Know your heart AND your bowels!

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feelings

Proverbs 3:5  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

Good life advice for Christians, right?

But wouldn’t you think the inspired author of Proverbs would have called us to trust with our mind or our will instead of our heart?  After all, don’t we decide matters rationally?

Hebrew heart language is NOT an anomaly.  Here’s another verse from the Old Testament:

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Looks like the Bible is again telling us that our actions stem from what’s in our heart.

Here’s advice from Moses that reinforces that point:

“The word is very near you,says Moses to a rescued Israel, “in your mouth and in your heart (from Deut 30:14)

My husband and I have a running friendly disagreement.  I say that feelings flow from thoughts. And he maintains that feelings surge up unbidden with no connection to thoughts. He maintains that he has little control over those very strong emotions that seem to take over in extreme situations like:

  • being blocked unfairly, whether in the car or in a conversation
  • being accused of having let someone down with that wrench to the gut and tell-tale invasion of red flush across the face

The Hebrews AND the Greeks did recognize and identify the source of THOSE powerful emotions.  They sprang from the gut or the bowels!

Lamentations 1:20 refers to this organ as the origin of the strongest feelings – no rational thinking or deciding going on here!  Look, O LORD, for I am in distress; my stomach churns; my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious. In the street the sword bereaves; in the house it is like death.

What about the New Testament?  Jesus gives us a vivid example of deep anger arising from within.  Do you remember when he and his disciples journeyed to Lazarus’ house? Before they even reach the house, sister Martha meets him and dialogues rationally with a calm Jesus.  Martha slips back in the house and notifies her sister Mary who runs out to see Jesus. Mary’s weeping when she meets him triggers a responsive emotional echo in the Son of God that is other than rational.  Jesus allows Mary to lead him to Lazarus’ burial site accompanied by a growing crowd.  John 11:33 – When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,

That groaning is the same gut feeling that wells up unprompted by rational thought or beliefs.  I’ve heard pastors explain that Jesus practically snorted like a horse, so indignant at death was he.  Rationally Jesus understands the cessation of earthly life, but his physical reaction is beyond thinking and feeling.  It’s in a different category.

Why does this matter, this distinction between gut feelings/bowels and the heart?

It turns out that my husband and I ARE both correct in how we evaluate feelings.  There are those that well up from our depths over which we seem to exercise little control.  More often, though, we deal with the ‘ordinary’ and frequent feelings that flow from our thoughts and beliefs.

And because ordinary feelings spring from what Bible language terms, ‘the heart’, then we CAN learn to change them and that is GOOD NEWS!

Not only CAN we replace and rework the content, we must!  God emphasizes the heart and commands us to control this mind/thought/feeling/-deciding organ.   Garbage in , Garbage out goes the prosaic adage. When we DO filter the content of thought and ideas , our heart changes.

Since having recently recognized that the Bible tends to look at the heart more as the thinking organ of will and choice, I see this distinction all 0ver the Bible!  And I am helped.  Before, I had concluded that I had little chance to fight worry, fear or anxiety, but now I know that I CAN, due solely to the Holy Spirit in me.

God, through Paul writing in Romans 12:2b exhorts us…..continuously be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God’s will is—what is proper, pleasing, and perfect.

My current ‘go-to’ steadying truth these days seems to be:

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about (at fearful circumstances, either real or potential) for I am your God!  I will strengthen you; Surely I will help you; Surely I will hold you up with my victorious and righteous right hand! Isaiah 41:10 (Amp)

With practice (like in any other skill) I am learning both to desire and to obey my Dad’s commands.  I want to please Him!

More details about the Bible’s understanding of ‘the heart’

 

Bringing up past mistakes

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Satan Accuses

Isaiah 43:24b-25  God tells the Israelites….

You have wearied Me with your iniquities. “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”

When I read this verse the other morning, I immediately thought about voices that DO remember and RE-CALL my sins.  If it not be God, then who might be the source of those accusations?  

Satan for one.  He is called the ‘accuser’ of Christians in Rev 12:10:

Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.

But there’s someone else who hurls those attacks: ME!!!  All the times I beat myself up for something I did.  Either I indulge in that hurtful practice instead of repenting and accepting God’s forgiveness, or I replay the sin/mistake/offense DESPITE having repented and been forgiven.

What stopped me cold, however, this morning was the sinking thought:

Am I being like Satan when I, myself, bring up a past, covered-over and forgiven sin or hurt done to ME by a neighbor, friend or family member? It matters not whether I fling it at the person or just  fume in resentment.  It’s still satanic.

Maybe I should copy my older Brother Jesus instead.  You know Him – God who was slaughtered unjustly on the cross AND still forgave his murderers and loved them?

Hear the good news about God as promised in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

What do you brag about?

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Some women my age trot out pictures of their grandkids or others of their prized pooches.  Then there are those who boast about the good deals they secured on Black Friday or their completion of a holiday decorating schema for home and yard.

But Paul exhorts us to boast in our weaknesses.

  • “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor 12:9

I’d like to offer a case for broadening the term ‘weakness’ to mean any limitation or need that one cannot personally overcome or fulfill. Part of maturity is a coming to terms with the fact that, EVEN THOUGH THIS IS AMERICA, one CANNOT do anything one sets his or her mind to.

Adult to skinny child:  What are you going to be when you grow up, little boy?

skinny boy

 

Child: I’m going to be an NFL linebacker!

Linebacker

Dishonest Adult:  Good for you, little boy! You can achieve anything you set your mind to.

So how does getting real with our limitations apply to us, no matter our age?  And can that little boy truly grow up to be an NFL linebacker?

My husband and I have longings and unmet desires that we admit to one another once in a while.  They tend to be activities or situations we think would meet some deep needs of personal fulfillment.   One of those longings popped up last night. Mike was playing some hauntingly beautiful, classical choral music as part of his Christmas play list.  When Emma Kirkby, the British soprano, began her ‘Who may abide the day of His coming?’ solo, tears from that deep place in Mike’s soul welled up. He has sung that exact piece (it’s also written for baritone) with some fine choral groups.  God has given him both a voice for and love of good music. But by our moving to Western North Carolina to a gorgeous spot in the Smoky Mountains in the ‘boonies’ we have cut ourselves off from that kind of music, both by geography and our choice to join a Bible-teaching church.

The conversation then turned to a time we had lived in England for 18 months.  During the one Christmas season we celebrated, we had season tickets to a series of classical concerts in one of the Oxford college chapels. The acoustics of that ancient holy space and the men and boys’ choir were ethereal and soul-satisfying.

That remembrance of time past led me to think of the few times, now so long ago, when we lived in Europe.  And my yearnings for another occasion such as those, to plug into the life and community of a different culture and (if in France or Germany) to speak the local language flooded my heart.

Both intense feelings of longing are real AND they do not mean we are unhappy living here.  The desires are part of who God made us.  Mike is gifted musically and I’m gifted with a curiosity for different people and love of languages.

Yet….in our present circumstances, I don’t see how either can or could be fulfilled.

But here’s the more significant point.  We humans see XYZ as possible remedies or solutions or ways to meet a godly desire.  But God is the Infinite, Eternal One who created ALL there is, including us.  And as Isaiah reminds us:

  • “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. Isaiah 55:8

So, let me remind both my heart and Mike’s heart: “Hearts, listen up! Don’t despair.  Yes, God has given you these gifts, desires, interests and longings.  And He WILL meet those yearnings. It probably won’t be in a way you can even picture.  But longings don’t go unfulfilled.  The satisfaction might come in this life or in the next, but it will come. Trust the one who says:

  • No good thing do I withhold from the one who walks blameless, in my path. (paraphrase of Psalm 84:11)”

So I will practice contentment like David models for us:

  • But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131: 2

Returning to my initial question about what you boast in, I started by proposing that these ‘current limitations’ or ‘needs’ are included in Paul’s description of ‘weaknesses’.  Could it be that God actually BLOCKS our way to fulfilling some of these desires ourselves?  Might He also use these unmet needs to teach us to be dependent on Him? And what about God employing them….

….also as a means for pointing the cynically jaded, bored, and despairing world to marvel at such a God as ours who does “EXCEEDINGLY ABUNDANTLY more than we can ask or imagine.” Ephesians 3:20?

I do believe God will satisfy those yearnings or He will replace them with something better.  Our challenge as God’s children is to show the world who our God is and why He is enough.  It is by our BOASTING in our inability to meet our own needs along with our reliance on the God who CAN be enough when we are weak and insufficient, that we show the unbelieving world the one and only path to abundant life. Be assured, the Christian is no fool. He trusts in the God who promises that ‘in His presence is fullness of joy and pleasures evermore’.  

Are you willing to be the arena for the tired world to see how wonder-filled our God is?

 

 

 

 

Are you exhausted?

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God helps those...

Have you ever heard this American-ism?  Who hasn’t?  In fact, my father used to quote it to me all the time growing up.  Trouble is, he wasn’t a Christian.  But he was a self-made man.  He grew up in a family that had money, pre-1929!  Born in 1924, he lived a while in Alaska as his family raised silver blue foxes for their fur-fashioned luxury stoles and coats supplied to wealthy blue bloods.

Silver Fox Fur Jacket

That niche soured quickly as the depression dried up the demand for expensive accessories.  Reduced to poverty, the family moved south to Arizona where his father was killed by a drunk driver in 1930.  ‘Mom’ relocated back to Arkansas with my dad and two brothers to eke out a living. There were cousins there, I think. The family scraped by, subsisting at the lowest economic rung. FDR saved my dad through innovative Civilian Conservation Corps camps for young men.  Spending his senior year of high school away from home, Pop studied at night in order to graduate on time with his class back in Mountainburg, Arkansas. His checks provided the funds so his mom and youngest brother could eat.  From there my dad joined the army, grappling his way up the military ladder. He earned a BS and an MA at night. He commanded units in Korea and Viet Nam during 5 combat tours. He pioneered and wrote aviation doctrine as well as a book.

About his relationship with God, all he would ever say when I gently pressed amounted to: “I’ve made my peace with the Lord” But my dad DID live by the ‘Gospel’ – the American good news of ‘work hard and make something of yourself’.

And Ben Franklin’s aphorism about God lending a hand to independent self-helpers fit his worldview. See this brief Wikipedia explanation of the history of the phrase that Ben Franklin popularized. For a long time I didn’t know how to counter that statement.  After all, the Bible does extol working hard to add to our virtue.   Take Peter’s exhortation in 2 Peter: 1:5-7

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love.

That sounds like effort!  If the God-waiting-on-us-to-do-our-part doctrine is not so, then what do we make of much of the moral law in the Bible?

After thinking about how to reconcile “work hard and your efforts will be supplemented by God v. to trust God and watch Him do it all” I think I can propose the right way to consider this topic.  Here’s my attempt:

It’s a matter of one’s starting point, having the correct ‘mindset’ to borrow a term in vogue in my field of education. Do we believe that God created us and then left us to follow our interests and passions, with our calling the shots in life?  Or do we take our cue from our Creator and ask some of those foundational questions such as:

  • Since God created us, He must have had a purpose. What might that be?
  • And if it makes sense to look at what He has written to discover His plans for us, what has He said?
  • And how are we to DO this work for Him?

It would also be prudent to identify God’s own ‘teleos’, His goal for offspring created in His image. Fortunately, He does not leave us guessing.  God writes in Isaiah 43:6b-7:

Bring my sons from afar

and my daughters from the ends of the earth—

everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory,

whom I formed and made.

Paul in the New Testament echoes the same purpose when he writes to the Christians in Ephesus: (Chapter 2:10)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Here’s the  64 thousand dollar Q

How does God get the glory when the spotlight shines on us and what WE do…..with a little boost from God?

That was rhetorical, obviously.  He can’t!

God ONLY gets the praise and glory and acclaim He deserves when unlikely, weak people accomplish His work where it’s evident that only He could have enabled either the attitude of the ‘worker’ or the results. Remember the 5 loaves and 2 fish accounts?  Were the disciples praised for their supply of enough food to satisfy 5000 hungry men? Do you understand a bit more Jesus’ curious exhortation:  Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:16

I never could figure that out!  If we’re doing the good works, wouldn’t WE get the kudos? Why would anyone think to praise God?

Good question!

The good deeds we are to do, we are to do with His strength, in a humble way that magnifies the surpassing greatness of God. No surprise there!  If we actually read His Word, we find out that God expects nothing less from us. After all He explicitly created us to carry out and accomplish pre-planned tasks, each one initiated BY HIM for you and for me.

So back to my blog title: Are you exhausted?  Could it be that you are doing a lot of ‘good stuff’ that you initiated without reference to Your Creator?  And working hard in your own strength, in a way that makes you look good?  No one is denying that much good is done in the world by Christians and non-Christians alike.  But IF we’re worn out, maybe, just maybe it might be because we are functionally living out the American Credo.  After all, who could possibly criticize our good works? Have you considered the answer to that question might be God, Himself?

Here’s a sobering thought: …..anything that is not done in faith is sin.  Romans 14:23c

More peace? Less anxiety?

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Would you like to FEEL at peace more and more each day?

Who wouldn’t!  Personal circumstances and problems as well as complex world situations seem to conspire to keep even the most placid in a state of agitation. Add to the warp and woof of 21st century life the seeming random as well as intentional violence! Just a glance at one’s iPhone in the morning is enough to draw up the covers and stay in bed!

stay in bed cat

Hear the promise of the Lord, however!

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you: because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

The last 2 days I have whiffed peace.  God has been working in me for years as I grow to understand and love the FACT that He is sovereign and in control of everything that happens to you and me.  Just that knowledge has eased my anxiety about:

  • traffic delays
  • alarm clock malfunctions
  • minor and major wounds from other people
  • accidents or chronic physical conditions (constipation that dogs me!)
  • the pain of my own chosen sin (‘there I go again, blurting out something hurtful’/ ‘there I go again, overeating’/ ‘there I go again, choosing to indulge in self-pity’ / ‘there I go again, lying to look good’ / ‘there I go again, divulging a confidence’ / ‘there I go again, saying something negative about a friend or family member AND enjoying it!’ )

Coupled with a deeper appreciation for what it means for God to ordain/plan/send/prescribe/allow every event has been a growing understanding of God’s will for the lives of His children.

And you know that I’m talking about our growth in holiness, also translated as ‘sanctification’.   1 Thess 4:3a – For it is God’s will that you should be holy:

A very precious friend has played a significant role in my spiritual maturing.  Last October, she mailed me William Gurnall’s 800-page book called The Christian in Complete Armour. Eleven months later I am on page 422 of collected sermons.  It’s so rich that when I dip into it on weekends, I chew slowly, sucking out this English pastor’s exposition of Ephesians 6.  His 17th-century perspective is refreshingly deep.

Across recent pages Gurnall has been talking about the benefits of holiness.  Today, I read this quote:

“….perfect rest depends on perfect holiness….”

Okay – we will NEVER attain to perfect holiness until we SEE Jesus face to face.  But don’t you think it follows from the above premise that:

As we grow in holiness, we grow in rest and peace

What I wrote in my journal this morning was that ‘I should seek holiness and be GRATEFUL for all the circumstances God has planned for me THIS DAY……

  • if it is true that God works all things for the GOOD of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes  (Romans 8:28)
  • if it is true that NO ‘GOOD’ thing does He withhold from those who are righteous  (Ps 84:11)
  • if it is true that God’s design to do us ‘good’ means to grow and shape us to think, act, react and feel more and more like His beloved Son’

If I take God at His Word, then it follows logically that I should see every event as bearing an opportunity for growth in my holiness or sanctification.  Yes, events can be evil and there is suffering and pain, but each circumstance is packed with holiness-making practical exercises.

And if the more I grow in holiness, the more PEACE I will feel, then why should I fear?  And if God allows/sends/ordains/plans good out of this next event then I SHOULD be able to relax, to rest if I truly trust Him.

Go back to that Isaiah quote and see for yourself.  The taking God at His word lies at the end of that promise…’because he trusts in You.’

Why is this a big deal for me?  Why do I care so much about growing my ability to rest and be at peace and be free from anxiety?  Because I live with fear – a lot of fear!

Some people fear the whole getting old and dying process.

Others fear not having enough money to take them through those final years on earth.

Existentially, I fear something happening to my kids and grandkids.  On a day-to-day basis, I fear not having enough time to get my work done (so I can READ and RELAX).  And in my profession, I fear that I won’t be able to be creative enough to sustain the interest of my students.

So, YES, I AM interested in TRUE and LASTING inner peace that doesn’t depend on circumstances.

And what the Holy Spirit is teaching me through His Word and writers like William Gurnall is that it is in my own personal best interests to see holiness.  I’ll close with a quote of his, taken from page 422:

“There is only perfect rest, because (of) perfect holiness.  Whence those frights and fears which make them a….terror about? (These) make men discontented in every condition.  They neither can relish the sweetness of their enjoyments, nor bear the bitter taste of their afflictions.”

What I am left with is this question:

Maria – why should you fear tomorrow if God promises to use every thing that happens in order to work MORE holiness in you, replacing what is unholy and selfish and destructive?

Just think!  If we could allow this thought to permeate our conscious, waking thoughts, maybe it would begin to seep down into the realm of the unconscious.

What do we have to lose?

God’s individual curriculum plan for your life

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Hebrews 12:10b  ….God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.

2 Cor 1:8-9  For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Does it surprise you to consider that God has designed both specific pain and specific pleasure for your holiness?

The verses above clearly indicate purpose with lead-in phrases like:

  • in order that…..
  • that was to make us…….

In a previous blog I reflected on the truth that God’s will for our lives is our holiness, our sanctification (same word in Greek).

And if we accept that God is sovereign over every molecule in the universe, then Romans 8:28 brings both truths together. God not only CAN work the bad and the good for our benefit, He designs all things to increase our capacity for holiness and Christlikeness (these two are one and the same).

Two brothers in Christ I know are struggling with different issues that trouble them deeply.  As I’ve been praying for them and specifically reflecting on the pot-holed and often painful path God has proscribed for me, I am beginning to feel some liberation that I want to pass on to these men and to others.

From numerous examples in the Bible we can ascribe afflictions like cancer or a car accident or anti-Christian persecution at work to God’s directing hand:

Isaiah 45:7I form light and create darkness,
    I make well-being and create calamity,
    I am the Lord, who does all these things.

In fact, if you don’t subscribe to the idea that God controls these events, you’re left with a powerless God who just sympathizes with you, but can’t direct/stop/influence the universe. That’s Deism, not a god worth worshipping or one in which to rest and seek refuge.

What has been a hurdle for me to get over is the idea that God might have ON PURPOSE designed me with and allowed to develop in me certain:

  • sin patterns
  • unhealthy tendencies
  • wrong ideas
  • harmful dependencies

I’m not saying that God is evil, wrong or even unloving for doing this.  But if He is sovereign, then He created you and me with these flaws for His good purpose. Since His goal for each of His children is holiness, it follows that you and I would receive a tailor-made plan, designed in love by this perfect Father for His perfect ends.

IEP

My main sin struggle has been with food/body image/weight as idols. I’m 58 and that issue blossomed when I was 16.  I have suffered years of pain. Yet, I am beginning to see that over these years God has been using my disgusting eating/vomiting/compulsive exercise patterns and embarrassing self-absorption to wean me off of myself and on to Him for everything.

I could also describe my runner-up sin, that of a clutching need for ‘enough time for Maria’, but I’ll spare you. Just know that God is getting lots of mileage out of THAT particular design feature.

The very GOOD …….NEWS (new to me) is that the bad stuff I’ve done and still do is part of God’s ‘individual education program for Maria’.  And you have such a life-long plan, too, if you are one of God’s born-again children!

So what’s uplifting or encouraging about that?  Glad you asked!

I was out on an overnight experience with the 8th grade class this week.  We ate camp food.  The oatmeal tasted REALLY good!  So I ate 2 big bowls at breakfast (plus some fruit, an egg….)

As soon as I did and felt FULL, my default ‘beat-up on Maria/self-absorption shtick’ kicked into high gear.

But THIS time, I talked about IT to myself and said:

  • What’s done is done.  And God knew, allowed and even ordained this.  He is sovereign over each sin/lapse/mistake.  It’s part of His plan for me. Sure I have to deal with the consequences, but ‘good’ is being worked IN me right now.  As I repent and rest in His wisdom, I’m growing in holiness.
  • and even more important (Listen up, my two brothers in Christ!!!) we don’t have to be grim and beat ourselves up. These painful days are ordained for a beautiful end.  You might protest like I have, ‘But I thought I was better than this!….I hate my sin and the fact that I’m letting myself and others down when I wrap myself up in X’!

Believe me, I understand.  But where did our idea that we would NOT be dirty or a slave to something or able to control our behaviors come from? Why are we surprised at our junk?  I think it’s a line straight from Hell:

Satan:  How can you be a real Christian if you are doing THAT!!!!

Before I call it quits on this post, I want to go back to my declaration that God has designed our pleasures, too, for growth in holiness. Paul mentions that he has LEARNED how to be content in Phil 4:12 – I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Having what we want, enjoying prosperity can be burdens, too.  We have to gain God’s perspective on success, material well-being and happiness.  Just think of the suffering that befalls lottery winners!  I’m not saying that all the beautiful and pleasing circumstances or gifts are meant as trials.  Just beware that the good stuff can lead to sin, too!

How’s THAT for something to chew on!

When you look, what do you see?

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Fish on a plate

I heard of a freshman bio professor whose first lesson to his eager students was to study a fish on a plate and write down everything observed.  That’s it – no other instructions.  The professor even left the classroom leaving the students on their own.  Not very happy with the paucity of direction, some jotted down a few items and departed with a shrug.  Others added more, as they waited in vain for their biology instructor to return. Eventually, they pushed back their chairs and made their way to the door in puzzlement.

Two days later, students streamed into the class, sure that they were at last going to hear a lecture from this renown expert.

Same fish – again!

Same assignment – again!

Different reactions this time.  Pockets of grumbling, some annoyance, sighs of resignation…..  The professor didn’t stay around to respond.  A few entitled students packed up in a huff, muttering about not getting their money’s worth: others, remembering that they actually cared about the semester grade, settled down to add to their fish list.

The next week, to their initial but short-lived relief, the professor did not abandon them to THE FISH!  Instead, they felt some well-deserved humiliation when he gently chastised their impatience.  Explaining why observation was a skill worth developing, he opened up to them the primary task of a scientist.

Whether this event actually took place or it’s a ‘fish tale’ is not so important.  And in fact, I did hear a pastor recount seminary experience when his professor staged the same kind of exercise, using a single Bible verse.  They were to write down 50 points or thoughts generated from careful meditation of that one verse.  Again – a similar reaction of disbelief and initial frustration.

But the point is this: we often look without seeing.  To our detriment.

Isaiah 6:9 – And he (the Lord) said (to Isaiah), “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’”

Not wanting to miss any more spiritual nourishment than I have already, I’m learning to ask myself key questions when I study a verse, forcing myself to linger IN a text, studying a sentence, questioning word choice.  Years of listening to John Piper preach have helped me pick up some of his habits of the mind.  That man treats God’s Word like a tenacious dog with a bone, gnawing and enjoying it for all it’s worth, determined to get every last molecule of taste and pleasure.

dog and bone

Two places I’ve recently parked are the following:

God, via Paul, commands us to pray by/with the Spirit.

  • 1 Cor 14:15 Then what am I to do? I will pray with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will also pray [intelligently] with my mind and understanding; I will sing with my spirit [by the Holy Spirit that is within me], but I will sing [intelligently] with my mind and understanding also.

I’ve often tried to sort out what is meant by praying by/with the Spirit.  But the other day, the phrase ‘by myself’ surfaced in my conscious mind. Startled, I realized I had not yet pondered the question that seeks distinctions.  By what other means/power/source could one do something if not by/with the SPIRIT?  And specific to this verse, what OTHER ways of praying might there be?

  • by superstition
  • by myself
  • by rote repetition
  • by duty
  • by force of habit
  • by guilt
  • by fear

But God does not leave us to choose our means of prayer – if we are adopted children of God the Father, then we have His Holy Spirit in us permanently. Most assuredly, God means us to pray effectively by MEANS of and in DEPENDENCE on His supernatural power.  Knowing His intention, who would want to rely on himself?

Here’s one more example, a pair of verses with a word worth lingering over:

  • As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you KEEP my commandments, you will abide in my love. (John 15:9-10)

What does KEEP mean?  you keep what is valuable, you hold on to it, you guard and protect it.  Yes, one of the meanings the Greek word offers is ‘do or perform’ (tareo – Strong’s # 5083) but I can DO a duty without treasuring or wanting to please the one who issues the order.  I DON’T want to be a DUTIFUL daughter of my heavenly Father.  I want to WANT to please Him.  I think the key, at least for me, is to meditate and try to grasp the stunning news that Jesus loves me in the same way the Father loves Him!  Only by starting there, the magnitude of His surprising love for us, can I be drawn to wanting to please God.  Only by repeatedly returning to His love, do I WANT to walk in union with Him where He leads.

May it be said of me, “For the joy set before her, she walked with Jesus, enduring whatever she, in union with Jesus, suffered.” Joy

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