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Archive for May, 2009

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” John 15:7

 

Whenever I am planning to be out of the office, I begin days ahead of time making sure everyone knows what needs to be done in my absence and passing on any information they may need while I’m gone. This process goes on for a few days, but immediately before I leave I will once again go over the critical, most important things. The people in my office probably find this very irritating, but I have to know that they’ve got it.

This verse is among the final things that Jesus said to his disciples before His crucifixion. He has spoken on prayer many times previously, but He stresses it once again. He really wants them to get this. He really wants us to get it as well.

For those of us who have been Christians for a while, we may tend to pass over this verse quickly. But stop and read it as though you’ve never seen it before. Now read it like Jesus really means exactly what this verse says.

Whatever? Did He say whatever you wish? That seems so incredibly dangerous, people being the way they are. And it would be, except He has installed a safety net – if you abide in Me and My words abide in you.

Jesus knows that the abiding Word of God in our heart makes this a very safe verse. His Word so sweetly turns our hearts away from fleshly, carnal things so that our only real wish is that God be glorified. And when this is the deepest desire at the heart of every request, Jesus can say “Yes, it will be done for you.”

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I am a notorious to-do list maker.  This is one of the ways I try to keep life under control.  If I can put it on paper, I can control it.  I like lists.  I like them a lot.

I am particularly fond of lists in the Bible.  For example, the 10 commandments.  This works well for me because the expectations are clearly defined and success is measurable.  It says don’t do it, I don’t do it, so I can put a check mark next to that one for the day.  Reviewing my progress at the end of the day, I can either congratulate myself on a job well done, or resolve to try harder the next day.  

However, I have found that this approach to a relationship with God has a tendency to lead to either a self-righteousness that disregards the true condition of the heart, or an overwhelming despair brought about by the realization that I can never successfully follow the list.  Colossians 2:23 says that these regulations are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.  No value?  None at all?  Well then, what is a Type A personality to do?

A genuine faith requires dependence upon the Spirit of God to lead me in my obedience if it is to be a complete, whole hearted obedience.  No lists which aid me in gauging my progress.  I cannot be trusted to gauge my own progress for I cannot know my own heart.  I am too prone to deceive myself in order to soothe my conscience and please my flesh.  But the Holy Spirit relentlessly leads me into a depth of obedience beyond what I could ever find by way of a list. 

Living by the Spirit many times seems harder.  Instead of striking off with my list to get the job done (which is easy for me), I must now begin by waiting and listening.  But the rewards of a Spirit led obedience, the depth of transformation it produces, is beyond compare. 

So I will sacrifice the list and follow the still, small voice that leads me into a life that produces a harvest of fruitful obedience.

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I am no longer my own, but thine. 

Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.

Put me to doing, put me to suffering.

  Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,

exalted for thee or brought low for thee.

  Let me be full, let me be empty.

Let me have all things, let me have nothing.

  I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

  thou art mine, and I am thine.

 So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.

Today I make this prayer my own.

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Several years ago during a very difficult time in my life a friend shared this story with me:

When French impressionist painter Auguste Renoir was confined to his home during the last decade of his life, Henri Matisse was nearly 28 years younger than him. The two great artists were dear friends and frequent companions. Matisse visited him daily. Renoir, almost paralyzed by arthritis, continued to paint in spite of his infirmities. One day as Matisse watched the elder painter work in his studio, fighting torturous pain with each brush stroke, he blurted out: “Auguste, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?”

Renoir said: “The pain passes but the beauty remains.”

Those words touched my heart in a profound way as I realized that my pain, in the hands of my God, was producing a beautiful brokenness.  I have never viewed suffering in the same light since then.

“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.”  Psalm 34:18

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these O God, you will not despise.”  Psalm 51:17

If brokenness brings the nearness of God, why do we fight against it so much?  This pain is not a master sent to rule over us, but our servant, sent to work in us that wonderful work of conforming us to Christ. 

How insignificant our pain will be when we see it as the hand of the Potter, gently sculpting, meticulously crafting a vessel of honor fit for the Master’s use. Those scarred and broken places in my soul, they are covered with His fingerprints. 

The pain passes, but the beauty remains.

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After the death of King Solomon as Rehoboam, his son, began to reign, Jeroboam rose up to oppose him and take the kingdom.  Rehoboam was rightful heir to the throne of all Israel, so naturally he assembled an army to defend his throne and squelch this uprising. 

But God sent a prophet to Rehoboam with these words, “Thus says the Lord, “You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel.  Let every man return to his house, for this thing is from me.”  How altogether amazing for God to send Rehoboam home without his kingdom.  And equally amazing is Rehoboam’s response – “Therefore they obeyed the word of the Lord, and turned back, according to the word of the Lord.”

This seems so totally contrary to human nature.  We all feel entitled to certain things.  How much more would Rehoboam have felt entitled to this kingdom that was promised to the descendants of David?  To refuse to even try to regain the kingdom seems an even greater appearance of weakness than to have tried and failed.  Yet as soon as he knew this turn of events was from the Lord, he obeyed the Lord.  I wonder how humiliating this event must have been for him.

Obedience is not always easy.  Sometimes it’s downright painful.  God will at times require you to turn loose of something you desperately want to keep, or to remain silent when everything within you is screaming to vindicate yourself, or let your “rights” get trampled in the dust leaving you to appear humiliated to those around you.

Are we willing to do the hard things that He requires?   Can we die to our own desires when we are presented with a hard thing that is from the Lord?  If we are not willing (and are not willing to be made willing) then we are really not His disciples.  We are only fooling ourselves.  A few moments of reflection on the awesome power and majesty of this God will convince us that we are the most pitiful of fools who do not obey Him.  A few moments of reflection on Calvary will break our hearts for every time we have not obeyed Him.  And one look into the face of Jesus will make us willing to give up everything we possess to obey Him.
 

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Almighty God, I adore Your infinite patience, which has not cut me off in the midst of my follies; I magnify Your wonderful goodness, which has spared me thus long. Let me no longer abuse that precious treasure–time, which you have allotted me as a proper season to work out my own salvation, and secure that happiness which is great in itself, and infinite in its duration.

Let me bid adieu to all those vain amusements, those trifling entertainments and sinful diversions, which have robbed me of many valuable hours, and endangered the loss of my immortal soul. Let me no longer waste my time in ease and pleasure, in unprofitable studies, and more unprofitable conversation; but grant, that, by diligence and honesty in my calling, by constancy and fervor in my devotions, by moderation and temperance in my enjoyments, by justice and charity in all my words and actions, and by keeping a conscience void of offence to God and man–I may be able to give a good account in the day of judgment, and be accepted in and through the merits of Jesus Christ, my only mediator and advocate.
Amen.

 (Hannah More, “The Book of Private Devotion”)

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It is a fact of life that trouble comes to all.  To the rich and poor, the proud and humble, the young and old.  No one is exempt.

“Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.”  Job 5:7

With each new difficulty we are given the opportunity to choose our response to it.  What will we do in the day of trouble?  This is a question of great importance.  I love this quote by Hannah Whitall Smith:

We may make out of each event in our lives either a Juggernaut car to crush us, or a chariot in which to ride to heights of victory. It all depends upon how we take them; whether we lie down under our trials and let them roll over and crush us, or whether we climb up into them as into a chariot, and make them carry us triumphantly onward and upward.

2 Corinthians 4:17 tells us that “our light affliction which is but for a moment is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

Each difficulty presented, each sorrow to be endured, each gut-wrenching choice of obedience that must be made, they are invitations to glory.  In each new challenge, an opportunity to die a little bit more to ourselves and to become more alive to who He is.  Suddenly, our own comfort, even our own personal desires and happiness are no longer as important as they once seemed to be.

We are invited to glory.

This changes everything.

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