I love what the Apostle Paul wrote about being living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), because it came from a heart that passionately loved the Lord. He knew from his own experience that there’s no way we can have the fullness of God’s presence without first surrendering ourselves to Him. And Paul had learned that we must give our WHOLE selves.
A tall order, and one that usually happens over time. But even as we give our first offerings, God shows us glimpses of the amazing life we’re heading into. Prayer and Scripture reading – all of our worship – take on deeper meaning, and start to pull us into closer connection to our Abba Father.
“I must first have the sense of God’s possession of me before I can have the sense of His presence with me.”
“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
The thought of God being present in every moment of my life used to make me uneasy. He’s watching me, and will notice when I screw up. Being so aware of Him made me feel vulnerable, almost under a microscope, and I sometimes wanted to hide. God’s desire to remain with His people wasn’t designed to be a threatening thing, though. Rather, He wants to reassure us that He knows our struggles and is already working on our behalf.
I’ve come to see the comfort in Him being near, because it means He loves me deeply. And, I often feel the challenge that comes with Him staying close, because it means what I do really matters to Him. Embracing the truth of God’s continuous presence has actually erased the fear and replaced it with more confidence. I know He always sets wrong things right, and sets me back on the narrow path.
“That’s why we need to practice the presence of God: Not just to acknowledge in some philosophical way that God is present, but to rehearse, to repeat, to work and rework our knowledge that even though we don’t see Him and sometimes don’t feel Him, He is there. He is here. When we practice the presence of God, we train ourselves to desire His presence—to resist our temptation to flee Him. We also train ourselves to experience His presence—to resist our temptation to think that He flees us. In other words, the practice of the presence of God helps us to live between the temptations of Jonah bound for Tarshish and John bound in prison. Jonah is the prophet who wants to abandon God. John is the prophet who feels abandoned by God.”
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”
“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
As Christians, we have the firmest basis for equality between us – belief in Jesus. Isn’t it sweet to know that He is the same Lord for every person who gives their lives to Him? And when we embrace that truth, our differences only add beauty and strength to the church.
“My worth is what I am worth to God; and that is a marvelous great deal, for Christ died for me. Thus, incidentally, what gives to each of us His highest worth gives the same worth to everyone; in all that matters most are we equal.”
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.“
Whenever I hear the hymn “Amazing Grace” (including the wonderful Chris Tomlin arrangement) I can’t help but think about John Newton’s life. The transformation he went through, from a slave ship worker to humble servant of God, always stirs my heart up. (You can read more about him here.) After all, if God could do such a miracle in Newton’s life, there’s hope for me, too!
“I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be. But still, I am not what I used to be. And by the grace of God, I am what I am.”
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press ontoward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
I spent a long time as a Christian feeling ashamed of myself. I assumed my past mistakes defined me, and condemned me to a lesser life than others who were inherently “better” than me. Many years and teachings later, I am starting to embrace the mercy God extends to all believers when we repent. He promises to wash our sins “white as snow” (Is 1:18) and remove our sin from us “as far as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12) Isn’t that amazing?
I used to want to forget my past entirely. But now I see the value in remembering – not to put myself down, but to help me choose better going forward. I’ll never be totally free of sin here in this life. But if I let Him, God will release me from shame. And He wants to use everything, past and present, to help me grow more like His Son.
“People say, ‘Leave your problems in the past.’ Well, where is the past? Is it some nether world between time and eternity? No. The past is in us. The only way we can leave the pain or sin from our past is to face it with Christ. For the past cannot be forgotten, it can only be forgiven and redeemed.”
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.”
The Apostle Paul wrote and spoke about renewal a lot. I believe that’s because he had experienced such a remarkable turnaround in his own life. Paul could have tried to hide his past of hunting down Christians, but he knew that God wanted that fact to actually be a part of his testimony.
It’s tempting to try keeping our past sitting on a shelf where, hopefully, no one else will see it. But God may want to use those moments/choices/actions we’re not so proud of. It sounds strange or even scary, but in God’s hands (in His timing and with His leading) our stories can bring hope and even healing to others.
“The only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. God will waste nothing.”
“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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Everyone is trying to make sense of this past year, and I think most of us reach to God for answers. He is pleased when we turn to Him, even bringing our doubts and questions with us. The key, though, is to be willing to receive His answer, including times when all we hear is quiet. That may be the hardest thing for me, impulsive and impatient as I often am.
I have to remember that silence from God doesn’t mean He isn’t working. It’s an opportunity to choose to trust in what the Lord is doing. If I pick wisely, I’ll find peace. If not, I’ll start leaning on my own understanding, which never satisfies my soul.
“When you accept the fact that sometimes seasons are dry and times are hard and that God is in control of both, you will discover a sense of divine refuge, because the hope then is in God and not in yourself.”
“By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
When circumstances confuse, shock or scare us, it can be hard to believe everything will work out alright. Honestly, I’ve been challenged by these past few months to find a bright side. With every piece of bad news, my first instinct has been to mutter, “Here we go again. What is it now?!” All that does is feed my anxiety and anger.
But God has been so gently teaching me His instinct, that is, to trust Him and His Ways, which are higher than mine. Not an easy lesson these days, but more important than ever. Our Heavenly Father is always with us and for us, even if what’s going on seems to contradict that truth at any given time. Meditating on God instead of the chaos can change my perspective. I pray for His strength to do just that!
“There is nothing–no circumstance, no trouble, no testing–that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment. But as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift up my eyes to Him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart, no sorrow will ever disturb me, no circumstance will cause me to fret, for I shall rest in the joy of what my Lord is–that is the rest of victory!”
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
Are you making any resolutions or setting any goals this new year? In the past I’ve gotten a bit carried away with them, but I’m trying to simplify. First on my list is to seek God’s Will more, and to be ready to let go of my own. I want to know what moves His heart and how He wants me to join Him in the work He’s doing. Then the other items on my list will either fall into place, or just fall away!
“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.“
I’ve heard so many people say “good riddance” to 2020, and with good reason. All of us hope the New year will take us in a better direction. But before we rush ahead, let’s take a moment to ponder: did all we went through these last 12 months draw us closer to God? My honest answer is “ultimately yes.” I certainly expressed fear and upset to Him along the way, but I always found myself reaching for Him. How about you? The thing is, God was with us, no matter how scary or upsetting or even horrifying our experiences were. If we know that in the worst of times He was near, we can have confidence in His presence with us in the future, too. And, we can trust that He knows and will show us the best way to navigate the days to come.
“New Year’s Day is a good time to fix one’s eyes on the only One who knows what the year is to hold.”
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdomand his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”