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?

Prayer prompts for the week of Jan. 31

I was just about to upload next week’s posts when I realized that I missed all of last week! :/  Here ya go …

 

Journey or Destination?

In your opinion, which is better: the journey or the destination? I can think of occasions when both answers were true in my life. On a cruise, the ports of call are lovely, but the journey is also a lot of fun. On a road trip, the drive can be exhausting, yet some of my favorite memories were made on the highway, so I guess that one kinda depends. On a flight, the arrival tends to be more enjoyable to me than the getting there part.

 

What about your life, in general? Are you focused on the day-to-day, or do you have your sights set on eternity? Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of wonderful things to experience in life. My question, though, is whether that should be our focus. Check out what the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:12-21. He referred to the Christian life as striving toward a goal, using the imagery of a race with a heavenly prize at the finish line.

 

We would be doing ourselves a disservice if we only thought about the finish line and neglected the steps we need to take along the way. However, I think more often than not, we take side trips, detours, or stop to take a nap (spiritually speaking) and distract our minds from the ultimate destination of spending eternity with the Lord. In Philippians 3:20 (NLT), Paul explained, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” We don’t belong here; we’re just visiting.

 

King Solomon put this idea in different words in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. He described how futile it is to chase after pleasure, because such things don’t last. As a man who had everything his heart could desire, he still experienced much emptiness. Here was a man who had more wealth, fame, possessions, relationships, and accolades than any of us could ever dream, but at the end of the day, he considered it all meaningless.

 

Life is fleeting (Psalm 39:4, Isaiah 40:6-8, 1 Peter 1:24). I would encourage you to keep your eye on the prize, yet still live for Christ in the here and now. This life is our opportunity to share the love and hope of Jesus with others, and we ought to be making the most of our time here.

 

(Sunday) James 4:14 describes our life like the morning fog: here only temporarily. What will you do today that matters for eternity?

 

(Monday) My yard is dead/dormant for winter. Isaiah 40:6-8 describes our lives like grass that withers away, but the word of God lasts forever.

 

(Tuesday) Job 14:5 tells us that God knows the exact length of our lives. Commit each day like a marathon trainer, with a heavenly prize awaiting you.

 

(Wednesday) In Psalm 39:4, King David asks God to remind him how brief life is. Too easily, we can get ensnared by the world and lose our eternal focus.

 

(Thursday) We read in Genesis that God breathed life into Adam. Psalm 39:5 reminds us that our lives are a breath – a mere moment compared to eternity.

 

(Friday) We who are in Christ have our names are written in the Book of Life, and our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20, Rev. 3:5). Praise God!

 

(Saturday) Job 14:2 describes life as a passing shadow. May we keep our eyes on the Son and reflect his light to the world around us.

 

At What Cost? (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 15, 2015)

I am happy with where I am now, professionally. I absolutely love teaching college students and exploring my research ideas. My schedule is such that most mornings, I’m able to take my younger kids to school, and I even have time to run errands in the middle of the day now & then. I didn’t land my dream job overnight, though; my current success came at a large personal cost. In total, I spent about 10 years of my life in college, and I’m still paying off loans from grad school. I didn’t watch TV for about four years, because I needed every moment of free time in the evenings to study and write. I tried not to miss any big events, but some play time with my kids was also sacrificed during those years when I needed to work late or study.

All that is to say: there’s a cost to be paid in pursuit of our life-goals. Honestly, the same could be said for our spiritual lives. We’ve been working on a new song for the worship team recently, and one of the lines says, “Take it all, take it all, my life in your hands.” Every time I sing those words, I’m reminded of what it costs to follow Jesus. It’s not about having an emotional experience at church or camp; it’s about letting Jesus have total control of every aspect of your life.

In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus had a very frank conversation with a large crowd of wannabe disciples. They wanted to come along for the ride, but he needed them to understand that following him would be costly. Verse 26 often gets misinterpreted as Jesus advocating that we should hate our parents and siblings, but that’s not what he’s saying. I believe what he’s trying to communicate is that we are to have so much dedication to him that our relationships with everyone else – and our view of ourselves – pale in comparison.

The question is: What are you willing to sacrifice? What amount of free time, financial resources, mental energy, and elbow grease are you willing to put on the line to follow Jesus? Following Jesus is truly rewarding, but like the earlier analogy of my job, it takes effort and commitment to bring it to fruition. Proverbs 20:25 (NLT) warns, “Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God and only later counting the cost.” If you are going to sing a song like “My Heart is Yours” or “I Surrender All,” then you need to mean it.

Are You Even Listening to Me? (Prayer Devotional for the week of September 13, 2015)

Sometimes I feel like a broken record, except that my kids don’t really have a frame of reference for scratched vinyl albums, so the cliché is lost on them. The point, as many parents will agree, is that I feel like my words go in one ear and out the other. I don’t talk just to hear myself speak, for cryin’ out loud!

 

Sometimes I wonder if God feels the same way about us. He communicates with us through his word, the Bible. He also communicates through messengers, like the sermon on Sunday morning, a worship song on the radio, or a godly friend’s counsel. He communicates through prayer and the nudges of the Holy Spirit on our hearts. Case in point: Have you ever heard a particularly poignant sermon that echoed something that had been on your heart for a while, and then a song came on the radio that was spot-on about what you were dealing with? Lo and behold, you open your Bible later and seemingly coincidentally stumble upon a passage that reiterates everything God has been trying to tell you?

 

God is so patient with us; isn’t he? In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul explains that scripture comes from God’s inspiration, and it is not only useful to teach us, but also to redirect us, point out our mistakes, and build character. All of these things, in turn, work together to equip us to do the work that God calls us to do. Think back to when you started your current job: you might have attended an orientation, gone through training, perhaps even had a mentor. You probably weren’t an expert on Day One; it took time to learn the ropes.

 

Our spiritual journey is not much different. We have ample training opportunities through church and studying the Bible. You can build mentorship connections through Life groups. You can gain on-the-job training by serving in a ministry. Even people who have walked with the Lord for decades will admit that they have much to learn, but each day should find us growing closer and closer to the Lord. Check out Philippians 1:6 – God is in the business of finishing projects, and how wonderful for us that he never throws in the towel!

 

Isaiah 55:11 reminds us that God’s word will not return empty-handed; he speaks to be heard, and he communicates with us in order to bring us into a deeper relationship with himself. Are you listening?