Christianity 201

June 27, 2021

Only God Can Satisfy Our Thirst for God

Today we return to Brothers of the Book, written by writer, speaker, entrepreneur and marketing consultant Bill Hood. His thoughts this month have come from the Book of Psalms. Click the header below to read this and find other parts of the series.

Turn Off The Noise

Text: Psalms 61-67

This world is full of distractions that keep us focused on the meaningless and leave us too exhausted to focus on the eternal. We’ve got to turn off the noise.

I love gadgets; I always have. I guess I live in the right time for gadgets, don’t I? I walk around with two cell phones, each of which receives e-mails; one of them receives e-mails from about seven different addresses. I have a Bluetooth headset for each phone; in fact, one of them is a stereo headset for listening to music I have loaded up on my iPhone. We have two desktop computers, one is a Mac and the other a PC. I have a work laptop and a personal laptop. I have a cordless headset for my office line, along with a cordless handset. All of our phones in the house are cordless. We have five TVs in a household of three people.

The best gift I ever got my wife was one of those single serving coffee makers where you put a little sealed package in the thing and it pops out the perfect cup of coffee quicker than I can fill a cup at the refrigerator’s filtered water dispenser. We have two Kindle e-readers, two iPads, and I have a hand held electronic organizer, or three, lying around here somewhere. We have a portable DVD player we can take in the car with us on long trips away from our other three DVD players in the house. I have an old but still powerful stereo system to which I have the Bonus Room TV hooked up. I could go on and on but I’m getting tired of the game.

You know what all of that stuff is? Distraction. I was talking with a brother in Christ Wednesday night about the fact that kids today talk through texting. The telephone is so “last century”. Texting is the thing. We went on to talk about how things were when we were kids; you were really upscale if your house had a microwave or a VCR. It’s funny; I’m all “gadgeted” out and I’m complaining about the kids these days. Go figure.

I didn’t give much thought to all of my gadgets or the distractions they provide until I read today’s Bible verses. They are so powerful in their praise. I become almost breathless as I contemplate the truth of these praises. I wonder; why does God’s greatness only seem to strike me when I take a moment to read His Word? Listen to this:

Psalm 61:1-8 ESV
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.”

Does your soul thirst for God? Do you remember Him on your bed and meditate on Him in the watches of the night? Do you know what image came to me as I read that? I pictured David lying out in the fields with his sheep; he was a shepherd as a youth. Laying there with no TV or books or DVDs or CDs or Nintendos or cell phones; what did he have to occupy his mind? He had God. What do you and I have to occupy our minds? TV, books, DVDs, CDs, Xbox, and cell phones.

I drop into bed at night, exhausted from all the noise, in a pitch-dark room, and drop off to sleep, only to get up and start rushing first thing in the morning. David fell asleep under the stars with no sound of traffic or electronic clatter in the background. He could feel the grass beneath him and see the stars above him and God was self-evident in His majesty. Laying there, enveloped in the awesome reality of His power, how could David not meditate on God?

I don’t think I do enough of that, and I wonder if you’re in the same boat. The wonders of this age are significant but they are nothing compared to a solid, moment by moment relationship with the Father God. They are nothing compared to meditating on Him. I think we miss a lot of what God has for us simply because we are too busy with stuff and things. All that glitters is not gold, and this is never more true than when we compare the wonders of this world with the wonders of God.

I know I’m “preaching to the choir” here, but guys, we need to start turning off the noise and distractions. We have got to make time for ourselves. Surprised you there didn’t I? You probably thought I would have said we needed to make time for God. I almost did, but that would have been incorrect. God doesn’t need time with us; we need time with Him. It starts with this time we take every day to read the Bible, but it needs to be more than that. We need to spend time with Him in Prayer. We need to meditate on His Word, and on His character, and upon His ways. We need to lie down at night and meditate on Him in the watches of the night. To do this we are going to have to turn off the noise.

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

May 30, 2021

Social Media Detoxification

Rebecca Brand lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her husband, Kieren, daughter, Sarai, and their rescue dog, Nala. She has blogged for years at RebeccaBrand.org, has spoken nationally and internationally and is the author of Life’s Greatest Battles. We have borrowed two articles from her on this subject, so readers, please reciprocate by clicking the headers which follow and reading this on her site.

Hello, From the Other Side

Over the last two months, I have embarked on a detox for my soul, and it has been life-changing.

You see, at first, it hadn’t dawned on me that I had stumbled into the rat race of social media…I had unintentionally wanted to start to find the “best time” to post (because that is when “my followers” are most “engaged”. I had also started to think about the social media “algorithms”, and how post-after-post on Instagram and Facebook would tell me why I wasn’t good enough, and that these other people had the key to “success” in getting more followers, more engagement, and ultimately, more “famous” (like, what does that even mean?).

I had realized that I had innocently become a consumer on what these social media giants wanted all along – my time, and ultimately, what they hoped for, was my money.

I was tired of waking up, and not spending as much time with God, in order to create “the post” (which ironically was about God) that would speak to “more people”.

For the last six years, blogging was like my “daily diary.” I’d spend time with God and then write what was on my heart. I loved the simplicity of whatever revelation the Holy Spirit had given me for that day – I’d write about.

But Holy Spirit had started to show me that I was spending more time on social media and less time with God, and so I stopped, with repentance in my heart, and a cry in my soul, to truly reconnect with my saviour.

One day, before I went on my soul detox, I stumbled across #fakefamous on Netflix. As I was watching, it was as if a veil of deceit had come off my eyes!

Friends, when something takes our eyes off Jesus – no matter how many times we tell ourselves, that this is our “ministry” – it’s a lie, and we need a heart check.

God never wants us to be more focused on anything other than Himself. We need to ask ourselves some hard truths about why we want more likes, shares and saves…because I know for myself, I wanted more followers, and I had unintentionally started comparing myself!

Let’s stop giving the enemy what He wants and restart to connect with our ultimate true love

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else”

Matthew 6.33

Why Are We Still Striving?

I used to believe that I wasn’t striving, but over my two-month social media detox, God showed me that I, along with many others, still are

The catchphrase “actions speak louder than words” rang true in my ear because it was the first time that when God told me to take the break, I saw people start “unfollowing me” and (no offence), but I didn’t care

A few days ago, I wrote on when I watched a program called “Fake Famous”, and it opened my eyes to how fake social media can be. Honestly, it showed me that although we have people on our profiles who engage with our content, more often than not, the numbers that are represented aren’t an accurate representation

For the first time, and I continue to be, at peace in seeing my numbers decline because I am not interested in having fake accounts or bots follow me. This was never my intention in the first place, and yet, there I was, checking out, daily, my stats and wondering where I was going wrong?

Things have shifted in my life. I realized that I was striving to bring in large numbers as I believed that that would allow the messages God has placed on my heart to have a wider reach. Yet, Jesus changed the world with twelve faithful followers, all located right before His eyes, so why do we strive for anything less?

Kieren and I have been praying into our church – which launches end of June – but, again, we would rather have ten people “on fire” for God to change our city, our region, our nation, and beyond, than a church of ten-thousand that are “sleeping”

My absolute favourite song at the minute is “Jireh” by Elevation Worship, but a few lines within that song became true for the first time in years…

“I’ll never be more loved than I am right now”

“Wasn’t holding You up so there’s nothing I can do to let You down”

“God is enough”

Friends, when will we truly get the revelation that God loves us unconditionally, and so, He doesn’t need our ministries, but He has only ever wanted our hearts?

Let’s stop fooling ourselves. Let’s stop striving and be who God has called us each to be…

A child of God

“Give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways”

Proverbs 23:26

January 26, 2021

Unscheduled Time … With God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:28 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Today while wandering the bookstore, I picked up a copy of Wonder, Fear, and Longing: A Book of Prayers by Mark Yaconelli (Zondervan, 2009). This section particularly caught my attention and asked Ruth to transcribe it for us. It’s really the first one-third of the chapter which continues with quotations, scriptures, sample prayers, and practical advice of pray-ers (my word).

Rest

Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Jesus in Matthew 11:28b-30, The Message)

Giving your heart time to pray is like allowing the sun to shine on wintering seeds. I notice that as I pray, my soul is slowly warmed and given room to expand, infused with God’s peace and mercy. Prayer is the way in which I nurture and grow my life in God. Prayer is the way in which I hear Jesus calling from the centre of my life, “Learn from me…and you will find rest for your soul.”

The ancient understanding of the word pray within the Christian tradition is “to rest.” Any experience of rest requires a release–we have to set down our work, our plans, our worry and activity. The fact that Jesus spent long periods of time resting is one of the most overlooked aspects of Jesus’ life. He prayed and rested in the midst of suffering people. He prayed and rested in the midst of countless opportunities to do good.

Why did Jesus rest? Why did he withdraw from crowds of people desperate for healing? We know from Scripture that Jesus rested in order to commune with God. For Jesus (even Jesus!), prayer was necessary in order to sustain and deepen his capacity for love.

When we rest in prayer, we become open and receptive to God’s presence. In the Christian tradition the experience of receiving God in prayer is called contemplation. Contemplation is an experience of being bathed in God’s love and presence. It’s an awareness of God, attained not through thinking but through loving. It is the experience Jesus refers to when he says, “abide in me” (John 15:4) or what the psalmist speaks of when he writes, “Be still and know” (Psalm 46:10). It’s the experience the psalmist refers to when he describes a child resting on her mother’s lap (Psalm 131:2). Contemplation in prayer is when suddenly we need no words, when we can relax and enjoy God’s love with humility and gratitude.

I once took a bus full of high school kids to the coastal dunes two hours north of San Francisco. This diverse group of young people from across the country had gathered to spend the week exploring prayer. Midway through the week, we spent a day in the deserted Bodega dunes along the northern California coast. Amidst the rolling sand, native grasses, and twisting cypress trees, I talked to the students about the history of silence and solitude in the Christian tradition. I reminded them of the many times Jesus would leave people and towns to go out in the wilderness and spend time alone with God. I then asked the young people to go out along the sand and surf and spend the afternoon in prayer and solitude, just like Jesus did. As patches of fog drifted over us from the Pacific Ocean, I handed out journals and blankets and sent the young people out to pray.

I remember walking through the dunes carefully observing the praying teenagers. Some students sat atop mounds of sand, looking off to the horizon; others preferred low places, clefts and crevices stacked with driftwood. Some students lay on their backs, heads resting on their journals, watching grey shrouds of mist creep over the blue sky. Other students seemed oblivious to their surroundings, their heads bowed as they scribbled intently in their journals. As the hours passed, some people rolled themselves up in their blankets and closed their eyes, while others stood and meandered slowly toward the sea.

When the prayer time came to a close, I gathered the students together in small groups. “What was it like to pray?” I asked. “What were you like? What was God like?”

At the end of the week I asked the students to evaluate the week-long retreat: “What was the most enjoyable aspect of our time together?” Despite game nights, talent shows, volleyball, karaoke, discussion groups, outings to San Francisco, and plenty of cute guys and girls to flirt with, the great majority responded, “The afternoon praying in the dunes along the beach.” When I asked them why, they responded with, “I’ve never had that much unscheduled time before;” or “It was so peaceful to just rest with God;” or “My life is so stressful. I’ve never had time to just relax and be myself with God.”

For years I’ve listened to people talk about their spiritual lives. One of the most interesting insights I’ve gained in these conversations is the way in which people described their deepest encounters with God. Often these experiences of God are moments of rest, solitude, silence, reflection, and wonder. These encounters with God often take place as people lie on their beds at night, or in moments outside, in nature, looking at trees and earth and sky. Every one of these moments feels timeless, unscheduled, unhurried–as if they’d stepped out of the normal pace of their life.

Like the students who experienced an afternoon praying among the Bodega dunes, we may find that prayer offers us a release from the stress and busyness, the excessive activity that overwhelms each of us. Prayer gives us permission to loosen our shoulders, relax our jaws, and soften the walls around our hearts so God’s love might make a way. Prayer is that increasingly rare opportunity to lie down in green pastures and rest beside still waters despite the fear and worry that we constantly feel.

Christians teach the message that “God loves you”–but this teaching means nothing unless we actually spend time in this love, unless we stop and kneel down in the grass and driftwood, down in the sand, down in the misery of a suffering world, down into God’s compassion and peace.

“It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed.’” (God, via Moses in Exodus 31:17 NLT)

“…In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength…”
(God, via the prophet Isaiah in 30:15 NIV)

Even though Jesus said not to talk about what happened, soon every conversation was consumed by these events. The crowds swelled even larger as people went to hear Jesus preach and to be healed of their many afflictions. Jesus repeatedly left the crowds, though, stealing away into the wilderness to pray.(the biographer Luke in 5:15-16, The Voice)

“Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” (Jesus to his disciples in Mark 6:31 NKJV)

pp 90-95


Mark Yaconelli is a writer, retreat leader, spiritual director, story-catcher, husband, and father. He is the founder and executive director of  The Hearth: Real Stories by Regular Folks, a registered non-profit that assists cities and service-based agencies in producing personal storytelling events designed to help communities and individuals deepen relationships and cultivate compassion. His latest book is The Gift of Hard Things; Finding Grace in Unexpected Places (IVP).

(c) 2009 Mark Yaconelli / Zondervan

December 28, 2020

A Quiet Place

We often end the devotional with a related music video, but today we want to the song to be the springboard for what follows…

For most readers here, the content would be described as devotionals or devotional readings. I have always taken the meaning to refer to this practice or spiritual discipline that we do out of devotion to God.

Working in the world of Christian publishing however, I frequently encounter people — a large number from a Catholic background or people who have had exposure to recovery programs — who refer to devotional books as meditations or meditational readings. I do like the idea that one doesn’t just read the words and close the book and walk away. Rather one ruminates or chews the text in their mind.

There is however a third term which, although I am very familiar with it, isn’t something we’ve used here: quiet time.

This song, written by Ralph Carmichael, was part of a collection* that for many people mark the beginning of what we call Contemporary Christian Music. But we’re here to look at the lyrics.

There is a quiet place
Far from the rapid pace
Where God can soothe my troubled mind

Sheltered by tree and flower
There in that quiet hour
With him my cares are left behind

Whether a garden small
Or on a mountain tall
New strength and courage there I find

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

A search for scripture verses about having a quiet time takes us to these:

…he delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night. – Psalm 1:2 GW

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:6 NIV

…Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. – Mathew 14:22-23 NLT

Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. – Mark 1:35 CEB

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. – Joshua 1:8a NLT

and finally

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16 NIV

UK writer Daisy Logan has offered sixteen different ways we can improve our quiet time. Not all of these may work for you, but I encourage you to click here to read her suggestions.

The website for CRU (formerly Campus Crusade) looks at several different elements your quiet time can contain, including opening your Bible and methodically studying a section of text, followed by four types of prayer. Click here to read their template for quiet times.

The website GotQuestions.org reminds us that,

Every believer needs a quiet time with the Lord. If Jesus Himself needed it, how much more do we? Jesus frequently moved away from the others in order to commune with His Father regularly…

The length of the quiet time does not matter, but it should be enough time to meditate on what was read and then pray about it or anything else that comes to mind. Drawing near to God is a rewarding experience, and once a regular habit of quiet time is created, a specific time for study and prayer is eagerly looked forward to. If our schedules are so full and pressing that we feel we cannot carve out some time daily to meet with our heavenly Father, then a revision of our schedules to weed out the “busyness” is in order.

I realize that for some people, the thought of pausing at a certain time each day, or even the use of the word meditation triggers thoughts of Eastern religions. Got Questions addresses this:

A note of caution: some Eastern religions that teach the principles of meditation include instructions on “emptying the mind” by concentrating on repeating a sound or a particular word over and over. Doing so leaves room for Satan to enter and to wreak havoc in our minds. Instead, Christians should follow the advice of the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Filling one’s mind with these beautiful thoughts cannot help but bring peace and please God. Our quiet time should be a time of transformation through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2), not through the emptying of them.

I want to invite you to listen to the short song one more time. This time think about what ought to be the result of our quiet time with God:

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

The fruit or benefit of time spent in study and prayer will come out in our lives in ways that will affect others as well as ourselves.


The original version of the song was posted at this link. (There’s also a “big band” version for those who like that style at this link.)

*Listen to the full album at this link.

 

 

 

 

July 18, 2019

Distraction-Free Devotion

A year ago at this time we introduced you to Marlene Limgo at Life Walk With Marlene. Click the header below to read this post with some additional graphics.

The One Thing

The One Thing… necessary and good… which shall not be taken away… what is it?

Luke 10:38-42:

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

We often think that ministry is about being busy… about activities… about serving others… about preparations and distractions… about hospitality… about ‘doing’ the serving… about not doing it all alone…. Martha was like that. She was a hospitable host. She was concerned to serve Jesus the best of food and to treat Him as an honoured guest should be treated. She believed that loving Jesus is about doing her best to be a good host in the kitchen.

I am reminded of how my mother-in-law often busy and hurrying to take out the tea cups, the tea and sweets to serve the visitors while leaving them all alone sitting on the sofa. And the guest(s) sometimes would call out: “No need… come and sit with me/us to talk.”

So with Martha except that she had a sister, Mary who had the initiative to sit with their guest. What was Mary doing? Nothing? She’s just seated on the floor. Nope! She’s doing something. She’s listening to Jesus.

Jesus did not side with Martha to rebuke Mary for not helping. Instead, Jesus said:

1) Martha Martha… (calling her name twice) This shows that Jesus was concerned with Martha. It’s like when you’re concerned with your child, you call his/her name twice for emphasis and attention.

2) You are worried and bothered about so many things. (Jesus knew her inner thoughts. Her anxiety and frustrations… and they were many.)

3) BUT only One thing is Necessary. Mary chose that One thing and it’s the GOOD part, which shall not be taken away from her.

a. Living the life pleasing to God is about ONE necessary thing… it is sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to his words.

b. It is GOOD… to worship the Lord, to be in His presence – to put him more important than all the activities of doing and doing.. It is about being.. being with Jesus, in His company, being His friend, companion, follower, audience.

c. It is permanent… it will not be taken away. Nothing and nobody can take away the time I spent with my Lord… the memories of experiencing His love, joy, peace, comfort and awe of being at His feet and listening to His Words. This One necessary and good thing lasts, it stays, it will never be taken from me.

The world offers so many distractions. Social media, ads, our jobs, responsibilities, our pursuits of happiness and success all taking a piece of us – our attention, our mind and heart, our time and energy.

It seems that quiet time in the presence of God – reading His Word, listening and talking to the Spirit in prayer, all these are becoming less and less a priority.

What does God want me to do today? How can I live today that will please Him? How can I love my neighbour? Do I hear the still small voice calling me to forgive? Am I kind and compassionate to the needy? Do I speak the truth in love?

Do I walk my talk? Am I a submissive wife? Do I respect my husband? Am I training my children in the way that they should go? Do they know the Lord?

Do I present my body as a living sacrifice as my spiritual worship to God? Am I conformed to the world or am I being transformed and renewed in mind – seeking to know the perfect will of God – that which pleases my Lord?

The one thing that is necessary – the one good thing that lasts, this thing called Presence… to be present at the feet of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus. Let me remember today and always. Amen.

December 14, 2018

Muttering, Murmuring and Musing Over God’s Word

This is only the second time we’ve included something in full by Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor of The Meeting House in Oakville just west of Toronto, Canada, and author of the book re(Union): The Good News of Jesus for Seekers, Saints and Sinners (Herald Press) though we’ve included quotations from him at other times.

This is actually Part One of a three part series. At the end you’ll see links to the other two sections. Meditation is controversial in some circles, including some people I know personally; so I trust you’ll be open as you read this. You’ll find each article starts out with some information from the broader marketplace of ideas about meditation, but then leads to an examination of what scripture teaches.

Still. Here. (1 of 3): Why Meditate?

Are you “STILL. HERE.”?

My Dad had a beautiful and gentle spirit. My sister told me about the time she checked in with him while he was having his daily time of stillness and quiet with God, praying and reading Scripture. She asked him what Bible verse he was reading and he told her. The next day she found him at the same place and same time and asked him the same question and he gave her the same answer: it was the same verse. She checked in on him the next day, and he was still reading that very same verse. So she had to ask: “Dad, why haven’t you moved on to another verse yet?” My Dad responded, “I don’t think God is finished talking to me through this one.” My Dad knew how to be “STILL. HERE.”

Welcome to the first of three posts on the spiritual practice of Christian meditation.

For many Christians, we feast on Scripture, devour books, pig out on podcasts, and consume blog posts under the banner of “more is better.” It’s all about volume, volume, volume.  While there is a time and place for the breadth of our spiritual study, our generation is most in danger of neglecting the depth of our spiritual connection with Christ.

You’ve heard of the “slow food” movement. At The Meeting House we’ve been experimenting with a slow soul food movement of our own: a pace of presentation in our Sunday service that is more gentle and meditative, allowing us the time and space to mentally and emotionally “chew” on the truth of the teaching of Jesus. This is nothing new – Christians have been mediating on the truths of Scripture for centuries. But for many Christians today, meditation is a completely new practice. I find this first of all exciting, because it means that many of us are on the verge of a revolutionary shift in our spiritual life.

This “STILL HERE” meditation practice isn’t just about a different way of structuring Sunday sermons, but a challenge to adopt a new (for some) spiritual practice and to practice that practice daily for three weeks minimum, and three months preferably. (Do you hear that Meeting Housers? Don’t give up!)

But why is meditation so new for so many Christians? I think Christians sometimes make the mistake of assuming meditation is the spiritual practice of other religions, like Hinduism or Buddhism, and therefore must not be a very Christian thing to do. And that is silly. This “guilty-by-association” approach to figuring out what is acceptable in life is the way of the Pharisees, not the way of Jesus. (I’m just glad we haven’t abandoned prayer because Muslims do that, or given up on Scripture study, because our Jehovah’s Witness friends do that, or stopped memorizing Scripture because we know some atheist friends who have memorized parts of Shakespeare. You get my point.)

It’s time to boldly do and be all that Jesus calls us to do and be, including being disciples who “abide” in his teachings and make room for his teachings to “abide” in us. Jesus said that his disciples are called to “remain” in him where the Greek word, meno, means to dwell, to abide, to stay, to move in and do life together with Jesus. In the same passage (John 15) Jesus also says that he wants to “remain” in us, and then tells us one way to welcome him inside – by allowing his “words” to dwell in us.

Study?  Yes.
Memorize?  Absolutely.
Meditate?  It’s time.

Elsewhere Jesus says –

If you abide (Gk,meno) in my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
~ Jesus (John 8:31-32)

Most of us know the last bit about the truth setting us free, but we haven’t learned to spend time abiding in the truth that brings freedom – the teachings of Jesus.

The ancient Israelites knew the importance of “abiding” in the teachings of the Torah. After Moses died, God commanded Joshua –

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
~ Yahweh (Joshua 1:8)

King David agreed that a key to true prosperity was meditating on God’s teaching. In his very first Psalm, David writes –

Blessed is the one… whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.
~ King David (Psalm 1:1-3; also see Psalm 48:9; and all of Psalm 119)

The Hebrew word for “meditate” is hagah, which means to mutter, murmur, and muse over something. The image is one of a cow chewing her cud. Have you ever noticed that when you see a cow she always seems to be chewing something? That’s because cows must chew their food twice in order to digest it properly. A cow eats a lot of grass in a day (volume, volume, volume), but then regurgitates smaller portions (called cud) and re-chews them before swallowing the cud into a different part of the stomach. What a beautiful image of the place of meditation in our spiritual diet. (Okay, okay. I know “beautiful” is not the best word to describe the image of a cow regurgitating its food for a second go around, but it felt like the right word at the time.)

There are many types of meditation, and most of them can be quite helpful for our mental and emotional well-being. You can easily do some of your own online research, and what you’ll find is that things like anxiety, stress, irritability, anger, and aggression are decreased, while things like awareness (of God? of others?), empathy, compassion, self-control, and ability to focus are all increased.

While there are many kinds of helpful meditation, all types can fall into one of two basic categories:

  • APOPHATIC MEDITATION – letting go of content, releasing, emptying, un-thinking.
  • KATAPHATIC MEDITATION – Focused thinking, deep contemplation on specific content.

Apophatic meditation is a fine form of meditating and a lot of mental and physical good can come from that, but it isn’t what we’re talking about here. Our “STILL HERE” meditation is kataphatic meditation: a focused meditation, where we chew over and over again on one aspect of something God seems to be saying to us through a reading in Scripture.

When I was little I learned to be afraid of meditation because, as I was told, it was a way of emptying our minds which would leave us vulnerable to demonic attack or even possession. I’m not kidding! I bought it for a while, before I realized that Christians who meditate aren’t kicking out the Holy Spirit, but making space to experience more of God’s presence. And especially through kataphatic mediation, God has given us a tool to help us absorb more of his Word, to focus our hearing on what the Spirit might be saying to us, and to abide in the teachings of Jesus in a deeper and richer way. (Take THAT Devil!)

Last thing: remember that meditation isn’t about the experience of meditation itself. It isn’t a matter of how and who we are emotionally or psychologically throughout the meditative experience. Meditation is about who we are becoming when we are not meditating and are engaging with people around us. A Christian who meditates is a Christian who is learning how to be more focused on and responsive to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through the teaching of Jesus. And that is someone who will live and love more like Jesus in their daily interactions with others. Meditation for the win!

In our next post we’ll cover the basics of how to start a regular “STILL HERE” meditation practice. But for now, you can at least warm up your meditation muscles by reading a teaching of Jesus more slowly, inviting the Holy Spirit to highlight his truth to your heart.

Christian education is valuable. The process of study and inquiry is like typing important information into your brain. Meditation is like hitting the “ENTER” key.


…continue reading…

♦ Part Two — Still. Here. (2 of 3): How to Get Started

♦ Part Three — Still. Here. (3 of 3): What’s With all the Breathing?

 

May 24, 2017

Listening

Today’s devotional is an excerpt from a newly published book by Paul J. Pastor, The Listening Day. It’s a 90 day devotional which follows the format used in other books (Francis Roberts’ Come Away My Beloved, Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters, Sheri Rose Shepherd’s His Princess, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling) with what God is saying to us written out as though God is speaking in the first person; with the difference that this book includes interjections on behalf of the reader. I’ll have a fuller review of it in a few days on my other blog. Clicking the title below will take you to Zeal Books.

Luke 8:15 NIV But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

The Needed Thing

Luke 10:41-42 NIV ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’

The life of God, of truth and understanding, lands in your heart with the fragility of a seed.  It is possible it will wither, be crushed, be pecked and torn, be strangled by lies.

The same word is sowed to all.  Christ the Sower shows no favoritism, respects no person above another.  The truth is the truth, as a kernel of wheat is wheat indeed, and an acorn is only and always the seed of the ancient oak.

The human heart is a fickle field, rocky and weed-laden. Your own heart makes it hard for truth to take root. Too often you work, when you ought to surrender, then give up when you ought to be working.

Your way is not easy, Lord.

It is better than easy. It is life.

What do I need to do?

Today, quiet your heart. Look inside. Consider the growth of the word in you. Where is your soil stony? Where do the birds ravage my tender promises to you? Where do the thorns and poisonous vines sprout?

Listening is the needed thing. Sit still at the feet of Christ. Silence fears. Cease frenzied activity. Stop your mouth. Breathe in the presence of the Quiet Planter. Listen to the voice of the one in whom is all truth and every understanding. You may keep whatever treasures you gather at the feet of your simple King.

Lord, you know that many things trouble me, from outside my heart and from within it. Help me quiet myself today, to truly listen and receive your word, allowing your truth to bear fruit in my life. Amen.

November 16, 2016

Receiving or Rejecting the Gift of Sabbath?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
Tags: , , ,

Today we’re paying a return visit to Matt Perman’s blog What’s Best Next, where we discovered this post from a guest writer. Click the title below to read at source.

Throwing Sheep into a Pit: The Discipline of Sabbath Rest

Guest post by Rachel Poel

When I was a student, I would justify studying on Sunday by quoting Matthew 12:11-12: “He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” But many weekend afternoons, exhausted from a full week of classes, work, and studying, I would put off studying for a Monday morning test or drafting a paper due on Tuesday—effectively throwing that sheep into the pit myself.

Taking a Sabbath takes intentionality. Resting well is hard work.

There will be days when sheep are leaping into pits, when your kids all get the flu on a Sunday or your venue falls through days before a retreat. When these days come, do that work well. Your standing before God does not depend on how clear your Sunday schedule is.

But if you find yourself regularly planning projects for Sunday afternoon, consider the heart of Sabbath. God calls us to join Him in His rest. He gives us the Sabbath as a gift: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).

How are we receiving this gift?

We don’t rest to maximize our productivity later.
We rest to remember that our worth does not hinge on our productivity.

Our struggle to let go of our to-do lists and inboxes for a day shows how much we really need this rest. We don’t rest to maximize our productivity later. We rest to remember that our worth does not hinge on our productivity. We rest because we are children and God is the Father. We rest because we are creatures and God is the Potter. We rest because we are saved and God is the Savior.

How will you plan this week to take time to know that God is God?


Rachel Poel recently graduated from Wheaton College with a BA in English Literature. Since graduating, she has been working on projects with Boldface Why.

July 19, 2015

It’s Not a Vacation if You Take Everything with You

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Maybe it’s the pace of life increasing generally, but more and more devotional writers are turning to the theme of rest. Today’s thoughts are from the blog Inspire a Fire, appearing here for the first time. The author of this post is freelance writer Cathy Baker. Click the link below to read at source.

Why Soul Rest Begins With Leaving Our Laptops At Home

 “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14

What marks the beginning of your vacation? Is it the moment you fill your gas tank and begin merging with fellow vacationers onto the highway? Or maybe the sound of satisfaction that comes as you slam your car trunk for one last time before heading out?

For me, vacation actually begins a week prior to the filled tank and loaded trunk. If you’re a list-lover you know the release that’s felt while listing out all the needs for the trip, followed by the sense of accomplishment as each one is checked off before packing it away. Books, magazines, laptop and reading glasses always top off my list. Last year, however, I felt the tinge of a holy adjustment coming my way every time I glanced at the word laptop.

Granted, with three grandchildren in tow there wouldn’t be a desire nor the time to peruse the internet, check and respond to email, or write blog posts during the day hours. I do, however, admit that skimming the internet before bedtime is one way I relax so taking the laptop has always been a no-brainer.

Then I came across Emily Freeman’s post Why Rest Takes Courage. Her final paragraph clung to my soul like a child refusing to leave her mother:

The details of soul rest may look different for each of us, but probably includes some combination of silence, solitude, nature, your people, and the willingness to come into the presence of Christ and simply be ourselves.

The Holy Spirit spoke tenderly and clearly—I was to leave the laptop at home. And I did, which resulted in a few unexpected discoveries along the way:

  • I felt ambushed by the uneasiness that crept up on my holy adjustment as our departure day drew near. What did I think I’d really miss in 7 days?
  • A new-found freedom emerged as I carried out my beach days with little to no thought of the laptop. I felt no obligation to check Facebook or email. I tried to rest in the fact that if someone didn’t receive an immediate response from me, all would still be well in the end.
  • I lost nothing by leaving my lap top behind but I did gain a type of rest that was both soothing and energizing, leaving me with a renewed appreciation for God’s promptings as well as His people.

I’m not suggesting everyone should leave their laptop behind, but I don’t see it reappearing on my family beach trip list again. Ever. The soul rest Emily eluded to in the above quote was mine for the taking in the combination of silence, solitude, nature, my peeps, and most of all, in trusting that the presence of Christ was enough. More than enough.

So, how about you? Have you left your laptop or other device behind while on vacation, and if so, what’s one thing you learned as a result?

 

Taking time off is not a punishment or a dare or a rule. It is a gift.

– Emily P. Freeman

It’s taking a day to open your hands toward heaven and acknowledging that you don’t make the world go around.

-Emily P. Freeman

March 27, 2015

What are Devotions?

devotionals

I thought it would be interesting today to take a step back and look at the genre of writing we do here each day and ask the question, What exactly are devotions?

I know Wikipedia isn’t the place where Christians get their information, but I wanted you to see their definition; I’m not sure they got it right:

Christian devotional literature, also known as devotionals, is religious writing that is neither doctrinal nor theological, but designed for individuals to read for their personal edification and spiritual formation.[1]

The footnote is from The Encylopedia of Christian Literature and reads:

After the Bible, Christian devotional literature has provided the most popular and instructive kind of reading and guidance for believers. Most broadly considered, Christian devotional literature may be thought to encompass any inscribed verbal artifact employed to stimulate the production, sustenance, and direction of the unique interior Christian self, whether solely in relation to the divine or including also service to fellow believers, neighbor, and/or world.

Everybody got that?

Their entry for “Bible study” clears this up (a little):

In Christianity, Bible study is the study of the Bible by ordinary people as a personal religious or spiritual practice. Some denominations may call this devotion or devotional acts; however in other denominations devotion has other meanings. Bible study in this sense is distinct from biblical studies, which is a formal academic discipline.

I like the idea that devotion is a personal activity, and that it’s not about building up academic knowledge. But the first definition implies that it’s not theological in nature, but then what are you left with?  And where does it leave those of us wanting to process at a “201” and not “101” level, and go deeper? Their definition leaves you in an “inspirational” category that can be theologically vacuous. Theology is the study of God, and while that implies (to some) something taking place in a lab, we do want to know God and learn His ways, as part of our daily walk with Him. It’s going to involve, at the very least, an open Bible.

The word devotion is used eleven times in the NIV, the first few always preceded by the adjective wholehearted. That’s a point we don’t want to miss. Our devotion should not be brief, perfunctory or done out obligation, or done with grumbling. It should come from the heart.

2 Kings 20:2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” …

(That exact verse, word-for-word, is repeated in Isaiah 38:3.)

Two of the uses are in the New Testament.

I Cor 7:35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

The second one is a warning:

2 Cor. 11:3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Here we’ve picked up two more adjectives, pure and undivided, which we add to wholehearted.

The word devoted is used even more frequently.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

You can read all of the uses of devoted here.

On a personal level, when I think in terms of devotion, the verse which comes to mind most frequently is:

Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

The modern devotional readings we do could fall under the “teaching” or the “prayer” category, but either way we see a four-pronged devotion in the early church: Teaching, fellowship, the common meal and prayer. (I know prayer is one area where I’m weak; what about you?)

In our modern world, we sometimes despair when somebody takes a noun and makes a verb out of it, but perhaps here we have an example of someone taking a verb and making a noun. Devotions have become a thing, something printed in a book or on a computer screen, when in fact devotion to God is an action; an action perhaps based on an underlying attitude or approach toward God.

One of my longtime favorite devotional books is a one-year tour through the NCV New Testament called Time With God. But you can read the book and miss the title: God wants us to spend time with him, and he wants to spend time with us.

If you’ve read this far, the title at the top of the page is clearly wrong. The question is not “What are devotions?” but rather “What is devotion to God?” or perhaps “What is my devotion to God?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 28, 2014

Devotion – Part 2

Yesterday we looked at the use of the word devotion itself in the NIV, and today we continue looking at the way the word is used.

Isaiah 38:2-3

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

In Jeremiah God is saying that it’s easy to lose devotion over time:

Jeremiah 2:2-3

“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem:

“This is what the Lord says:

“‘I remember the devotion of your youth,
    how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the wilderness,
    through a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the Lord,
    the firstfruits of his harvest;
all who devoured her were held guilty,
    and disaster overtook them,’”
declares the Lord.

This passage indicates that Israel has lots its devotion to God, and I can’t help but be reminded of the verse in Revelation 2 which speaks of losing your first love:

You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

The Apostle Paul is concerned about the Corinthians losing their devotion through distraction to the things of the world.

1 Corinthians 7:29-36

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

32 I would like you to be free from concern…. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

He repeats a warning concerning this in his other letter to them.

2 Corinthians 11:2-4

I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.

So as you consider these passages, it should now be very clear that devotion is something we have, not something we do.

Go Deeper: The Dictionary of Bible Themes provides more verses on this subject along with a definition:

Wholehearted commitment to God, to another person or to a task. God’s people are encouraged to show such commitment.

God’s people are to be wholehearted in their devotion to him

Dt 6:5; Ro 12:1 See also Dt 30:1-3; Jdg 5:2; Ps 119:2; Jer 29:13

Examples of devotion to God

Ps 42:1; Php 3:7-8 Caleb and Joshua: Nu 14:6-9; Nu 32:11-12; Jos 14:7-12
2Ki 23:1-3 pp 2Ch 34:29-32 Josiah and his subjects; 2Ch 15:12-15 the people of Judah The psalmists: Ps 27:1-4; Ps 40:7-8; Ps 84:2; Ps 119:57,135-136 Paul: 1Co 2:2; 1Co 9:26-27; 2Co 1:8-10; Php 3:13-14; Col 1:24,28-29

June 27, 2014

Devotion to God

In addition to a number of keywords that will help search engines reach articles here, each day I also include the tag “daily Bible study” or “daily devotions” (or some variants of each). I want to always make sure that people who are looking for this type of content are able to locate it here.

But the word “devotions” (in the plural) appears nowhere in the NIV. We speak of “doing devotions” or “reading a devotional book” but rather than demonstrating our desire to spend time with God, or using the act of reading to signify our love for God, rather, our time spent in the Bible and related readings is in indicator of the devotion to God we already possess.

To put it another way, I am not spending this time studying and reading because it will, in itself, get me closer to God.  Rather, out of gratitude for the grace already experienced, and in a desire to crowd out all other distractions, I take this time as an expression of a devotion that already exists, and as a pledge that it always will exist.

I commit myself to God afresh in this time, and although other thoughts and ideas will crowd in at times, and despite the fact that not every day will mark progress in the Christian life, I give myself to this because to not do so is a denial of the importance and relevance of wanting to continue further on the journey.

So while we don’t see “devotions” in the Bible — at least the word — we do see “devotion” used eleven times in the NIV, many of which are a number of occurences in I Chronicles. Take a few minutes to look at four of the first six of these passages (there are two additional ones in Chronicles) then we’ll look at the other five tomorrow.

2 Kings 20:2-5

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord.

1 Chronicles 28:8-9

“So now I charge you in the sight of all Israel and of the assembly of the Lord, and in the hearing of our God: Be careful to follow all the commands of the Lord your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants forever.

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.

1 Chronicles 29:2-4

With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God—gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze, iron for the iron and wood for the wood, as well as onyx for the settings, turquoise,  stones of various colors, and all kinds of fine stone and marble—all of these in large quantities. Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple: three thousand talents of gold (gold of Ophir) and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for the overlaying of the walls of the buildings…

1 Chronicles 29:18-19

18 Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. 19 And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.”

December 14, 2013

Meet Me in the Morning

O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water. — Ps. 63: 1 NKJV


I must secure more time for private devotions. I have been living far too public for me. The shortening of devotions starves the soul, it grows lean and faint. I have been keeping too late hours. — William Wilberforce


(This is a republishing of an article that appeared here at C201 a year ago.)

At the summer camp where my wife and I met, we learned a song based on Psalm 63, Early Will I Seek Thee.

I’m not a morning person, so the concept of ‘morning devotions’ isn’t part of my heritage, though I’ll grant you that the trajectory of your entire day is formed in the first half hour.  I’ve heard it said that, “Most Christians are defeated between their bed and the breakfast table.”

However, when I have a Christian book I’m working on, yes, I can get up early and start the day with it, but most of my serious reading for the past 20 years has come as part of the evening devotional time I’ve spent with my kids, who are both now college age.

Maybe that’s why this blog publishes at what is here in the U.S. and Canada between 5:00 and 6:00 PM EST most days. It’s my hat-tip to afternoon devotional readers.

However, it’s worth noting that only the KJV and NKJV use the term ‘early.’ Now before you worry, there is indeed a lot of scriptural precedent for beginning the day with a sense of God’s presence, with Scripture meditation, and with a word of prayer. But the other translations — including the very ‘literal’ NASB — felt the intent of the Hebrew in Ps. 63 was better expressed in terms of ‘earnestness.’

It is our earnestness God desires more than anything.

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. – Ps. 63: 1 NLT

Here’s how The Message translates the entire Psalm:

God—you’re my God!
I can’t get enough of you!
I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God,
traveling across dry and weary deserts.

2-4 So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open,
drinking in your strength and glory.
In your generous love I am really living at last!
My lips brim praises like fountains.
I bless you every time I take a breath;
My arms wave like banners of praise to you.

5-8 I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy;
I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises!
If I’m sleepless at midnight,
I spend the hours in grateful reflection.
Because you’ve always stood up for me,
I’m free to run and play.
I hold on to you for dear life,
and you hold me steady as a post.

9-11 Those who are out to get me are marked for doom,
marked for death, bound for hell.
They’ll die violent deaths;
jackals will tear them limb from limb.
But the king is glad in God;
his true friends spread the joy,
While small-minded gossips
are gagged for good.

Those with an aversion to morning devotions might also check out Isaiah 26:9

My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. – ESV

Surprisingly in this verse however, several translations incorporate both morning and evening references, including, interestingly enough, this one:

All night long I search for you; in the morning I earnestly seek for God. For only when you come to judge the earth will people learn what is right. – NLT (emphasis added)

Before you take sides on this one, here are some other verses to remember:

Psalm 86:3 — Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.

Psalm 71:24 — My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion.

Psalm 71:8 — My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long. (all NIV)

And finally, from our out-of-context department, this line from Psalm 127:2

It is vain for you to rise up early.

Notice I didn’t highlight that one in green; scripture, when taken totally out of context doesn’t really count, does it?

…But it was my favorite verse for many years.

Questions:

Do you find that God meets you in different ways at different times of the day?

Even though there is obviously a morning/evening balance in scripture, many of our classic hymns have emphasized morning. “Early in the morning, our song shall rise to thee…” “Morning by morning new mercies I see…” “When morning guilds the skies, my heart awakening cries.” Do you think that the Bible seems to favor morning time with God over evening time with Him?

(This might be a good point to end with a return visit to this song.)

December 4, 2012

Devotions for Morning and Evening

O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water. — Ps. 63: 1 NKJV


I must secure more time for private devotions. I have been living far too public for me. The shortening of devotions starves the soul, it grows lean and faint. I have been keeping too late hours. — William Wilberforce


At the summer camp where my wife and I met, we learned a song based on Psalm 63, Early Will I Seek Thee.

I’m not a morning person, so the concept of ‘morning devotions’ isn’t part of my heritage. When I have a Christian book I’m working on, I can get up early and start the day with it, but most of my serious reading for the past 20 years has come as part of the evening devotional time I’ve spent with my kids, who are both now college age.

Maybe that’s why this blog publishes here in North America between 5:00 and 6:00 PM most days. It’s my hat-tip to afternoon devotional readers.

However, it’s worth noting that only the KJV and NKJV use the term ‘early.’ Now before you worry, there is indeed a lot of scriptural precedent for beginning the day with a sense of God’s presence, with Scripture meditation, and with a word of prayer. But the other translations — including the very ‘literal’ NASB — felt the intent of the Hebrew in Ps. 63 was better expressed in terms of ‘earnestness.’

It is our earnestness God desires more than anything.

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. – Ps. 63: 1 NLT

Here’s how The Message translates the entire Psalm:

  God—you’re my God!
    I can’t get enough of you!
I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God,
    traveling across dry and weary deserts.

2-4 So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open,
    drinking in your strength and glory.
In your generous love I am really living at last!
    My lips brim praises like fountains.
I bless you every time I take a breath;
    My arms wave like banners of praise to you.

5-8 I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy;
    I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises!
If I’m sleepless at midnight,
    I spend the hours in grateful reflection.
Because you’ve always stood up for me,
    I’m free to run and play.
I hold on to you for dear life,
    and you hold me steady as a post.

9-11 Those who are out to get me are marked for doom,
    marked for death, bound for hell.
They’ll die violent deaths;
    jackals will tear them limb from limb.
But the king is glad in God;
    his true friends spread the joy,
While small-minded gossips
    are gagged for good.

Those with an aversion to morning devotions might also check out Isaiah 26:9

My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.  – ESV

Surprisingly in this verse however, several translations incorporate both morning and evening references, including, interestingly enough, this one:

All night long I search for you; in the morning I earnestly seek for God. For only when you come to judge the earth will people learn what is right. – NLT (emphasis added)

Before you take sides on this one, here are some other verses to remember:

Psalm 86:3 — Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long.

Psalm 71:24 — My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long, for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion.

Psalm 71:8 — My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long.    (all NIV)

And finally, from our out-of-context department, this line from Psalm 127:2

It is vain for you to rise up early.

Notice I didn’t highlight that one in green; scripture, when taken totally out of context doesn’t really count, does it?

…But it was my favorite verse for many years.

Questions:

Do you find that God meets you in different ways at different times of the day?

Even though there is obviously a morning/evening balance in scripture, many of our classic hymns have emphasized morning. “Early in the morning, our song shall rise to thee…” “Morning by morning new mercies I see…” “When morning guilds the skies, my heart awakening cries.”  Do you think that the Bible seems to favor morning time with God over evening time with Him?

(This might be a good point to end with a return visit to this song.)

March 20, 2011

Study

I always hated to study.  My study habits in high school weren’t great, despite some great academic coaching, and how I got through university is anyone’s guess.

So I have a natural aversion to the term “Bible study,” as it suggests someone staying up late in the dorm under a study lamp, cramming in order to pass some test; when instead, we should she shared times in God’s word as more of a feast, or a banquet.   I don’t want to communicate the idea that something that is designed to be joy-filled is actually ardous labor.

So the verse I learned as a kid,

Study to show thyself approved onto God…

Is fortunately translated differently in newer translations:

(NIV) II Tim 2: 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

(The Message) II Tim 2:15Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple.

(NASB) II Tim 2:15Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

(NLT) II Tim 2:15 Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.

Do your best… concentrate… be diligent… work hard.  No late nights with the study lamp burning! It’s not about cramming to pass a test, it’s about living a life!

Now having said all that, this does not diminish the responsibility of the Christ follower to, for lack of a better word, study the Bible.

I recently dialogued with a young woman who, after a year of Bible college was unfamiliar with a Bible concordance.  This is a basic reference tool that, while not necessary for admission to heaven, is one that should form part of your personal library at some point.  Of course, it’s functionality is also available online through sites such as Bible Gateway.

This morning a visiting pastor shared with me this quotation, “Evangelicals are people who know more than they do;” which he attributed to Canadian church leader Brian Stiller.  We don’t want to just fill up with head-knowledge, we need to find ways to put feet to our faith.  But the quotation also implies that historically, we have been people who knew their Bibles.   The term “Methodist” actually refers to a group of people who had a methodical way of studying the scriptures.   The Bereans are held up in Acts as an example of a group who studied the sacred texts with great diligence.

Wanna dig a little deeper?

One way to start is to carefully examine related books:

  • Compare the ‘fatherly’ advice in Proverbs with the New Testament proverbs in the book of James…
  • Study the book of Acts in such a way that you break out into Paul’s epistles to the different churches mentioned in the last two-thirds of Acts…
  • Compare the end-time prophecies of Daniel and Revelation with the things Jesus said about the end times in Matthew…
  • Study the passages in the gospels which are present with all four writers, and then take a contrasting look at the ones that are unique to particular books, especially the gospel of John…
  • Using a concordance, and several different translations, do a word study on a particular theme or idea in scripture…
  • Read books that deal with the “hard sayings” or “difficult passages” of scripture and try to figure out, based on all your other readings, where you stand on these sometimes-labeled “issues”…
  • Here’s a fun one:  You have a blog consisting entirely of scripture passages copied and pasted from an online site.  (Not very challenging so far, right?)  Now, your job each day before you post something is to come up with the post tags, those little one-word things that would bring readers to your page.  How you would tag the various sections is indicative of what you’re seeing in each individual section…
  • The above is very close to something called inductive Bible study.  For this you you make a hard copy (photocopy) of a Bible passage and using a technique practiced by Kay Arthur and others you underline, circle and highlight key words and phrases.  It slows you down and forces you to really consider what the passage is saying…
  • Buy a commentary on a particular book of the Bible and get into depth with the Bible scholar(s) who wrote it.  If you don’t know Greek or Hebrew, get help picking out one that doesn’t go deep into what’s called ‘textual criticism’ and just get one that’s devotional or more user-friendly.  I can’t really list series here because some involve different writers who dig deeper in varying degrees.  So have someone qualified — ideally in a Christian bookstore, not online — help you make that choice.
  • Do a study on the theology of the hymns.  Many contain multiple allusions to scripture, and some hymnbooks have a key verse on the page to help you get started.  Some of the modern choruses also contain a similar depth.

Hope these ideas propel you to greater love for God’s word.