Lives have many aspects that come together, blending to create a colorful canvas. This is my painting. My God. My family. My overcomings. My downfalls. My heart. My days. My nights. My soul. My life. Me. Blended. Perfectly.
Why do we think everything has to be pretty and perfect for us to totally get through to God? As if our direct line will somehow be disconnected if it doesn't meet the specified design qualifications.
We have journaling bibles, journals, devotionals galore. We hang up cute signs with fun sayings and quotes. We spend so much time creating a colorful space that will LOOK like it feels close to God that it never actually feels like anything. Instead of it helping us to better connect with God, all these frills just simply end up clogging up the line.
Come on, I know you understand what I am saying. Think about it. How many of you wanted to create a prayer room after the movie War Room was released a few years ago? The idea of having a closet or dedicated prayer space was not the so-called norm. Then, all of a sudden, everyone needed one.
And, what happened? Everyone started decorating the space to make it pretty. And, of course, merchandising companies jumped on the bandwagon and designed cute corkboards, inspirational notecards, pillows, and so much more for you to fill up your prayer room and walls. Websites, like this one, became dedicated to teaching you just how to transition the space into something magical.
Except... one thing was missing: the actual prayers!
Getting wrapped up in all this hype is easy. Unfortunately, though, it won't take long for you to realize that something is missing and your prayer space feels empty and cold.
Think about your prayer life
It is a good idea to take time to think about your prayer life. How strong is it? How dedicated are you? Do you spend very long in prayer? Do you have a dedicated prayer space or schedule?
Daniel - yes, the one who survived the lion's den - had a designated prayer schedule and space. Did you know that? Everyone who knew him knew when and where he prayed. It was like clockwork.
"...he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before." - Daniel 6:10 (NIV)
You can read the full text here or start in the Book of Daniel in your Bible.
God doesn't care where you talk to him, what it looks like, what you say, or even what your hair looks like. In fact, he wouldn't care if you spent time with him before you even shower in the morning!
When it comes to prayer, the only thing that matters is the relationship between you and God. Nothing else.
Personally, I have always struggled with this. Every now and then, something just seems disconnected between God and me. And, usually, when I take a hard look at why this is happening, my focus seems to be on worrying about something meaningless.
My family and I planted a garden (and thankfully we've kept it alive thus far). God's been meeting me here lately. Sitting outside for a half hour every morning, God and I either chat or I simply listen. No frills. Just me, a plastic chair, and the great outdoors. Well, a cup of coffee, too, of course. And God shows up no matter what!
Do you have a specific place where you like to talk to God?
So, what do you do when it is time for bed? Do you have a set routine? Do you go to bed at the same time every day? Or, do you just wing it every night?
For some people, consistency is what it's all about. Preparing a nightly bedtime ritual to get the best night's sleep. For others, when the yawning starts, it is time for bed.
In our house, I have calculated that it takes approximately one hour to get in bed after deciding we are tired and ready to go to bed. We don't have a set bedtime, but there is a lot that goes into preparing for slumber. You know, when you have four dogs, making sure they have been walked is essential if you have any hopes of sleeping through the night. And, when half of those dogs have special needs, you must make sure the medicines are swallowed and that everyone is calm.
Only then can we get ourselves ready.
If we want to be in bed by 11, we have to start at 10.
Lately, this routine has been getting to me. An hour. One hour of my day is spent getting ready to go to sleep so I can - God willing - wake up to face the next day. By the time we make it to bed, forget about reading. And, falling asleep while saying prayers just seems so, so wrong.
I could blame it on so many things. The dogs. The kids. Life. But, the truth of the matter is, that it is ultimately up to us and how we use our time.
Are there things we could do differently? Absolutely. Do I necessarily know what they are? Not exactly. But, I am sure willing to experiment.
God wants us to have a life full of His goodness. But, I am pretty sure that he does not want this full life to take our focus off of him. So, it is important to keep him at the forefront of our minds.
When getting ready for bed each night, it's easy to find ourselves wrapped up in all we need to do before we can rest. God, however, just wants us to rest. "I will both lie down in peace and sleep: For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety." - Psalm 4:8 (NKJV) Does he want us to spend so much time preparing for slumber that we fall asleep while saying our prayers? No way.
After all, how do we know we will even wake up to see tomorrow? And, how could we even imagine going to bed without fully and graciously giving thanks to God for all the time and opportunities we experienced throughout our day?
I'd say it's time to put those time management skills to work and make some changes. Don't you think? I am open to suggestions...
For some, forgiveness is just a simple act that must be done - and so it is.
For others, however, granting forgiveness is an act that can shatter the world as it once was. It can lead to chaos, anxiety, and the pain of being distraught. Difficulty forgiving can lead to an unsettled mind. And, none of this is a good thing.
Forgiveness is not always easy. Sometimes it depends on the person seeking forgiveness, the action that needs forgiveness, or our maturity in life at that particular moment.
But, what if that person is you? What if you struggle to forgive yourself for the things you have - or haven't - done in the past?
This is where things get tricky for some people.
What the Bible has to say about forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a huge principle within the Bible so you will find that there are many pieces of scripture that show you...
How to forgive
The importance of forgiving
God's grace and forgiveness
Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV):"For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
Ephesians 4:31-32:"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"
God forgives us if we turn our eyes - and our hearts - on him. He gave us his only son, "that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) This means that Jesus was brought to this world to live and die for us. Our sins were washed clean by the shedding of his blood.
If you believe this, then you know you are forgiven. Plus, so many Christians are always quick to point out just how forgiving our God is. What makes it different for us?
God forgives you, why can't you?
So, if we know that we are forgiven for the things we may - or may not - have done, then why can't we forgive ourselves? Holding on to this pain and negativity from the past will do nothing but hinder us in our spiritual growth today.
Why do we do it?
We are hard on ourselves for so many things - including forgiveness. And we tend to hold ourselves more accountable than we do others. But, should we? The Bible doesn't necessarily address forgiving yourself, specifically, but there is enough about forgiveness to know that you ought to.
You are just as worthy as those you forgive. Holding yourself at a higher standard may even be seen as a sense of pride. And, that is a far cry from the humility the Bible teaches you to have.
Talk about a cluster of emotions, eh? Geesh, forgiveness is tough. Perhaps this is just why you need to have faith and do it -- and don't look back.
Forgiveness: just do it
You are loved and forgiven for anything and everything you may have done. God is amazing like that. All you have to do now is forgive yourself.
Forgive yourself for those poor choices you made when you were younger. Forgive yourself for hurting those who cared so much for you. Forgive yourself for the words that you said without thinking. Forgive yourself for not engaging in self-care. Forgive yourself for not appreciating those around you. Forgive yourself for your lacks, your mishaps, your wrongdoings.
Right here, right now... close your eyes and tell yourself these words, "I forgive you." And, believe it.
"You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.’ "
If you are anything like the average individual, then you've likely run out of time more times in a 24-hour period than you can count. And no wonder- it is hard to fit everything you have to do into one day.
Between work, school, homework, laundry, cooking, other household chores, walking the dog, taking care of your own hygiene needs (if you are lucky to find the time) and so on... We all have different
lives, but we all have a lot to get done in a set amount of time.
So, when do you fit in time for God?
Our well-intentioned plans can fall through the cracks in a moments notice. Do you intend to get up earlier? Do you intend to spend time with God on your lunch break? Do you intend to focus on God just before bed?
Unless you have a great amount of self-discipline, it probably doesn't always happen.
I could say, Shame on you. That's your Creator. He gave you life and you fill it with other things before him. But, I won't. Why? Because we've all been there so often -- and we are our own worst enemies. If you have good intentions, but never follow through, there is a great chance that you've got some guilt about it in the back of your mind somewhere. And, well, it is not my place. I am by no means perfect either. All we can do is dust ourselves off and try again tomorrow.
If you are looking for some tips to help you spend more time with God - despite your busy routine - then you've found them.
1. Pick a moment of downtime in your routine and use it for your time with God. Now, you may be saying, "But, I don't have downtime and that's why I am here." Hear me out. If you have a commute on a train or a bus, use that time wisely. If you have to wait in dismissal line for your kids after school, this can be your God time. If you take 30 minutes to sit down and eat lunch, use it for God.
We all have little moments of free time throughout the day. Usually, this is when we find ourselves stopping to check email, social media, or call a friend. Replace those actions with God and you'll be surprised at how much time you actually have.
2. Schedule God time like you'd schedule a doctor appointment or business meeting. You wouldn't leave your doctor or colleagues waiting -- or stand them up -- would you? Not likely. Add your God time to your calendar and make it happen. Your attendance at the meeting is not optional.
3. Plan your time with God how you want it. Don't think you have to have so many minutes of worshipping, praying, reading scripture, writing, and so forth. Instead, create a system that works for you in your life -- and will hold your focus. We are all unique so your time with God shouldn't have to look like someone else's.
4. Sign up for online devotionals. There are many pastors, writers, and websites that offer these. Some are daily, some are weekly. But, they come directly into your inbox and allow you to focus on God with a message, a scripture, and a demand for your attention in the form of a notification.
If you are looking for a weekly devotional, yours truly happens to have one. You can sign up for it here. Get it once and use it for your time with God throughout the week.
If you like the idea of devotionals to guide you in your God time, but you prefer a hard copy to hold in your hands, this is a really good one, as is this one.
5. Plan for tomorrow. Most people would love to start their day with God. And why not? It is the perfect way to start a new day. It can give you the positivity, strength, and faith that you need to make it through the day -- while keeping God at your side. This can be super tough, however, if you are not a morning person.
In that case, you need to plan. Do what you can the night before so that you have extra time in the morning, such as preparing meals, picking out an outfit, gathering all the belongings that need to go out the door with you when you leave. Just doing this can allow you more time in the morning without having to set the alarm any earlier. Score!
6. Create a designated space or altar. Having consistency and specificity can make your time with God a bit easier and more enjoyable. First of all, you can't focus if there is too much going on around you. Second, if you are pining for time, then spending half of it searching for things you need will be counterproductive. Instead, set up a desk, portion of your countertop, an empty corner in your room, or the like. Have everything you need in this space.
7. Listen to a podcast or online sermon. If you have a long commute - or even while you are vacuuming or going for a run - listen to a devotional or sermon on a podcast, YouTube, or whatever your preferred method is. Let the Word seep into you as you go about your day.
"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
- Mark 1:35-37 (NIV)
However you choose to do it, just, well, do it. He won't say that you owe him this time, but you do. So, let go of the excuses and find ways to incorporate God into your life - every single day. And, if you need any guidance or have any questions, I am here for you.
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus teaches us, "You are the light of the world - like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden." God did not create us to blend in. If you look off in the distance to a city on top of a hill, you are going to see light. The amount of impact this light has on your eyes will depend on the size of the city. But, nonetheless, you won't be able to miss it on the horizon.
The same is true when you ask God to come into your heart. He brings light with him -- and you begin to shine. You are to use this light as a beacon for those around you. Just as a lighthouse can guide boats to safety, you can guide those you come into contact with.
Of course, this requires you to own your faith -- requiring you to stand tall and to be bold.
Unfortunately, many people find this is incredibly hard to do at times. Depending on your age, your career, your peers, and others, you may find standing up for your faith to be a daunting task. People are not always nice and - for those who are timid or fear confrontation -- keeping things private seems to be a lot easier.
But, God isn't private. And, God doesn't like easy.
Think about it. In life, anything that comes easy is not usually appreciated and cared for as those things that come with hard work, dedication, and precious time. For example, if you hand a teenager a stack of money, do you think he or she will spend it carelessly -- or put it aside to save up for a car? Or, how about the teen who works hard every day after school at a part-time job scooping ice cream to save up money for his or her first car? At the end, who will likely end up appreciating the outcome more?
There is no learning in easy.
Sure, God doesn't want to see you suffer and feel pain. I don't believe that is his intention. However, I do believe that sometimes we need to go through some hard work to get the reward. We need to do things that make us uncomfortable, to reach a place of comfort.
So, when God asks you to carry his light... to be the light - the city on a hill - for him... are you going to back down because it is too hard or uncomfortable? Are you going to let the naysayers or the critics get the best of you and make you lose out on this eternal comfort all because of a moment of difficulty?
I sure hope not. Because that would be like a conditional acceptance of all that God has to offer you. Like, hey, thanks, God. I'd love to have all the good things you will do for me and I will talk to you when I am alone. Just don't get upset if I don't pretend to know you when I am with my friends. They aren't Christians and I just don't feel like arguing. Uh, Peter denied Jesus and, well, I am not so sure that things ended well for him. This is not the best route for you to take. Read Luke 22:54-62. (Can you imagine lying about knowing Jesus and looking him in the eye?! It is hard to fathom. A powerful story for another day.)
The moral of the story? Just stand up and own your faith. Just as you own your possessions and you would want to protect them from someone coming in and taking them away from you -- own your faith. Protect it, nurture it, and stand up for it. Don't let anyone take that away from you or make you feel less than you are for having it.
"No one lights a lamp an then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house." - Matthew 5:15
Be an example.
Be the flicker of light that so many are just waiting to see.
I wish I didn't have to write about unimportant things. I wish I didn't have to hold meaningless conversations or throw in a smile here and there. I wish I didn't have to solemnly complete menial tasks.
I just want to talk about God all the time.
Sounds a bit obsessive, I am sure. But it is a persistent thought that I cannot shake. No matter who I am with or what I am doing, I want to just yank out a Bible and get into the goods. Besides, I'd think being obsessed with Jesus is fairly safe.
Unfortunately, I am struggling with the fact that (1) It is not socially acceptable to constantly speak about God. (2) Who cares if it is not socially acceptable to talk about God all the time? And, (3) Day-to-day life still goes on and I must live it.
But, could you imagine how lovely a world FULL of God would be? Imagine conversations based on history and parables and decoding translations. Imagine always being reminded that you are forgiven for your past, your stupid mistakes, your poor choices. And, imagine never feeling alone again.
Imagine not having to get up and answer the phone because you are in the middle of a conversation about God. (Yes, most of us are guilty of allowing the phone take away this important interaction).
There is an event coming up next month called Bring Your Bible to School Day. Apparently they say that it isn't illegal to bring your Bible to school (as long as you aren't formally preaching) and they want Christian kids to lead by example -- and bring their Bible. As I heard this on the radio the other day, I was considering whether or not I could have done that when I was younger. Would I have participated? If I did, would I have pulled my Bible out of my backpack?
I honestly don't know the answer, but it makes me think of how wanting to talk about God all the time is about as taboo as bringing a Bible to school.
Our world has been terrible enough for a long time now. And, I think something needs to change. The only person powerful enough to make that happen is, well, God.
I think it is time we start talking about him more -- and in more uncommon and less-inviting situations. I am going to do this and I think you should, too.
Ready? Next time you are making a purchase at a store, why not share a little something? You know, when the clerk asks you if you will be paying with cash or card, share the story from Luke 14:28. “Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’" Let the clerk know that you'd be awfully foolish to pay with credit when you have cash in your wallet.
It may sound silly, I know, but doing something like this is guaranteed to leave an unexpected, lasting impression. Even if the clerk doesn't remember all of what you said, some will be retained -- and he or she may even be encouraged to pull out a Bible to look up what that strange customer said.
And that, my friend, is a successful interaction. Check! ü
Of course, you can simply spread God's love by not saying anything at all, but simply acting in his ways. Sometimes no words at all speak louder than any verse or conversation ever could.
Let's do this. Let's be those strange customers, the oddballs, and the ones who stick out. Let's start a small ripple that one day turns into a rogue wave.
I don't know about you, but when it comes time for me to meet God, I don't want to be doing something I should not be doing. Or be somewhere I shouldn't.
Do you ever think about this?
I hadn't until I read a book by Pastor Francis Chan called CrazyLove. It was a while back, so the exact details are a little cloudy, but, the story went something like this -- He was talking about how devout his mother-in-law is and how she wouldn't join them at the movies. She finally gave him her reason why... she didn't want to be sitting down in a theatre when God came for her.
“I just don’t know if this is where I want to be when Christ returns. I’d rather be helping someone or on my knees praying. I don’t want Him to return and find me sitting in a theater.” –Grandma Clara
Think about that for a minute.
There are a lot of things that we do in life that we likely would not want to be doing at that moment, but we do them anyway, don't we?
Our society makes it incredibly hard to focus on God and His Word. Imagine turning down a movie or dinner invite - or even a trip to the mall - by saying, "no, I'm sorry, I cannot go because I am in prayer all day today." Have you ever said those words?
Getting lost in hours of prayer is just not seen by our society as the "norm." So, instead, we spend our time with nonsense, such as those entertainment things that make us feel good or spending money on material possessions we hope will fill some void we have buried deep.
Is it all wrong? Are we all wrong? Isn't there something missing? How can we expect to live an eternal life with God when we aren't even willing to give him a day or night of prayer?
I woke up this morning with these thoughts in my mind. Odd, since I haven't read Chan's book in quite some time. So, it must be for a reason. Someone is obviously trying to tell me something - and He wants me to share it with you, too.
I find patience hard to come by sometimes - especially in more recent days. Maybe it is because I am busier than ever or maybe it is just the anxiousness of the kids at the winding down of summer vacation. Whatever the reason, I often find myself having to step aside and breathe.
How about you?
If you are finding that your patience has become MIA, then this may disrupt your time with God. And, well, that is not something you ever want to do.
God doesn't respond when you snap your fingers. He is not always ready to give you an answer when you need it. Sometimes he wants you to sit back, be still, and listen.
Why is it so hard to forgive someone of their faults?
Forget the petty little wrongdoings or small bad habits and faults. Instead, consider the person who beats down the very wall that was providing you shelter - crumbling life as you knew it. Or, the person who causes pain, heartache, and strife for someone you love. Or, the one who takes someone's life based on one stupid decision.
Big mistakes impact the lives of so many, whether directly or indirectly.
We know that we need to love without conditions. And, we know that we each have faults that make us less than perfect.
We also know that God forgives - if we seek him - and that is ultimately what matters to that imperfect individual, right? Not my opinion or my feelings. And not yours, either.
Yet, when trust is broken or you feel wronged, it is hard to push back with unconditional love and forgiveness, despite the fact that we know we should.
Why is that?
We are human. You, me, all of us. We know what we should do. We know what we need to do. We know what God expects of us.
Ready for the truth?
Forgiveness is an action. It is a choice. You can choose to forgive someone or you can choose not to. You can choose to look at the person with love and joy or you can choose to look at that person with pity, anger, and contempt.
Jesus loved sinners. He loved those with faults and those who had made bad choices. He hung out with them. He ate with them. He forgave them.
We should, too. We should push aside all that we feel toward someone who we believe has done wrong -- and forgive them.
Philippians 3:13-15 gives some great advice... and the way The Message translation says it, makes it easy to understand:
12-14 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
15-16 So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.
When you are struggling with forgiveness, turn to God and allow him to help you see clearly. He will help you look past the wrongs to everything that is good, whole, and right. Love one another. Accept one another. And still, forgive.