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.

Seeds of Light

In recent days of studying my daily Psalms, two verses about light have captured my attention and given me joy. First, Psalm 97:11:

Light is sown like seed for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.  (NAS)

The image that comes with this is that of the Lord planting seeds in my garden — i.e., my life — of light and gladness (joy) when I walk in his ways. To say that seeds are being planted is different than saying He just bestows light, because a seed is something you plant today to enjoy on another day in the future. Thus, when I walk in his ways I can expect a crop of light and joy to bloom in my life in the days to come.

The next verse is Psalm 112:4:

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man. (NIV)

Again, this tells me that as I walk in the ways of God (only by the help of the Holy Spirit, of course — as I always say, “my choice, His power”) there will never be darkness for me. Even in darkness, I will have light.

What is that darkness look like? It is experienced in many ways; some of which are uncertainty — fear — hopelessness — anxiety — being clueless — aloneness — a drawing into sin.

My take-away from these verses is that I don’t have to figure out how to overcome darkness. If I simply choose my way of being according to God’s righteous ways, he makes sure that the darkness will never overcome me.

In short, if we walk with the Light, we will always have light.

Meant to Live By God’s Voice

“Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.”  Deuteronomy 8:3, NASB

When Moses spoke these words, he was teaching the people about manna — the commanded bread that fell from heaven every morning to feed them in the wilderness. In fact, he begins by telling the people that God actually led them to the place where they would be humbled by their inability to provide food for themselves, and have to rely on God to be nourished. It was always meant to be this way between us and God.

We were created to live by the word of God — and I am not referring to having a gazillion Bible verses memorized. The Bible is an awesome gift to us, but it is only meant to point us to the Voice of God, by which we are meant to live. We are meant to be guided by His faithful Voice, to know him and walk with him. We are likewise meant to live through the provision of all that Voice commands on our behalf. Jesus did this, and it was the secret of his life and strength as a man on the earth like us.

Two things I’d like you to take away from these thoughts:

  • When you pray, ask the Father to command your life as he wants to give it — to command you, to command His creation to release what you need today. It will please him for you to acknowledge in this way that his Voice is faithful and is meant to provide all the sustenance of your life.
  • When you walk out of your prayer place, you will go out into a world full of voices: the voices of the media, your friends, your books; voices that may have some truth and love in them, but none that will give you life. God won’t allow it, and it is good for you to remember it. Let His Voice be the one you seek to hear, honor and value above all other voices.

This is how you were meant to live, and if you do, you shall REALLY live!

Loving Him together with you,

Tonia

Do You Believe This?

Blue Morpho Butterfly

“ I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

So spoke Jesus to Mary in the moments before he raised his beloved Lazarus from the dead. This entire story recorded in John chapter 11 is an occasion of both the greatest demonstration of Jesus’ power through the Holy Spirit and the depth of His human experience.

Jesus plainly established elsewhere that his decision to stay away, allowing Lazarus to die, would have been in obedience to his Father. He had to have known his beloved friends Mary and Martha would be very grieved, yet when speaking to his disciples ahead of the journey, we detect little grief in his words. But that all changes when he comes face-to-face with Mary and Martha and their grief. Now Jesus is “deeply moved in spirit and troubled;” he weeps as he approaches the tomb where Lazarus lay… even after uttering the [above] words to Mary affirming his power over death, even knowing Lazarus will live again shortly and that their grief will turn to joy. Jesus does not look away from their grief, he does not blow it off in a cavalier affirmation of faith, he enters into it with them.

In the human experience, knowing from a distance that an act or event will hurt another has much less impact than personally witnessing their suffering. In this moment Jesus was consumed with compassion for those who had been caused to suffer for a little while in order for the glory of God the Father and the Son to be revealed.

There are many ways to die. Aside from the death of the body, there is death to hope and dreams that comes from profound disappointment in life; there can be a crushing of the spirit by those we love and expect to love us; there is often death to the soul’s self-life when yielding to the will of God results in not having what we deeply desire or need.

Mary needed her beloved Jesus to come and heal her brother. He stayed away. Lazarus needed healing, and died. Thomas and the other disciples died to their need to be safe when they followed Jesus back to the place where the Jews wanted to stone Him [verse 16: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”] Jesus died to his need to run to Lazarus’ rescue; He definitely died to the need to maintain the good opinion of those he loved by hanging back and allowing them to suffer.

In all these things, Jesus experienced the depths of being human, and when faced with the overwhelming grief and disappointment of Mary, he was troubled to the point of weeping; he entered into and shared her grief. He knew he would be raising Lazarus to life again shortly, so that was not the issue. The issue was that in a moment when God wanted to reveal His awesome power and glory, to show the world that this Son of Man was indeed the Son of God who had power over death, he had to let death come for a little while, to settle in upon their hearts, in order that the glory of death being overcome and overthrown would be full. In short, at times we will taste death on the way to God’s glory being revealed in and around us.

I write to you of these things to make two points. First, let us not shy away from those who grieve, but be willing to enter into their grieving with all compassion. The Lord who gives life lives within us and wants to touch them. Second, let us not be afraid to die. If we die in some way large or small in body, soul or spirit, whether at the hands of people or circumstances or our own foolish ways or in obedience to God’s will — we who have entered into the covenant of Christ can rest in our little tombs briefly while trusting in the One who understands our grief, AND who has the power to resurrect us into life anew.

“ I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Knowing Him together with you, Tonia

Rocks In the River

A group of us women gathered for a retreat, and as He is fond of doing, the Lord surrounded us — literally — with the words and images and spiritual realities of what He longed to share with us. In this case, His subject was His living waters. As I prepared to lead the group studies there I knew we would focus on John Chapters 4 and 7, where Jesus speaks of streams of living waters that would flow into and go forth from those who drink of him — but the woman who booked the location for our retreat did not!  We landed in a cabin called Rio Casa — River House, at Tres Rios campground — three rivers — so named because the camp is bordered on three sides by three different rivers. One of those rivers flowed behind our cabin, just below the little hill we were perched on.

We had a glorious time there, in which we studied about the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives, exploring what life is meant to look like when one is a child of God that drinks from His Spirit. In the Lord’s power and faithfulness we all experienced renewal and healing, especially from weariness and wounds of the heart and spirit. We were thoroughly refreshed there, and some would say forever changed.

As we gathered on our final morning to worship the Lord, each of the women were radiant and lovely, full of new hope in the Lord’s love and goodness. As we went around the room and shared our “take-aways,” I rejoice in their new joy, yet knew from many retreat experiences what it would be like to return home and step back into the very things they had needed renewal from. “Lord,” I prayed, “do not let the tiniest part of their time with you be robbed, and please establish them firmly in what you have given them hope in.”

The Holy Spirit then drew us outside for our last half hour together, in view and earshot of the river. The Lord had us close our eyes and just listen. Only one sound broke the peaceful quiet of the morning — the lively waters below us. While the flowing waters were unrippled and silent both upstream and downstream from our cabin, a row of large rocks in the river there forced the water to bubble up and around and over, producing the little rapids and their happy notes. After we listened awhile, soaking up that soothing, playful sound, the Lord said,

“Notice, daughters, that it is the rocks that cause the river to make its music. Without the rocks there would be no sound.”    !!!!!!

We opened our eyes and smiled at each other, thoughts racing and playing across our faces, as what He said sunk in. The bubbly lifesounds we were enjoying were only produced as the water flowed around the rocks, which are OBSTACLES to the flow of the water. We quickly and collectively got the “Aha!” moment of understanding that these rocks represented our troubles, wounds, afflictions, weaknesses or circumstances. The fact that the water only produces its music as it washes over those obstacles, is a metaphor worth pondering. May the smiling Spirit who pointed it out to us at the river reveal its meaning in your life.

As for us, we returned home with fresh streams of living water in us, making our music of joy and thanksgiving to the Lord for the life He brings to flow over and around the rocks in our lives!

A Verb Looking For Its Object

In preparing for my most recent Women’s Retreat, the Holy Spirit taught me something new about surrender. Our normal concept of surrender to God is to give everything up, or lay everything down, abandoning ourselves, yielding entirely to Him — and this is certainly true. “But you don’t finish the sentence,” the Holy Spirit said to me…don’t say, ‘I surrender,’ say ‘I surrender to your love!'”

Yet another occasion to love being taught by the Spirit of Christ….He shows me things and connects things I would never have come up with intellectually or theologically.

Surrender is a relational transaction, always something or someone. Dictionary.com says of the verb surrender that it is used with an object, and means:

  1. to yield (something) to the possession or power of another.
  2. to give (oneself) up to some influence, course, emotion, etc.: He surrendered himself to a life of hardship.
  3. to yield or resign (an office, privilege, etc.) in favor of another.

For a Christian, the true object of our surrender is the Person who is the only truly good being, the unfailing lover, the one who died to give us real life. At a women's retreat.At that women’s retreat in the Michigan woods I asked each woman to fill in her blank at the end of the sentance, “I surrender to ________.”  A sampling of the answers:

  • I surrender to His goodness
  • I surrender to His rest
  • I surrender to His faithfulness
  • I surrender to His peace
  • I surrender to His grace

I invite you to fill in your own blank, and surrender anew to the Lord who asks you to yield all of your life and being to Him, and gives so much more in exchange!

Bless you in knowing your God,

Tonia

WE did it!

God has called me to write, but it doesn’t always come easy. I’ve gone through a season of really struggling with the writing lately; even after clearing my schedule to make more time for it, and my dear hubby throwing all of his support behind me in this, I kept hitting a wall I couldn’t quite break through. Without making any attempt to analyze everything that wall is made up of (did I hear a sigh of relief out there?) I’ll just say it was an odd mix of anxiety, distraction, procrastination, resistance and laziness. Every time I set aside time to write, I just couldn’t break through and really get into the happy place where focus is strong, the material takes on a natural order of flow, and the Holy Spirit has an easy time of downloading inspiration.

I got there this week. Steadily, through discipline, the prayers of friends, hubby making meals and increasing my quiet time with the master Writer, I came to the happy place on the new book. Sitting on our front porch early this morning, enjoying the cool breeze before another 100+ Texas day, I sat there smiling into my creamy tea. I felt joy and looked forward to getting back in my office to continue the writing. Suddenly, my quiet celebration was interrupted by, “We broke through! We broke through!”

It was the Lord, joining my celebration. So clear his words, so strong the feeling of his joy with me. And that’s why I love to hear God’s voice; I couldn’t make this stuff up. But what amazed me and brought tears, was how he put it. WE broke through —  speaking as if he had been struggling right alongside me, in those weak and dissipated places of procrastination. Of course, I thought; we’re one, and that is The Covenant Heart expressing Himself once again!

I just sat there weeping and smiling at this God who didn’t stand back and look on in judgment when I was weak — he got down with me in my low places and helped. He loved me there, and gently helped me break through everything that the world, the enemy, and my flawed self had constructed to block it. WE broke through all that, together, and I couldn’t tell you neatly step-by-step who did what, and that’s a good thing, because great moments in living relationships are best simply enjoyed rather than analyzed.

This is the Holy Spirit: always with God’s children in your low places, and then when you’re up, back in the strong place, in the victory circle in your own heart, it is impossible to separate who did what to bring you here. You are one, you’re a team. We share joy just as we shared the failure. WE did it, and my grateful heart is worshipping.

Now, back to the book, with joy. WE’VE got more to do.

The Energy and Enabling of the Spirit

One of the things that breaks my heart as we work with believers is to see them living in frustration, anxiety and even resignation in connection with knowing and serving their indwelling Lord. People shrink back from stepping out in their gifts, or they just can’t get over their own perceived inadequacies, or still feel as if God is far away and only present as some sort of token that ensures their passage into heaven at death. How far this is from the life Christ died to give us! While we have all experienced moments like this (and surely shall again), we are not meant to live there. Being stuck in this place usually comes from ignorance or unbelief about how God’s Spirit works in us.

God characterizes our life with him as “entering rest.” Put that on your refrigerator, my fellow pilgrims. That is the goal — not to strive, not to be perfect, but to live at rest in the shadow of his wings. Okay, now you’re asking (and rightly so),  “What does that flowery poetic language really look like in real life?” As I learned and later taught in the series “Entering God’s Rest,” God’s promised rest is expressed to and through us in various ways, but the one that pertains to this discussion is learning to walk in the energy and enabling of the Spirit.

If you have received the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit, here is what you can expect, according to Peter:

“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”  2 Peter 1:2-3, NIV.

It begins with GRACE. Grace is not merely “God’s unmerited favor.” Grace is God’s ability to do what we cannot do on our own. This is is what Paul refers to next when he speaks of God’s divine power as “everything we need for life and godliness…”  I think perhaps the word “power” has the effect of overshooting our everyday lives; in other words, we expect “power” for the big stuff, but not for the everyday ability needed to walk with and know God. Paul spoke of this ability in another way when he said in Philippians 2:13:

“For it is God who is at work in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

The word translated here as “at work” is energeo — God’s energy! In the Greek this word is defined as “to be active and efficient in.” The Message translates it wonderfully:

“That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.”

The Holy Spirit’s presence in you means you’re not on your own. When you want to step out in obedience to some nudge from the Lord, don’t shrink back in fear that it is all up to you. Simply believe in His presence and His willingness to give you his ability to do what you desire. What God calls for, he empowers. We usually don’t feel that enabling until we take a step into it, but once we do, it comes, faithfully. And the funny thing is, it won’t feel “supernatural,” it will feel natural — like it is you doing it; only you know better.

I have experienced this enabling in matters large and small, from praying for a miracle of healing to having a wise answer to a tough question to knowing how to order your day for productivity and joy. In fact, a friend just called and said, “I entered God’s rest yesterday when I met a young woman I needed to counsel, and didn’t have a clue what direction to take, and after I prayed, a simple question came clearly to my mind. When I asked her the question, everything else unfolded between us.” That is what the energy and enabling of the Spirit looks like in daily life.

The Holy Spirit is a gentle, quiet presence in you, but don’t underestimate his power, his energy waiting for you when you want to step towards God or step out for God. This applies to seeking God in private as much (or perhaps even more than) public works.Weariness, anxiety and frustration are signs that you are probably not leaning into the grace (the real ability to do that thing) of God. The energy and enabling of the Spirit is crucial if we are to enter God’s rest. More on rest soon, fellow pilgrims.

Tonia

Tonia’s 6-part teaching series “Entering God’s Rest” is available in the Shammah Store.

A Believer’s Prayer

Lord, I know you are with me. I have your promise…in how many ways? “Emmanuel, God with us…”  “I am with you always….”

In faith I cannot doubt you are with me, but in fact it is too easy to ignore your gentle and quiet presence. You are with me when I awake, and when I lay down to sleep at night. You are with me when I’m wrestling with a problem, and when I’m walking the dog. You are with me when I laugh, when I cry, when I yell, and when I hurt. From the moment I believed in you, and knew you died for me, and gratefully asked you to live in my heart, you have been with me. You are with me when I ignore you; every time, all the time. In covenant faithfulness, you cannot, and will not, leave me. Ever.

Lord, hear my prayer: help me, dear Father, precious Lord, and Holy Spirit, to live and think as one who genuinely believes in your presence. Help me to not take you for granted today; help me to break the habit of ignoring you. I want to live every day enjoying your gracious kindness and the comfort of your faithful strength. Above all, I want to live in a way that makes you glad you live in me and sacrificed all so we could share this life..