Tag Archives: daily surrender

Sometimes Sleep Really is Overrated

Many mornings I struggle to rise and shine early enough to spend sufficient time in the Word before I begin my day. There have been seasons when I found it easy to wake up at 4:00 or 5:00 and didn’t even feel tired, but other times it’s such a battle. My desire is to have uninterrupted God time before all the distractions of the day start chiming in, but it seems to come in waves. I have periods where I don’t seem to need as much sleep, and other times I can’t get enough. Nearly every night I ask God to wake me naturally, because I know that setting an alarm doesn’t work. When I force myself to get up, I find myself so sleepy I can’t function. It seems like the only time an alarm clock is successful is when I stay up and moving. It definitely doesn’t work for quiet times, because sitting still is too conducive to dozing off.

Today, as I was reading in the book of Acts, I noticed in chapters 16 and 20 that Paul didn’t seem to get a lot of sleep. In chapter 16, we get the account of Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi. They were praying and worshipping God around midnight when a great earthquake occurred. Paul was then able to share the gospel in the prison to the jailer and all the prisoners. After that, the jailer took them to his house, cleaned them up, and let them share the message with his family. The entire family was baptized in the middle of the night, and then Paul and Silas were back in jail by daylight. In chapter 20, Paul was preaching “on and on” till midnight (Ac.20:9) when young Eutychus fell out of the window and died. After Paul raised him to life, they broke bread, and he talked to them until daylight.

When I read the Gospels I see the same sort of pattern with Jesus. He would often withdraw to lonely places and pray all night, or rise way before daybreak (Lk. 6:12, Mk. 1:35). On the night of his betrayal he lamented that his disciples kept falling asleep, and told them “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41). I find it interesting that Jesus told them to deny their bodies, and fervently seek God instead. Still, I can sure relate to those disciples. Some people might think that since Jesus was divine it was easier for him to go without sleep, but we know that on at least one occasion he was so exhausted he was able to sleep through a violent storm (Mk. 4:38).

God designed our bodies to need sleep, and even Jesus was not exempt from this need, but there seem to be times when his Spirit can enable us to deny that need. I have noticed that when I’ve gone on mission trips in the past, I have managed to thrive on much less sleep. Beyond that, I have had sporadic bouts of insomnia that I am sure were from God. As I determined to watch and pray through those nights, amazing things happened. I saw spiritual breakthroughs in my life, and on a few occasions received specific answers to prayers. Occasionally, very specific ideas would pop into my head about actions I should take to receive the answer to my prayer. When I later acted on those “ideas,” the outcome was simply amazing. I often tell people that those “middle of the night” times of communion with God are most powerful, because I am finally quiet and still enough to hear.

So, as I sit contemplating these patterns of sleeplessness in scripture (and there are more! Check out Gen. 32:24, 1 Sam. 15:11, Ps. 63:6, Lam. 2:19), I can’t help but think that sleep actually is overrated when it comes to our spiritual lives. Science has shown that some people are “short sleepers” who actually need less sleep, but clearly I’m not one of them. Chances are you aren’t either. However, I believe that having periods of missed sleep in order to seek him can be as effective to our spirits as fasting from food. There is something powerful about denying self, and seeking him wholeheartedly. I believe we just need to avail ourselves to his Spirit, and allow him to speak to us through the watches of the night.

I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. Ps. 119:147-148S

Something New

It seems that God is doing something new in my life lately, and I have found myself at a loss as how to proceed. Even though I am not a very structured person, I still find myself wanting to do things the way I’ve been doing them for such a long time. Change is difficult for us. Even the most flexible of us create our own traditions, and breaking out of them is HARD. This passage from Mark seemed to be exactly what I needed to read today.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22

Jesus came and challenged everything the religious leaders valued. He questioned their way of doing things, and even their interpretation of the law. They constantly criticized him for violating the Sabbath, but he pointed them to the heart of the Law, rather than the letter of it (see Mk. 2:23-28). As Believers, I am sure most of us see ourselves as far more spiritually savvy than the Pharisees and Scribes, but I’m not so sure we are. We get used to our traditions, and begin to see treat them as though they are the very oracles of God.

In my own case, I’ve been doing good things–even spiritual things, but I’ve come to realize that I may have been focusing on things that were not my calling. So now, I find it difficult to figure out how to order my time. Should I continue to do the good things, or should I jump out in faith? God is calling me to take some huge steps of faith, but continuing on the path of least resistance is so much easier. The problem is that it’s not so much more blessed. I know that until I am obedient, I will not be able to walk in his best for my life. So today I’m making a choice to throw out the old wine skins. I reject my own “old” way of doing things, and choose to embrace the “something new”to which he is calling me.

How about you? Have you held on to your old ways for too long? Are you willing to walk in the newness of life he calls us to live? I know it can be hard, but it is the only path to blessing. So out with the old! In with the new!

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. Is. 43:19

BeginningIsNear

 

 

God of Vengeance?

God hates sin, but he loves people. He hates sin, because he knows it destroys us. Yet, rather than seeing his heart of love, most of us believe that he is actually withholding something good from us when he gives us rules for living. While many see him as a God of wrath and condemnation, he does not delight in judgment. He is a God of mercy, and even the Old Testament prophets who preached judgment offered chance after chance for repentance. It was only when the people’s sin had reached a point of no return (including child sacrifice) that God finally allowed his children to suffer the consequences of their sin. Even then, he desired reconciliation, and his purpose in judgment was to draw his people back into relationship. This passage in Ezekiel stood out to me today.

Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?  If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust? “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! Ez. 18:25-32

As I read in Ezekiel today, I couldn’t help but think of the kids who attended Christian school with our kids. When I look back at them, many of them ended up with very broken lives. Why? Just like the Israelites fell into idolatry, because they saw the the rules imposed by their parents and the school as unfair. These kids felt they were missing out on something, and went to great links to be like the world. They didn’t see the good in their parents’ motives, even as Israel could only see what God seemed to be withholding from them.* In the end, in spite of their parents’ good intentions to protect them, their lives became shipwrecked.

The bottom line was that they felt like their parents were holding out on them, and they just had to have what everyone else in society had. They didn’t see that their parents wanted the best for them. They only saw that they were “different,” and they didn’t want to be. The same was true of Israel. Instead of being grateful for God’s care and provision, they looked around at what they were “missing.” They didn’t have multiple gods to help with various issues in life. They didn’t have a king like all the other nations, and so they insisted on being like those other nations—even to the point of sacrificing their children to false gods. God gave them free will to choose, and his desire was for his children to choose him. Instead they chose bondage.

God offers us a new heart and spirit, and too often we run after shallow substitutes that result in bondage. We run to other things for comfort—food, relationships, alcohol, and the like. We don’t want to bow our wills to anyone, so in the end our desire to be in control ends up controlling us. The only true freedom in this life is found in completely surrendering to the one who truly wants the best for us. He does not delight in our destruction, and he knows that when our worship becomes misplaced, that will be the result. He offers a solution, yet too often we run to counterfeits.

Thank you Lord that you care, and that you do not delight in judging us. Thank you for your mercy. The solution for this whole problem is proper worship. Help us never put our own comfort or desires above your best for our lives. We know you want the best for us, so we can trust you. Give us new hearts and spirits that delight in you, rather than hide from you. Teach us that true and proper worship is the key to true freedom. Amen

 

*Now I have to admit that this isn’t the best analogy. Sometimes earthly parents focus a little too much on control, and sometimes that might push kids towards rebellion. But our Lord never forces his way in our lives, and yet we still insist on running from his best.

Feeling Frantic?

Do you ever feel frantic? I know I do, and I’ve learned it is a sure sign that rather than trusting God, I am seeking control. Basically, it boils down to idolatry. Idols are the things we run to for comfort so that we can keep things from getting out of hand.  Yet, from time to time, in spite of all we do, things do spin out of our control. As people of God, those times are wake up calls to help us realize only he is sovereign over everything, and our efforts are feeble. They are an illusion, because in reality, we have control over very little. The One who holds everything together could allow it to fall apart at any time, but because of his grace, he sustains us. He is good, so he can be trusted. And trusting him leads to joy (being blessed), while trusting in flesh (self and other shallow substitutes) leads to misery or being cursed. The choice is clear.

This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” Jer. 17:5-10

Jeremiah’s task as a young prophet was to proclaim God’s coming judgment against his people, because they had forsaken him and turned to idols. Yet, even in judgment, he was offering hope to those who would chose to trust him. It’s interesting to me that while much of Jeremiah’s warnings against the people are related to sins of commission and omission, this passage seems to get to the heart behind those sins. It’s all a matter of trust. The blatant sins were idolatry and failing to honor the Sabbath, but at the root of those sins was a lack of trust in God. As God’s people we are supposed to be different. The tendency of human flesh is to trust in self or others that we can see and touch. It it not in our nature to trust an unseen God. We want to be in control. We can control flesh, but we cannot control the unseen. It seems unnatural for flesh to trust in supernatural, but that is what God calls us to do, and if we don’t, there are consequences.

To be cursed means to be miserable, as opposed to being blessed or happy. Trusting him results in something else that is unseen—our roots are firmly established. They develop deep and tap into the fountains of living water. Being tapped into those streams of living water is the key to blessing. This is not based on activity, but trust. Trust stands still and waits. It does not feel the need for control, and it is never frantic. When we realize we have no control, and that the One who does have it is good, and wants the best for us, we can choose the blessing of trusting him.

Oh Lord, help us to trust you rather than frantically strive for control. We know you are good, and you can be trusted, but sometimes we are afraid anyway. Help us to be still and know you are God and that your love for us is everlasting. We can trust in One who loves us that much. So even though circumstances and things in this seen world try to move us, we will not be moved. We will be like trees planted by streams of living waters and have no need to fear. We choose to believe you. Amen

 

Living in Dread…

I often tell people that whatever we fear is what we serve, so that the object of our fear basically becomes our god. This morning a passage in Isaiah reminded me of that truth.

“Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me, and have neither remembered me nor pondered this in your hearts? Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me?  I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you. When you cry out for help, let your collection [of idols] save you! The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away. But the man who makes me his refuge will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.” (Is.57:11-13).

“Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have been false to me…” I’m not sure how much more clear that could be! At the heart of being unfaithful to God is usually a fear of something else (no matter what that something else is, I’d call it an idol). An idol is anything we meditate on, and spend our time trying to appease. For years, I did the dance of fear trying to keep an abusive husband happy so he wouldn’t lash out. I feared him much more than God, and the result was I served him rather than God. In fact, he became my god, because of the way I served him.

Another interesting thing about this passage is “I will expose your righteousness and your works…” Very often people do good works out of fear—they worry what people think and are trying to impress them rather than God. This fear of man is idolatry of the worst sort. It becomes works-based rather than love-based. God does not desire our feeble efforts; he desires our love. From that love, genuine works of righteousness will flow naturally. The ones born of fear of man are wood, hay, and stubble mentioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 3. These works may look wonderful to people, but they cannot stand before the Judge.

This passage should be a wake up call to the people of God. The warning here is not based on actions, but on misplaced fear. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and when we are more worried about pleasing him than people or unpleasant circumstances, that is wisdom. Then we will be like the man who built his house upon the rock in in Matthew 7:24-25. No matter what life brings our way, we can overcome because we know the One we fear is in control and his love casts out sinful fear. We can stand firm knowing he is in charge. Sinful fear dreads losing control, and that is why the Israelites sacrificed to idols. They believed that appeasing them would make things run smoothly, and that if they didn’t sacrifice things would go badly. When we live in fear of man, we have a similar mentality. “If I can just…” everything will be ok. We’re trying to maintain control. Yet, the Lord calls us to leave the control in his hands. That is what the fear of the Lord does. It trusts in his goodness for the outcome, and we have nothing to dread.

Lord, help me never dread anything more than I desire to love and please you. Help me to avoid the trap of misplaced fear. Nothing on this earth is more powerful than you, so I need to reserve my fear for you alone. Yet, it is a different sort of fear than dread. It is honoring you above anything else, and resting in your control rather than trying to be in control. You are worthy of all honor and praise. Nothing on earth can ever cause me to be consumed with fear as long as I am consumed with you. Amen

The Blessing of an Undivided Heart

Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Ps. 86:11

It’s interesting that David talks about an undivided heart in relation to fearing God. I believe this is because fear is one of the best tactics of the enemy to destroy our spiritual walk. I’ve always said that whatever we fear will control us—that is why is is so important to fear the Lord. For so long I lived in fear of a man, and as a result he became the god of my life. I knew God was there, and I prayed to him regularly, but my heart was very divided. My first thought when deciding on an action was usually how my husband would respond to it. If it was something I wanted to do, and didn’t think he would like it, I might do it anyway and hide it from him. Still, the bottom line was that my life revolved around him rather than God. My divided heart put God second by default. Unhealthy fear enslaved me. An undivided heart is one that is fully surrendered to the Lord, and fears him more than anything or anyone else.

For many years the phrase “fear of the Lord” was an enigma to me, but it really shouldn’t have been. The type of fear that ruled my life with my ex husband was basically one that filtered nearly every thought through his possible reation. I feared his wrath. Although I have been redeemed from God’s wrath, a healthy fear of him would basically do the same. I would be more concerned about pleasing God than anyone else (including myself).  It is not so much a dread-based fear, but a love-based one. My love for him should far outweigh my love for anything or anyone else, and when it does I will give him control over my life. My heart is undivided, because there is no question that God comes first in every decision I make. He is in control rather than fleeting circumstances or unpredictable people. The wonderful thing about fearing God first is that it leads to peace. He is unchanging and all-loving, which means when I place my life in his hands I don’t need to fear anything else. I am surrendered and he is in control, so whatever happens I can trust him for the outcome. That is the blessing of an undivided heart.

Prayer:

Lord, I pray that my heart will be always undivided — that nothing on this earth will be more important to me than you! You are worthy of my praise, worthy of my fear, and so very good. I can trust you completely. Human nature tends towards fearing circumstances and even people, but Lord I know what a trap that is. That is like building a house on the sand. When the storms of life come, “great is the destruction” of that house. Father I ask that my life will be built upon the rock, because I put you first in everything. “All other ground is sinking sand.” Amen

Missing God’s Best

For years I lived in a state of divided worship. My main goal in life was to secure God’s blessing on my agenda. Sure, I loved him, but I’m afraid I loved myself more. Worship was all about me, and what I could get from him, rather than surrendering myself to him. Funny thing is that my agenda kept me in complete bondage, because idolatry leads us to a state of total fear. When we direct our worship to anything other than him, our peace and joy are totally dependent on the temporary circumstances we desire. We constantly fear losing the objects of our affection, and that fear controls our actions. True freedom is only found in true worship. When we surrender all to God, we have nothing to fear. He is never changing and eternal. He is all loving, and has a good plan for us, so when we learn to rest in that knowledge, we no longer feel threatened or afraid. We are free. God does not merely demand true worship for his sake, but for ours. He knows that all other forms of worship will lead us back into bondage. His ways are so much higher than ours, and following them is the path to blessing.

The passage that stood out in my reading this morning stressed that truth. Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you. (Dt. 12:13-14)

 As the Israelites took possession of the land, it wouldn’t be a lack of worship that would be their downfall; instead it would be improper worship. The Lord gave specific instructions on how they should worship, but they had their own ideas of how it should look. God warned them not to take on the practices of the nations surrounding them, but it did not take long for them to follow their detestable practices. Within generations they would even be sacrificing their children in the fire.

God calls us to surrender all to him—that means giving up our own agendas. However, far too often our worship becomes an effort to convince God to bless our selfish plans. We sacrifice our children to idols of convenience and pleasure, and there is very little self-surrender involved. To the contrary, we end up surrendering everything good and holy to our desires for comfort and blessing. Basically, we are worshipping, but we are not worshipping God. Our idolatrous desires steal our affections away from him, and rob our lives of his blessings. We reach out for what we think we need, and all the while are throwing away his best for our lives.

Lord, I have wasted too many years focused on false gods, and worshipping in my own way. Help me to be fully surrendered to you, and to worship in spirit and truth. Do not let me be deceived into thinking that anything in this world can offer true satisfaction. Only you are the Living Water that can satisfy the thirst in my soul. Forgive me for ever trying to replace you by digging my own broken cistern that won’t hold water (Jer. 2:13). You are worthy and good. I choose your ways over my own. Amen