Can one bite of God’s word sustain you for the day?

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Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. Psalm 4:1 NIV The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer. Psalm 6:9 NIV

The message is not new.  We Christians are regularly exhorted to spend time with the Lord each day. Having one’s quiet time is held in high esteem.  For some people, this is easy to do.  If you have the time and you enjoy reading, it’s not a difficult practice to implement and maintain.  I have always loved my early morning time.  And these days, since all my work is as a volunteer, I enjoy the slower time with my Bible, coffee, notebook and prayer app.

But the pressure to keep up this healthy and holy practice sometimes has unintended consequences.  What first comes to mind is the temptation to turn this daily ritual into a checklist item.  Something you have to do in order to be considered a spiritual Christian.  ‘Whew, check THAT off my list!’ doesn’t foster a rich, meditative listening experience. 

I think there is potentially an even more insidious outcome that may ensue. Haven’t we all felt guilty when we can’t seem to keep this rhythm going? Who is not overwhelmed with the daily tasks and demands placed on 21st century busy people? That time with Jesus can easily get crowded out by good things.  Guilt and shame can follow.  “I must not be a good Christian because I either can’t dedicate the daily time I ‘should’ or when I do sit down with my Bible and coffee, I feel dry.  It FEELS rote.”

This morning I read a small devotional that mentioned the two verses above.  All of a sudden, I thought: ‘Maria, just that first verse is enough to chew on all day long. For someone super busy, if she took just one verse and brought it back to mind throughout the day, what a feast she could have!’

So, just how does one mediate on a verse? Let’s break down the first one from Psalm 4:1 into small bites: Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer

David is so direct with God. He doesn’t mince words.  He tells God, ‘Listen up!  I’m talking to you. I have a need.’

Next, he expresses confidence in the Lord.  He reminds God in essence, ‘I know you to be righteous.  I don’t doubt that you WILL hear me and help me.’

Next, we can discern that David has a specific problem in mind.  He feels distress.  He has an enemy or he is in a tight place with no visible way out. We all fall into distress.  Not just occasionally, but multiple times.

A woman I know from tutoring her young daughter in English lives in Moscow.  God has kept us connected since I taught Veronika.  When her son dropped out of university at the end of last summer, he had to enlist in the Army for 12 months.  Two weeks ago, he was sent to the front.  I never bring up politics or the news when I check in with her.  I usually find a verse and google its Russian translation and send it to her.  She is a mom who is in distress.  She fears greatly for the safety of her son. 

I thought of her this morning when I read Psalm 4:1. My overall prayer for her is that the Lord bring her, her son and young daughter to a vibrant relationship with Jesus through this distress.

Finally, once David shares his specific need, he asks for mercy.  He doesn’t tell God how to rescue him.  He simply appeals to God’s character. He knows how merciful the Lord is. And he trusts him.

What struck me this morning is that for those of us who have those seasons or days or weeks of too much to do, there need not be any guilt.  Simply take ONE verse, ONE promise or fact about God from the Bible.  Maybe write it out on a 3×5 card.  And direct your mind back to it multiple times a day.  Think it through and apply it to your life right now. 

That’s worth far more than reading three chapters and not remembering anything that you can take with you during the day. The point is to direct our thoughts toward God, toward all we have been given as members of God’s family.

So, eat to savor.  Don’t just swallow your spiritual food without tasting it over and over again.  Let’s be like cows who keep chewing their food throughout the day.

Could trusting the Lord be this simple?

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Whenever the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel would break camp and follow it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel would set up camp. In this way, they traveled and camped at the LORD’s command wherever he told them to go. Then they remained in their camp as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle. Numbers 9:17-18 NLT

Has God changed since he trained the Hebrews to follow his lead? Good heavens, no!  But functionally, we who proclaim to be followers of Jesus tend to act like he has. 

The other day, I saw this so clearly as I read the passage from Numbers. I started to put myself in the place of one of those Hebrew families:  ‘Why does Yahweh seem to be training us to look up each morning when we peek out our tent flap?  We never know until the sun is rising whether today will be a pack-and-move day or a stay- in-camp day.’

Surely, the night before they would have talked over their plans for the following morning.  One woman might have said to her neighbor, ‘Oh, tomorrow, I need to teach my oldest daughter how to press the olives for oil, so we can light the tabernacle candles.’  Or a Levite father might have intended to show his son how to take down the tent.

I’m no different. I keep a calendar.  I have in mind what I want to accomplish tomorrow.  I make a list of tasks around my programmed activities that I must attend to.

In the past year, though, I’ve been working on checking in with the Lord each morning and listening for his direction while I read the day’s appointed Bible passages and pray.

But this new mental picture of the body language of these wandering Hebrews has gripped me. Their 40-year-long camping adventure was one big dress rehearsal for the rest of their lives.  They learned to obey through repetitive daily practice.

In one sense, life was far simpler for them than it is for us in 2022 America. They were forced to depend on God for their daily needs.  Their food came from him, their plans came from him, their jobs came from him. 

Maybe if we were ‘reduced’ to that level of subsistence living, our functional atheism would be squeezed out of us. Through repetition, we would really come to know and trust the Lord as provided new mercies, met our needs for food, protected and guided us. In many ways, those Hebrews were blessed through their hardships because all they had was the Lord.

This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.” Isaiah 48:17 NLT

Fashioned to be needy

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…..listen to me, the LORD. Since the day you were born, I have carried you along. I will still be the same when you are old and gray, and I will take care of you. I created you. I will carry you and always keep you safe.

 Isaiah 46:3-4 CEV

My daughter-in-law recently delivered her fourth baby, Caroline.  Seeing pictures of this sweet newborn reminds me of how very needy we humans are right from our conception.  Now out of the womb, Anne and Wes are having to provide everything this little girl needs and desires.  But we can predict that by the time she turns 2, she’ll start to want to do things on her own, in her own way. And so it goes, this drive for self-sufficiency.

I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with feeling like ‘I am NOT enough’. Why is this a struggle? Why don’t I just accept reality as it is? Simply put, it’s because I have long assumed that I SHOULD feel sufficient. But if God’s word is true, then there is never a time when I don’t need carrying.  No matter how vital and accomplished we might think we are, we continue to be needy.  We must simply be blind to our God-ordained ‘handicap’, which is so evident from our birth.

What a waste, all those years of suppressing the fears that I didn’t have what it takes to be a ‘good X’.  (Fill in the blank) Which human being has not judged him or herself:

  • To not be cute, thin, athletic, talented, strong, educated, credentialed or smart……enough?
  • Or equipped enough to parent, to do the work assigned, to make and sustain healthy relationships with friends, family and/or a marriage partner.

I have often felt insufficient to meet the expectations of others and society.  But why even lament that lack, if God has designed us to BE needy. 

Why indeed.  It feels much freer to admit my helplessness, not in a ‘so why bother’ way, but in a ‘I need Jesus every moment’ way.

A friend of mine recently wrote a blog post about a dad’s lament of having ‘blown it’ with his daughter. Out of a posture of humble regret, he reflected on how he will keep praying for God’s help to curb his tongue and emotions next time. But that what encourages him in this relationship that breaks down at times is that he has already been glorified (past tense) by God.  Future perfect relationships one day ARE guaranteed.

So, too, I am hopeful that one day I will live in a world that has been perfected.  I, along with all of God’s redeemed, and creation will be beautifully restored to even better than Eden. I will finally be ‘enough’, with no more fear of blowing it with people or situations.

No more hiding

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And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Cor 3:18 ESV

When Graham was a little boy, he loved playing with the Transformers, those action figure robots that could change shape. When he turned 5, Mike took him down to Oxford to the much-anticipated feature film. This was 1988. Graham was so excited that of course they just HAD to show up early. Sure enough they were the only ones in line for a while. Bubbling over with unrestrained excitement, I can still hear his little British accent singing: ‘Transformers, more than meets the eyes……robots in disguise…..’.

Unlike these autonomous figures, we created beings cannot transform what is most important in our lives.  Sure, we can change our eating and our exercise patterns and our physical body adjust.  But we can’t transform our hearts.  We can’t heal our emotions.  We can’t really change our desires. 

The good news, the glorious news, the news that lifts impossible burdens from us is that Jesus can change us and he does.

Recently, I re-read Paul’s encouragement to the wobbly church in Corinth. Before the verse cited above, he writes how the law had condemned people up until Jesus burst onto the scene. 

We all know the sad history of Israel. That the Hebrews could NOT change, no matter how many remorseful renewals of covenant faithfulness they pledged.

That’s my story as well.  I’m now aware of the decades I have lived with limiting beliefs that over time have calcified into patterns.  God has now brought them out into the light in such a way that I WANT to change. But I know myself.  I don’t put any hope in my sincere and firm resolve.

I’m not despairing.  On the contrary, this promise from God, recorded in 2 Corinthians offers concrete hope.

Not pie-in-the-sky hope.  Paul, probably from experience, knows that real change for most Christians happens gradually.  Bit by bit, baby step by baby step.  He’s communicating an attitude of patience as he alters our desires and that of others for whom we pray.  And you know yourself that sometimes we can’t perceive the micro adjustment that someone has made.  But one degree, or one percent for sure affects the eventual outcome!

Guaranteed change with just one condition. We are to come fully into the light. No covering up, no pretending. Just as we are.  Paul calls this having an ‘unveiled face’.

And we can do this without fear, because the Lord already knows us.  Don’t you want to stop hiding?

But now you know God, or better still, God knows you. How can you turn back and become the slaves of those weak and pitiful powers? Gal 4:9 CEV

He’s ploughing my heart and it hurts!

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For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 NLT

 God’s been doing something different in my heart for the past 18 months. The changes started when Graham recommended a podcast. Listening to the interview with Jamie Winship shifted how I pray. My journaling turned into a conversation with Jesus.  I began opening my heart and writing down my fears, my longings, and my questions. Sometimes the Holy Spirit would right away open up new ways of thinking; other times, the insights came later through scripture or someone’s written meditation.

Honestly revealing to Jesus my dissatisfaction with myself was new. The pace of insights and painful memories accelerated after an overnight ‘retreat’ with a dear friend who is a good listener.  Then I found a Christian counselor and began to process some of my layers of toxic coping mechanisms long practiced over decades.

Then came the gift of a painful experience that caused me to confront feelings of shame. God kindly didn’t leave me alone. He directed a friend to gift me with two books that have turned out to be timely. Reading them, I’ve been able to recall past incidences when I have felt caught off guard by shame.  

Furthermore, a new friend directed my attention to the podcast channel ‘Win Today’ with Christopher Cook. These interviews with Christian authors have been a source of new ideas that promote emotional healing.

Four days ago, on Easter Sunday, some totally new insights touched a sore nerve that until then had been obscured. I was brought to tears.  I find my reaction so startling as an Enneagram 5 who normally doesn’t know what she feels until some time has elapsed. Yet crying spontaneously is fast becoming a new habit.  In the past, I have relied on thinking my way through situations.

How did I miss out on listening to my feelings for so long?   I think because early on emotions felt too dangerous and scary.

But now, God is ploughing my heart.  He’s overturning the stable earth beneath my feet and watering it with my tears.

This morning, listening to some news about some family members going through a dark patch made me wonder.

Could it be that God has some new ‘good things’ for me to do?  Is all this inner prep his way of equipping me?

I feel ready to be on the watch and to continue these programmed ‘beauty’ treatments.  I don’t think I’ll be surprised when that ‘for such a time as this’ assignment appears.

Are these the worst of times?

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He has turned His attention to the prayer of the destitute And, has not despised their prayer. This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD. Psalm 102:17-18 NASB

I read this portion of the psalm right as Anne, our daughter-in-law, was in labor with our 6th grandchild.  This little girl, Caroline Leigh, doesn’t belong to ‘a people yet to be created’, for the Lord formed her in her mom’s womb last summer. The psalmist mentions those YET to be conceived and born.  Can you imagine? Maybe Caroline’s grandchildren will yet praise our good and happy God.

I realized, ‘Maria, you need to extend your perspective about the future!’

That realization connected to something I heard on a podcast this week.  The guest being interviewed explained how in view of all the ‘catastrophizing’ the news media does, we need to: ‘Widen our now.’

His context dealt with one of the harmful side effects that 24/7 reporting provides.  Today’s consumer of media can easily fall into the trap of believing that these are the worst of times here in America.

My mother-in-law has lived for 93 years.  She will tell you that in general, things have gone from bad to deplorable. A decline in law and order, poor education, polarization and so on describe how she sees America.

The podcast guest I listened to explained that if we just go back 50 years ago to the 1970s, we’d realize that we are safer now in 2022 than back then.

To correct our tendency to employ tunnel vision he advised the listeners to include more years in their perspective. That is if we want to judge our times more accurately.  He offered the mid-1800s as an example of times far worse than now.

It’s pretty clear that if we are to maintain our perspective, no matter what is going on, we have to see our lives through the lens of ‘eternity past’ all the way into ‘eternity future’.

Isn’t that how God himself, the one who created time, views our days?

So, you think you know her?

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Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

‘Ouch!’ her bracing remark pierced a wound I thought had healed.

I focused mostly on my hurt feelings that first day or two as I mulled over her words and what had prompted them.

Eventually, I saw them as part of a pattern in our past interactions.  From there, it was easy to conclude that her particular childhood environment and behaviors she had absorbed from family members had made her like this.  And so, I viewed my ‘analysis’ as conclusive.

Fast forward a couple of weeks.  God graciously brought new information from a different source. I learned about some of the pressures she’d been under. Compassion welled up in my heart.  How would I feel carrying around all ‘that’ on top of regular responsibilities?

Then just to make sure I didn’t let that perspective fade, God made sure to affirm it with Paul’s truth I read the other morning in his first letter to the Corinthians.

The fact is, I tend to judge people’s actions and assign them motives that I make up.  I know I’m probably wrong most of the time.

For example, a couple of months ago while shopping at Kroger I judged a man to be a thief.  His little child was eating a banana. I then saw him THROW AWAY the peel, right there in the produce section.  ‘Come on, Dad, that’s pure theft!  And what kind of example are you setting for your son?’

A few minutes later I rounded an aisle and saw a big Kroger sign offering free fruit to children as part as their corporate commitment to helping teach little ones good health habits. 

Humility and embarrassment set in.  So glad I didn’t open my mouth to that dad!

We NEVER know the complete story about someone.  Besides, who are we to judge their hearts?  Who are we even to assume we have the entire story?

As Oswald Chambers says – Stop having a measuring stick for other people. There is always at least one more fact, which we know nothing about, in every person’s situation. The first thing God does is to give us a thorough spiritual cleaning. After that, there is no possibility of pride remaining in us.”

What do I do with my shame?

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Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret…..2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV

The Will Smith spectacle at this year’s Oscars ceremony resonated with me, especially when Mike shared a thoughtful commentary reflecting on the event. The writer described the damage Smith did to his carefully crafted image of an easy-going black man who is thoughtful and kind. I imagine he feels or will experience shame at some point. How he deals with it is what matters.

Providentially, I have been working my way through a book about shame. The timing couldn’t be more perfect because of an upsetting exchange I had with a good friend two weeks after starting the book.

The authors offer a view completely new to me. They write those feelings of shame can actually shine a light on the sin of idolatry underneath our reaction. Surprise made me reread this chapter.

The two authors point out that a more godly reaction than shame when realizing that our actions or words that might have cast us in a poor light would be sorrow coupled with a crying out to God for help. They explain that shame often has to do with one’s identity, the one we all craft or believe defines us.

Let’s say I blurt out something I’m thinking that hurts another person.  My immediate horrified shame stems from my belief that I’m a gal who comports herself kindly with people.  That’s the idol that I work to maintain, either consciously or subconsciously.  The feelings of shame occur when I realize that I did not live up to my own opinion of myself.

The authors write, “Idolatry is sneaky worship. It is worship of the self, but it doesn’t look that way at first.  It appears more like a poor self-image.  It looks like insecurity that necessitates always looking good, or never making mistakes, or determination to be successful. …” (p. 182, The Cry of the Soul)

A natural tendency might be to go numb, to refuse to deal with this painful feeling.  But instead of numbing oneself in shame, God wants us to feel sorrow over the hurt as well as sorrow for this sin.

Reading this book has given me a way to ‘see’ underneath my shame. I now realize that I have cultivated an interaction style with this friend of ‘staying on her good side’, of acting in ways that she will think well of me. I’ve wanted her to see me as a person who is caring and other focused.

I actually feel liberated, having been forced to acknowledge the true motivation of my actions. I don’t have to carry this burden of crafting an image.  Now I want simply to please God and trust him to draw us close.  And I’m praying that one day we both can dare be honest with each other. Then we can start to build our friendship based on authentic and clean hearts.

How do you apply the Gospel to yourself?

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I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. Romans 7:15 NLT

My first thought was, “I did not handle that situation well at all!” As I replayed the event with a close friend, I started to feel worse and worse. At the time, I had no idea that I had hurt her. But now it was too late.  Only in fiction do you find those choose-your-own-ending storybooks. Sadly, this was real life and my heart ached.

I slept little that first night as I ran through the events and what I could have done differently. I awoke still feeling sad and ashamed.

It took me until midafternoon to hear the Holy Spirit’s prompt.

I was driving to my exercise class when the Lord brought to mind: Maria, Jesus already died for this!

Then a small kernel of an idea grew: Maria, you have to apply the gospel to yourself.

How does one do that?  I’ve never even thought that through.  But it rang true.  Coupled with that counsel came the truth of God’s sovereignty.  I spoke this fact out loud so my soul could hear:

Satan meant this for evil, to harm your relationship with your friend, but God meant it for good!

Okay, what is the good that can emerge?  I need to look for that.

At the gym, I had about 25 minutes on a cardio machine. To distract my mind, I let it float among these new thoughts.  Almost staccato like, others arrived. As soon as I got into my car, I grabbed the yellow post-it notes and pen that I keep handy.  This is what I jotted down as I applied the gospel of God’s grace to my heart. His assurances included the following:

  • I have not ‘blown it’ irrevocably.  Our relationship may have taken a step backwards, but there’s still time to mend it and grow healthier as friends.  And if it never does heal, well then, one day ALL relationships will not only be restored, but made new and perfect.
  • The truth is, my friend doesn’t know the half of my dark heart.  I’m worse than she realizes AND far more loved than I can even imagine.  Yes, God’s love for me outweighs my sinful, impure motives.
  • Although it’s true that we’ve had issues before that I thought were behind us, apparently the scab had not totally healed. Her accusatory words, some true and others not, were like a severe bump that started the wound to bleed again.

Other counsel from the Holy Spirit included:

  • In this occasion, my assumptions that led to my hurtful action were not correct. Developing the habit of rechecking what I think to be true and running it by the other person could make a difference in future situations.

But what has healed me the most is the image of light. Our God is he who commanded light from the beginning of creation. Supernatural power and protection stream from God’s light. When men encounter Jesus in his luminous light, they fall down powerless. Recall the transfiguration and Paul’s encounter while traveling.

So, in order to stop replaying that scene with my friend over and over, I have flown to the light.  Jesus abides in a circle of light.  Where Jesus is, there is only truth.  All the whispered lies that feel like truth can’t stand the light of God. They only hide in the darkness of fear and shame.

When I’ve been tempted to beat myself up, I have drawn close to the light of Jesus. Several nights have passed and I’ve been able to sleep.

I’m now on a hunt for bible verses about God’s light, aka God’s truth. I NEED that salvific healing balm.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9

If Jesus comes back today.

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On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God…….

Exodus 19:16-17 ESV

I don’t recall noticing ‘the trumpet blast’ in previous readings through Exodus. This time, the connection to Jesus’ return with angels amid the sounding of the trumpet struck me.

I pondered, ‘You know, it’s not at all unrealistic for Jesus to arrive this very day!  If he does come back before midnight, then which worries and preoccupations of mine will have been a waste of emotional energy, as well as a waste of time?’

These days, you’d probably think first off, as I did, of Putin. We’re all praying for an end to this evil man and the suffering he is causing. Most of my rescue scenarios have God supernaturally multiplying the Ukrainian military forces to overwhelm the Russian army.  But Jesus’ second coming would end this war instantly.

Sometimes, I forget how creative our God is.  He has at his disposal infinite scenarios with perfect resources for every event he plans to permit.  We’re encouraged by the verse to believe and count on our God who does more than the wildest of our imaginings.

What other worries and issues would be OBE (overcome by events)?  Mike and I are making financial plans and decisions as his projected retirement approaches.  Planning is a good. God encourages us to steward well the resources he loans us and to ask for his wisdom. But when we let life’s natural uncertainties weigh us down instead of giving them to him, that is sin.  So, all the anxious, emotional churn over our financial future will turn out to have been for naught, if Jesus comes back this day.

Then there are the ‘concerns’ we have for certain family members, whether their health or their salvation.  Those worries would evaporate.

Here’s the logic I want to apply to my thought life:

  • If Jesus’ sudden arrival would eliminate the need to worry about specific issues, why not just hand over those worries to Jesus right now?

Then what will I think about? After praying for situations and people, I pray that I will remember to think on whatever is pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, excellent and worthy of praise.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that!

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