The Power of Praise

worshipWhen I was on the Northstar Project with Cru during the summers of ’85 & ’86, I learned a children’s worship song, that we were encouraged to sing when times got tough during our missionary efforts in the former Soviet Union. The lyrics were so simple, but every time I sang them, I sensed the enemy flee. The song, It’s Amazing What Praising Can Do, simply went like this:

It’s amazing what praising can do,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah.
It’s amazing what praising can do,
Hallelujah.
I don’t worry when things go wrong,
Jesus fills my heart with a song.
It’s amazing what praising can do,
Hallelujah.

In Psalm 89:15 , the psalmist declares, “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You, who walk in the light of Your presence, O Lord.” In this passage, we discover that there is power in praise. And my experience tells me this is true for when I have personally made the decision to fix my eyes on God, and give Him praise, no matter what’s staring me in the face, I begin to experience the release of those struggles over me.

I have been thinking about the power of praise today, and in looking at the Scriptures, here are some reasons I have found to praise God…

Praising God produces a revived and rejoicing heart when we are downcast and discouraged.

Notice that praising God is a choice we make and how praising God lifts our souls in Psalm 63:1-4, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen You in the sanctuary and beheld Your power and Your glory. Because Your love is better than life, my lips will glorify You. I will praise You as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise You.”

Praising God raises an awareness of how we have fallen short, and leads us to confess, repent, and appropriate His forgiveness.

In Isaiah 6:1-5 we read that, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphs, each with six wings: with two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Praising generates triumphant faith.

One of the most striking illustrations of this is found in 2 Chronicles 20. King Jehoshaphat and Judea are about to be attacked by their enemies. Jehoshaphat calls the people to prayer and fasting to seek the Lord regarding how they should respond. The Lord tells them not to worry because the battle isn’t theirs but His. He gives them the battle plan and assures them of His presence and deliverance. Jehoshaphat then does something incredible: he appoints a choir to go ahead of the army, singing and praising the Lord for His holiness. Jehoshaphat demonstrated great faith in God’s plan by appointing a choir to lead His army into battle. In an awesome demonstration of great faith, they marched off singing, praising, and thanking the Lord for His enduring love. And here is what happened as a result: As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated (2 Chronicles 20:22).

Praise invites His presence.

God dwells close to us when we praise Him. He lives there. He looks for it.  As it says in Psalm 22:3, God “inhabits the praises of His people.”

As Christ followers we have a choice every day…To live in the worry and stress of our self-absorbed, fast track world. Or, we can ask God to help us take our eyes off all that may be swirling around us and to look up to Him, the One who holds it all together! And as the classic hymn goes, when we do, we will see that “the things of Earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”

God longs for us to know the power of His presence. He desires to bless us more than we could imagine. His Spirit urges us onward, calling us closer. And in response to His invitation, may we open our mouths and sing, for its amazing what praising can do!

God Uses Broken People

5180924ce78db2ca9c21fd153be59021I ran across this devotion that my wife Jennifer wrote a few years ago and felt it appropriate to share in light of some recent posts and conversations. I love her wisdom and heart on this…

We all have something to offer someone. We all have a story, past experiences, successes and failures that God could use to strengthen someone else.

During the Passover Celebration, Jesus was teaching and exhorting his disciples one last time before his death. He speaks of his suffering, his betrayal and the life of service that was ahead of them. Then Jesus says to Peter “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat.  But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”  Luke 22:31-32 (NLT)

I was blessed by Jesus’ words to Peter. Maybe not the “Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat” part, but the remaining words in these verses. First, I love that Jesus prayed for Peter. Second, I find it hopeful that Jesus used the word “when” and not “if” you repent. And finally, I love Jesus’ exhortation to Peter to strengthen the brothers.

Jesus told Peter that his faith was to be tested and a few minutes later Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times.  “But Jesus said, ‘Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.”  Luke 22:34  And we know how this part of the story ends… “At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.  And he went outside and wept bitterly.”  Luke 22:61-62

We see here in Luke 22 and other portions of Scripture that Peter really blows it, but Jesus doesn’t condemn him or release him from his future ministry opportunities. He isn’t sidelined for a bad choice or a season of bad choices. Instead, Jesus said “so when you repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus knew that Peter would deny him, he also knew that after he repented he would be better prepared to serve Him and serve His church.

God is our great redeemer and restorer. Just like God used Peter, failures at all, he can use our story, our times of rebellion, our desert seasons, our trials, and our victories to encourage and strengthen others. What a blessing it is to come alongside someone and encourage and strengthen them with the truths and lesson we learned from the Lord during a difficult or victorious season. God can use a willing individual’s different experience, negative or positive to strengthen others. So lets step up, shed the belief that we have to be perfect to serve God and start serving others.

Author Philip Yancey said in a magazine interview that “God doesn’t custom design Superman characters and plant them down here (to do His work). He deals with the talent pool available.” That’s us! The talent pool available. What a privilege to be used by God.

For further conversation about Peter’s life and ministry, click over to http://bryanhardwick.com/lessons-from-peter/

Proud vs Broken People

3426007862_22eed8bdaeWhat kind of blessings does brokenness bring? Well, from the Scriptures we see that God draws near to the broken (Psalm 34:18). He lifts up those who are humbled (Psalm 147:6). We’re told that God stiff-arms the proud. He resists them (James 4:6). He keeps them at a distance, but He comes close to, even as the father of that prodigal son drew that repentant, broken son to his chest and embraced him, we find that our Heavenly Father draws near to the heart of those who are broken.

And while God draws near to broken, brokenness also brings an increased capacity for love and worship. Like the woman in Luke 7, she was able to love much because she had been forgiven much. I see in that woman an abandon in her relationship with Jesus that ought to inspire us.

In my previous post I referenced a talk from the National Staff Training of Cru back in 1995. It’s a powerful message that God is using in my own life again, some twenty years later, as I ask Him to search my heart and understand the message of Jesus in the Beatitudes when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

I invite you to have a listen and consider what God might be saying to you. For I believe that genuine brokenness leads to repentance. And genuine repentance leads to forgiveness. And forgiveness will produce a life of freedom from the bondage of sin.

Cultivating True Humility

IMG_5420In 1995, God used a message from Nancy Leigh DeMoss to bring about a spirit of true repentance at the National Staff Training of Campus Crusade for Christ, now called Cru. I had just left the staff of Cru two years earlier, but my friends were calling me to share that God was doing a mighty work at the training in Colorado and I couldn’t wait to listen to the message as it was made available to alumni. It challenged me 20 years ago, and today, I was reminded of this message and spent this evening listening to it again, as I asked God to search my heart and break my heart for the things that break His.

In the message, Nancy talks about the characteristics of pride, which are rooted in arrogance and insecurity versus true humility, which is rooted in authentic brokenness. In the message, she challenges the church to be broken before the Lord, for God wants to unleash his power through broken people.

Here are the differences she shares between proud and broken people. In reading these characteristics, let’s confess those characteristics of pride that God reveals in us and let’s ask Him to restore the corresponding quality of a broken, humble spirit within us.

Proud people focus on the failures of others.
Broken people are overwhelmed with a sense of their own spiritual need.

Proud people have a critical, fault-finding spirit; they look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope but their own with a telescope.
Broken people are compassionate; they can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven.

Proud people are self-righteous; they look down on others.
Broken people esteem all others better than themselves.

Proud people have an independent, self-sufficient spirit.
Broken people have a dependent spirit; they recognize their need for others.

Proud people have to prove that they are right.
Broken people are willing to yield the right to be right.

Proud people claim rights; they have a demanding spirit.
Broken people yield their rights; they have a meek spirit.

Proud people are self-protective of their time, their rights, and their reputation.
Broken people are self-denying.

Proud people desire to be served.
Broken people are motivated to serve others.

Proud people desire to be a success.
Broken people are motivated to be faithful and to make others a success.

Proud people desire self-advancement.
Broken people desire to promote others.

Proud people have a drive to be recognized and appreciated.
Broken people have a sense of their own unworthiness; they are thrilled that God would use them at all.

Proud people are wounded when others are promoted and they are overlooked.
Broken people are eager for others to get the credit; they rejoice when others are lifted up.

Proud people have a subconscious feeling, “This ministry/church is privileged to have me and my gifts”; they think of what they can do for God.
Broken people’s heart attitude is, “I don’t deserve to have a part in any ministry”; they know that they have nothing to offer God except the life of Jesus flowing through their broken lives.

Proud people feel confident in how much they know.
Broken people are humbled by how very much they have to learn.

Proud people are self-conscious.
Broken people are not concerned with self at all.

Proud people keep others at arms’ length.
Broken people are willing to risk getting close to others and to take risks of loving intimately.

Proud people are quick to blame others.
Broken people accept personal responsibility and can see where they are wrong in a situation.

Proud people are unapproachable or defensive when criticized.
Broken people receive criticism with a humble, open spirit.

Proud people are concerned with being respectable, with what others think; they work to protect their own image and reputation.
Broken people are concerned with being real; what matters to them is not what others think but what God knows; they are willing to die to their own reputation.

Proud people find it difficult to share their spiritual need with others.
Broken people are willing to be open and transparent with others as God directs.

Proud people want to be sure that no one finds out when they have sinned; their instinct is to cover up.
Broken people, once broken, don’t care who knows or who finds out; they are willing to be exposed because they have nothing to lose.

Proud people have a hard time saying, “I was wrong; will you please forgive me?”
Broken people are quick to admit failure and to seek forgiveness when necessary.

Proud people tend to deal in generalities when confessing sin.
Broken people are able to acknowledge specifics when confessing their sin.

Proud people are concerned about the consequences of their sin.
Broken people are grieved over the cause, the root of their sin.

Proud people are remorseful over their sin, sorry that they got found out or caught.
Broken people are truly, genuinely repentant over their sin, evidenced in the fact that they forsake that sin.

Proud people wait for the other to come and ask forgiveness when there is a misunderstanding or conflict in a relationship.
Broken people take the initiative to be reconciled when there is misunderstanding or conflict in relationships; they race to the cross; they see if they can get there first, no matter how wrong the other may have been.

Proud people compare themselves with others and feel worthy of honor.
Broken people compare themselves to the holiness of God and feel a desperate need for His mercy.

Proud people are blind to their true heart condition.
Broken people walk in the light.

Proud people don’t think they have anything to repent of.
Broken people realize they have need of a continual heart attitude of repentance.

Proud people don’t think they need revival, but they are sure that everyone else does.
Broken people continually sense their need for a fresh encounter with God and for a fresh filling of His Holy Spirit.

© Revive Our Hearts. By Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Facing Truth

638504242fac8a2292a25aa705cb69c6It was a fall day in October, many years ago, that I headed to Lake Tahoe for a personal retreat at my friends cabin in Tahoe! Upon arriving, I settled in and drew back the curtains, hoping for a splendid view, which did not disappoint. The beauty of the area greeted me as I breathed in the fresh air. I immediately knew that this was exactly what my soul needed.

Then to my surprise, not three feet away outside of my window, there was a small black bird…a small dead black bird. I recoiled as I was taken back from the sight. This dead bird was intruding my weekend, interrupting my landscape, reminding of realities better forgotten. I determined that I would remove it as soon as I finished unpacking, but as I began to walk away, I realized that if I merely moved a few steps back, that I couldn’t see the bird anymore. And I thought for a moment. “what if I could simply ignore that dead bird all weekend?”

As I entertained that thought, I pondered the reality of that in our lives. Isn’t that just like us humans, wanting to avoid the unpleasant realities of life? When something painful or unpleasant happens in our life, we simply deny it or refuse to look at it. Like my experience with the dead bird, we prefer to take a few steps back and see only what we want to see. Psychologists call it denial. And for many of us, we would much rather take few steps back and ignore what’s really happening, than deal with reality. But unfortunately, that propensity doesn’t help us to grow or reflect more of Christ’s character, conduct and commitments.

As I look at the life of Jesus, He never refused to look at his pain or disappointment. In reading the Scriptures, I see that

* He acknowledged Himself drained of personal energy as He ministered to the sick
* He cried at the untimely death of His friend Lazarus* Jesus cried out to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane
* He voiced disappointment at His disciples for not being able to pray with Him

Jesus could have stepped back three paces to ignore the dead birds in His life, but instead He embraced them, knowing that facing them leads us unexpectedly into life. Therefore, to enter into the abundant life God intended, we must confront our dead birds fearlessly.

God offers us a choice, we can either face pain or run from it. And through my years as a follower of Jesus, I have found that when I deny my pain and/or my sin, I simply keep myself in bondage to it. That’s because denial keeps me from accepting the gift of grace that God wants to bestow. In other words, wellness requires that we look honestly at our dead birds of pain and sin. Not to become bitter, but to become better. To learn to live as Jesus lived. To love as Jesus loved. After all, it’s the truth that will set us free.

In Memoriam 2015

InMemoriamHere’s my tribute to some of the influential people in my life who passed on in 2015…

Al Ladendorff – One of my favorite teachers, Al Ladendorff, died March 20 at the age of 93. At Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, Calif., he was known as “Big Al.” He was actually my mom’s government teacher back in the 60’s, and later became my American history and government teacher, as well as my yearbook adviser for two years in the 80’s! A rare gem in the educational system, he was the first teacher who really taught me to think for myself, as well as to believe in myself. Although he frustrated me at times, Mr. Ladendorff never let me settle for mediocre. And whether in a government paper or in an article for the yearbook, he kept pushing me towards excellence. One of Mr. Ladendorff’s favorite axioms that has stuck with me all these years is a quote from George Santayana, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.” Over the years, that axiom has proven to offer me a lot of wisdom on life and in ministry. Upon graduating, I continued to stay in touch with Big Al and his wife Zelma, and enjoyed reading his annual Christmas letters about life in Modesto, his gardening adventures and his thoughts about modern culture. I owe a great deal of gratitude to this man and I am so thankful for his input and encouragement in my life so many years ago.

Charles Simmons Warfield – My father in law Chuck Warfield, suddenly passed on December 2 at the age of 84, due to complications with pneumonia. A devoted husband, loving father and wonderful grandfather to 16 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren, Chuck was one of the most giving men I have ever met. I met Chuck when I started dating his daughter Jennifer back in 1991. A well-loved school principal in the Dixie School District of Marin County, Chuck was already retired when we met and was beginning to pursue questions about faith. And in response to the prayers of his family, he committed his life to Jesus before Jennifer and I got married in 1993. A humble man, Chuck truly reflected Christ’s character, conduct and commitments and often sacrificed his own comforts in order to give to those he loved. As a woodworker, he would see a need and over the years responded to those needs by building us an armoire, bed side table, secretary’s desk (no small feat) as well as an entertainment center. He also helped us build an overhang and put in our french drains in our first home in Woodland. He loved his family and welcomed me with open arms, treating me as one of his own. And over the last 22+ years, he taught me so much about loving God, loving family and enjoying the simple things. I am truly going to miss this man in my life.

Vonette Bright – Vonette Bright, who with her husband Bill, co-founded Campus Crusade for Christ at UCLA in 1951 and built it into one of the world’s largest Christian ministries in the world, passed on December 23. 89 years young, Vonette and her husband Bill were very influential in my life as a student at UC Santa Barbara and later as a staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ (1988-1992). I remember first encountering Vonette through my involvement with Expo 1985 and later would be able to spend the summer of 1988 with the Bright’s as they shared their heart and vision for the Great Commission at our staff training at Arrowhead Springs in San Bernardino. She always had a contagious smile, a warm presence and a sincere faith. A great partner with her husband Bill, she was a woman of prayer and inspired us to men and women of prayer, who loved Jesus deeply. Her deep faith was an inspiration to me and I am thankful for the ministry that she and Bill started, as Cru laid a deep foundation of faith for my life and shaped much of my philosophy of ministry. I will forever be thankful for the Brights and how they beautifully reflected Jesus’ heart and passion for the lost.

Hebrews 13:7 tells us to “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Each of these men and women challenged me to live differently and I pray I continue to imitate their faith. I am so thankful that God used these men and women to ignite the God honoring passions and desires of my heart.

A New Twist on Accountability

iron-sharpens-ironOne of the members of my Groups Leadership Team recently provided his Men’s Accountability Group with a different perspective on their weekly eleven questions that some of them had been using for approximately four years. I loved it so much, that I asked him if I could post it to my blog, which he agreed to.

So what’s the new twist he provided? Well he rewrote the questions and turned them around from what they confessed NOT to be doing, to what they actually HAVE done in that particular area of discipline in their lives. In other words, they turned the negatives into positives and refocused the questions in order to show righteousness, help others and grow closer to God in the obedience of the Holy Spirit. What they have experienced with the new questions has been transformational as they focus on righteous deeds and are engaged in deeper conversation, avoiding the obligatory “yes” or “no” questions.

Here are those list of questions, both the old and the new…

Old Questions:

  1. Have you been with a woman this week in such a way that was inappropriate or could have looked to others that you were using poor judgement?
  2. Have you been completely above reproach in all your financial dealings this week?
  3. Have you exposed yourself to any explicit material this week?
  4. Have you spent time daily in prayer and in the scriptures this week?
  5. Have you fulfilled the mandate of your calling this week?
  6. Have you taken time off to be with your family this week?
  7. Is there anything in your life competing with the Lord?
  8. What are you now or becoming addicted to…coffee, food, sex, pornography, sports, alcohol, toys and possessions, work, power, position, title, prestige, solitude, retirement, money?
  9. Have you just lied to me? Have you been honest in all of your dealings this week?
  10. Are you living in self-sufficiency?
  11. Have you done anything in the last two weeks that took courage?

New Questions:

  1. In what ways did you look for an opportunity to treat or view a woman in a Godly way this week according to Scripture?
  2. In what ways did you redirect God’s financial blessings to you this week toward others, His church or His work?
  3. What positive actual steps did you take this week to keep yourself pure?
  4. What specific things did you do to become more relationally intimate with God this week?
  5. How were you able to hear and how did you respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit this week to live beyond your own needs and desires?
  6. What positive actions did you take this week to show that your priorities are in alignment with God’s priorities as a husband, father, brother, uncle, son, church body member, co-worker or neighbor?  How were you intentional about this?
  7. Where did you actually spend your time last week? Why? How have you shown with your time and deeds that I desire Christ above all else?
  8. Explain what you have actually done this week to bring your mind, body and spirit into submission to Christ?
  9. In what ways have you shown your Savior and others that you were living in the Truth this week? In what ways do your actions and intentions match or misalign with your beliefs?
  10. Explain how you totally depended on God this week in work, relationships, marriage, finances, health, ministry, salvation, state of mind, well-being, past, future.
  11. In what ways in situations and circumstances did you operate in your own strength and skill instead of asking God to intervene with His strength and wisdom with courage to speak? Courage to remain silent? Courage to defend? Courage to act? Courage to ask questions? Courage to face lawlessness and death? Courage to believe the unpopular and unseen? Courage to believe by faith? Courage to start new or over again? Courage to admit wrong and ask for forgiveness? Courage to believe that you are valuable and worth dying for?

When you look at the difference in these questions, you can clearly see the power of a good question. Can’t wait to see how this group goes deeper in their walk with Jesus by asking such focused and God honoring questions!

ABC’s of Prayer

177624_originalI don’t think we often realize what a privilege it is to have instant, direct access to God. God loves us so much, that He has made Himself available to us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And yet, I have to confess, prayer is one of the hardest spiritual disciplines for me to practice. 

In Acts 4, we read how the Christians prayed together with one heart, mind and spirit as they lifted their voices to God (Acts 4:24). The result was a great boldness in sharing God’s message. In the same way, a great force of God’s power can be released as we commit ourselves to effective prayer. But in order to be effective in our prayers, we need to understand what God’s Word has to say about prayer. As we read and study the Scripture, we can learn what the will of God is and as we know His will, we can pray and ask according to His divine purpose. With this in mind here are a few things I have learned about how to pray effectively over the years from the Scriptures.

In order to pray effectively, we need to pray…

Abiding

Abiding is the key to successful praying. In John 15:7, Jesus states, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you.”

Believing

In Matthew 21:22 we read, “Everything you ask in prayer, believing you shall receive.” Faith, which is an attitude of believing, pleases God.

Clean Heart

John declares in 1 John 1:9 that, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Confession restores communion with God and is a preparation for further fellowship with Him.

Directed by God’s Word

I love what 1 John 5:14-15 tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” If you want to pray with confidence for God’s will, pray the Scriptures!

Empowered by the Holy Spirit

The Bible says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26). I like that about the Holy Spirit. He goes where I cannot. He comprehends things I cannot. He does things I cannot. But when it comes to the things I need to do, He equips me to do them.

Forgiving Others

Mark 11:25 states, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Holding a grudge is not good for the soul. And an unforgiving attitude hinders our prayers. So talk to God about it. Ask Him to give you the strength to forgive others, so you can let go and move on.

Godly Motives

Pray with the right motivation. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3). Selfish motives cannot be blessed by God.

Humbly

Pray with a humble and submissive spirit. As it states in 1 Peter 5:6, Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” Our hearts often connect with God’s heart in a God-honoring way as we develop and approach Him with humility.

Interceding for Others

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18). When you pray on another’s behalf, you experience the blessing and grace of God, as you reflect His character, conduct and commitments.

What might you add to the list?

The Tale of Two Seas

11934625_1620979234832173_649298077_nIn Israel there are two major bodies of water. One is the Sea of Galilee, a beautiful lake 13 miles long and 7 miles wide, filled with fish and surrounded by lush foliage. It is Israel’s largest fresh water lake and absolutely picturesque. The other body of water is the Dead Sea, 50 miles long and 11 miles wide and it’s shoreline is 1300 feet below sea level. I have been told that seven million tons of water evaporate from the Dead Sea every day, and the saline or salt content of the water of the Dead Sea is 10 times saltier than the oceans of the world. The Dead Sea definitely lives up to its name. No seaweed or plants of any kind live in or around the water. There are no fish or any kind of swimming, squirming creatures living in or near the water. And fish accidentally swimming into the waters from one of the several freshwater streams that feed the sea are instantly killed.

Both the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are fed by the Jordan River There is really only one difference between these two bodies of water, really only one thing that causes the Sea of Galilee to be beautiful and alive while the Dead Sea is barren and lifeless. The difference is that the Sea of Galilee takes water from the Jordan River, and then it gives water. The water simply passes through. As a result, the Sea of Galilee is full of life and beauty. The Dead Sea, on the other hand, only takes water, but it gives nothing back, and as a result it sustains no life. Those two bodies of water bear witness to a truth of human life. It is in receiving and then giving back that life and hope are sustained. In other words, The Sea of Galilee is a conduit, The Dead Sea is a container. The first is full of life, the second is full of death!

The same is true in our spiritual life. If you and I have spiritual input but no spiritual output, we will become stagnant, lifeless, bitter, and caustic. However, if we like the Sea of Galilee are receiving and giving back, we become vibrant, healthy and life-giving. No wonder Jesus did much of his ministry along the shores of the Sea of Galilee! Because God never designed us to be like the Dead Sea; we are designed to be like the Sea of Galilee. This is the wisdom and reality of Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Be Still

2-be-Still-and-Know-That-he-is-GodThis past week I got to experience the wisdom of Psalm 46:10. It’s the verse, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

I remember the first time I was encouraged to practice the wisdom of this verse. It was the summer of 1986, while I was preparing for a summer missions project to the former Soviet Union. I was in New York and the project leads asked us to spend 30 minutes practicing the discipline of being still. Not praying. Not problem solving. Not dreaming. Just being still before God. Almost 30 years later, I still remember the awkwardness I experienced at Kings College that afternoon, as I tried to get my mind and body to be still. And true confessions, 30 years later, it is still hard for this Type A personality to be still. So to remove the distractions from my life, my family and I headed to the mountains this past week. Free from internet connectivity and out of cell phone range.

The Hebrew definition for “stillness” is to stop striving, to let go, to surrender. Whether it’s practicing Sabbath, or being still, the psalm reminds us that we can take comfort in letting go and resting in God to provide help, strength and safety in those times of renewal. Yet, this is tremendously difficult in our media rich, always-on, over-communicated society. It is not uncommon for the noise of this world to crowd into every empty space, leaving us spiritually, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. And that’s why it’s important to unplug and surrender to the One who ultimately provides.

One of those moments of stillness this past week, was during a hike to Eagle Lake. Our family left particularly early that morning in order to beat the crowds and the forecasted thunderstorms that afternoon. When we arrived at the lake that morning, we realized that we had the whole lake all to ourselves. It was a majestic moment of stillness. Just us, in awe of God’s majesty! As we took it all in, we watched a mother duck care for her ducklings. We witnessed fish feeding. We saw the reflection of the Sierra Mountains on the stillness of the water. We heard the birds chirping. We breathed the fresh forest air. And we couldn’t help but be still, to take it all in and then later take time to pray. It was a glorious morning being still before God.

This past week held many opportunities for me to reflect, renew and meet God in the stillness. And it got me thinking, “why don’t I do this more often?” So, as I reflect on the last week, I wrote down four good reasons why it’s important to be still. And I share these with you in hopes that you might also experience the joy of being still.

So here’s why it’s important to practice stillness…

  1. To remember that we’re human beings, not human doings. If our salvation isn’t based on what we do (Ephesians 2:8,9), than neither should our significance be based on what we do. Instead our identity needs to be in who we are in Christ. When we cease striving, we recognize who we are, what we were created for and it causes us to live a more balanced life. Now don’t get me wrong, God desires us to participate in His plan and do things for Him, but our doing must be the result of being in His presence. In other words, our works are the overflow of being with God. Remember this, we are human beings, children of God, to do good works; not human doings, doing good works, to be children of God. There is a big difference there.
  2. To understand our limitations. Let’s face it! We’re not God and we can’t save the world. By practicing Sabbath and stillness, we understand our limitations. Understanding our limitations allows us to let go and let God, be God! And this frees us up to truly rest in the arms of the One who has it all in control.
  3. To express our dependence and trust in God. When we pause to spend time with God, we really have to trust God to provide the time we desperately need. In God Calling, Sarah Young writes as if Jesus is speaking the following words, “Trust Me enough to spend ample time with Me, pushing back the demands of the day. Refuse to feel guilty about something that is so pleasing to Me, the King of the universe.” Sometimes it’s hard to make room for God in the busyness of my day, but it’s pretty amazing how God multiplies my time when I spend time with Him and honor Him in stillness. When we pause, we’re saying, God I trust you to fill in the gap!
  4. To hear God speak. Here’s some truth…we can’t hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit in the hectic pace of life. God often speaks out of the depths of His own silence. First to create the world, then to renew the world through the incarnation of His Son. And God calls us to silence as well. He invites us to go into our room, our chosen sacred space, and to shut the door and pray to our Father who is in secret, assured that our Father who is in secret will answer our prayer (Mt 6:6). It is in that silence that we can listen to God, hear His voice, and discern His plan and purpose for our life.
In considering the wisdom of this psalm, I wonder if perhaps God is asking you to seek His voice in rest and stillness, as you cultivate your relationship with Him. You see, as Christians, we often get the impression that growing in our faith means adding a bunch of spiritual activities to our crazy-busy lives. But lately, I’m finding that drawing near to God is more about subtracting, than adding. Yet for this Type A personality, I have to admit that this new paradigm is a difficult one to embrace, but I believe that as we do, we keep urgency from edging God out of our lives. And as we remain in Him, we will bear much fruit, for apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5)!
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