Grace in the Night

graceGod once said, “Let the light shine out of the darkness!” This is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts by letting us know the glory of God that is in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Ponder It.

  • How have you experienced God’s grace in the darkness of your life?
  • Where and when have you been spiritually stuck?
  • How does God’s grace impact the authenticity of your life?

Receive It. God’s grace meets you where you are. God makes a way where there seems to be no way. He brings light into the darkness. He reveals the truth…when we invite him to do so. Sometimes God illuminates our lives, and we don’t see what he’s revealing to us, because we refuse to look. We keep our eyes tightly shut, refusing to see the truthfulness of what’s around us. We would never admit to wanting to remain in the dark, but it becomes a habit. It’s comfortable. Our eyes have adjusted to the darkness, and we don’t feel the need for additional light. Sometimes God doesn’t illuminate our lives because we refuse to move toward him. We settle into a corner of the darkness and wonder why we can’t see. Our fear, anger, frustration, sadness, or other emotion overrides our desire to see beyond where we are. We feel stuck, so we stay stuck instead of using it as a motivation to move. Then there are the times God illuminates our lives and we sigh in relief, have an a-ha moment, or exclaim in excitement over what misunderstanding or misinterpretation is revealed. Where we could once see only a small piece of the puzzle and made extensive assumptions about the bigger picture, we now see more of the bigger picture and reorient our perspective based on our newly acquired knowledge. God’s grace filters everything through truthfulness. God’s grace is authentic. There is no deception in God’s grace. It will not trick you. It will not toy with you. It will meet you where you are and pour into you through the next steps of your journey. It will seep into the darkness around you, even where you didn’t know darkness existed. Darkness might seem uncertain and overwhelming, but God’s grace is invasive. Where you experience God’s grace, you will be nourished.

Live It. Turn on a flashlight and shine it around you. If it’s light where you are, you won’t notice it much. You might take it for granted or think it’s unnecessary. But there is some degree of darkness around you. Shine your light into it and consider the places in your life in need of light and grace.

Grace in Loneliness

graceTurn to me and have mercy on me, because I am lonely and hurting. (Psalm 25:16)

Ponder It.

  • When have you experienced loneliness?
  • What is the difference between aloneness and loneliness?
  • How have you experience loneliness in busyness?

Receive It. Grace never leaves you alone. You might experience loneliness in your life, but God never intends for you to do life on your own. He created us for relationship. However, we experience lonely times. We feel alone. We feel isolated, which is different than actually being alone. The truth is we are never alone. Even when we are by ourselves, as followers of Christ, we are with God. He is with us. When we feel lonely, we can be comforted and reassured in his presence. We don’t need to ignore our feelings of isolation; in fact, we shouldn’t ignore those feelings, because what we keep in the dark will usually grow and infect us in all sorts of unhealthy ways. Instead, we can call out to God and tell him about our loneliness. He reassures us. He invests in us. He challenges us and convicts us. God’s presence isn’t always warm and fuzzy. Discipleship never is. It’s growth-producing and growth is often not comfortable. Rewarding? Yes. But comfortable? No.

God’s presence provides grace to us in the loneliness. Grace fills the spaces. We don’t know how the spaces got there, and we often try to fill the spaces with things that look appealing but end up being unsatisfying spiritual junk food. Only God can fill the gaps with his perfect provision of just what we need and what only he can provide. Whether you’re in the middle of a crowd when you experience loneliness or isolated away from others, you are not alone. Acknowledge God’s presence and accept his grace. Trust him to give you everything you need.

Live It. Make space today. Set aside one minute to sit completely by yourself in silence, if possible. Close your eyes and clear your mind. Try to think of nothing. Sweep it clean. Of course, it will be a struggle, but don’t give up. Keep cleaning for a full minute. At the end, you might not have swept every thought clean, but you’ll hopefully have more space than before. Ask God to fill it.

Grace in the Light

graceYou are the giver of life. Your light lets us enjoy life. (Psalm 36:9)

Ponder It.

  • How have you enjoyed God’s light in your life?
  • How does your perspective change as the quality and position of the light around you changes?
  • How does God’s light differ from lights of the world?

Receive It. Grace highlights truth in its light. Grace illuminates the truthfulness of any situation. We cling to what we think the truth of something is. We think we’ve done something that can’t be forgiven. We think someone else has offended us or someone else in an irreparable way. We think something we believed or assumed at one point in our lives is accurate and cannot be questioned. Grace says, “Take another look and look through the eyes of truth.”

Light is beautiful. It creates beautiful patterns in our lives. It illuminates the reality of a situation. Without it, we cannot see. And without accepting God’s grace, we cannot live it out. We try to prove ourselves, take control, and establish and maintain self-sufficiency. It’s not going to happen, because God is the source of proof, control, and sufficiency. God doesn’t just provide us with light; he is light. We don’t just find God in light. We find light in God. We experience God when we’re living in his light. The two can’t be separated. The same is true with grace. God’s grace cannot be separated from him. It’s who he is.

Live It. Stand in the light. Look around you and see how the light impacts what you see and how you see it. Change your perspective, turning your body or taking a step into or away from the light. Pay attention how the changes you make impact your perspective. The light doesn’t change. Your perspective changes based on where you are in relation to the light. Where you are in relation to the light always makes a difference in what you see and how you see it. Consider how your experience impacts your relationship with God and your commitment to seek and stay in his light.

Grace in Discernment

graceA wise person will know these things, and an understanding person will take them to heart. The Lord’s ways are right. Good people live by following them, but those who turn against God die because of them. (Hosea 14:9)

Ponder It.

  • How do you struggle with discernment?
  • How have your skills in discernment changed over time?
  • How has this series of devotions impacted your ability and desire to discern God’s will for your life?

Receive It. We’ve become accustomed to saying, “I don’t see anything wrong with it,” when it’s not obvious to us what God thinks about something. Perhaps we don’t think he’s interested in the issue, but God has interest in everything we do. He is invested in our lives. Instead of forging ahead if we don’t see something wrong with what we’re doing, thinking, or feeling, try flipping the question and ask, “What’s right with it?”

God’s wisdom isn’t human wisdom. When we mix a little of God’s truth with a lot of stuff we learn from everyone around us, we can become as disoriented as a blindfolded child trying to pin the tail on the donkey. We can rationalize that something is “kind of truth,” because it looks a little like truth, but there’s no hybrid truth with God. God pours himself into you because he wants you to fully know him. He wants you to discern what’s of him and what’s of the world, what’s okay to turn away from and what you need to face head on, when you need to speak up and when you need to be quiet. God’s wisdom can only come from God and is fully intended to glorify God. If we only ask and accept it, the Holy Spirit will give us this guidance and wisdom to live every moment of every day to glorify God.

Live It. When faced with a decision today, ask yourself, “Is this taking me one step closer or one step farther from God?” Commit every decision you make today to God, asking for and trusting his guidance.

Listen with Respect

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxHow do you know what you think you know? It’s amazing how many times we jump to conclusions. We hear something through a third party, or we overhear a part of a conversation, or we hear something in the way we want to hear it and insist we know the intention behind it. We fill in the gaps between what someone actually said to make the entire story into what we want it to be instead of what it actually is. We omit the parts that contradict what we want to believe, and we ever-so-slightly embellish those areas that emphasize our points.

It’s important to go to the source, then listen with respect. Listening with respect isn’t the same as listening for ammunition. It’s listening for truth. It’s giving the person time to talk. It’s asking clarifying questions and briefly summarizing or restating every now and then to insure what you’re hearing is the same as what the person is trying to communicate. It’s listening more than you talk. It’s setting aside your personal agenda for the common good of the relationship. It’s putting others above self.

Active listening is a developed skill. It takes practice. Most of us talk much more than we listen. Even if you’re a quiet person, you can’t quickly take yourself off the hook on this one, because a quick word count comparing what you say and what you hear isn’t the same as active listening. Active listening involves investment in a relationship, which means you need to respond in order to show the person your respect. You need to engage, asking questions and restating the basics.

Listening with respect doesn’t assume you agree with everything being said. It’s not nearly as much about what is said as who is saying it. God instructs us to respect one another. It’s clear by the standards and expectations he sets that not every behavior, belief, and attitude should be respected, revered, accepted, or tolerated. But we don’t throw the person out with the behavior. It difficult to listen with respect when the person has done something we don’t respect, especially when we find out a person we’ve previously looked up to has gone against biblical principles he or she has previously personally revered and taught. However, it’s not about how we feel like responding. It’s about how God instructs us to respond. And there’s no doubt he commands respect among his followers.

To whom do you need to listen with respect today? Invite the conversation. Let God build your faith by trusting him through the process. He will guide you through what you think is impossible.

Show respect for all people: Love the brothers and sisters of God’s family… (1 Peter 2:17)

Get Outside Your Circle

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxIt’s a bit easier to perpetuate the cause and effects of hurt when you hang out with a group that isolates itself and allows the hurt to multiply. We all need reality checks, and we don’t get them from the people closest to us if they’re not willing or able to shine a revealing light on the truth of a situation. We connect with people because we have things in common with them, so we affirm one another. However, when the affirmation becomes a crutch and pulls a blinding shade over accountability, we’re in trouble.

We need to choose friends who love us just the way we are yet aren’t content to leave us there—just like God. Affirmation is great as long as it’s biblical. However, our circles of friends—even in churches—can become gossip fests. Once the can of gossip is opened, it’s incredibly difficult to secure the lid on it, but the effort is worth it. We do a lot of damage spreading hearsay or gathering breakneck momentum based on our opinions instead of factually-based information and biblical truth. When our small groups of friends or Bible study groups begin to share opinions and gain momentum of what we think is happening or should happen with an individual or the church as a whole, it’s not long before we take the small leap that rationalizes we’re being “led by God.” Just because we’re a group of Bible-believing church folks who come to a consensus doesn’t mean our conclusion is God-directed. Were biblical principles followed throughout the process of coming to the conclusion, or was there misguided rationale, misinformation, and inappropriate sharing? You cannot reach a Spirit-led result with a man-led process.

There are many boundaries drawn between the “us” and “them” in churches. It can be old versus young or paid staff versus volunteer staff. It can be “old-timers” versus new members or regular attenders versus members. The division of groups is often perpetuated by assumptions. Because we tend to hang out with people most like ourselves, we quickly make assumptions about other groups as well as about what those groups must think about us. It isn’t long before we feel slighted, justified, or entitled, and the space between the groups widen.

The way to build a bridge between groups is to get to know individuals in other groups. It takes effort, because we have to reach across the aisle to approach the very people we have some unflattering assumptions about. We might find some aspects of the assumptions to be true, but we’ll likely find many more exceptions if we open our eyes and hearts widely enough to recognize and acknowledge them. If each person in your circle of camaraderie gets to know three people in one of “the other” circles, how many assumptions would be proven right and how many would be shaken or shattered? It’s worth a try to find out. Test the all or nothing perspective.

When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Healing the Hurt , is PurePurpose.org’s current series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

God Says What’s Best (It’s Not About You)

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxWe’re not the center of the universe.

While this statement might not surprise you, we can easily slip into a me-centered way of thinking. It’s not just about selfish, demand-what-we-want-when-we-want-it thinking that’s selfish. You can certainly find someone who is a bit more selfish than you, so you don’t see yourself quite as selfish. Me-centered thinking is more sneaky than the obvious me-statements, whining, and high expectations for people to tend to personal needs and whims. Me-centered thinking is in every single one of us, and it particularly begins to decay the health of church families when we begin with ourselves as the foundation of plans, judgments, and assumptions.

“Well, I know that happens to some people in some churches, but people in my church are much more mature as believers than that. We know the dangers, and we’re cautious never to put our individual selves above the church.” It happens more often than you might recognize, and refusing to consider how me-centered thinking is impacting you as an individual or the church as a whole is negligent and deters you from spiritually growing as God intends.

Even when we know God is sovereign and accept him as all-knowing and all-powerful, our behavior often contradicts our beliefs. Because we can’t understand everything about God, we make some assumptions. We start with what we do understand and make assumptions. We project our limited understanding onto what must be true about God.

We experience fear, and we know God’s Word refers to fear, so we infuse our experience of fear into our belief of what God means when he refers to fear.

We hear a particular Scripture verse taught in a way we’ve never considered before, and without checking the context of the verse or keeping the context of the teaching, we begin to expand the application into areas God never intended. We make our own rules because they make sense to us without checking to see if God says our rules are necessary or God-honoring.

We’re confident God guided in a specific direction in one situation, so when we’re in a similar situation again later, we assume God wants us to move in the same direction.

God’s will is unchanging, but the specifics of how he wants us to respond changes across situations. He desires an ever-deepening relationship with us, which means we must rely on him through every moment of every situation. He guides us to stand up, speak up, speak up, and shut up, depending on what he knows is best in each situation. If faith was as simple as “If A, then B…If C, then D,” we wouldn’t have to rely on God’s leading on an ongoing basis, because we would live within the bounds of legalism. It’s obvious through Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees that legalism is not the same as a thriving relationship of faith with God. He’s not interested in legalism. He wants sacrificial dependency that spurs us toward bold obedience.

When we want what is best, we can become so passionately invested that we place blinders on our eyes, causing us to miss some important truths God. We need to invite God to reveal the situation in which we’re starting with what we most want and projecting our wish lists onto what we’re proclaiming as God’s will. Faith is yielding to God. It’s dying to self to live in his will, which isn’t a one-time decision. It’s an ongoing commitment. We need to set everything of our own wills to the side—our assumptions, wants, relationships, and much more—in order to hear clearly from God. Only declare his will when your confident it’s founded in God’s Word and not in your own.

Trust the Lord with all your heart  and don’t depend on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)