Mind the Gap

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If you ever travel to London, you’ll need to remember two key safety rules.

  1. When crossing the street: The traffic nearest you is coming from your right.
  2. As you step out of the underground train (or The Tube): Mind the gap.

“Mind the gap” is a phrase I hope will stick in your brain over the coming weeks. Here’s why. A few blog posts back, I quoted Matthew Kelly (paraphrased as accurately as I could remember) saying, “If I just lived out one Gospel reading 100%, my life would change radically. I need to work on the gap between that life and the life I am living now.”

Ah, that gap. We all face it. This morning I received news that made me really angry. I want to lash out, to use my wicked tongue to strike at those who have hurt me by making a decision with which I do not agree. But…probably not what Jesus would do.

We need to be fully schooled in salvation by grace, but we also need to stay fully aware of the gap. Are we measuring ourselves against the characters we see on TV? The characters that live down the street? Maybe the ones in our own family? Have we found someone, somewhere, who makes us look good by comparison?  Comparison is always a losing game, except when we compare ourselves to Christ. He is our model.

Romans 8:29 tells us God’s plan is for us to be conformed to the image of his Son. We are not there yet! The gap is where we pray for our lives to be transformed, but transformation can be a painful process. Sometimes we have to give up favorite habits or adopt new ones we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves. (Sometimes we have to keep our mouths shut and pray for those who have made us mad!) As with all things, this will only happen by the power of God, and is reason enough for us to begin each day with prayer. Sometimes I like to pray through song. I hope you’ll join me in listening to this musical prayer by Eddie Espinosa and continue to ask our Lord to help you mind the gap. Change My Heart, Oh God

 

 

Facing the Facts

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In Bible times, once an offering was made, the transaction was final. No Israelite ever ran back up to the altar and snatched his gift away. As Christians, though, sometimes we make a gift of ourselves to God and then, when we don’t notice a change in the way we feel, we “take ourselves back,” so to speak. The mental progression might look something like this:

  • First, newly aware of the Lord who loves us, or of some matter where he is asking us to surrender our will, we falls to our knees and ask God to take over, solemnly giving our lives to the Lord.
  • Then, not long afterward, we realizes that we don’t really feel much different.
  • Thus, we conclude that we never really surrendered ourselves to God. Despondent, we wonder if we should try again or give up altogether.

Human nature tends to put feeling first and faith second, with facts trailing third. God’s way is just the opposite: fact first, faith second and feeling last of all. Sometimes we have to accept by faith that which we can’t yet feel.

But here is the wonderful fact of the matter: We can be confident that if we ask anything according to God’s will, he hears us, and we will have what we ask of him (1 John 5:14b-15). Is it his will that we surrender to him, that we put him in charge of our lives? Of course. Does he want to mold us and use us to accomplish his will? Absolutely. So, according to the facts of God’s word, we can be sure that when we ask God to take over, he hears us and agrees to our request.

Hannah Whitall Smith, whose words infuse this writing, gave this advice about daily surrender. “Ask the Holy Spirit to show you all that is contrary to him, either in your heart or in your life. If he brings anything to mind, give it to the Lord immediately and say in reference to it, ‘Your will be done.’ If he shows you nothing, then you must believe that there is nothing and must conclude that you have given him all. You may find it helpful to pray this prayer daily or even many times a day. ‘Lord, I am yours; I yield myself up entirely to you, and I believe that you accept me. I leave myself with you. Work in me all the good pleasure of your will, and I will trust you.’”

The fact: God wants us to give him control of our lives.

The faith: When we ask him to take over, we believe he accepts the gift of ourselves.

And as for the feeling? We can stand on God’s promises and wait for that to come later.

Oxygen Masks

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Have you ever flown on a plane and actually listened to the safety announcement the attendants give before takeoff? When they came to the part about the oxygen masks, what did they tell you to do first? That’s right, put yours on.

Why? So you could save yourself first? Never mind anyone else sitting in your row? No! Because if you run out of oxygen you can’t help the ones you love. That’s true in life, too. If you run out of oxygen, you won’t be much help to anyone else.

So, we have to learn to be kind to ourselves. I’m not saying we should spend our days binging on chocolate and videos. In fact, the very opposite is true. Eating junk wears us down. Watching junk wears us down. Most of us have to fight against our very human desire to be lazy.

But, we also have to fight against our very human desire to be perfect, or at least to look to those around us like someone who has it all together. That habit will wear us out.

We don’t need to have perfect hair, perfect houses, perfect bank accounts and perfect kids. In fact, we can’t ever attain and sustain such things.

What we do need is the sense to say no to unreasonable goals and yes to our Lord’s loving guidance.

So, take a deep breath. No really, do it with me right now. Breathe in….Breathe out.

Now, won’t you join me in making this simple prayer a part of your life? “Lord, please show me what you want me to change today and every day. Amen.

You know, the Lord always equips you for whatever he asks you to do. He will not leave you hanging. Now that you’ve asked him to show you what to change, if he shows you something, then follow his leading. But when he doesn’t show you anything, rest in the assurance that God is making you into exactly the person he wants you to be, and he is the one in control of that process. If you follow his plan, you will have plenty of oxygen!

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:13 NLT

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1 Corinthians 13 Expanded Bible (EXB)

Love Is the Greatest Gift

13 I may speak in ·different languages [L tongues; 12:10, 29, 30] of people or even angels. But if I do not have love, I am only a ·noisy [resounding] ·bell [gong] or a ·crashing [clanging] cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy. I may understand all ·the secret things of God [L mysteries] and have all knowledge, and I may have faith so great I can move mountains. But even with all these things, if I do not have love, then I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and I may even give my body ·as an offering to be burned [L to be burned].[a] But I gain nothing if I do not have love.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not ·jealous [envious], it does not brag, and it is not ·proud [arrogant; conceited; puffed up]. Love is not ·rude [disrespectful], is not ·selfish [self-serving], and ·does not get upset with others [is not easily provoked/angered]. Love does not ·count up [keep a record of] wrongs that have been done. Love ·takes no pleasure [does not rejoice] in ·evil [wrongdoing; injustice] but rejoices over the truth. Love ·patiently accepts all things [T bears all things; or always protects], ·always trusts [T believes all things], ·always hopes [T hopes all things], and ·always endures [T endures all things].

Love never ·ends [fails; falls short]. There are gifts of prophecy, but they will ·be ended [cease; pass away]. There are gifts of ·speaking in different languages [or ecstatic utterance; L tongues], but those gifts will ·stop [cease; fall silent]. There is the gift of knowledge, but it will ·come to an end [pass away; be set aside]. ·The reason is that [For] ·our knowledge and our ability to prophesy are not perfect [L we know in part/imperfectly and we prophesy in part/incompletely]. 10 But when ·perfection [the perfect; completeness; wholeness] comes, the ·things that are not perfect [partial] will ·end [pass away; be set aside]. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I ·stopped [set aside] those childish ways. 12 ·It is the same with us [L For…]. Now we see ·a dim reflection [obscurely; or indirectly], ·as if we were looking into a mirror [T through a glass darkly], but then we shall see ·clearly [L face to face]. Now I know only a part, but then I will know fully, as ·God has known me [L I am fully known]. 13 So these three things ·continue forever [endure; remain]: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.

Footnotes:

  1. 1 Corinthians 13:3 give… burned Other Greek copies read “hand over my body in order that I may brag.”The Expanded Bible, Copyright © 2011 Thomas Nelson Inc. All rights reserved.
  2. Expanded Bible (EXB)

Wiggle Worms

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Have you ever tried to dress a squirming baby? Not an easy task! A dozen pounds of infant energy can nearly drive any one of us crazy. Whether the little wiggler is trying to help or hinder, all you really want that child to do is hold still, relax and let you do your job.

I sometimes wonder if that’s how the Lord feels as we go about life, insistent upon having our own way.

On the other hand, dressing a sleeping infant is a piece of cake. Easiest of all, perhaps, is the dressing of an obedient child, one who lets go of all control and acts according to our instructions. “Here dear, put your arm through this hole. Now put your head through here and pull this down…” Jesus asked us to become as little children, obeying his every direction, free from concern as to whether or not he’s chosen the right path for us. (Because, of course, he has.)

Christ’s words in Matthew 6:25 are quite explicit. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.”

Perhaps our daily prayer should be, “Lord, enable us to live this day so as to please you. Give us insight to discover your will. Guide us as to our every endeavor, our every choice. May each day, each hour, be one in which we consciously do your bidding and follow you wholly.” Or, said more simply, “Okay, God, it’s all yours. You can have my life and do whatever you want with it. You can have my health, my reputation, my possessions, my family, and everything else that concerns me. I’ll keep working, but I’m done worrying.”

If we yield to him in every situation, then the responsibility for every outcome is his. And he can handle it all just fine. The simplest life lived in devotion to Christ is filled with spiritual adventure, but it all comes back to surrender. Today is the day to start surrendering like a sleeping baby!

Helpfully Helpless*

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I once visited a residential facility for mentally disabled children. They were going through weight lifting exercises at the time. It was difficult for many of them to manage their movements. They had enough strength, but no skill to use that strength. They made all sorts of awkward movements. Now and then, just by chance, they’d move in harmony with the music and the teacher’s directions, but for the most part they were out of sync.

I noticed one little girl, however, whose movements were perfect. She never missed a beat. She had no more strength than the others. In fact, she had no strength at all. She couldn’t even close her hands over the weights, let alone lift her arms. But a teacher was standing behind her, doing all the moving for her. The young girl simply yielded her arms as instruments to the one in control. He knew how to go through those exercises perfectly, because he had planned them himself.

The child did nothing but place herself into the teacher’s hands, and he did it all. His skill, not hers, was all that was needed to make the movements right. Her utter weakness, in fact, was the very reason for her success.

This is a striking picture of our Christian life. No wonder Paul was able to say, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Who wouldn’t gladly be weak and helpless so that the Lord Jesus could find no hindrance to the perfect working of his mighty power in and through us?

The most effective workers I know are those who don’t feel any care or anxiety about their work. Instead, they commit it all to their Lord, asking him to guide them moment by moment with regard to their task. They trust him implicitly for each moment’s needed supplies of wisdom and strength. To look at them, you’d almost think they were too free from care. But when you’ve seen the beauty and the power of a life yielded up to the Lord’s working, you begin to wonder how any of his workers ever dares to carry burdens or assume responsibilities which our Lord alone is able to bear.

Headed off to serve today? May you be helpfully helpless!

*(Based on a story by Hannah Whitall Smith)

Give Up

220px-Hannah_Whitall_SmithSuppose you became very ill, went to a renowned physician, and said, “Please help me! I’ll do exactly as you say as long as your directions make sense to me. Sometimes, though, I’ll choose to follow my own advice.” He would probably refuse, saying, “I can’t do anything for you unless you put your whole case entirely into my hands, obeying my directions implicitly.”

How much more do we need to put our lives completely into the hands of God, following his directions without reserve! This sort of surrender boils down to saying, under all circumstances and with regard to every act, “Your will be done. I give up my own will in the matter.”

If you don’t have a relationship with the Lord, such a degree of obedience may look difficult or even frightening. But to those who know him, it is a happy and restful choice.

  • He is your Father.
  • He loves you.
  • He knows what is best for you, and it is in his power to take the very best care of you.

Suppose you were the father of a young son who came to you and said, “I have made up my mind. I am always going to obey you and do whatever you think best.” How would you feel? Would you say to yourself, “Aha, now I can make my little one miserable?” Of course not! You’d fill his life with all that was best for him. Yet we are fallible in our choices and limited in our powers. Surely we ought to have more confidence in saying, “Your will be done,” to our heavenly Father than any child could have in saying it to us.

Step one toward a life of peace is surrender. Step two is faith, faith that you have a Savior from the power of sin, faith that he is now your deliverer and Lord, and faith that he wants the best for you this very day. A happy life of trust and peace is a gift from God, but is of no benefit unless we recognized and use it. Here are two ways to lay hold of the gift we have been offered.

  • Say these words, “Jesus saves me now!” with the conviction that the Lord Jesus does the work of saving us in every moment.
  • Then pray this prayer, “Lord Jesus, I believe you deliver me from all the care and unrest of my life. I believe you are stronger than sin and can keep me from falling. I trust you to keep me. I give myself to you, holding nothing back, body soul and spirit. Fashion me into anything your love and wisdom chooses. I trust you completely now.”

In short, trust and obey for there’s no other way…

(This entry is a condensed version of the fourth chapter of The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith.)