God Challenges Us
It is easy to be faithful to God when things are going well and we feel happy in our circumstances. However when our lives are in chaos and the people around us seem to be adding to our frustration or anxiety it is often more difficult to trust and rely on God. Although we may turn to God in our weakest moments and hope that He will make our problems go away, relieve our fears and anxieties and give us wisdom, too often we ultimately choose to rely on our own decisions and instincts to get us through. Part of the problem is that we do not receive instantaneous answers or solutions or God reminds us that we are either part of the problem, or even worse, most of the problem. What are we supposed to do with that?
As we discussed in the last post, I believe God does whatever it takes to help us become all that He designed us to be. Learning to trust God when things are not going the way you would like them to go is a challenge as well as a discipline. Honoring God with true humility when our flesh wants to blame someone else is another challenge. Yielding to these challenges allows us to grow into the person God wants us to be. As we learn to accept responsibility for our own failures or weaknesses and humbly ask God to help us change behaviors, habits or prideful beliefs we begin to understand what Christ is doing in our lives. It starts to make sense to us. It is through hearing, believing and accepting the truths which God presents to us that we are able to lean on Him with more and more consistency. You may not believe this now, but truth does bring with it a sense of freedom. Once we are able to honestly look at ourselves, or others, we gain the ability to see things through different eyes.
Whether our circumstances are caused by ourselves, others or life in general, the Lord will challenge us to patiently rely on Him for answers and wisdom. The next time you feel God speaking to you, take the time to listen to what He may be saying and ask Him to help you accept the truths presented to you with an open mind and heart.
God is a loving father. Therefore you will sometimes hear Him tell you things which you may not want to think about. Ultimately He will help you to see your real self. You will probably become more aware of your inner thoughts, your REAL inner thoughts...those which remind you of your self-pity, anger, envy or self-righteousness. God has a way of revealing your inner character, not to condemn you, but rather to help you initiate Godly change. Confronting your own weaknesses allows you to rely on the Lord's power and grace to help you change. In the process of change, comes transformation and transformation allows us to become more patient and grace filled with others because we are more aware of own shortcomings. Often God will ask you to look closely at yourself when you are in the midst of being angry or unhappy with other people in your life.
While the thought of having to confront your own weaknesses may sound unappealing, you will discover that Jesus has a wonderful way of revealing your faults while also continually reminding you of His constant love and desire to be with you. His voice will be gentle and comforting. His reminder of your flaws will be filled with compassion as He helps you understand why your behaviors hurt you or others. He offers you His strength and support and you know you can turn to Him when you find yourself caught up in those negative behaviors or thoughts.
Matthew 11:28-30 tells us:
28 “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
When you are listening for the voice of God, be open to hear what HE has to say. Ultimately we hope to become more like Him in order to shine His light onto others and to personally experience the peace He offers . A simple recap on one of the ways to discern the voice of God is;
when you find yourself hearing a gentle voice telling you to honestly look at your innermost thoughts and desires, and your negative tendencies become vividly apparent, it is probably God's way of urging you to turn to Him for comfort and the beginning of transformation.
Next post we will talk about how God challenges us.
Discerning the Voice of God
What a dilemma we put ourselves in! We pray, we hear a voice or sense something out of the ordinary, and instead of trusting God, we find ourselves doubting whether God can or is responding to us, and then we wonder whether it is simply our own voices running through our mind. You are not alone! At some point we all do that, but rest assured you are in good company! Take a minute to read 1 Samuel 3:2-10 .
I find it both interesting and comforting to know that Samuel, a great prophet of the Old Testament, did not recognize the voice of the Lord when he first heard Him speak. Perhaps you, like Samuel do not recognize the Lord's voice when He speaks to you.
There is a download on the sidebar entitled " 10 ways to Discern the Voice of God" (please look at that when you have a moment.). Today we will discuss the first three on that list and in the next few weeks, we will continue.
First let me tell you that Jesus is not going to sit right in front of you and tell you the things he wants you to know, but He will use your mind, which He created to speak words of truth to you. Remember,ultimately the only way God CAN speak to you is through your mind. So let's begin to figure out how you can become familiar with His voice.
(#1, 2 and 3 go hand in hand.)
#1. You hear or sense something that YOU never would have thought of on your own.
This is important because we are often seeking answers when we pray. Many times our so-called solutions are not practical at all, but rather solutions which are ultimately designed to benefit ourselves. When you truely turn to the Lord, you may immediatly find wonderful solutions which had never occured to you or you may discover unlikely (or unwelcome!) answers or solutions. The Lord will show you His way. While sometimes His ways are hard to accept or understand, in the long run you will most likely be pleasantly surprised by His wisdom!
#2. The words are spoken with love and gentleness.
God will not speak harshly to you. Even when He is telling you things you do not want to hear, He does it with a gentle hand and heart. (I have found this to be a wonderful lesson in humility). He has a way of letting you know that while you may have disappointed Him, or done something wrong, He still loves you dearly. You will begin to know and sense that He is with you and will continue to be with you as you follow His course.
#3 The words are truthful.
God will ONLY speak truth to you. He will NEVER say something to you that is against His will. This is clearly one way to distinguish between the words of the Lord and the words of Satan. Without getting into another topic I would simply suggest that when you open yourself up to hear the Lord, you should remember that the prince of this world would like nothing more than to interfere and distract you from drawing closer to Jesus.
Remember that while you may not like everything the Lord asks you to do, ultimately, in your heart, you will know they are things which are morally correct and filled with grace, compassion and love. That is His way. He does not deviate from His character.
Finally, for today, I would simply encourage you to trust the Lord. He can and will speak to you in some way if you patiently wait and believe in His power and understand His deep desire to be in a relationship with you.
In the next week, if you hear His voice or sense His presence, enjoy it. Believe it. Trust it. Stop analyzing and questioning everyting. Allow Him to be with you and allow Him to guide you. You will be so surprized at what you begin to discover!
Last week we discussed the importance of finding a place to quiet your mind. It is in this place where you can learn to discover the Lord's presence in your life. If you tried the excercise last week, you most likely will have discovered how alive your senses can be while using your imagination. Generally people find themselves feeling relaxed and calm when they allow themselves to rest in their "quiet place"
If you regularly practice quieting your mind, you will find it easier and easier to quickly "get" to this place. Once you are comfortable with relaxing and enjoying the images, you can simply invite Jesus to join you or ask Him to allow you to feel His presence. While asking Jesus to join you may help you to become better positioned to look for Him or listen for His voice, the reality is that too often all of us forget the Lord is already with us all the time. The problem is not that He has left us, or He does not understand what we are going through or what we are feeling; the problem is that WE have forgotten the Holy Spirit LIVES within us and is ALWAYS with us. Therefore one of the benefits of quieting our minds and becoming aware of our senses is that it allows us to begin to experience the reality of the Lord's presence in our daily lives.
There is no magic formula or any specific way to ask the Lord to make His presense real for you. I can only suggest you speak from your heart. Perhaps you may want to simply ask Him to let you feel His presence, or maybe you will choose to ask Him if there is something He wants you to know. Maybe He needs you to confront something that is uncomfortable for you, or maybe He just wants you to feel the peace He offers by just being with Him.
It doesn't matter. What matters is that you are waiting on Him and eagerly looking forward to forming and/or enhancing your relationship with Him. If you are committed to listening and waiting, I am certain you will begin to not only feel His presence, but you will begin to recognize His voice.
All of this leads to one of the most common questions pertaining to prayer and "listening". That question is: "If I hear something, how will I know if it is God?" Next week we will discuss "Discerning the voice of God".
The following comment was posted after last week, and I felt it was important enough to share the response in case anyone else had the same question. Here was the question:
When you say that we are to ask God to meet our needs when they are not being met by the people we love, it sounds like you're saying that we're to look to people first to meet our needs and go to Him second.
First I want to thank you for your comment. I always appreciate feedback. I did not mean we should first look to people to meet our needs and then go to God if that doesn’t work out.
We should first look to God to meet our needs in this world, to recognize our ultimate worth and to realize as much as we are able; just how much He loves us. Realizing how much we are loved and valued by Him will ultimately MEET OUR MOST PRESSING NEED as God fills the void in our being which longs for that special love only He can provide.
However God created marriage and families. Friendships evolved out of His creation. We are surrounded by relationships and in our marriages, friendships and even in our work environments we grow to depend on people to
help us through life issues. Our immediate families are generally the ones we hope and expect to support us emotionally and physically and to be there through the ups and downs of life. We do look to people to help us meet our needs but that is secondary to turning to Jesus in order to allow Him to meet our ultimate needs.
In a perfect world, relationships would model the character of Christ and surround us with grace, and love.
However inasmuch as we live in a fallen world, relationships tend to disappoint us at times. Some of those disappointments are due to unrealistic expectations we have of people in our lives. Others are simply due to selfish motives or characteristics. Too often we tend to forget that WE disappoint people in our lives as well. As good as any
relationship may be, we must remember we are all sinful. Therefore none of us can be selfless enough on a regular basis to meet all the needs of another person. Our families or friends can not and will not always make us happy.
It is in those moments when we find ourselves disappointed by people we love, that we need to turn to Christ.
When we have been hurt by someone, or are angry at someone’s actions, or feeling overwhelmed, unsupported or unloved, turning to Jesus allows us to gain a clearer perspective on things. Turning to the Lord will remind us that our basic needs can ultimately only be met by Him, who truely loves us unconditionally.
If you purposefully find the time to be silent and wait to see what His response will be, I believe you will discover some degree of patience , grace and understanding for those people who have disappointed you. You may discover some of your own accountability in the event but ultimately you will KNOW and FEEL that despite anything that happened, Jesus is RIGHT THERE FOR YOU and RIGHT THERE WITH YOU.
When you can learn to run into the arms of Jesus whenever life and people are getting you down, or when you feel completely overwhelmed, you will begin to discover a freedom that I do not think is available to you anywhere EXCEPT in the presence of our Lord.
Going to a "Quiet Place" to pray
Matthew 6:6 tells us, "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret..."
Mark 1:35, "In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there."
The Bible tells us that when we pray we should intentionally find a place where we can be alone with God. We need to find a place where we can be free to share everything with Jesus. We want a place where we can cry out to the Lord in anger, grief or sorrow and be comfortable shedding tears in front of Him or expressing our deepest fears regardless of how foolish we think they are. We need to find a place where we can humbly ask God to meet our needs when they are not being met by the people we love. We need a place where we can shout with joy and thankfulness when we feel so grateful to Him for all of the blessings He has given us. We need to find a place where we can be vulnerable and transparent before God.
One of the greatest blessings we have in being able to talk privately with the Lord is that we can do it without worrying about feeling embarrassed, judged or uncomfortable. Guess what...He already knows what we're feeling anyway..we may as well let Him hear it from us! It is only by humbly coming before Him and sharing with Him our innermost thoughts that we can begin to establish a meaningful relationship with Him.
Where do I begin??? First, you need to find that quiet place. Some of you may actually be able to FIND a quiet place: a park, a room in your house or a spot in your yard. Unfortunatly, it is often too difficult to focus on God when we are close to home or near anything that reminds us of our "to-do lists"
Many of you may need to use your minds and imaginations to create a quiet place.
Last week we talked about using your imagination in prayer. Today I want to help you experience how your imagination can lead you to a quiet place with God.
Try this experiment. Sit down somewhere where you will find the least amount of distractions, take a few breaths and relax. Close your eyes and think about a place where you either have been or might imagine that is peaceful to you. It could be anywhere. There is not a right or wrong place, it is simply a place that YOU experience as peaceful. Allow yourself to imagine the sights, sounds, scents and things that you feel (such as the wind hitting your face, or the ground toucing your feet). Make a mental note of these things and then notice how this place makes you feel emotionally. How are you feeling physically... relaxed? calm? warm? cool?
The purpose of this exercise is to make you very aware of your physical and emotional responses that occur when you intentionally use your imagination to create images of something that is not physically present. Becoming aware of these responses will allow you to be more attuned to the things and ways in which God will meet you.
Similarly, finding that quiet place will allow you to learn to focus more on the Lord and less on "all those other things you need to do today". Next week we will discuss the topic of discovering the Lord's presence in your quiet place.
Sometimes the concept of using imagination and visualization in prayer makes people uncomfortable because they are concerned it has a "New Age" or "Eastern Religion" component to it. Please open the articles on the side bar which address those questions. I am confident that the use of contemplation and visualization in our prayer lives is not only Biblical but something which has been used throughout the history of Christianity. Please feel free to post any thoughts or comments you may have.
Some of you may be wondering what I meant when I said you should use your imaginations when you pray. If you think about how you live your life, you use your imagination constantly. For instance, if you want to think about someone you love, you imagine them, or you may picture a past event clearly in your mind, While you may think of that as a memory, which it may be, you can only re-create it by using your mind and imagination. Your mind may recall the memory but it is your imagination which allows you to "see" what is happening. Obviously the person is not with you at that moment or the event is not happening in real time, so whatever you find yourself absorbed is in in part, due to your imagination.
Similarly when you think about the possiblity of future events, your "imagine" them in your mind. You use your imagination to create thoughts of pleasant things happening; a vacation, a night alone with your spouse or child or a time when you can relax and read a book or go for a walk. You may also find yourself imagining things which you find fearful. You may find yourself thinking about something negative occuring resulting from a bad choice you may have made or you may imagine something terrible happening to someone you love. With those thoughts come vivid images; some peaceful, pleasant and exciting while others may be troublesome and anxiety producing.
The point is, whether or not we are aware of it, we are constantly using our imaginations to think, process things and make decisions. Why should we expect our imaginations to leave us when we pray?
If you want to have a relationship with Jesus, you have to allow yourself to use your mind and imagination in order to feel His presence. While you can not "see" Him physically, he is present with you. Just as thoughts of someone you love can provide you with an immediate sense of calm, thoughts of Jesus will begin to produce the same sense of calm in your life. Over time you will begin to sense not only His presense but His direction and His deep love for you.
Allowing yourself to spend time with Jesus and patiently waiting for Him to "speak" to you takes practice, time and patience. For many of you, this will be a new experience which may make you feel awkward or simply uncomfortable. As you begin this new way to pray, do not get discouraged and do not get mad at yourself when you find it hard to concentrate or when you get distracted. You WILL get distracted!!
Next post we will talk about different ways to get started with this type of prayer. In the meantime, if you feel comfortable, try to take a little time at the end of your prayer time and just quietly sit and perhaps ask God if He has anything He wants to let you know. For now, just see what happens.
I can assure you of one thing. Even if you think nothing happens, SOMETHING is happening, because at that moment, you are telling God you have enough faith in Him to know He is there with you. By your requests and patience you are showing Him it is important for you to reach out to Him in order to experience this real relationship you keep hearing about. Believe me, THAT is pleasing to our Lord!
Too often we tend to think the more we know, the more we will change. Unfortunately, that is not really true. Gregory Boyd says in his book "Seeing is Believing" , "contemporary Western Christians are as a whole arguably the most informed generation of Christians in all of church history. Yet no one would be so foolish as to suggest that we are the most transformed; to the contrary, research suggests the faith of American evangelicals has very little effect on our day-to-day lives".
Why is this...because knowing something intellectually will never replace "experiencing" something.
There are many people who believe, as do I, that part of the reason for this lack of transformation is that we do not use our imaginations when praying or relating to God. Unfortunatly, too often we equate the imagination with a child-like perception of reality and associate it with a make-believe world. However throughout the Bible Jesus speaks to us in parables so that we are able to understand what He is trying to tell us; He purposely gives us images in order to allow us to understand who He was and still is. ie: the rock (psalm 18:2, psalm 62:6-7); the shepard (Isaiah. 40:11,
John 10:14) etc. These images must be processed through our imagination.
He created our minds and our imaginations, yet when it comes to relating to Him, we set our imagination aside and revert to our human-ness as we tend to become rational and methodical in our prayer life. We need to change our thinking and allow ourselves to let our minds and imaginations flow freely in order to begin to relate to the invisible God who is waiting to spend time with us. I believe God wants us to use our imaginations so that we are able to draw nearer to Him and begin to EXPERIENCE transformation.
Are you thinking "I pray, I read my Bible, I go to church and attend a Bible study...does that mean I have a relationship with Jesus?" One question you may want to ask yourself is "When is the last time I prayed, and then stopped to listen and hear what God might be saying?"
Unfortunately, many of us do not really understand what it means to pray. Prayer is meant to me a dialogue, not a monologue and our relationship with Jesus has to incorporate room for both you and He to interact together.
Oswald Chambers, author of "My Utmost for His Highest" says "The point of prayer is not to get answers from God, but to have oneness with Him"
We need to learn how to take the time to be still and to patiently wait on God. We will begin to explore this in the next post.
Prayer; Relationship; Healing past wounds; Letting go of guilt, shame and fears; Resting in His presence; Experiencing His peace; Hearing His voice; Sensing His guidance. He is waiting to share all of this with you. He is waiting for you to come to Him with all of your heart, mind and soul..and when you do..you WILL experience freedom, love and peace in the most extraordinary way. Please join us on this journey.We look forward to all of your comments, questions, testimonials and thoughts as we look to honor and glorify Jesus as not only our Lord and Savior but truly, as the very best friend we can or ever will have.
Join us and EXPERIENCE Jesus as you never have before!
I believe there is nothing in this world which can more positively impact or change our lives than a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
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