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Archive for March, 2014

Speak, O God

prayer-and-meditation

We all desire to hear God’s voice speaking to us. In Whole Life Worship, we believe that God speaks to us in various ways: through the inner voice of His Spirit, through others (counselors, spiritual friends, pastors, etc.), and through noticing in the everyday acts and circumstances of life. But one of the most direct ways God speaks to us is through Scripture.

My approach to Scripture in the past has always been the “inductive method.” This is where I examine the text, make observations, pull in the facts for interpretation, and then muse over the application (is there a sin to avoid, a command to obey, a concept to be aware of, etc.) While this is a good method of Scripture study, it has a tendency to be “clinical” in its approach; that Scripture is something to be examined and taken apart so that truths and principles can be derived.

But Scripture is “God breathed,” not only in its inspired composition, but also in its ability to be God’s mouthpiece to our souls in our present readings. While exegeting (examining and interpreting) the Bible is good, it is even more important to allow God, through the Scriptures, to “exegete” us.’’

I’ve written about Lectio Divina as a method where I allow God to speak and exegete me through Scripture (for more on Lectio Divina, click here). But before I begin the Lectio, I begin with a prayer based on a song by my friend, Rory Noland. It goes like this:

Speak, O God, in Your presence I am humbly bowed

Speak, O God, I am longing for a word from You

Speak, O God, speak into my soul

Speak, O God, quietly I wait for You

Then I end with the phrase: Speak, O God, for Your servant is listening.

After each line, I pause, so as to allow those spoken words to saturate my soul with the meaning of each petition. I find that this prayer/song creates both a sense of expectation (that God will speak through the Lectio) and a posture of attentiveness (that my soul is ready to notice and receive whatever God sends my way).

This prayer/song has helped me immensely in noticing God’s voice in Scripture, as well as positioning me to hear God’s voice throughout my day. (By the way, Rory has a CD of his contemplative worship songs entitled “The Lord is in Our Midst.” Click here if you are interested in purchasing a copy).

What helps you prepare to hear God’s voice in Scripture?

How has God been speaking to you lately through the Word?

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I was at a memorial service when I saw a person that caused me to cringe. Feelings of resentment and bitterness filled my heart as I remembered and reflected upon the hurt that person had inflicted upon me in the past. It was at that very moment I realized I had a choice to make: I could either dwell and stew and baste in the bitterness of my soul (which is what I normally do!) or I could give God an opportunity to “sanctify” my life.

The word “sanctify” literally means to “set apart” or “make holy.” As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to become holy or “sanctified” as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). The process of sanctification occurs as we turn over the control of our lives to the Lord, especially in the midst of our trials. More often than not, it is human nature to withdraw from God in the midst of trials. However, our turning to Him in our trial always leads to us to spiritual growth and maturity. Anyway, back to the story …

Gratefully, I chose to give God that opportunity to work in my life. I prayed, “Lord, you know how I feel about that person. You know what he did to me. What do you want me to do?”

After a short while, the Holy Spirit revealed the real issue to me. So I prayed: “Lord, the issue is not what that person did to me, but the sorry condition of my own heart. I have allowed bitterness and resentment to poison my heart. There is poison in my heart and I cannot love correctly or fully anymore. Will you remove the poison?” (pause.) I gulped, “Do whatever it takes, Lord.”

I braced myself for the worst. After all, taking poison out of a human heart is no easy task. I expected that God would give me greater trials; a refining fire to purge out the bitterness and resentment.

But at that very moment, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I opened my eyes and, very unexpectedly, I saw a dear Christian friend; someone I haven’t seen in over seven years! He smiled and winked at me. Then I realized that God answered my prayer rather immediately and miraculously. Timing was everything: if I had not just prayed that prayer, that simple interaction with my brother would have been just another pleasant reunion. But because I had just specifically given God the opportunity to work in my life, it was a HOLY moment! Unbeknownst to him, my dear friend was the conduit of God’s love being poured into me at full force – kind of like taking a drink from a fire hydrant! God’s love swept over me, filled me, and flushed the poison out of my heart. Wow! I was free to worship, I was free to minister, I was free to love… And yes, free even to love the one to whom I had once harbored so much bitterness.

To rephrase an old 60’s song: “all we are saying is give Christ a chance.” We have a million chances a day to give the Lord an opportunity to direct our lives – but how often do we? Every choice we make without God is a choice that leads to emptiness, shallowness and in many respects, death. Every choice we give to Jesus is an opportunity for life, real life, lasting life, “huge” life.

“In Him was life, and that life was the light of men” (John 1:4). It’s about time we started turning on that “light” switch more frequently … it leads to true life.

What are some moments where you realized you needed to change?

How does God bring about change/transformation in your life?

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Overwhelmed!

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Here’s a topic we are all-too familiar with: being overwhelmed! Whether it is the added stresses to a normal day or being hit with an unexpected emergency or falling behind on a project, the feeling is the same: this sense of dread, confusion and loss of hope.

Our human coping mechanisms to “being overwhelmed” are not too helpful:

– Some try the “grin and bear it” strategy. This sometimes works, but if the source of our “overwhelmed-ness” is more of the chronic or permanent variety, it often leads to bitterness and despair.

– Others try the “ignore it” strategy, thinking “maybe if I ignore it, it will go away on its own.” This often just delays even a greater sense of overwhelming later on.

– Some try the “escape it” strategy. It copes with overwhelming feelings by substituting it with some “feel good” activities. Then when I feel better, I can deal with the issues that overwhelm me. While there is some good to this (and some bad, particularly if the “escape” involves dangerous, sinful or addictive behaviors), it often becomes just a variation of the “ignore it” strategy.

But lest we become overwhelmed over our human efforts to overcome our overwhelmed-ness, let me share some great news for you:

JESUS IS GREATER THAN THE THINGS THAT OVERWHELM US.

And

JESUS WANTS TO HELP US OVERCOME “OVERWHELMED-NESS”.

This is one of the great “perks” that come with following Jesus as Lord! It’s too bad that many Christians don’t take advantage of this amazing truth.  In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The teaching shows us that overcoming our overwhelmed-ness is to follow three simple steps:

  1. COME TO JESUS – FIRST. It’s funny that a lot of times when we are overwhelmed, we look at coming to Jesus as a “last resort” measure. But it should be our first move. When we come to Him, we find rest for our souls. However, this requires us to call on Him and still our hearts to hear His voice.
  2. LEARN FROM HIM. Some of us do well in calling upon the Lord’s name in time of trouble, but to learn from Him is a different matter. This requires humility and stillness: to “call time out” and listen for His voice. Jesus usually wants to show us something in our “overwhelmed-ness.” It is usually that one thing that is the key: where we find renewal of mind that leads to transformation. But we must turn off the urgency of our overwhelming situation and do the “needful” thing – listen to Jesus.
  3. TAKE ON HIS YOKE. When we listen to Jesus, we then must do as He says. Remember, He is Lord, meaning: He is in charge of the situation. He can take care of things outside of us. If we do as He says, we will find our path and situation corrected, that things will become “easy and light”, and that our overwhelmed-ness will be overcome.

So when we get overwhelmed by our situations, let’s bring it to Jesus. As we surrender it to Him and yield to his directions, we find true peace and rest for our souls. This results in greater praise to Him as He transforms us and our situations. And that’s what Whole Life Worship is about!

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit! Oh, what needless pain we bear! All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

What are some ways that help you to turn to Jesus when you are overwhelmed?

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Wind Breath Spirit

Palm trees at a hotel bend in the fierce

It was a windy day when I was driving my grandson, Aiden, to school. We have some of the most interesting conversations. As Aiden looked at the strong winds, he asked me, “Grandpa, where does the wind come from?” I wondered how to answer this question. I was about to go into some scientific based hypothesis about pressure systems, warm air colliding with cold air, and weather patterns – but I was boring myself with that answer!

Then I thought about Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus when explaining what it meant to be born-again by the Spirit. So in the same way, I told Aiden, “We don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going to. All we know is that the wind is from God.” That made sense to my grandson.

And it makes perfect sense, Biblically. Both the Hebrew (“ruach”) and the Greek (“pneuma”) words for wind and breath is the same word for Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Kaddesh Ruach in the Old Testament and Hagios Pneuma in the New Testament.

My grandson’s question on this blustery day caused me to reflect on the nature of wind and the ways of the Spirit.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit moves like a powerful wind in our lives. There is a giant upheaval where the firmly planted weeds of unrighteousness and boulders of hardness of heart are ripped out of our lives. This holy blast causes me to look at the stark reality of God’s holiness and my sinfulness. This hurricane also produces furious sounds of love and passion, causing soul shaking tsunamis and heart-rending monsoons. I’ve had these and it takes every ounce of my innermost being to just hang on. These moments leave me pinkishly raw, but cleansed. Consumed, but lavishly loved. Convicted to the core, but with a new inner resolve and strength to follow Him

As momentous as deep winds of the Spirit are, most of the time the Spirit operates like “breath” or “air.” We don’t feel the subtle air of the Spirit; we just breathe it. When we breathe physically we are only occasionally aware of air – like during those times when we are out of breath from exertion or when we intentionally take deep breaths to calm ourselves. In our spiritual lives, the more we are aware of the Spirit when we breathe the better. Personal worship times, mid-day and evening prayers, breath prayer and living worship in the everyday ordinary help us become aware of the Spirit’s presence with us. We then realize that the air we breathe is indeed the Spirit of God; not just oxygen.

It is when we acknowledge the Spirit in the “breath” that we better recognize the Spirit in the “breeze,” the “wind,” and the “hurricane.”  Walking in the Spirit helps us to enjoy the breeze, face the wind, and find the eye of calm in the hurricane.

How have you sensed the Spirit’s presence in breath, wind and hurricane?

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Alignment

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I’ve learned this the hard way. When my wheels are not aligned it gets expensive. I go through tires quicker and I get worse gas mileage. It’s also dangerous, as I have to compensate my steering against the pull of a misaligned wheel.

The same is true with our lives. When they are not aligned with the right thing it can be expensive and dangerous. Relationships fall apart through lives that are aligned with deception and selfishness. Fortunes are lost through lives that are aligned with addictive behaviors. Time is wasted on lives that are aligned on the wrong perceptions. Generations are tainted and families destroyed when one person makes a poor alignment decision.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus addresses the alignment issue:

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

There is only one way a creature was meant to live: in alignment with the ways of the Creator. Everything else will result in the “wheels falling off the wagon.”

It is not enough to call God, “Father.” Nor is it enough to revere His name. We need to follow His ways. We need to align ourselves with His purposes.

Asking for God’s Kingdom to come is asking for the reign of God to extend beyond the reaches of Heaven (another word for “that which is under His reign”) to the human realm of earth. At one time, the realm of the earth was under God’s reign. But you know the story; there was sin and the Fall, the transference of the earthly and human realm to the powers of darkness, the redemption by the Son of God, and now – slowly but surely – the Kingdom of this world is becoming the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ. While God desires to see His Kingdom to come to all people, it is imperative that the one person who needs this alignment the most is the one whose face we see in the mirror everyday: you and me.

When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, we are asking God to rule in our lives. This is something we need to do regularly. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross made it possible to be free from the prison of sin and death. Now I live in the freedom of God’s Kingdom – but I need to align myself daily (if not several times during the day) to the reign of God. It means that I am not in charge of my life; the Lord is.

This has a tremendous upside. While it is true that I am surrendering my life to God, I’m also putting myself under His protection, His provision, and His grace. I don’t have to worry about things and situations that are out of my hands. My life is totally in the hands of my Loving King, who is Almighty, Wise, Omnipresent, and Sovereign.

In the prayer, I also align my actions to God’s will. Jesus gives us the best example of what that means when he said, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does” (John 5:19). Doing God’s will is simply doing what He commands us to do. This assumes that we are listening and seeking Him. Romans 12:1-2 points to offering ourselves to God as a living sacrifice (which, by the way, is Whole Life Worship). When we do this, we are transformed so that we can know and do God’s will.

This alignment of Kingdom reign and alignment of God’s will results in a life that glorifies God. It also results in a life of fruitfulness (John 15) and abundance (John 10:10).

When we pray this part of the prayer, we are not just aligning the “wheels” of our lives, we are gassing up the car and heading down the right path … to life, to Whole Life Worship.

When you pray do you take time to align yourself to God’s reign and will?

What are specific ways we adjust our lives to this alignment?

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Hide N Seek

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Awhile back I attended a worship conference with great anticipation. I always had great experiences with the Lord at these conferences, as I met connected with Him through new worship songs and being with 5,000 other whole hearted worshipers. However, at this conference I did not experience anything. Nada. Zilch.

I expressed my disappointment to the Lord and I was given a vision. In the vision, I saw Jesus from a distance. But as I walked closer to him, I realized something peculiar. He wasn’t moving. In fact, I realized I wasn’t seeing Jesus, at all. Rather, it was a cardboard cutout of him – propped up, like a store display! Attached to the cardboard cutout was a note:

“I’m not here anymore. You’ll have to seek after me. Love, Jesus.”

Jesus was playing a game of hide n seek with me!

After some reflection, I realized that this “game” was for my benefit. My experiences with him at worship conferences, in worship services, and in personal times when I sang worship songs actually limited my concept of who God is and what worship is. It was like I was expecting Jesus to show up every time I worshiped through music, and especially at these conferences where the music and the crowd kind of hype up the sense of expectation. But this vision exposed three “not-so-holy” attitudes that were creeping into my life:

1. “God-on-demand” – like the “movies-on-demand” button on my remote where I can watch any movie at any time I want, I was developing an attitude that God should “show up” and give me what I need, whenever I wanted it. “God-on-demand.” I could see why God wanted to nip this at the bud. For if God showed up every time I demanded, He wouldn’t be God anymore … I would. That’s a sobering and scary thought!

2. “Worshiping the experience” – this is a really hard one to see, but it’s easy to fall into this. God blesses us with experiences and revelation that are amazing. And He gives us these experiences because He loves us; He wants us to know He and His love are real. But when we desire those experiences too much, we start to worship them – instead of worshiping the Lord. And there is so much more to God than what we get from these special experiences.

3. “God only meets me during this time” – I was limiting how God could connect with me. It had to be one of those worship experiences. It had to be the right song. It had to be the right environment. It had to be a perfect musical execution. If not, my fragile connection with God would be lost! That is the farthest thing from the truth, but it’s easy to get sucked into that mentality. The truth of the matter is that God desires to reveal Himself to us in many, many ways. That is one of the beautiful things about our God: He can reveal Himself to us in just about anything. Even in trials or the ugliness of life.

The Lord, in His ever-gentle manner, reminded me of the value of seeking Him. As the Psalmist and Prophet write, “Seek His face!” (Ps 27:8) and “You shall seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13).

From that moment on, God has been playing “hide n seek” with me. And as I sought Him, I found Him; again and again and again. First, it was in my reading of Scripture. Then it was in a time of intercession. Then it was in a flower that I stopped to gaze at and smell. Then it was in an act of service I got involved in. Then it was in an act of grace that someone extended to me. The more I played this game with God, the more I realized He is EVERYWHERE and He is AMAZING! As well, I began to understand the danger of “pigeon-holing” the Presence of God only in ecstatic, pumped-up, worship (music) experiences. God is so much greater than to be confined to one-way of revealing Himself and connecting with us.

Has God ever played “hide n seek” with you?

What are some ways God has revealed Himself to you that you did not expect?

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Prayer is a two-way communication between us and God. One of the wonderful privileges of prayer is that we can come to God “just as we are.” The blood of Christ gives us the privilege to enter the throne room of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). However, it is important to also grow in our prayer-communication with God. And the primer used for growing us in prayer is the Psalms.

The Psalms were used to teach Israel how to pray to the LORD. In the 150 Psalms we see just about every type of human situation and context for prayer. It shows us how to praise and to give thanks. It shows us how to offer a petition or a supplication. It shows us how to pour out our hearts. It bears in mind both the holiness of God and the compassion of God. It teaches us to be authentic, but not flippant or too familiar with the Lord.

I believe one of the best ways to pray the Psalms is through the Daily Office (also called the Divine Office or Prayer of the Hours). The Daily Office consists of several prayers (morning, mid-morning, noon, afternoon, evening and night prayers). The Psalms are usually the centerpiece of the prayers in the Daily Office (although other Scriptures may be used). The Daily Office is meant to be done in community (and it is very powerful to pray the Office with others), but I find it helpful in my Personal Worship Time.

There are two sources for the Daily Office: a Protestant version through the Anglican Church (which utilizes the Book of Common Prayer) and a Catholic version. Depending on which tradition you feel most comfortable. The Catholic version does utilize some of the apocryphal books in their readings – albeit rarely – and there is an occasional reference to Mary that some might not feel comfortable with. I personally use Phyllis Tickle’s “The Divine Hours” in my personal worship of God. It is a little bulky and when I’m on the road, I have an electronic version of “Hour by Hour” on my Kindle app – which is an abbreviated form of the Daily Office.

The Daily Office helps me to pray the Psalms, which teach me how to pray to God more reverently and confidently. I also find that it is helpful to not have to “think so hard” when I pray. Spontaneous prayer can be tiresome and very effort ladened; as well, it can become very self-focused or self-absorbed. Praying the Office takes that responsibility out of my hands. Like riding on the back end of a “bicycle-built-for-two” I can rely on someone else to drive the bike while I just focus on engagement.

But regardless of whether or not you use the Office as a part of your Personal Worship, it is good to make the Psalms a regular part of our prayer training. Billy Graham once shared with me (and 17,000 other college students at #urbana76 missionary conference) that his Personal Worship involved the reading of 5 Psalms a day (he read through the Psalms and Proverbs once a month). And I think his prayer life was pretty effective!

Are you growing in your prayer life?

What has helped you to connect with God in a deeper, more Biblical manner?

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