The Weight of Words

Words have weight– I’m not talking about thousand-page novels or multi-syllable legalese terms– some words simply weigh heavier on the mind and heart than others.  Some everyday words spill out like dust motes carried on a light breeze.  They hang suspended in midair, without any set purpose or destination, and finally settle, forgotten, until someone sweeps them away.  Other words explode, sending shards and pellets at unwary targets.  Some words thunder like falling rocks in an avalanche of guilt or anger or hatred.  And some rare and precious words have the weight of a quilt or a hug, or an arm lifting you up when you are falling.

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One of the amazing things about prayer is that as we pour out our words before the Savior, the weight of our words is lifted off our hearts and minds and given to him to carry– the weight of the guilt, the weight of worry, the weight of grief, the weight of anger, the weight of hurt.  Not only does God take on the weight of our words (and our pain and guilt), but he makes sense of it all– maybe not instantly, or in the way we imagine– but he brings order and goodness out of our chaos and burden.

 

 

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And those everyday words swirling around like dust fall into the light, where they shine like gold dust in His presence.  When we bring everything to God, he transforms it; he transforms us.

 

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Our words have weight in prayer.  And our words to others have weight, as well.  Today, I want to weigh my words carefully.  Are my words burdening others, or helping them lift a load of care?  If I had to carry the weight of my words– my criticisms and clever put-downs, my accusations and angry tantrums, my bragging and comparisons– would I be dragging them behind me with joy and pride?  What if, instead, my words were filled with the weight of shared laughter, encouragement, hope, and compassion?  What if my words held the weight of truth and kindness and peace?pexels-photo-210012.jpeg

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Prayers From the Cockpit

Years ago, a decorated fighter pilot, Robert Scott, wrote a book with the title, “God is My Co-Pilot.”  It was made into a movie, and the title became a  popular phrase for bumper stickers, posters, and more.

Theatrical trailer for “God Is My Co-Pilot” –youtube

More recently, there have been several people who have spoken out against the catch-phrase, by saying something to the effect of ,”If God is your co-pilot, someone is sitting in the wrong seat!”  I mean no disrespect to Mr. Scott, the book, the movie, the bumper stickers or the critics, but I think both sentiments kind of miss the point.

There is a much better analogy in the title of an lesser-known book by another pilot.  Pilot and high school basketball coach Floyd Eby wrote a book called “Calling God’s Tower– Come In, Please.”

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I’m not a pilot or a coach, and I’m not claiming that Scott’s title is bad.  Certainly, when I pray, I believe that God is always right beside me, that he hears me, and that he knows my thoughts and my heart intimately.  I think that is the intent of the co-pilot analogy, and as such, it rings true.  But God is much more than a partner, a co-pilot, or a colleague.  The other danger of this thinking is that we take God for granted.  If God is my co-pilot, I won’t turn to him for help unless something is going wrong and “my way” isn’t working.

So what about “switching seats?”  Shouldn’t God be my pilot?  He is God and I’m not.  It is true that this represents a better view of God’s authority and sovereignty.   It is also true that God is greater, stronger, and wiser than I am.  But I think this view, though more accurate in portraying our position, gives rise to another dangerous idea– that I can sit back and be little more than a passenger, while God does all the flying.  One of the valid criticisms of modern Christianity (especially in America), is that we know about Christ, and talk about Christ, but we don’t always live for Christ.  We see the finished work of Christ as an excuse to sit back, smug and complacent about morality, evangelism, obedience, and good works.  We shout “Jesus Paid it All!” and mumble “All to Him I Owe.”  We want to sit in the cockpit for the pretty view, but we don’t want to learn how to fly the plane.

God has given us the privilege and the responsibility to be the pilots (or drivers, or captains) of our lives–he gives us the free will to make choices and steer our behavior or actions.  We are not helpless passengers on a fatalistic trip through this life.  He has equipped us to know the thrill of soaring and banking and flying through the clouds.  But God doesn’t leave us to fly blindly through the haze and clouds and glare.  He gives us his word, which, like a map, chart, instrument panel, or GPS system, shows us where and how we should go.  And, like the air control tower, he gives extra guidance, listens to our needs, and provides assurance as we stay tuned to him.

God also sees and knows more than we do in our cockpit.  When I call on him, he knows all that goes on above and below, ahead and behind– he knows about the storms in the distance or the other planes scheduled to arrive or take off from the airport.  I can trust his advice, his commands, and his presence more than my own judgment or eyesight.

I want to learn how to fly; I want to soar like an eagle, and I want to come in for a safe landing at the end of my journey.  I need to keep in constant contact with God’s tower and follow his wise flight plan.

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What’s Your Destination?

Recently, my husband and I took a weekend trip.  We had a destination in mind, but had to decide on a route.  Looking it up on the computer, we were given an estimated distance and travel time based on a programmed route that was found to be the “fastest.”  However, this route was not necessarily the shortest, or the most scenic, or the safest.  Knowing our destination, my husband was able to reconfigure the program to map out a route that fit our needs.  It got us to the correct destination, and allowed us to travel safely, leisurely, and confidently.

After we reached our initial destination, we decided to take a side trip.  Since we hadn’t counted on taking the side trip, we didn’t have a route.  We relied on the same technology, but, not knowing our exact destination, we typed in a general location and followed the instructions we were given.  We missed an important exit and had to reconfigure…we changed our plans and had to reconfigure…we misspelled the name of the new destination and were sent miles out of our way before we realized what had happened…we ran into an unexpected detour which sent us more miles out of our way.

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Knowing your destination, and having a good map or set of directions can make a huge difference.  We still had an enjoyable trip, but we might have been able to do more if we had planned a little better–one of the places we decided to visit had just closed by the time our reconfigured driving directions got us there!   And we might have been able to cut several miles off of the detour route if we knew the local roads better (it didn’t help that our map application wasn’t working at the critical moment, either!)

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In life, there are many “programs” that offer advice, direction, and focus to get us to a destination.  There are weight-loss programs, “life coaches,” self-help books, universities, “mindfulness” seminars, even religions that promise to guide us along a particular path.  But if we don’t have a clear destination in mind, we can end up wandering down a detour or even a dead end.  What started out with such promise becomes a maze of questions, unmet expectations, and frustrating twists and turns.

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So what is my destination in pursuing prayer?  Where do I want to end up at day’s end?  In a year?  When I face the end of my life (if God chooses to let me see the end approaching)? I want to experience the kind of prayer life that honors God, deepens my relationship with Him, and has an impact.  There are many “paths” of prayer– but they have different destinations.  Meditation, recitation, fasting and praying, praying corporately or in isolation–I need to map out a course that will get me to the goal.  And I need to rely on the guidance provided by the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and godly counselors and teachers.

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Turn, Turn, Turn

Back in the 1960s, Pete Seeger “wrote” a new folk song, later recorded by a group called The Byrds.  All but the title and the last six words of the song were taken directly (though the word order was changed) from the book of Ecclesiastes.  Essentially, Pete Seeger wrote seven words and some music; the rest was written by King Solomon almost three thousand years ago!  Learn more about the song here…

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When God created the world, he instituted times and seasons– day and night; winter and summer; weeks and months.  We are bound by time while we live here.  Sunlight and darkness help determine when we are active or sleeping (less so since the advent of electric lighting); summer and winter (or rainy/dry seasons) determine when we plant or harvest, what we wear, how we travel, and what activities we plan.

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But Solomon reminds us that there are also “seasons” that don’t depend on the weather or the amount of light filling the horizon.  There is a time to be born and a time to die; a time for laughter and a time for weeping; a time for war and a time for peace.  Our world is not static– it is filled with changes, and times for turning away from one thing and facing another.

Our prayers will change with these seasons– prayers of wonder and prayers of wondering why; prayers of great boldness and reluctant, halting prayers; prayers that come from joy, and those that come with wracking grief.  There will be seasons of chaotic busyness, and seasons of loneliness and long hours; seasons when we help lift the burdens of others before our own, and seasons where others help us lift burdens we cannot bear alone.  There will be seasons of fierce, pounding spiritual warfare, and seasons of relative peace and rest.

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Solomon lays out the concept, but I like Pete Seeger’s addition of the phrase, “turn, turn, turn.”  It reminds me that the seasons of my life will change, but I need to change as well.  I need to turn, first of all, to see where God is working in my life and the lives of others– that’s where I need to be and where I need to be focused.  God will never leave me nor forsake me, but He loves me too much to “leave” me in a rut– He needs me to move on and finish the race He has set out for me.  Change can be difficult, but without it, there is no growth!

Second, I need to turn from habits and activities that are “out of season”–young parents will have a completely different way of mapping out their time, including time for prayer and Bible study, than empty-nesters.  People in mourning will have a different approach to prayer and worship than those who are in a season of celebration.  There is a season to break down–to end bad relationships and turn from bad habits–and a time to build up healthy relationships and habits.  There is a time to speak– to share prayer requests and spend time in corporate prayer; to ask questions and persist in our requests.  But there is also a time to stay silent– to meditate and listen more than we talk; to be still and know, instead of pace and ponder.  I don’t wear a heavy coat in the middle of summer or run barefoot in the snow– I need to turn in alignment with the season I am passing through.

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Finally, I need to turn away from temptation and sin.  God gives me the power, through His Spirit, to turn and walk away from the quicksand of complaisance, the tidal waves of desire, the live wire of unchecked rage, or the bottomless pit of envy, but I must turn away from them.

This life is full of seasons and change– some good, some dangerous.  But God is outside of time and seasons.  He provides endless variety, but He never changes His essential nature.  No matter where we turn, He can be found!

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Where’s the Joy?

I love puns– friends from all over the world send me the craziest puns, “punny” images, silly videos, and awful jokes.  Except for those that are patently offensive and find their humor at someone else’s expense, I really enjoy them all.

Someone has said that puns are the lowest form of humor, but I disagree.  In fact, I often find that puns, like humor in general, can cause us to explore a serious topic in ways we would otherwise avoid.  The image above tickled my funny bone, but it also caused me to think.  Where is my Joy?  Do I bottle it up and hide it down in my cart, or does it bubble up, iridescent and smelling of sunshine (and possibly lemons) from deep down in my heart?

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Prayer is a serious topic, but it shouldn’t be joyless.  Even in our troubles, we can be confident that we are loved, cherished, and precious.  In our grief and sorrow, we are not overwhelmed (though it often feels as if we are) when we have this kind of joy.  It will wash away despair, anger, doubt, and weariness, as it rises up.  We pray for so many other things– health, wisdom, forgiveness– we should also pray for Joy.  Not the false and fleeting joy of a silly pun, or the veneer of joy that lies and says that “everything is great.”  We need the kind of joy that sings through tears, laughs at storms, defies despair, and shakes the rafters!  And we need the quiet, blessed assurance that God is in His Heaven and even if all is not well with the world, God still has everything well in hand. Such joy, lodged deep in our heart and soul can keep us from buckling under the weight of loss, the exhaustion of stress, and the threat of chaos.  We need a new “Dawn” of “Joy” (yes, I had to include another pun). We need to pray for joy. We need to cherish it.  And we need to pass it on.

The world could really use it!

Full Disclosure

I like to know things–I like to solve puzzles, figure out mysteries, learn trivial facts.  I want answers.  So when I go before God in prayer, I often ask questions.  Why is this person suffering?  When will their suffering end, and how?  Where were you in this disaster (as though God had stepped out for a minute and wasn’t aware of what happened)?

God stays silent.

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I can grow frustrated in the silence or I can learn to trust.  That doesn’t mean that I no longer want answers; just that I am willing to wait on God’s sovereign timing.  It also means that I am need to more about God’s nature–God doesn’t keep secrets or withhold knowledge because He wants to torment me, or frustrate me, or play some cosmic mind game (though some people accuse Him of doing just that).  God withholds full disclosure of His plans, His reasoning, and His nature out of love and compassion.  Suppose I could see into the future, even give out warnings, but had no power to stop disaster from coming.  Not only would I be haunted by the disaster itself, but by the full knowledge of its coming.  Suppose I could see a miracle in advance; know when and how it would unfold.  There would still be joy, but it would be muted by the foreknowledge– of course there would be a happy ending; of course there would be a miracle– I saw it all from afar off.

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The Apostle Paul touches on this in 1 Corinthians, chapter 13.  This is commonly known as the “Love Chapter”, and the first half is frequently quoted at weddings and church sermons.  But the end of the chapter is a wonderful message of hope and faith, ending with Paul’s triumphant statement about all three:

1 Corinthians 13:8-13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

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God loves us with a perfect love.  Because of that, I can trust Him, and have hope in the midst of my questioning.  So when I pray with questions, I can know that God has “filed them away”– He is fully aware of my situation, questions and all, and He is fully faithful to answer them all in His perfect wisdom and timing.  Someday, I will know– not only all that I don’t know now, but why I had to wait.

God will provide full disclosure. with compassion, love, and wisdom that only He can give.

Where Your Treasure Is…

Our church held a hymn-sing and ice cream social last Sunday.  It was an informal evening service, but we heard testimony of the power of hymns to shape our worship, and to help us remember scripture’s promises.  We also had the chance to just “call out” a favorite hymn to sing together.  We probably sang 15 or 20 hymns that night, and each one had special meaning to many in the congregation.  We treasure certain songs, certain verses, certain stories– they feed our soul, encourage our heart, steel our thoughts, and pour balm on our wounds.

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One hymn we didn’t sing the other night, though it is a favorite of many, was “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”  Sweet Hour of Prayer– lyrics and much more here  In getting ready to post for today, I thought about this hymn.  We treasure the thought of prayer being sweet and bringing relief, but do we treasure prayer enough to spend an hour or more at it?  If I add up the time spent in morning prayers of devotion, grace at mealtime, evening prayers, and “quick thoughts to heaven” throughout the day, it probably adds up to an hour…but I spend more time writing about prayer each day than I actually spend practicing it.  And when was the last time I got so caught up in prayer that I lost track of time and spent over an hour at it in one sitting?

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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that we should not lay up treasures for ourselves on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21 KJV)  This is true of our material treasures, but also our spiritual treasures, our thought treasures, and our time.  When I hear “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” one of my first thoughts is always, “That would be nice, but I don’t have an hour to spend praying– I’d never get anything done!”  But would I have said that about watching my favorite TV show?  Spending an hour on Facebook or shopping at my favorite store?

God is beyond time– he’s not counting the hours, minutes or moments we spend with Him.  But he feels our absence and our distraction just the same.  He isn’t trying to pull us away from important things to waste our time– he wants to pull us away from the things that weigh us down, worry us, haunt us, and eat up the precious time He has given us.

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I have found that when I feel “too busy” to spend time with Jesus, it’s a good time to pause and make time for prayer.  When I do (and it’s not as often as I should), three things happen:

  • I want more!  That time refreshes me, calms my spirit, and removes the burden of  worries, failures, and frustrations.
  • I accomplish more–maybe it’s a case of God re-ordering my other priorities; maybe he just gives me the power to work more efficiently; maybe it’s a miracle–but I find that the “time crunch” I worried about seems to melt away.
  • Jesus becomes “more” to me– I grow closer to Him, and closer to the person He created me to be.

Walk This Way

There is an old comedy/vaudeville gag, where a character enters a stately home, or an office, or arrives at an  important event.  They are greeted by a “straight man” character, who tells them to “walk this way”.  The “straight man” then turns and begins walking in a manner that uses exaggerated mannerisms.  The comedic character doesn’t just follow in the general direction of the other character– s/he imitates the exaggerated mannerisms as well.

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In the last of three prayers from the song, “Day by Day” (see last Friday and Saturday), I want to explore how to “follow Thee more nearly.”

I have this quibble with the song lyrics– I know that “nearly” rhymes with “clearly” and “dearly”, but it is not grammatically correct, as it implies that I almost, not quite, but nearly want to follow Jesus, instead of saying that I want to follow Him more closely, or become a better reflection of His character.  That said, I sometimes think that I fall into the comedic trap of thinking that “walk this way” merely means following Christ with exaggerated mannerisms– I follow “more nearly” when I should be following more closely.

Years ago, a good friend of mine suggested that I read a book called “God On a Harley” (Review and summary here)  It is a fable, and an interesting read.  I don’t recommend it for theological content (the Christ it presents is more of a New-Age life coach, not a Messiah), but I’m glad I read it for two reasons:  It challenged my conventional view of Jesus, and it challenged the way I thought about discipleship.  At the time I was reading the book, I was also considering making some big changes in my life– changing careers, moving away from my home town, and trusting God to be “sufficient” in my singleness and lack of guaranteed income.

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When we talk or think about Jesus’ time on Earth, we generally focus on His birth, His miracles, His death, and His resurrection.  We don’t usually think of His everyday life…where He ate or slept or how He lived.  If He were to walk among us today, He wouldn’t appear like the paintings we see– flowing long blond hair (which has always been inaccurate), white robe and sandals.  He might wear a T-shirt and jeans, ride the bus or subway train, and hang out at Starbucks or the corner convenience store.  Jesus didn’t live in a “holy huddle.”  And, though He famously walked on water, He mostly walked the streets.  He lived and walked and ate and spent His days among ordinary people–in fact, it was His willingness to eat with and talk to the marginalized, the forgotten, the ostracized people of Him time, that got Him in trouble with the religious leaders and those in power.

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I don’t think Jesus in our time would be a tattooed, beer swilling, biker– but I’m convinced that He would be found sharing a story or a pizza  with one; and with the kinds of people many of His “followers” would shun.  The Jesus I want to follow “more nearly” is Holy, but He is not “Holier-than-thou.”  I can’t follow Jesus more nearly if I’m following an image that only exists in a picture or my self-righteous imagination.   In my youth, I had a picture of what “following Christ” looked like– but it was more about following expectations and selfish desires– successful career, marriage, giving to the “right” charities, becoming a pillar of the community.  There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but if God calls me to serve in humble (even humiliating) ways, doing thankless tasks, and spending time, not helping the needy at my convenience, but truly serving– pouring out my time and my heart until only His strength keeps me going–I have learned the joy and honor that transcends anything I once imagined.

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I’m not a biker, but I love the image of Jesus on a motorcycle, asking me to come along for a ride.  If I want to follow Him “more nearly,” I couldn’t come up with a better metaphor.  If Jesus came and asked me to ride off with Him on a Harley, several things would happen that relate to discipleship:

  • First, I have to commit.  You can’t “sort of” ride along — you either get on the bike or you stay behind. You might know all about the motor, you might know how to ride, you might know the traffic laws, you might even watch a video of someone riding, but you won’t experience the horsepower under you, the wind in your face, the road slipping away behind you.  The same is true of the Christian life.  You can know about God; own a Bible– even memorize it; you can sing God’s praises, all without experiencing a relationship with Him.  But you’ll never know the full power of His grace and acceptance until you commit.
  • Part of that commitment is to be willing to go when and where He’s going…you can’t go on the ride and stay at home.  You can’t go two hours after He does.  And that brings me to–
  • Trust!  You won’t get on the bike if you don’t trust His ability to drive and His wisdom in knowing how and where to go.  Once you’re on the bike, hanging on from behind, you can’t see all of the road ahead.  You can’t steer or hit the brakes.  In my own experience, I ended up leaving teaching after seven years with no “safety net.”  I had no job waiting in the wings, no money saved up, and no “plan” other than to take whatever honest work I could find and follow God’s leading.  I learned by experience that I can trust God’s ways to be better than mine; better than my expectations!
  • Riding together takes teamwork.  Just because God is doing the driving and steering doesn’t mean that I just sit back and watch the scenery (though I can do a lot of that, too).  If I’m not paying attention at curves, intersections, stops, turns, etc., I can throw everything off-balance.
  • Riding together, with my arms wrapped around Him is the closest I can “follow” Jesus.  It’s not about what I know, or what I can “do” for God– it’s choosing to be in a deepening relationship with Him.  As I live with Him, listen to Him, and trust Him, the knowing and doing will come naturally.

I want to follow with abandon– not just to walk several steps behind, or wander in His general direction, or watch what He’s doing from a distance.  I want to hang on and share the adventure.  That’s the way I want to “walk” with Him.  That’s my prayer, “Day by Day.”

To Love Thee More Dearly

How can I love Jesus more than I already do?  If I can love him more, does that mean that I don’t love Him enough?  That I don’t really love Him as much as I think I do?  That I love Him the wrong way?  How can I “love thee more dearly…day by day”

I want to explore the second prayer in the folk rock song “Day by Day” from the musical “Godspell” (see yesterday’s post).  When I write about pursuing prayer, this is a major focus of the pursuit– to develop my love for Jesus.  But there’s more to it than just spending more time, or even “better” time in prayer.

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I love my husband, and that love grows over the years– not because we are in an eternal “honeymoon” period, where life is rosy and all I know about him is the wonderful image I’ve built up–but because in living with him, working with him, even struggling with him, I learn to value who he really is.  I learn about qualities I never knew he had.  I learn to trust him and respect his judgment; I learn about the deepest part of his heart that he only shares with those closest to him.  And even though I learn about his faults, I see him desiring to be the best that he can be.  In his turn, my husband does the same with me– learning my strengths and weaknesses.  Together we learn how to work together to strengthen and support each other.  We even learn how to argue better!

But we all know marriages (and no marriage is immune) where doubt, distrust, disdain, and despair creep in.  The very qualities that attracted us in the beginning become sore spots that tear us apart.  The joy is swallowed up in little hurts that go unresolved; little misunderstandings that grow into lengthy silences and slammed doors.  Struggles that should bring us together cause us to run to separate corners.  Our feelings change, our hopes are dashed, and our relationship crumbles

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Relationships require trust–if I say that I love God, but I don’t trust Him, I’m not being honest with myself.  If I pray to Him, but I don’t really think He’s listening; if I read His word, but make excuses for my continued disobedience–I don’t really love Him.  I may idolize Him, even worship Him.  But I don’t really love Him.

Unlike a marriage partner, family member, or close friend, God’s love for us never changes.  We never have to pray that Jesus should love US more dearly.  It’s impossible.  The same love that spoke the universe into being and designed you to be the awesome and unique person you are, is the same love that stretched out his arms so they could be nailed to the cross– the same love that calls out to you no matter what you’ve done or who you are and offers you peace, joy, and rest.  Loving Jesus isn’t a matter of measuring how I feel about Him from day to day, but spending each day learning to know Him better for who He is and not just what He has done or what He can do for me.  The prayer should be for me to really learn better how to honor Him, how to trust Him, how to obey Him, praise Him, listen to Him, and walk close to him.

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More about this last one Monday…

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