Don’t Save Your Song For Sunday

I’m often struck by how Bible writers describe God’s creation singing to Him for joy, and with great exuberance. I’m not referring here to God’s people, but the trees that “clap their hands” and the ocean waves that mount up and the mountains quake.

Is this just poetic language? To some degree it is, but I do believe God’s powerful presence and majesty are on occasion the cause of that ocean swell, that rumbling of the earth’s plates. I have actually heard the trees clap their hands, especially when a strong breeze blows over a tall cottonwood tree. On a walk years ago I was surprised by what sounded like applause above my head, and when I looked up saw that a wind too high to touch me was whipping the leaves together, so they were indeed, clapping their hands! The winds are often God’s messenger.

As God’s child, I take all these things personal, as bids for my attention, AND as signs of His nearness. When scripture speaks of nature and creation singing and clapping and roaring and trembling, it tells us these things respond to God’s majestic presence — because they cannot help it.

Somehow, we humans repress that urge. I’m sure it begins with not recognizing God’s presence or majesty, as gentle and invisible as it is around us. When we do, we tend to simply smile and say, “Thank you, Lord.” Thanksgiving is a very, very good thing, but a song or a shout of joy bursting forth from us is better.

We tend to save our singing and our shouts for Sunday morning, and do it with the crowd. Again, a very good thing. But consider some of the phrases from Psalm 98: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things…shout for joy to the Lord…burst into jubilant song with music…” A “new song” is a song never been heard before. In church we sing songs penned by other writers, and however perfectly they might express our praise, they are not new.

I believe it thrills our heavenly Father to hear a new song come out of me, when I’m standing in the garden watering, or at the kitchen sink washing dishes, or walking on the beach competing with the roar of the waves to make my praising voice heard. Many years ago, I stopped saving my songs for Sunday. I’m a terrible singer, and I’m not a songwriter, but this doesn’t matter. What makes a new song is the private words of your own heart flowing out, carried on new musical notes, because God is worthy, and your joy is full.

The same Spirit who helps us pray, helps us sing our new songs to the Lord. Here is my prayer for you:

Lord, help us recognize your majestic presence, and respond to your beauty and your faithful love as you deserve. Help us, Spirit, to make new music, voicing our unique words of praise with new notes to create a song God will never hear from anyone else. In Jesus’ name I ask, Amen.

Your song may only be four lines long — but it is your song, and I promise you, the Lord will cherish it above a thousand hymns you borrow from others.

Bless you in your knowing and loving the Lord,

Tonia

 

The Hope To Which You Are Called

As I prayed this morning for someone I love, the Spirit reminded me of a phrase in Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:18: “the hope to which you are called.”

I understood the Spirit was pointing to the specific plans He has for this person (and for each of His children) — plans I prayed would be revealed to my beloved, so they could know what God wants to do with and for them, and therefore, what to let their heart hope for! Discouragement had come knocking, and I went to prayer determined to help them overcome it. Nothing overcomes discouragement so completely as a settled hope in the plans our Faithful Father has for us. My beloved needs to know; we all need to know.

Think of these words again: the HOPE to which we are CALLED.

We need to know what the Lord wants each of us to believe and have hope in concerning our life as it rests in His hands. I do not believe we are asked to hope in just some vague idea of goodness from God towards us. God has unique plans and a calling for each of His children. Perceiving, knowing, and understanding what the Lord wants us to hope in becomes a great anchor for our faith. As the Lord has said,

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

We need to know what the Lord is calling us to hope in when doubts come. We need a settled faith in what God is planning for us when life becomes disappointing. We need confidence in the personal words God has whispered to our spirit, when the enemy comes nagging with his words of discouragement and accusation.

Towards this end, we need to ask, “Lord, what would you have me put my hope in?” Insofar as He is willing, we can know and perceive God’s plans for us, and we should. I believe with all my heart that God is not trying to hide these things from us; that he wants us to seek, to know, and understand, so we may believe, agree and rest in them. In fact, Scriptures I have come across over the years have convinced me that God is really pleased when we seek to know and engage with him like this, because it stirs faith in us, and God loves few things so much as seeing that His child BELIEVES Him. (Think of how much faith excited Jesus when he saw it in people.)

I leave you to soak in the full prayer of the Apostle Paul:

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”  (Ephesians 18-19a, NIV)

Resting Between His Shoulders

It’s 6 a.m., and I have settled into a chair near the wide open back door where I can feel the coastal breezes waft in, and hear the first bird songs of the morning. As usual, I have my creamy tea in hand. After greeting the Lord with “Good morning,” I ask, “What do you want us to do today, Lord?” The answer comes, 

“Rest in my love.”

Tears of relief and joy well up. Relief, because I realize I am a little on the weary side this morning. I don’t know how much I need to rest with Him until I hear the words. Joy, because this is the God who saved me and with whom I share life. 

I lean back, and the words of Moses bubble up to the surface of my mind: “The one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” This is part of the blessing/destiny Moses spoke over the tribe of Benjamin — the youngest of Israel’s sons, the baby of the family, who forever in my mind and theology represents the child of God. The greater blessing says, “The beloved of the Lord rests secure in Him, for He shields him all day long. And the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” (Deuteronomy 33:12)

I know these words by heart, having claimed them as my own heritage, in faith. And in response to this faith — that the Lord loves it when we lean against Him in childlike faith and presumption of His tender love for us — the Lord has invited me to rest anew in His love. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this invitation. 

How did I come to faith in this way of being with the Lord? These words, among many others in Scripture, which the Holy Spirit has woven together in my heart over years of seeking to know this God. It is like a garment I wear now, made seamless by Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…” together with His admonition, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom like a little child will never enter it.” 

The kingdom of God is many marvelous things, and I’m sure I’ve only discovered a fraction of them. But I am quite sure that chief among them is resting between God’s shoulders, enjoying His love, in the un-self-conscious faith of a child who is convinced Daddy loves her.


The topic of being childlike with God, and being established in His love, is a major theme of Tonia’s book, “They Will All Know Me,”
available on Amazon.com and in the Shammah Book Store.

Making God Sing

The following is a Journal Entry from March, 2011:

I awoke to the Spirit singing to me this morning….a joyful song about dancing, and sadness fleeing away. I’ve awakened with music in my spirit before, but usually it is clear that MY spirit is singing to the Lord. But this feels really different, especially in light of the lyrics. Lord, can you really be singing that to me, about me? Usually I sing that about you. Can it be true that you were sad, and that I did something that turned your sorrow into joy?

The answer comes without hesitation, “Yes.”  

Then immediately to my mind comes a moment from the day before when my heart was pondering choices, and I quietly made a choice to trust God in something.

And I saw that in that moment I had turned from the Tree of Knowledge to the Tree of Life….for it is increasingly clear to me that we continually live in the presence of these two trees, or what they represent.

And I remembered also that there had been a noticeable strength present in me the rest of that day, a quiet strength of discipline. It led to some good choices, and I awoke happy about them. And that happiness overflowed to how I embraced my husband and how I looked forward into the day. And best of all, it made my God happy in me.

My pondering had been about some upcoming ministry time, and how, when I saw that I was reverting to old patterns of preparation — which looked like study, study, study, write, write, write, think, think, think — and then I remembered that when I had asked the Father how to prepare He gave me two simple instructions. I had been following them, though in a little sluggardly fashion — but then ADDING all that other stuff, stuff, stuff! And then I said quietly in my heart, NO. This time (because I’ve been here before, how many times?) I will simply trust and obey my Lord, and rest in His words.” It was a little quiet vow, made while dressing to go to a funeral, and then I walked out the door to attend that funeral and left that all behind to immerse myself in that occasion.

Here’s the cycle as I see it:

  • I make a little quiet choice to do it God’s way.
  • When He sees this, He undergirds me, filling me with strength to carry out His will.
  • In that strength, I go forward doing things that I ordinarily could not do, in my weakness.

I tell my disciples often, “I’m as weak as they come.” And it is true.  I make better choices when I walk with my God in His ways and abandon mine. More life comes. Rest comes to my spirit as internal struggle fades away. And I’m nicer to my guy. Everybody wins. And maybe, just maybe, God sings a happy song to me later to celebrate. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned about this God, it is that He is into celebration.

God Keeps Us

Bible-on-deskI once had a dear friend who loved “to keep Christmas.” As the season drew near she would begin preparing for it, cleaning house, rearranging things to make room for a display of her huge nativity collection, shopping for gifts, writing cards, setting her December schedule around activities with friends and at church. By the time December came, Patrice had everything in place, wrapped and done, so she could then tend to keeping Christmas in her favorite way: in private daily devotions to Jesus, special Scriptures and Advent calendar readings; in public church activities with family and friends. She did all this to rebuild in her heart anew each year the childlike sense of anticipation and wonder over Emmanuel, God with us. Patrice loved Jesus with all her heart, and “keeping Christmas” was one of her favorite ways of showing it. Before I knew her I’d never heard the word “keep” used this way, as a reference to how one carefully observes a thing of great importance, preparing for it, attending to it in every detail, giving it priority. To “keep Christmas” meant all that to her, and came to mean that to me. She might remark of someone, “They like Christmas, but they don’t really keep Christmas, you know.”

Against this backdrop, as I studied God’s covenant ways with his people, I noticed something: God uses the word keep in precisely the same way. The began to come on when I read 1 Samuel 2:9, where Hannah says of the Lord:

He keeps the feet of His godly ones… (NAS)

When I first read this I Immediately thought of Patrice and her devotion to observe Christmas. Could “keeps” have the same meaning here? I just had to know, so I looked it up in my trusty Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible.

A Word Study: Shamar

The word “keeps” is the Hebrew word shamar, which means to hedge around something in order to keep, guard, preserve, tend to or be attentive to (i.e. “keep a promise”). Hebrew scholar Spiros Zodhiates says this is an important Hebrew verb appearing 470 times in the Old Testament, the first of which is Genesis 2:15, where it refers to the tending or exercising of great care over the garden in Eden. Zodhiates comments, “In a religious vein, shamar expresses the careful attention which was paid to the obligations of a covenant, to laws or to statutes. Abraham gave orders to his children to ‘keep’ the way of the Lord in Genesis 18:29.”*

When Hannah said, “He keeps the feet of His godly ones,” she was praising Him for watching over the path of His beloved children, ever at work to steer our footsteps into His best will, for our joy and for His glory. I believe the Spirit of the Lord is continually stirring in our hearts to know and do what the Lord wants (which Paul actually says in Philippians 2:13). However, the Lord does this so gently — without a hint of manipulation or encroaching on our freedom — that such guidance can go unnoticed by the inattentive child of God.

The Spirit is always trying to lead you. As one of God’s beloveds, He keeps you, watching personally over every contemplation of your heart and mind, hoping you will be attentive to His presence and guidance. He is ready to help you to what is right, good, and wise in all matters large and small.

“But,” you might say, “I haven’t been keeping devotion to God lately, and Hannah said that He keeps the feet of His ‘godly ones.’ I’m sure I don’t qualify as one of those right now.”

The fact is, you are one of His godly ones if you are in Christ! The Hebrew word underlying this phrase refers to those who are in covenant with God. So while yes, you should absolutely live in an upright and devoted manner with the Lord, your failure to do so doesn’t cause Him to shut down on His faithful devotion to guide you. After all, that would defeat His purpose — He always wants to guide you right back into His ways. Never forget that God’s faithfulness is based upon His character, not yours.

Jesus said to His disciples:

“Abide in my love. If you keep my commands, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” (John 15:9-10 NASB)

Here is truth: God is always keeping the feet of His beloved children, watching over them.

Here is truth: God has given us free will to walk where we wish and choose whatever we want.

Here is truth: The one who believes in God’s guidance will be attentive to the Spirit within, and find that guidance always at hand. Keeping God’s ways and commands will keep us in His love. Abundant life is not guaranteed to all who wear the name “Christian”; It is the reward of the yielded, obedient child, who abides in the love of God.

This is the reciprocal covenant life we are offered through Jesus Christ: God tends to our lives with all diligence; we tend to His life with all diligence. This is where life abounds. Shamar is another word among many that has great meaning in the context of covenant relationship — which is exactly what we have with the Lord, through Jesus Christ. (Explained in detail in my new book, They Will All Know Me.) I think I shall add shamar to my Covenant Glossary.

On His side of the equation, God keeps our covenant relationship with all devotion. Let us “keep faith” with Him the same way Patrice kept Christmas.

*Lexical Aids to the Old Testament, Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, New American Standard Bible, Editor Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D.

Why I’m Excited About The New Book

I know what you’re thinking: “Of course she’s excited about the new book — she wrote it!”

True. But the response we are getting to this book is greater than any other book we have published so far. In fact, I was thrilled when the team who helped me edit the book ordered it by the case-full when it was published, because they wanted to give a copy to everyone they love or mentor. And though they had all each read it, they couldn’t wait to read it again!

I hear people testifying already of how it is plugging into their hunger for something more with God that has eluded them so far. People are finding hope in They Will All Know Me that they can know God and that knowing Him will nourish them in all the ways they have been left hungry.

I don’t say these things to brag on me, I say them to rejoice in the partnership of expression that I believe began in His heart and flowed over into mine, for your sake… because Jesus doesn’t just love you, He LOVES you! He wants to share life with you…. NOW! I believe He wanted this book written to give hope to hungry hearts who have been left malnourished by the current widespread model of church and Christianity, which typically teaches ABOUT God more than how to really KNOW God.

TWAKM Cover FrontEternal life is what Jesus suffered for us to receive, and in John 17:2-3 He defined eternal life as knowing the Father and Jesus Christ. This book is all about the full message of this new life, about not settling for anything less than knowing God in personal experience, and sharing my stories of how I learned to know God so far and how that has changed my heart and life… which it has, like nothing else could

There are oodles of great books out there, and this is just one. But God has a target for every book He stirs one of His children to write, and we pray daily for this one to find HIS target. I often feel the Lord’s love for His people, and I felt it daily in waves as we wrote this book together. I praise the Lord for His unfailing love and His passion to find every possible way to get the word out!

 

They Will All Know Me: An Introduction

As I near the completion of “They Will All Know Me,” I offer you the Introductory Chapter to give you a taste of what to expect from this latest book in the ScribeLife Series. The process of writing this book stirred my passion for sharing these truths even more as I reviewed my personal journals and revisited the Scriptural truths that first birthed a hunger and a hope in knowing the Lord now. We hope to publish the book in early June.


They Will All Know Me: An Introduction

Being a Christian, and knowing God, are two very different things for too many people. Does that statement shock you? Or does it seem obvious already?

I am writing this book, adding to the hundreds already out there on Christian living, because as a counselor, teacher and daughter of God, it is clear to me that one can be a Christian by virtue of being “saved” and “baptized” — and still not know God. And as a counselor for over 25 years, it has become abundantly clear that just about 100% of what people need to be a better person, have a better life, receive healing for their souls, and be victorious over sin or depression, is to know God.

As a Christian working with nearly every denomination that confesses Christ, I also witness that a great majority of pastors and churches are programmed to teach people how to be good Christians and church members, more than how to know their God — and again, there is a vast difference between these two things.

The difference is found on every level — such as whether one truly enjoys his relationship to the Lord, being nourished by Him; or one who serves the Lord yet knows no joy. It is contrasted in those who have a continual tug of war with sin and their old nature, and those who are so blessed by walking with God in his ways that nothing much tempts them anymore. It is the difference between one who genuinely worships God as an involuntary response to experiencing the Lord’s power and goodness; and the one who sings worship songs at church because that’s what you do before the sermon. Knowing God versus just “being saved” determines whether the promises in Scripture actually materialize in your life, or always feel like the impossible dream you can never quite reach or make happen.

I write this book because many do not know their God, nor have someone teaching them that they can and should. I write this book because knowing God is everything! I write this book because knowing God is actually His idea, His primary purpose, and His greatest blessing in the New Covenant of Christ.

I write this book because we have got it upside down and backwards: we think we have to become Christlike in order for God come near us. But in fact, God comes near us in order to show us how to become Christlike. Every good father teaches his immature son how to be who he should be. I am a profoundly different woman after 30 years of knowing God, both in character and contentment, and that didn’t happen from just reading my Bible and going to church; it happened through experiencing God as a real Father, Christ as a living savior, and the Spirit as a divine and ever-present friend, teacher, and enabler.

I write this book to build your faith in the fact of knowing God, to tell you my own experience and how it has changed my life, and to reveal the most important things one needs to know in this regard. I write this book in hopes that once you have read it, you will never again settle for what I call “spectator sport Christianity.” I hope that you will come away with a real hunger to know the most amazing Person ever, who not only promised us abundant life, but who IS abundant life to us and in us.

You were not saved to just have your sin forgiven, and left to pray to a God in heaven, whom you cannot know until you die and join Him there. In a fresh and unbiased reading of the New Testament you will not find any language to support this idea. What you will find is an incredible chorus of voices spurring you on to know God, walk with God, hear God, work with God, rest with God, be comforted by God, and along the way, become like God. Because in the end, YOU, child of God, become like your Father by knowing him — there is no other way.

You can know God. You have been brought into a covenant relationship with the Trinity for that very purpose. It doesn’t begin after you die. It isn’t 15% now and 100% later. All the promises of the Bible, everything the Bible invites you to hope in, flows out of this relationship — the experience of knowing a real God in real life.

We have unfortunately accepted the concept that knowing God is only for some heavenly day because for centuries teachers were not experiencing this in their own lives, and rather than change their lives, they changed the doctrine that Scripture clearly puts forward. The further away we have come from the first century church, who knew better, the more it has become normal to assume all the stuff those apostle guys wrote was about some other day, after Christ returns, after we have gone to heaven.

Yet the simple reading of the gospels and letters from the Apostles imply (or even presume we’ll understand) that this an immediate thing! If you read the New Testament from a position of no bias, no preconceived ideas, no doctrine imposed over it, putting aside everything you’ve ever heard, you will encounter the presumption that we can and should experience real fellowship with God from the moment we are saved and have received the gift of God’s Spirit. In fact, that is why we have been given the Spirit: He is the part of the Trinity that makes it possible for us to fellowship with the Father and the Son. To act and believe otherwise is to put your life with God on hold until your earth suit dies.

Yes, there is language that describes a day when there will be no evil, no tears, no sickness, and we are clearly not living there yet. This definitely describes a time when we will be living in the cleansed new heaven and new earth that has been purged of all sickness and evil. But this does not negate the dozens of descriptions of life with God to be experienced while we still live in our earth suits. In fact, the main reason Jesus spent years among men before he gave himself up for our sins, was to be a living demonstration of what life was meant to be as a human being, created by God, filled with His Spirit, sharing life together.

If you still feel like you are on the outside looking in, if you are bored or frustrated with your experience of being a Christian, if you’ve been wearing yourself out to confess and “pray in the promises,” and if you feel like you are the one who has to hold everything together in this Christianity thing — you’re doing it all wrong. If you are to run the race well, all the way, and win the prize, you must quit living as if you have to do it all on your own and will never be good enough.

I want to shout it from the rooftops, because I’ve heard it in the quiet and I’ve tested it thoroughly, and it is true: you are called to know God now. You can know God now. Every promise is fulfilled through this relationship. All comfort, all satisfaction of heart, all ability to forgive, to be wise, to fulfill your creative potential, to live worthy, will come naturally as you live according to your true identity as the beloved child and family member of a very present Father, Brother and Friend.

You might earn a good welcome in heaven because you perform well as a Christian, but you make all of heaven rejoice — and become the 100-fold fruitful Christian — only when you have lived on earth like you really believe God, faithfully seeing, hearing, walking and talking with Him.

He couldn’t wait to share life with you. He couldn’t wait to show off His best Dad stuff. He couldn’t wait to show you off to the world you live in, as He disciples you in his ways. He couldn’t wait to nourish you, then nourish the world through you, and touch His people through your heart and hands.

From the beginning, you were made to share life with God, not just get a ticket to heaven. It is His idea, His passion, and the joy of Jesus the Christ. I pray that this book will stir absolute faith in His passion to bring you to complete joy with Him.

Tonia Woolever
April 2016

A Season for Writing

My heart is very full these days of the topic I am currently writing about — knowing God. The longer I know my Lord, know other Christians, and observe the way this world goes, the more certain I am that knowing God is the key to everything. It is His plan to heal, Father, and teach His children; it is how his Kingdom will be established. Knowing God is the highest joy we have on earth, and the means by which every Bible promise is fulfilled. It is the only way to ensure we end up with abundant life instead of lifeless religion.

I have tasted the Lord in wondrous, flawed, challenging and satisfying ways since He won my heart in 1979. Experiencing His goodness in daily life IS my joy, my strength, my rest, my wisdom, my hope and my inspiration to keep trying when I fail. I could never come up with those things on my own; they come with HIM. Jesus said it like this in John 17:3: “This is eternal life: knowing the Father.” Neither he nor the other New Testament writers ever spoke of this life beginning only after death. Eternal life begins for the believer the moment he or she joins to the Lord.

Everything that we could pack into a definition of abundant and eternal life — satisfaction of heart, nourishing relationship, the wisdom and power to fulfill our potential — flows out of knowing God. Everything written beyond the Gospels reveals that we were not given faith to just believe IN God, we were given faith in order to live our lives as a response to His very presence — Emmanuel, God with us. faith-signFaith is required if we are to enjoy the rest Jesus told us to seek in Him. Faith is necessary to hear personal words of comfort from the Father of all comfort in our grief. Faith is essential if we are to co-labor with the Father as Jesus did, believing that we can know what the Father is doing and do it with him. Faith is absolutely necessary to approach God in true childlikeness, believing it really is His pleasure to give the kingdom to his children, that we are really accepted by Him. The purpose of faith is believing that our constant companion, the Holy Spirit, is directing our hearts and revealing God’s thoughts to us as often as we turn our attention to Him. Millions believe in God and in His son, and are taught all about God; too few actually extend that faith to getting to know the God who lives right in them.

The book I am writing will explain how our salvation is actually a covenant that calls us to know God and promises he will make that possible. I will also weave together stories of my experiences of knowing God with the Scriptures which first gave me hope in such a life. The Bible consistently validates that this life is both a privilege and a calling from God. In fact, to “live worthy of the calling” means we must act upon what God is truly offering, not shrink back in fear. The Biblical writers assure us that God delights in the one who comes boldly, who seeks to know and taste of God; and is not pleased with the one who is timid, fearful or otherwise makes excuses about it all being too hard.

Certainly there is a tension to be maintained in knowing God, between the reverence due our Creator King, and the childlike intimacy the Father invites us to enjoy. My personal experience is that ultimately I walk with God more fruitfully and even more reverently when I presume upon the invitation to intimacy. How can that be? I think that is due to the fact that only in truly tasting of God — experiencing his invisible but very real presence — will your love, reverence and passion to obey naturally increase, in a way that you own it, you don’t have to be forced or talked into it. Instead of a command you must make yourself do, true fear and worship of the Lord comes naturally. To know Him is to love Him. Certainly we honor God when we worship him as an act of determination and devotion, yet the kind of worshippers the Father values the most are those who worship in spirit and in truth, as a genuine and irrepressible response to what they have seen and know. Thus the exhortation, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Every day I encounter people who shrink back from knowing God out of fear that they are unworthy, not good enough, not surrendered enough; who believe they must achieve a certain level of maturity before hoping that God will walk and talk with them. Yet I find quite the opposite to be true: as I relax into hanging out with God as I would a friend, brother and father, I find myself becoming more of what I am called to be. I am taught. I learn right timing, when I otherwise may not understand whether it is a time to embrace, or to refrain from embracing.

It is the relationship that brings us to maturity, not the other way around. I’m on a mission to convince people of this, to come against the lie which the devil has fostered, that believers have to earn God’s favor, his voice, his presence, before they can know God in such ways this side of heaven. Yes, there are requirements, and He has made sure we can meet them all, through His grace, His Spirit, His goodness.

This book will be entitled “They Will All Know Me,” and is to be book three of the ScribeLife Series the Lord has instructed me to write. (The first two books in the series are “Rooted & Established In Love” and our co-authored book “Can I Really Hear God?”) There will be three more books in the series following this one, including one on “Spirit Life” (how to walk with the Holy Spirit), and one on our Lord’s command to “love others as I have loved you.”

I covet your prayers for this work. I believe with all my heart that the world needs to learn these things. I write to join the chorus of voices out there who are singing the same tune, because so many people are still captive, still timid, and still reaching for satisfaction from the world because they don’t realize how very much God can truly satisfy them. I am not qualified to write of these things because I live it perfectly, but because I have tested what I teach in my own daily life for thirty years. I have come to know this amazing God who keeps leaping over all my flaws and weaknesses to love me with all His heart, and I want others to know Him as they can.

In fact, don’t wait for the book, just get on that right now. The Spirit will show you how; it’s His favorite thing!

Taking Care of Business

Covenant relationship looks like this: if I give of myself to take care of my covenant partner, tending to what is important to them; and they give themselves tending to what is important and needful to me, we are both satisfied! We love well. We have mutual joy. There will be no no lack, no sorrow, no striving. We both have rest in the heart of the other and in all that concerns us. All expressions of rest — such as safety, provision, nurture, love — are met in this kind of relationship.

I’ve learned this more than once in my walk with God, but especially when we were needing to move to the Texas coast in 2013 to be near my parents to help care for them. We needed to find a new home, and I wanted to go out and spend all effort and time finding it NOW. Yet life kept happening, and getting in the way! People kept needing things that stopped us from going at our search full speed ahead. I stewed and fretted some, with the Lord occasionally reassuring me that he had already secured a home for us.

I believed, yet still, in all honesty, it was hard to focus my attention on anything but finding that new home, until one day the Spirit dropped these words into my spirit: “Be about my business, and I will be about yours.” The Lord has a way of saying the one thing that changes everything. He had things we needed to do for him, things with and for people. I wish I had a dollar for every time the Lord has revealed that it isn’t people I am pushing against, it is Him!

The Lord reminded me that I could REST concerning our great need, because He was at work securing it all for us. Meanwhile, He needed me to be about His business in a wholehearted way, tending to the people he wanted to love on through us.

I realized what a perfect relationship this is, this reciprocal covenant love and care. It nips selfishness and self-centeredness in the bud. Joy seldom fails to come when you give of yourself to someone else. One may find some pleasure in giving themselves what they need, but nothing like the pure joy of giving oneself for others.

So, as we waited for our whole lives to be moved and rearranged, tending to my Father’s business produced in me joy, and rest, and hope, and fruitfulness. It was a good season, and my heart relaxed into being fully present for the people in our lives. The Lord was served, the people on His heart were served, and He did indeed secure for us the most delightful, perfect home here on the coast. It all came together in just the right time, and I hate to think of what we might have “settled for” in our own impatience and striving! I am so glad we did not, that he gave us the grace to rest both in what He promised and asked of us in those days.

So be about the Good Lord’s business, and He will always be about yours. That is covenant faithfulness, covenant care, covenant love. That is taking care of business, God’s way.

How To Delight Our Father: A Cheat Sheet

One day, the Lord revealed to the Prophet Isaiah all the things that would cause Him to delight in His “chosen one.” We know now that he was describing his Son Jesus. Here is what the Father said of him who would bring delight:

My child brings justice
My child is a servant
My child is not loud or quarrelsome
My child is gentle and compassionate
My child is faithful
My child does not falter or get discouraged
My child is a light to men
My child heals blindness
My child sets captives free

                       Isaiah 42:1-7 (paraphrased)

“My chosen one in whom my soul delights.”  

My chosen one.

Fast forward, past the days of Christ, to the days when Paul the Apostle wrote to the Ephesian Christians,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. ”

Ephesians 1:3-5, NASB

Here’s the way I see it: God’s original chosen one was His Son; AND he “chose us” in His Son before he even established the world! In other words, we become the Chosen when we join ourselves to Christ, the Chosen. Jesus confirmed this when He said,  “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20, NASB).

We are the sons and daughters of God through Christ, and together with Him, we are the chosen. Therefore, the list given to Isaiah is now OUR list to live by. Let us consider the things on this list that delight our Father.

Do any of those give you pause? Like say, for instance, healing the blind and setting the captives free? Can that really be for us? Some would ask, isn’t some of this truly just spoken of Jesus Christ alone?

I do not believe so, and here is why: Jesus said to his disciples, astoundingly, “You will do greater things than what I have done while with you,” But for this, we should not dare to appropriate these words for ourselves. But He did say it! And we should own them!

These words began as a prophecy, became a promise, and for those who would live a life that delights the Father, it is a mandate. Through Christ, we are the recipients of all.

Everything that “religion” requires is most beautifully accomplished through the goal of seeking to delight the Father. Like Jesus, we can do nothing on our own; and also like Jesus, we can do all things through the indwelling Spirit.

Isaiah has given us a cheat sheet to remind us of this good and wonderful way of life that is Christianity, for the sons and daughters of God. I encourage you to print it out, post it on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror, or on your computer monitor. Remember every day who you are now that God is your Father, and how you may bring delight to His heart.

(Excerpted from the book Tonia is writing, “They Will All Know Me”)

Truth in the Innermost Innermost

Behold, you desire truth in the innermost being; and in the hidden part you will make me know wisdom. (Psalm 51:6 NASB)

As a writer, I am a bit jealous of those who communicated in ancient Hebrew, a rich imagery buffet of words and concepts that yielded choice meals of truth. And often served in a special presentation, such as rhyme or repetition. This verse is a perfect example, because David employed LOTS of repetition here, which we miss in English.Hidden-Place

The phrase “innermost being” is actually the same word repeated twice, which in English does mean  “innermost.” And the later phrase, “hidden part,” is a synonym that means concealed or hidden, and it is ALSO repeated twice. So a literal reading of this would be,

Behold, you desire truth in the innermost innermost;
and in the hidden hidden you will make me know wisdom.

Note that this is part of Psalm 51, which David penned when he was confronted over committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband murdered — an act David found necessary because her husband was of such high integrity that he would not even go home and sleep with his wife while his own soldiers slept in the fields, and thus provide cover for the fact that a pregnancy was now underway in his absence.

Psalm 51 stands out as THE place to turn when one sins really big against God, and needs to find his way back from what feels like the unforgivable thing. It provides all the vocabulary one needs to talk to God in such an awful moment.

While David’s evil acts seem totally out of character with his reputation and public personna as the God-loving warrior king of Israel, David has seen that they were first conceived from a place deep within his soul and spirit where the real truth is found about his character – his innermost innermost. Scripture assures us that sin always begins from a place within us that desires something:

… but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full- grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15 NIV)

Possessing “truth in the innermost innermost” means that what is down at the core of one’s being actually lines up with how one behaves and what he claims to value. In other words, God is looking for the one who truly desires righteousness at the very core of his being.

David’s actions have clearly revealed that this was not the case. Horrified at what he has done, he acknowledges that it isn’t enough to say, “I’m sorry, God, help me not to do that awful thing again;” he understands that he needs to be cleansed of wrong desires and have them replaced with God’s wisdom in that place where all values and choices are birthed — in the hidden, hidden. Hidden from man, and often even from ourselves, but never from God.

Today it is popular when encouraging an athlete to score in a sporting event to say, “Take it to the house!” Well, the innermost innermost hidden hidden is the house I share with the Lord, and if one doesn’t score there, it doesn’t count for much. I too have had my actions reveal that my “core” values didn’t match what I believed and proclaimed publicly. And realizing that I need help to change, I learned from David to cry out to God to instill his wisdom in my innermost innermost, to replace those wrong desires. Experience has taught me that the shortcut to change isn’t wrestling myself into it, but asking for and surrendering to the power of God’s Spirit, who dwells in my innermost innermost hidden hidden.

What I love about verse 6 is that David takes us past the “terrible-me-I’m-no-good-how-could-God-ever-forgive-me” moment — which can become a hopeless permission to stay as you are — and brings you face-to-face with the Lord who can truly make you better. It begins with honesty, and leads to real change — change you can’t do by yourself. The idea that a really big sin requires you to feel horrible about yourself for a very long time as a means of doing penance is the devil’s idea, not God’s. Long-term guilt may or may not bring about some change, and shame does not draw us closer to our God. Our God prefers to follow your sincere repentance with His swift redemption, because he loves to share unfettered fellowship with you. He knows, as all fathers do, that staying close to his heart is a much better motivator to do what is right than plain old nagging guilt and shame.

Hopefully most of us will never be guilty of adultery and murder (much less both!) but the fact is that truly there are no big sins and little sins. We should feel just as grieved over lying to someone as we would over marital unfaithfulness, when we look into the eyes of Christ, who alone knows us in the hidden hidden innermost innermost.

Our innermost innermost hidden hidden is where we share life with God. It should be a place of truth between us, a place from which we really live and express the life of Christ to the world around us. We are the temple of the Living God, and we need to keep it real real and righteous righteous in there where no one is looking but Christ. (Yeah, I can’t let the ancient writers have all the fun.)

Beyond the Ten Commandments

My evening was open and free last night, as my husband would be occupied and I had no appointments. I asked the Lord, as I often do, “What would you like to do this evening? What would be a good thing?” The reply came, “Read my Word together.”

A predictable answer, tho certainly not a stock answer. I honestly don’t always pray about what to do with my free time, and when I do I’ve heard many answers, ranging from “go take a bubble bath and pamper” to “let’s go play in the garden” to “let’s go shopping.” So it’s not like God is strict with me about such things. I do always enjoy reading the Scriptures, they nourish me so, and I’ve done too little of that lately.

So what did I do? I got my Bible and sat it on the table beside me, then got out a movie I’d been wanting to watch. And for two hours I watched it with my Bible laying by my side, as if that little conversation never happened. When the movie was over, it was too late and my eyes too tired for anything but sleep.

I went to bed feeling guilty, and awoke knowing I had disappointed my Lord. He did not speak to me harshly, but when I confessed my sin to him, he said, “It was your choice to make. The devil didn’t make you do it. You chose what you really valued last night.” I feel awful, about my choice, my weakness, the fact that I blithely ignored my Lord’s response just to entertain myself, without a backward glance. I walked right past him to that shelf of movies, as if he wasn’t there and hadn’t answered my question. In a way, it horrified me how very easy it was. It is easy because he is, after all, invisible, and because he is always so gentle and gracious to me.

As I ask forgiveness of my Lord, I do so against a backdrop of awareness that some would consider this legalistic behavior on my part. “For goodness’ sake, Toni, it’s not like you broke one of the Ten Commandments!” I hear in my imagination. But here is the truth. What I did was to sin against the intimate love I share with the Lord, against the expectations, hopes and faith we put in one another. I ignored him, and I trampled on his gracious nature and favor, his gentle love for me.

Entertainment isn’t a sin; but acting as if the Lord’s desires matter to me and then ignoring him, is. He is my friend, and I am His. My choice was a sin against the closeness we share and the goodness that is meant to pass between us every day. James 4:17 says it perfectly: “He who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”

I have been on the receiving end of a moment like this, often enough to know exactly how it feels. In every intimate relationship I have, with husband, son, daughter, friend, I have experienced this kind of treatment. They are all wonderful people, but at times what I needed, expected or hoped for from them didn’t come. I have been ignored, neglected, had promises broken. Have not we all? I never doubt any of these people love me, but in the course of our relationships they have chosen other things over paying attention to me at times that registered enough to hurt, left feeling as if I didn’t matter very much.

And I am guilty of doing this to the ones I love as well. We all do it. We all make choices in moments that feel perfectly innocent; when we are tired or need to tend to self rather than someone else, or somethinGone Astrayg else just captivates – a book, movie, hobby, special event, a work project – that temporarily shoves everything and everyone else to the back of the line. And it is easiest to do this to the ones we know will be most gracious, is it not?
There are sins beyond the Ten Commandments, and they are sins of love. They are sins against love. You won’t find them written on stone, but they should be written in the heart. In my heart, they go something like this:

Thou shalt pay attention to the covenant loves in your life.

Thou shall not break the faith you have invited others to place in you.

Thou shalt be steady in how you treat an intimate; respect, love, and goodness are always due.

Thou shalt live your values, not being a pretender, even in private.

Thou shalt own up to your sins against love, and ask forgiveness for them.

Yes. The fact is that “for goodness’ sake” we must needs love well at all times.

True Passion Marched Past Full Disclosure

In my desire to understand my Lord and the Word of God, I often try to put myself in Cross-Shofar-MantleJesus’ shoes. What was it like to be Jesus, walking the earth as a human? Especially this time of year, or whenever I read the Scriptures concerning the suffering of Christ, I am astounded anew at this fact: Jesus knew exactly what would happen to him before he said yes to it. He made that abundantly clear to his disciples:

“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.” (Mark 10:32-34 NIV)

This wasn’t the first or only time Jesus said things like this. As the days grew closer, he repeatedly warned them of what would happen. This and other passages make it abundantly clear, that Jesus walked towards the cross in FULL DISCLOSURE of what would happen to him. The Father and the Spirit made sure Jesus knew everything. Not the fine print, not mentioned just once, not a “by-the-way” aside whispered to him the day before.

In Jesus’ day the prophets were read in synagogue every Sabbath. Jesus had heard them over and over throughout his life. One day, as he was listening to these scriptures read from the scrolls — perhaps even a time when he was reading — the Spirit begin to whisper to him, “This means you. This is what will happen to you, because YOU are the lamb of God, you are the Passover sacrifice, yours is the blood of the new covenant.”

We cannot know the exact timing, but we do know the most important thing we need to know: by the time this was at hand, Jesus knew it all by heart; that many days or even weeks before, he knew he would be reviled by his peers, leaders, even his family; that he would be betrayed by those closest to him; that he would be brutally flogged within an inch of his life, that he would be spit upon, publicly humiliated and sentenced as a criminal to die by the cruelest means of those days: nailed naked to a public cross in the way of the Roman rulers.

There is no doubt that Jesus had seen this very thing many times. The Romans were fond of leaving the bodies of criminals upon their death crosses to rot and be slowly picked apart by buzzards, as an example to those who might want to come against their kingdom. Therefore, Jesus not only knew the scriptures describing his fate, he had a very current visual image as a personal witness to what would take place. Yet amazingly, he kept walking resolutely towards that moment, passing by every opportunity to say no to it, rebuking his disciples’ denial, deflecting every attempt of his followers to convince him that couldn’t possibly be his fate.

In Bible study classes we often discuss Abraham and Isaac, and the time when God told Abraham to take his only beloved son — the son of God’s own promise — and slay him as the sacrificial lamb unto God. How old was Isaac, my students ask? As a little boy, wouldn’t it have been horrible for his father to do this to him?  But Jewish historian Josephus says that Isaac was a grown man of 25; that Abraham explained what God had asked, then affirmed his commitment to honor and trust God no matter what — which Abraham had no doubt also instilled in his son. Josephus says that Isaac immediately and without question reaffirmed his love for his father and his personal trust in God, and laid down his life willingly. He climbed up on that altar and allowed himself to be bound and entrusted entirely to the will of God, whether life or death. In their case, Abraham had three days to make this journey; Isaac had only immediate notice. Both Isaac and Abraham did what they did in full trust and love for God and one another. In a beautiful prophetic illustration of what would take place centuries later to fulfill God’s covenant with Abraham through the New Covenant, their covenant was tested between a God who would give his only begotten Son and a man who gave his only son, and fulfilled in each case by a son willing to lay down his life in full love, trust and obedience.

So. It is one thing to know that your mission is to die for another; it is quite another to know the gory details for quite some time, and keep your resolve. We tend to focus on his testing in the Garden of Gethsemane, but we forget that Jesus had had many days to ponder something that any human being would struggle with, and he had chosen repeatedly to say yes to this brutal death.

Imagine you receive a note from a terrorist group like ISIS tomorrow that says, “We are holding your family captive; you must turn yourself over to us in exactly ten days, or we will torture and kill them all. Understand that we will torture you and put you to death in the slowest, most painful way possible. But if you give yourself to us for this, we will set your family free to live. There is no other way.”

I love my family dearly, and would say quickly if you ask me, “Yes of course I would lay down my life for them!” But the truth is that in my human weakness, as each day of those 10 days passed I would likely struggle deeply with that decision and can imagine my resolve to save them wavering. Most of us couldn’t really know how the story would end unless we actually faced that moment. I do hope none of us ever have to find out; but it is a worthwhile contemplation because it brings a fresh perspective on what it must have been like for Jesus, as fully human as you and I, subject to the same temptations. He was different from us primarily in his choice to live a life of total obedience and dependence upon the Holy Spirit, a lifestyle whose fruit was a real relationship with his Heavenly Father — something available to us, but pursued by too few. But that’s a different discussion.

Jesus’ love for man was no doubt tested relentlessly as he worked with people who were weak, selfish, unfaithful, behaving in many ways unworthy of the great sacrifice he was about to make. In point of fact, in Mark Chapter 10 above, right after Jesus reveals what he will suffer, James and John blithely asked for positions of honor on his right and left. In other words, they were all full of self-concern. I can only imagine how I would feel: my mind full of images of how I will soon suffer horribly for you, and you, one of my closet friends, responding with, “So when it’s all over do I get first dibs on your favored right hand?” If these men consoled Jesus, encouraged him, tried to strengthen him or show appreciation for what he was about to do, it is not recorded for us in scripture. Yet Jesus responded to these unworthy souls with simple truth, then turned and resolutely kept walking towards the moment he would give these unworthy ones life through the horrible suffering in his human soul and body.

So how did Jesus hold onto His resolve? What was the key to the passion of Christ? I believe it was the sheer joy of knowing the Father. I take this from John 17:3, the great prayer of Jesus before his arrest: “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you.” Knowing the Father had become was the greatest joy of Jesus’ human life, and indeed was for him the very definition of abundant life. He wanted us to have that joy! And loving and understanding his Father’s heart, he knew his Father wanted that relationship, wanted to share life with his people, for he had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah of a New Covenant in which “they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” He wanted it enough to ask His Son to do this terrible thing, to be the sacrifice, to lay down his life.

This is the prize Jesus was going for: to open the way for us to have relationship with the Father by means of that New Covenant. Jesus had heard Jeremiah 31 in synagogue countless times: “They will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” So far, Jesus was the only human who had truly tasted the joy of knowing the Father, and it was worth everything. More than anything, Jesus wanted this for us AND the Father.

So when you hear the phrase “the passion of Christ” this Easter season, remember this: Christ’s great passion is His love for you and for his Father, a passion that was reaffirmed repeatedly in the face of full disclosure of what he would suffer. He didn’t just love you on the cross; he didn’t just lay his life down in the moment he gave up his Spirit; he laid down his life every day of his ministry on earth, in every moment of testing in the weeks that led up to the cross. That is the passion of Christ. YOU are the passion of Christ.

Let us live worthy of that passion, my friends. We do that best by living the way He lived, full of the Spirit and living to know His Father, and Our Father.

Bless you as you do, Tonia

Knowing Is Everything

You know you’re in a “season” when weeks go by and the Spirit keeps you focused on the same thing, no matter what you are reading. The work of this season of my life in Christ is to keep speaking to my audience about the importance of knowing God. I do not really know who my audience is these days… But I must be faithful to the source of my joy and keep talking of what we share that is the source of that joy… Knowing Him.

On my side of the equation, it is a terribly flawed relationship. I am far less consistent in my devotion to my Lord and Friend than he deserves. Yet this I know of Him: the right response to every failure of mine is to keep running back to Him, because His gracious self always forgives. He who told us to forgive 7 times 70 (I.e., 490, also known as “too many to count”) does so himself, because there is no hypocrisy in him, not a hint.

So I awaken every day to my ever present Friend and the offer to know Him, and the New Covenant promise to know Him. To live worthy of that great honor is also, I have learned, the means by which every thing promised by Him is realized — the peace, the wisdom, the soul’s rest, the security and safety. These were never designed to be available apart from knowing God, not in any substantial and enduring way.

I saw something new in the Scripture last night about knowing God — that our so-called natural desires, the will to do right or wrong, to crave what is good or what is evil, is either supported or abandoned by the Lord, in response to our actual choices. It is in Romans 1:28, and reading it in the CJB (Complete Jewish Bible) translation made it abundantly clear: “…since they have not considered God worth knowing, God has given them up to worthless ways of thinking; so that they do improper things.”

The immediate context is those who choose to engage in what God considers sexual perversion, but it is surely a general principle as well, an insight into how God works in response to our choices. I have seen ample evidence in the Bible that God essentially gives us what we really want. In fact, My students will verify that I am fond of saying God doesn’t need to come up with a punishment for our sin, he just lets us have what we really want and that choice will eventually punish us by its natural consequences.

So that concept is well established in my mind, but I have never before seen the very inclination towards good or evil connected so clearly to our value or lack of value for knowing God. It is tempting to think we are pretty much on our own when it comes to the inward struggle of choosing right or wrong, but this is not true. Philippians 2:13 negates this idea when it says, “…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (NASB).

This I know of God also: he is not quick to give us over to our bad choices. He is long suffering. He is seen repeatedly in Scripture giving his people an incredible number of chances to choose what is right before “giving them over.” Yet, if we stubbornly adhere to a lifestyle of “not considering God worth knowing,” the day will come when God will cease his efforts to turn you towards his heart and totally let you have a life without Him. And there is a terrifying list of possibilities in the verses immediately following Romans 1:28…. All shades of evil character. You don’t want to become that person!

The wonderfully positive side of this truth is that when God sees any movement in your heart and mind towards the desire to know him, his Spirit steps right up and says, “Here, let me help you!”

Surprising Answers

My friend God is very good at surprising me with answers to my questions. This morning:

Lord, how can I love you today?

Answer:

Lean on me. Acknowledge me. Need me.

I really don’t need to elaborate much on that, except to say it awakened my heart anew again to the nature of loving and feeling loved. We are, after all, made in His image and like Him. Every fully loving heart finds joy in being needed by the beloved.

I hope to give my God joy today.

Psalm 84 (2) – Longing and enJoying

Okay, on to Verse 2 of Psalm 84!

My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Psalms 84:2 NAS)

At first glance a simple little verse, but ponder it a little, and it opens up a feast of truth for my soul and spirit! I hope it will do the same for you.

First, it really gets my attention when David says something in two ways, because he WANTS that emphasis to not be lost on his audience: He starts out with “My soul longed… for the courts of the Lord.” But no, that’s not enough! Because he then adds, “….even YEARNED for, the courts of the Lord.” Okay, it worked on me; I see that second phrase, and involuntarily tilt my head in the same way my dog does when I say something he doesn’t understand: What? What? What are you saying?

So I dig down into the Hebrew words in my nifty NASB Strongs Bible app, and discover these are NOT mere synonyms, these words “longed for” and “yearned.” Not even close! In fact, they cover the range of desire that goes from 30 mph to 120 mph in 6 seconds! Because the first word just means “Yeah, I want that.” But the second word actually means “to be consumed by, swallowed up in, done in by…!!” Wow.

So David essentially says, “I want you, God….. no wait, I want you more than anything! I can’t think of anything else. Wanting to be near you has eclipsed every other desire in me. I’ve got to get to where I can be near you!” And David doesn’t stop there, he tells us what happens as a result of that yearning, when he gets to the courts of the Lord, to the place where he can know God more: both his mouth and his heart are singing for joy!

So, now we get to the good news and the bad news. The good news is that this is a wonderful place to be: to have a heart singing for joy — not because Daddy made you go to church and singing is what you do there, or because the choir is doing a cantata and you have to practice your part — but because you are so full of joy you’ve gotta sing about!

The bad news? It’s the sinking realization, “Gee, I don’t know how to get there.” I know exactly what that is like. I’ve witnessed the unbridled joy in people like David in the Bible, and heard numerous other witnesses in the Bible speak of loving God, yearning for God, wanting him more than anything — and realizing, I don’t know how to make my heart do that…. I don’t know how to fill myself with passion for this invisible God. I believe IN Him, I want to be that full of passion for him, but I honestly don’t know how to get there! How do you make yourself feel passion?

But I have the answer for you: I discovered it in my prayer place years ago. It is simply confessing the truth. It goes like this: on the knees, before the Lord, saying, “God I want to love you like this, but I don’t know how. I don’t want you like David did… but I WANT TO WANT YOU LIKE THIS. PLEASE HELP ME. Holy Spirit, fill me with this kind of love and yearning for God.” Because it occurred to me in a moment of enlightenment, the Holy Spirit is our helper, and what is He here to help us do, if not to love this God we cannot see, with all our might?

And the Spirit WILL answer you. I think I can safely say on His behalf, He LOVES to answer prayers like this. He did for me. He filled my heart with longing for God in the coming days and weeks. And over the years, if my love wanes, I go right back to the Spirit, and offer my wandering heart back to Him to be filled with longing for God. Longing comes, fills up my soul and spirit, and leads to more intimate times with the Lord. And that always brings the joy. I sing for joy because God is greater than my wandering heart, and my life with him flows out of His power, not my weakness — if I knock, ask and seek for it.

Yep, singing for joy, not because it’s time for choir practice.

Psalm 84 – God’s Dwelling Place

Bible-gardenPsalm 84 is the kind of psalm that makes me want to sit down and have a Bible study with a few people. It is chock-full of word pictures, any one of which invites the student to sit and ponder for a while, then be amazed at the goodness of God and a life shared with him. Let’s explore them! (Confession: I began writing this with the idea of covering briefly ALL the beautiful nuggets in Psalm 84 — but before I knew it, I had written a long blurb on just the first verse. So this “class” on Psalm 84 will have several sessions.

The writer begins:

“How lovely are your dwelling places, O Lord of Hosts.”

“Dwelling places” is the Hebrew word “mishkan.” While studying Covenant, we learned this word was the same one God used when he commanded Moses to build a tabernacle. Here is an excerpt from our Covenant seminar:

Exodus 25:8:  “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”  The Hebrew word used here is “mishkan” which means “to dwell in the midst of for the purpose of revealing.”  It’s like the difference between having a roomate (no intimacy) and a spouse (complete intimacy and revealing of oneself to one another).

God says, “I want to be your God.  I want to live among you!  I want to show myself to you, reveal myself to you.”

I love the fact that God wants to “dwell in the midst of” His people! As I often remark to my students, it could have been so very different! God could have arranged for our sin price to be paid, made it possible for us to go to heaven at our death and live eternally with him, then said, “See you when you get here!”  But NO, he arranged to live right inside of us, by giving us His Holy Spirit. He wanted to share life with his beloved children in Christ, NOW.

Back to Psalm 84 and the loveliness of the dwelling place of God. Surely you’ve run ahead of me to the fact that today, the dwelling place of God is YOU and ME. If you are in Christ, God lives in you and you are now his temple, his tabernacle; you are the place from where God lives and moves and has his being. (And that is by his choice, amazingly enough!) You are “the lovely place” where God lives.

Still, the heart wants to protest, “I’m not lovely, not really. I know what I am really like, all my weaknesses, bad thoughts, inconsistencies….” Or perhaps you leaped over that to the truth that you ARE lovely because of God’s righteousness and Spirit in you. That would be right, of course. But there is more.

In fact, the Hebrew word “mishkan” also means, and has been translated as “loved” or “beloved,” such as in the CWB (Complete Jewish Bible):

How deeply loved are your dwelling places, Adonai-Tzva’ot!

Which one is more right – to say God’s dwelling place is lovely, or that God’s dwelling place is beloved? My witness from the rest of scripture itself, is that both are true.

You see, the person who originally penned these words did not have God living inside of him. He had to travel three times a year to Jerusalem where God’s temple was, in order to worship Him. The original worshipper had to travel a distance to go up to the one place that God designed as his home on earth. The worshipper had to make some effort for God, had to put his daily life on hold, perhaps pack up his family and items needed to make a journey and walk to Jerusalem. It cost him money, time and effort. Yes, he was commanded to make this journey; yet for this worshipper, his heart was there. He loved to go to God’s temple! He loved God, he loved being invited, he loved the privilege of being God’s special tribe. So for him, it was true that God’s dwelling place was beloved in his heart. AND it was lovely to him.

So what is the most important take away from this truth? That God has made me lovely by choosing to live in me? Or that I am beloved, deeply loved of God? Or that wherever God is present, is lovely and worth my effort to go to, again and again? The answer is YES! to all. This is the many variegated beauty of God’s truth, facilitated by the Hebrew language. Layers of truth, each one profound, each one beautiful. Either way, it is just like Holy Spirit to bury a treasure of truth in a place like this for centuries, until those of us who are called “beloved” in the New Covenant of Christ could discover it.

How lovely to be where God lives, and how beloved is that place!

Another song in my spirit…

Not long ago I posted about the songs I often awaken to being sung in or to my spirit. Because they are often songs I almost never hear or haven’t heard in months or even years, they always seem to be what one friend of ours calls “God making a bid for my attention…” i.e., saying, “Ahem, this is what I am saying to or wanting to show you.” It might be a rainbow where there has been no rain, or some other “sign” or “wonder” that makes you pause and look up from life as usual.

So as I have said before, I awaken to songs that are singing in my spirit, where The Lord and I share life. I tell you these things in hopes that you will perhaps pay more attention to your own beckonings from The Lord.

Now most often the song that awakens my my spirit is a clearly recognizable Christian tune. But my last one was not, nor has ever been, in my worship playlist. No, the most recent song I awakened to only evokes images of shadowy naked female silhouettes floating around in some artistic colorful graphic soup on the screen while you waited for James Bond to appear on the screen and do his dashing sleuth work. I grew up watching James Bond movies, but hadn’t seen the old ones in years. But here is what I heard in my spirit last Tuesday morning on arising:

“For your eyes only, can see me through the night.
For your eyes only I never need to hide.
You can see so much in me, so much in me that’s new.
I never felt until I looked at you.
For your eyes only, only for you.”

Of course, the immediate images in my mind were those female silhouettes, and my first thought was, Where did THAT come from? I dismissed it, laughingly. But as I washed the sleep out of my eyes and made morning tea, the song wouldn’t go away, and I thought, “What if The Lord is trying to say something to me through this song? So I googled the title and when I saw all the lyrics, I was amazed at what I now realized was The Lord speaking to me. Because with the exception of one phrase, the words profoundly spoke to the places in me that had become recently deeply discouraged, even depressed. I don’t think God understands the concept of “secular”… his heart is attentive to the cry of all our creative culture.

Here are all the words, and I leave you with them to ponder in case they might refresh you (and drive doubt and despair at yourself away):

“For your eyes only, can see me through the night.
For your eyes only I never need to hide.
You can see so much in me, so much in me that’s new.
I never felt until I looked at you.
For your eyes only, only for you.
You’ll see what no-one else can see, and now I’m breaking free.
For your eyes only, only for you.
The love I know you need in me, the fantasy you’ve freed in me.
Only for you, only for you.

For your eyes only, the nights are never cold.
You really know me, that’s all I need to know.
Maybe I’m an open book because I know you’re mine.
But you won’t need to read between the lines.

For your eyes only, only for you.
You see what no-one else can see, and now I’m breaking free.
For your eyes only, only for you.
The passions that collide in me, the wild abandoned side of me.
Only for you, for your eyes only.”

(For Your Eyes Only, By Sheena Easton; source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/)

Why I Read Psalms and Proverbs Every Day

I want to share a sample of the rich food I receive each morning from reading five Psalms and one Proverb. For instance, on the 24th of the month, I read Psalm 116 through Psalm 120, and Proverbs 24. On that day, I am reminded of the following things about God and myself:

Psalm 116:
God hears my voice and my prayers. He has “inclined his ear” to listen to me.
The Lord is gracious, righteous, and compassionate, preserving the simple — like me — from the troubles I tend to get myself into.
The Lord will restore my soul back to a restful state after my mistakes or the actions of others have hurt me or caused me to stumble.
The right response to God’s faithful care is to keep crying out to him in my need, to express my thankfulness, and to keep my promises to him. My community should see how I rely upon him, and I should praise Him publicly.
Bible-garden

Psalm 117: (the shortest psalm in the Bible, at 2 verses!)
We should praise The Lord — along with every nation — because His lovingkindness is great, and His truth will endure forever.

Psalm 118:
I should give thanks to the Lord for his goodness, because his lovingkindness has no end…. it is EVERLASTING.
When I am in distress and call out to the Lord, he will answer me and rescue me, because he is “for me.” Therefore, I need not live in fear. The name of the Lord will protect me from those who would destroy me.

The Lord is my strength, and the song that I sing! Joyful sounds come from the place where I live because of his faithful care and saving actions.
The Lord will discipline me, even strongly, if I need it. (Other Bible verses tell me that the Lord only disciples those he loves and considers true children).
Giving thanks to God opens the gateway to his presence.
The Lord made this day, and it is right for me to rejoice and be glad in it.

The Lord has given us light (that saves us from all darkness).
There is a sacrificial animal to be placed on the altar in my place. (I deserve to die for my sins, but I won’t have to.)

Psalm 119 (the longest psalm in the Bible, at 176 verses!)
Those who live according to God’s ways and who seek God with all their heart, are blessed.
I need to cry out for God to help me become established in his ways. It is good to pray, “Open my eyes!” and “Teach me!” and “Give me understanding!” and “Teach me discernment and knowledge!”
We keep ourselves pure by living according to God’s words. His words are perfect counselors to us.
We avoid sinning against God by treasuring his words…  meditating on them and storing them in the heart.
Real freedom comes from walking in God’s ways.
The earth is full of the Lord’s lovingkindness! He is good, and does good things.
Affliction can be a good teacher.

If God allows affliction to be in my life, it is an act of faithfulness on his part.
When God judges something, His decision is the right thing.
Sometimes we feel like saying to God, “Why do I have to wait on you so long for comfort, and for your justice to be done to those who hurt me, used me, lied about me?”

God teaches us, and His words “are sweeter than honey.” They make us wise.
His words light the way for us, so we don’t need to walk in darkness or ignorance.
When we value God’s commands enough to live by them, we naturally come to hate evil and wrong ways of living.

God always turns his face to look upon those who love His name, and He has mercy on them.
It is good to pray for the Lord to direct my footsteps, and that no sin would rule over me.

If I put God’s promises to the test, it is likely I will end up loving those promises.
The Lord is near, and His compassion is great.
Great peace have those who love God’s laws; they never stumble in life.
All of our ways are known to The Lord.
Sometimes a good prayer is, “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Please come get me.”

Psalm 120
When I call out to God in distress, he answers me!

Psalms reveals the heart of God, while Proverbs provides wisdom for daily living. Take a look:

Proverbs 24

Do not envy wicked people. Do not fret because of them; their hope and light will be snuffed out.
A house (i.e., a LIFE) is built through wisdom, understanding and knowledge, which becomes full of beauty and value.
Possessing knowledge and wisdom makes a man strong and powerful.
You can claim innocence before men about a matter, but God knows the heart.
Wisdom is sweet to the soul, and leads to hopeful future that won’t fail.
Even if a righteous man falls or gets knocked down seven times, he always gets back up. The wicked, however, will be overcome by trouble.
Do not be happy when your enemy falls, or the Lord will disapprove and turn his anger away from him.
Fear the Lord and the king, and don’t join in with rebellious people — because the Lord and the king will bring sudden destruction to bad people.
Judge fairly, without partiality. If you declare a guilty person innocent you will be hated, but if you convict the guilty you will delight others, and be blessed.
Do not bring false accusations against your neighbor, or deceive anyone with your lips.
Do not ever say, “I’ll do to him as he has done to me, I’ll pay him back!”
The fields of lazy people are full of weeds and decay, and such a person will live a life of poverty.

What a rich feast of truth to carry into the day!

Ron taught me this practice when I first came to love God in 1979, and it has never grown old or failed to strengthen and bless my spirit. The 24th day of the month has the largest number of verses because of Psalm 119, but most days it takes 15 minutes or less to read the daily Psalms and Proverbs. They make a great devotional! Every day is different in emphasis, but altogether within the course of a month, I am reinforced in vital truths about God, myself, the world I live in, how to handle relationships, how to pray, how to talk to God, and many other things. I thank God for His Word, and invite you to try this for the coming month!

What’s It Like?

HuggingFor a season in my life with God, he kept before me this question: “What’s it like to be loved by you?”

That question generated a whole new outlook on me and people, and God too. What is it like to be connected to me, to be in my life, to live with ME?

Because we all put a “self” out there for public consumption — but what of our more intimate self? What IS it like to be married to me? To be my daughter, or mother or father…. or friend? And the only honest way to get that question answered — is to ask others. In that season, I also asked the Spirit to open my eyes and reveal the answer to that question, and He did.

That exercise was humbling and life-changing. And while I won’t pretend that I came out of that season perfect by any means, it changed my perspective forever, and that question is never off the table. It’s not on my plate, but it is over there where the salt & pepper sit, always there. Because among all the things I learned in that season, chief among them is that the question and its answer lie at the top of God’s list of what matters most in this life, and the next.

Eventually, the Lord asked this teacher to teach what she learned, and for several seasons of our ministry travels, I shared the message, “What’s It Like To Be Loved By You?” I may write more of these things in the coming days, but for now,

I leave it with you to ponder.