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Archive for September, 2015

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(“On the day I called, you answered me;

my strength of soul you increased.”

Psalm 138:3, ESV)

For long stretches of time, life can roll along quite satisfactorily. The kids are healthy and doing well in school. Bills are paid on time. The house and cars are holding together with no major repairs required.

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And then suddenly, we hit a stone wall. The promotion goes to someone else.   The company requires a move across the country. An addiction is disclosed. A life-threatening prognosis is delivered.

Pow.   We’re broadsided by disappointment, fear, and pain.

For a few moments we’re frozen in disbelief.

We grieve.

And that’s to be expected.   These are normal reactions.

What we want to avoid is parking at the stone wall, allowing it to consume our thoughts and prohibit forward movement.

That’s much easier said than done, right? That wall of trouble looms over us–thick, tall, and menacing. It’s not like we want to meditate on it; the ugly thing demands attention.

But, oh, praise God, he can tear down walls! (Remember Jericho?)

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(“Your ways, O God, are holy.

What god is so great as our God?

You are the God who performs miracles;

You display your power among the peoples.”

–Psalm 77:13-14)

We can also defy the enemy who built the wall. Satan, the father of all strife (1 John 5:19), is the one with whom we must battle.

How? There are a number of worthy tactics, but let’s focus on three:

  1. Put on Christ and be strengthened (Romans 13:14). He is our:

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  1. Sing or recite scripture and be revived (Psalm 119:25b).

Start writing down every verse that applies to your situation, and read through them frequently.  Fellow blogger, Bev Rihtarchik (over at Walking Well with God) chooses one meaningful verse, and copies it on a slip of paper to carry in her pocket. When worry comes to call, out comes the verse—truth, in black and white.  Now there’s a surefire way to boost our faith!

  1. Count your blessings and be encouraged.

Yes, it’s an old cliché, but naming God’s benefits is soothing balm to the soul.

Several years ago, I struggled through a particularly challenging year, giving me the opportunity to practice the disciplines of forgiveness, perseverance, renewing the mind, and more.

I continued to keep my blessings journal, more eager than ever to notice the evidence of God at work around me.

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On December 31, I tallied the entries. Imagine my astonishment to count twenty more than any other year to that point, and I’d been keeping that journal over twenty-five years.

God had indeed been at work.  but if I not been recording the evidence, I surely would have missed the generous extent of his blessing.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Oh, how I praise you, Heavenly Father, that you are in control. I can move on from that stone wall–strengthened by you, led by you, and encouraged by you. Help me to see the unseen steps ahead as an adventure with you, and fill my heart with your hope. You are my Rock whose works are perfect; all your ways are just. You are a faithful God who does no wrong (Deuteronomy 32:4). I cannot praise you enough!

(Photo credits:  www.vesselforchrist.tumblr.com; http://www.survivingtoxicmold.com; http://www.pinterest.com (2), http://www.web.md.com.)

How do you fight the battle against discouragement, fear, and hurt?  Please share with us in the comment section below!

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Years ago I read a story that still comes to mind now and then.

As I recall, an older church member (a woman of very high standards which she vocalized frequently), came to visit a young mother of the church—unannounced.

The impromptu hostess—we’ll call her Beth—invited Mrs. Perfect into her home, grateful that she’d straightened up a bit after her two older children left for school. The two younger ones were playing quietly with new Legos (How fortunate was that?), allowing the two women to chat.

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As they sat at the kitchen table, Beth considered the room from her guest’s perspective: table cleared, dishes done, counters not too cluttered or spotted. Whew.

Then she saw it: an orange peel on the floor—not a fresh strip from breakfast; more likely from last week. How did I miss that? Beth thought. One thing for sure: Mrs. Perfect wouldn’t miss it. It was in plain view from where she sat, too.

Suddenly, Beth experienced an epiphany. What difference did it make to her if this poor, old woman noticed the orange peel? Mrs. Perfect, however, would leave with a spring in her step because she would never allow such filth to remain undetected on her floor.

And Beth smiled to herself as the other woman prattled on about the upcoming bazaar.   I hope that orange peel makes her day. And Beth truly meant it.

God brings that story to my mind because I have to fight against perfectionism, too.

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And the reasons? So others will be pleased with me, appreciate me, and admire my efforts. Notice: me, me, my.

Clearly perfectionism is a close relative of self-centeredness.  Oh, Lord, forgive me.

I pray God steers me away from such counter-productive expectations of myself. Instead, I want to strive for excellence.

Yes, there is a difference between perfection and excellence.

Perfectionists have the tendency to:

  • Set unreasonably high standards
  • Experience satisfaction only when those high standards are met
  • Become depressed over failures and disappointments
  • Be controlled by fear of failure and therefore procrastinate
  • Worry about disapproval when mistakes are made

On the other hand, those striving for excellence are likely to:

  • Set standards that are high but reachable
  • Enjoy the process as well as the outcome
  • Recover quickly from failures and disappointments
  • Keep fear under control with positive truth
  • View mistakes as opportunities for growth

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For the Christian, excellence should be our loving response to God, with the desire to please him.

And what might those responses look like, as we strive for excellence?

  • Ask God to reveal what his expectations are. Then invite him to work in us toward meeting his standard:  maturity (James 1:4).
  • Take pleasure in signs of spiritual growth, as we manifest the fruit of the Spirit more and more each day (Philippians 1:9-11).
  • Turn to him for encouragement and strength when failures and disappointments come (Psalm 18:25-33).
  • Keep fear under control with appropriate scriptures and uplifting devotionals (Psalm 118:5-8).
  • View mistakes as opportunities to grow in maturity and in our relationship with God (Proverbs 24:16).

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(By the way, when the Bible tells us to be perfect (as in Matthew 5:48), the words, mature and complete are helpful synonyms to interpose. Perfection is not within our abilities to achieve (Romans 3:23). We know it and God knows it.

Here’s what we can do:

“Strive toward holiness, yet relax in grace.”

–Philip Yancey

 

Isn’t that a wonderfully balanced goal?

Let’s remember: “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone [including ourselves] put a harness of slavery [to perfectionism] on you.” – Galatians 5:1 (MSG)*

*Words in brackets added.

Photo credits:  www.deeprootsathome.com; http://www.femhack.com; http://www.worshipmatters.com; http://www.pinterest.com (2).

What are your thoughts about perfectionism and Christian excellence?  Share your comments below!

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(Remember Susan Boyle?)

Makeovers. What a remarkable change-of-appearance can be achieved with a becoming hairstyle (and maybe color-enhancement!), deftly applied make-up, and well-fitted clothing.  Add the benefit of plastic surgery and a person hardly resembles her former self.

But the transformation of someone’s face and body doesn’t begin to compare to the transformation of someone’s spirit.

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Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.

The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

–2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT) 

Notice: We’re not just improved and beautified. Jesus remakes each of us into a brand new person.

And what might that newness include? Here’s a partial list:

 

  • New purpose

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(“Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

–1 Corinthians 10:31b)

Those who follow this directive discover an interesting phenomenon: honoring God brings satisfaction and fulfillment to us. (By the way, God is not on some ego trip, demanding us to give him all the glory. He desires his splendor and benevolence to be evident everywhere, so others might be drawn to him.)

  • New attitude resulting in new character

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(“Put on your new nature and be renewed

As you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”

–Colossians 3:10)

The more we know of God and appreciate all his benefits, the more we want to please him by following his example. That new attitude impacts every aspect of our lives.

  • New perspective

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(“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.”

–Psalm 23:6)

Just knowing God has our best interest at heart is enough to renew energy and hope.

  • New power to face what comes

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(“[He] is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,

according to his power that is at work within us.”

–Ephesians 3:20)

 Think of it: the same power that controls the universe is at work within us. Tell me again why we revert to worrying?!

 

  • New emotions, such as peace and joy

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(“The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking,

but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

–Romans 14:17)

We do not need to live at the mercy of our circumstances. With God as our constant companion, we can experience peace and joy in spite of what happens. The Bible is full of examples of people who lived that way: Joseph, Daniel, Peter, and Paul readily come to mind.

  • New confidence

Proverbs 3.26 

(“The Lord will be your confidence.”

–Proverbs 3:26a)

God is not only with us, he is our Protector, Provider, and Guide.  As we become increasingly aware of his faithfulness, our trust grows. Trust = confidence.

  • New opportunities and blessings

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(“The faithful love of the LORD never ends!

His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness;

his mercies begin afresh each morning.”

–Lamentations 3:22-23 (NLT)

Experience tells us that when we say “yes” to Jesus, God does not bestow the full measure of all of these wonderful new things instantaneously. God told Isaiah: “Behold I am doing a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19).  That hints at process. We’re made new, but growing into that newness.

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Think of buying a coat in the fall that’s a little too big for your child. She owns the coat, but it doesn’t quite fit yet.  Within a matter of weeks however, the sleeves hit the wrist not the fingertips, and the shoulder seams sit properly–no sagging down the arms.

Might it be that when we invite Jesus in our lives, our spirits are made new, but we don’t quite fit into them yet? Then, as we cooperate with Holy Spirit and his fruit grows within us (Galatians 5:22-23), we steadily become more Christ-like, day by day.

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Oh, Father, I don’t want to cling to aspects of the old me—things like worry, perfectionism, selfishness, and pride. I want to embrace everything new that YOU bring to my life, to become my true self—the one you designed me to be.**

 

**Based on idea from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson, p. 381.

Photo credits:  www.joblogging.weebly.com; http://www.ilovemybible.tumblr.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.dayofgrace.me; http://www.faithgateway.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.plus.google.com; pinterest.com (2).

Share your thoughts in the Comment section below.  I’d love to hear from you!

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Online dating services have proved: you don’t have to see a person to fall in love. Through heart-to-heart sharing over the internet, couples become acquainted with the likes and dislikes of each other, their opinions on a number of issues, and what brings them satisfaction in life. The format provides the opportunity to “see” who another person is before finding out what he/she looks like.  (I understand one site requires five contacts back and forth before names are exchanged–much less photos.)

It’s possible that couples in online relationships grow to know one another better than couples who meet face-to-face, because they communicate more and at a deeper level. (Assuming they’re being honest, of course.)

Similarly, we can grow to know and love God through heart-to-heart sharing, even though we can’t see him.

For our part, we “give God [our] whispering thoughts” (Max Lucado).   Such moments happen when:

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(The view from our deck, a couple of Sundays ago)

  • Our attention is drawn to sunbeams on mist-draped foliage, and we turn the observation into praise for God’s creative power.
  • Someone grabs us in an exuberant hug, and we thank God for family and friends who provide encouragement and support.
  • An unpleasant task is finished, and we praise him for the fortitude to see it through.
  • Humor comes into our lives and we laugh in response, but also in appreciation to the God of all joy.
  • We light evening candles that remind us the Light of the world is with us in our homes.

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There is no sweeter manner of living in the world

than continuous communion with God.

–Brother Lawrence (1611-1691)

 

But one-sided communication doesn’t build a relationship. Listening for God’s words and watching for his works are essential. How do we do that? God rarely speaks audibly or shows himself physically. No one has seen his face (Exodus 33:20).

However, God does reveal his heart to us in a number of ways through:

  1. The Bible. No surprise there. Its pages offer a lifetime of new discoveries about who our God is and how he works in our lives. Especially through the gospels, God speaks to us directly through his Son. We hear God’s wisdom in Jesus’ words; we see God’s love in his actions (Hebrews 1:2-3).
  1. Other reading. Although Christian writers undoubtedly provide personal impressions from God, he sometimes speaks through secular works. Such moments often catch me off guard.

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Recently I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones (1986). Among the many worthy morsels I wrote down, she said, “We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves; we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us.”

O God, I thought. That’s describes YOU! You see more of my real self than anyone, yet you still accept me, even love me. How astounding that you, a perfect God, would envelop me in absolute love–in spite of all my flaws. 

  1. People.  What a heart-lift others provide with their encouraging words, warm smiles, or comforting hugs–especially when we realize such good and perfect gifts come from God himself (James 1:17).
  1. Creation.  John Calvin once described the world of nature as God’s glorious theater. As we take note of his infinite genius on display, we learn of his ingenuity, attention-to-detail, and ability to bring together disparate parts into harmonious habitats.   Our hearts fill with wonder.

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  1. Music.  Sometimes I can almost feel God’s warm touch on my shoulder as he speaks comfort, strength, and joy through the power of song. (See “The Power of Song” for more on this subject.)

Notice: when God communicates with us, there’s a heart-reaction.  We experience a quickening in our spirits as we recognize his truth, sense his loving attention, receive the guidance and empowerment we need, or know without a doubt he’s with us, and has everything under control.

So!

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“Keep your eyes open for God,

watch for his works;

be alert for signs of his presence.”

–Psalm 105:4 (MSG)

What a glorious way to live!

(Photo credits:  www.believe.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.youtube.org; http://www.amazon.com; http://www.pixiflore.com; http://www.believe.com.)

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(Following is a personalized version of Psalm 103:1-5. Scripture quotes are in bold type, personal worship-thoughts* are in regular type. Perhaps you’ll pray along?)

 

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1 Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

2 Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits–

Oh, Lord, my heart overflows with love and gratitude for all you are to me and all you do for me. If I recorded these benefits, the volumes produced would surely fill a library.

But just as parents and grandparents are pleased when children say, “thank you,” I want to “praise your holy Name,” to extol you for the sum of all your attributes. In my life you have expressed your:

  • Power, by supplying my needs–sometimes in miraculous ways
  • Love and Goodness, with blessings beyond measure
  • Wisdom, as you’ve guided me day by day in the ways that are best for me
  • Patience, when I’ve been slow to learn and reluctant to obey
  • Mercy, by forgiving me of my sins, especially when I knew better
  • Faithfulness, with your constant presence and attention

May I always be mindful of your benefits, and vocal about them to others.

 

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3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 

May I never take for granted the horrific price you paid at Calvary with the life of your Son. May I never tire of praising you for making me a new creation, one who can be in relationship with you, the all-powerful God of the universe.

I praise you for being the Healer of all diseases, whether of body, soul, or spirit. You heal broken hearts, broken lives, broken relationships, broken minds—either instantaneously, over time, or when we’re transported to heaven.

 

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4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion 

I praise you that not only have you saved me from the pit of hell, but from the depths of depression, discouragement, and disappointment. You are “a redeeming God who is able to bring freshness to places that seem rotten and decayed” (Carole Ladd)—places like hurt, unfair circumstances, and unfulfilled dreams.

I praise you for encircling me with your love and compassion, symbolized by a gleaming crown, and reminding me: those who know Jesus are royalty (1 Peter 2:9)! I bow in humble wonder at the incredible privilege you bestow, to be a daughter of the King of kings.

 

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5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

 I praise You, O God, for knowing exactly which good things to grant me—those things that will produce a good outcome. (I know that catering to my every pleasure would ultimately be to my detriment.)

I praise you that even into old age you will strengthen my spirit so I can remain vibrant, optimistic, and full of hope. On the wings of your wisdom I’ll be able to soar (Proverbs 24:5).

Finally, may your praise always be on my lips; may my soul always boast in you, because you are a good and gracious God—always and forever (Psalm 34:1, 145:7-8)!

 

*Prior to composing this worship-prayer, I researched some of the terminology in these verses, to expand my understanding of the passage. Sources included: Be Exultant by Warren Wiersbe; www.bible.org; Jesus Calling by Sarah Young; Thrive, Don’t Simply Survive by Carole Ladd; and The Daily Study Bible Series, Psalms, by George A. F. Knight.

 

(Photo credits:  www.suggestkeyword.com; http://www.studentdevos.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.suggestkeyword.com.)

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My sister-in-law sent me this Hallmark card for my birthday:

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Mary is my kind of person. I’ll bet she’s your kind, too. We tend to appreciate positive people, especially since negative input seems to bombard us continually. We’re not thin enough, smart enough, tech-savvy enough, confident enough, spiritual enough, disciplined enough, efficient enough, successful enough, patient enough, persevering enough, ad nauseam.

Positive people neutralize the impact of all that negativity. It’s not just their pleasant company that brings uplift to our spirits; they often exhibit the gift of encouragement.

That gift includes the ability to:

  • relate to others in positive ways
  • be optimistic, and cheerful
  • listen attentively and make others feel understood
  • be patient and generous with their time
  • make others feel special
  • genuinely celebrate the successes of others

But there’s one more behavior to add to that list, and it’s undoubtedly the most important. Beyond uplifting and motivating, we can infuse others with our faith.

Anyone can offer encouragement; only people of faith can offer faith.

You see, encouragement may not necessarily be based on fact. For example:

  • A mom says to her son, “You’re a fantastic soccer player. Of course you’ll make the team.” Only he doesn’t. Mom’s optimism wasn’t based in reality.
  • “After what you’ve told me, I just know you’ll get the job,” says one friend to another. But it doesn’t happen. The friend listened and understood, but her intuition proved false.
  • “Oh, that solo was wonderful, Katie!” when it clearly wasn’t.

However, statements of faith based on scriptural fact provide absolute truth and a much stronger foundation for hope than empty praise.

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(“Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” — Romans 15:4).

Everyone needs hope, especially those in crisis.

Centuries ago, the people of Jerusalem needed hope as they faced the possibility of annihilation by the Assyrian army. King Hezekiah gathered the people in the open square of the city gate and addressed them:

 

“Be strong and courageous.

Do not be afraid or discouraged

because of the king of Assyria

and the vast army with him,

for there is a greater power with us than with him.

With him is only the arm of the flesh,

but with us is the Lord our God

to help us and to fight our battles.”

–2 Chronicles 32:7-8

 

Hezekiah was not simply offering optimistic encouragement. Those bold statements were based on earlier scriptures, some of which you may recognize:

  1. “Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

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  1. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7).
  1. “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel” (spoken by David to Goliath, 1 Samuel 17:45).
  1. “Do you have an arm like God’s” (Job 40:9a)?
  1. “Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you” (Deuteronomy 3:22).

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You and I can follow King Hezekiah’s example and share the positive, factual truth of God’s Word. We can be the encouraging voices that help others thrive, especially to those whose faith is beginning to falter.

The scripture-seeds we plant may spur a person to persevere or take a step in a new direction. And who knows where that perseverance or step might lead?

(Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg, http://www.allaboutgod.net; http://www.quotationslibrary.com; http://www.crosscards.com.)

*     *     *     *     *     *    *     *     *     *

What scripture truth has been an encouragement to you?  Share with us in the Comments section below.  Perhaps your contribution will be just what someone else needs to hear/see!

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Most Sunday mornings, I have no trouble engaging in worship. Between the lyrics of the songs, scripture-readings, and the leader’s comments, I’m quickly transported into God’s presence and worshiping with gladness (Psalm 100:2). Sometimes my heart soars to the very gates of heaven and the joy overflows as tears.

But not always. There are other times when my heart seems numb, for no apparent reason. Why is that, and should I be concerned?

Perhaps. If I’ve allowed unconfessed sin to fester, then my connection to God will be negatively impacted.

But what if I have addressed my shortcomings with God, and still feel disconnected? What then?

I need to remember the following:

  • Worship is sometimes an act of the will. “Put your hope in God,” the psalmist said, “for I will yet praise him” (Psalm 42:5). Worship wasn’t meant to be reserved only for moments of elation; it’s a choice. Job is a perfect example. After he was stripped of everything—cattle, flocks, servants, even his children—Job worshiped (Job 1:20). That astounds me.

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  • God isn’t as concerned about our feelings during worship as he is about our sincerity (John 4:24). We can earnestly worship even if spiritual bliss eludes us.
  • God hasn’t promised we’ll always feel his presence. Sometimes he intentionally hides his face (Isaiah 45:15). It’s part of our maturation process that he occasionally allows a bit of distance between him and us.

I remember the first day of kindergarten. My mother dropped me off in front of the school, and told me to go inside to the classroom we had visited.

I would have much preferred if she had walked with me and made sure all was well before leaving me to fend for myself. What if I couldn’t find the right classroom, or the teacher wasn’t there?

But allowing me this bit of separation was part of my maturing process. I needed to learn I could trust Mom’s instructions—even when she wasn’t in sight. (Lest you think my parents were negligent, kindergarten was just inside the school door, to the left!)

In review:

  1. Sometimes worship is an act of the will.
  2. Sincerity is more important than feelings.
  3. Sometimes God distances himself a bit to grow our trust.

But would we be wrong to do what we can to forge a stronger connection to God, and, as a result, engage our emotions more fully?

I don’t think so.

David offers several examples in the psalms, when he expressed his honest feelings of abandonment, depression, dejection and more. He did not end his honest proclamations on a negative note, but concluded with expressions of praise and assurance, which surely impacted his emotions. (See Psalm 77:1-15 for one example).*

 

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We can foster a stronger connection to God, and augment our worship with:

  • Gratitude – Even on our way to church, we can thank him for creation and his many blessings. Gratitude turns our gaze toward heaven.
  • Meditative Prayer – Before the service begins, praise God for his attributes, demonstrated day by day the previous week. Meditation ushers us into the presence of God.
  • Focus – Stay attentive to the words of the music, the scripture, the prayer. Fight against wandering thoughts. “If worship is mindless, it is meaningless” (Rick Warren).
  • Visualization – Imagine God on his throne, radiant with light, majestic and glorious, raised up in the sanctuary. See our resplendent God who is highly worthy of our full attention!

 

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As our spirits become engaged in these ways, the emotions of awestruck wonder, unspeakable joy, and overwhelming love will undoubtedly follow!

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What do you do that helps to connect you with God during worship? Share with us in the Comment section below!

*(No doubt these psalms were not written during Sabbath worship. Surely David worshiped God every day, to his benefit and for God’s pleasure. But that’s a topic for another post!)

(Art & photo credits:  www.ohbejoyfulchurch.org; http://www.bibleencyclopedia.com; http://www.banah.org; http://www.godthetruth.ws.)

 

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