Bother to Obey?

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Why, when it can be so hard, do we bother to obey the Lord? This (with a good bit of editing and updating) is the answer Hannah Whitall Smith gave over 100 years ago:

“When we choose obedience, we bring joy to our Lord as well. Our deep love for him is perfectly reasonable, but the fact that he loves us so deeply is truly amazing! What does ‘loving him back’ look like? For one thing, it looks like obedience. Jesus told his disciples that the first and greatest commandment is to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ (Mark 12:30). That commandment leads us to ask ourselves:

  • Will we make him our greatest love?
  • Will we follow him, even when there’s no apparent reward, even if following him leads to a life of separateness or suffering?
  • Will we let him have complete control of all we are and all we have?
  • And what if our Christian friends don’t agree with our level of devotion?

“Say, ‘Yes, Lord, yes!’ to each of these questions. Pour out all your devotion on our Lord. Give him your enthusiastic surrender, even if it upsets some of the more moderate Christians around you. Why should you care if some don’t understand your choice? An intimate friendship with Christ is both your duty and your joy. When Christ makes his ways known to us, we have the great privilege of walking in them.

“Your whole-hearted devotion is precious to the Lord. Perhaps others don’t approve, but he does, and that’s enough. Don’t hold back. Lay your whole life open to him and say each morning, ‘Lord, help me to live this day in a way that pleases you. Give me spiritual insight to discover your will. Guide my every step.’ Don’t let a day, or even an hour, go by in which you aren’t consciously following him.”

I’ve loved Hannah’s words for years. They challenge and console me. How do they strike you today?

 

Photo by Jon Tyson via Unsplash.com

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Relinquishment and Surprise

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Catherine Marshall wrote about relinquishing our desires through prayer. You can read more about my experience with that prayer here or order her terrific book on prayer here.

Change invariably demands some degree of relinquishment, and so I find myself in another chapter of that challenge. Am I happy to be living in a new city? You bet. Do I question the rather monumental changes Steve and I have made in the last several months? Not at all. But our enemy always seeks to rob us of our joy and of the best God has for us by convincing us to reject the challenge of change. Perhaps that’s the reason he warned Lot and his family not to look back as they fled to the mountains. (Or, for you Star Wars fans, it’s probably why Shmi instructed Anakin with the simple words, “Don’t look back.”)

  • When we cling desperately to the old, we are not free to embrace the new.
  • When we pray with the attitude of a demanding child, we are out of line and rarely at peace.
  • When we relinquish our own agendas, we are able to accept the times when God says “no” or wait” or “this instead.” Then, trusting his grace, we are ready to be delighted by the gifts he gives and the plans he sets out for us.

We can pray in faith and, at the same time, be willing for God in his wisdom to refuse our requests. Then, when God does say yes, that gift is all the sweeter.

Relinquishment to God’s will certainly doesn’t cause us to stop praying. On the contrary, as we become closer to our Lord, every circumstance is wrapped in prayer as we express our needs and look for his provision. There are miracles to be found in the mundane affairs of daily life if we will only watch for them. More about that next week. In the meantime, look forward! Let go of anything you feel the Holy Spirit is asking you to relinquish. And may that choice give you rest!

Shrek the Sheep

 

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You’ve probably seen the movies, may even have read the book, but have you heard about the sheep? Yes, Shrek is also the name of a famous sheep…on the other side of the world…New Zealand, to be exact, where the sheep population outnumbers the humans six to one.

We can safely assume that New Zealand shepherds are far smarter than their sheep. Thus, their sheep are best off cooperating with the one in charge. However, in the late 1990’s, Shrek the Renegade Sheep thought he had a better idea. Shrek decided he no longer wanted to be shorn. This was a foolish decision on the part of the renegade.

  • Long fleece can lead to overheating, limited mobility, and even disease.
  • Shearing also keeps older dirty wool from contaminating new growth.

Evidently none of that mattered to Shrek or, more likely, he simply wanted his own way and didn’t know any better. Big mistake! Want to know how big? Take a look at this photo. This is Shrek after hiding in caves, successfully avoiding six years of annual shearing.

Now, I ask you, does that look like a happy, healthy animal? When he was finally caught and shorn, the wool removed weight 60 pounds, enough to make 20 large men’s suits. Talk about carrying around extra baggage!

Are we ever Shrek-like? You bet.

  • When the Shepherd is ready to remove what we no longer need, or might even do us harm, how often do we balk, hide, or refuse to our own detriment?
  • When have we tried to hold on to what keeps us from healthy spiritual growth?

Surely we are always better off trusting the wisdom of our Shepherd, fully cooperating with the One in charge.

The next time I’m tempted to balk at what God is asking, I’m going to remember Shrek the Renegade, no make that, Miserable Looking Sheep and choose the Shepherd’s way over my own.

 

 

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)