Every Spiritual Blessing

Family, work, friends, shelter, health . . . these are some of the things people will be expressing their gratitude for tomorrow on the celebration of America’s national day of Thanksgiving.  And I’ll be among them.

But this season, I’ve been sobered by world events, and also by the difficult circumstances of some people I know and care about. As I pondered the things I am personally thankful for this year, I asked myself, But what if I didn’t have all those blessings, would I still be thankful?

As I reflected, God brought to mind a familiar verse from Ephesians:

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ” (1:3, NLT).

Hmmm. If my entire world were shaken and I suddenly lost everything, like some people in the world recently have, would I still be thankful? I wondered. Just what are those “spiritual blessings”?

So I started writing in my journal, tentatively at first.

Salvation

The hope of heaven

Being reunited with loved ones who’ve gone on before me

Forgiveness

Grace

Mercy

 I paused. It was a good list. But it was so predictable. What else, Lord? Please show me what all those spiritual blessings are.

Gradually, more thoughts started coming.

The bedrock of truth in the midst of an ever-shifting culture

Angels! Guardian angels who protect me from all kinds of calamity

The fact that broken relationships can be mended and restored because of Jesus

Free access to God the Father through prayer

The promise that all injustices will be made right in the end

A Big Brother who understand what I experience because He experienced it too

Over the past few days I’ve added to my list each morning, and have asked God to help me live in the joy of those truths. My list is growing, but I won’t share the whole thing with you because I want to allow you the pleasure of making your own list, if you feel so inclined. If you do, write me a comment. We can encourage each other by sharing these spiritual blessings that belong to all of us because we belong to God.

 

 

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Does Prayer Ever Limit God?

“Can we limit God by the way we pray?” someone asked recently in a book study I’m part of. I don’t think he expected an answer. But I’ve been pondering his question for a week now.

My gut response is, No, that’s ridiculous. God is all-sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing. How could a feeble mortal like me ever limit Him?

The question actually makes me a bit squirmy. I mean, God does as He pleases. That’s an essential part of being God, right? And He knows infinitely better than I do how to work out the affairs of the universe, so that’s a good thing. *

I thought about the view of God some people have—that He’s somehow obligated to fulfill our requests for comfort, health, and prosperity. In that view, we “limit” God by the smallness of our faith or our inability to find scriptures to support our petition. That’s a scary thought to me. I certainly want, in fact, need, God to limit me when I pray those kinds of prayers. If He didn’t, imagine what a mess the world would be (remember the movie Bruce Almighty?).

But still, I couldn’t let the question go. So I took it to God. I asked Him if, somehow, I limit Him by the way I pray.

As I waited quietly, He brought to mind a point of anxiety and frustration in my spiritual life.

You don’t really think I can change you. You think that somehow you stand in the way of My being able to transform those deep-rooted attitudes and responses. In that sense, you limit Me. As you remain in that unbelief, you remain unchanged. You think that past experiences predict future outcomes. That would be true if it depended on you. But it doesn’t. If you stop doubting and let Me in to do the work, I will help you. But I need your cooperation. I need you to trust Me and believe that with Me, this heart-change is truly possible.

As His words settled into my heart, something shifted. Hope stirred that hadn’t been there before. New thoughts came to me—life-giving thoughts. I even had some creative ideas about a specific situation that had been burdening me. Instead of trepidation, I started to feel eagerness and curiosity to see God at work—in me and through me—in that situation.

So, can we limit God by the way we pray? I still want to be cautious about how I respond to that question. However, I can see that in at least one area of personal transformation, I did.

Thoughts from the rest of you?

 

*For a powerful treatment of this question, you may want to read Charles Spurgeon’s sermon entitled “Limiting God.” It’s not a quick or easy read, but it’s certainly a convicting one!

 

Contemplation on a Snowy November Morning

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What I saw this morning

I awoke to blustery wind and swirling snow this morning. I’m not a fan of snow and I’m not a fan of winter. So why, you may ask, am I a fan of Colorado? Good question, but it’ll have to wait for another time.

Anyway, as I sat down with my coffee for some time with God, I opened my Bible to Psalm 93. It’s a short psalm of nothing but worship. I noticed with interest that the psalmist used the imagery of the ocean waves to describe and praise God. I pictured him sitting on a rocky cliff overlooking the sea as he penned his poetic adorations.

I glanced up from my Bible and out the window. Snow continued to fall. I grudgingly admitted that it was pretty. That’s when I sensed God issuing me a challenge: What can snow, bluster, and cold teach you about Me? He seemed to ask.

My curiosity duly stimulated, I tossed the question back to Him. “I don’t know, Lord, but I’d like to. So, please tell me: What can snow teach me about You, God?” Then I grabbed my journal and started writing.

I decorate the world with frivolous beauty, He seemed to whisper. My beauty is a big as the mountains and as small as the tiniest snowflake. Look closely, My beauty is everywhere!

My snow showers come to you as rest in disguise. They invite you to slow down as they blanket the earth in quiet. Snow interrupts your routine so that you will stop and look and see. I’m not only good, holy, and powerful, but also that I am beautiful.

The blustery winds that sometimes come with snow let you not only see My majesty, but also hear it. Don’t you feel My presence as you hear the wind howl and contemplate the treasures of My winter storehouses? I am more powerful than the wind, and I move wherever I please. You cannot predict where I will show up, although I am always with you.

God continued to talk to me like this, reminding me of how the snow covers dead leaves and dirt like His love covers sin. He reminded me that winter is when animals hibernate and plants go dormant so they can be reinvigorated for a new season of growth. He pointed out that though snow seems inconvenient to me, it has purpose: it waters the earth so that life can flourish.

When I finished listening to Him, my heart was full. It makes me wonder how much more there is to know and appreciate about God by asking Him to reveal Himself through some aspect of nature. It’s not something I’ve often practiced, but I think I’d like to start! I’m glad He brought it up!

 

Knowing God in All His . . . Anger?

I had a long talk with God about His anger this morning.

I know that probably sounds terrible, but let me explain. Recently God challenged me concerning my two of my more familiar forms of Bible reading.

Approach 1: I read to find God’s comfort or encouragement. I’m looking for something to nurture my soul.

Approach 2: I read to discover God’s will for me, His plan for my personal growth, or my marching orders for the day.

Although there’s really nothing wrong with either of those methods of Bible reading (God’s Word clearly does nourish our souls and
direct our plans and activities) I noticed, to my embarrassment, that those Bible reading approaches are mostly about me. I frequently neglect a significant third way of reading.

Approach 3: I read in order to know God better. The Bible, after all, is a revelation of God—His character, His plans, His ways, His works. As I read God’s Word, I encounter Him more fully.

So this morning I gave it a try. I turned to where my bookmark was—Psalm 90—and started reading. As I began I prayed,
“God, what do you want me to see and understand about You?”

He stopped me at verse 11:

Who fully understands the power of your anger? A person fears you more when he better understands your fury (GWT).

“Really, God? You want me to understand more about your anger? You brought me here to teach me about Your fury?” I wasn’t sure I was going to like this assignment. But it seemed to be what He had in mind, so that was the verse I meditated on.

When I want to understand something or someone, I often begin by asking questions. I didn’t know if it would be helpful for this purpose, but I decided to try. Systematically, I thought through the journalistic 5Ws and an H. I wrote them down. Then one by one, I journaled about them with God. Here’s the list I worked from:

  • Who do you get angry with, God?
  • What makes you angry?
  • Where in the Bible have I seen Your anger before?
  • When have You been angry with me?
  • How do you show Your anger?
  • Why do You seem angrier in the Old Testament than in the New?
  • What do You personally want me to understand about Your anger today?

I was apprehensive at first. The idea of God being angry makes me uncomfortable. But as I journaled and invited God to speak to me, He did. He gave me insight. He taught me from parallel passages. He reminded me of times He’s ministered to me throughout the years. He put together bits of theology that had been scattered over my spiritual landscape for a long time.

By the time I was finished, I was no longer uncomfortable. In fact, I felt peaceful, loved, and secure. More importantly, I came away with a deeper appreciation for both God’s justice and His kindness than I’d had previously. I had a better appreciation for God’s holy anger than I’d had before.

I’m not going to try to explain everything God did for me in this post—you need to ask God your own questions—but I finished feeling that God was even bigger and holier than I’d realized—and at the same time, that He loves me more than I can comprehend. And you know what? By taking a God-centered instead of me-centered approach to my Bible reading, He met me along the way. I imagine that’s how it’s supposed to work.