Saturday, 25 July 2015

Seeking the Giver of Gifts or Just his Gifts

Dear Friends,

I confess there are times when I can get caught up and focused on asking God for things rather than focusing on him.

There is nothing wrong in asking God for something, in fact he encourages us to come to him with our requests.  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Philippians 4:6 (NIV) But there is something wrong when we make our entire relationship with him all about what he can do for us and what he can give us, as if he's some kind of magic genie, here to grant us our every wish, or like Father Christmas waiting for us to give him our list of things we would like.

We may be coming to God with requests which are good and right but if that is all our communications consist of, then I believe our relationship is far from what it could and should be.

When I think about my relationship with my children, if they only came to me when they wanted something from me I would be hurt.  I want our relationship to be so much more than this.  I like that they can seek me out just to tell me about something funny that happened during the day.  I like it when we can spend time together as a family, playing a game, or going to the beach or having a holiday.

As their Mum I still want them to come to me when they need something.  I don't want them to think they have to go elsewhere.  After all, I have their best interests at heart.  I like to know what's on their hearts and minds, what hopes and dreams they have.  I want to be able to encourage them to pursue their goals.

I believe God is the same.  He wants a relationship with me and you which is more than just about what I can get from him.  He wants me to seek him for himself, to enjoy a relationship with him, to get to know him.  I can still share things with him, he does want to know what's on my heart and mind. He always has my best interests at heart.  "But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul." Deuteronomy 4:29 (NIV)  We have this wonderful promise from God in Jeremiah 29:13  "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (NIV)

Has there been a time in your relationship with God when your focus has been all about him doing something for you?  Perhaps it's been about your health, your finances, your employment, your home life, your relationships, your ministry.  There is nothing wrong in these things themselves.  But has this become all you think about?  Has your whole attention been on this rather than on the Giver of gifts himself?

May he possibly be saying to you as he's been saying to me, "Don't let this one thing you are pursuing mean more to you than a relationship with Me.  There is so much more that I long to reveal to you of Myself.  There is so much more of Me for you to know.  Pursue Me first and foremost.  Discover a life that is full and satisfying.  One that can only be found in Me."

What if God never granted me the request I've brought before him?  That thing I've sought after for so long.  What if he does not grant your request?  What if he's saying "I'm enough, let Me be enough for you."  What would I do? What would you do?  Would I give up on God because he's not given me what I've asked for?  Or would I keep trusting in God?  "Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you." Psalm 9:10 (NLT)  Will I keep loving him?  Will I choose to believe He is still good, "Only God is truly good." Mark 10:18 (NLT) and believe he still loves me even when his answer is no? God says, "I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself." Jeremiah 31:3 (NLT)   Will I, will you, choose to say "I want you, God, more than I want anything else."  Will we choose to find satisfaction in him rather than looking for it in something else? 

Can you and I say with David, "O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you!" Psalm 63 (NLT)

To Think About:
Has there been a time in your life when you have become more focused on gifts from the Giver rather than the Giver himself?

What difference would it make to your life if you were to seek to know God more?  To long for more of him rather than more from him?

Do you choose to still love and trust him whatever his answer to your requests is?

Vicki

Friday, 17 July 2015

A Tangled Mess

Dear Friends,


My sister and I regularly chat on the phone. She was sharing with me one morning about what was going on in her life. She had several decisions to make, responsibilities to order and things which were concerning her.  She was finding it hard and said that the picture she had was of a tangled ball of strings, all knotted and muddled up, yet as much as she tried she couldn't untangle them.

But what is too hard for us is not too difficult for God! "Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you." Jeremiah 32:17 (ESV)

She took her concerns and worries to God, but as she did so she was still trying to find the solution herself. She suggested several answers to God.  For example, she would say to him, if such and such could happen then things can work out, or if you would do a, b or c, then this would be good.  After a while, she realised that she was trying to tell God what to do.  She was telling him what she thought the best answer was and she was trying to keep in control of everything.

God showed her another picture of the strings, but this time each one was untangled and laid out straight.  She believed he was showing her that what seemed hard to her, what seemed to be all knotted together and a problem for her, was not how God saw it.  He had it all under control, he already knew the answers and he didn't need her to tell him what he should be doing.  Everything was clear and straightforward to God.  What he wanted from her was for her to willingly relinquish her control, to hand everything over to him, to trust him to show her the best answer to what was troubling her.

As we chatted on the phone I thought what a great picture it was she had shared and how many of us can feel like that at one time or another.  We try to juggle responsibilities, work out the things we should be doing or should let go of and try to work out the way forward.  What is it that has you feeling like your life is one tangled mess at the moment?  Is it work related, relationships, health, your service at church, managing your own expectations or the expectations of others, trying to make a dream come true or achieve a goal?  Have you found that the harder and longer you try to untangle the mess the tighter the knots become and the more tangled your life gets.  Frustrating isn't it?

After a while perhaps we realise our need to take this mess to God for him to unravel things and separate the strings so they are free from knots and tangles.  How long will it take me (and you) to learn this lesson?  God longs for us to take our concerns, our problems, our mess to him,  the psalmist wrote in Psalm 55:22 "Cast your burden on the Lord [releasing the weight of it] and He will sustain you; He will never allow the [consistently] righteous to be moved (made to slip, fall, or fail)." (AMP)

But when we do take it to God, do we do what my sister did? Do we wait on him to work things out in his time, to wait for his answer or do we actually go to him and try to tell him what he needs to do?  Do we trust that he knows best?  Do we leave it all with him and release our cares and concerns into his hands?

When we can do this we find our peace restored.  Life becomes more manageable because we are no longer trying to do it all on our own, using our limited human resources but we are living dependently on God who enables us to live out his best for us.  We discover that life is more fulfilling and enjoyable as we move in step with him and allow his Holy Spirit to work out God's purposes for us.

In Philippians 4:6-7 it says "Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." (NLT)  I also like how The Message paraphrases it: "Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life."

To Think About:
What concerns, cares or difficulties do you have in your life at the moment?

Will you take them to God rather than worrying over them and trying to work them out for yourself?

What difference does it make to your life when you leave these things in God's hands?

Vicki

Friday, 10 July 2015

"It Is Well With My Soul"

Dear Friends,

I first heard about the life of Horatio Spafford at a Ladies' Day I attended in May, and then I read about him the following month in John Ortberg's book, 'Soul Keeping: Caring for the most important part of you'.  Some of you may be familiar with the story but even if you are, it's one that's worth retelling.

Horatio Spafford was a committed Christian and a wealthy lawyer in Chicago in the 1800s.  He and his wife, Anna, had five children.  In 1870 their only son died of scarlet fever, aged just four years.  A year later, the estate holdings Horatio had invested in were destroyed in the great Chicago Fire.

In 1873 Horatio decided that he and his family needed a holiday to help them recover from these traumatic events.  They were to travel the Atlantic Ocean from New York to England.  At the last minute Horatio had to stay behind to deal with business but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead of him, agreeing to join them as soon as he could.

On the voyage the ship Anna and her daughters were journeying on collided with another ship.  Within minutes  their ship sank.  Many died.  Some days later Horatio received a telegram from his wife in Wales with the words "Saved alone."

Horatio boarded the next ship he could so he could join his wife.  During the journey the ship's captain called him to the bridge of the ship and told him that they were passing over the place where it was believed the ship carrying his wife and daughters had sunk.

I cannot begin to imagine the horror of all that Horatio and his wife experienced.  I wonder what my reaction would have been - they had lost everything.  Yet, Horatio's response was to praise God as he wrote the hymn. "It is well with my soul".  (I've included the words of this hymn at the end of this post)

Job was a man in the bible who underwent similar trials, yet because of his faith in God he was able to say “But he [God] knows where I am going.  And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold." Job 23:10 (NLT)

In Genesis we have the account of Joseph who suffered at the hands of his family, yet he was able to say to his brothers when he was reunited with them "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good."  Genesis 50:20 (NLT)

The psalmist wrote in Psalm 42:11 "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God." (ESV)

Paul wrote to the to the Christians in Corinth about his experiences: "We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed...
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!" 2 Corinthians 4:8-9,17 (NLT)

Why were these people able to say and do such things in the midst of such suffering?  Because they focused on God, they chose to trust him despite their circumstances and they knew that this life was not the end for them, they knew that God had guaranteed them an eternity in heaven with him. 

You and I will face suffering and troubles in this life, but if we follow the example of these men and the ultimate example of Jesus then we will be able to say "It is well with my soul."

"And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne." Hebrews 12:1b-2 (NLT) 

To Think About:
What is your initial response when you encounter trials and difficulties?

Why do you think Horatio Spafford was able to respond as he did to personal tragedy?

What will help you to respond as Spafford and the aforementioned people in the bible did?

Vicki

  1. When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
    When sorrows like sea billows roll;
    Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
    It is well, it is well with my soul. 
    • Refrain:
      It is well with my soul,
      It is well, it is well with my soul.
     
  2. Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
    Let this blest assurance control,
    That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
    And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
  3. My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
    My sin, not in part but the whole,
    Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
  4. For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
    If Jordan above me shall roll,
    No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
    Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
  5. But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
    The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
    Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
    Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
  6. And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
    The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
    The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
    Even so, it is well with my soul.
Horatio G. Spafford, 1873

Friday, 3 July 2015

Just The Two Of Us

Dear Friends,

Jason and I recently celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary.  We celebrated it by going away, just the two of us, for a long weekend.  It was a special time of enjoying things that we like to do together, such as shopping, walking around the historic city of Chester, sharing morning coffee and having some great meals together.  It was so good to be able to focus on us as a couple, to have the time to be together and enjoy each other's company.  To talk about things that were important to us and then at other times just to enjoy a companionable silence without the need to fill awkward silences.  To be able to just be ourselves rather than trying to be something we are not.

I would love to be more spontaneous, to decide the night before that we would go away for the weekend, but that's just not practical.  Everyone leads busy lives, with various responsibilities.  So if quality time like this is going to happen it needs to be planned, other things need to be put in place so that it is possible to have time as a couple.

We know that no earthly marriage is perfect, because not one of us is perfect, but it can still be a good example to those around us of the love that God has for us and the kind of relationship he wants with us.

The marriage relationship is a picture of the relationship God wants with his people.  The bible refers to us as the bride of Christ "Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honour to him.  For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself." Revelation 19:7 (NLT) and Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth "For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ." 2 Corinthians 11:2 (NLT).

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes more about this "31 As the Scriptures say, 'A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.' 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one." Ephesians 5:31-32 (NLT)

Just as there is a commitment between a husband and wife, God is passionately committed to us.  More than anything he desires an intimate relationship with us.  He longs for us to spend time with him, to be totally focused on him, to give him our full attention.

Remember what I wrote at the beginning.  That's what God longs for with each of his people.  So let's apply it to ourselves.  In this kind of relationship with God, he is the centre of my life, he is my priority.  I don't need or want anyone else or anything else to take his place.  He is everything to me.  We are like-minded, we enjoy being together, sharing life together, having common interests.  When I'm with him I'm free to be myself, knowing he loves and accepts me, that he will always love and accept me. "Long ago the Lord said to Israel: 'I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.'" Jeremiah 31:3 (NLT)  God said this many years ago to his people, Israel, but it's good to know that they also apply to us today. There's is no danger of his love for me growing cold or that he will become indifferent to me because his love is constant and ever-lasting.  I can enjoy times of just being with him, in the silence, soaking in his presence, there is no need to be talking all the time.  At other times we can enjoy sharing on a deep level, sharing what's on our hearts, sharing joys and sorrows, telling him things I would never dream of saying to another for fear of how they would react. 

Just as people need to plan for time together, so it's vital that we plan for quality time with God.  If we don't, then it's quite likely it will never happen and we will find that we are drifting apart.  Time will pass, days, weeks, months and we will not be able to remember the last time we actually enjoyed time alone with God.

Whatever our marital status is, single, married, divorced, widowed, each one of us has the opportunity to enter into a marriage relationship with God.  We can all enjoy a committed relationship with God who is totally devoted to us and whose love for us is greater than any other we will ever know.

To Think About:
Are you in a committed relationship with God?

Is he at the centre of your world or have you replaced him with someone or something else?

What does it mean in practice for you to be Christ's spouse?  What is your part in the relationship?

Vicki