The One Thing God Wants From You Today

An Ancient Problem of Epic Proportions

Ever been somewhere physically, but your heart and thoughts wandered far, far away? You gave yourself credit for being there in the church service, or at the meeting, but a significant part of you was absent.

The Israelites had just such an experience. The remnant had returned physically from exile back to their homeland. They were back on the land God had given their forefathers, but He desired more from His people than a mere change of geographical location.

God tells the Israelites through the prophet Zechariah:

“Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says, ‘Return to me’, declares the Lord Almighty, “and I will return to you’, says the Lord Almighty” (Zech. 1:3, NIV).

Wait – hadn’t they just done that very thing? Traveled to this place from surrounding lands, streaming back in dusty caravans to the place that would forever call to them? Tired donkeys, laden with household goods, plodded to the music of clattering pots and pans and the chatter of children. Eyes that had seen many winters and eyes that had seen few hungrily took in the sights of the journey as they slowly made their way back.

 

And finally, God’s chosen people had returned home.

The One Thing God Wants From You Today

Or had they?

Their feet had ceased to wander, but God knew that their hearts wandered still. Disobedience, the trauma of captivity, and a long sojourn in foreign lands with foreign gods had taken their toll and diluted their devotion.

So God’s word to those who had returned bodily was to return with what really mattered – with their hearts.

 

If you’re at all familiar with the Old Testament, you already know this was not the only instance of the hearts of God’s people being prone to wander.

A Modern Problem of Epic Proportions

Fast forward to today.  We moderns are no different – we suffer from the same ailment of the wandering heart and find ourselves in just as much need of returning.

Always, the heart is preeminent. The wisdom of Proverbs cautions us to guard it above all else.

Our mind and will can direct our feet to go places and do things that we know are good and right. Discipline and resolve aid us in accomplishing necessary tasks when our hearts just aren’t in them.

The problem arises when duty eclipses delight and we are left fumbling in the dark outside the inner chamber.   We attempt to enter in and offer this dry resolve to do our duty on the altar of sacrifice to the All Consuming Fire, the Lover of Our Souls. Our paltry and inadequate offering crumbles to so much dust and ash. The wrong offering does not accomplish the right purpose – ask Cain.

A lover isn’t romanced by dry duty. Click To Tweet

What, then, is the acceptable offering?

The One Thing God Wants

All of ourselves. Our very hearts. “Return to Me”.

Jealous for us, God desires us to desire Him. Through the prophet Jeremiah, He laments:

“I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved Me and followed Me through the wilderness, through a land not sown.”(Jeremiah 2:2, NIV).

“As a bride” – this is the kind of all-consuming, passionate desire God longs for from the people He created.

Not infatuation, but lasting, burning, devotion fueled by pure love.

John Piper eloquently sums it up like this: “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.” ~ John Piper Click To Tweet

He is most glorified when we claim Him as our shield and very great reward, as He expressed Himself to Abraham.

When we are able to say to Him, “Even if I never marry, never have a child, never experience that healing, never have that prayer that is most dear to my heart answered – even so, YOU are enough for me” – then, our hearts have fully returned to our God and find their utmost satisfaction in Him.

And when we desire to love Christ enough to obey Him in every area of our lives, holding nothing back – then we have returned.

When we have turned our backs on the things that pull us away from wholehearted devotion and set our faces to the radiant beauty of our Lord, then something wonderful happens.

A Love Story of Epic Proportions

Zechariah 1:3 says that then, He returns to us. What a beautiful picture of intimacy. Distractions are forsaken, face to face once again.

Jesus says in John 15:23 (NIV):

“Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…”

A special intimacy is shared with those who return. He comes to us and makes His home with us.

We do life together.

Why, I wonder, do I ever walk away from this place?

What could EVER satisfy my soul more than Him?

Yet I find myself, time after time, in need of returning.

Can you relate?

Perhaps it’s just the human condition or our lot in life to be constantly torn between the two worlds we live in, never quite comprehending how to fully live in both simultaneously.

The One Thing God Wants From You TodayTo have seasons of pressing in and following hard after God followed by seasons of focusing on other things, like the ebb and flow of the tide or the waxing and waning of the moon.

Moving From Duty to Delight in God

A sense of duty creeps in, dulling our senses, robbing our joy, making our offering unpalatable, unacceptable. Not unacceptable because we didn’t DO enough.  Unacceptable because what is desired is precious and priceless and we can’t substitute 5 hours of duty for even one moment of face to face intimacy.

The prosaic duties of daily living can rob us of the wonder that we are jealously desired. Me – sitting here biting my thumbnail between sentences, wondering if I’m saying too much, or not enough, or being too transparent. I’m desired by Him. You – sitting wherever you are reading this, with whatever joys and worries your day has brought. He jealously desires your heart – all of it. No matter what.

Dear friend, if you feel Him drawing you to fully return to Him for a renewal of passion, joy, and intimacy, could we pray together? It would be my great joy and honor to do so.

“Dear Father, You have awakened our hearts once again and shown us that we have wandered. We sense You drawing us back to you with cords of love. Right now, we turn away from other things.  We turn fully to face You and gaze upon Your beauty and holiness. Nothing compares to You. Bring us out of the place of duty into the place of delighting in Your presence. Revive our hearts, rekindling our desire for You. And may our great joy in Your presence be highly contagious and draw others into a love relationship with You as well. There is no one like You. In the matchless Name of Jesus, Amen.”

With faith, hope, and love,

The Beautiful Journey

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. – You may also enjoy this beautiful article at www.thedisciplemaker.org about delighting in God.  I know I did!

The Best Bad News I Ever Got

Monday brought a sense of relief with it. I’ve always been a fan of Mondays – something about the fresh start to a new week appeals to me. Maybe that makes me a Monday Nerd, but this particular Monday was extra welcome as I hoped it signaled the end of a week of mess-ups. A long list of things I hadn’t done right paraded across my consciousness.  Things, like forgetting to check on a sick friend, attitudes I wasn’t proud of, less time spent in prayer than I needed, and showing up at the wrong location for a meeting one evening, and other assorted mess-ups made me want to wash my hands of the previous week and move on.

The only problem was, I was taking myself with me.

My prayer time reflected my unhappiness with myself for not “getting it right” as my frustration spilled over.

The Best Bad News I Ever Got

“Lord”, I prayed, “I’ve known you for so long, and I still get irritated, battle pride, see selfishness in my heart, and do things for the wrong motives. I’ve never been good enough, and I never will be!”

THE BAD NEWS

I was right. I’m not good enough to live up to the standard of a holy, perfect God. I’m not a perfect wife, parent, daughter, friend, or sister.

But instead of feeling depressed by that raw admission, I felt the grace and joy of God come flooding into my heart as I uttered those words.

I felt as if He was singing and laughing over me – “Yes! You finally got it! You can’t do it, but I achieved perfection for you!”

THE GOOD NEWS

The good news is, the bad news IS the good news.

No, I will never be good enough on my own to measure up to perfection, or even to my own standards.

But I don’t have to be.

Neither do you.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

At our worst, we are loved and accepted.

Now, if we belong to Him, we are clothed in His robes of righteousness. He exchanged my “not good enough” for His perfection.The Best Bad News I Ever Got

I don’t have to try to be perfect to be accepted.

I can just breathe and give myself grace.

It doesn’t mean I should be content with the sin I see in my heart.

It does mean I can know that I am loved in spite of it, and allow that love to motivate me to respond wholeheartedly to God in every aspect of my living.

As a dear friend of our family said last night on the soccer field, our one job in life is to love the Lord with everything we’ve got – heart, soul, mind, strength.

What Matters Most

Our one job isn’t to daily beat ourselves up for our failures. Too bad, since so many of us excel at this.

Our one job is to see the One Who would rather die than live without us and to love Him well.

We live out that love in obedience, in caring about what (who) He cares about, and hating the things He hates.

But it’s love, not law.

If you too have been struggling with living up to an impossible standard of perfection, may I invite you, dear friend, to change your standard?

The rule of law suffocates. The love of Jesus brings life. Click To Tweet

 

Fix your gaze on the One who perfectly fulfilled the law on your behalf, and breathe in His grace and freedom today.

The Best Bad News I Ever GotLike Christian kneeling at the foot of the cross in Pilgrim’s Progress to find the burden rolling off his back, we too will be freed from the burden of perfectionism when we bow to Jesus and acknowledge that we need Him to live through us. I can’t live a life pleasing to God on my own, and neither can you.

I don’t know about you, but I needed that reminder this week so that I could shift my focus and receive His grace for effective living.

Would you let me pray for you?

 

“Gracious Father, thank you for loving us just as we are. Thank you for the Great Exchange that took place at the Cross – our condemning sin for your spotless righteousness, our cavernous lack for Your all-sufficiency, our desperate bondage for Your life-giving freedom. We admit today that we can’t do it on our own. We need You, living through us, loving through us, serving through us. Today, would you help us to take eyes off the standard of the law and to instead see Jesus? Transform us by Your love and grace. Empower us to love you with all that we are – heart, soul, mind, and strength. May those in our lives be drawn to You by the grace we exude. In the powerful name of Jesus, Amen.”

If this post resonates with you, would you consider leaving a brief comment to encourage others on the same journey?

With faith, hope, and love,

 

 

 

 

 

PS – you might also enjoy this article by James Dwyer in Relevant magazine about perfectionism and how it affects us.

The Law of the Harvest – What This Means for Your Life

The Law of the Harvest

She could so easily have given up and gone back home. Things didn’t go as planned, and now she was a young grieving widow in a strange country with a 10-month-old daughter to care for. Nearby neighbors? The tribe that speared her husband to death, along with the 4 other missionaries who accompanied him. She probably wouldn’t be getting any casseroles from them.

But Elisabath Elliot, daughter of missionaries and missionary in her own right, wasn’t giving up before harvest time. She did the one thing not many would have counseled her to do – she remained in Ecuador. She raised her daughter there, in spite of the danger, and learned the language of the tribe that made her a widow. Elisabeth loved them and forgave them, and over time, she won them to Jesus.

The Law of the Harvest - What it Means for Your LifeWe too face the temptation to give up before harvest time. Life can feel like an endless season of sowing, often under brassy skies and barren clouds. Holding out for a harvest we can’t see when everything in us screams that there has to be an easier way takes real faith and courage.

 

No matter how long it seems to be taking, The Law of the Harvest says that we reap what we sow.

 

Galatians 6:7 – “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.” (NIV)

Sowing seeds of complaining will reap a harvest of ingratitude.  Seeds of thankfulness will reap the joy of a grateful heart.  Sowing uncontrolled anger will reap broken lives and distrust.  Investing love in others will bring love back my way.  God says we can’t outsmart Him in this – we can’t live however we want (the next verse calls it “sowing to please the sinful nature”) and then pray for crop failure.  We reap what we sow.

For Elisabeth, that meant faithfully and sacrificially sowing seeds of the Gospel.

 

The Promise of the Harvest

The poignantly beautiful promise in Psalm 126 often haunts my thoughts when I am tempted to throw in the towel.

“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” Psalm 126:5-6 (NIV)

The farmer, weeping over his precious seed. Why weeping? Often times the choice between eating the grain or planting it was one of tremendous significance with life hanging in the balance either way. The seed was desperately needed for eating to sustain life now; the seed was also desperately needed for planting to sustain life later. Another translation calls the seed “precious” – costly. Expensive. Difficult to just stick under dry clods of earth and trust to the weather to make good on the costly investment. Buying it perhaps meant buying nothing else, until the harvest.

Elisabeth knew about going out weeping, bearing the precious seed of the Gospel. A costly investment that took everything she had The Law of the Harvestalong with more faith and courage than were humanly possible.

She also knew the Promise of the Harvest that says the depth of our sorrow and travail will be matched by the height of our overflowing joy.  She was willing to sow in tears and trust that the reaping with songs of joy was coming.

The more difficult the sowing, the more wonderful the reaping.

 

The Process of the Harvest

The expanse of time between sowing and reaping can feel like an eternity.  What do you do when the waiting seems endless?

Embrace the Process of the Harvest.  The process may be long, but the results are sure if we hang in there.

Galatians 6:9 – “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (NIV)

This word “weary” means more than just getting tired as we labor for the kingdom. In the original language (which I do NOT know, but I have Bible study tools! Yay!), it implies a failing of heart.

We all get tired, but we can choose to remain faithful and guard our hearts against this kind of weariness that would abort our faith.

When circumstances give NOTHING to believe in – not even a glimmer of hope – we can trust the process.  At the proper time, we will receive a harvest if we do not give up.

 

No harvest is promised to quitters. Click To Tweet

 

We must see the process through to completion.

Perhaps that is what kept Elisabeth in Ecuador. After all, her husband and others gave their lives for that harvest. If she quit now, what would become of their sacrifice?

We can learn much from these verses and Elisabeth’s inspiring life.  We can trust the Law of the Harvest, the Promise of the Harvest, and the Process of the Harvest.  Why?

The Law of the HarvestBecause the Lord of the Harvest is faithful and His promises are sure.

What are you painfully, tearfully toiling over today? A loved one away from God? A heartache no one else knows about?  The long process of raising children for His glory and seeing Christ formed in them over time?  Dear friend, He sees your tears. The Lord of the Harvest is the Lord of YOUR harvest as well.

May I encourage you today to keep on until harvest time? God knows when “the proper time” is, and the harvest will appear then, and not before. But it WILL appear. Keep believing, keep praying, and keep sowing good seed.

I’m praying that at the proper time you will harvest a bumper crop and know the joy of the reaper.

 

With faith, hope, and love,

Is Your Life on the Right Path?

Laying the Path

My family and I recently redid the path going from our driveway to the front entrance of our home. Bill, my husband, took our 11-year-old son to the local DIY store and crammed about 800 lbs. of pavers into the back of the Excursion. My daughter and I were ready for their return, and over the next few hours, we fell into a rhythm of preparing the area (sweeping away mulch, cutting roots that were in the way, etc), carrying the pavers, and placing them in position. Oh, and sweating. Sweating is a big part of any outdoor project in July in Texas! One step at a time, we worked our way across the yard together and the path took shape. Looking behind us, we could see the completed section, and looking ahead, we could see the goal – arriving at the front door.

Is Your Life on the Right Path?

The Right Path – Acknowledge Him in All Your Ways

This process of laying down a stone for our feet to stand on and creating the path one step at a time made me think of Proverbs 3:6. You know it – Proverbs 3:5-6 must be on every Most Often Quoted Scriptures list! Verse 6 says:

“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”(NIV)

What are our ways in which we could choose to acknowledge Him and His lordship? I began to think, and brainstormed these – I’m sure you can add to the list:

Speech
Thought life
Health/eating
Relationships
Work/job/business
Parenting/relating to our children
Marriage
Singleness
Free time
Media consumption (social media, movies, books, the internet, etc)
Problem solving
Finances
Serving

What other ways can you come up with?

I see each one as a choice that pops up, many in each day. Each time we choose to acknowledge God in that “way”, another stepping stone is laid down as firm footing for our feet. We cannot see the path ahead because it hasn’t been laid yet. But each stone reverently placed, putting God first, means He is making our path straight.

When the Path Isn’t Straight

Oh, it may not LOOK like a straight path. His leading may take us places we would rather not go – over mountains of great difficulty, through dark valleys, through fire and water and hair-raising danger.

We might ask what happened to our “straight path” if that is how He leads.

The answer to that question lies in the destination.

Destination determines direction.

The destination for our lives, and what God is taking us straight to, is maturity. Conformity to the image of Christ. This destination Is Your Life on the Right Path?means that His “straight path” probably won’t look like very straight to us. If given my say about things, the direction for my path might be formed out of shallow desires for brevity and comfort. Might make for an easier journey, but that path would take me to a completely different destination. Laying the stepping stones one selfish decision at a time, I would surely derail myself from my true purpose.

His goal for my life may mean some twists and turns and steep, breathless climbs over sharp rocks. It may not LOOK straight to me, but it is leading me straight where He wants me to go.

The Journey and the Destination

With God, the journey and the destination are inseparable. There is no destination without the journey it took to get there. His destination can only be arrived at by taking His path.

If I want to go to California to visit my aunt, I have a few options. I can hop on a plane and fly there. I can load up the car and drive there. Back in the day, I could have hitchhiked there. I could ride a horse (Well – that’s stretching things). Each one of those possibilities would take me a different route but they all have the potential to deliver me to the desired destination, my aunt’s front door. The destination, in this case, doesn’t depend on the nature of the journey.

But for your life and mine, the destination is a culmination of what came before.

Every choice to acknowledge God, to die to the flesh, and to put another stone in position adds up to the final destination that is a culmination of the journey – our looking like the Jesus we adore.

Dear friend, be encouraged that your daily choices matter. In ways that seem invisible, your determination to honor God will cause you to arrive at your destination. Even when no one sees, and even (especially) in private matters, acknowledging God in all your ways will create the path your feet need to walk on.

Is Your Life on the Right Path?This requires trust that God’s leading is worth following even when it looks like a path we would rather avoid.

Read verses 5 and 6 together now:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV)

We can’t trust both in God and in our understanding of things simultaneously because they will often seem at odds. Trusting Him with our whole heart will resultingly fuel our ability to acknowledge Him in all our ways, and will take us to the destination He has planned for us.

A hard road?  Sometimes, yes, harder even than we think we have the strength to endure.  But the same Jesus who for the joy set before Him endured the cross will strengthen us to faithfully traverse our own path.   May His joy be yours today as you toil to place those stones for your own beautiful journey.

May He strengthen you to persevere faithfully, to endure patiently, and to pursue wholeheartedly.  May your eyes catch a glimpse of the warmth and love in His eyes as He sees your daily choices to take the hard road and follow Him, even in the midst of pain. May your heart know His longing to lead you to the home He is preparing for you, and to bring you there fully mature and complete.

Oh, friend, the destination is so worth whatever it takes to get there.

With faith, hope, and love,

What Jesus Prayed for You and Why it Matters

Final Words

Have you ever had the sacred honor of being with someone as they made the transition to eternity?

The last words a person utters before leaving this earth are generally considered some of the most important ones spoken. If you were to discover that some of the last recorded words of a very influential person contained a prayer for you, would you want to know what he had prayed?  I know I would!

This week at Tuesday morning prayer at my church, our wonderful prayer leader Phyllis encouraged us to pray for unity among the body of Christ. God has put it in her heart to see pastors and prayer groups across denominational lines come together to seek God for our city, and together reach the lost and the hurting. And not just in our city – in your city as well, and in cities everywhere.

What Jesus Prayed for You and Why It MattersHer prayer has been resonating in me all week.  Her vision of seeing cities transformed by the power of God like in the great revivals of the past makes me long to see it with my own eyes, and for my children to see it.

Questions like, “How can it happen?” “How can I do my part?” fill my mind and drove me to Jesus’ prayer in John chapter 17. Just before His arrest, trial and crucifixion, John recorded Jesus praying for Himself, His disciples, and for all those who would believe. This last recorded prayer for His followers carries the double weight of not just being the perfect will of God, but also of being THE message that He wanted to leave us with.

Jesus Final Prayer On Earth for All Believers

Jesus prayed:

“…I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in You. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that You gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and You in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

 

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” John 17:20-26, NIV

Look at what Jesus prayed for all believers:

  1. That all of them may be one
  2. That they may be “in us” (Jesus and the Father)
  3. That they would be brought to complete unity

Unity in the Body of Christ

One only has to take the briefest of perusals of church history or look at the many different denominations currently within the Christian church to realize that “unity in the body of Christ” is not as easy as it sounds. Unity in one family with just two children is often not easy – much less entire groups of people with differing backgrounds, perceptions, and assumptions.What Jesus Prayed for You and Why It Matters

Jesus wasn’t praying for unity for no reason. He wasn’t praying it because He couldn’t think of anything better to pray – like that we would be comfortable, and never have trials, or that being His follower would look just like the American Dream.

Instead of many other options, Jesus prayed for unity among His followers, and He prayed that specific prayer for a very good reason: “to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.”

Unity in the church authenticates the message. Click To Tweet

It substantiates Christ’s claim to love the lost.

Unity says, “Together, we invite you to know our great God who loves you”. Discord says “Come back later – we’re busy arguing amongst ourselves and can’t help you now.”

Jesus knew that to fulfill the Great Commission, we needed to come together.

A city can’t be transformed by one church alone.

The world can’t be won through discord.

what can we do?

Just our part. We can “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11), we can do our part to promote unity as far as it depends on us.

Does “unity” mean we agree about absolutely everything? I’m not sure that’s even possible!

What, then, does it mean?

May I suggest that instead of focusing on nuances of belief or ways to worship, we allow the end goal that Jesus prayed to be our focus?

If each and every follower of Christ lived and breathed “to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them…”, what message would the world receive?

We may not eliminate disagreements, but perhaps they would be overlooked as inconsequential in light of the glorious task before us.

What Jesus Prayed for You and Why It MattersLater in His prayer, Jesus shares His longing with the Father – His longing for us to be with Him where He is going. His longing to be together forever in a place more wonderful than we can possibly imagine.

His longing isn’t just for you and me though – it’s for all those who will believe.

May His longing become ours today. Oh, that He would give each one of His followers grace to prioritize and pursue unity SO THAT the world will know that there is a God who loves them!  May the world see and accept the offer of hope, healing, and an eternal home in His loving presence.

With faith, hope, and love,

 

 

 

 

 

 

P.S. – For further reading on unity in the body of Christ, you may enjoy this article by John Piper.