Grace in the Dark

graceBut you are a chosen people, royal priests, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. You were chosen to tell about the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Ponder It.

  • When have you experienced oppressing or frightening darkness?
  • How has darkness intrigued you in a situation? How has darkness frightened you?
  • What is a shadowy area of your life that needs God’s grace?

Receive It. Grace meets us in the darkness, which can be a frightening place. The night-time can be beautiful, but most of its beauty comes from the results of a light source. We see the aura of the moon or the twinkling of the starts; we see the patterns of glistening light as the moon shines catches water drops or fluttering leaves. Most of us don’t live somewhere that is void of light. Even if we close ourselves into a dark room, it’s difficult to shut out all light sources, and if we do, as we sit in pitch blackness, we see, with any certainty…nothing. Spiritually, when we’re in the dark, we are disoriented. What we think we see isn’t accurate. The darkness can seem oppressive. We can even get to the point where there is something comforting in the darkness, because we don’t have to deal with what’s in the light. We can begin to fear the reality of the light more than the uncertainty of the dark. Once we find comfort in where we are, we don’t want to leave even though we cannot fully see, live, or move in the dark. That’s where grace meets us if we’re willing to reach out. We don’t need to see what we’re reaching for; we simply have to know to whom we’re reaching. When we call out to God, no matter what is going on in our lives, God hears us and meets us. He often doesn’t immediately or completely rescue and restore us. Restoration is a process that includes preparation for what’s to come. We need steps in order to experience and appreciate how God reveals himself to us. We need his timing, not our preferences. And we always need his grace no matter where we are. As long as we live on earth, there will be areas—whether large gaps or tiny spaces—that are dark. God reaches into the dark, shadowy spaces and sprinkles his grace. And we’re able to see what he wants us to see…if we’re willing to fully open our eyes and hearts.

Live It. Find a dark space. Close your eyes, trying to shut out all light for a full minute. Before opening your eyes, ask God to call attention to the dark places in your life, then respond by inviting his grace to consume those spaces.

Grace from God

graceTo choose life is to love the Lord your God, obey him, and stay close to him. He is your life. (Deuteronomy 30:20a)

Ponder It.

  • How close do you feel to God right now?
  • What do you long for in your relationship with God?
  • How has the experience of these devotions affected your intimacy with God?

Receive It and Live It. A relationship with God won’t automatically grow. No relationship will automatically grow. Any relationship will default to atrophy. Without intentionality, we’ll become distant. We’ll question the importance of the relationship. We’ll wonder why we were in the relationship in the first place and might even begin to reframe it in negative ways, justifying why we’re no longer in it.

Faith takes nurturing. If ignored, it will cease to grow at all or grow in unhealthy ways. We have to pay attention. We have to invest. And we have to remember the relationship is not just about us. Our relationship is with God, which means he has significant input. We have to listen to him. We have to become familiar with him. We have to respect him. He is God and doesn’t need to prove his trustworthiness and sovereignty, but his consistency proves it in time as we interact with and rely upon him. We pray, not just sharing requests but praising God and allowing him to pour his encouragement and admonishment into us. We study, not just for head knowledge but for heart knowledge, placing intimacy with God far above familiarity for trivia. We worship, not just during a weekend service but as a lifestyle, striving to praise and honor him in everything we do.

Live It. How is God challenging you to become more intimate with him today, pouring life-sustaining water into you? Don’t wait. Respond today. Small steps are fine. Inactivity is not.

Stillness

 

stillness-3How often are you spiritually still?

How do you struggle with spiritual stillness?

What do you anticipate from God through spiritual stillness?

Silence and stillness are not always the same thing, but they often intersect. In order to be silent, we need to be still enough to listen to God’s prompting. In order to be still, we have to quiet ourselves.

As we still ourselves, it seems obvious that we would experience God’s presence, but that’s only the case when we still ourselves in God’s presence. We must be intentional about the stillness of our lives. We often struggle with stillness, because we don’t seem to find the time to be still. We feel guilty because we’re not still often enough or long enough. We see the shortcomings of our stillness. Or sometimes, we’re too still. We refuse to move out of fear. We all need a slight nudge, whether it’s into stillness or out of the wrong kind of stillness. We think stillness is passivity, and we feel the need to take action and speak up in case the moment or opportunity passes.

But we need stillness in the presence of God. Our experiences will often be different. Because God engages in a relationship with us, He works in our lives in a variety of ways. We are filled with His presence and grace over seasons in our lives. Stillness doesn’t equate inactivity. We can be engaged with the activities of life but find a stillness deep within, where God gives us His peace and grace to sustain and fuel us. Stillness can also be a moment, when we close our eyes to our surroundings and open our hearts to be surrounded by God and His grace. We can be still when the chaos or noise of life surrounds us, and we can be still when nothing but the sights and sounds of nature surround us.

Practice being still during a noisy moment in your day. Whether the noise around you is in what you hear, what you see, or what you’re thinking, get still. Focus on God’s presence. Trust Him to pour into you in the quiet place of your soul even among the noise of your surroundings. Thank Him for His reliable provision despite your circumstances.

The Skill of Worry

7vp44vnyvs_fill_in_the_____God doesn’t want us to worry, because He wants us to rely on Him. In Matthew 6, we’re given reasons for why we should worry about food, drink, and clothes; in a nutshell, “God’s got this.” There are a lot of people around the world who are genuinely concerned about food, drink, and clothes; most of us don’t fit into that category. We have plenty. But we still worry about something: family, health, job security, retirement, bills, transportation, and so on.

So, today is a fill-in-the-blank lesson on worry. Perhaps the lesson is more about releasing worry and trusting God to take care of us in His way and timing. I’m including the basic structure of the end of Matthew 6. Think about what you would put in the blanks.

Don’t worry about your life, what you will ___________________; or about your body, what you will _________________. Isn’t life more than __________ and the body more than ___________? … Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying? And why do you worry about ___________? … So don’t worry, saying, “______________?” or “_____________?” or “______________?” But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25,27-28a,31,33-34)

At The Crossroads

crossroads-confusing-sign-595x335Doesn’t Wisdom call out?
Doesn’t Understanding make her voice heard?
At the heights overlooking the road,
at the crossroads, she takes her stand. (Proverbs 8:1-2)

We may not be clear at all times, but the crossroads are revealing. We are faced with options. Whether we are under pressure or have time to process, gray separates into black and white. We know we need to take a step. We may not be completely certain of which way to go, but we stand up, turn, gaze forward, and walk.

With Wisdom and Understanding, we have courage and assurance. Even when we misstep, Wisdom and Understanding correct us. God knows. He helps. He guides.

Without Him, the crossroads are disorienting.

With Him, we proceed in faith.

The Rest of Sabbath

128983854_8963f7d9fcAbout a month ago, I had a fuller-than-usual Sunday planned.
I try to set aside as much time as possible on Sundays. It’s not about a legalistic practice for me (although there have been some times in my life that was true). It’s about rest, a retreat, a Sabbath, a set aside time to intentionally steep in God’s presence, letting Him recharge me and prepare me for whatever is next.
But sometimes, I have responsibilities that need my attention on a Sunday. This was one of those days. The commitment took a three-hour block out of the middle of the afternoon, but I had peace about serving. It was important, not just to me, but to others. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
I still focused on rest as much as I could every minute that wasn’t scheduled. And at the end of the day, I glanced back and realized the vast amount of rest, reading, and journalling that would normally not fit into a day if I had nothing else scheduled, let along fitting it between this and that.
A Sunday overflowing with Sabbath. Even in the midst of some busyness.
Only God.
He meets us in the chaos when we’re willing to still ourselves.

Carbon Copy

816889570-papier-calque-bulletin-de-salaire-boite-a-cartes-ficheMaybe you don’t know what a carbon copy is. Except perhaps to know it’s what the “cc” stands for when you email someone.
But you’ve seen it work. You’ve seen the receipt books, where someone writes on the top page, and there are two or three different colored copies of the same form beneath the top page, so what’s written on the top page gets transferred? Workers who come to your house often have receipt books to take a copy and leave a copy.
People used carbon paper in typewriters to make multiple copies at once (although the back pages were often lighter or smeared). My husband’s grandma wrote letters to her daughters with carbon paper between, so she could share the same news with half the writing time.
But carbon copies are never identical to the original. The carbon paper shifts or smears. Inconsistent pressure with writing created differences. And there was no erasing.
Carbon copies are handy when emailing people. We get to communicate with several people at once. (But please use “bcc” – blind carbon copy – when emailing a lot of people, so everyone doesn’t have everyone else’s email address to spam later or can “reply all” and inundate our inboxes with chatter.)
But the concept of carbon copies has it’s drawbacks, especially when we try to apply it to people. For example, we declare what a mom should do or look like, or what a successful person does or looks like. We declare a look or behavior as less or more manly, attractive, or worthwhile. Then we hold ourselves and others to the standards we claim.
Standards aren’t bad, but projecting the need to squeeze into a mold can be harmful, not to mention a waste of time. Becoming like someone isn’t the same as becoming the person. We have role models and try to emulate their most positive attributes, but we can never become them.
In the Christian faith, we often emphasize the importance of becoming like Jesus.  But we aren’t and never will be the same as Him. We look up to Paul, David, Ruth, and Mary, but we don’t become them. We respect people who have mentored and taught us, but we don’t become them. We gather the very best of them and let those qualities seep into our lives, and we become the best us we can be.
We’re not the same, and we weren’t intended to be. We have common, but not identical, purpose. We have threads of similarities with streaks of differences. We have unity but not uniformity.
Becoming like in order to become ourselves. No carbon copies.