Guard your heart

Proverbs 4:23 Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

Why did this scripture jumped off the pages at me, now, after I have read it and quoted it so many times?  I really could not understand the significance to my life, so I did what I do.  I started looking deeper.  I looked up a few words for the original meaning.

Guard is translated from the Hebrew verb Natsar meaning to guard, watch, watch over, keep

    1. to watch, guard, keep

    2. to preserve, guard from dangers

    3. to keep, observe, guard with fidelity

    4. to guard, keep secret

    5. to be kept close, be blockaded

    6. watchman (participle)

“H5341 – natsar – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (NLT).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 8 Nov, 2017. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H5341&t=NLT

And then I looked up:

Heart is translated from the Hebrew noun leb meaning inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding

  1. inner part, midst

    1. midst (of things)

    2. heart (of man)

    3. soul, heart (of man)

    4. mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memory
    5. inclination, resolution, determination (of will)

    6. conscience

    7. heart (of moral character)

    8. as seat of appetites

    9. as seat of emotions and passions

    10. as seat of courage

“H3820 – leb – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (NLT).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 8 Nov, 2017. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H3820&t=NLT

Then I looked up will.

Will is translated from the Hebrew noun Nephesh meaning soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion

  1. that which breathes, the breathing substance or being, soul, the inner being of man

  2. living being

  3. living being (with life in the blood)

  4. the man himself, self, person or individual

  5. seat of the appetites

  6. seat of emotions and passions

  7. activity of mind – dubious

  8. activity of the will – dubious

  9. activity of the character – dubious

“H5315 – nephesh – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (NLT).” Blue Letter Bible. Accessed 8 Nov, 2017. https://www.blueletterbible.org//lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H5315&t=NLT

guardAs I meditated on these definitions, I realized that what goes on in my mind, will, heart, and understanding directs the consequences of my life, determines where my life heads, and has a great impact on not only my life but those in my sphere of influence.  It is my job to carefully watch what gets in my mind.  I have to take thoughts captive and watch what I see and hear.

If I’m really open, my will is where I struggle the most.  My thoughts –  I have learned to take captive and have renewed my mind.  My emotions –  I have learned not to let them run my life.  I do understand who is really in control; yet, I still struggle with trying to control things.  And fail miserably.  I get distracted by passion and desire.  In doing this, I put my will in front of God’s will in certain areas.  It is a harsh reality to face; the things I have placed before Him because I have chosen not to guard my heart.

So how do I truly guard my heart?  How do I surrender my passions, desires and will?  How do I let Him focus me?  It is uncharted territory.  I came across a few scriptures that shed some light on what needs guarding:

These scriptures challenge me because I know that there are times that I prefer the comfortable, times where I have placed everything except God in front of my husband, and allowed my peace to walk out the door.  There are times that I have allowed my desire to defend myself to turn my innocence into wrong-doing.  I need only look at the things I have not yet found success in to see that discipline is still lacking.  And while I might not be materialistic or income oriented, there are still things that I intensely selfishly desire.  There are truths that I have learned from the Word that I have not applied, despite multiple reminders from the Holy Spirit.

Yet despite all my short comings God has given the greatest gift.  He forgives me and allows His grace to fill my gaps as He grows me.  I know that as He teaches me to guard these and other areas of my life, He is in control.  As I surrender my will to Him, He will meet me and allow His light to shine brighter in and through my life.

 

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Safety in His Will

There is a controversial statement that has carried me many years as a believer.  “The safest place to be is in the will of God.” I stand on that statement. Some question the trials of Paul, Peter, John, Joseph, Daniel, etc. as to the validity of the statement.  Yet, despite what each walked through, they were safe unto death as they walked in God’s plan and purpose for their lives.

The biggest problem with questioning the safety found in the will of God is that we have a distorted view of safety. We interpret the Bible based on the current definitions found in the English dictionary, not the root of the Greek and Hebrew languages that the words were originally written in.  We view safety as protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost. With this idea in mind we rightly question safety in the will of God. It doesn’t even fit with regular activities of Christian living like:

  • Pruning  – God cutting away things from our life, good and bad to promote growth.  Pruning causes harm and loss.  The very act of cutting away, even if for our own good is painful.
  • Discipline – God correcting us.  Disciple even though it helps shape and form us, is painful.
  • Refining – God pulling the impurities from our life.  God refining us by fire involves risk, if only to the flesh. The heat required for refining destroys all the impurities. Destruction is certainly painful. Having part of us destroyed creates loss.
  • Storms – We face many storms, the tests, trials and temptations.  They create turbulence in our life that feels unsafe.

With all these good things that cause Christian’s pain and what seems like harm, how can we say the safest place to be is in the will of God? Because, we are still safe in God’s hand.

I won’t pretend to be a Hebrew scholar, I am not.  There is a wonderful online tool called the Blue Letter Bible that helps shed light on the original meaning of words in the Bible.  It is full of information that makes exploring God’s Word so much richer and meaningful. The Hebrew word for safe is: sagab

safety
I. to be high, be inaccessibly high
A. (Qal)
1.  to be (too) high (for capture)
2. to be high (of prosperity)
B. (Niphal)
1. to be high
2. to be set on high, be (safely) set on high
3. to be exalted (of God)
C. (Piel)
1. to set on high, set (securely) on high
2. to exalt, exalt (in effective hostility)
D. (Pual) to be set (securely) on high
E. (Hiphil) to act exaltedly

Nowhere in the Hebrew definitions is there anything about harm or pain.  When we submit our lives to God and walk in His will, we are high above the enemies tactics.  It doesn’t mean that the enemy won’t attack.  It doesn’t mean that he won’t harm us.  One only need read the story of Job to know that the enemy can harm us and those around us.  However, our ultimate status in God is one of safety because we are inaccessible to the ultimate destruction by the enemy.  We are safely above his ultimate goal of destruction in our life.  Even Job was safe, God used the attacks of Satan to prove that Job was his faithful servant.

I know that the safest place to be is in the will of God, because despite what has come against me, I am still standing.  My life hasn’t been easy, although I will admit I haven’t suffered like Job, Paul, Peter or Joseph.  There were many times that I questioned if I could make it through, but I gave my heart to God as a child and God kept me safe despite my own short comings and regardless of how the enemy tried to destroy me.

Paul knew this too, regardless of what He faced.  Philippians 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  He knew to go on living was for others benefit, tied to Paul’s purpose on earth.  He knew he was walking in God’s will for life and that he was safe unto death.  Paul knew at death, his purpose on earth would be complete and then he would be united with God forever.  Satan can not touch our soul once it is safely in the hands of God.  We are eternally safe in His will.

 

 

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Growing Community {#Write31Days)

It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.  1 Corinthians 3:7 NLT

I love people.  I love hearing personal stories, helping others, and being with others.  However, working with people every day often leaves me wanting to retreat to the privacy of home with little to no human contact for a few hours or days depending on the demands of the day.  It is easy for me to not reach out to the community around me, not because I don’t care but because I am emotionally spent.  I want to connect with other Christians, develop relationships, yet this is definitely an area of weakness.  It is hard for me to stay connected to extended family and old friends, let alone cultivate new relationships.

communityThe Bible warns against isolation.  And I suppose it could be said that I am seeking my own desire when I retreat.  It is hard to hear wisdom when you’re only helping and never receiving from others, or giving more than you receive.

Proverb 18:1 A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.

I am blessed to be under great teaching and preaching, seeds are definitely being planted in my life in my local community.  I also supplement those seeds by getting into the Word for myself and by listening to evangelists and preachers online and on television.

Yet in order to grow in community I need to have those who water too.  Plants need water to grow stronger stems and leaves.  Water helps plants create energy.  I need people who can saturate me with their prayers, loves, support and encouragement.    Only then do I have energy to give to others out of the overflow of my life.  Only with the others am I stronger than I will ever be alone.  Scriptures remind us of this.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Our community should include people who plant and water into our lives, but we also need people that we plant and water into.  We need others in our lives to help us discover our gifting and talents.  Gifts and talents are never developed in isolation because God gave them to us for he edification of the body.  We are called to use our gifts to share Him with others. Our talents are given to give Him glory when seen and experienced by others.   We need believers in our life that we are helping grow into what God created them to be.

We also need people who we are building relationships with that are not believers.  People who do not have influence over us, but are in relationship with us.  Too many people build relationships with non-believers and become unequally yoked.  They give nonbelievers the same influence in their life as they do their Christian brothers and sisters.  Not that nonbelievers do not have some wisdom and knowledge to share, but it is easy to be led towards something good and not something Godly when council does not remain balanced.  The nonbelievers are people who we can set an example for, not people for us to preach at.  These relationships not only challenge our faith and beliefs but allow us to be a light before men.  God told us to go out into the world and share the Gospel.

Community is an important thing to grow in our life.  It not only helps us grow stronger as we receive strength from others.  Community helps us to grow our talents and help build up other believers.  Growing community helps build the kingdom as our community grows stronger.

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This blog is part of a #Write31Days series on growth.  31 Days is an online writing challenge, where bloggers pick one topic and write a post on that topic every day.

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Growing Strong {#Write31Days}

The righteous keep moving forward, and those with clean hands become stronger and stronger.  Job 17:9 NLT

In the natural, I am not very strong.  I have never been able to lift my body weight, even as a kid to do a pull-up.  I can do a pull-up in the water to the lower bar on the diving board. I am amazed at the women in the class I take who can pull themselves up for a chin-up to the diving board.  I have not been able to do a push-up on the wall where you lift your body out of the water.  I did ungracefully once roll myself out of the pool as I could not get to a ladder. I can do a plank, probably not with perfect form, for about forty-five seconds before I collapse in exhaustion and my arms trembling.  I doubt I will ever be known for my physical strength, unless it is for a lack-there-of.

strongYet spiritually speaking, I have grown strong.  I have walked through a few things that have tested my faith.  In my weakness, God showed Himself strong.  As a result of withstanding tests and trials through Him, I began growing strength.  When I couldn’t rely on my strength, but His, I grew stronger.  I grew stronger because I knew in my weakness, God would come through – not that He might, not that He could, but that He would come through.  It hasn’t always looked like I thought it would, but He has always shown up in my weakness.

I took a quick biblical inventory of what makes one strong, repeatedly Scriptures indicate that knowledge and wisdom make one stronger.

The wise are mightier than the strong, and those with knowledge grow stronger and stronger.  Proverbs 24:5

One wise person is stronger than ten leading citizens of a town! Ecclesiastes 7:19

James tells us that if any of us lacks wisdom we can ask for it, and God will give it generously.  God desires for us to grow stronger in Him, and in Him we can gain the wisdom to become stronger.  Growing stronger in our relationship with Him, grows our faith.  Growing stronger helps us believe for bigger things.  It allows us to see things that we would otherwise not see as possible.  Believing for bigger  and seeing things as possible is the key to asking God to do the impossible.

We can exercise and build up physical strength without much progress.  However, with God we need only ask and He will meet our weakness with His strength.  He will replace our knowledge with His wisdom.  His ways are higher than ours.  We grow stronger through Him and by Him.

 

 

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This blog is part of a #Write31Days series on growth.  31 Days is an online writing challenge, where bloggers pick one topic and write a post on that topic every day.

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Growing Godliness {#Write31Days}

“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8 NLT

I haven ever given much thought to the word “Godliness” before.  I assumed it meant the quality of being God like,  as –ness is usually “the quality of” and then the first part of the word.  It actually means “the quality of being devoutly religious (Manifesting faithful devotion).

godliness…Training for devoutly manifesting faithful devotion to God is better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.  I realize in reading it this way that God does not expect salvation and then perfection in our devotion to Him.  He knew that we would need training to be faithful to Him.

I hear so many people beat themselves up because they don’t pray as much as they think they should or read their Bible as much as they should.  They feel bad that they don’t attend services consistently or share the gospel like they should.  These are lies from the enemy to keep us from training ourselves to do the right thing.  Train, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary online is:

Definition of train
transitive verb
1 a :to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient
b :to form by instruction, discipline, or drill
2 :to make prepared (as by exercise) for a test of skill
3 :to direct the growth of (a plant) usually by bending, pruning, and tying

As followers of Christ, we need to be taught, instructed, disciplined, drilled, prepared, and have our growth directed to become devout to Him.  It is a process.  I grow into godliness with training.  Some of that training comes from church, most people rely on this for their training and so they truly fall short of what they could have.

Some people will add to their training with special speakers, conferences and books.  This can be a great way to get a perspective outside of the core circle.  Gaining wisdom and knowledge from other’s experiences, especially those who have lived in different communities, cultures and generations, is just good training.

Other’s take the time to train themselves in God’s Word.  They take the time daily to get alone with His word and to talk with Him in prayer.   Become a self-trainer is what godliness is really about.  It may start slowly, reading an 2,000+ year old manuscript can be daunting.  There are so many tools available now that make the exploration of God’s Word exciting once you really get in to it – like the Strong’s Concordance, the Blue Letter Bible, and various versions of the Scriptures.

I enjoy being part of a local fellowship, sitting under pastors and teachers that challenge and encourage me.  I have a lot of evangelists and teachers that I listen too regularly that really help me add perspective that I hadn’t thought about before.  I enjoy reading and listening to books by authors and  pastors that have studied years on topics that I am just delving deeper into.

Yet my favorite, the most powerful times I have is when God speaks to me through His work or that still small voice whispers what I need to hear, even if it is something I don’t want to hear.  Getting lost in His Word, delving into the depths of His Word to find answers to what I am searching for.  It is in that self-training that my faithfulness in devotion to God is found and my godliness is grown.

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This blog is part of a #Write31Days series on growth.  31 Days is an online writing challenge, where bloggers pick one topic and write a post on that topic every day.

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Grow Where You’re Planted {#Write31Days}

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord , meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. Psalms 1:1‭-‬3 NLT

God never designed for His people to be unfruitful.  He desired for us to bear fruit and in order to bear fruit you have to be planted and attached to the Vine.  One of the things I see often is believers who go from one church to another.  They like this program in one church and another program at another church.   Weekly they may go to two or more churches – consistently.  They are connected to the Vine – they love God, but they are not planted anywhere for growth.

I understand doing this when you are a new believer and need to find where you belong.  I even believe there are times where you go somewhere to support a specific thing – like a revival or a family member making a declaration or other special program.  I am not saying there aren’t times that I go to other places – when my niece was baptized and when my adult daughter was re-baptized I went to their churches in support.  When a friend invited me to a revival service at her church I attended.  When children invited me to see a special presentation they were putting on, I went.  When I am traveling out-of-town, I typically attend service wherever I find myself. I realize that we are all part of The Church, but I am planted in a church body that God called me too.

There are many members, but one body.  I think that is true of the local church as well as The Church.  In The Church, different congregations are called to minister in different manners to different populations in their city, region, state, nation and the world.   That mission is tied to the vision of the local church.  When you are divided between visions, it will fail.

plantedI live in the “Bible Belt” and there are some towns that have a church on every corner, and sometimes four on the corner of one block! A church can not be effective in carrying out its mission if it doesn’t know it’s true resources – financially, physically and spiritually.  Each church is made up of individual members with individual talents and gifts, that are needed to carry out it’s vision and purpose.

Although we are all One Body, the Body of Christ, we each have a different purpose and as a church a collective purpose.  Suppose the congregation I usually belong to makes up a knee.  Knees are important parts of the body.  It has three bones that meet to create it.  It has articular cartilage on each bone, two wedge-shaped pieces of meniscal cartilage, the medial collateral ligament, the lateral collateral ligament, the cruciate ligaments, the quadriceps tendon and the patellar tendon.  Then of course there are muscles, veins, skin, etc.

If each part is not present and working at capacity then there are problems with walking which eventually impacts the whole body.   If the cartilage is missing one week, it might be painful but you could manage knowing it will be back the next week.  But if it is gone every other week eventually the wearing on the bones creates a major problem that usually requires surgery.  This is a picture of what happens when people are not planted.

We are called to a body to strengthen and encourage each other.  When we fail to do our part, even if we don’t think it is a big part because we are not the pastor, praise and worship team or even greeter, it impacts the body.  We each have a role to play, even if it is just to welcome your neighbor and say “amen” to what the pastor is preaching about.  See it’s not about the gifts to God, it is about the fruit.  The church needs your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  In those areas where you find yourself lacking, you can be encouraged by someone else who is lacking in another area but strong where you are weak.

We prosper where we are planted.  A tree uprooted will eventually die if it is not able to get nutrients from the soil.  The local church is where we draw crucial nutrients from – not our sole source, but in part.  Where we are planted is where we grow. Not that we don’t face dry spells, or go through trials – we will.  But together we weather the storms.  We bear fruit seasonally, not continually.  We stay connected to each other and connected to God.  We grow stronger as we meditate on His word.  Our roots grow deeper as we go deeper with Him. There may be times that we are uprooted and planted somewhere else, but it will be an occasional thing not a regular thing because God called us to be planted.

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This blog is part of a #Write31Days series on growth.  31 Days is an online writing challenge, where bloggers pick one topic and write a post on that topic every day.

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Supernatural Growth {#Write31Days}

Peter was one of the first disciples to be called by Jesus. Little is known about his early life, or his personal life – other than he was married and a fisherman by trade.  Peter, much like myself was all over the map in his spiritual walk.  One minute He was declaring Christ was the Messiah.  Yet another time denying he even knew Christ.  Yet one thing is certain Peter had supernatural growth after he was will filled with the Holy Spirit.

SupernaturalA few highlight reels of Peter’s life:

  • Peter had faith to get out of the boat and walk on the water. Matthew 14:25-31
  • Peter confessed Jesus as Christ the Son of the Living God Matthew 16:13-18
  • Peter was told by Jesus specifically to feed His sheep John 12:14-16
  • Peter was the first to step out and preach the Gospel Acts 2:14-39
  • Peter performed miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit Acts 3:1-10

And a few of the low moments:

Jesus called out Peter a lot, not in a bad way but individually.  Jesus called him Peter instead of his given name, Simon.  Jesus asked Peter specifically who Peter said Jesus was.  When he was in the garden at Gethsemane he left three of the disciples to go farther to pray, but when he came  back to find them sleeping Jesus said, “Peter, why are you sleeping?” as if he was the only one sleeping Matthew 26:40.   Jesus asked repeatedly if Peter loved him.

As I think about Peter’s life in light of the highlight and low moments, I can relate to the low moments.   When left to my own devices I am selfish, unforgiving, prideful, reactive and prone to comparison.  I feel like God is often calling me out on things that are perfectly okay for others to do.

When I look at Peter’s highlight reels, I think “There could be hope for me yet.”  God did not count the long list of low moments against Peter.  Jesus specifically asked for him following his resurrection.  He knew Peter would need some reassurance.  He wanted Peter to know despite the denials, God still had a plan for him.  Feed sheep.  He instructed Peter (And the others) to wait.  He would send His Spirit to give them supernatural power.

I grew up hearing about the Spirit of God, but never that His power was available to be present in my life.  I felt powerless to do anything but live in the low moments.  I could confess Jesus Christ as Lord, but I didn’t know how to let Him be Lord of my life.  I need the Spirit of God to direct my path.

Then I learned about the true character of the Holy Spirit, and that I was created in God’s image.  I don’t necessarily have faith to walk on water like Peter.  Yet I have had to step out in faith from many boats of security.  Steps of faith that required I stay when I wanted to leave.  Steps of faith where if God didn’t provide I wouldn’t have.   As I take steps in faith, God meets me with His supernatural power and growth.

I needed God’s supernatural power to step out of my comfort zone and feed His sheep.  My  gifts and talents don’t match Peter’s but they were designed by God for me to do.  It is easy to allow the comparison, unforgiveness, and selfishness to make me question God’s  direction in my life.  I find myself backing down from what should be a simple request – a word of encouragement, praying with others, sharing God’s word with others.  As I submit to His power, I see supernatural growth in His work through me.

I haven’t had the opportunity to see the lame walk and the blind see as I gave to them the supernatural power within me like Peter did.  Yet I have seen the Holy Spirit power work miracles that can not be explained in any other way.   I have seen supernatural recoveries. I have seen supernatural provision.  I have heard of supernatural death to life experiences.  I have seen addictions broken, captives set free, and prisoners released.  I know that a time will come, just as it did in Peter’s life, when God will perform everything through me that He desires.  In the meantime, I will continue growing in my knowledge and relationship with Him moving towards supernatural growth.

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This blog is part of a #Write31Days series on growth.  31 Days is an online writing challenge, where bloggers pick one topic and write a post on that topic every day.

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Growth through Rejection {#Write31Days}

The story of Joseph is told throughout Genesis 37 through Genesis 50.  He is one of my favorite people in the Bible.  Joseph is one of the few people that we see most of his life lived out in scriptures, from age seventeen to one hundred and ten.  His story is filled with favor and rejection.

Joseph was loved by his father, and favored above his older siblings.  His mother died in childbirth to his younger brother Benjamin.  His brothers rejected him.  They sold him into slavery and passed it off to his father like he died.

Then Joseph became a servant in Potiphar’s house.  The Lord’s hand was upon Joseph.  He was favored by Potiphar and given control of his household. Then Joseph unfortunately became favored by Potiphar’s wife also.  When he declined her advances, she had him thrown in jail.  Rejected again, even though he did nothing wrong.

In jail, he soon found favor with the guards and was given control over the other prisoners.  Soon he met Pharaoh’s baker and cup-bearer.  He interpreted dreams for them both, which came to pass just as he said.  He asked the one that lived to remember him.  He forgot.  Rejected again.

Two years later, Pharaoh had a dream, the cupbearer remembered Joseph.  Joseph was brought to the palace and interpreted the dream.  He was appointed to oversee the events that he predicted would occur over fourteen years, times of plenty and then drought.  He found favor and was made second in command in Egypt.

rejectionEventually his brothers came to Egypt for help.  After a time of testing, Joseph revealed himself to them and was reunited with his father and the eleven brothers.  He was able to bring them to Egypt.  He ultimately saved the nation of Egypt and Israel through his actions.

In the midst of his rejection, Joseph maintained his faith and his integrity.  Unlike David, we don’t get a lot of Joseph’s inner thoughts.  This leaves a lot more room for me to find a connection with Joseph because I can just imagine how I would feel.  The reality is at some point we all face rejection.  It might not be in the magnitude that Joseph faced, but rejection feels personal regardless.

There is a lot I can learn from Joseph about growing through rejection.

Joseph never changed who he was because of what happened to him.  I can not change who I am based on the actions or opinions of others.  I do tend to take a look at  rejection and try to make sure there is not something in me that I need to change.  I can learn from experiences or I can cave to other’s opinion when rejected.  There is a difference, one is driven internally after person reflection.  The other is driven by external influences.  One can be godly, the other is usually the work of the enemy.

Joseph held on to the dream that God placed in him. It is easy to let the passage of time deter my dreams.  It becomes even harder to hold on to dreams when I am faced with rejection.  When I invite others into my dreams and am met with resistance or blatant rejection, it is really hard for me to not take it personally.  I find myself putting those dreams on hold as if others have to be on the same page with me about my dream.  There is a reason God gave me the dream and not those who would reject it.

Joseph found favor in his faithfulness.  He first found favor with his father.  All the favor following came from his faithfulness to doing what was placed before him.  In each place his rejection took him, Joseph remained faithful to the Lord.  I admit I often face frustration when I am placed somewhere I did not plan to be.  I have found that the Lord is faithful to work things out for my good, regardless of how I got there.  I know that nothing is a surprise to Him.  I just need to remind myself of that before my attitude hits.

If we take the time, we can gain perspective from my favorite words from Joseph found in Genesis 50:20 (NKJV)  But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. We may not save a nation, but if we are true to what God has placed inside of us, who God has called us to, and what is before us God will bring growth even through rejection.

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This blog is part of a #Write31Days series on growth.  31 Days is an online writing challenge, where bloggers pick one topic and write a post on that topic every day.

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Growing Confidence in Prayer {#Write31Days}

Elijah teeters on bold prayers and insecurity with cowardice behaviors. He called down fire from heaven to show God’s power to the servants of Baal and another two times to destroy 100 soldiers sent to him by the king.  He prayed for rain during a drought, and prayed for the dead to be raised. Each time, God answered.  Yet following a mighty answer of God to his prayers and the slaying of his enemy, he cowardly ran from a single woman’s threat.

I think I appreciate Elijah’s weakness because in my life it is often after the highest mountain victories that I find myself on the lowest valleys of despair.  He prayed mighty prayers, but he also had moments of weakness like I experience.  One did not negate the other in his life.prayer1

One of the greatest privileges I have as a follower of Christ is to lift up prayers for others.  When I can pray for those I care about, I know God hears.  When I can go to God in prayer for those whose situations I am moved by, I see God answer.   When I am moved to pray for those causes that also move me into action heaven moves on their behalf.  It is a powerful and awesome privilege to see God work in the lives of others as I pray.

Yet there are times in my life that I have backed down from bold prayers.  It is one thing for me to pray those prayers in my prayer closet.  Those moments of boldness rarely leave me feeling insure.  My cowardice behaviors surface when I am called to pray them out for others to hear.  As if my private prayers are more powerful than the ones said for others to hear.

So when and how did Elijah grow his confidence in prayer?  Some of the examples of his prayer are:

At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.” 1 Kings 18:36-37

Elijah prayed boldly, and confidently that God would prove himself as Lord, as the one who told Elijah to act, and so that the people would know Him.  We can pray with confidence if we are praying for others to come back to Him.

Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go get something to eat and drink, for I hear a mighty rainstorm coming!” So Ahab went to eat and drink. But Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bowed low to the ground and prayed with his face between his knees.
Then he said to his servant, “Go and look out toward the sea.”
The servant went and looked, then returned to Elijah and said, “I didn’t see anything.”
Seven times Elijah told him to go and look. 1 Kings 18:41-41

Prayer2Elijah was able to pray bold prayers because he humbled himself before the Lord and prayed with expectancy.  He did not just ask one time and then give up, each time he knelt in prayer he told the servant to go look for what Elijah was asking God for.

Then Elijah cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?” And he stretched himself out over the child three times and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, please let this child’s life return to him.” 1 Kings 17:20-21

Elijah prayed in confidence when he asked the Lord for a blessing to the woman who had been kind to him.  He didn’t understand why it had happened, but Elijah knew God could still fix it.  He did not hesitate to plead the case before the Lord with boldness.

But Elijah replied to the captain, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and destroy you and your fifty men!” Then fire fell from heaven and killed them all. 2 Kings 1:10

Elijah replied, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and destroy you and your fifty men!” And again the fire of God fell from heaven and killed them all. 2 Kings 1:12

Elijah prayed with confidence to protect his own life.  The king had sent for him to be arrested after Elijah had challenged the king with a word from the Lord.  Elijah had sent a message asking: Is there no God in Israel? Why are you sending men to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether you will recover? Therefore, because you have done this, you will never leave the bed you are lying on; you will surely die.’” 2 Kings 1:6

Regardless of the situation, when Elijah prayed, God responded.  He had a confidence in God because he would listen to God and then pray in obedience.  The same God is available to hear my prayers also.   I can pray with confidence when I am praying for the needs of others, when I am praying for God to make Himself real to others, when I am praying with an expectancy, and when I am praying for my own safety.  If I am willing to abide with Him and listen to Him he will direct my prayers also.  The more I pray, the more I will grow in the confidence to pray.

This blog is part of a #Write31Days series on growth.  31 Days is an online writing challenge, where bloggers pick one topic and write a post on that topic every day.growth button

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Growing service {#Write31Days}

David is one of the few people in the Bible that we get to see most of his life, and most of it up close and personal.  David came on the scene in I Samuel 16 as the prophet is told to go an anoint David in Saul’s place as king.  Saul is still living, but the favor of God has left him.

The first descriptions of David are found in 1 Samuel 16:12 So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes. And the Lord said, “This is the one; anoint him.” Samuel describes his outward appearance, God was looking deeper.  

1 Samuel 13:14 (NLT)  But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

A few verses down in 1 Samuel 16:18 David is described by a servant.  One of the servants said to Saul, “One of Jesse’s sons from Bethlehem is a talented harp player. Not only that—he is a brave warrior, a man of war, and has good judgment. He is also a fine-looking young man, and the Lord is with him.”

David’s  family looked over him.  God considered David to be a man after His own heart.  Then a servant places David in the palace before the king whose very place David will one day take.  I can not imagine the thoughts that would have run through David’s mind – fear that Saul might know what Samuel did, insecurity in Samuel’s actions being right, a little cockiness at the idea of being called on by the king he would soon replace.  The Bible doesn’t tell us, but David is young and often flooded with changing emotions.

serviceDavid was taken from serving his family in the family business, to serving the king in the palace.  Then we find David back home with his father sending David tot he battlefield with lunch for his brothers.  David comes upon Goliath tormenting the Israel army.  David gets mad and wants to slay Goliath.  His brother got mad because David’s motives must be bad.

But when David’s oldest brother, Eliab, heard David talking to the men, he was angry. “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be taking care of? I know about your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle!” 1 Samuel 17:28

David kills Goliath and soon Saul becomes jealous of him.  Saul goes into fits of rage and throws spears at David while he is serving.  Saul sets David up time and time again to be killed, and each time David escapes successfully.  David has to flee for his life, but still maintains a loyalty towards his service to Saul.  Twice Saul is in a place where David could have taken his life, but David refrains.  For the rest of Saul’s life he plays this cat and mouse game with David trying to take David’s life.  When Saul dies, David mourns Saul before and then he honors what is left of Saul’s family after he becomes king.

David is described as a man after God’s own heart.  David knew that at the heart of God was service.  Matthew 23:11 say “The greatest among you must be a servant.”    A servant is one who executes the demands of another, taken from the Greek word diakonos.  

I believe we have a distorted view of what servanthood looks like.  We do not mind executing the demands of another as long as the request is done in a politically correct manner.  We can not be offended by the request.  Saul told David to bring him the foreskins of 100 Philistines for Saul’s daughter’s hand in marriage – the daughter that was promised for killing Goliath, it is all pretty offensive. 

Truth be told, it is politically incorrect to demand anything.  Possibly it would be better if a strong suggestion was made instead.  We want service to look like we want it, be what we want it to be, and at the time that we want it to be.  If David had been in the 21st Century, activists spewing political correctness would be lining up in David’s defense of the wrongs that were done to him  every step of the way.  

Yet, David served because that is what he was called to do.  He lived a life of service to his family, his king, his country, and ultimately to his God.  David served when it was convenient, and when it wasn’t.  He served when he was treated right, and even when he was not.  He served when he was liked and when he was hated.  He served when he was free and when he was bound.  He served like Jesus did.

If I am completely honest, I like politically correct service more than the sold out service God requires. I like to think that I serve, because I physically do.  However, I serve inside the time frames that I allot.  I might let it run over a little bit, but rarely do I let myself be inconvenienced to serve.  Because of my career field I do serve people who don’t necessarily treat me right, but I can guarantee if one of them tried to kill me or threw something at me, my service to them would be over.  I have also served people who hated me, but it certainly is my preference to serve those who appreciate what I am doing for them not those who are ungrateful.  I prefer the freedom to serve, not being told I have to.

So how do I grow in service like David did?

I ask God to give me His eyes. It is easy to focus on what others aren’t doing for themselves.  Or on their gratitude or lack there of.  It is easy to look at the need I am serving instead of seeing the person who has the need.  I need God’s perspective.

I stay in a place of gratitude.  I can only serve others because I live a blessed life.  No I may not have everything, but I do have something.  When I stay focused on what I have to offer instead of what I lack, it is easier to serve.

I seek after God’s heart.  I know that my service shines brighter when I allow God to work through me instead of thinking I am working for God.  I serve because I belong to God, not to make myself belong to Him.  Service is out of love, not duty.

Service isn’t always natural – I have to choose to do it anyway.  Service isn’t always easy – sometimes it is physically demanding other times it is emotionally demanding.  Service is rewarding, even if the reward does not happen this side of heaven.  Growing service comes from abiding with God and allowing Him to work through me.

growth buttonThis blog is part of a #Write31Days series on growth.  31 Days is an online writing challenge, where bloggers pick one topic and write a post on that topic every day.

 

 

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