Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Called to walk in the (Holy) Spirit...

In Galatians 5:16, God through the apostle Paul, calls the Christian believer to walk in the (Holy) Spirit, not the flesh, "But I say, walk and live habitually in the (Holy) Spirit--responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh--of human nature without God."

In verses 19 through 24, Paul goes on to describe the outward differences. 19 Now the doings (practices) of the flesh are clear--obvious; they are immorality, impurity, indecency; 20 Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger (ill temper), selfishness, divisions (dissensions), party spirit (factions, sects with peculiar opinions, heresies); 21 Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the (Holy) Spirit, [the work which His presence within accomplishes]--is love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness; 23 (Meekness, humility) gentleness, self-control (self-restraint, continence). Against such things there is no law [that can bring a charge]. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus, the Messiah, have crucified the flesh--the Godless human nature--with its passions and appetites and desires."

This morning, as I was reading in the book, "The Desire of Ages," I read a couple of paragraphs that talked about being a witness for Christ. A couple of sentences, in particular, caught my attention: "We should never give to the world the false impression that Christians are a gloomy, unhappy people. If our eyes are fixed on Jesus, we shall see a compassionate Redeemer, and shall catch light from His countenance. Where His Spirit reigns, there peace abides. And there will be joy also, for there is a calm, holy trust in God."

In another book of mine that deals specifically with learning to "walk in the Spirit," one of the first questions it asks in the growth and study guide is, "What might happen in your life if you were to follow the instructions in Galatians 5:16?" As I read the question, the first thought that came into my head was, "I would have to give up my right to be in a bad mood, to be ill-tempered when I feel like it!" Ouch! Talk about God opening my eyes!

I have known for a long time that whenever I am faced with a lot of things not going my way, a lot of stress from situations or people, or when my life feels out of balance, I have a tendency to "lose" my Christianity. I will get into a foul mood and become negative, rebellious, difficult, obstinate, and ill-tempered. My "walk in the (Holy) Spirit" lasts until the "rubber meets the road," and then it's all over. I begin my walk in the flesh (sinful, fallen human nature). I know that this is wrong and yet I haven't been able to remain in the Spirit. When talking to God about this, He showed me it's because I want to hang onto my "right to walk in the flesh" whenever I feel like it and when I do choose to walk in the flesh, the presence of the (Holy) Spirit must leave. A person can't serve two masters. Either she will serve the Lord through obedience and walking in the Spirit, or she will serve the enemy and walk in the flesh. By choosing to walk in the flesh, I am thereby choosing to not experience the fruit of the (Holy) Spirit (joy, peace, love). To continue to walk in the Spirit, I must give up my right to walk in the flesh. How scary that feels! The thought of never again being able to use my right to get into a bad mood, to take out my frustrations on someone or something else, to be obstinate, difficult, negative, and ill-tempered. It's like telling the alcoholic he/she can never have another drink, and yet, that is exactly what they must accept before they can experience recovery. In a similar way I must actually learn to surrender to God my negative, ill-tempered feelings and my right to express them, and allow Him to remove them rather than reverting to walking in the flesh. This is not going to be easy. In fact, the only way I'll even get to the point of being willing is with God's help. "I will [not merely walk, but] run the way of Your commandments, when You give me a heart that is willing" Psalm 119:32. "O Lord, please give me a willing heart!"

Sunday, January 20, 2008

And the waiting continues...

This weekend has been emotionally and spiritually hard for me. I found myself feeling anxious, tired, and irritated at the waiting, constant, never-ending (it seems) waiting. Waiting for God's fulfillment of my dream, God's direction, God's appointed time. I tried to pray and got irritated at God during prayer; I tried to read and got irritated at God's promises. Nothing seemed get me out of the "rut" I had fallen into over the weekend. Even during the potluck after church, a time when I usually enjoy talking and socializing with others, I got irritated and mad at several people. I was definitely not my usual self. It was actually a relief to come home and eventually go to bed.

Thankfully, God doesn't "leave me there," when I have fallen into one of my "bad moods." This morning, my Bible reading was about Joseph, during the time when he was in the dungeon, and then at "God's appointed time," he was called forth to his new life, his purpose. The sermon yesterday had been on the exact same Bible verses and as I read it, I could imagine how Joseph must have felt during the "waiting." After Pharaoh's Chief Butler had been restored to his position and the Chief Baker had been hung, just as Joseph had through God's Spirit told them it would be, the butler forgot to mention Joseph to Pharaoh. It was another two years of waiting in the dungeon before the king had the prophetic dreams and the butler remembered Joseph and how God had given him the interpretation of the butler's dream. During these two years Joseph must have wondered and pleaded with God for a plan, a purpose, the fulfillment of his dreams, or at least I imagine that he must have. And then, one day, at God's "appointed time," he was called forth from the dungeon to his new life as governor over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.

Joseph's calling forth must have felt like being woke-up from the dead, or at least that is how I would have felt. Sometimes I feel so "dead" in this waiting and at God's appointed time, when He finally calls me forth from the "dungeon of waiting," it will feel as if I've just been raised from the dead!

Reading the story and thinking about how Joseph may have felt made me think about the reasons for waiting. A few months back I had studied about waiting, about staying in the crucible, the trial and the authors of a couple of different books had listed reasons for waiting, which I have since combined. Reading over these reasons again was a fresh reminder of the blessings to be had from waiting. Here is my combined list:
  1. Waiting can refocus our attention away from "things" and back to God Himself; it encourages us to get to know God better.
  2. Waiting allows us to develop a clearer picture of our own motives and desires; it tends to purify them.
  3. Waiting builds perseverance--spiritual stamina, steadfastness, staying power.
  4. Waiting opens the door to the development of many spiritual strengths, such as faith, trust, and patience.
  5. Waiting allows God to put down other pieces in the puzzle of the bigger picture. (One of my favorites.)
  6. Waiting energizes us for the walk (or race or battle) ahead. It gives us time to rest and refuel.

My next thought was, "But what are we to do during the waiting?" "What did David do while he waited for the throne to become his as God had promised?" "What did Saul not do when he was waiting for Samuel to arrive to offer sacrifices to the Lord?" And then, more specifically, "What am I to be doing?"

In Psalm 37:1-11, David explains what we are to do...Over and over again in various ways he says, "Fret not, neither be anxious;" "Delight yourself in the Lord (meaning 'to live in a state of perfect trust. Nothing can ruffle our peace, because God is here and at work. We can praise Him, we can even smile, because no one can outwit our God!');" "Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him;" "Be still and rest in the Lord, wait for Him, fret not;" "Cease from anger, forsake wrath, fret not." And, although David made his mistakes, this he did right...he waited, he did not rush ahead and "grab what God had not yet given." David had several opportunities in which to kill King Saul and take the throne by force, but David recognized that "God's gifts are always best received from His hand and in His time."

On the other hand, King Saul did the exact opposite. He became impatient, anxious, and angry at the wait and chose to make the sacrifices without Samuel (God's representative). And in doing so, he caused himself to sin and then refused to acknowledge his sin before God, which led to his permanent loss of the throne.

So, once again I am brought back to the vivid pictures of the choices I have and what I must do. I must choose to wait, just as David did, and not rush ahead and try to "grab the gift" that God has not yet given. Also, I need to refocus on what I need to be doing and learning from this time of waiting:

  1. Continue to spend time with God, getting to know Him better, continuing to grow spiritually, learning to quiet myself and rest.
  2. Continue learning to trust, learning to depend upon and wait for God, learning to "not lean on my own understanding," or anyone else's, but rather on God.
  3. Continue learning faithfulness and perseverance, learning to be constant and steadfast (staying power).
  4. Continue using the time to prepare physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually (as described above) to become a wife and possibly a mother.

The task is not easy and many times I feel so broken and helpless, but as Philippians 4:13 states, "I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me--I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me, [that is, I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency]. And, in 2 Corinthians 12:9, God promises that His grace will be sufficient. "But He said to me, My grace--My favor and loving-kindness and mercy--are enough for you, [that is, sufficient against any danger and to enable you to bear the trouble manfully]; for My strength and power are made perfect--fulfilled and completed and show themselves most effective--in [your] weakness..." Also, He has promised to not give us more than we can bear, "For no temptation--no trial regarded as enticing to sin [no matter how it comes or where it leads]--has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man--that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear. But God is faithful [to His Word and to His compassionate nature], and He [can be trusted] not to let you be tempted beyond your ability and strength of resistance and power to endure, but with the temptation He will [always] also provide the way out--the means of escape to a landing place--that you may be capable and strong and powerful patiently to bear up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

And so, the waiting continues and I continue to yield to the waiting.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Doubt opens the door...

This morning, after reading my online devotion which talked about "seeds of doubt," I realized that doubting God opens the door to sin. Eve, in the Garden of Eden, was fine until she allowed the serpent's words (the seed of doubt) to create a thought of doubt. As soon as she allowed herself to doubt God for even one minute, it opened the door to disobedience (sin).

This has been true in my life also. At some point, as a child and when I experienced things that didn't fit with my picture of what I thought God should or should not be doing to provide for me, the initial thoughts of doubt and distrust crept into my mind. From there it only grew until I thought nothing of disobeying God, even at a huge personal cost, because I no longer trusted what God said.

The only step to take is to say as Job did, "Yea though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." By taking the stand, I am going to trust and obey, no matter what everyone else is telling me and no matter what my outward visible circumstances look like, allows God to work tremendous miracles on my behalf and gives me His peace "which transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:6-7).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

In quietness and (trusting) confidence...

A verse that has become one of my favorites now is Isaiah 30:15. "For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, In returning to Me and resting in Me you shall be saved; in quietness and in (trusting) confidence shall be your strength. And You would not." [My thoughts: Please don't let it be said of me, Lord. Please help me to quiet myself and trust in You!]

Although I had read it before, it has become really significant to me over the past couple of weeks as I've been learning to quiet myself even through stressful situations/events in my life. On New Year's weekend I received my eviction hearing notice, which of course, created some stress. I found myself waking up in the night and saying to myself, "in quietness and in (trusting) confidence shall be your strength." It is amazing how true this verse really is...I feel stronger emotionally, I'm not chaotically "running all over the place," but rather I mentally and emotionally come back to God's quietness and rest and trust that He will take care of it and help me to know and do my part. It's actually really cool!

I'm grateful that God has brought me to the to the place where I am today and I never want to go back to the mental and emotional fearful and frantic chaos that was before. It is so peaceful and restful no matter what is going on around me that I feel truly blessed!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Whatever you are filled with...

Sometime ago, I came across an old Native American saying, "Whatever you are filled with will spill out when bumped." I have never been able to forget this, particularly when anger, hatred, bitterness, or envy spill forth out of me when people or life "bump" me. I desire to be filled with God's peace, joy, and love, but too often the opposite spills forth.

Yesterday, one of my online devotionals (Dare to Trust! from Literature Ministries International) talked about Deuteronomy 8:2, "And you shall (earnestly) remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, and to prove you, to know what was in your [mind and] heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not."

The author of the devotional, then pointed out that there were three things expressing the "why" of their wilderness journey. "First, to 'humble you.' God wanted to reveal their pride, ego, self-sufficiency, and independence. Second, to 'prove you.' God sought to reveal the sincerity of their faith. Was it a faith that had relevance to their daily lives? Third, to 'know what was in their hearts.' They needed to realize the deceitfulness and degradation of their hearts. 'The heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it.' God sought to orchestrate their lives to be upright in their love of Him."

These words really spoke to me, as I have felt like I've been going through a "wilderness" experience. I realized that these were additional reasons for me to go through what I have been going through...First, I also needed to be humbled and my financial deprivation has certainly humbled me and created a "teachable" spirit within me. Second, I also needed my faith proven as I have not been willing to stay in and go through the crucible ever before. I have always backed off, resented and became angry, or ran away from the "testing," anything except stay in the trial, wait it out, yield and go through it. Third, just as the Israelites needed to know what was in the their hearts, I also needed to know. So often, I have felt that "I'm not all that bad, I'm loving, I'm kind and generous." Getting "bumped" by people and life recently has shown me exactly what I'm filled with deep within my heart and it's not from God. God needed me to see the truth so that I could acknowledge my sin and plead for a new heart!

This morning, just before waking up, I had a dream in which I saw someone do something to someone else that was wrong and made me angry. The anger I experienced was "righteous indignation" (not a sin), but instead of taking the time to ask God how I should respond or what I needed to do, I remained angry and ended up taking out my anger on someone else who didn't deserve my anger (a sin). In turn, I saw that person then take out their pain and anger on a third, innocent bystander. I was going to say something, but then realized I had been the cause and had done the exact same thing. I woke up knowing that in my dream (and too often in real life), I had allowed my anger to cause me to sin and in turn had angered someone else, who also sinned because of their anger. What a harsh way to wake up!

When I started to write today's entry, I looked over what I had written yesterday and remembered the peace I had felt all day, but didn't seem to have this morning. As I thought longingly of that peace, God spoke to me in my heart and said, "It's available to you again today, you just have to let go of your anger, quiet yourself before Me, and rest in My presence. You don't have to stay (emotionally) where you are right now." Thank You, Lord, for this reminder. Help me to quiet myself again before You and rest in Your presence. Amen. [So be it.]

Friday, January 4, 2008

At rest...

OK Lord, here I am...What do You want to do with me? What do You want me to do? I realize that I don't know what You are doing and I don't know what I'm suppose to be doing. I'm just here...Your daughter...Your choice...Your plan...Your will...and Your timing.

I sure do have hopes, dreams, and desires, but even in these I can't pretend to know Your will. I am here in Your "green pastures," trying to learn to rest and quiet myself before You and in Your presence. I'm surely not "there" yet, but I have hope that I will get there. I have longings, but know that even these are outside of my ability to bring about. My life is in Your hands...please take me and fulfill Your will. Show me Your ways that I may walk in them and Your charge that I may keep it.

I know that everything is empty and brings "death" unless it is given by You. I feel as if I must sit here, before You, until You have given me Your directions. So...although I must physically get up and go to my job today, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, I am still sitting before You, waiting.

The truth is Lord, I don't ever want to leave Your green pastures. I desire to get married, possibly have a child, have a ministry, a purpose, a life, but not if I have to sacrifice Your green pastures for it. I don't know exactly how this works in real life, (ie, practical application), but that's where I'm at. I'm going to trust that You will show me how this works. Thank You.