Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rest That's Soul-Deep for the New Year


     Come to me,
all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30

I enter the New Year celebrating an age-old truth freshly spoken into my heart by God through the Holy Spirit today.  It's a culmination of the "rest" theme He's been leading me gently into over the past few months.  I pray this message of rest will comfort and strengthen your hearts, as it has mine.

A version of the following message was originally published in the Far East Broadcasting Company's blog on December 11, 2013. I've added some thoughts here on hearing from God, another theme you will have noticed in some of my previous posts on this Joy blog.


"So much for your preachy Thanksgiving post last week about how we should thank God for the important things He does for us," I said to myself as I sat in church on Sunday morning.  We were preparing our hearts for communion, and I could not conjure up a spirit of thanksgiving for God's gracious gift of salvation to save my soul. 

It's really hard for me to admit this, but after sixty years of celebrating communion every month, it's sometimes difficult for me to come to the table with a fresh appreciation for what it all means.  I think one of our worst characteristics, as human beings, is our tendency to take good things for granted after we've had them for a while.  It keeps us from loving God as we should, and it steals our joy. But I have no idea how to keep it from happening.

So I sat there, feeling exactly the opposite of what I should be feeling as I "remembered the Lord's death until He comes."  Feeling nothing, except an uncomfortable burden of guilt as I realized how hard my heart was, and a tiny sliver of fear that sneaked in after the guilt.   

And then the Lord spoke to me. 

I want to try to describe how it happened, even though I can't do it adequately, because I've been thinking a lot lately about how God speaks.  I don't know if this is how He spoke to Abraham or not.  I know He used words with me.  He spoke them into my spirit somehow.  But when I try to remember them and write them down, they don't seem quite right. 

I know it was His "voice" because I recognize the spirit of Jesus in what He said, and also because of the overwhelming awesomeness of the realization that came.  The words had the ring of truth to them.

As I sat there feeling sad and guilty and afraid because of my insensitivity to His love, He said, "It's okay, Ginny."  

Translated into New Testament language He might have been saying, "Peace, be still," or "Let not your heart be troubled."

Then He told me why I should not be troubled.  He said,

Whether or not you feel gratitude for my broken body and shed blood has no effect on whether or not you're forgiven.  My broken body and shed blood have thoroughly redeemed you, and that redemption is a finished work.  You will always be forgiven, whether you ever thank me or not.  I didn't die for the appreciation.  I died for you, because I love you.  It's a given.  Nothing will ever change that.

He wasn't that wordy.  It takes a lot of inadequate human words for me to convey the total relief and freedom I felt when He spoke.  It was overwhelming.  It brought peace to my heart and tears of gratitude to my eyes.  That's why I know it was his "voice."

More and more I am realizing that the Christian life is not about what I am supposed to do for him, but what He has already done for me.  And continues to do.  And will continue to do, throughout eternity.

More and more I am learning to relax into His love, and every time I hear His voice I find it easier and easier to recognize.

Jennifer Dukes Lee writes a blog that I always find a real blessing.  I recommend her to you.  Her post today on New Years' resolutions mirrors this same message of rest.  

May God give you a heart full of peace and joy as you lean back into His boundless love and grace during the coming year.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What Was the Question Again?


Did you ever wonder how God's voice sounded to the ancients?  When the Bible says, "God spoke" to  
Abraham, how did Abraham know it was God speaking?

The Bible rarely tells us how the people of Old Testament times "heard" God speak.  It just says God spoke, and leaves it at that.  It's as if God assumes people would know He was speaking, and what He was saying, without any further explanation. 

But I don't always know, so God has obviously left an important piece of information out of the Scriptures.

Or maybe not.  Maybe there's something left out of my way of hearing God instead.  Maybe something is screwy with my way of perceiving reality, as hard to believe as that may be.

If I asked him, "Abraham, what made you think it was God speaking when you came up with that crazy idea that your descendants would outnumber the sands of the sea?" he would probably look at me like I was the crazy one.  He would call me a meshuggeneh. "What's the matter with you?" he'd say. "You got goyim ears or something?"

Yes.  I have goyim ears.  Ears that are more attuned to the science teacher, or the ivory tower academic, than to God.  Ears that have been trained to believe that only physical sounds that beat on those little bones in my head can connect me with reality.

I am sometimes amazed at how much my worldview is a product of the secular humanistic culture I live in.  Even as a follower of Jesus, one who spends time meditating and often believes God is speaking to me, I find it hard to trust what I think I "hear" from God. I have slipped into believing that only physical ears can hear, and that knowing is a brain/mind thing, and nothing else. 

In Job, the oldest book of the Bible, God asks a question: "Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? or who hath given understanding to the heart?"  (Job 38:36 KJV)

The answer is obvious.  And when I answer that question truthfully, the question I wanted to ask Abraham. . . what was it again?  That question is forgotten.  Makes no sense. 

It's not up to me to figure out how God speaks.  I'll leave that up to Him, and just listen with an open, trusting heart.  I'll let him slip his truth past my human understanding and place it gently into my inward parts.  That's the only place the Truth will do me any good anyway.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Four Steps to Finding True Rest


I'm finally beginning to listen, and I'm discovering, to my great delight, what God means when he tells me to rest.  

God's rest is not passive inactivity.  Instead, it's a deliberate action on my part that leads me into the center of His peace.  Here are four elements of God's rest that can revitalize us and bring fresh excitement into our walk with Him.

RELINQUISHMENT

Entering into God's rest involves, first of all, my relinquishment of my own agenda. 

Agendas are not intrinsically wrong.  God has an agenda.  The Bible is His revelation of His agenda, from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation.  His agenda is all about goodness and grace. 

My agenda rarely takes into account those two attributes, so it's often at cross- purposes with His.  My agenda centers around my needs and desires--my list of priorities--my "To Do" list.  That's why living according to my own rudderless agenda leaves me restless and frustrated.

To find true rest, I must put my agenda into His loving hands.  When He's finished the purification process, my agenda will be ready to be incorporated into into His perfect one. 

This relinquishment involves the same kind of active decision as the one I made when I gave myself to Him in the first place.  This day I deliberately choose to let go of my own understanding and commit my agenda to Him. 

EXPECTANCY

After I relinquish my agenda to Him, I must wait with expectant attentiveness for His revelation of His agenda for me.  I must listen for His voice.

The attentiveness must be deliberate, and I must be patient in the listening.  No quick prayer for guidance in the morning before I head off into a day's frenzied activity.  I must give him permission to tune my heart and mind to his, and then wait for Him to speak.  I can go as I wait, but if my going is not marked by rest, it's a sign that I'm not being truly attentive.

The attentiveness must also be expectant.  I must be convinced that God will speak.  I must lean into His voice.  

He may not speak immediately.  He sometimes has to wait until He has my full attention.  There are no shortcuts to hearing from God.  But when I do hear, the word I receive is well worth waiting for.  Waiting in expectation that He will speak is a joyful activity that leads me into true rest.

SATISFACTION

Only after I relinquish my agenda and take the time to listen to Him will I begin to discover that He, and only He, can satisfy my restless heart. 

The world is full of restless human beings who search frantically for satisfaction of their needs and desires in all the wrong places.  Their restless activity leads them away from God's rest down many different dead end roads--paths that ultimately result in addiction and despair.

Everything we need, and every good thing we desire, can only be found in the context of a deep, intimate relationship with God.  His agenda of goodness and grace leads to complete satisfaction, and nothing else will.

Realizing this, and relaxing into this reality, will lead us into a place of true rest.

TRUST

Trust in God is the foundation of true rest.  It's the bedrock attitude that will keep us at peace in the midst of the chaos that surrounds us in this crazy, frantically restless world. 

We who belong to Jesus can be completely at rest, all the time, because our lives are anchored in the eternal reality of the deep, unconditional love of a good, omnipotent God who is faithful and will never change.

In Proverbs 3:5 and 6, God admonishes us to embrace these four elements of true rest. 

To "trust in the Lord with all your heart" is the master key to finding rest. 

To relinquish our own agendas is to "lean not on your own understanding."

To recognize that He is the only one who completely satisfies is to "acknowledge Him in all your ways." 

And expectant attentiveness to his voice will allow Him to "direct your path."

Lord, teach us how to relax into You and so come to experience true rest.  Make us instruments through which You can lead broken people around us into Your rest as well.  We choose, this day, to make ourselves restfully available to you.  Accomplish Your good and gracious agenda through us, we pray.

P.S.  Here's a delightful example of what happens when we make ourselves restfully available to God.  An example of how He takes our agendas and incorporates them into His own.  It's an amateur video, which makes it all the more moving.