do You Hear From God?

I think one of the biggest questions, challenges, concerns, or struggles people have when it comes to their faith, or any type of spiritual beliefs in general, has to do with hearing from God. If you ask someone of faith they will tell you that God has certainly had a hand in their lives, or that they can see God’s leading.
And yes, we’re able to pray directly to Him, we don’t have to go through an intermediary like a pastor or priest which makes it a lot more comfortable and encourages us to do it more often.

But let’s face it, saying prayers to God is not often the same as sitting down to have coffee with someone and having an actual conversation where there’s listening and speaking on both sides of the table. I say that it is rarely like that because throughout spiritual history there have been people who have spoken directly with God like Enoch, Samuel, Solomon, Jonah, and Saul/Paul from the Bible. And then there are people from more recent history who also had a close relationship and heard from God like Smith Wigglesworth, Mother Teresa, and Billy Graham, just to name a few of the more well-known people.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with God guiding us through means other than words, I will always take that over nothing at all, but there’s something so much more personal, powerful, intimate and real about hearing actual words. It’s kind of like how you can connect with someone on social media and message back and forth, but unless you meet them in person or talk on the phone/skype, you’re not really positive they’re a real person or who they say they are.

I don’t think it’s impossible to actually talk with/hear from God, and since God is all powerful He’s certainly able to talk with anyone (or everyone) at any time. But most of us don’t take the time to develop the relationship with Him that would encourage Him to speak directly to us in that way (although He certainly can speak to you that way to get your attention as He did Paul/Saul who He didn’t have a relationship with).  And while He could speak to us all with words, it might make Him seem less divine or people would feel like they’re more equal with Him, which wouldn’t be a good thing.

So what do you do if you want to hear (more) from God? Read your Bible, make time to pray and talk with God on a very regular basis, and be open to His leading and the changes of your plans. God may choose to speak words through someone else that you need to hear, He may make your path obvious in another way, He may touch your heart with an impression or direction, and He may speak to you directly with words. I believe God speaks today, and He wants to speak to each of us, it’s a question of whether we are truly listening or not.

Whispers from God

I’ve been thinking about relationships a lot, and especially about the relationship that we have with God. With each verse in the Bible I read I’m reminded of how incredible He is and how little we really understand Him. Yes, we can simplify it and wrap it in a nice package and say God is love, grace, forgiveness and salvation, but the list of characteristics could extend indefinitely, and each of us would come up with a different list of who God is to them.

The Bible gives us an in-depth look into the lives of dozens of people in different life situations and stages of their relationship with God, one of which is Elijah. Elijah was a prophet in the Old Testament, who connected God and people of all walks of life from kings to single mothers. He didn’t die of anything traditional, instead God took him away when it was his time (2 Kings 2). During his ministry he did everything from raising the dead, and calling down fire to defeat false prophets in an epic showdown.

One of the special things about the Bible is that it doesn’t just show the stories of people, it shows personal interactions between people and God. Elijah experienced a rather special supernatural event and communication from God while he was taking a bit of a sabbatical. He was feeling discouraged as many of us do, especially as we see the world moving around us and some of the terrible things that go on. During that time of rest and prayer God stopped by to speak with him and find out what he was doing, because it looked an awful lot like Elijah was doing more hiding than renewing (which he admitted he was).

So God decides to put on a bit of a show for Elijah, and sends a windstorm, earthquake and fire his way. 1 Kings 19 makes it clear that although God sent those natural events his way, God wasn’t actually in them. 1 Kings 19:12b says “And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.” And in that whisper God’s presence arrived and spoke with Elijah, reassuring and encouraging him and sending him back to the mission field.

God made a point during this interaction with Elijah to show that He was more than capable of showing up in big and powerful ways, but that what was most needed, and He was capable of doing, was showing up in a still small voice. The same is true for our lives, God can show up in big and powerful ways, but He can also show up in the moments of quiet. I think God tends to show up in the moments we’re able to be quiet and pause more often because the world we live in is focused on the big and the bold (think number of likes on social media, going viral, being a celebrity etc.), so rather than attempt to compete with that or try to one-up everyone else trying to be on top, He chooses to show up in the moments we intentionally make time for Him.

I encourage you to make time regularly in your schedule to stop and spend time with God. Maybe that means going to a church that’s open for quiet prayer during the day and making that your lunch break, or starting a time of meditation after you put the kids to bed, or using the time that you spend alone in your car to talk with God (not ideal, but better than nothing). The more you make time for God, the healthier your relationship will be and the more you’ll hear from Him through prompts, peace and maybe even words.

Living and Growing

I believe that God has created us with the ability to grow. It’s fairly evident from the fact that while we may be born fully formed almost none of us are born the size we become, or with the abilities and capabilities we grow into. We should work each day on growing more closely into the person that God has created us to be, physically, mentally and spiritually. Very few of us ever stop growing in one way or another, because if we were to stop growing we would become perfect and probably wouldn’t be here on earth anymore. So yes, life is a journey, with many stops along the way, and one destination that we hope to reach some day: heaven. Until that point we keep growing.

But life is about so much more than just growing, because if we only focus on the growth we’ll miss out on things that go on around us or things we could be part of that may not help with our personal growth, but rather the growth, health or happiness of someone else. Which means that as much as we need to focus on growing, we also have to stay present in what’s going on now.

God is a God of yesterday, today and tomorrow. He knows our beginnings and our ends, our ups and downs, our struggles and victories, our potential and our failings. He knows who He created us to be for what’s going on in our lives and in the world now as well as what’s to come in the future. Working on focusing on and living in the now is not only important to what’s going on now, but also sets us up for what the future holds. The lessons we learn, even if they aren’t seemingly relevant today, may have great impact on us in the future.

If you remember the story of Samuel in the Old Testament, his life started off because God fulfilled a prayer request of his mother, and his life really took off when he accepted and listened to the voice of God one night as a young man.  You may have an equally non-traditional upbringing or it may have been very ordinary, but your beginning doesn’t have to dictate your present or your future, the lessons you learn from the past, how you live today, and what you do with your future are all up to you.  What will you do with the life God has given you both today and in the days to come?

A Choice of Burdens

I read a quote recently that I think really lines up well with the Biblical passage of Matthew 11:28-30 but also sheds light on it. Let’s start with the Bible passage:

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.””

It’s a very well-known passage, one that is repeated and turned to during times of stress, fear, confusion, challenge and weakness, maybe one you yourself have said or read recently.  It’s one that we turn to because Jesus is clearly saying that although there will be burdens in life He is here to help us with them. Which is where the quote I mentioned comes in:

“It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it.” Lou Holtz

It’s very rare in life that we truly are out of option or that we have no choices. Typically we just can’t think of them or don’t like the ones that we can think of or see. But both the passage and the quote remind us to rethink that and be encouraged that the burden we bear doesn’t have to be the burden we see it as, and that there are options and hope, if only we would open our eyes.

Today I would encourage you to not only bring your current situations to God in prayer, but also take the time to really do your research and consider your options.  You’re only out of options and hope if you believe it is so or stop looking.  Maybe the one you’ve been avoiding is the answer.  Maybe it’s something you haven’t heard of before.  Maybe it’s something a friend has heard about and would be able to share with you if you share your burden with them.  Maybe today will be the day that brings hope back into your life.  But even if it isn’t, I know that God has everything under control and has a plan for everything, and He is here to carry your burdens with you.

Asking for Wisdom

Something that’s challenging for some of us is asking for help. Sometimes we know we need the help and ask for it but then try to place all kinds of conditions and limitations on the help or micromanage the person or people that we have helping us. All of that quickly turns into frustration for everyone involved, because the helper doesn’t feel as though they’re appreciated or able to truly help and the person who needs help gets frustrated by things not getting done to their limiting requirements.

I recently read a Bible verse that spoke to the topic of asking for help, James 1:5: “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

First and foremost this verses say that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or a failure or bad, it means you recognize you’re in too deep, out of your areas of expertise, struggling, overwhelmed or just unsure. You don’t have to be or know everything to be an amazing person, the person God created you to be.

Second, this verse doesn’t say how God will respond, only that He will respond. He may send you an article, video, social media post, radio show, bit of inspiration, random stranger or any of other countless answers. Sometimes it will be the wisdom you need to take the next step, other times it will be a revelation of several steps, sometimes it will be a firm no, and other times it may just be the reassurance that God is going with you on the path you’ve chosen.

This week I would encourage you to ask for help and release some of the rules, limits, pressures and requirements you may put on that help or the answer.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the way that God and people answer and support you.

Signs from God

Lately I’ve been thinking about signs, maybe you have too. There’s the commercial on TV right now about signs that people are seeing that seem to very clearly say that they should quit cable, and the commercial starts with someone wishing there was a sign for them regarding this decision they have to make. Sometimes I think we ask for those signs, not seeing the signs that are already in our lives and hearts. There are a couple of really clear signs in the Bible that I wanted to share about, signs that remind us of some important truths about life and faith.

One of the earliest signs is the sign of the rainbow. This is a sign God places in the sky from time to time to reaffirm the commitment and promise He made to Noah that He would never destroy the earth with a flood again.

The second sign to remember in the Bible is the sign of the cross. The cross is a sign of God’s love, a sign that He doesn’t give up on us and is willing to sacrifice what’s near and dear to Him for us.

While we can put the sign of the rainbow in our lives by creating pictures of it, there’s something special about seeing it appear in the sky without any influence from us. The cross isn’t something that often appears in nature like this, and we’re given the task of reminding ourselves and each other of that gift of love.

The third is a sign we see present throughout the Bible, and that’s the sign of dreams.  There are quite a few examples of dreams from Jacob to Joseph to Solomon to Daniel to Joseph (Jesus’ father).  We know from research today that there are many things that can cause you to dream, from what you eat to what you watch and listen to, but one of the things that has always been able to cause dreams is God.  It’s one of the trickier signs to watch for, but still one to learn from.

So this week as you go about your journey look for the signs that God puts in your path, signs that show He’s walking the path with you and has good plans for your life.

Exploring God

This month one of the things we’re talking about is the topic of exploring. I think it’s important for us to spend time exploring as part of our lives, I don’t think it’s healthy for us to stay in our little bubbles and not consider the other people and parts of the world that surround us. I don’t think that God wants us to stay in our little bubbles either, otherwise we won’t be able to share the Good News with the world. But the more I explore the world, the more I hear, the more people I meet, the more I learn that there are some things that don’t change and are universal around the world. These are things like family, enjoying sunshine, wanting to be loved, the power of love, the challenge and power of communication, and the joy of being a child are universal.

Something else that won’t change no matter where you go or what you do is God. That’s not something that I say because it sounds good or just something I believe, it’s something God has committed to. Malachi 3:6 says “I am the Lord, and I do not change…” With that verse in mind we can go through the whole Bible and explore who God is and get to know Him, knowing that what the Bible shares about Him is true and hasn’t changed. Yes, there are things that have changed from when the Bible was written to today with regard to culture/society, but that’s not the case with God. God has remained the same and that’s a good thing.

This week I would encourage you to explore the Bible on who God is and take time to explore your relationship with Him in a new way. Maybe it’s starting a lunch time devotional time or taking walks in the woods or parks to talk with God (without listening to something on your phone/audio device), maybe it’s memorizing a verse or delving into a particular aspect of who He is as the Bible shares, or maybe it’s joining a Facebook group or local group to do a devotional each week. What will you do to deepen and explore your relationship with God this week?