Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: time

Flashback Favorite - Take this step to be like Jesus

I still do this. I’ve memorized, applied, and been able to share a lot of Scripture because this is something I practice.

I highly encourage you to do this, too.

Take this step to be like Jesus
originally posted on November 24, 2016

I’ve heard that a person’s character is defined by who they are when no one else is around.

I’m not 100% sure about that definition…instead, what we do with our time when no one else is around is how we develop our character.

When no one is looking, the choices we make will shape us.  Even the passive choice to “do nothing” has a sculpting effect.  Think of our time as spending cash.  How we spend it – either wasting or investing it – will shape who we are.

Paul knew this quite well, which is why he told Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:7-10
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness, for,

the training of the body has a limited benefit,
but godliness is beneficial in every way,
since it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance.  In fact, we labor and strive for this, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe.

We understand that musicians practice for hours when no one is looking so when it comes time to perform, they do it perfectly.  We get it that basketball players shoot 100s of free throws a week so they’re ready when they’re fouled late in a game and have to step up to the line.

Training happens when no one is looking – it’s intentional work.  Now, earlier in his letter to Timothy, Paul equated godliness with being like Jesus.  But I think we Christians don’t see how important it is for us to labor and strive to be like Jesus.  So, let’s take an intentional step in that direction and see what God does with our time investment.

Jesus was intimately connected to the Scriptures.  On a regular basis, Jesus would quote or reference God’s Word.  Here’s just a couple of ideas to put some of God’s Word directly into your life:

·        Use a verse as a password – every time you log in to an account, say the verse.  “John3:16” or “Psalm100:1” fulfills most password requirements to have a capital letter, lower case letter, number, and special character.  Perhaps your password at work is a reminder of being faithful or diligent, like Colossians3:23 or Proverbs22:29.  Maybe the password for your online bank account is about being wise with money, like Proverbs21:17 or 2Corinthians9:6.
·        Have a verse for when you start your car, a “key” verse you need to know.  Proverbs3:5 and Ephesians2:8 would be good choices.
·        Have a verse to repeat whenever you wash your hands.  I learned 1 John 4:7-8 in a tune when I was a kid.  The tune is burned into my memory, so I can “sing” those verses at any time.  As often as I need to wash my hands, I’m reminding myself multiple times per day that loving others is important, and God is the one who loved us first.

It’s ok to pull out your phone to look up the verse so you say it correctly.  And…you don’t have to implement all of these suggestions.  The point is to find one thing in your day that you do repeatedly, and attach a verse to it.  Actively invest your time.  God guarantees that this kind of training will be beneficial both in the present life and also for the life to come.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Love grows

We often say that our “love grows.” 

When we put these two words together, we generally mean that we want our feelings of affection increase or that we want the bond felt between us to become stronger.  We recognize that a loving relationship isn’t a static, one-and-done feeling, that it does develop…but I think we’re a little squishy when we try and describe exactly how this happens.

Sure, we’ll say that love grows in a variety of ways: over time, through shared experiences, and being together in the ups and downs of life.  If you talk to others about growing in love with their spouse, their closest friends, or with a group of people, what is usually identified as the main driver of growth seems to be surviving a long time without abandoning one another.

In his letters, Paul often told his readers that he was praying for them, but it wasn’t a generic “I’ll be praying for you” platitude.  He didn’t just ask God to “help” them with their “stuff”.  We’re going to take a close look at not only what Paul told the believers in Philippi that he was praying for them, but also the reasons Paul gave for making his specific prayer requests.

So for starters, let’s look at the beginning Paul’s prayer request:

Philippians 1:9
And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment


Immediately, we see that Paul wants their love to grow in two specific areas.  We’ll take a look at the outcome of this kind of growth in a later post.  First we need to understand what he means by knowledge and every kind of discernment.

The Greek word for knowledge refers to a full, intimate understanding of a subject.  Similarly, the Greek word Paul chose for discernment speaks to how we perceive something or someone.  The word refers to something deeper than just a sensory perception – sight, touch, smell – instead this discernment relies on the intellect.

Blind love or a love that is dependent upon our emotions is not ground for the growth of a relationship.  As our feelings ebb and flow, we can end up doing more harm then good.

True Christian love isn’t shallow or squishy.  It is grounded in an clear understanding and has an intelligent direction.  This shouldn’t surprise us, because, after all, that’s exactly how God loves us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Clarity in a cloud

Ever feel like you just gotta get out of the house?  You have no idea where you will go or what you will do, but if you stay indoors much longer, you’re probably going to lose your mind…can you relate?

Well, that happened to me and the Mrs. on Monday evening this week.  We just needed o-u-t, OUT.

Not wanting to waste money or gas, we ended up at a park next to a reservoir, not too far from home.  She sat down in a pavilion to sketch, but I felt like strolling.  I wandered down to a large wooden platform at the water’s edge.  I found that I could sit on the platform and my dangling feet would hover just above the water.  The sun’s rays were warm, the slight breeze was cool, and sound of city traffic was barely above the level of a quiet hum.  That’s when I saw it.

Above the pavilion my wife was sitting under, I saw a large puffy cloud that loosely resembled a bowler hat.  While the breeze at my level was light, you could tell the air at the cloud’s level was moving quickly.  So I watched.

Admittedly, I do not give much thought to clouds – unless they’re going to drop some rain.  And if I happen to think about clouds, I tend to imagine them making their trek across our sky as an unchanging blob, just a fluffy block of moisture.

But as I sat and watched, that’s not what I saw.

What I saw was a mass that was constantly changing shape as it moved.  It wasn’t uniform.  It wasn’t symmetrical.  The cloud, as a whole, was moving in a direction, but it was vigorously forming and reforming as it proceeded across the sky.  In order to really see and understand how it shifted from one movement to the next, I had to focus on one small part of the cloud at a time.  When my eyes moved to a new section – I could only tell that it was different, but I had no understanding of how the cloud made its new edge.  All the while, my previous focus-point continued to roll into new areas of the atmosphere.

What really stood out was the cloud’s depth.  As the cloud would billow and expand, stretching and reshaping, it was obvious there was a lot going on beneath the cloud’s surface that I was not able to see, understand, or predict until the movement happened.

Then it dawned on me…creation was giving me a lesson about our Creator.

God is on the move.
We are privy to the overall direction where God is moving history.
While history is happening, God doesn’t move in ways we expect.
When I try to take in the grandeur of God, I cannot see the beauty in His intricate details.
When I focus on an intricate detail, I am blown away by what He reveals.
While I am focused in, God is still moving in other ways that are outside my vision.
I am unable to keep up with all of God’s details.
There is a depth to God that we are not privy to.
We cannot fully see, understand, or predict how and when God will move, proceed, or pull back.

While even the best of analogies will breakdown (for example – God moves as He pleases, not because He is forced to, like the wind and sun move the clouds), creation can tell us much about our Creator.  Both David and Paul wrote about this:

Psalm 19:1-2
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge.


Romans 1:20
For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.

In order to have this teachable moment with creation, I had to sit down, be still, and think. After all these realizations had flooded my mind, I was convinced that I had sat there too long and my wife was likely waiting on me to come find her. I looked at my phone to see how long I had been there:

Not even 15 minutes.

In less than 15 minutes of looking up at the sky, God used His creation to remind me of His greatness, His beauty, and His depth. Day after day and night after night, the lesson was there, ready for me to learn – but I wasn’t looking or listening. For certain, I am without excuse.

Will you take 15 minutes today to look at creation…and see His eternal power and divine nature?

The heavens declare the glory of God, so let’s take just a few moments…and look up.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Christian life, in 3 steps. Seriously. (part 1)

Seems like every other day I see an article telling me that someone has figured out how to boil down a daunting life scenario into simple, easy-to-do steps.  We find stories with titles like: “5 steps to a successful marriage” or “8 things that will get you promoted this year” or “10 best vacations on a budget”.  When I read the title, I typically roll my eyes, mutter a ‘yeah right’…and then click to see if they really have something useful to say.

But can following Christ really be broken down in to easy-to-do steps?  Apparently many Christian authors think so, because their Bible-referenced lists are just as prevalent as anything else online.  But do any of them…well…work?  Or are they just peddling pop-psychology wrapped in a Bible verse?

While I’m not so sure about the internet, I know I can rely on the Bible.  In the later sections of his letter, after the author of Hebrews has fully demonstrated his initial thesis point from Chapter 1 – that Jesus truly is the Greater Messenger of the Greater Covenant – he proceeds with encouragement, a warning, and an example from Old Testament scripture.

First, let’s look at the encouragement:

Hebrews 10:19-21
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus – He has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through His flesh) – and since we have a great high priest over the house of God,

Because of these three things, which the author previously covered:

·        We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place (4:16)
·        By Christ’s sacrifice (9:11-12)
·        And we have a great high priest (8:1)

From this launching point, we are encouraged to follow through in three ways, and each one begins with the phrase let us.  It is in these three steps that we find essence of Christian living. 

Here’s the first one:

Hebrews 10:22
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.

Since Christ’s sacrifice was so great, He has given us – the muddy, messy, undeserving us – access to God.  And not just sneaking-in-the-backdoor access, oh no.  Instead, because Jesus identified with us and paid our sin-debt, we can boldly enter into God’s presence at any time and from any place.

When we enter God’s presence, we don’t need to become wallflowers, either.  We don’t have to hide or avoid eye contact.  Through Christ’s approval, we can draw near to God…we can get up close and personal. 

And if our shame has us worried about coming in close to God, remember that our sins aren’t just covered up or glossed over by Jesus’ sacrifice…our sins and their stains have been wiped out, erased, removed.  Our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies have been washed in pure water

If Jesus can cleanse the Heavenly tabernacle, then our individual guilty consciences and physical acts of sin are well within His cleansing ability. 

So, our first step in Christian living is to draw near.

But how do we draw near?  We need to intentionally spend alone time with God.  We’ll get to the ‘with others’ stuff later.  The first step is to make sure we each develop our relationship with God.  I can’t do it for you, and you can’t do it for me.  Drawing near means one-on-one time.

How much time?  I suggest we start with just a little more that whatever time we’ve been giving Him.  Maybe we go from 0 minutes to 5 minutes, maybe that’s 15 minutes at night before bed.  Maybe it’s as simple as shutting off the radio the next time we drive a car so we can talk with Him (trust me, other people won’t think you’re crazy…).

What should we do with that time?  Talk to Him.  Ask God a question and then be silent, waiting for an answer.  Read a psalm.  Think about what the psalm tells you about God.  Ask Him to show you how and where He’s active in your life. 

For the next week, intentionally practice drawing near.  Then we’ll be ready for what the author of Hebrews says is our next step.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Taking time

The writer of Ecclesiastes made some rather astute observations about life.  Some of them will ring familiar, but as you go through them...I encourage you to read slowly and identify which ones apply to your current circumstances:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
There is an occasion for everything,
and a time for every activity under heaven:

a time to give birth and a time to die;

a time to plant and a time to uproot;
a time to kill and a time to heal;
a time to tear down and a time to build;
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance;
a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing;
a time to search and a time to count as lost;
a time to keep and a time to throw away;
a time to tear and a time to sew;
a time to be silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

My favorite line out of the list is a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones.  As much fun as it is to go throw rocks sometimes...this dichotomy likely refers to the ancient custom of destroying a farmer's field by throwing many stones on it, whereas the gathering of stones describes the clearing of stones from a field to get it ready to plant.

There are many seasons to a life, and we spend most of our time living in between the polar opposites listed above.  I've been kicking the idea around for a while, and I think it's time for me to take a short break from writing.  I did this in August last year, and it was a good respite for me and my family.  

I'm going to take three weeks to rest, study, and lean into God.  I want to gather stones so I can be prepared for future growth.  Let's just say...it's time.

See you September 14th.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Take this step to be like Jesus

I’ve heard that a person’s character is defined by who they are when no one else is around.

I’m not 100% sure about that definition…instead, what we do with our time when no one else is around is how we develop our character.

When no one is looking, the choices we make will shape us.  Even the passive choice to “do nothing” has a sculpting effect.  Think of our time as spending cash.  How we spend it – either wasting or investing it – will shape who we are.

Paul knew this quite well, which is why he told Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:7-10
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness, for,

the training of the body has a limited benefit,
but godliness is beneficial in every way,
since it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance.  In fact, we labor and strive for this, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe.

We understand that musicians practice for hours when no one is looking so when it comes time to perform, they do it perfectly.  We get it that basketball players shoot 100s of free throws a week so they’re ready when they’re fouled late in a game and have to step up to the line.

Training happens when no one is looking – it’s intentional work.  Now, earlier in his letter to Timothy, Paul equated godliness with being like Jesus.  But I think we Christians don’t see how important it is for us to labor and strive to be like Jesus.  So, let’s take an intentional step in that direction and see what God does with our time investment.

Jesus was intimately connected to the Scriptures.  On a regular basis, Jesus would quote or reference God’s Word.  Here’s just a couple of ideas to put some of God’s Word directly into your life:

·        Use a verse as a password – every time you log in to an account, say the verse.  “John3:16” or “Psalm100:1” fulfills most password requirements to have a capital letter, lower case letter, number, and special character.  Perhaps your password at work is a reminder of being faithful or diligent, like Colossians3:23 or Proverbs22:29.  Maybe the password for your online bank account is about being wise with money, like Proverbs21:17 or 2Corinthians9:6.
·        Have a verse for when you start your car, a “key” verse you need to know.  Proverbs3:5 and Ephesians2:8 would be good choices.
·        Have a verse to repeat whenever you wash your hands.  I learned 1 John 4:7-8 in a tune when I was a kid.  The tune is burned into my memory, so I can “sing” those verses at any time.  As often as I need to wash my hands, I’m reminding myself multiple times per day that loving others is important, and God is the one who loved us first.

It’s ok to pull out your phone to look up the verse so you say it correctly.  And…you don’t have to implement all of these suggestions.  The point is to find one thing in your day that you do repeatedly, and attach a verse to it.  Actively invest your time.  God guarantees that this kind of training will be beneficial both in the present life and also for the life to come.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Proud papa

How do you spell “love” to a child?

T-I-M-E

The same is true in mentoring.  Even a cursory look at the relationship between Paul and Timothy shows two things – that they spent a lot of time together, and Paul was proud of the man Timothy had grown into.

After leaving his family to join Paul and Silas, Timothy was present in many significant events in Paul’s missionary travels.  Timothy was at Philippi when the mob had Paul and Silas arrested.  Later an earthquake leveled the jail, which led to the jailer and his family to believe the gospel.  Timothy was also in Thessalonica when the riots started there, and he stayed with Silas in Berea when Paul was forced to travel ahead of them.

Timothy was also with Paul when he spent 18 months in Corinth, starting a church and ministering there.  Similarly, Timothy was with Paul during his two year stay in Ephesus.  Piecing together the timeline from other New Testament writings, we find that Paul would send Timothy out as his representative to encourage the churches they had previously established.

Timothy’s efforts mirrored his mentor’s so closely that Paul even referred to Timothy as “my co-worker” (Romans 16:21) and “our brother” (2 Corinthians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, Philemon 1).  Even more impressive is that Paul listed Timothy as a co-author in six of his letters – 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  None of Paul’s other ministering partners come anywhere close to that.

Over the years and years of working together, Paul also witnessed a lot of growth in Timothy.  Notice how Paul proudly recommends Timothy to the believers at the church they had established in Philippi:

Philippians 2:19-24
Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you.  For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father.  Therefore, I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.

Their relationship is an excellent example of what a mentoring relationship should look like.  Timothy wouldn’t have developed without Paul’s guidance and the time Paul invested.  Timothy was able to learn from Paul; and not just to become a carbon-copy of his mentor, rather he would use Paul’s investment as the launching point of his own efforts to live out and spread the gospel.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The goal of mentoring

Jesus is many things to us.  He is the second Adam, our prototype, our example, our Savior, and our God…but would you consider Him to be our mentor?  Or our example of how to mentor others?

When reading through the gospels – the books written to tell others about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – we find that once the disciples are introduced by the author, hardly a chapter goes by where they are not involved in the story.  The disciples were always with Jesus.

Now whenever we think about Jesus interacting with His disciples, we typically picture a teaching situation, right?  He’s sitting on rock, a little higher up than the group of men huddled down around His feet.  Most certainly Jesus taught them, but there was much more to their relationship than constantly being in class.  They cooked and ate with him, they traveled – by foot – with Him, they slept near Him, they hung out with Him, they laughed and celebrated with Him, and they observed every possible aspect about Jesus’ life. 

What was the ultimate purpose of all this time together?  In the middle of one of His teachings, Jesus mentioned the goal of discipling and mentoring these 12 men:

Matthew 10:24-25
A disciple is not above his teacher, or a slave above his master.  It is enough for a disciple to become like his teacher and a slave like his master.

The goal for a disciple is to eventually be just like his teacher.  We say things like this when we meet a young man or woman and we tell them “I knew who your parents were just by the way you looked and the way you acted.”  In the same way, the highest compliment a disciple could receive was being told that they were a perfect reflection of their teacher.

This also explains one of the oddest scenes in any of the gospels – and it takes place just a couple of chapters after Jesus stated the goal of discipling and mentoring. 

The disciples were in a boat, in the middle of a storm on the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus walks out on top of the waves toward their boat.  Understandably, the disciples were freaked out…because there appears to be someone walking on the water.  But Peter says something that, at first glance, looks completely out of place:

Matthew 14:28-29
“Lord, if it’s You,” Peter answered Him, “command me to come to You on the water.”
“Come!” He said.
And climbing out of the boat, Peter started walking on the water and came toward Jesus.

Seriously?  It’s storming, visibility’s not all that great, and sure he recognizes Jesus’ voice…but Peter asks to go out there with Him?  If he’s wrong and it’s not Jesus, then Peter just booked a one-way trip to the bottom of the lake.  Why would Peter do something this risky?

Peter’s goal in being Jesus’ disciple was to end up doing everything like Jesus, no matter how outrageous.  If Jesus could, then it would mean that eventually Peter could, too…so why not right now?  At first, Peter is able to walk on the water.  Don’t knock him too much for sinking after actually taking a few steps across the water…he was the only one to get out of the boat!

As a mentor, you’re probably not going to be teaching your protégé how to walk on water.  However, you are going to show them a variety of character traits and Biblical applications that, to them, will feel just as impossible. 

The main reason Peter thought he could be like Jesus was because of the teaching he had received and the time Jesus had invested into him.  Likewise, the more you are willing to open your life, the more the person you mentor will become confident in their ability to live like you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Investment necessary

 

The mentoring process has some specific costs to the mentor.  Time and sacrifice are necessary for the relationship to grow, and the mentor must be willing to sacrificially give their time long before the protégé realizes they need that level of investment.

The setting for our next example occurs about 400-500 years before Jesus was born.  God had punished both the nation of Israel and the nation of Judah for disobedience and idol worship by allowing them to be defeated by their enemies and carried off into exile.

The Jews had been settled in their exile for some time now, and their original Babylonian captors had been overtaken by the Persians.  The current Persian ruler was King Ahasuerus.  The book of Esther begins by explaining how and why the king was looking for a new queen.  However, we’re going to look at the mentoring relationship between Mordecai and Esther.

Esther 2:5-7
A Jewish man was in the fortress of Susa named Mordecai son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite.  He had been taken into exile from Jerusalem with the other captives when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took King Jeconiah of Judah into exile

Mordecai was the legal guardian of his cousin Hadassah (that is, Esther), because…when her father and mother died, Mordecai had adopted her as his own daughter.

This was a great act of sacrifice by Mordecai.  Scripture doesn’t record if he had other children; however, he treated Esther as if she was his own daughter.  Let’s not skip over this phrase.  Think about the first two decades of your life and remember everything your parents invested in you during that time.  What decisions or adjustments were made with you in mind?

If you have children of your own, take a quick inventory of everything you purposely do to raise them.  The late nights, the teaching, the training, the laughing, the development of skills, the failures, the coaching, the discipline, the love, and on and on and on. 

This is the kind of sacrifice Mordecai made for Esther when he adopted her as his own daughter

Esther was one of the young women selected to join the king’s harem, and it was from among those women that the king would select his next queen.  Before Esther left, however, Mordecai gave her some particular instructions:

Esther 2:10-11
Esther did not reveal her ethnic background or her birthplace, because Mordecai had ordered her not to.  Every day Mordecai took a walk in front of the harem’s courtyard to learn how Esther was doing and to see what was happening to her.

During the next year, the women from the harem would live in the palace and receive extensive beauty treatments with oil of myrrh, perfumes, and cosmetics.  From among the women, Esther was chosen to be the next queen.  After recording the festivities of her coronation, the author adds this detail:

Esther 2:19-20
When the young women were assembled together for a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the King’s Gate.  Esther still had not revealed her birthplace or her ethnic background, as Mordecai had directed.  She obeyed Mordecai’s orders, as she always had while he raised her.

Even if Esther didn’t fully understand Mordecai’s reasoning, she trusted him enough to follow his directions.  Her willingness to keep her family history a secret for over year is strong evidence of Esther’s respect for the man who raised her.  It was this same trust in Mordecai that would later lead to Esther having a significant, national impact.

From this part of Mordecai’s and Esther’s story, we see how mentors must go through life with their protégé in order to develop a strong relationship.  Trust in the mentor’s ability to lead and guide their protégé doesn’t come overnight.  However, the time and sacrifice will be worth it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to stay focused while praying

About a year ago, I started a series exploring the way Jesus prayed.  My theory was that if God’s goal is to make me more Christ-like, then I should probably take a look at how, when, and where Jesus prayed.  Out of the numerous things I learned, two observations of Jesus’ prayer life stuck out:

First, that He frequently went off to quiet places to spend time with the Father in prayer.  Out of a variety of circumstances, Jesus was constantly devoting chunks of alone time to talking with His Father in Heaven.

Second, Jesus’ main concern in His prayers was the Father.  Jesus was primarily focused on the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory.  His aim was to increase the Father’s glory – which means to enhance the Father’s reputation and honor in the world, and this was primarily achieved as Jesus completed the mission that the Father gave Him to accomplish.

As rich as that study was, as I moved on to other parts of Scripture I didn’t always remember these main lessons.  Looking back, my prayer life has both ebbed and flowed…tossed about by circumstance and my mental state of the moment.  One particular item I’ve struggled with is staying focused while praying. 

When I pray, I’m usually sitting in a quiet room with my eyes closed to avoid visual distractions.  My conversation with the Father starts out alright, but about half way through the fourth sentence…my mind jumps to something that needs my attention later on in the day, or I remember what I had forgotten to buy at the store, or I start to process a relationship problem that needs addressed at work or with a friend or in my family. 

It never fails…my mind picks the worst possible moment to leave the deep waters of relationship with the Father, and I starting splashing around in shallow thoughts of the smaller parts of life.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve apologized to God for mentally abandoning our quiet time together.

I don’t think my struggle is all that unique, either.  In various forms, I’ve heard other Christians voice similar difficulties.  I suspect that ancient believers also dealt with this, because towards the end of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul wrote

Colossians 4:2-3
Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.

Since Jesus’ death and resurrection bridged the gap between us and God, we know that as a child of God, we can pray at any time to our Father.  However, I think we tend to take advantage of that freedom and we get comfortable with sporadic communication.  Paul’s instruction here is to make prayer a priority, something we are devoted to.  Just like Jesus purposely setting aside chunks of time, we should as well.  Early morning, late night, commuting to work, or wherever we can consistently get time for just us and the Father; we need to make the time and protect that time from other things that will try to distract us.

This is where I’m so grateful for the second half of Paul’s instruction – stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  When my mind drifts off, I can immediately refocus my attention by thanking God for something, anything.  Giving thanks takes the focus off of me and my agenda because it makes me look toward the person I’m saying “Thank you” to.

As I have been applying Paul’s instruction, I’m realizing how a lack of thanksgiving has kept me unfocused…and being unfocused has prevented me from growing deeper with the Father.  So I need to make sure I’m purposely scheduling chunks of time with the most important Person in my life, and also telling Him about all the parts of my life that I am thankful for.  I’m certain that as I do this, my concern for the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory will increase.  Then I will begin praying like Jesus did, because my relationship with the Father will be a lot like Jesus’ relationship with the Father.

Maturity, growth, and deep relationship will not happen if we give God some sporadic moments of talk during our week.  The richness of a relationship with our Creator will only happen as we devote time to Him.  Will you make that choice?  The first step is simply saying “Thank you”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The aftermath of affliction

Time has a funny way of changing our perspective on things, doesn’t it?

The most important topics to us in our teens are no big deal in our thirties – and just a flash of a memory in our fifties.  We also see how time changes our perspective in raising our children, while we’re doing our daily parenting, it seems to go on forever…but then when they become adults, the entire process seems to have happened just in a blink of an eye.

Time also changes our perspective when it comes to learning life lessons.  Sometimes we learn from others’ words or example, other times we must learn the hard way, on our own.  It’s typically later on, when we have the benefit of hindsight that we are able to see clearly what we did wrong, why we had the trouble we caused, and what God was doing for us during that time in our lives.

In this section of Psalm 119, the author speaks from a perspective with the benefit of hindsight.  What has he learned from his past afflictions?

Psalm 119:65-72
Lord, You have treated Your servant well, just as You promised.
Teach me good judgment and discernment, for I rely on Your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.
You are good, and You do what is good; teach me Your statutes.
The arrogant have smeared me with lies, but I obey Your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are hard and insensitive, but I delight in Your instruction.
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statutes.
Instruction from Your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

It was good for me to be afflicted” isn’t something we typically say when we’re in the middle of a mess.  The author also takes responsibility for the trouble when he says, “before I was afflicted I went astray”.  The rest of the text suggests that if he hadn’t strayed from God’s commands and statutes, then he wouldn’t have dealt with the affliction.

The Hebrew word for afflicted means to be humbled, humiliated, or oppressed.  When left to our own devices, we stubbornly take paths contrary to the one God lays out in His Scriptures.  We create situations that eventually come back to bite us, and that is when affliction comes.  Sometimes the consequence of our humbling and humiliation is temporary…sometimes, though, the consequences echo throughout the rest of our lives.

But why would God allow for us to experience such hard, painful, life-altering consequences?  We often charge God with not really loving us because we see ourselves (or others) dealing with very difficult afflictions.  However, it is the benefit of hindsight that gives us a glimpse of our lives from God’s perspective.  Look again at what the author said about being afflicted:

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statues.
Instruction from Your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

If the lesson learned as a result of his affliction is better than large amounts of riches, then the lesson learned would also trump any lasting consequences from dealing with his self-inflicted troubles.  What was his lesson learned?

The superior value of God’s instruction in his life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken