Weekend Walk, 03/24/2012

Hiding the Word:

Last Wednesday night, one of our church’s Awana leaders asked me and another lady from our church choir to listen to a child recite John 3:16.

He did a great job.  He rattled it off with little effort and we each gave him a high-five to celebrate.

Then my fellow verse-listener asked, “Do you know what John 3:17 says?”

I didn’t!  I blanked completely, although I’m pretty sure my girls have learned it before for Awana, but in that moment I couldn’t tell you at all what it said.

So, she recited it for us.  Just as simple as that.  And it was beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

I’ve read several times recently about how early God-followers mostly recited or read aloud God’s Word and twice in one month I have listened to someone doing nothing more than quoting a verse or reading a passage from Scripture.  It’s uniquely powerful.

I still remember the very first time my oldest daughter quoted a Scripture verse she had learned from Awana.  “God loved us . . . and sent His Son.”  I cried when I heard her little voice speaking the Word of God.

So, for the verse of the week, I’m going to meditate on that precious Scripture my choir friend quoted for us on Wednesday night, and, to keep it in context, I’m going to study it together with John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17). 

Weekend Rerun:

A Puzzle of Peace
Originally posted on 04/29/2011

You will keep him in perfect peace, him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you”
Isaiah 26:3

Five days a week at noon I journey to the school and wait in the line of minivans to pick up my daughters from their classes.  By that time each day, my baby girl is tired and ready for lunch and a nap, so the lull of the car bounces her to sleep almost daily.  I have the joy of watching.  Have you ever watched a baby fall asleep?  Her breathing slows down ever so slightly.  My little one folds her blanket over and snuggles it against her cheeks.  Then the eyelids start to linger ever so slightly with each blink—closing for longer, and longer, and longer each time until finally  . . . sleep.

It’s peace demonstrated for me on an almost daily basis.  The quiet rest, the feeling of safety, the calm, the trust.  Doesn’t that sound heavenly?

Somehow over time, though, most of us lose that miraculous peace, the absolute trust that you are loved and cared for so you can rest and leave the driving to someone else.  It’s not present in my heart all of the time.  I may let God do the driving, but I’m usually the passenger holding a map and questioning the navigational choices of my Divine Driver.

Do You really want us to turn there, God?
Do You know where You are going, God?
Do You have a destination in mind for me, a plan, a hope and a future?
Do You know any shortcuts that can get us there faster?

This often-elusive fruit of the spirit—peace—-is not a fairy tale or a figment of our Christian imaginations.  It’s there available to us.  Yet, sometimes I reject the peace that God offers me by failing to discipline my emotions and thoughts.  I pray for peace for myself and others, the “peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and think that God’s peace is going to enter my heart miraculously and with little effort on my part.  It’s a prayer that we sometimes use as a magical spell instead of allowing God to change our hearts so that peace becomes possible.

The bottom line is some of our behaviors need to change, some of our thought patterns need to be stirred up a little bit and some of our emotions bossed around. 

Right before Paul talks about this incomprehensible peace that God offers, he tells the Philippian church “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4:5). Peace starts with a thankful heart.  In all of our anxieties, “in every situation,” begin by giving thanks.  The worries that infect and plague us cannot coexist with the antibiotic of gratitude.

Paul also tells the church that God’s peace will “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Peace requires the active discipline of standing guard over our hearts and minds and refusing admittance to whatever thoughts aren’t peace-full.  Paul wrote out a clear test for determining whether a thought should gain entry: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).

It’s not that my thoughts are blatantly sinful or wrong, but I do have an internal dialogue of whining that certainly isn’t “lovely or admirable.”  And I have a tendency to dwell not on “whatever is true,” but instead on “whatever might be true.”  It’s when I allow myself to get caught up in “what if’s” that I trade in peace for worry and trust for anxiety.  “What if this happens?  What if that happens?  What would we do in this situation and in that situation?”  I sometimes live in hypotheticals that may never ever become a reality instead of focusing on what is true—-God is faithful; God promises to walk with me through everything; God loves me.  Dwelling on the truths of God’s promises instead of the questionable reality of our circumstances is our responsibility.  This discipline of taking “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” is what prepares our hearts to receive His perfect peace.

Paul gives us one final piece of this peace puzzle.  He says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:9).  Peace occurs when we follow God’s instructions.   We can’t choose to disobey God’s commands, live how we want to live, do what we want to do, and then wonder why our circumstances are difficult.  There are consequences to every choice and it’s by choosing righteousness—-doing what God would have us do—–that we enjoy the peace of God’s blessing.  Isaiah wrote, “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17).

Have you been longing for peace lately?  Maybe you’re in circumstances that have you fretful and anxious.  Maybe you are in the middle of tough decisions and you aren’t sure what to do.  Maybe you have taken a step out in faith and you are waiting in hopeful anticipation of what God is going to do.  Maybe you worry over whether you’re good enough at being a parent; are you making the right decisions, handling things the best way for your child?

I pray peace over you, a supernatural rest for your heart and mind.  Our God is faithful and trustworthy and you can relax knowing that He is the one doing the driving.  But, don’t neglect your responsibility to make yourself a vessel prepared to receive the peace He gives.  Are there some bad habits that you need to break, some misassumptions you need to relinquish?  Do you need to be more disciplined about your thought life and more in control of your emotions?  Do you need to cease the “what if’s” and put an end to planning out hypotheticals?  Do you need to change some of your behaviors and pursue righteousness instead?

It’s not necessarily going to be easy and it certainly won’t be a one-time event.  No, it’s a moment-by-moment choice to trust God or not, to rest in Him or take over from Him, to do it God’s way or to demand our own way, but in the yielding of our hearts, minds and choices there is God-given peace.

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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 © 2012 Heather King

Christmas Devotions: A Letter to a Savior

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”
(Luke 2:19)

I was eleven and my Bible Study teacher gave our class a homework assignment for Christmas break.

Write a letter to God, she said.  Make it a prayer, a rededication, an offering of my own treasures, not the gold, frankincense, and myrrh of wise men, but the very finest gifts I could lay at the feet of a worthy God.

It was my Christmas gift to Him.  I wrote it out on Christmas Eve, folded it up, tied it with a ribbon and placed it under the Christmas tree.

Two decades later, I have twenty years of Christmas Eve letters to God.  It’s my most intimate and holy Christmas tradition. This Christmas Eve, I fingered the packet of letters and marveled at God’s gracious work in me.

One of my “rules” is no peeking at the letters on any day of the year other than Christmas Eve.  Yet, on that one night a year, I can glance back at twenty years of me drawing near to God just as He drew near to us on the first Christmas of all.

Usually by about February each year I can see clear answers to the prayers I scribbled out on the page just months before.

Like the year I prayed that God would help me overcome my need to be a people-pleaser.  Within two weeks I had actually managed to run into the deck on the back of my house with my car.

Kind of hard to see that as an answer to prayer at the time, but that’s one embarrassment that will humble you and break you of some people-pleasing!

Be careful what you pray for!

Other years, when crazy life events are happening just a few weeks into the new year, I wonder, “Did I pray for this somehow?!”

In some ways, this prayer letter is my moment to lay gifts before the King as the wise men did.  It’s my recommitment to serve Him in a new year and place at His feet the deepest desire of my heart to give Him praise.  I offer Him my very life, noting the places He is already at work in my character and asking Him for spiritual growth so I can bring Him glory.

Like the angels, though, I am also praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Luke 2:14), as I give thanks and specific praise for the blessings of the year drawing to a close.

Then, like the shepherds, I turn my attention away from the busyness of work and daily life to see what God is doing in the heavens.  I write my letter to God at night after my daughters are asleep, the dishes are done, the gifts are wrapped and under the tree. There, in near-darkness, illumined almost solely by Christmas lights, I pray and write.

I look away from the “sheep” in my care, lift my eyes and attune my heart to hear the announcement of good news, of promises for the future and the certainty of promises fulfilled.  I dwell not just on what God has done or what He is doing, but what He will do in the new year.  What burdens has He placed on my heart?  What directions has He asked me to travel?  What steps of obedience has He asked me to take?

Mostly though, my Christmas letter is a moment to be like Mary, who after the shepherds came “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).  In the same way, she “treasured all these things in her heart” even when Jesus as a young boy became separated from his parents during their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Sometimes God’s work in our lives needs times of reflection and stillness.  What He reveals to us as we sit at His feet isn’t always meant for public announcements or official New Year’s resolutions, or campaigns or church-wide programs.

Sometimes God asks us to ponder and treasure, to reflect, pray, and wait for the appointed time.

So, I ponder.  I ask for God’s perspective on my marriage, my kids, my ministry and job and heart and mind.

Instead of monopolizing my conversation with an oh-so-patient God, I ask for His input.  Before I ever begin to write, I flip through my prayer journal and track the themes I see there.

How at times everything I read seems to be about grace.  Or prayer.  Or allowing Him to bring light into dark places. Or believing God for the impossible.  Or how He is a God who restores.

I follow the clear path of what He has already been doing in my life and then I join Him there in that place.  Yes, Lord, I pray, be at work here.  I will join You.  I will be submissive and receptive to what You want to do in me.

It’s too late for you to sit in the stillness of a Christmas Eve and write your own letter this year, but the new year is just days away.  What a perfect time to begin a holy and intimate tradition of your own.  A letter to Your Savior.

What gifts do you have to lay before the King?  What songs of thanks can you sing in the night?  What do you see in the spiritual places when you shift your focus off the physical daily routine of life?  What has God been doing in you and teaching you that you need to ponder in your heart?

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

Weekend Walk: 12/03/2011

Hiding the Word

My second Christmas memory verse for the season is one of my favorites.  When she talks with her cousin, Mary, for the first time about their pregnancies and the babies that they carry, Elizabeth exclaims:

  Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Luke 1:45

Scripture tells us in Luke 1:41 that the moment Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby she was carrying jumped in her womb and she “was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

That’s a powerful moment.  I think we overlook too often the fact that we Christians have the Spirit within us all the time, everywhere we go.  But, people before Christ’s resurrection and ascension did not.  Until that point, the Spirit fell upon particular people at certain times only for specific purposes.

So, imagine Elizabeth going about her daily business and then BAM, the rush of the Holy Spirit coursed through her being.  She can’t help but give God praise.  It just pours out of her in an instant.

Part of what she exclaims in this spontaneous worship and prophetic recognition that Mary was carrying the Messiah is the declaration that Mary was blessed because she believed the promises of God.

And so are we.  How blessed we are when we believe that God will fulfill His promises to us.

This is my verse for meditation and memorization this week.  I hope you’ll join me or choose one of your own!

Weekend Rerun

For Your Name’s Sake
Originally Published 03/04/2011

This morning, I filled my minivan up with gas and about choked on my bottled water when I saw the little rolling numbers climbing higher and higher.  I started imagining the what-if’s of our future like not being able to afford food for my children and my husband having to sleep at his office because we couldn’t afford the gas for him to commute.  Within a few seconds, I had my family out on the street with one pair of clothes each and no food.

So, I took one look at my total gas bill and marched inside the store and bought myself a caramel cream doughnut with chocolate frosting and a double chocolate milk.   I almost bought two doughnuts, but a little Holy Spirit self-control kicked in—thank goodness.

Many of the storms in our lives are simply the result of living in this sinful, messed up, broken world.  We can’t blame God for the crises we face.  It’s not God’s fault my gas bill each month is about half my mortgage.  Sometimes the storms we face are because we’ve sinned or have chosen to disobey God and now we’re facing the consequences.  Other times, Satan is at work, trying to discourage and defeat us with trial after trial.

Regardless of whether our difficulties are God-caused or God-allowed, we can trust that He’s always at work for our benefit and for His glory.

In the case of the disciples in Mark 6:45-52, just because they were in a storm, didn’t mean they were out of God’s will or that they had sinned.   It says, “Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida” (verse 45, NIV).  He intended for them to be out on that sea, facing the wind and waves.  Clearly, this particular storm served a purpose in their lives–two of the same purposes that God often has for our life storms.   He uses them to prepare us for our future and to show His glory.

Lessons for the Future

When the disciples faced their first storm on the sea in Mark 4:35-41, Jesus was in the boat with them the whole time, sleeping on a cushion in the stern.  At any time during the storm, they could reach over and wake Him up and that’s what they finally did.  The disciples exhausted their own resources and acknowledged that the storm was too much for them, so they “woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?'” (Mark 4:35-41).

But, this second storm in Mark 6:45-52 was different.  Jesus wasn’t physically in the boat with them.  He had stayed on the other shore and went off by Himself to pray.  So, when the storm got too much for the disciples this time, they couldn’t just do what they did before.   In this storm, they were physically alone.

Jesus uses this second storm to teach them that just because He wasn’t physically in the boat, doesn’t mean He was unaware of what they were facing or unable to save them.  This was a vital lesson for their future!  Every day brought them one step closer to the cross, to His resurrection and His ascension—to a time when they would have to live out everyday life without Jesus talking, walking and eating with them.  Without this lesson in this boat in the storm on the sea, the disciples wouldn’t have survived a single trial after Jesus left them.  They wouldn’t know how to withstand a storm without Jesus physically in their boat.

God doesn’t waste the experiences in our lives–the storms, the trials, the bad days, the annoyances, the interruptions.  All of it.  He can be at work in our lives, teaching us and growing our faith, transforming us to be more like Christ, comforting us so we can later comfort others, as long as we yield those moments to Him and willingly receive the lessons.

For His Glory

Not only can God use our every experience to teach and prepare us for the future, but He is also intentional about being glorified in our every circumstance.

In the case of the disciples, when Jesus walked across the water in the middle of the night and climbed into the boat with them, the storm ceased.  As you can imagine, the disciples “were completely amazed.”  I’d be amazed, too!  In the companion passage in Matthew 14:33, it says, “Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.'”

When God gives us too much to handle, it’s not so we feel defeated or broken or ashamed.  It’s not to humble us or make us fall.  God gives us too much so that we give everything to Him. Then, when He carries the burdens that force us to the ground, He is glorified.  People stand in amazement and see God in us and at work in our lives.  There is no question of whether “Heather did this amazing thing”—No, it can only be God.

That means that instead of praying for the miracles I think I need, I can tell God my problems and simply pray for Him to be glorified in every situation.  That’s not natural for an in-control, planning person like myself.  I am so tempted to pray for specific miracles when I go through tough times and tell the God of the Universe exactly how He can provide for my need.

Praise God that He shows me enough grace not to give me what I ask for!

I’ve slowly learned not to pray for the miracle I think I need, but to pray for God’s glory instead.  When David was surrounded by enemies and running for his life, he so often prayed for God to rescue him or save him for God’s glory and for the honor of God’s name.  In Psalm 31:3, he prayed, “For You are my rock and my fortress; Therefore, for Your name’s sake, Lead me and guide me.”

Whatever you are facing, you can trust God to know the perfect way to provide for you and to rescue you.  Give your problems to Him and ask Him, “Lord, be glorified in this situation.  Be amazing.  Be awesome.  For Your name’s sake, take me through this storm.  For the glory of Your name, rescue me.  Whatever brings You glory, Lord, that’s what I ask for.”

Today, I saw this kind of faith in a prayer from another family.  I don’t personally know the little girl, Kate McCrae, who is fighting metastatic brain cancer for the second time in her young life.  But, her story has touched my heart.  I pray for her all the time and I follow her family’s updates and prayer requests.  At the end of her post today, Kate’s mom wrote, “We continue to pray that Kate would be healed of this disease, and that Jesus would be glorified through our heartbreak.

What an example of faith for us.  Not many of us will face a crisis in this life as big as this family is facing and yet this hurting mom is willing to place everything in God’s hands and just ask that He be glorified.

Is my daily life too much for me to handle?  All the time.  Is Kate’s cancer too much for her family to handle?  It’s too much for any of us on this earth.  But absolutely nothing is too much for God, and so we hoist the burdens that are too heavy for our shoulders onto His back and let Him carry them and us as well—and then we give Him all the glory.

Please join me in praying for Kate McCrae as she begins radiation treatments for her cancer.  You can follow this link to learn more about her story.

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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