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Archive for the ‘Intimacy with God’ Category

 

“Be still and know that I am God (1).

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be.

It starts with ‘be.’

Just be, dear one.”

–Shauna Neiquist (2)

 

Moments of quiet, contemplative silence are rare for many people. We’ve been swept up in the cultural norms of productivity: use time wisely and stay on task. Better yet, multi-task.

But there is tremendous power and blessing in stillness.

Quietness of spirit:

  • creates space for us to hear God’s voice
  • builds bonds of trust between us and God
  • accelerates our understanding of God
  • revitalizes our spirits
  • brings the peace of God to our hearts

Surely these are desirable outcomes that warrant a few minutes each day to just be—in the presence of God.

 

 

The question becomes, how do we achieve such a goal when other responsibilities clamor loudly for our attention?

Like any priority, we must make time.   Begin with five minutes; you’ll soon be craving more.

Choose a secluded place. For years I sat at our kitchen table early in the morning, before anyone else in the house got up. Now I enjoy the luxury of a private home office. But when the weather allows, I revel in sitting on the deck with God, surrounded by his creation.

Not everyone has such options. I know one young mother who has chosen the bathroom as her place of stillness!

Put your God-given imagination to work. We considered the gift of imagination a couple of weeks ago, in a post titled: Oh, What We’re MissingYou can borrow my visualization if you like–the one I use if quiet time must take place indoors:

 

 

Picture a peaceful lake shrouded in morning mist.  On a dock are two Adirondack chairs, one for you and one for Jesus. He’s already sitting in his, because he loves to spend quality time with his children.  As you settle in your chair, reach out your hand for his. Just sit in companionable silence for a moment.

Another option: picture a place where you’ve experienced Jesus’ peace before, and imagine yourself there with him again.

Be physically still.  Relax.  The original Hebrew word translated “be still” can also be translated “cease striving.” Take several slow, deep breaths, and prayerfully set aside the to-list and concerns.

Focus on Jesus and contemplate his attributes. When distracting thoughts pop up (and they will!), add them to the to-do list or the prayer list as needed (keep them handy!), then turn back to Jesus.

Remember:  He understands how hard it is for us to sit quietly with him; he does not expect perfection. What he does treasure is our persistence to seek him (3).

 

 

Listen. “Deep within the center of the soul is a chamber of peace where God lives and where, if we will enter it and quiet all the other sounds, we can hear his gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12)” (4).

You may wish to keep a journal and pen nearby as God reveals impressions in your heart.  Perhaps it will just be one word or a single thought at first. Write it down. From that starting point you just might grow a paragraph, or even a page of God-thoughts.

But don’t worry if you hear no whisper. “In God’s presence is peace (Isaiah 26:3), joy (Psalm 16:11), and strength (Proverbs 18:10)—whether words are exchanged or not.

In A Quiet Place in a Crazy World, Joni Eareckson Tada wrote about her Uncle Vince, who had constructed a prayer room complete with fake paneling, some stained glass from an old church, and a couple of old, musty tapestries. The only furniture was a small prayer kneeler and a Bible stand.

 

 

Joni remembers thinking it was stuffy and tacky. Years later she realized how wise Uncle Vince was to have a special place where he met Jesus. That was undoubtedly the reason he prayed on the golf course and on his hikes with Joni and her family.

“Uncle Vince encountered God every place, because he had one place,” she wrote (5).

How we need such a place…

…to just be.

It starts with be.

 

 

Notes:

  1. Psalm 46:10
  2. Shauna Neiquist, Present over Perfect
  3. Sarah Young, Jesus Always
  4. L. B. Cowman, Streams in the Desert
  5. Joni Eareckson Tada, A Quiet Place in a Crazy World

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

 

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“I made soup,” she says.

I peer into the pot to see a chicken leg, a whole apple, a cluster of green beans and an ice cream cone.

“Eat some!” she coaxes.

I spoon a bite and assure her, “Oh, this is delicious.”

She smiles broadly. “I make dessert.” And two-year old Maarit (Mah-rit), our granddaughter, trots back to her child-size kitchen to bake a plastic cake or pie.

 

 

It’s such fun to watch little ones enjoy their vivid imaginations, and it comes so naturally to them. No one has to teach toddlers how to pretend; they just do. But as we grow and leave childish things behind, most of us abandon our imaginings.

Oh, what we’re missing.

In a post a couple of years ago (Oh, Say Can You See), we looked at three ways an active imagination can positively impact our faith, helping us to better understand God, add insight to Bible reading, and see more in this incredible world he’s created.

Today let’s consider three more ways. 

  1. With an active imagination, we are more likely to see people and situations the way God sees them. 

In his Word he calls us to see people for what they could be and will be as they avail themselves of his transforming power. We’re also called to see situations with forward-looking faith in God’s ability to do far more than we can imagine (1).

By contrast, our thoughts too often veer to the negative. We forget what the Apostle Paul told us in Philippians 4:8—to think on excellent and praiseworthy things.

 

 

C. S. Lewis helped a woman do just that in a letter he wrote as she lay in a hospital contemplating the possibility of death:

“Think of yourself,” he said, “just as a seed patiently waiting in the earth: waiting to come up a flower in the Gardener’s good time, up into the real world, the real waking. I suppose that our whole present life, looked back on from there, will seem only a drowsy half-waking. We are here in the land of dreams. But the cock-crow is coming” (2).

Surely Lewis’s words stirred fresh hope in her heart as he awakened her imagination to a new perspective. In your mind’s eye, can you see excellent, praiseworthy events unfolding in the situation that most concerns you? Allow such imaginings to provide fresh hope for your heart.

  1. With an active imagination we can envision the kingdom of God that exists here and now, even though hidden from view. 

The very nature of faith requires imagination, because the kingdom of God cannot be perceived by the senses. It exists invisibly among and within those who invite King Jesus to rule in their lives (3). But our imaginations can help us access the invisible through the visible as we contemplate:

 

 

  • The glory of God in the splendor of creation
  • The rule of God in the organization of the universe
  • The goodness of God in our numerous blessings
  • The wisdom of God in his precepts that usher in abundant life
  • The power of God, as he transforms misery to joy, trouble to triumph, and even bitterness to forgiveness
  1. With an active imagination we can experience God more fully. 

For example, what if we:

 

 

  • Imagine God sitting with us as we pray, our hands pressed between his, his head leaning in close to hear our every word. Would it be easier to sense his presence, stay focused, and pray with more intensity?
  • Imagine God at our right hand as we work through our days (Psalm 121:5). He is our ever-present Protector, Guide, and Help. Might such visualization reduce stress? Could mindless tasks become sublime opportunities to enjoy his presence and access his strength?
  • Imagine God on his throne as we worship, with his dazzling radiance signifying splendor, and his voluminous robe representing power (4). Might the joy and passion of our worship-experience be enhanced as we contemplate his magnificence?

 

 

You might remember that Jesus held children in great regard. He suggested that adults become like little children to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:1-5). Granted, his emphasis was upon trust, loyalty and humility. But responding to him with the imagination of a child as well will help us fly beyond the stars.

 

 

I don’t want to miss that. I’m guessing you don’t either.    

 

Notes:

  1. Philippians 1:6; Ephesians 3:20
  2. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, vol. 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950-1963, [2007]
  3. Hebrews 11:1; Luke 17:21
  4. Ezekiel 1:27; Isaiah 6:1-2

 

Photo credits:  http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.edwards.af.mil; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.goodfreephotos.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com.; http://www.quotefancy.com.

 

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Father and son take a walk down the road in front of their farm. The father has long been a nature enthusiast, especially interested in trees. He studies the tall oaks bordering the road that his grandfather planted long ago.

He knows that oak trees are among the longest-living organisms on the planet, that large specimens can consume up to one hundred gallons of water per day, and drop 10,000 acorns in a good year.

The father delights in those stalwart oaks; his desire is to keep them strong. More than once he’s called an arborist for advice on their care.

The son, on the other hand, watches the cars and trucks go by. He guesses every make as it comes into view, and he’s usually right. As far as the boy’s concerned, each one is a work of art.

 

 

He especially hopes a sports car will pass, so he can enjoy the rev of its large engine. And the whole while he’s dreaming of the day he will sit behind the wheel of a car or truck, wind whipping at his hair as he follows the road to his destiny.

Dad hardly sees the cars; the son barely notices the trees.

What a person delights in captures his attention and impacts his desires.

King David asserted that truth long ago, but in matters of the spiritual dimension rather than physical.

 

 

“Take delight in the Lord,” David wrote, “and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

David was not referring to desires for possessions, like sports cars or even healthy trees.  That interpretation doesn’t fit the context of the rest of the psalm.

David stresses that we’re to:

  • Trust in God (vs. 3, 5)
  • Delight in him (v. 4)
  • Commit our way to the Lord (v. 5)
  • Be still before him (v. 7)
  • Wait patiently for him (v. 7)

Those are the signposts of spiritual maturity: 1) to trust God even through the storms of life, 2) to delight in all that God is and all that God does no matter our circumstances, 3) to submit ourselves to his all-wise ways, 4) to remain calm and restful in his care, and 5) wait patiently for him to act.

 

 

As we become proficient in each of these areas (and it is a growing process), we often find our desires changing. Over time God molds his desires in our hearts—desires that provide true fulfillment, contentment, and peace.

However, we can accelerate the growing process and augment our delight in God.

Consider how the father and son grew in their delight of trees and cars. They learned. Each had made a study of their favorite subject. The father knew trees; the son knew cars.

We can increase our delight in God by:

  • Pursuing gratitude as an avenue of delight in him
  • Becoming a sleuth among everyday events, tracing the evidence of his love, wisdom, and power
  • Celebrating his blessings
  • Soaking in the Word of God, discovering his attributes and involvement in the lives of humankind
  • Practicing his presence throughout the day–acknowledging him, talking to him, and listening

 

“If we will let our hearts be filled with God till it runs over with delight,

then the Lord Himself will take care that we shall not want for any good things…

We may have disappointments; but if these bring us nearer to the Lord,

they are things to be prized exceedingly,

for they will in the end secure to us the fulfillment of all our right desires.”

–Charles Spurgeon, Faith’s Checkbook

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

That is my prayer, Heavenly Father, to be filled with the delight of YOU, sensitive to the perfect desires you have for me. Then I will know fullness of joy.

 

There are many ways to take joy in God.  What fills your heart with the delight of him?  Please share in the comment section below!

 

Photo credits:  http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.pixnio.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pixabay.com.

 

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Years ago when I taught fourth grade, our reading curriculum included a mini-lesson about A-HA Moments—places in a story where the author answers questions the reader has been wondering about.

Watching for those moments keeps the reader alert (thus improving comprehension), contributes to greater understanding of the plot and characters, and makes reading more fun.

Once our students became familiar with the concept, we enjoyed calling out “A-HA!” to one another (occasionally in unison) as other epiphanies occurred, whether it was in class or at recess. The sharing of A-HA Moments developed our classroom community and added to the joy of learning.

 

 

Our Heavenly Father also provides A-HA Moments, through such avenues as scripture, other reading, comments from others, and observations in nature. Our God is highly creative, providing personal revelations in numerous ways.

And similar to the benefits of A-HA Moments for students, our discovery moments with God augment our understanding of scripture and spiritual matters, strengthen our relationship with him, and add to the joy of learning from him.

For example:

 

 

  • An A-Ha Moment from Scripture

After six delightful years at one church, my pastor-husband received word he’d be assigned to a new congregation in three months’ time. My heart sank. This would be our third such move in thirteen years, and it wasn’t getting easier. As you know, saying good-bye hurts.

In addition, I had just returned that year to full-time teaching, after a long hiatus as a stay-at-home mom. Now I’d face the onerous task of procuring another position.

In the weeks that followed the announcement, we learned about some of the difficult challenges facing the new-to-us congregation.   And I wondered, God, what ARE you doing?

 

 

One afternoon a radio host quoted Jeremiah 29:11—a familiar scripture—but that day those words spoke loud and clear to me from God himself: Nancy, there is no reason to worry. I have already worked out my plans for you—plans to prosper you, not harm you, plans to give you HOPE and a thriving future.

Indeed we did prosper at that new church—for thirteen years—as God brought us and taught us through those numerous challenges. But one problem took care of itself—a new teaching position for me. (You can read that story at After the Fact.)

 

  • An A-HA Moment from other reading

 

 

The fact I’m writing about this topic today is the result of an A-HA Moment in itself. First, the seed of an idea was already on my topic list for 2019, but I had no notion how to develop it.

Currently I’m studying Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer. And just the other day I read this:

 

“I know the Lord is speaking to me personally when I read my Bible

and a particular verse or passage seems illuminated

—it just lifts up off the page,

and I seem to hear a gentle, inaudible whisper

as I have an ‘aha moment’ in my heart.”

–Anne Graham Lotz

 

Anne’s A-HA Moment caused me to have one of my own. God brought to mind the story about moving I just shared above as well as other examples. Then he pointed out other avenues of A-HA Moments, and I knew this was today’s topic.

 

 

  • An A-HA Moment in God’s Living Room

That’s what Michael Hyatt* calls the out-of-doors.  Isn’t that a poetically perfect appellation?   My special corner in God’s living room is our back deck overlooking the treetops.

One morning last October, the deck was surrounded by stillness—no birds trilled, no squirrels chattered—until one lone cardinal began to sing. Enthusiastically he filled our little woods with his voice, and his song made me smile.

I was reminded that God often breaks through the stillness of all our lives, with custom-designed lessons, answered prayers, and out-of-the-blue blessings. As a result, we experience hope, peace, and joy—three commodities that make life worth living.

 

 

Recorded in my journal is the impression God spoke in my spirit:

I do love to surprise My children! And their subsequent celebrations of praise bring Me great pleasure. But in reality I provide more wonders than they often perceive. Some surprises go unnoticed.

Keep watching and listening, Nancy, so we can smile, laugh, and celebrate together all the delightful surprises I bring into your life.

And therein lies the secret for experiencing life-enriching A-HA Moments with God: keeping watch (Micah 7:7) and listening attentively (Proverbs 1:5).

 

 

“Blessed are your eyes because they see,

and your ears because they hear.”

–Matthew 13:16

 

*former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing

 

What A-HA Moment has God presented to you lately? Tell us your story in the Comments section below!

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.kadena.af.mil; http://www.calicospanish.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.canva.com; http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

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Wingstem waltzes at woodland edge,

Gilt buckeye leaves tumble and twirl.

Creation sighs a cool breeze of relief

As summer wanes and fall approaches.

 

 

Squirrels scamper over tree-branch highways,

A hummingbird breakfasts on day lilies,

Mums turn round faces to bask in the sun–

A bustle of activity, but not a sound.

 

 

Much is accomplished in the quiet.

Trees stretch skyward, adding rings of growth,

Dew crystals bring moisture to petal and leaf,

Butterflies pollinate flower after flower.

 

 

God orchestrates harmony, even in stillness,

But not for self-flattering fanfare.

His efforts provide undeniable evidence

Of who he is—proof of his glory.

 

 

Note his artistry on sunset dahlias,

His genius in the strength of spider silk,

His wisdom in the female finch’s cloak,

His faithfulness in the circle of seasons.

 

 

God also desires to work within us,

Applying his artistry, genius, and wisdom—

Fostering change, fulfilling purpose—

Quietly, faithfully, day by day.

 

 

Within the silence of God’s holy presence,

We find strength and serenity of soul.

All we need do is accept his welcome

Into the quiet discovery of HIM.

 

 

(Romans 1:20; Psalm 104:24; Job 12:7-10; Philippians 1:6; Psalm 28:7, 29: 11, & 46:10.)

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pixnio.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pixabay.com (2).

 

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“Stand with me and sing!” invites the enthusiastic worship leader on the church platform, while guitars begin an upbeat tune and drums rap out a foot-tapping rhythm.

Around me people sway a bit to the music, some raise their hands, others worship with eyes closed.

And though I, too, sway and raise my hands, I have to admit my heart’s not in it. For some reason, lyrics that have brought me to joyful tears on other occasions are not penetrating today.

My spirit seems paralyzed—no feeling whatsoever. Efforts to engage—focusing on the words and imagining my Heavenly Father on his throne, listening with parental pleasure—don’t seem to help.

What’s wrong with me? I wonder.

Perhaps you’ve experienced the same numbness in corporate worship, maybe during personal quiet time or at prayer. And like me, you’ve felt certain that something must be wrong.

 

 

Granted, we worship God to honor him. Our end goal is not to rustle up feel-good endorphins for us.

But, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we were created to glorify God and enjoy him forever. How is that even possible when we come down with a case of the spiritual blahs?

Actually, days and even seasons of spiritual dryness are a normal part of our faith-walk, experienced by almost every Christian at one time or another. And there is comfort in that, knowing we’re not alone.

Theologian Sam Storms offers us further encouragement:

 

“God is glorified by your longing for the joy to be found in him,

even if you are not yet experiencing it” (1).

 

But are there strategies we can implement to jump-start our hearts into exuberant responsiveness?

As a matter of fact, yes.

 

 

We can: 

1. Be honest with God.

King David certainly was. “I spread out my hands to you;” he cried. “My soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (143:6).

Yet in spite of his emotional tailspin, David writes, “I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul (v. 8).

 

 

David provides a worthy example to follow: acknowledge the truth; affirm our trust, and seek God’s guidance.

 

2. Rehearse what we know about God’s character, his promises. 

Our minds are renewable resources (Romans 12:2). We can turn our thoughts away from the numbness we’re experiencing at the moment, and focus on what is lovely and true, excellent and praiseworthy about our God.

Sometimes such thought processes are all that’s necessary to bring us out of the doldrums (Psalm 92:4).

 

 

3. Persevere in spite of our emotions.

Keep showing up in God’s presence whether we feel like it or not.

Our emotions must not be allowed to control actions. In fact, God especially appreciates a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15), which surely includes offering him our worship when the fervency just isn’t there.

 

 

4. Anticipate.

Worship with an outlook on the future (Psalm 42:1-2). We can look forward to the day when our hearts will overflow again with ecstatic praise—even to the point of joyful tears.

 

5. Pray. 

Perhaps something like this: 

“Father in heaven, flood the dry places of my soul with your presence; lift the gray clouds that conceal you. Within my spirit I want to feel the warmth of your radiant Light, be wrapped in your unfailing love, and fly with you on the wings of the dawn!

In trusting expectancy I wait for you, O Lord. I know you will answer.”

 

 

(Isaiah 44:3; Psalm 4:6, 32:10, 139:9, 38:15)

 

What helps you beat the spiritual blahs?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

Note:

(1) https://www.crosswalk.com/church/worship/how-can-i-worship-when-i-feel-nothing.html

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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Wouldn’t that be nice—a deep sea of joy—for the days when the washer breaks down in the middle of a load, a tire goes flat on the way to an important meeting, and a jar of spaghetti sauce slips out of hand, splattering bright red ooze and shards of glass over much of the kitchen.

Yup. That’s what we need: a deep sea of joy. We could jump right in and be swallowed up in delightful mirth while everything else conspires to dump us into despair.

But according to that wise preacher of long ago, Charles Spurgeon, that’s exactly what we do have:

 

 

“Our God is a deep sea of joy.

My soul will dive therein

And be swallowed up

In the delights of his companionship.” *

 

Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Such sweet relief. But how do we do that? How do we delight in the companionship of an invisible God?

Actually, the relationships we enjoy with our (visible) loved ones give us many cues.

 

 

For example, just last weekend we enjoyed three days at Red River Gorge, Kentucky, with our older son and his family. You might recall Eric and Hilja (Hill-ya) have two little girls, ages four and four months. Needless to say our activities at the gorge were limited. No zip-lining, horseback riding, or long treks through the forest. Not this trip.

But we still took great pleasure in interesting conversations on the deck (especially in the evening after the girls were asleep), a short, scenic woodland hike, superb dinners prepared by Eric, reminiscings through some family history, frequent laughter**, and simply basking in the joy of being together.

God offers us similar joys as we delight in him:

 

  • Conversation—in the form of “simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment” (Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, 55).

 

  • Common interests, such as impacting the lives of others–opportunities to participate side by side with God in his work (John 15:5).

 

 

  • The splendor of creation–all the more magnificent as we revel in his artistry and genius (Psalm 33:6-9).

 

  • Celebration of who our God is and what he does (Psalm 145:7, 92:4).

 

  • Humorous moments–created by God just like everything else, so that with Sarah each of us can say, “God has brought me laughter” (Genesis 21:6).

 

  • His ever-present, ever-attentive companionship–itself a source of lavish joy (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

Oh, but there are still more ways to delight in God as we…

Trust.

Consistent contentment is possible as we affirm, “He is faithful in all he does” (Psalm 33:4).

Thank.

Honoring God with our gratitude is uplifting to us and pleasing to him (Philippians 4:6-7; Psalm 69:30-31).

Praise and sing.

If God delights in us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17), how much more should we delight in him with an expressive, lyrical heart?

 

 

Charles Spurgeon was right:

 

Our God offers a deep sea of joy–

if only we dive into his delights

frequently,

all day long.

 

 

*from Morning by Morning by Charles Spurgeon, updated by Whitaker House, 1984.

 

**Maybe it was only funny to us, but I have to share what four-year old Elena said after her first fishing excursion. She’d been warned to stay out of the greenery along the side of the road in case of poison ivy. Upon returning to the cabin she announced, “I stayed out of the weeds so I won’t get poisonitis.”

 

(Art & photo credits: http://www.maxpixel.freegreatpictures.com; http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.uk.pinterest.com (2); http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

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