Invisible Grace That Now I See

My oldest daughters were still preschoolers when our library hosted a dance party for kids.  We decided to see what a dance party for tiny tots looked like.

There was some Hokey Pokey and something like Sweatin’ to the Oldies.  My kids jumped into the middle of the room and boogied down with the best of them while I sat criss-cross applesauce on the edge of the circle and smiled.

And I marveled at one of my mom friends, who hokey-pokied with the best of them, dancing with her only son.

How does she do it?  I wondered.

People asked me the same question for years as I worked from home with young kids, balancing work production with Candy Land breaks, juice cup refills, baby doll changes, and searches for Barbie’s perpetually missing shoe.

But I told them that it wasn’t so amazing for me as a momma to three.  My kids played with each other (with periodic fights, of course).  How much more amazing was the mom with one child!

Besides, somehow we made it through despite the hard days.  The kids ripped the house to shreds and pieces while I worked and I couldn’t come behind them and clean up or cajole them all day to pick up their own blocks, Barbies, babies, Little People, dollhouse, movies, crayons, and dress-up.

Some days I felt like capital-F Failure mom for too much TV time and too little creative play.  There were times I rocked a tiny screaming baby while crying from fatigue myself and I thought:  I….can’t….do…..it….all.   That’s a realization that hurts.

Some nights I coached myself in preparation for my husband’s call on his way home from work: Good wives don’t explode about their day to a weary husband stressed with his own stuff.  Good wives don’t complain about fighting children and the two-year-old who dumped a bar of soap in the fish tank.  Good wives don’t cry on the phone while they are making dinner in the kitchen, hiding out from the living room that is covered in princess dresses and tiaras, with a screaming baby on her hip and two preschoolers in the play room battling out who had the doll first.

But of course, my husband would ask the question: How was your day?  And what do you do then but explode into an unintelligible mess of tears while you stir the spaghetti?

We worked through those tough days, and it took discipline, a schedule, planning, a dose of humor, reasonable expectations and grace, such incredible grace.Silhouetted female in front of sunset sky

So often, we miss this grace, this invisible presence of God and the way He helps us through.  We think grace is only the obvious, only the easy, only the deliverance from and not the deliverance through.

Yet, sometimes there’s nothing simple about it.  Sometimes even grace is messy and difficult.

Occasionally, grace is God stretching our miniscule faith.  We feel the aches and pains of growth, the throbbing in our souls and we think, “I can’t do it, not one minute more, not one single day.”  But there we are, rising with the sun again, giving it another try, and leaning hard on Jesus, somehow making it through.

This past week, I paused for thanks, amazed that somehow God helped me have a productive day even with three daughters home on summer vacation.

That’s when God shone light on the invisible grace from all those past years.  In the blindness of the moment, I’d missed it.

He used almost seven years of me typing medical reports at my computer with kids at my feet to prepare us for the here and now of me writing with young children.

God doesn’t waste the tough days, difficult seasons, dry spells, or training times for any of us.  He’s a Redeemer of each season, a recycler of past refuse, a Creator of all things beautiful in their own time, and He is surely working in you today in preparation for tomorrow.

That’s how God worked in David:

He chose David His servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
He brought him from tending ewes
to be shepherd over His people Jacob—
over Israel, His inheritance.
He shepherded them with a pure heart
and guided them with his skillful hands (Psalm 78:70-72 HCSB).

God didn’t need a palace-trained king.  He needed a shepherd for His people, so He taught David out in the fields, long before this shepherd donned the crown and the robe and ruled as King of Israel.

God had a plan all along.

We may only see the now-invisible grace in the looking back.

For now, we have to grip on with white-knuckled determination, knowing that He’ll use this for His glory, knowing it won’t be wasted, knowing somehow He’ll prepare us for the future with Him.

…Knowing grace is here even when it’s invisible.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Devotions from my Garden—Sacrificing Violets

Just over eight years ago, my husband and I packed a UHaul with our belongings and made the long drive from New Jersey to Virginia, settling into our new home.

At the time, a towering oak tree stood in front of our house with English ivy spilling over the roots and along the base.  It was a sad day when they told us the tree had to come down; too close to the house, too close to the septic system, too dangerous in a hurricane.

Such a lovely, stately tree.  Such quaint and romantic English ivy.

But we made the sacrifice to avert future disaster and the tree company hauled its branches down and then the trunk itself.  But they left the stump in place, which still sits even now as the centerpiece for my front garden.

Over time, I realized that the tree had produced offspring before the men attacked it with their chainsaws.  On the corner of my front garden grew a baby oak, not a tiny sapling easily yanked out by bare hands.  A thick sprout of a tree with roots down deep.

It was ugly there.  It was off-center and inconvenient.  After each rain it seemed to grow exponentially overnight, overshadowing the blooms of nearby calla lilies and violets.

It annoyed me.

I tried pulling it up, but I’m no Goliath.  I couldn’t even budge the stubborn baby oak an inch.  So, I compromised, cutting it down every few weeks so it was slightly less conspicuous and ugly than before, but never fully uprooting it.

Today, I stared at the towering leaves of my garden enemy once again in disgust and frustration—and determination.  It just had to come out!

I attacked it with my shovel, digging deeper than I ever had tried before and hurting my back while yanking and twisting its roots every few minutes.

Then I realized the sad truth.  In order to dig down to disengage the tree’s roots, I had to dig up my sweet violets growing nearby.

I had to make another sacrifice in order to accomplish the work.  After a tiny moment of sadness, I sunk the shovel deep once again and finally heard the roots snap before I pulled the tree free from the ground.

It took me about five years of battle with stems, roots and offshoots, but I finally won the day and victory was sweet.

Despite all the assertions to the contrary, the Christian life is and should be a life of sacrifice. It’s not a guarantee of abundance or comfort, coziness or material success, health, wealth, prosperity and all the trappings of “the good life.”  Jesus never promised the American Dream.

Of course, the sacrifices we make are almost always greater than digging up violets in order to oust an inconvenient tree.  Yet, they do often involve uprooting and turning over our hearts.

That’s what sacrifice does—it demands that nothing else at all matters more to us than God–not sin, not personal comfort.  Sacrifice ensures that we can give any of that up, even if it’s painful and difficult, for the sake of His name.  It’s a way of knocking over the idols and false gods that take precedence in our time, resources, and priorities.

It’s acknowledging that He is God alone.

But it only happens when the sacrifice is truly sacrificial, when it actually costs something.  Anyone can give to God out of our abundance and excess and we might feel an ugly sort of righteous pride about it.  Look what we did for God.  Look how generous we are.

Yet, when King David longed to build an altar and give an offering to God, he searched for land on which to build.  The owner of the chosen plot, eager to help out the king, promised the land as a free gift to David.

David refused, saying,

“No, I insist on buying it from you for a price, for I will not offer to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing”  (2 Samuel 24:24—HCSB).

In the same way, after rich and powerful men paraded into the temple and loudly plopped their tithe into the box, looking for praise and accolades from the bystanders, a widow walked behind them.

Without showiness or shame, she gave her offering of two coins and Jesus noticed.  Others fawned after the wealthy who had done little more than give to God what was leftover after they paid their dues to the country club.

Jesus said, “she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on” (Mark 12:44).

This isn’t a devotional about money.  Sacrifice isn’t limited to cash and coin.

This is about giving to God every part of us, every stronghold, every dream, every luxury, every need and trusting Him with it.

Maybe it’s how we spend our time.  Maybe it is about money.  Maybe it’s about what we watch, read, and download onto our iPod.  Maybe it’s being willing to lay a dream at His feet and walk away, leaving it in His hands instead of your own.

How are we giving to God in a way that costs us?

After all, Christ gave His very life to us.  Surely we can give more than violets in return.  Surely we can refuse to sacrifice to God an offering that costs us nothing.

More Devotions From My Garden:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

One of the King Girls

“A sterling reputation is better than striking it rich;
a gracious spirit is better than money in the bank
” 
(Proverbs 22:1 MSG
).

“The King girls.”

That’s the name people give my daughters.  At school, at church, and at ballet, they have their individual personalities, but together they have a group identity, like a famous trio or a girls’ band.

We should make t-shirts.

Over the weekend, we recognized a teacher from their school and introduced ourselves.  “Hi, I’m Heather King,” I said.  “My daughters are Victoria and Lauren King . . . ”

“Oh yes,” she said quickly, “The King girls!  The AR (Accelerated Reader) superstars!”

We said goodbye to her and walked into a lobby area to register for auditions for a children’s theater production of Willy Wonka.  My older girls stepped up to the table and the lady there made the inevitable announcement, “The King girls!”

Yes, that’s us!

Even I call them that, but then I tell them why.  It’s one of my speeches.

I say: Our reputations and our names are never just our own.  We never represent only ourselves.

All of us have taken on the role ambassadors in some capacity, so we must always remember how our choices impact, not just our own reputation, but the reputation of others linked to us.

I tell them they are “King girls” in two ways.  They are daughters of James and Heather King and representatives of our family.  People look at them and make judgments about our family, our parenting, and about our faith.

But they are also Daughters of the King, the Most High God, and it is this connection that matters most.  They are living, breathing, walking-around representatives of God at home, at school, at church, at ballet, and in their community activities.  Yes, even at Wal-Mart.

When people hear my daughters’ names, they think of our family and hopefully of our faith.

What happens when people think of you?  What images pop into their heads in the instant someone pronounces your name?  When they see you step up, with whom do they associate you?

Without knowing God personally, what can they deduce about Him when they look at your life?

We might want to shirk this responsibility, preferring instead a determined independence.

Yet, it’s impossible.  People are people.  We humans make judgments, assumptions, connections.  We peer into each other’s lives and try to understand how it all fits.

It’s the way of life for sojourners.  If we packed our bags and flew around the world, shopkeepers and taxi drivers, cafe owners and villagers would watch us and decide, “That’s what Americans are like.”

So we earthly travelers, always foreigners far from our heavenly home, meet people every day who don’t know Christ.   They watch us and think, “That’s what Christians are like.  This is what it means to know God.”

It’s something David experienced even as a young shepherd boy playing his harp while the sheep grazed in the pasture.  King Saul, tormented by an evil spirit, wanted someone to soothe him with music and commissioned his court to find just the right fellow.

One of the young men answered, ‘Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him‘ (1 Samuel 16:18 ESV).

That was David’s reputation—the essentials of his character and skill, but more importantly God’s presence in his life.  This is what people said about him in town and talked about in the king’s court.  “The Lord is with Him.”

In the same way, after Paul’s conversion from Christian persecutor to defender of the Gospel, word got back to the leaders of the Jerusalem church.

“‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:23-24).

There’s the point of it all.  David’s talent and his communion with God weren’t for his own personal benefit and gain.  Paul’s astounding testimony and life revolution weren’t to receive accolades and adoration.

People saw their lives and glorified God.

Paul urged the church to keep this responsibility in mind:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ
(Philippians 1:27a ESV).

and

Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns (Phil. 2:15-16 MSG).

That is what we desire.  As we meander through this life of ours, running errands, working at our jobs, leading our kids through grocery store aisles, meeting with teachers, sitting by hospital beds . . . we pray that others will glorify God because of us.

Don’t you want this?  I so do.  It’s my passionate desire that with one glance at my life people will see Jesus and say, “She’s a Jesus girl.  She loves God.  She’s crazy in love with the Bible and bubbling over with God’s Word.  It’s her favorite thing to talk about–the thing that makes her come alive.”

Let us all be “breaths of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society” so that people can glimpse “the living God” when they watch us.  And they are watching; that’s a given.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

I’ll Wait For the 7:30

Today, I am tired.

And it shows.  Words seem tricky and hard to maneuver, elusive and even a little mocking as they play hide and seek in my mind.  This morning with my kids, I would snap my fingers and squint my eyes trying to think—“What’s that word . .  what’s that word again . . oh, yeah, shoes.  Yes, put your shoes on.”

The trouble started just a few weeks ago when my toddler appeared by my bedside at 6:00 a.m. and announced it was morning and time to get up for the day.

Now, many of you are routinely early risers and prefer waking in the darkness and sipping hot coffee leisurely over your devotions before heading out for your morning commute.

At our house, however, morning begins at 7:00 a.m. So, when my early riser appeared another morning at 5:45, I mumbled, “It’s still night time.”

“No, it’s morning,” she answered and pointed out the window to the few glimmers of sunlight visible through the blinds.

Unwilling to give in, I explained, “You really need more sleep.”

With a simple, “I’m awake,” she bounced out of my room ready for cheerful activity while I shuffled behind her like a zombie.

What my toddler doesn’t understand is that waking me too early in the day ultimately short-changes her.  I’m a happier, more cheerful, more productive, more energetic, more playful mommy when we all agree to sleep until 7 a.m.

Impatience typically has a way of short-changing all of us.  We miss out on God’s best because we’re not willing to wait for it, settling instead for whatever barely acceptable option presents itself.

Or, while we wait we make it clear that we hate this.  We hate the unknown of it all, the required patience, the uncertainty, the lack of control, and the destruction of our own agenda.  We whine.  We nag.  We grumble and complain.  We envy others who already have that ministry, that relationship, that job, that child, that clear direction, that future.

It’s as if we pop up to the throne at 5:45 and announce, “It’s time!  I’m awake. Let’s get going.”  God’s plan, however, is to present us with His 7:30 best.

In 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel wanted something from God. Following the leadership of Moses and Joshua, a series of judges had led the nation and delivered them from the perpetual persecution of the Philistines and other surrounding enemies.

This era of judges ended with Samuel the prophet, who led the people to rededicate themselves to God.  When he tried to pass the baton of authority to his sons, however, the people quickly complained:  “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5 ESV).

The people didn’t trust God’s ability to choose their rulers and they were no longer willing to wait for Gideons and Samsons and Deborahs to deliver them, to direct them spiritually, to lead them into battle or to arbitrate their disagreements.

They wanted what other nations had—-assured succession and an inherited throne.  Not only that, they wanted it at 5:45 and they weren’t willing to wait until 7:30.

In her book, A Heart Like His, Beth Moore writes:

“God had already planned a king for the people.  Their lack of patience was to cost them dearly.  If they had waited for the Lord’s choice instead of demanding their way, how different might the story have been?” (pp. 32-33).

God’s design for a Messianic line and for an eternal kingship to emerge from the tribe of Judah and through the house of David required the king of God’s choosing at the time of God’s choosing.

Instead, the people wanted a king and they wanted one NOW. So they settled for Saul.

Then, years later, unwilling to wait for Samuel to offer a promised sacrifice on the eve of battle—full of as much impatience as the nation that had demanded a king in the first place--Saul did the unthinkable.  He, a king and not an anointed priest, sacrificed to God.  That cost him his reign.

Thus, Samuel traveled to a man named Jesse’s house and anointed a ruddy and handsome young shepherd to be God’s chosen king.  Indeed:

He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
    to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand (Psalm 78:70-72).

God wanted a shepherd to shepherd His people, just as He later chose fishermen to become fishers of men. 

That was God’s best.

God’s best was a man who would write:

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from him comes my salvation (Psalm 62:1, ESV).

The Message version says:

God, the one and only— I’ll wait as long as he says.
Everything I need comes from him,
so why not?
He’s solid rock under my feet,
breathing room for my soul (Psalm 62:1-2, MSG).

Unlike the impatient nation of Israel demanding a king like other nations had …
Unlike Saul impatiently giving up on the tardy Samuel and offering a sacrifice on his own …

David waited for God, waited in silence, waited as long as God saidIf we want God’s very best for us, we must do the same.

You can read more devotionals on this topic here:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King



Quiet Time With a Mop and a Bucket, Lesson 3

“Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self.”
1 Corinthians 13:4, MSG

For Lesson 1: You Are Not the Only One, click here

For Lesson 2: There’s Always More to Do, click here

Lesson 3: Extend to Others the Grace You Desire

With the “Big Clean” now finished, you could visit my home at just this moment and make countless assumptions about me.  That I clean all the time.  That the laundry is always washed, dried, folded, and put away.  That my floor is always freshly mopped and carpets vacuumed.  That our home is perpetually dust and cobweb-free.

You’d be wrong.

A few years ago, I was deep in the middle of a “Big Clean” when someone stopped by at the last minute.  Unfortunately, the big bad secret of a “Big Clean” is that the house always looks worse before it looks better.  So, for a large part of the time, even while you are frantically washing and scrubbing, the house looks like a hurricane has blown through.

That’s what my home looked like when our visitor dropped by.  Furniture was all moved out so I could vacuum behind it.  Toys were scattered around waiting to be sorted into bins. Cleaning products were strewn all over the counter.  He could have looked at my home in that moment and thought I was destined to be on the next episode of Hoarders.

But, he’d be wrong.

Fortunately for me, he’s full of grace and hopefully has been in my home often enough to know that we don’t live in a a FEMA-designated disaster zone every day of the year.  Not everyone, though, would look at that mess and assume the best about me.  Not knowing that I was in the middle of an intense cleaning project, they could look around and assume I’m a first-class slob.

We humans are often so quick to judge one another.  Ages ago in my college psychology class, we learned that it’s nearly impossible to overcome a first impression.  What people think about you in the first 3 seconds of meeting is likely how they will think of you forever.

The trouble with these first impressions is that they leave very little room for grace.  And yet, we form opinions and label people all the time.  We push each other into categories.

The truth is, we can be pretty vicious.

In 1 Chronicles 19,  we read about what happens when we make faulty assumptions and judgments about others.  “Nahash king of the Ammonites died, and his son succeeded him as king.  David thought, ‘I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, because his father showed kindness to me.’ So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father” (1 Chronicles 19:2-3).

Off went David’s men with a message of comfort to the grieving prince.  After expressing their sympathy, though, the king’s advisers questioned their true intentions.  They asked the king, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Haven’t his envoys come to you only to explore and spy out the country and overthrow it?” (1 Chronicles 19:3). Full of mistrust, they humiliated David’s men, shaving off their beards, and cutting off their clothes so they were naked, and then sent them back home full of shame.

Even then, King David didn’t react in anger.  He reclothed his men and made accommodations for them to regrow their beards in privacy.  In the meantime, the Ammonites themselves, knowing they had acted badly, preemptively allied themselves with Israel’s enemies and traveled out in battle array against Israel.  And they fought a war, which they lost, all because they didn’t believe in the genuine sympathy that David expressed through an act of kindness.  They assumed the worst about him and made unfair judgments.  They were so quick to take offense and so suspicious of others.

Jesus’s standard, on the other hand, is high.  He said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

What would happen if we meted out to others the same grace we’d desire from them?  What would happen if we gave second chances and allowed people to grow rather than assuming that one mistake was a sign of permanent character flaws?  What would happen if we assumed the best about others around us instead of allowing mistrust and suspicion to filter our perceptions of their actions and words?  What would happen if we focused on the positives in others and let their faults pass uncommented on?

We would give the same grace we’ve received, sometimes even more.  We would show abundant love to others just as Christ has shown to us.  Paul wrote about love:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.
(1 Corinthians 13:5-7, MSG).

Pause a moment on each of those and truly consider whether you’re living out love with those around you, in your home, in your work place, in your church, in your community.  Carry those words with you in the next few days and let them guide your interactions.

When you see someone buried in mess, allow love to motivate your response.  Can you give them some grace, allowing time to show whether they are perhaps just in the middle of a “Big Clean?”  Can you extend a hand of help and bring along your own bucket and mop to help them with the dirty work?  Can you give them the words of encouragement that will spur them on to finish the job rather than sitting down too soon, overwhelmed by the mess?

Can you “look for the best?”  Can you “never give up?”

That’s what it takes to love like Christ, who poured Himself out for us as an offering even when we were messy and piled over with junk and debris.  He loved us that much.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

One Heart and Mind

Today, I’d love to hear from you!  At the end of today’s post, I’ll have a question for you.  I hope to hear your thoughts!!

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“Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name”
Psalm 86:11

Multitasking is my spiritual gift.  Somehow the Apostle Paul left that off of his lists in Romans, Corinthians and Ephesians.  Even if it didn’t make the Biblical list, some of you share this gifting with me.  You mop the floor, do laundry, type emails, care for children, talk on the phone and make dinner all at the same time.  What can we say?  It’s a talent.

Usually my multitasking works quite well for me and truthfully I am sometimes bored when I am simply keeping one ball up in the air instead of juggling several.  But there are those moments, I’ll confess, when I open my pantry cabinet to find that I accidentally put the frozen broccoli away there and when I open up the freezer, there are the spaghetti noodles.  It’s a sure sign that I have too much going on and things are starting to fall apart.

Multitasking may work for me (most of the time) as I clean my house or plunge through my to-do list each day and yet its a choking hand of death on my quiet times with God.  This morning I sat at my kitchen table, my place for meeting with God every day.  My Bible was open and ready, my journal and pen set to the side waiting to be used.  My cup of tea was steaming hot, strong and sweet.  Everything I needed to spend some focused time with my Savior was at my fingertips.  Everything was prepared—-except my heart.

I was distracted.  Distracted a little by projects and to-do lists, the phone and the emails left unanswered.  Distracted by my children asking and asking for help.  Distracted a little by frustrations and situations needing to be handled.  My thoughts drifted to all of those things as I read the words on my Bible’s open page.  Words that normally hold power and relevance for me, the living and active Word of God, now made dull by a scattered heart and an unfocused mind.

Not wanting to give up, I prayed over Psalm 86:11.

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (NIV)

and in the Message:

“Train me, God, to walk straight; then I’ll follow your true path.  Put me together, one heart and mind; then, undivided, I’ll worship in joyful fear” (MSG).

I prayed, “Lord, create in me an undivided heart.  Put me together, one heart and mind—wholly focused on you.  There are so many things vying for my attention, captivating my heart, stirring up my emotions, and setting my thoughts wild.  Please fill me and focus me so that You alone are my heart’s desire.”

It’s not a magic formula, a mystical incantation that somehow brought clarity out of chaos.  No, it was a confession of desire.  A request for God’s strength in my weakness.  I am a forgetful and distracted creature, and I need the help of my God to cut through the clutter and noise so that I can pay wholehearted attention to Him.  That’s why David writes this verse as a petition to God.  He knew He needed heavenly help also.  He asks for God to “give” Him an undivided heart or, as the message says, to “put him together” so that he can be receptive vessel, prepared to hear and receive God’s teaching and training.  David knew He couldn’t achieve an undivided heart on His own.

And yet, I didn’t just pray this prayer and then sit down to the best quiet time ever, full of revelation and inspiration.  It took effort on my part to reject and discard the jumble of thoughts that kept popping into my mind.  I had to stand guard over my heart and not allow it to take my focus off God’s Word.  When I suddenly remembered an item for my to-do list, I jotted it down on a piece of paper and returned to Scripture.  When I started rehashing what was frustrating and upsetting me, I cut off my thoughts and whispered a quick prayer that God would take care of that situation.  And I returned to Scripture.

It was work, but it was worth it. Paul prayed for the Thessalonian church, “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).  By asking God to give me an undivided heart, I was making a similar petition.  I was allowing Him to sanctify me (make me holy) through and through—spirit, soul, and body—and this brings me peace straight from the God of peace.

Now, it’s your turn:

Do you ever struggle with distractions or having a “divided heart?”  Do you have any tips to share on how you focus your attention on your Bible reading or in your prayers?  What about verses that help you out? I hope you join the conversation!  You can post a comment here or on Facebook.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

What’s in a Name, Part II

In college, I took a class called “Family Studies,” which mostly focused on identifying and resolving family conflicts through counseling.  One of our assignments was to create a family tree, but not a typical family tree that confines itself to names, important dates and marriages.  Using different colors and symbols, we had to mark on this family tree all divorces, infidelity, prejudice, abuse, illegitimate children, addictions and other “isms” (alcoholism, workaholism, etc.).

Talk about depressing.  My family tree was a colorful display of what I would call “generational sins.”  There were recurring problems, hitting generation after generation and tracing back to every branch of my broken and pitiful familial oak.  Even the innocent people like my mom, who made decisions to break the hold of these sins on our family, were impacted anyway by the actions of others, wrapped up, entangled and choked through sins by association.

Then I read the statistics in the book about these hand-me-down burdens.  The numbers were clear.  My life should have been marred by abuse, alcoholism, marital infidelity, and divorce.  My marriage doomed.  My kids hurt.

Yet, God’s grace has a way of showing up in statistical anomalies.

Have you ever surveyed your past, maybe your own sins or maybe the baggage you carry from the family’s closet skeletons?  Have you looked back and thought, “God can’t use someone like me, not with what I’ve done or where I’ve come from?”

Or, have you been breathlessly in awe of God’s blessing and asked like King David,”Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me thus far?” (2 Samuel 7:18, NIV).  That’s my whispered prayer sometimes as I thank God for a husband so faithful, kids so healthy, life filled to the brink and overflowing with God’s goodness.  “Who am I and what is my family?”

Some women are loathe to abandon their maiden names when they marry.  They hyphenate or simply decline to visit the Social Security office for a name change, wanting instead to preserve their own family heritage or identity.  That wasn’t me.  When I married, I was eager to take on a new name, to be grafted into a new heritage and allowed to flourish as a branch on a new family tree, so simple and beautiful in its unbroken state.

One of the first things I did as a newlywed was carry my marriage license and birth certificate to the Social Security office and wait in an unending line for one man in a little window to process my paperwork.  Finally, they called my number.  I hopped up and smiled as I pushed across my papers.  This balding little man glanced up at me and said, “Got married, eh?  What did you do a stupid thing like that for?”  Ignoring his jibe, I waited patiently for him to finish and then triumphantly walked away from his desk with a new name (and saying a few prayers for his wife!).

Here I sit today at my kitchen table, Bible open once again to Matthew 1 and it strikes me that Jesus’s family tree was no impressive oak, stately, strong and unharmed by conflict and sins.  Instead, like mine, his genealogy is the story of redemption poured out one generation after another.

I survey the names, their stories so familiar.

  • Tamar, who dressed up like a prostitute and tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her (Genesis 38).
  • Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2:1).
  • King David himself, adulterer and murder (2 Samuel 11) and Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, the adulteress.
  • Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, who “did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites . . . He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger” (2 Kings 21:2, 6).

That’s not exactly a family tree to tack up over the mantle piece with pride.  Unless . . .

Unless you’re God, who wants to remind us:

  • That He has “called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light” (2 Peter 2:9).
  • That “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come.  The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV).
  • That it is a “great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1, NIV).

God does not define us by statistics or confine us because of our sins. He is forever making us new, redeeming and restoring what has been broken and destroyed.  Through our salvation we are removed from heritages of sin and brought into a new family.  Slaves no longer, we have been adopted as sons and daughters into the family of Christ.  The genealogy that Matthew ended with 42 generations connecting Abraham to the Messiah, now continues on with us.  Our names now listed in the line of Jesus, our stories now entwined in the heritage of grace.

So, we struggle against sin, taking a stand for holiness and refusing to allow shame from our past or brokenness from our family tree to impact our children and continue unhindered through the generations.  By this struggle and through His grace, we overcome and we are promised in Revelation 2:17, “To him who overcomes, to him I will give  . . . a new name” (NASB).  This time, it’s a name we don’t have to stand in line for or receive from a crabby man at the Social Security office made tired by government bureaucracy.  No, this new name will be bestowed on us by God, marking us as His own special and beloved children.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

They Will See God

Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.
Psalm 105:4, NIV

A few weeks ago, I waited in the line of moms and dads who were picking up their children from our church nursery.  I could see inside the room where my daughter was playing, but she couldn’t yet see me.  As the parents before me went into the room, my baby started craning her neck to see if she could find me in the crowd.  She looked up as each new adult entered the room and kept searching every face to see if it was mine.

Then she saw me.  I watched her face change from searching . . . searching . . . searching . . . to pure joy at finding Mom!!   She beamed.  She ran to me.  She practically knocked me over with her embrace.

Really, there are few moments as a mom more precious than seeing a little person so excited just to see your face.  To know that you are so very loved by someone sweet and innocent, even though you aren’t perfect or even the best.

That moment with my daughter made me think of how I should passionately and intently seek after God, for intimacy with Him and time in His presence, and for opportunities to give Him heartfelt adoration and praise and to show I love Him.  After all, He is perfect and the best!

I want to see God.  I want to do whatever it takes to have a closer relationship with Him.  Just like David, I can say, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’  Your face, LORD, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8, NIV).

Sometimes all it takes to see God is persistently pursuing His presence.  Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (NIV).  Also in Psalm 27,  David said, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14, NIV).

My daughter kept searching the crowd of parents in the church nursery and ultimately she did see me.  I came at the appointed time.  She was not abandoned and left alone.  All that she had to do was wait and not give up.

Don’t stop searching for God’s face in the midst of your busy life, your family stresses, your ministry concerns, your health crisis, your financial struggles, your job disappointments, your heart-wrenching fears.  Keep seeking with all Your heart.  You will see God.

But, actively seek.  Sometimes we wonder why we aren’t seeing God’s presence in our lives, but we are relegating Him to 10 minutes of our day as we skim through a devotional.  Or we think that listening to a sermon and some Christian radio counts as connecting with God.  Be willing to give God your time sacrificially.  Invite Him into every part of your day and immerse yourself in His Word so that you know Him more fully.

There are other times, though, that finding God takes more than just pursuing His presence.  Matthew 5:8 tells us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (NIV).  Seeking God also means pursuing purity.

Earlier this week, I took a day off from writing.  It was partly out of necessity because the day was so hectic with appointments, work, family and ministry.  But, it was also because I needed a time out.  Someone did something in total innocence that frustrated me.  It wounded my ridiculous pride and I reacted with some pouting and whining and, yes, I admit–a private little tantrum.

It was sin and I knew it.  I needed some time to get right with God.

As much as I could, I spent the afternoon in God’s Word, letting Him sift my heart, reveal the sin and deal with it.   I seem to have these pitfalls, these consistent sins that trip me up, hindering and entangling me (Hebrews 12:1).  Do you have some of those—-lessons that you need to learn over and over and over and you wonder if you’ll ever get it right?

Unfortunately, these sins separate me from God and obscure His face.

Fortunately—or more accurately— amazingly, God extends abundant mercy and compassion when we confess our sins to Him and ask Him to make us clean. We are promised that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV).

That day, I prayed through Psalm 51, which was David’s Psalm of repentance.  He had committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband killed to hide the sin after she became pregnant.  Adultery.  Murder.  It seems like a lot for God to forgive, and yet God’s grace is big enough for any sin we lay at His feet.  Like David, I prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, NIV). I want a steadfast spirit, not my roller coaster reactions when I feel hurt or wronged.

Paul wrote, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 7:1, NIV).   Purity of heart isn’t something we stumble on accidentally.  It’s not a spiritual gift that God gives to some people and not to others.  Instead, it means confessing sin and also actively pursuing purity and “perfecting holiness.”  It means asking Him to dig deep in my heart to root out the ugly sins that have such a deep hold on me, even when it hurts, even though it embarrasses me to face up to what’s really lurking in my soul.

It’s worth it– Seeing God’s face and knowing that–not only am I lighting up at finding Him in the crowd, but that He’s grinning at the sight of me washed clean and anticipating His presence.  I want a pure heart so that I can see God.  I don’t want to miss out on His presence, His peace, or His activity in my life.

Are you willing to do whatever it takes to see God?  Right now, that might just be holding on to hope with all your might.  Pursue His presence and keep waiting with expectation for God to show up in all His glory.  Do not give up.   Or, it might mean getting on your knees and asking Him to cleanse your heart and forgive you.  Then, with a pure heart, you will see God.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

Secret Sins

“You have set our iniquities before you; our secret sins in the light of your presence”
(Psalm 90:8).

If you’re ever a guest in my home, there’s one important bit of information you need to know—-don’t look in any of my closets.  For the first five years we were married, we moved five times.  That meant I was forced into drastic organizing and purging every year.  After three years in our current home with two children under two, though, I started feeling overwhelmed by disorganization.  I couldn’t figure out what the problem was.  Then, I realized–not moving plus young children plus me working more and more hours equaled messy closets.  It was simple math.

My home is never spotless now, but it does have its moments of looking generally clean, usually after the girls have gone to bed or before they wake up in the morning.  Still, no matter how clean it looks to a visitor, behind the closet doors lurks mess.

I’m essentially no different.  Generally, I’m pretty “clean” looking.  To most people, it probably looks as if I have my life in order and, by God’s tremendous grace, I’m not struggling with the big, public, noticeable sins.

It’s in the hidden closets of my heart that you can find the sins, all jumbled together and in disorder from lack of purging.   These are the deep down sins like jealousy, pride, anger, coveting,  impatience, and impure motives.  They are the things that I really haven’t needed to clean out before.  I thought that as long as they were truly private–just between God and me—I didn’t need to deal with them.  I could just pretend they didn’t exist and act as if my heart was as clean as the exterior of me looked.

In her book, Me, Myself and Lies, Jennifer Rothschild says, “I slip into cleaning the outside of my cup and neglecting the inside.”  She’s comparing herself to a Pharisee.  It’s a comparison that most of us wouldn’t generally be honest enough to make.

Yet, Jesus said:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Sometimes I want God just to shove my sins into closets rather than allowing Him to do the deep cleaning and purging necessary in my life.  This deprives me of true freedom, of authenticity, of pureness of heart, and of greater intimacy with Him.  It makes me an unusable cup and a whitewashed tomb, no better than a Pharisee.

God desires more than a superficial relationship with us, though, so He’s constantly using circumstances and other people to bring these secret sins to the surface so that He can cleanse us completely.

King David told his son Solomon that “the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9).   In his Psalm, Moses wrote, “You have set our iniquities before you; our secret sins in the light of your presence” (Psalm 90:8).  God always knows our motivations and the condition of our heart.

Sometimes I’m embarrassed and ashamed to come before Him because He knows the ugliest parts of my soul. That’s one of the amazing things about God, though—-He sees us fully and loves us completely.  Chris Tomlin sings about this in Indescribable: “You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same.” To me, that’s just as miraculous as His creation of the universe.

This process of cleaning out the hidden places of our heart is painful and hard at times.  It means being vulnerable enough to let God bring sin to the surface.  It involves confession and repentance, and not allowing those thoughts and motives to find their way back in again.  It requires us to put aside the facade of perfection and deal with the fact that we’re sinners.

Still, the pain serves a purpose.  Job 5:18 says, “He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but His hands also heal.” God doesn’t leave us hurting and injured. It’s only when we allow Him to clean out the source of infection–our deep sins—that our broken hearts can heal.  It’s only when He has purged our secret sins that we are free.  As Jennifer Rothschild writes: “Oh the freedom authenticity brings!”

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King