How Close Do You Feel to God?

questionI’m leading a new small group through my church, and the question we discussed at a recent meeting was this one:

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the closest you have ever felt to God and 1 being the farthest you have ever felt from God, where would you rank yourself today? Why?”

Before continuing to read, go ahead and answer that question for yourself, being sure to address the “why” part.

Let’s see if I can guess your response. If God recently came through for you on something big, such as by clearly answering a prayer than has been on your heart for a while, you answered in the 8 to 10 range. You also likely answered in the 8 to 10 range if you recently attended a Christian event that gave you a “God high,” such as a Joyce Meyers conference or a Beth Moore Living Proof Live event. Conversely, if you have been suffering for a while and are struggling to hang on, you likely answered in the 1 to 3 range. And then if your life is somewhere in the middle, with some up and some downs, you answered in the 4 to 7 range.

How did I do with my prediction?

You might be rolling your eyes right now because this seems so obvious. When you see God working powerfully in your life, then He must be close, right? And if you have been begging Him for relief for weeks, months, or years with no relief in sight, He must be far away, right? It may surprise you to learn that this perspective is not biblical, and yet most Christians sadly believe the lie that God’s blessings/enjoyable circumstances = God’s nearness and a lack of them = God’s abandonment. Let’s explore together what the Bible has to say about how close or far God is from you and to what degree, if any, your circumstances factor into it.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking quizzical under a question mark. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Trusting God with the Timing of the Miracle

whenContinued from here.

Of course, I wanted this miracle to happen right away. I’ve cried oceans of tears over this area of bondage over the past few decades. I’ve felt deep shame over my brokenness. I’ve cried out about how unfair it was for me to suffer in this area of my life as I have, and I cried double because of the effects my bondage had on the people I love.

If God had waved a magic wand and healed me instantly the first time I asked, I would only have received the healing. Because of His perfect timing, I not only have the healing, but I also have a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God! I have learned to trust Him – that He will carry me through, strengthening me where I’m weak and enabling me to go on when I have lost all strength or even desire to keep going.

In one of her Bible studies, Beth Moore noted that God is not concerned about our comfort. That rubbed me the wrong way when I first heard her say it, but I now better understand what she means. It’s not that God wants us to be uncomfortable – it’s that his primary purpose for us is fruitfulness, not comfort. Pruned vines bear more fruit than vines that have not been pruned, and pruning is uncomfortable! God allows us to endure uncomfortable – and even painful – experiences … sometimes for decades! … in order to make us more fruitful. Yes, I endured much pain in my life in this particular area, but I now have the testimony to bear much fruit for a particular segment of society who suffer in ways that I once suffered. I can look them in the eye and say, “God is GOOD and bigger than this pain,” and they will know I speak truth because I can show them my scars.

If you are in a difficult or impossible situation, don’t give up! Your Heavenly Father is much bigger than your problem. Your slow miracle may be in the works right now. Just because you cannot see the roots forming underground doesn’t mean the seed is not transforming into a beautiful tree.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up a pocket watch and asking, “When?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Musings about Heaven

 

angelIronically, if I subscribed to this blog, I probably wouldn’t bother to read a blog entry on the topic of heaven. I’m not one of those people who has ever been particularly interested in trying to figure out what heaven is like. I figure that it’s going to be great, and I’ll just find out when I get there.

One of the reasons for my attitude re: speculations about heaven is that the aspects of heaven that appeal to me seem to differ from those that other people tend to talk about. For example, I have no interest in inheriting a mansion in heaven unless God also plans to provide a cleaning crew to do the housekeeping. I’ve done enough housekeeping in this lifetime, thank you very much. I also have no interest in sitting around on a cloud playing a harp – sounds pretty boring to me. Now, I can get into the idea of having an intellectual discussion with C.S. Lewis or singing along with Rich Mullins as he leads a worship band, but I’m much more interested in being with God in heaven than reuniting with other people.

To the extent I think about heaven, I think about how AMAZING it will be to worship God. Think about the worship services! I can just see Rich Mullins leading the praise & worship songs as thousands upon thousands of people sing along with the angels and pour adoration out of their souls toward God. I think about how incredible a Beth Moore Living Proof Live or Joyce Meyer event is and imagine the worship experience being exponentially better than even that. Wow!!

I actually don’t care about how many treasures I have stored up in heaven. The only treasure I care about is being in the presence of God Almighty forever. I don’t know if we will have “jobs” in heaven, but if we do, I’d like to be one of God’s priests – the equivalent of a Levites whose inheritance is God. That makes me weird, I know, which is one reason I don’t generally choose to engage in conversations about heaven. However, C.S. Lewis wrote about his own perspective of heaven in his book, The Problem of Pain, and it’s one that excites me. I’ll share his theory in my next blog entry.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace dressed like an angel. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Obedience Met by Spiritual Attack

laptop_computerContinued from here.

Now let’s take this simple concept a step farther. In the case of the friend I shared about yesterday, an expected blessing was withheld. He clearly did not get the flu from doing something nice for someone who didn’t deserve it, but it would have been nice to have been spared the flu. Of course, if he had been spared, he wouldn’t have known this and might still have grumbled about not receiving a blessing. Aren’t we all prone to this type of thinking?

Taking this a step further, let me tell you about what another Christian friend is dealing with. In obedience to God, she volunteered to take on an important role in a new ministry in an area that God has been wooing her to for years. Within hours of making this commitment, she was involved in a serious car accident (not her fault) that rattled her enough to step back from this commitment for the time being. I told her she is clearly dealing with spiritual attack and encouraged her to pray scripture prayers out of Beth Moore’s Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds from the chapter entitled Overcoming the Enemy, which is all about fighting spiritual attack. Thankfully, this friend is a mature enough Christian to recognize this truth and does plan to resume God’s calling.

One of the shocks of entering professional ministry for me was how frequently God allows spiritual attack to impede my progress … at least, that’s my perception when everything I do for God seem to take 3-5 times as long to accomplish as the same tasks when I was working for Corporate America. I miss the days when I would press Ctrl + P on my computer, and a document would print. That was my experience for decades in Corporate America. I entered professional ministry, and suddenly the printer repeatedly goes offline … or the new printer (still under warranty!!) has not one but TWO drums break … or the wireless printing feature that always worked well becomes so erratic that I need to buy a wire to ensure the printer will actually receive the print command. I took a pay cut (literally earning half the hourly rate) to obey God, and it takes 15 minutes to print out a one-page donor receipt letter?? Really??

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking frustrated while typing on a laptop computer. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Arming Yourself with Applicable Scripture

Continued from here.

Note that the method I just walked you through for holding every thought captive to Christ is the same one that Jesus himself used when he was tempted. He did not base his responses on how he felt. After all, he was very hungry when he was tempted to turn stones into bread. Instead, he examined the temptation as it measured up to Scripture and found it lacking. Each time, He chose to believe what God had to say on the subject over what he felt. That’s how he managed to live a sinless life, and the Bible recorded how he did it so we would have a model to follow.

Now that you know how to fight back, you need to actually do it, and that starts by arming yourself with Scripture that is applicable to your situation. What types of temptations do you deal with? If it’s feeling unloved or worthless, you can start with the three passages I shared in my last blog entry. You can use a concordance or Biblegateway.com to help you find scripture that is applicable to your situation.

I strongly recommend Beth Moore’s book,Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds, because Moore has already done this work for you. Do you struggle with feeling rejected? Moore has a chapter filled with Bible verses that tell you that God accepts you. Are you grieving loss? She includes a chapter on God’s comfort as you mourn. There’s a chapter for eating disorders, sexual struggles, guilt, and many other topics that people struggle with. I pray scriptures out of this book every morning and strongly recommend you do the same, particularly if you find yourself repeatedly being derailed by painful feelings and emotions.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Quiet Time Component #2: Studying God’s Word

Continued from here.

A second component of quiet time that Lysa TerKeurst mentioned in a video for her Bible study, Finding I AM: How Jesus Fully Satisfies the Cry of Your Heart, is studying God’s Word. If you want to get to know God, you need to learn more about Him – how He acts and reacts, what matters to Him, and what He expects from us. All of this information is available to you in the Bible.

God’s ways are counter-cultural, and He does not change. Everything that you allow into your mind shapes how you think. If you don’t spend lots of time studying God’s Word, then the culture will shape the way you think, which will lead you farther away from God. Conversely, filling your mind with Scripture – not only reading it but also studying it and meditating on it – will change the way you think to better align with how God thinks.

In addition, Joyce Meyer frequently points out on her television show, Enjoying Everyday Life, that the Bible is like medicine. For example, let’s say I struggle with anger. I need to meditate on passage of Scripture that teach me how to deal with anger – to pray for my enemies and forgive them. Reading those passages is not enough – I need to actually DO them. If anger is my issue, then meditating on passages re: prosperity isn’t going to heal this area of my life. That would be like putting a Band-Aid On my head instead of taking an aspirin for a headache.

I find Beth Moore’s book, Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds, to be particularly helpful with this. For example, if I am struggling with feeling rejected, I will pray scripture prayers out of the chapter entitled Overcoming Feelings of Rejection. As I pray God’s Word about how He views the situation, I reprogram my mind to agree with God’s perspective. I cannot emphasize enough how powerful this has been in my personal life and personal spiritual journey.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Dream Small

Lately, I have been meditating on Josh Wilson’s song, Dream Small.

He packs a lot of punch into this short song, and it’s a lesson the Church needs to learn: our small acts of kindness matter. Some Christians err on the side of dismissing the value of small acts because they are chasing the bigger ones. They want to be the next Billy Graham or Beth Moore, but they don’t appreciate that God likely started both out doing small things that added up to big things. In his book Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny, Tony Evans says that when people fresh out of seminary ask him what they need to do to pastor a megachurch like his, he tells them to go minister in a prison, which surprises them. Ministering in a prison is not going to get someone the name recognition to be invited to pastor a megachurch. However, it’s exactly where God can teach a new pastor through small things how to prepare for bigger things.

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum, where I languished for decades: I was too focused on what I wanted God and other people to do FOR ME to think about what small acts of kindness I could be doing for them. That’s a sign of spiritual immaturity because the heart of Christianity is humility – focusing on God and other people while removing the focus from yourself. I was such an emotionally-wounded Christian that I couldn’t remove my focus from myself long enough to see the many needs of the people around me, many of which were small needs that I could have easily met had I not been so self-focused.

This week, we are going to focus on the value of “dreaming small,” as Josh Wilson puts it, which is what Jesus did. As an example, his small act of publicly acknowledging the Samaritan woman led the many Samaritans to become believers (John 1:1-42). Simply speaking publicly to this woman was a small act on Jesus’ part, but it had a profound effect on her – a woman who was publicly disgraced and shunned by her community. A small act of kindness by Jesus led to the salvation of many in the same community that shunned the woman. As Josh Wilson says, “five loaves and two fish can feed them all, so dream small.”

To be continued…

[Graphic: Link to Josh Wilson’s video, Dream Small. Courtesy YouTube.]