Light Before Form (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 7, 2016)

I don’t know about you, but I was pretty certain that I had my life figured out at 19. I knew what career I would pursue, where I would live, the boy I was going to marry, and that we would have four kids together (two boys and two girls—to alleviate some of the sibling rivalry that my brother and I experienced).

 

As life would have it, though, I never did marry that boy; I’m in a completely different career now; I live in another part of the country; and suffice it to say, God had a sense of humor when it came to allocating my children.

 

Why is it that we think we have to have our whole lives planned out in advance? Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for setting goals, but we have to be willing to make allowances for change, as well. How can we take steps of faith when God calls us down a different path if we are locked into a certain outcome for our lives?

 

Even the Creation story echoes this notion. Check out Genesis 1:1-3, where God began by separating light from darkness. He didn’t start with creating mankind, or even sculpting the earth. In fact, verse 2 says, “The earth was formless and empty” (NLT). God built his creation one step at a time: light before form.

 

Perhaps it’s just me, but I think we often grope through life in the dark trying to get things just-so, when what we really need to do is focus on the Lord first and foremost.

 

King Solomon mused in Ecclesiastes 2:13-14, “Wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. For the wise can see where they are going, but fools walk in the dark.” If your life doesn’t look like you’d hoped or planned at this point, perhaps a good first step would be to examine the influences of “light” and “darkness.” What are you involved in that reflects the goodness of God? By contrast, what areas of sin in your life are lurking in the shadows?

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For Our Good (Prayer Devotional for the week of October 25, 2015)

If I see another online post featuring a pretty text box with a serene image in the background and a paraphrase of Romans 8:28 printed on top, then I’m issuing a warning right now that I might very well scream. “God works all things together for our good,” says the sign. That sounds sweet, but what does it really mean? You need to read the whole chapter to put it in context.

 

Two verses earlier, the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us when we are weak; in fact, when we don’t know what to pray in our distress, he even pleads on our behalf (v. 26). A few verses before that, we learn that our sufferings pale in comparison to God’s glory that we’ll experience in eternity (v. 18-21). Later in the chapter, we read about how God is on our side through every spiritual trial (v. 31-34) and that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love – no troubles, danger, or even death threats (v. 35-39).

 

So, with all that talk of trials and suffering, does verse 28 really mean that life is supposed to be sunshine and roses, because God works everything out for our good? I think we have a general misunderstanding of what “good” means. We’d like it to mean that things work out the way we want, so that we’ll get what we want, when we want, how we want. On the contrary, I don’t believe that’s what it means.

 

Look at verse 29: God has called us, and he wants us to become like his Son, Jesus. That’s for our ultimate good. When we experience trials and come out on the other side stronger in our faith, then we’re becoming more like Jesus. When we encounter setbacks or face opposition, but we don’t compromise our faith, then we’re taking more steps toward having a character like Jesus.

 

Living a life that mirrors Christ is for our good; that doesn’t mean we are exempt from suffering! What it does mean is that God can use every circumstance (even the gut-wrenching ones that keep us awake at night) to his glory and to help us become closer to his character. Sometimes those situations aren’t even reconciled in our lifetimes; it’s a hard pill to swallow, but you may not ever have all the answers about why things happen in your life the way they do. In eternity, it’ll all make sense, but in the here & now, it often doesn’t make sense at all. The challenge is how we handle those issues. Do we behave like the world – blaming God and cursing our lot in life? Or, do we stand firm in our faith, despite the inexplicable circumstances?

Baby Food (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 8, 2015)

I came across an old home video this week while looking through archived files on my computer. It was of my youngest kiddo eating in a highchair. He had just learned to pick up finger foods, and he was eating peas and Cheerios – complete with green mush on his chin. The kids had a big laugh watching the video, especially with my sing-song voice in the background praising him for being such a big boy and feeding himself.

 

With kids, we get excited about every little milestone, don’t we? We ooh and ahh about moving from milk to baby food, then finger foods, and finally table food using a fork and spoon. In some ways, this progression mirrors our spiritual development. We start out our new spiritual lives needing to be nourished with the simple truth of the gospel. Peter described it this way: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3, NIV). Yet, our development doesn’t (or shouldn’t!) stop there.

 

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he scolded them by saying, “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, NIV).

 

Likewise, the writer of Hebrews challenged readers for being unwilling to grow in faith: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14, NIV).

 

What, then, does it mean to be ready for solid food, spiritually speaking? Partly, it means that there should be evidence of our growth. We should seek out spiritual instruction that challenges us to stretch and grow even more. It also means that we should begin teaching, mentoring, and leading others to help them grow in faith.