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Posts Tagged ‘Intimacy with God’

(Reblogged from May 30, 2013)

 

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I placed my Diet Coke on a nearby table and settled into one of the front porch rockers. The book I had brought with me remained closed on my lap. Instead of reading, I gazed at tall pines, listened to birds chirping good-night to each other, and breathed in cool mountain air.

What a stark contrast to home, I thought. My husband, two sons, and I had escaped the oppressive summer heat of our Florida home, and were vacationing in a North Carolina rental cabin.

Not long after settling, I noticed an enormous Luna moth perched on the porch railing. He appeared to be sleeping soundly. His shapely sea-foam wings stretched out primly, in a perfect display of shimmering symmetry. Not even an antenna moved.

 

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In the sweet idleness of that moment, I had time to wonder:

When do you suppose moths wake up? Is it at dusk, or does it have to be completely dark? And what will be the first part to move? Will his wings flutter a bit in warm-up? Or will those long antennae flicker, checking his surroundings before he ventures into the night?

My knowledge of Luna moths was sorely lacking.

I made strong attempts to read my book, but kept distracting myself for updates on that moth–especially as the sun dipped lower in the sky and shadows deepened.

Eric, our older son, came out on the porch. He stood with hands in pockets, watching the sunset. “What’s up, Mom?”

“This is going to sound silly,” I began, “but see that moth over there? I’ve gotten curious about when they wake up. Is it at dusk or only when it’s completely dark? And as if that isn’t enough, I’m wondering what part of him will wake up first. Do you suppose it will be his antennae that move first, or maybe his wings?”

Eric chuckled slightly—not sarcastically, but in good humor that once again his mother’s curiosity was taking an interesting turn. I thought he’d turn and go back inside the cabin. To my delightful surprise, he chose to sit in the rocker next to me.

 

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Together we kept vigil over that moth as the sunlight diminished to an apricot glow on the horizon, and the landscape turned dark gray. Still that moth did not move. And soon we were enveloped by the night.

Suddenly, with barely a testing of his wings, the majestic moth was off the railing and fluttering away. Eric and I barely had time to say, “Oh! There he goes!” before the moth disappeared into the darkness.

We sat quietly for a few moments longer, listening to the crickets chirping cheerfully. With a contented sigh I reveled in the moment: the cool, peaceful surroundings and my satisfied curiosity. Most of all I savored that Eric had chosen to share with me this rather inconsequential moment.

 

I am new to shooting at night but one of the things I loved about shooting at night in the forest is how camp fires light up the trees. The orange glow on these trees is from a camp fire about 200 meters away.

Just a few years earlier, if I had asked Eric to sit with me and watch a moth, he would have said, “BOR-ING!” and loped off to other pursuits. But that year he was twenty-four. We were starting to relate to one another differently, share more common interests, and communicate on a similar level. Eric was still my son, but he was also becoming a friend.

‘Reminds me a bit of what our Heavenly Father offers. As we mature in him, our relationship grows into a loving, familial friendship, characterized by common interests and heart-to-heart communication. But such a relationship develops only as we spend time with him and his word.

Those who say, “Time with God is BOR-ING!” and lope off to other pursuits are missing out.

On what, you ask?

• The joy of His presence (Psalm 16:11)
• The goodness he bestows (Psalm 31:19)
• His strength (Psalm 138:2-3)
• Rest, in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1)
• Perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *      *     *     *

Such precious gifts, Father: joy, goodness, strength, rest, and peace. I praise you with all my heart for being a God who pursues a warm, loving relationship with his children. May I seek your face in return. Always.

 

(Photo credits:  www.wallpaperfo.com; http://www.corlinanature.com; http://www.dcr.virginia.gov; James Wheeler.)

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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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No, that’s not a typo in the title; I intentionally chose rust. However, that parody on an old hymn actually did result from a typo years ago.

Steve was just a few months into his first pastorate in St. Petersburg, FL. The mean age of the congregation was somewhere in the 70s. When the church secretary typed the opening hymn title for one Sunday’s bulletin, ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, she accidentally omitted the “T” in trust.

But there was a whole lot of truth in that typo-title. Many saints of that congregation could testify, even into old age: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust” (Psalm 40:4).

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And just what might those blessings be? A few possibilities quickly come to mind. When we put our trust in God, we enjoy:

  • Peace of mind (Isaiah 26:3-4)
  • Guidance (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • Help (Isaiah 41:10)
  • Strength (Isaiah 12:2)

But there are many more blessings that come to those who trust in God—some of which are quite surprising. The following is undoubtedly just a partial list:

Intimacy with God–not just acquaintance. The more we exercise trust, the more we recognize his involvement in our lives. With David, we can affirm: “All those who know your mercy, Lord, will count on you for help. For you have never yet forsaken those who trust in you” (Psalm 9:10).

Hope. Praise God for his hope that fills us with all joy and peace as we trust in him (Romans 15:13)! I can’t imagine going to bed at night without hope for tomorrow—much less for eternity.

Joyful Expectation and Quiet Confidence. Our lives are in the hands of an absolutely perfect, all-powerful, loving God. We can count on him to see us through every situation. So with great delight we can say, “I don’t know what God’s up to, but I know it has to be good!”

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Life above the Fray. Like Paul, we can learn to be content in every situation (Philippians 4:12), knowing that God will give us the strength to endure (v. 13). A heart full of trust has no room for worry or stress. (Remind me of that when the challenges pile up, will you?)

Adventure. Think of the adrenalin rush these Bible heroes must have experienced, as they placed their trust in God:

  • Joshua fighting the battle of Jericho—with trumpets and loud shouts!
  • Elijah praying for fire to consume a drenched offering to God, in front of 450 prophets of Baal
  • Nehemiah watching the walls of Jerusalem reconstructed, after the Israelites had been held in Babylonian captivity for seventy years

Are we going to sit on the sidelines of life and miss the miracles, because we’re afraid to trust? Perish the thought!

Influence. The Light of Jesus shines most brightly through those who demonstrate trust in the midst of dark circumstances. People remember those saints who maintain a positive, faith-focused outlook in spite of trials.

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For all these reasons and more, it is indeed sweet to (t)rust in Jesus–to rest secure in the loving, everlasting arms of our Heavenly Father.

 

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I praise you, Lord, with all my heart,

for being a trustworthy God who never fails his children.

How glorious to know

I can trust in your unfailing love!

(Psalm 9:1; 13:5; 52:8)

Photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.pixgood.com; http://www.masterfile.com.)

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Whether I heard it or read it, I don’t remember. But the words caught me by surprise, and I jotted them down:

“What was uppermost in Jesus’ mind as Good Friday approached?

“Joy.”

Do you find that surprising, too?

Yet at least three times on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus spoke about joy (John 15:11; 16:22, 24; 17:13)–a most unusual topic and completely unnatural.  Who thinks about joy when they know that catastrophe is about to strike?

Jesus, that’s who.

Within the next twenty-four hours he would face excruciating pain, total abandonment by his Father, and the most horrific death ever devised.

But his concern was for his disciples, not himself.  Jesus wanted them to remember the important principles of love, obedience, and joy–an empowering joy that no one could take away from them.

Perhaps you remember the scene. Jesus and his disciples had just finished their last Passover supper together. After the meal, he taught his final lesson.

The first mention of joy came near the end of his teaching about the vine and the branches:

“I have told you this

so that my joy may be in you

and that your joy may be complete”

(John 15:11).

The word, “this,” refers to the ways Jesus had just mentioned that will contribute to joy:

1.  Live close to him and produce much good in and through your life (vs.4-8).

2.  Live in obedience to Jesus and experience the warmth, peace, and care of His love (vs. 9-10).

 Note that Jesus wanted his joy to be in the hearts of his disciples. What characterized his joy, compared to that of others?

  1. Strong awareness of the Father’s love for him, and his own love for the Father (vs. 9-10).
  1. Absolute surrender and self-sacrifice of himself to his Father, and the joy of doing what his father had sent him to do. Even during his great travail in the Garden of Gethsemane, his one desire was to do his Father’s will (Luke 22:42).

Jesus’ joy coexisted with the profound sorrow of his impending suffering, because he was already well-acquainted with the satisfaction and fulfillment of obedience.

  1. The understanding that joy deferred to the future is anticipatory joy in the present. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

And finally, Jesus told his disciples that he desired complete joy for them. What does complete joy look like? It is:

  • Not so much an emotion as it is a conviction (Keith Krell, “Moment by Moment,” http://www.bible.org).
  • Inner contentment, resulting from continually cultivating an intimate relationship with Jesus.
  • Constant, not dependent on circumstances.
  • Enduring, day after day. Indestructible.
  • Perfect—the perfect, joy-filled fulfillment of the destiny for which God created you, even when a portion of that destiny is suffering.

I’m thinking of the martyrs–Stephen, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, William Tyndale, John Wycliffe and countless others who demonstrated complete joy even as they died in anguish.

Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John and Bishop of Smyrna for many years, refused to revile Jesus. For that he was burned at the stake.

But before the flames rose up, Polycarp prayed:

“O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have been given knowledge of thyself…I bless thee for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered amongst the martyrs, to share the cup of thine Anointed and to rise again unto life everlasting…”

Such devotion, courage, and supernatural strength are impossible to fathom apart from the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

Can you hear the grace in Polycarp’s voice as he blessed God for the privilege of dying a martyr?

That is complete joy, only experienced by those who trust in Jesus implicitly.

Complete joy that Jesus purchased for us at Calvary.

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We marvel, Heavenly Father, in the extreme paradox that is the cross. Out of the evil unleashed upon your Son comes your holy, righteous goodness–upon us. Out of the horror of the crucifixion that Jesus endured comes inexpressible and glorious joy, to those who put their faith in him–not a temporary feeling of elation, but deep, abiding, abundant joy. 

All praise to you, our loving, gracious God!       

(Acts 3:13-16, 1 Peter 1:8, John 6:47, John 10:10)

 

(Photo credit:  www.rejesus.co.uk.)

 

 

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(“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!  I sing for joy because of what you have done” — Psalm 92:4 NLT.)

God lavishes his gracious kindness upon us in countless ways, doesn’t he?

In appreciation for all he’s done, I have a suggestion. Let’s each write him a personal psalm for Valentine’s Day.  A love gift, on a love-focused holiday, for our loving God.  (You have more than a week to prepare your gift!)

Is that an overly sentimental idea?

Perhaps the timing is, but the matter of creating personal psalms has nothing to do with sentimental poetry.

I can hear some of you already. “Me—compose a psalm? I struggle to put a personal message on a birthday card!”

If that sounds like you, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you” (Joshua 1:9)!

God waits with eager anticipation for you to enjoy an intimate Father/child relationship with him (2 Corinthians 6:18).

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 And what parent is not overjoyed when a son or daughter shares his/her innermost thoughts and feelings?

Remember, a psalm is simply a heartfelt prayer or song.  Key word: heartfelt.  Our psalms do not have to rhyme. We don’t have to use fancy literary devices like metaphors, imagery, or parallelism unless we want to.

These psalms are for our Heavenly Father.  He takes great pleasure in the sincere, unpretentious efforts of his children, just as all parents do.  We can even ask for his help to string the words together that will express our hearts.

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started—that first thought. An easy solution is to use a biblical psalm as a model.

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To begin, you might choose a favorite verse. Read it slowly, several times. Rewrite it in your own words.  These questions might help to push your thinking further:

  • Is there a phrase or word that stands out?   Explain to God why it is important to you.
  • Do you feel a connection with this particular verse?  Add a personal experience when God’s activity in your life made this verse especially meaningful for you.

Following is one way to create a personal psalm, based on Psalm 3:3a: “You are a shield around me, O Lord.”

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1.  Choose a key word.  “Shield” is an obvious choice.

2.  Use the question-words who, what, where, when, why, and how to jump-start your thought processes.  Not all of them will spark an idea, but several will.  For example:  How is God a shield for me? What is he shielding me from? Why is it important for me to remember that he is my shield?

3.  Prayerfully and thoughtfully answer your questions. Meditate for a moment, then begin to write. One word can become the basis for the first sentence. A word or idea from that sentence can be expanded upon and become another sentence.

Before you know it, a psalm is born!

 

I praise you, oh God, for being like a shield

when disturbing thoughts are hurled my way.

You deflect those poisoned-arrows

with your shield of scriptural truth

and tender compassion.

Help me remember

you are all-powerful and all-wise.

There is no circumstance or emotional battle

that you cannot handle.

Your strong shield protects me

from the assault of Satan and his cohorts—

those negative, discouraging thoughts

that try to attack the peace and joy you’ve given me.

You are my almighty Warrior-God,

unsurpassed in power.

Satan cowers in your presence!

Help me avail myself of your protection

at every onslaught.

 

Once your psalm is complete, it’s time for presentation.  Read your psalm out loud to God. You will sense his presence as he comes to listen! How do I know?

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(“Come near to God and he will come near to you” — James 4:8.)

Keep your journal or notebook handy. Further thoughts may occur to you as you read, or afterward as you reflect. One more question to consider: In what ways has your relationship to God been impacted through this composing process?  You may wish to write about that, too.

I must confess, I’ve written a number of personal psalms. But recent reading on the subject has inspired me to pursue new avenues of this form of worship.

In future psalms I want to increase my reflection time, be more specific, add more detail, and actually read my psalms out loud.  I’m looking forward to expressing the depths of my heart more openly and discovering new depths of my Heavenly Father.

If you already write personal psalms, or should decide to write one, I’d love to hear about your experience!

 

(Art and photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.healthcentral.com; http://www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com.)

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Fantasyland_Full_17089

Visit a theme park and you soon learn that part of the adventure is waiting in line–even if you pay extra for fast passes.

Such was our experience at Disney World two years ago. The castle of Beauty and the Beast required wait time—well over an hour. But friends of our daughter had told her, “Don’t miss it,” so we joined the long, looping line.

You may also know that, while you wait, the folks around you can become like friends. Topics such as home state, kids’ ages, and other experiences in the park, get the conversation going. Commiserating over the long line adds to the camaraderie.

Finally we approached the entrance to the castle. Only fifty or so guests were allowed past the gilded rope. This was our first surprise, since most theater-attractions seat hundreds of people. (No doubt there are at least several theaters within the castle, to accommodate the crowds. But each group enters separately, totally unaware that there must be identical venues down alternate hallways.)

First, we were ushered into an outer room, hosted by a footman, I believe. He assigned roles to many of the guests. Among them, the father from Michigan with the four kids became a butler, the little ballerina (who had performed intermittently as we waited in line) became a teacup, our son-in-law, a knight, and our granddaughter, a salt shaker. Each participant was given a colorful placard to identify his or her part. The footman explained what they would need to do, once we entered the library to meet Belle.

 

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One particular role seemed completely inappropriate. For the Beast, the footman chose a little girl with an obvious limp.  It seemed cruel to choose such a child for the Beast, of all characters.  As he draped a red cape over her shoulders, I thought, He probably didn’t notice her difficulty walking. But those of us who had become acquainted outside the castle knew full well: this was going to be awkward.

Soon we were ready to enter the library and meet Belle. Our small gathering of almost-friends filed into the dimly lit, cozy room.  Most of us sat close together on benches.

Beautiful Belle, in her yellow satin gown, directed the teacups, salt shakers, and other dancers in a delightful little polka, while the knights stood guard. Such an elegant and charming princess, that Belle.

Then she said it was time for her dance with the Beast.

Our new little friend slowly and carefully approached Belle without any sign of self-consciousness. Her eyes locked with Belle’s, glistening with pleasure and adoration. Gently, they nearly waltzed, Belle being mindful to accommodate Beast’s handicap. And for a few precious moments, that little girl’s physical challenges were forgotten in the inexpressible delight of dancing with Belle.

Suddenly, my eyes filled with tears. That little girl had been the perfect choice for Beast. Her ecstatic joy was obvious in the non-stop smile and luminous eyes. She was the center of attention of a princess—someone whom she dearly loved and greatly admired. Even more poignant, the sweet look of love returned by Belle, her gracious intentness focused entirely upon the child.

Love soon encompassed the entire room. Surely every guest felt it, not just me. We loved the child for her precious innocence. We loved Belle for her warmth and kindness. We even loved each other, as almost-friends, sharing in this  miracle—a once-in-a-lifetime experience, never to be repeated.

But wait.  In actuality such euphoria and reverence is available to us–every day.

We can keep company with Jesus, our Prince of Peace —not just for a few miraculous moments, but  All.  The.  Time.  In fact, like the father of the prodigal son, he waits in eager anticipation for us to come “home” to him and linger there.

We can be transformed, just like that little girl.   For the length of that magical dance, she was blissfully unaware of her handicap. Why? Her attention was riveted on Belle.  Paul challenges us to do the same in the spiritual realm:   “Fix your attention on God,” he said.  “You’ll be changed from the inside out” (Romans 12:2, The Message).

We can experience love beyond imagination. Belle portrayed perfect love for one shining moment; God is perfect love (1 John 4:8). And the love of his Son, Jesus, is wider than any experience we encounter, longer than our lives last here on earth, and higher, purer, and deeper than any other love (Ephesians 3:18).

And then, one glorious gift that even the lovely Belle could not bestow.  We can be healed of our handicap, the handicap of sin.  Jesus paid the price for our sin when he died on the cross.  He sacrificed himself so that we could be healed of the ravages of sin and enjoy a God-enhanced life (1 Peter 2:24; John 10:10).

With ecstatic joy we can revel in all the privileges of one-on-one relationship with our Prince, who loves each of us as if there was only one of us (St. Augustine).

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Oh, Prince of Peace, what an astounding privilege you grant us, to bask in your perfect love each day.  Thank you for the assurance of your love throughout scripture, reminding us that we are precious and beloved to you.  May our status as your precious ones free us to live unencumbered by self-consciousness, fear, and worry.  And may we never fail to express your gracious love to those around us.

 

(Photo credits:  www.wdwmagic.com; http://www.galleryhip.com)

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Olive-grove

In one of his many psalms, David compared himself to an olive tree:

“I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever” (Psalm 52:8).

If you’re like me you’re wondering: Why does David identify himself as this particular tree? Is there something special about olive trees?

As a matter of fact, yes.

It may be that, as David composed this psalm, he was contemplating several qualities characteristic of these distinctive trees:

Long Life

Olives are among the longest-living trees, continuing to grow for hundreds of years.   In fact, one specimen in Algarve, Portugal is 2000 years old, according to carbon dating.

Perhaps their longevity is due to adaptability. They can grow in various conditions—on terraced hillsides or in valleys, in rocky soil or rich, fertile loam. But even in hot climates with little rainfall the olive can grow quite contentedly.

Not only is it adaptable, the olive tree is tenacious. If it is cut down, shoots from the roots will develop, and the tree will miraculously regenerate itself.

Far-Reaching Root Systems

Because they grow for centuries, and spread their branches wide, the root system of an olive tree can be quite massive, expanding twenty feet in every direction around the trunk.

Fruitfulness

Even dwarf olive trees will produce 20-40 pounds of fruit each year.  The largest variety can produce a ton of olives annually!  The oil pressed from the fruit is also useful for cooking, for fuel in oil lamps, and even for skin care products.

No doubt you already see parallels to a life rooted and established in God:

  • The olive tree is almost eternal; David knew that one day he would “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).
  • The massive root system brings to mind the qualities of stability and perseverance, and the habit of abiding (John 15).  An anonymous psalmist expanded the word picture for us when he wrote: “And he shall be like a tree firmly planted [and tended] by the streams of water, ready to bring forth its fruit in its season; its leaf also shall not fade or wither; and everything he does shall prosper [and come to maturity]” (Psalm 1:3, AMP). In other words, a person seeking after God is so well-rooted in Him, nothing can destroy his spirit.
  • The fruitfulness of the olive tree reminds us of the fruitfulness of the Spirit-led life (Galatians 5:22-23).  As a person grows deep in her knowledge of God and in relationship with God, she becomes more loving, joyful, peaceful, and so on.  Not all at once, however.  It is a growing process, after all.

And so, an expansion of David’s metaphor in Psalm 52 might read:

I am like an olive tree,

Content to bloom where the Gardener plants me,

Flourishing and thriving even,

In the gracious presence of my God–

Immortal through faith,

Grounded in Him,

Growing toward maturity

As I trust

In His unfailing love,

His protection and provision,

His guidance, and grace–

Forever and ever.

We praise you, Heavenly Father, for what you have done (Psalm 52:9a)!

 

(Photo credit:  www.home-hunts.net.)

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