Tag Archives: fellowship with God

Return to Our First Love

 

Return to Our First Love

Do you remember?

Who can forget their first love?  The excitement we felt when that special person entered the room.  The anticipation of seeing them and the connection that was made as eyes met.  The experience of first love, with all its innocence and purity, was never to be repeated—for that is the way of “first things”.

Remember the first time you professed your love for Jesus Christ?  With that experience came the same excitement and anticipation as our first earthly love.  Unlike most first things that eventually lose their luster, it is important for us to make every effort to nurture and cultivate our personal relationship with our First Love, Jesus Christ.

How’s love today?

Are we feeling distant and estranged from God?  Do our prayers appear routine and repetitive?  Is our praise predictable and puny?  If we answered yes to any of these questions, then it’s time for us to examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5) and see what is hindering our personal relationship with the Lord.  God never changes (Malachi 3:6) nor has God moved.  Maybe it’s time to return to our first love for Jesus.

The church at Ephesus had persevered and endured hardship for the Lord.  This was a critical part of the early church’s responsibility to insure a clear and true presentation of the gospel (Eph. 4:1-2).  In general, this church had continued in its faithful service to God for more than 40 years.   While all these “efforts” were important in the development of the early church (as it is now), there was something noticeably absent.  They had left their first love for Jesus.

Time to return.

Jesus lays a charge of carelessness in Ephesus’ relationship with Him in Revelations 2:4:  ” Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”

In the literal translation of today’s text, the order of the words in Greek emphatically denote the strong rebuke directed to the church. “Your first love you have left!”  This second-generation of believers, had retained purity of doctrine but were lacking in deep devotion to Christ.

As believers, we must ask ourselves if we too are careless in cultivating our relationship with the Lord.     Remember the first time we professed our love for Jesus Christ?  With that experience came excitement and anticipation.  Are we now guilty of taking our eyes off the Lord?  Are we more concerned with our personal agendas than practicing the presence of the Holy Spirit?  Have we left our first love?

And what can we say about the Church, Christ’s bride (Rev. 19:7-9)?  The Church needs to heed the same warning given to the Ephesians.  Orthodoxy and service is not enough.  Christ wants hearts as well as our hands and heads (Matt. 22:37).

How can I return?

Last week, we agreed that repentance is the starting point to return to God.  Once this has taken place, we might consider the following strategies to return to His side (1 John 1:3).

Recommit ourselves to Him.   Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Rom.  6:16) Recommitment involves renewing your loyalty to Christ and His lordship over your life.  This includes directing your time, talents, and treasures to the service of the Lord.  We are so grateful that there is nothing that can ever separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:39).

Renew our love for Him.  I will love You, O LORD, my strength (Ps. 18:1).  Tell the Lord how much you love Him.  Although He is all-knowing, He still wants to hear us tell Him how much we adore Him.    We must let Him know that we desire Him with all our heart and soul (Ps. 42:1-2).  Let us show our love for Him through our praise and worship.  We are never closer to Him than when we “love on Him” (Ps. 22:3).

Reprioritize our life around Him.   Christ set the standard for priority when He said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt.  6: 33).  However, to make God the center of our life is counterculture.  When we place Christ first in our life, we are assured that we have chosen the “Good Part” (Luke 10:42).

It’s time to return to our first love!  He is waiting for us (Isa. 30:15, 18).

The REST we need!

The Rest we need!

 

The Biblical view of rest

Last week we asked the question, “Do you need rest?”  We examined the three (3) biblical rests God has provided for His Covenant people.  Sabbath rest, Canaan rest, and Eternal rest.

We concluded that accessing these rests is possible through development of an intimate relationship with God.  Our rest can be found in listening to His voice and obeying Him.  We closed with Lawrence O. Richards’ explanation that Christians often struggle with learning how to enter God’s rest.  God’s rest is a place of confidence and contentment that can only be found in relationship with Him.

The Scientific view of rest

In her Ted Talk, “The 7 Types of rest that every person needs,” Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, shares what is really needed for us to rest.  My biggest take away was the fact that we often mistakenly view rest as sleep.

“We go through life thinking we’ve rested because we have gotten enough sleep — but in reality we are missing out on the other types of rest we desperately need. The result is a culture of high-achieving, high-producing, chronically tired and chronically burned-out individuals. We’re suffering from a rest deficit because we don’t understand the true power of rest.  “

Dr. Smith concludes her study with the definition of spiritual rest.  She describes it as feeling a “deep sense of belonging, love, acceptance, and purpose”.  She recommends that to receive spiritual rest, one needs to “engage in SOMETHING GREATER THAN YOURSELF, ADD PRAYER, MEDITATION, OR COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT.”

For me, and believers in Christ, that “deep belonging, love, acceptance, and purpose” is found in Christ. Christ is the better rest.

A Better Rest

Paul states that in Christ, “we live, and move, and have our meaning” (Acts 17:28).  This includes our time of rest.  Even during our physical rest, we must not forget to maintain relationship with Jesus.  It is in acknowledging the Lord’s presence, that our better rest begins.

Jesus invites the crowds in Matt. 11: 28-29 to “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”   Jesus offers rest.

After the disciples had returned from their mission trip (Mark 6:7-13), Jesus instructs then to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”   Jesus is rest.

“Alone time” with God can allow God to examine us. It can be a time of knowing God more deeply, a time of strengthening, a time of refreshment, a time of sharing our deepest concerns with God, and a time of simply being with the One who formed us and loves us beyond our understanding.[1]

Rest:  How do we enter it?

The rest we need can only be found in relationship with Jesus.  It is “relational rest”.  This rest can be found in the practice of spiritual disciplines.  Spiritual disciplines are not an end in themselves.  Spiritual disciplines are intended to deepen our relationship with God.[2]

Prayer Talking to God
Meditation Listening to God
Solitude Alone with God
Contemplation Thinking about God
Worship Glorifying God

I close with a formula on how to enter God’s rest.  Feel free to develop your own.  The main thing to remember is to keep Christ as the source of your rest.

R. Reflection. Daily examine where God has been at work. This will foster awareness of God’s presence.

E. Exchange. Trade-out Satan’s lies for God’s truths. This will increase your wisdom and discernment.

SSolace. Find comfort and consolation in God’s presence. This will strengthen your confidence.

T. Transformation. Each day seek to be conformed to the image of Christ. This will please God.

[1]  Got Questions, “What does the Bible say about the value of solitude?”

[2]  Rev. Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield, “A Prayer for Presence.”

Do you need REST?

Finding our wilderness rest

Finding our wilderness rest

Rest.  Who needs rest?  We all do!  Health professionals agree that the need for rest is critical.  It is essential for our overall well-being.  This includes our emotional health and cognitive performance.

But how can we rest?  21st century living has introduced a unique set of challenges that radically impair our ability to rest.  Our current life experiences have resulted in heightened anxiety within our families, our cities, and our nation.

Similarly, rest for believers has always been (and will continue to be) challenging.  This is because we live in a fallen world.  However, the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 4:9-11) offers a “viable solution”.   He invites believers to enter God’s rest.

Defining rest

Webster defines rest as not only sleep but also as freedom from worry or trouble.   Rest in the Bible is used most frequently in non-theological terms.

However, it takes on spiritual meaning when used in relationship to God and His people.  Most specifically, when used in reference to the Old and New Covenant.

God addresses wilderness rest

In the Old Testament, Sabbath rest is first introduced in Genesis as God ceases from His work of creation (Gen. 2:2-3).  God later commanded Sabbath rest as part of the Mosaic Law (Exod. 31:15).  He knew that all living creatures needed physical renewal.

Canaan rest began with the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt.  Rest was defined as deliverance from slavery.  Canaan rest established protection from and victory over Israel’s enemies as they entered into the Promised Land (Josh. 14:15).  By following God’s commandments, Israel would no longer be threatened by attack from Canaanite inhabitants (Josh. 23:1).  Peace in the land would be their rest.

Most importantly, Jesus Christ’s arrival and selfless act of atonement introduced us to God’s Eternal rest.  This rest surpassed those previously offered beginning with precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4) and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17, 26).  Believer’s eternal rest will culminate with Jesus Christ in eternity.

Accessing God’s rest

Accessing God’s rest is possible through development of an intimate relationship with Him.  Our rest can be found in listening to His voice and obediently acquiescing to His will (John 10:27).  For example, believers should let God’s Word and Spirit guide us.  God has already provided solutions for our problems therefore releasing us from unnecessary anxiety and fear.

On this matter of rest, Lawrence O. Richards, noted theologian writes:  “The struggle Christians are engaged in is not that of finding their way through life but of entering God’s rest.”  That is, believers need to be more responsive to the Lord.

Responding to wilderness rest

We can find rest as we listen for and respond to the Lord’s voice.  We trust the Creator of all rests—Sabbath rest, Canaan rest, and Eternal rest.

Only Sovereign God can create, deliver, and protect.  He gives use victory over the challenges we face (Rom. 8:37).  God knows the end from the beginning and His purpose will stand (Is. 46:8-10).  It is God’s desire that we live more fully as recipients of His gift of rest.  He invites us to draw near.

Do we need revival?

Do we need a revival?Revival?

When I say the word, revival, what comes to mind?  Perhaps the first thing we think about is something from the past becoming popular or important again, such as the revival of board games or the revival of drive-in theaters.

From a religious standpoint, however, a revival is the “reawakening of religious zeal or enthusiasm”.  I remember as a child when revivals were held in our community.  Sometimes it was initiated by our pastor who felt his members needed a “spiritual jumpstart” to either usher in the new year or finish up the old one.

During the summer, it was not unusual to have traveling evangelists come into our community.  With large tents and wooden platforms, they would preach “fire and brimstone” in true “Elmer Gantry” style, until someone came down front to “repent and turn from their wicked ways.”

We hear of revivals even today, but probably with less frequency, as people choose more convenient and less demanding ways of “stoking their spiritual fire.”  The question is, however, is what we’re doing enough to truly “maintain the spiritual fire” we need in our souls?  Do we need revival?

Why revival?

In both my prayer circle and Bible study group, “the buzz” is all about the need for revival—in our nation, in our churches and in our homes.  Although the actual word “revival” is not used in the Bible, there are many instances cited where revival or spiritual awakening occurred (1 Sam. 7:1-6; 2 Kings 18:1-7)

Revivals are not new in the economy of God. The largest recorded revival occurred in Nineveh where it is recorded that 120,000 souls repented and were saved from God’s wrath (Jonah 3:4-10).   Revivals are often preceded by a major moral crisis that has plowed the soil of people’s hearts, readying them for the fertile seeds of revival: God’s Word and God’s salvation.  Are we currently experiencing similar crises in our nation?

We have become desensitized to the social needs of people in our community.  Our entertainment choices reflect a tolerance for moral depravity and disregard for human life—not much different than Sodom and Gomorrah.

Man has “deified” himself over God.  Society continues to attempt to redefine God, trivialize family, and devalue Christ’s church.  And what have we gained in return? Broken and wounded people feeling hopeless, in despair, without joy.  Are we in need of revival?

Preparing for revival

To this point, we have described revival as a noun; an event that stirs up religious faith. Revive can also be a “verb”, which in Hebrew, means to bring to life or cause to live.  Do we need to be revived—brought back to life?

As I look around, I believe we are in desperate need of “spiritual CPR.”   We need new breath and true life that can only come from God (Ps. 85:6-7).  Using Jonah 3:4-10, below is a “CPR” acrostic to communicate how we can prepare for revival.

Confession.  Readiness for revival always begins with confession of sin. The people of Nineveh proclaimed a fast of which everyone participated, “from the greatest of them even to the least of them.” (v. 5) Confession recognizes the need for change and realization that the only true source of change is God.

Prayer.  Prayer is the most powerful force God has given us to implement change.  The city of Nineveh, “both man and beast were covered with sackcloth and cried mightily unto God.” (v. 8a) Prayer prior to revival prepares the way for the preaching of God’s truth. God’s truth defeats the lies of Satan and provides light to expose the darkness of sin (Acts 26:18).

Repentance.  Repentance requires two actions: the turning away from sin and the turning to God.  The people of Nineveh “turned from their evil way.” (v. 8) The turning away from sin begins with accepting Christ as both Savior and Lord.  Repentance should lead to transformed living—one of good works and service (Eph. 2:10).

Where do we begin?

I heard a minister state that individuals should “draw a circle on the ground and then step inside it—it is here where revival begins.”  Confess, pray, and repent. Revival starts with us. Are we ready to begin?

Altars of Earth

An Altar of Earth

It’s all in the instructions

I am notorious for ordering items online.   When the box arrives, I’m excited to see my item in the perfect spot I’ve chosen for it.  However, when I open the box, all I see are parts and pieces in plastic bags with the INSTRUCTIONS on how to put it together.  Thank the Lord, I have such a kind and knowledgeable husband who is good with instructions.

Today we explore a  set of instructions God gave Israel following His presentation of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:24).

An altar of earth you shall make for Me, and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I record My name I will come to you, and I will bless you.

 God’s  “thunderous” manifestation of his  presence  impressed upon Israel that He was the “Living God” and not some impotent idol they had worshipped in Egypt  (Exod. 20:18-20). God was the Creator and not the molded creations of man’s idolatrous mind.  God was moving closer to His people.  He would come to them and bless them.

Why an altar of earth?

An altar of earth, a simple structure, or of stone (unhewn), was  to be constructed. God wanted them to build a plain altar of stone with no engraving. I’m sure many of the Israelites had seen the engraving of the statues and monuments in Egypt.  They may have even been engravers themselves.  But God required a higher yet simpler standard that would recognize who He was.   The moment a tool was put to the stone, it would be considered “polluted”.

It should be noted that the primary purpose of the altar was for worship.  That worship was to include specific offerings—a burnt and a peace offering.  There was no mention of presenting a sin and trespass offerings which were given to Israel later.

The peace offering revealed man’s need for  sacrifice that would reconcile him to God.  Jesus Christ accomplished that by His blood on the Cross.  The burnt offering speaks of God’s  worthiness and ability to save.  Christ was the perfect sacrifice and the only one able to satisfy the righteous requirements of God (2 Cor. 5:18)

Where’s my altar?

Everywhere Israel journeyed,  they made an altar of earth.  The altar was to be placed  in those places where  “God recorded His name.” One commentary states it this way:   “cause My name to be remembered”.

God would reward Israel’s offerings in those places where God was worshipped in sincerity.

Afterwards, God chose one particular place (Jerusalem) to record his name.  But now that has been taken away under the gospel, when men are encouraged to pray every where.  This promise revives in its full extent, that, wherever God’s people meet in his name to worship him, he will be in the midst of them, he will honour them with his presence, and reward them with the gifts of his grace; there he will come unto them, and will bless them.  More than this we need not desire for the beautifying of our solemn assemblies.[1]

This portion of the Exodus text caught my attention.  I then began to ask myself the following questions.

Where are my “altars of earth” to the Lord?

Where are the places in my life where God has caused me to “remember His name”?

Am I watchful and recognize when I am “out of fellowship”with Him?

Am I presenting offerings that worship God?

Do I bless God for all His benefits? His presence,  power, provision, and  protection?

Altars and offerings are no longer needed to be in right relationship with God.  Jesus’ death and resurrection eliminated that requirement.  However, it is important that we Christians spiritually create our personal altars to worship God in recognition of His love and gift of life through Jesus Christ.

I close with the following  scripture texts in the hope that they  will “cause His name to be remembered” by each of us.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.(Rom. 12:1) 

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (Heb.13:15) 

Give to the LORD the glory due his name; Bring an offering, and come before him.  Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!  (1 Chron. 16:29)

[1]  Matthew Thomas Commentary

Turn on the Light!

Turn on the Light!

Jesus is the Light

Last week, we asked, “Where’s the light?” The answer to that question is Jesus.  Jesus is the Light of the world, in whom there is also life. Jesus’ light dispels the darkness that is so prevalent in our world:  the deceitfulness of sin.  Because of The Light, we have spiritual discernment and are able to see truth clearly in a world where there are no absolutes nor standards of integrity.

How is that possible?  Through the transformation that begins when we became “new creatures in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17).  Each day, we become more like Christ—a light that is to shine in a darkened world.

Light transformation

In Ephesians 5:8, Paul explains the extraordinary transformation Christ makes in the life of His believers.

Paul accomplishes this by contrasting the believer’s old life with their new life.  Paul borrows an example from nature that would be easily understood by his readers—light and darkness.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light.  

“For you were once darkness.”  This statement of conclusion describes the state in which current saints found themselves before Christ.  Darkness (skotos) described their past condition.

We were not “in darkness” but we actually “were darkness”.  Metaphorically this describes individuals in whom “darkness becomes visible and holds them sway.” They are morally darkened by sin, spiritually bankrupt, and desperately in need of salvation (Rom. 3:23).

Who are you?

“But now you are light in the Lord.”  What caused the change between “once darkness and now light”?  Salvation!  God’s plan of salvation provided a change in status—from darkness to light.

Light (phos) is used figuratively to describe truth and its knowledge, together with the spiritual purity (in contrast to vv. 3-5) associated with it.  God took us (sinners) who were “foolish, disobedient, and deceived and according to His mercy, He saved them (us)” (Titus 3:3-5).

Life as a light bearer

“Walk as children of light.”  As new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), a new relationship emerged.  No longer in fellowship with darkness, we became children and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17) with all its power (Ep. 1:19) and privilege (Ep. 2:6).

In addition, our lives were redirected to God’s purpose—to walk as children of light.  As “light bearers” we now offer to the lost the same light we received when we walked in darkness.  By hearing our personal witness and the Gospel, the darkened world will be attracted to The True Light, Jesus Christ (John 8:12; 9:15).

As you plan your daily activities remember to embrace your identity as children of light.  Look for opportunities to “turn on the light” in dark places and “show others the goodness of God, for He also called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9, NLT).

How’s your joy capacity?

Joy Capacity

Joy and strength

Upon returning from exile, Nehemiah told the builders of the new wall of Jerusalem that “the joy of the Lord would be their strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) The type of joy Nehemiah was alluding to was only possible from our Almighty God Who would sustain them through the direst of circumstances.

What sustains you?  In the midst of all our challenges as a nation, in our communities, and in our families, how are you holding up?  How is your joy capacity?  Is the joy of the Lord still our strength today?  Yes!  The principle of joy still resonates even in the 21st century (James 1:2-3; Phil. 4:4).

What exactly is joy?

Joy is defined by Webster as a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.  This definition, however, fails to explain the importance of joy in building resiliency, or our ability to “bounce back” from the challenges of life.  It is joy that increases our emotional capacity to handle the difficulties we face while we live in this fallen world.

Joy nuggets

Although we may feel like we have little or no joy left, we must be diligent to “refill” our joy tanks.  I’d like to share just a few “joy nuggets” nuggets so you too can increase your JQ–joy quotient.

We increase our joy when we are in relationship.  I’m not talking about sexual relationship (although that is important) but I mean when we are in fellowship with others.  God said it is not “good for man to be alone.” In response, God created woman to be in relationship with Him. (Gen. 2:18) God Himself was in relationship with the first married couple.

In relationship, joy comes from knowing that the person you are with is happy to see and be with you.  Relationship was key to Christ as we observe His relationship with His disciples and His close circle which included Peter, James, and John

We increase joy when we are in community.  Social restraints and changing technology have made archaic the idea of a physical community.  Remember Mrs. Branch who taught the girls how to play the piano?  Or Mr. Johnson’s “show and tell” sessions about his adventures in the Army.  Or Mrs. Mott’s homemade cider and gingerbread at Halloween.

Community offered familiarity, authenticity, and validation.  Joy was found in acceptance and genuine interest in the individual.   Join a community that can offer these benefits.  Remember the television sitcom, “Cheers”.  At Cheers “everybody knows your name and their all so glad you came.  We want to go where everybody knows your name!”

 We increase joy when we reflect on moments of appreciation.  Think about a person that you appreciate and a time you felt especially grateful to be with that person.

Describe the emotion you felt when you were with them.  Describe what your body felt like when that person was present.  Doing this exercise regularly will raise your joy level.  

Let your joy flow

Although joy might appear to be a fleeting emotion, it really requires that we be intentional in our pursuit of it.

My joy begins first with God, my most important relationship.  It is in time of prayer, reading His Word, and fellowship through worship that I feel my greatest joy.   With Him, I feel safe, calm, and connected.  I feel joy.

Next, I find great joy with family and friends.  It is in sharing meals, recounting stories, and in creating new memories that I find joy.  These times together help me put into perspective what is important and “joyful.”  I share joy.

How is your joy capacity?

Throwback Wednesday: Remember to Press In!

Throwback Wednesday: Press In

Welcome to Throwback Wednesday

We close June with Throwback Wednesday.  It is an occasion to look back and rediscover truths that we may have forgotten.  In reading this WordBytes, I was challenged to place its insights in the context of today’s realities.

I’m sure many of you, like myself, are fatigued by the continual bombardments of bad news, emerging crisis in our nation, and the challenges to make sense of a world that seems to have lost its way.  Regardless of the circumstances and events of the day, I invite you to “press in”.  Press into God and feel His presence which will help us continue with hope and renewed energy.

I have always shared with friends and family, that God has purposed our lives for times such as this.  Our resiliency and our ability to move forward need to be connected with the power, presence, and promise of God.  He will not leave us nor forsake us.  We need only “press in!

“You will find me when you seek Me.”  Jeremiah 29:13

We have explored on many occasions the biblical truth that God is in and among us—continually, without interruption, 7 by 24.  We experience God through our personal fellowship with Him and through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

However, there may be times when we don’t “feel” God.  We feel estranged from Him, alone, and unable to hear His voice.  Be assured, this is a common experience for believers.  The resolution for this spiritual occurrence, however, is not to curb our prayer life or cease in reading His Word.  During those times, it is imperative that we “press in.”

Disturbing Quietness

There are seasons in my life when it is extremely difficult to hear God’s voice.  I’m not talking about unanswered prayer but times of “disturbing quietness” when l must strain to hear Him—if I hear Him at all.

As I shared this experience, I found other believers had been through similar seasons of silence.  Interestingly, we all described it as a period when we “didn’t hear His voice.”  

In Search of an Answer

When I first experienced this quietness, I began to the search my heart for sins I might have committed yet failed to confess.  It was the sin of Adam that separated him from fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden.  Later Adam and Eve would experience the physical death of their body—the final separation from the world God had created for them.  I asked God to forgive me of my sins, yet I still felt disconnected from my First Love (Rev. 2:4).

My next effort was to examine my devotion time with Him.  I would increase my time of reading His Word.  Psalm 119 became my “song book” as I sought to hear His voice.

    • I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. (v. 16)
    • I recounted my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees. (v. 26)
    • Yet you are near, O LORD, and all your commands are true. (v. 151)
    • May my cry come before you, O LORD; give me understanding according to your word. (v. 169)

I would rise early to pray—leaving more time to “listen” and less to speak.  I would “draw near” with a sincere heart with expectations that He would do likewise (James 4:8; Heb. 10:22).  I would dedicate my day to praise and worship.  If God inhabits the praises of His people (Ps. 22:3), He will surely respond to me as I emptied myself to Him.  Yet with all the modifications to my devotional time, I couldn’t hear Him.  After many days of silence, I finally experienced a breakthrough.

Learning to Press in

In Secrets of the Secret Place, Bob Sorge shared his insight into my situation.

Many of us feel like we move in and out of God’s throne room. We have times of great connectedness, and then we suffer periods of disconnectedness. We can’t always analyze exactly why a distance has developed in our hearts toward the Lord, but most of us feel like our relationship with Christ is a roller coaster ride of feeling close, then far, then close, then far, then close again. In and out.  And we hate it. We were created for constant intimacy, and anything less drives us crazy on the inside. It is at those times that we need to press into God like you never have in your life! Allow the desperation of your soul to help you pursue God with absolute abandonment. 

God’s periods of quietness were an invitation to draw closer to Him—to “press in.”  More than proximity, He desires to establish an intimate friendship with us that is walked out through the course of our everyday lives. He is not looking for a segment of our day nor a day of the week.  He desires unbroken communion with us.

So on those occasions when it appears that “you can’t hear God”, press in!  Be of good courage for He is ever near (Ps. 73:28).  Press in!  Eagerly and unabashedly pursue Him, the Pearl of Great Price (Matt. 13:46). Press in!

SELAH:  Read Psalm 63:1-8.  Write in your journal the ways that David “pressed in” to God during his time in the wilderness.  Read the text again using a different translation or paraphrase.  Then ask the Holy Spirit how He wants you to “press in”.     

What is fellowship with God?

What is Fellowship with God?

God in and among us

There are two (2) biblical truths that should motivate us to live our  lives “more fully and abundantly” (John 10:10).

The first truth is that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, presently lives within us.  Jesus promised this to us who “believeth on and in Him” (John 14:16-17).

The second is that we live continuously in the presence of God (Ps. 139:7).  There is never a time nor is there any circumstance in our life where we will find ourselves outside God’s love and purview.

Both truths are “spiritual blessings” gifted to us from our heavenly Father (Eph. 1:3).   But even with God’s commitment to be in and among us, we have a responsibility to draw “near to God” (James 4:8) by entering into intentional fellowship with Him.  God will not force His presence upon us.  He will, however, invite us into fellowship with Him.

What is fellowship?

What does “fellowship with God” look like in our life?  Fellowship has been described as the sharing of experiences with likeminded people.

However, fellowship with God is much more, because “who has known the mind of God?” (Romans 11:34) Our fellowship with the Father is dependent upon accepting His Son as Lord and Savior.  It is through Jesus Christ that we begin to “know by experience” God’s heart and mind.

Such was the case with the Apostle John and the disciples who were uniquely privileged to witness, first hand, the person and works of Christ.

“That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.   And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.”    1 John 1:3-4

Can I get a witness?

  • “That which was seen” included the many miracles of Christ; miracles that would attest to the coming of the promised Messiah (Matt. 11:2-5). 
  • “That which was heard” were truths that Christ declared concerning the kingdom of God and His offer of eternal life (Luke 4:43; 9:11).
  • “That which was looked upon and our hands handed” recounted the disciples’ examination of Christ’s glorified body after the resurrection (John 20:27).

All of the disciples’ senses were engaged as Christ manifested (revealed) Himself and the Father.  Since Father and Son are one (John 17:11, 22), the disciples concurrently experienced fellowship with the Father (v. 3).  The disciple’s experience with Christ was not viewed from a distance but up close and personal.

Unending communion

Fellowship (koinonia or koy-nohn-ee’-ah) is translated as “communion” and “joint participation in a common life.”   John’s personal witness was an invitation to the early church to participate in a lifestyle that centered on relationship–an unending communion with God the Father and the Son.    Therein is the basis for John’s reason for sharing about fellowship with God:  so that their “joy may be full” (1 John 1:3-4).

Joy (pleroo or play-ro’o) means “to fill to the top so nothing is wanting; to complete”.  Joy can also be explained as “God’s will obeyed” and “God’s promises fulfilled”.   Joy begins and ends with fellowship with the Father and the Son (Luke 4:21).

Fellowship with God as a lifestyle

Ask yourself these questions.  How would I describe my fellowship with God?  Have I seen, heard, and looked upon Christ’s presence in my daily walk of faith?  Do I have joy and is it full?

Many times, we miss opportunities to fellowship with God. Perhaps we have become distracted by competing priorities and the busyness of life. Have our sinful behavior patterns and unhealthy influences interrupted our fellowship with God?

We are to walk daily in fellowship with God, armed with the knowledge that we are no longer “slaves to sin”.  Instead we are to be “servants of righteousness” producing fruit of holiness (Rom. 6: 22).

Get up close and personal!

Though John’s letter was written thousands of years ago, its message is still relevant for us today.  Therefore, it is an invitation for us to participate with the only true Source of joy.

Jesus invites us to draw near with faith (Heb. 10:22) and learn of Him (Matt. 11:29). In return, we can enjoy glorious fellowship with Him.  Let us be faithful witnesses to what it means to live in fellowship with God.

Listening Prayer: Engaging in a Prayer-filled Life

Listening Prayer: Engagaing in a Prayer-Filled Life

The Needful Thing

Last week, we discussed the prayer-filled, contemplative life.  The contemplative life acknowledges the importance of a personal relationship with God and the intimacy gained through focused attention on Him.  Fulfillment of this life involves both love for God and the desire to be in His presence continually.

For many believers, such a pursuit necessitates a return to our First Love (Rev. 2:4) and the desire for “the needful thing” (Luke 10:42).  Both can only be found in fellowship with Infinite God.  So today we will spend time looking at a key practice in the prayer-filled life—listening prayer.

Listening Prayer

Listening prayer is about joining with God at the “heart”.   By heart, I’m not speaking about the emotions only, but that “intuitive part” which instructs the mind and the will.  It is a place of union with God.

In listening prayer, we exchange our “intermittent” requests for “continuous” dialogue with the all wise, all-powerful God. Through the eyes and the ears of the heart we see and “hear” God—who He is and how He operates.

Listening prayer was a new experience for me.  I admit my prayer life was one-sided—asking, seeking, and knocking (Matt. 7:7).  I invested much time in learning what I thought was the “right way” to pray.  I followed the PAPA prayer formula.  I prayed the Scriptures.  I employed the ACTS model (adoration-confession-thanksgiving-supplications).  While I wanted to better communicate with God, I failed to realize what God wanted.  God was not concerned with “correct communications” but God did desire “attentive conversation” with me.

Barriers to Listening Prayer

Hindrances to listening prayer are generally found in two areas:  the desire for an “experience” versus the “presence” of God and the modern split between “head and heart” knowledge of God.

In our society, we are accustomed to being “stimulated” by what we are doing. Unfortunately, that is how we judge whether something has really happened.  We expect to hear God speak in a loud, audible voice.  That is not necessarily how God may choose to communicate.  Remember Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-12).

Most Christians today suffer to one extent or another from “post-enlightenment” mindset—the split between thought and experience.  This split in most Christians is characterized by an acceptance of their conceptual knowledge about God as reality while they simultaneously deny the primary ways of knowing, loving, and walking with God. This is more intuitive than rational. As a result of this split, even committed Christians, do not believe in Christ’s real presence with and within them.[1]

We must be careful to guard against these hinderances to true intimacy with God.

Where to begin?

How do we begin to incorporate listening prayer into our life?

First, we must believe that God desires to communicate with us (Gen. 35:13).  God is not some distant deity disinterested in His children.  We cry “Abba Father” (Gal. 4:6) knowing He hears our every word.  `

Secondly, we must know that God wishes to be in relationship with you (James 4:8a).  By instituting His plan of salvation, He created the means to restore that which was loss in the Garden of Eden—fellowship with mankind.

Thirdly, we must declare our intentions and ask to hear His voice. Hearing God is not natural (remember we loss that in the Garden), so we must be intentional (Matt. 11:15).  Initially, we may need to set aside time, to listen for His voice, perhaps during our morning or evening devotional time.

Finally, we must invite God into time with us and expect to hear (1 John 5:14).  We may receive a fleeting impression, an image, even a scripture or a song.  Don’t ignore it!  Write it down, then ask God to explain what we experienced.  This is where our journal comes in handy.

Time to begin!

Listening prayer is not a method, but a walk with God where we intentionally listen for His voice.  It’s more than “doing”, it is about “being” aware of His presence.   Listening prayer is about inviting God into the daily rhythm of our life knowing that He speaks to us continuously.  It is an exciting time of fellowship and discovery.  It is what God has always wanted.

[1] Listening Prayer:  Learning to Hear God’s Voice and Keep a Prayer Journal, Leanne Payne