Never Letting Go

For months, a Hillsong praise song about Jesus has been stuck in my head. It’s the one with the words “Jesus, lover of my soul. Jesus, I will never let you go.” It just bubbles up, especially when I’m out riding my bike. Lately I’ve been changing the words to say, Jesus, you’ll never let me go. I know I want to hold on to him, but I know he wants to hold on to me even more, and his “hands” don’t get sweaty and lose their grip.

Paul tells us in Romans 8:38-39 that nothing can separate us from God’s love – absolutely nothing. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NIV).

Nothing can separate us from his love, and nothing is more encouraging than knowing the bond between Jesus and us is unbreakable. “Though my world may fall,” neither of us will ever let go. The Father loved us first, Jesus loves us and the Holy Spirit loves us – and I will sing it forever.  

How Bad Is It?

When something unpleasant happened, if you asked my dad how bad it was, he’d say, “Bad, but not too bad.” This became almost a motto for us over the years. I still say it and he’s been gone for over seventeen years. We tell ourselves nothing in life is so bad that it couldn’t be worse, but that doesn’t really help, does it? Saying a problem or trial is “bad, but not too bad” can bring a smile to my face, no matter what it is.

Paul might have been the first one to have an attitude of bad, but not too bad when he endured so many terrible hardships – shipwrecks, beatings, going hungry, imprisonment (2 Corinthians 11). He went a step further when he realized that in all these horrible circumstances, God’s grace was all he needed. Everything he went through, including his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12) was survivable because of grace. He even learned to “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties” (verse 10). He discovered when he was weak, he was strong in Christ.

The whole world is enduring hardship this year and even though it’s worse than other years, every year brings its share of trials, problems and heartache. With Christ in us, we can face these trials head on and say, it’s bad, but not too bad. With God’s grace, in our weakness, we can be strong. Like Paul, we can boast about our weaknesses so the power of Christ can work through us and shine brightly in the darkness.

Nine Month Check Up

It’s been nine months since I was given my word for 2020, unfazed, and I thought it might be a good time to let you know how I’m doing. I must admit, unfazed hasn’t always described me so far. I’ve had some days where I let events and situations faze me a lot, and to be fair, this has been a tough year all around. But having a word doesn’t mean you automatically attain some kind of perfection.  

As I pondered my goal of being unfazed, the Holy Spirit whispered in my ear that the way to let my word play out for the next few months and beyond is to have a perpetual posture of praise and worship. As the quotation I posted a few weeks ago stated, this can be under the surface of everything we do, all the time.

When I was growing up, my dad would often tell me to stand up straight. I don’t have naturally good posture, so I needed reminders to keep my shoulders back. I was thinking about the word posture and how it has more than one meaning. It is also aspect, attitude, demeanor, disposition or mode. All these words can describe how to live in a praise and worship state of being.

Having good spiritual posture is even more important than physical posture. Now when I think about standing straighter, I won’t just think about my shoulders, but I’ll be praising and worshiping God, singing and making melody in my heart (Colossians 3:16). Maybe with this posture, I can remain unfazed for the next three months and go on to learn to let the love of Jesus keep me unfazed and resting in his peace the rest of my life.

Not Hearing Anything

Sitting here at my computer, looking at this white space on the screen, I had no idea what to write for my blog today. And again, I’ve waited until the last minute of my self-imposed deadline of posting every Tuesday. It is in fact, a few hours past my other self-imposed deadline of posting at 1:15 every Tuesday. It’s not like I haven’t been thinking and praying all week about something to write, it’s just that nothing is coming.

“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” But sometimes he doesn’t speak. So here I sit, writing about nothing. I once told a friend I would write even if I had nothing to say. That day has arrived.

This does lead to the thought that even though we ask, hope and want God to speak to us, sometimes he is quiet, or possibly he’s whispering so softly I can’t hear him. Or maybe I’ve been too distracted to really listen. Or maybe he’s giving me more time to figure things out for myself. Whatever the reason, I’m not hearing him. And I guess that’s OK. I’ll keep asking and trying to listen. I know I’ll get the message eventually, because he’s too good to leave me hanging for long.

Sitting with Our Pain

When Job when through the worst time of his life, some of his friends came for a visit and sat with him while he grieved. They cried out in lament, ripped their robes and dumped dirt on their heads to show their grief with poor Job. They sat in silence with him for seven days, saying not one word that entire time. It’s remarkable to think they not only stayed for a whole week but didn’t talk at all.

The other amazing part of this story is Job having three such dedicated and selfless friends. It’s rare to have friends or be a friend like that. The only friend I know who would sit with me in my pain, for days on end or even months or years, is Jesus. I learned something about my friend and my pain – he won’t force himself into my pain, but I can invite him to sit with me.

In Self to Lose, Self to Find, Marilyn Vancil suggests we can invite Jesus into the middle of whatever we’re experiencing, be it negative emotions and feelings, pain or grief. I guess I can be a little slow, as I hadn’t thought of doing this before, but I tried it last time I went through a tough day and found it quite uplifting and encouraging. To know he shared my suffering, with no guilt trips or recriminations, lifted my spirit and my burden. What a friend we have in Jesus indeed.

Beneath the Surface

I have nothing to add so I’m going to let this statement speak for itself:

“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level, we can be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs, but deep within, behind the scenes at a profounder level we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathing” (Thomas Kelly, Testament of Devotion).

Prayer, Pure and Simple

(Sorry about no post Tuesday. We were without power for over 24 hours due to fires in the area.)

I decided to give equal time to showing the positive side of devotionals. I’m reading one on prayer by Pete Briscoe, who said we might need to throw out our old ideas about prayer and think of it in a new way. It’s not new to some of us, but the implications are far-reaching enough we could all give it some thought – and prayer.

He said, “Most of our traditions, teachings, and examples miss the simple, pure, liberating essence of prayer: prayer is an intimate conversation with the One who passionately loves you and lives in you.” This understanding changes the way we pray – a conversation is two way; an intimate one is between two people or in this case, one person and a Father, who love and know each other well. And it’s not just one chat a day during your quiet time, but “a never-ceasing intimate conversation.”

Briscoe also points out that it’s liberating to realize we don’t have to follow any of the traditions and teachings we may have heard all our lives. I don’t pray the same as you and you don’t pray like me. We all relate to our Father God in our own unique way so it makes sense we would all talk to him differently and have our own way of relating and being with him. This also eliminates the guilt most of us have carried or still carry with us. In Christ, we can converse with him freely, simply and purely, from our hearts, with no reservations or inhibitions, just as we would with a close friend, because that’s what he is.

Self-Care and Soul-Feeding

Jokes have been going around about people not getting dressed, skipping showers and letting themselves go during the health crisis. I must admit to wearing sweatpants unless I go to a grocery store, which is only once a week, and my hair desperately needs attention. But there are some areas of self-care I try to uphold.

I’ve discovered five things that feed my soul, help me maintain my equilibrium and give me reasons to carry on day after day. They are spending time with God/practicing his presence; riding my bike; baking; creating and sending greeting cards; and reading for pleasure. Some days I manage all five, most days at least three. (When I say discover, I don’t mean they are new to my life, rather I’m thinking of them in a new way.)

Feeding the soul is something King David did in a time of great distress. In 1 Samuel 30:6, David encouraged or strengthened himself in the Lord. He probably reminded himself how God had always been with him, fought his battles and took care of him. Strengthening ourselves by remembering how his grace has covered us is something we can and should do on a regular basis.

Self-care is important for all of us on whom others depend – most of us are in that category. If we don’t take care of ourselves, how can we take care of others? Or even do the basic job of a Christian – to love others? Your list may not look like mine, but you no doubt can think of one or two things that lift your spirit, bring a smile to your face and leave you energized and ready to keep going. Consider that God probably gave it (or them) to you for these reasons. He doesn’t like us to be discouraged any more than we do.

We can wear our sweatpants, skip a shower or two and let our hair grow, but let’s pay attention to what’s on the inside – what’s most important – by practicing self-care and feeding our souls.

Adjust, Accept, Appreciate

Going to college was exciting but also a little frightening. It was all so new; I was far from home and my trip to get there was only my second time on a plane. Even though I enjoyed meeting other students and liked my classes, I was completely out of my comfort zone. I quickly learned I would have to make a lot of adjustments if I were going to survive and thrive. I came up with a little motto to help me whenever I encountered a new and/or stressful situation: adjust, accept, appreciate.

Since then, I’ve been in many settings requiring all three of these. I’ve had to make major adjustments in every area of life; I’ve had to accept things I would rather not; and I’ve learned, or rather, I’m still learning to appreciate the beautiful things, especially God’s grace. His grace is a thick thread running through each day and every experience.

The three words in my motto can be summed up in one: attitude. Early 20th century psychologist William James sheds some light on how important our attitude is: “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.” A good attitude can make a huge difference in everything we do, every second of every day. It’s not always easy, but how much in life is? We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13), even change our attitude. It could be the best thing we ever pray for.

Can We Activate God’s Presence?

One of my favorite movies is Galaxy Quest. It’s a spoof of the original Star Trek series and is a lot of fun. At the end of the movie, to save the universe (this happens frequently on Star Trek), the captain activates the Omega 13, which is a device that turns back time for 13 seconds. It’s not long, but it’s long enough to redeem a single mistake.

To activate the Omega 13, he opens a compartment, a plunger rises, and he pushes down on the plunger. Then the science fiction magic happens. Sadly, this is how some people think God works. They talk about activating his power and invoking his presence, as if pushing a button or casting a spell of some kind can get God to appear or grant wishes like a genie. (I’ve been reading devotionals again.)

As I’ve said many times here, God is all about relationship. I didn’t understand that for most of my life, but seeing God through this lens, as a being in relationship as Father, Son and Spirit, changes our perspective on everything. He’s not a vending machine, a genie or someone whose power and presence we can invoke. He’s not watching us from a distance, keeping a list of sins and offenses against him. He’s not sitting on a judge’s bench, anxious to send us to the executioner.

God has a father’s heart for us. Jesus loves us like a brother. The Spirit is always on our side. God loves us with an unfailing love and delights in us loving him back. We don’t need to push a button or rub a lamp to enjoy his loving presence.