When did God wake you up?

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How do I know if I TRULY believe?  What if I am fooling myself in thinking I have saving faith?

Have you ever feared or wondered if you really were saved?  In other words, is the faith you have, I have, is it enough and is it the ‘right’ kind of faith?

I occasionally flirt with these thoughts.  But when I think about how I now enjoy reading and studying my Bible, I find reassurance.  Not that one is not a Christian if one doesn’t read his Bible.  There have been and will always be illiterate Christians, young and old.

But since for years I never READ my Bible and now it’s what I look forward to most each morning, I fall back on that change in desires as a substantial piece of evidence for having genuine faith.  That’s evidence for me.  I DO know that there are Bible experts who are not believers, even some pastors who are not authentic Christians.  So, when I say I love reading God’s Word, it’s because I NEED it.  I come hungry to the Scriptures. And those few times when I feel stone cold and NOT hungry, then at least I know that I need this kind of spiritual feeding.  The French sometimes cajole their children with this advice: “Eat so you’ll be hungry!”

I say all this because I found reassurance of the genuineness of my faith this morning from reading William Perkins.  Perkins, a preeminent reformed protestant theologian (1558-1602) shaped many fellow English scholars and pastors in Tudor times.

Perkins Here’s what I copied in my journal from chapter 17 of his writings:

(Caveat: this is not a step-by-step process I’m writing, just some conclusions.)

When Jesus endured the curse of the Law in my place, I, too, as one in union with Christ by faith, was set free from the law.  Romans 8:2 goes like thisFor the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

This good news means that I don’t have to heed the hard but righteous taskmaster of the Law who has one standard: “Do this and live!”

Perkins writes on page 73: The law requires perfect obedience at our hands, yet God of His mercy looks more at the will to obey than the perfection of obedience. (bolding is mine)

When I was 16 and 17, sitting in the Episcopal church, nonchalantly assuming I was a believer, I NEVER wondered or worried or even pondered about my faith?  Sadly, I was not one of Christ’s, though I had been baptized and confirmed and participated in youth group each Sunday night.

What comfort I draw now, knowing that the Father accepts as enough the DESIRE to believe, the WILL to please Him through obedience, the LONGING to have a Savior. That I know that I don’t have to keep proving myself is one evidence of my belonging to Jesus, of being IN the family of God. Savoring and resting in that freedom pleases Him!  For it means I take Him at His word.

In many ways, I am thankful for having that pre-believing time of indifference and nonchalance. I know what it felt like to be on the other side of the dividing line.  I DO rejoice most days with amazed thankfulness and praise for the God who woke me up to my sin and to the Savior.

The danger of NOT being needy

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A friend unburdened herself to me last month that she was scared to find herself in the midst of a dry spell with God.  She doesn’t sense His presence any more.  He seems distant.   When she reads her Bible, she feels nothing.  She once felt alive to God, close to Him.

Now she finds herself going through the motions.  When I gently probed about what brought on this change, she didn’t know.  She couldn’t pinpoint exactly when her intimacy with God, her excitement of belonging to Him had waned.  She had woken up one day, all of a sudden aware that He ‘was gone’, as she explained it.

She asked me what she could do to get the old feelings back.  We talked about the external behaviors of Christian discipleship such as prayer, worshipping with other believers, thanking God, regular Bible reading, journeying.  She admitted that although she still attended church most Sundays, she had stopped both reading her Bible on a daily basis and pursuing regular time with God in prayer.  She felt hypocritical and mechanical in doing them.  Doubt about the efficacy of our prayers had crept into her mind.

As we were brainstorming and thinking about the practices of believers, God suddenly brought to mind what I think is the key to a close relationship with God.  Neediness.

I feel needy EVERY DAY and many times throughout the day.  I could chalk it up to my age and growing awareness of the fragility and incertitude of life’s circumstances. Or maybe I simply have no more qualms in admitting that in my own strength and resources I can’t do much of anything well, I’m just plain NEEDY!

Stop a moment!  Isn’t ‘neediness’ the very essence of being a created being?  But God as Creator, what does He need?  Not one thing!   To be God is to be self-sufficient.  To be creature is to be needy.

O, the happiness of being in want! That neediness keeps me begging God, scouring my Bible for His sure promises of provision, guidance and wisdom.  Daily, I journal about what I find in Scripture.  Likewise, I talk about the truth of God with my husband, other family and many friends.  I pepper emails with encouragement from God because when I point to God and His greatness, I FEEL renewed and strengthened.  All through the day, I thank Him as I see His provision.  When I start to dread tomorrow, I’m learning to rehearse why I don’t need to be afraid.  When I catch myself worrying, I repent of my unbelief and ask my husband to pray for me to trust God. I’m in constant dialogue with God because I live out of the insufficiency of Maria.

Yes, His mercies are new every morning, because my needs are new every morning!

Financial and health needs, relationship challenges, work problems, decision conundrums and other suffering have turned out to be God’s greatest gifts to me. I knew that at one level. But listening to all my friend is suffering and trying to DO to regain her once close relationship with the happy Triune, all-powerful God of the universe scares me.  I don’t EVER want to lose that.

Nothing compares to knowing God.

Where I used to begrudge any circumstance of neediness, I now THANK Him specifically.

Here’s how I have reworded Paul’s description in 2 Cor 12:10

Original: For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

My version:  For the sake of a close relationship with Christ, then, I am content and thankful to be given weaknesses, neediness, hardships and problems.  For when I am needy, I am strong in the Lord.

For…..The fear of (losing) God is the beginning of wisdom” Proverbs 9:10

My first duty of the day – to make myself happy in God

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My hero in the faith is George Mueller, the 19th-century British pastor who together with his wife established and ran orphanages for four to five decades.  He intentionally journaled throughout those years in order to encourage the ordinary Christian to live and work by simple but powerful faith.  He wanted the average Christian to KNOW that learning to pray in reliance on Jesus was a tool and blessing that all could learn to do, with powerful results.

One of his personal resolutions that he followed to the benefit of thousands goes like this:

“The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.

Life may be falling down around us, but to be a Christian means to be the possessor of the most precious and lasting treasures imaginable.

It’s probably like this for you, but when that morning alarm breaks into my oblivion, it’s like I have forgotten all that is true and unchanging.  What hits me is the immediacy of the day’s circumstances.  And given this suffering and corrupted world, many days seem to loom difficult and heavy-laden when I get up.   If I let my feelings take their cue from those first thoughts, I will stay depressed throughout the day.  Or I will use something created to distract myself, what God calls an idol. (food, email, escape reading)

God offers an alternative if we but follow it.  Christian are called to rejoice always (1 Thess 5:16). Therefore, Mueller’s advice is not optional if we are to obey our Father in heaven.

I don’t intend to talk about how I go about making myself happy in God.  What I rather mention is why God wants his children to be happy they belong to him.  I’m learning the reason God commands me to exult in him is because joy in God is key to loving others.

Listening the other day to a sermon by John Piper I actually felt capable for the first time of LOVING OTHERS.  You remember how Jesus summed up the Law in Matthew 22:40 by saying in effect:

  • Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength
  • Love your neighbor as yourself

Because I seem to be wired more as a rational person than a loving, emotional person, I’ve struggled with what love looks like according to God.  I often feel guilty that I don’t FEEL love towards my neighbors.

But the way John Piper explained love, it sounded doable for a Christian empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Piper explained what God means by love like this: “Love is the overflow and expansion of joy in God, which gladly meets the needs of others”

Given THAT definition, making myself happy in God each morning is not only life-preserving to me, but equally necessary for those around me.  When I have re-established and reconnected with WHY I can be happy no matter how crummy the day’s circumstances may be, then I have strength and energy to move out of myself toward others.  That is the ONLY way to love others.

Have you ever had someone do something for you out of duty?  How does that feel?

It’s like when we tell a child, “Tell Sammy that you are sorry!”

and the child’s “Sorry” doesn’t satisfy at all.  It’s not from the heart.

Same with our deeds done to meet a neighbor’s needs.  If we help out of obligation, it’s not the same as initiating something out of the energy and God-given strength borne of joy in Him.

Joy in God is a pervasive and persistent theme in the Bible.  It doesn’t seem optional or healthy to neglect.

May this truth from Nehemiah 8:10b find its roots in you and me:

“Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”

 

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