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.]

 

Advertisements

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.]

Changing in Response to God’s Love

lifeContinued from here.

The spring and summer of 2013 was one of the best seasons of my life. After 44 years of feeling parched for the tiniest drops of love from others, I was completely saturated in God’s love for me. So many of the rough edges of my personality became smooth in response to experiencing endless love. I had believed that I was “too needy” because of my childhood trauma. I learned that God’s love was more than enough to meet not only my own needs but also the needs of everyone around me. I changed radically over this season, and numerous people commented on it. As Beth Moore had said at the Sacred Secrets Living Proof Live Event, secrets manifest. As I had changed what I did “in the secret” with God, the fruit of my life also changed.

If I could have stayed in this honeymoon phase for the rest of my life, being a Christian on fire for God would have been super easy. However, God wants us chasing Him not for what He gives us but, instead, for who He is. While I try not to compare my own experiences to those of other people, I would not be surprised to learn that experiencing such as long honeymoon phase is unusual. I was particularly broken, so God might have known I needed a particularly long honeymoon to heal enough to get to work. If your honeymoon phase does not last as long as mine did, don’t feel cheated. That was drinking milk, and God wants us moving on to eating solid food as soon as we are ready.

Once God had healed me enough through His unending love to begin eating sold food, God called me to do something I really did not want to do – first to forgive a friend who broke my heart and then to forgive my child abusers. As motivation, God asked if I loved Him more than I hated them. I had declared numerous times that I would never forgive my child abusers, but I chose to believe and obey God by praying for them day after day, week after week, and month after month for well over a year until I realized I had, in fact, forgiven them. I knew I had forgiven them because the pain was gone.

I learned through that experience that God’s ways are always best. He didn’t tell me to forgive because “it’s the right thing to do” – He had me to do it because forgiveness is the path to LIFE! When I declared that I would never forgive, I was declaring my own death sentence. God’s ways are LIFE, and forgiving is the vehicle God uses for healing our emotional wounds. Once I learned this about God, obeying Him because much easier because I learned firsthand that EVERYTHING God commands is to give me life.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing on the beach next to a seagull beside the word, “Life.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

God is Found when We Seek Him Wholeheartedly

drawing_heartContinued from here.

I don’t remember how much time elapsed between my deciding to seek God with my whole heart and finding Him, but it did not take long. The only tangible marker I have is that by June 2013 (three months later), I realized that God had fully healed the suicidal urges that had plagued me every minute of the day since I was a teenager. That came after I was already giddy with God’s joy and peace for a period of time, so I must not have had to wait very long…perhaps a few days or weeks.

Part of seeking God involved choosing to believe Him over my own experience, and that was challenging for me. I needed something to do during my quiet time hour after giving God my list of things I wanted Him to do for me and completing my Bible study homework. Beth Moore had said that God loves me wholeheartedly while I believed I was fundamentally unlovable, so I figured that would be a good starting point. I looked up scriptures that talked about how much God loves me. I then downloaded several Christian songs that focused on how much God loves me and started singing along to those during my quiet time. I started looking myself in the eye in the mirror and saying, “I love you” or “you are lovable,” even though I did not believe it. God used all of these simple acts of obedience to change my heart – to remove my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh.

Meditating on God’s truth that He loves me radically changed everything. I experienced joy and peace as never before. The best way to describe it is that I felt like I had gone through life holding out a Dixie cup, asking people to please spare the tiniest drops of love. Even a few drops could help. Because so few drops ever fell in my cup, I spent my life feelings empty and dry. God poured gallons of love into my cup, overflowing the entire room! For the first time in my life, I actually felt loved, and this came not from someone in skin but from an invisible God who I met with morning after morning. I was so saturated with His love that I had plenty to give to anyone I came into contact with. I had no need to hoard it.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace drawing a large heart. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Making the Decision to Enter “into the Secret” with God

Continued from here.

February 2013 was my breaking point. I decided that if years of therapy and a long-term relationship with God wasn’t going to bring me any more relief from emotional pain than it already had, I wanted out. As I drove home alone from a road trip, I resisted the temptation to drive my car into each body of water I drove over while sobbing to God. If the end result of my hard work of therapy was only going to result in a few days of relief between weeks of emotional misery, I wanted out. If I could be assured that suicide would not result in hell, I would have driven my car off a bridge that day.

I challenged God when I got home – “If You really are bigger than my emotional pain, prove it!” I would do my part by only listening to Christian music and holding every thought captive to Christ for one day. If God didn’t come through, I was ready to end my life. To my complete shock, I experienced joy and peace in such an overwhelming measure that I wondered if my sanity had snapped, and I didn’t even care if it had! I had never experienced a day of such complete joy and peace, and it made me determined to find the secret to having regular access to it.

A few weeks later, in March 2013, I attended Beth Moore’s Living Proof Live event, which has been released as her Sacred Secrets study. The theme of this study is that “secrets manifest.” Whatever is going on “in the secret” of my heart bears fruit in my day-to-day life. Because myself and my pain were the primary focus of my heart, my life was bearing the fruit of bitterness and pain.

Moore shared another way to live. She pointed out that God created me “in the secret” and that before my mother knew she was pregnant with me, it was only God and me “in the secret” of her womb. She talked about how God wants a close, personal, intimate love relationship with me, but I would have to do my part to enter into His presence “in the secret.” I did not fully understand what I needed to do, but I left that event having made the life decision that I would begin the first hour of my day as a tithe of my time to God, no matter what – even if I am sick, or traveling, or have to get up early, or have insomnia. I would seek God first in my day and see what happens.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of Beth Moore’s Sacred Secrets – Small Group Kit: A Living Proof Live Experience. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Armor of God: Shield of Faith

sword_and_shieldContinued from here.

The fourth piece of armor is the shield of faith:

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” ~ Eph. 6:16

Faith is a critical part of the Christian walk, and you are helpless when under spiritual attack if you don’t pick up your shield of faith. Using your shield of faith also pleases God:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. ~ Heb. 11:6

It’s easy to have faith when things are going well. It’s a whole different ballgame when everything in your life is blowing up around you. It’s in those moments – when you are tempted to doubt God’s faithfulness and goodness – that what you actually believe surfaces. If you really believe that God exists and that He will reward you, regardless, of what you are seeing in your life, then you are taking up your shield of faith. You will act based upon what you believe, not upon what you know theoretically when things are going well.

I saw Beth Moore in Greenville, SC a few years ago at a Living Proof Live event. I felt convicted when she said that dreading the future is liking being a walking billboard of God’s unfaithfulness. I knew God is faithful but did not actually believe it, resulting in me advertising God’s unfaithfulness to world. I knew that I had stop but didn’t know how, so I looked for a Bible verse to tie together God’s faithfulness being a shield. I found it in Psalm 91:

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. ~ Ps. 91:4

Whenever I am tempted to dread anything, I recite this passage of scripture and remind myself (my soul) that God was faithful before and will be faithful again. This specific strategy is how I take up my shield of faith, enabling me to continue trusting God as my circumstances try to lure me into doubting Him.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace dressed as a warrior, holding a sword and shield between the words, “Brace yourself.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Seven Fundamental Practices: Praise & Worship

amenContinued from here.

I went through a season in which I did not engage much in praise and worship. I didn’t realize how thirsty I was until I attended a Beth Moore Living Proof Live event. I couldn’t get enough of the singing! I soaked in praise & worship like a parched woman who could finally drink in as much as I wanted.

Praise (focusing on what God has done) and worship (focusing on who God is) are powerful ways to get your focus off Why? and How? and onto Who? Brian Johnson of Bethel Music put it best. I was unable to locate the quote online, but when I heard him speak live at a conference, he said that praise & worship are the anesthesia for the Word’s surgery.

Think about the implications of praise & worship being anesthesia. Why do people drink alcohol, take drugs, overeat, overspend, and overindulge in numerous other ways? They are seeking to anesthetize themselves from pain. That’s why I binged on food for so many years. Binge eating enabled me to “stuff down” the pain so I didn’t have to feel it for a little while. Unfortunately, the pain would always come back, and then I also had to deal with the aftermath of having abused my body

Praise & worship provide us with anesthesia for our pain without the drawbacks! There’s no “downside” to praising & worshiping God. As we choose to focus our thoughts on what God has done and on who He is, we pull our focus off our problems and pain, giving us relief as we draw near to God.

Whenever I am feeling depressed or frustrated, I force myself to engage in praise & worship. While this does not require music, I am musical by nature, so singing praise & worship songs is the best anesthesia for me. I previously shared some of the songs I turn to when I am struggling emotionally. Those songs help me take my mind off my problems and focus on God, which always makes me feel better – not always in the moment, but soon. Remember that we reap what we sow, so planting seeds of praise & worship helps us sow a harvest of joy and peace.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up her hands and saying, ”Amen.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]