We have a choice as to where we dwell, and God gave us this ability to choose. He gave us this choice knowing that we could make the decision not to dwell closely with Him. Freedom to choose is something I value highly. I think the same is true for lots of people. Thank You, God, for giving me a choice as to where I dwell. It’s comforting to know that if we choose to seek God and desire for Him to be at the center of our lives, we can never be out of reach of His hand or in any situation where He will not lead us.
This morning I read Psalm 18. It’s a Psalm that King David wrote, praising God for rescuing him from his enemies. It must be a pleasing Psalm to God, and it lives through the ages by means of His Bible. In the Old Testament, God often stresses to the Israelites the importance of passing along what they know of Him and His miracles…His saving power…to their children (future generations). This Psalm accomplishes that same purpose. There were many verses or parts of verses that I underlined while reading it, however one in particular resonated with me in a deep way today…”He took me…(Psalm 18:16).” The whole verse reads, “He reached from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.” But “He took me” sums things up for me in my life. There are all of these complex emotions and thoughts I have every day. Some are helpful and some are not. It’s clear to me that when I try to figure life out without submitting myself before God first, things are confusing, a struggle, and at times, dark. But God doesn’t leave me there. He didn’t leave me there. He took me. He lifted me up from a place of not knowing Him, to a place of knowing that I’m known by Him. He took me from darkness to the awareness of His love. He gave me things I didn’t deserve and topped them with a handful of, “I love you.” And there were no strings attached. Before I knew Jesus, I was on my own, at least in my own mind. I had made my decision that I would lead the life I wanted to and that I was only accountable to myself. I didn’t realize God’s love for me. But He took me. He took me from there and said, “No, I’m real, this is Who I Am, and I love you.” I am sure this is similar to what every parent wants their child to know…that they are not alone and that they are loved.
“Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations . . . ” (Psalm 18:49a, NIV)
What is our deepest longing, as people? I would suggest that it is to be loved. I have listened to numerous testimonies by people who at one time lived lives that made it appear as though they gave absolutely no thought to the need to be loved, when in reality, they were yearning for it on the inside. They wanted someone to love them enough to show them a better way of living…someone who had their best interests at heart. Someone who would be a compassionate listener when they needed to vent their deepest frustrations, allowing them to be as honest and flawed as they truly are, and yet still offer love and acceptance. Someone who would allow them to put the weight of their discouragement, fear, anxiety, abandoned hopes, feelings of worthlessness, and all of their other struggles onto them and give them the wisdom to navigate through them. Someone to hold them when they were feeling…done…tired…burnt out…shame…at the end of their rope…and who would whisper, “I love you,”…”I…love…you.” We all long for this, and this is the kind of relationship God offers us through His Son, Jesus.
“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7, NIV)
Have you ever heard the phrase, “the promises of God,” and wondered what those promises were? Well, I know what one of them is. It is that God will send His Holy Spirit to dwell in His people. Not only with them, but in them (John 14:16-17). When I think about all of the day-to-day challenges that come up in our lives, or the small details we ask God to be a part of, I sometimes wonder if He wants to be a part of those things. Does He want us to pray for the courage to speak up in a meeting, or for safety while driving to work? I would say that because He has sent His Spirit to dwell so closely to us (in our hearts), that He does want to be involved in every intimate detail of our lives (and by default, He will be, which is comforting :)). It is not only a promise, but a blessing. Which leads to another promise. That we are never alone.
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13, NIV)
The more I learn, the more I understand that one of our main purposes while we are here on this earth is to love other people. That, and to know God. Of course, knowing God is first and foremost, because only by knowing Him do we get a better understanding of what love is. In 1 John, we are told that someone who claims to love God but “hates his brother,” is a liar (1 John 4:20). Jesus tells us to go beyond what we are used to and to love not only our neighbor, but also our enemy. He tells us that when we do that, we are acting like God’s children, and He makes the point that if we only love those who love us, we are not really doing much to stretch ourselves in the way of loving others (Matthew 5:43-48). In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about the many gifts he could have (the ability to prophesy, an understanding of God’s plans, the possession of all knowledge, faith that could move mountains), but points out that without loving others, he would be nothing. He concludes the chapter with, “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians, 13:1-2, 13). So, loving others does not seem to be optional in God’s plan, but of primary importance. I believe that one of the best things we can do when desiring to love others better is to look at the example God has given us, in Jesus. Jesus was forgiving, patient, compassionate, and humble. We can also study what the Bible teaches about how to love others better…being slow to speech and quick to listen (James 1:19), giving a gentle answer to turn away wrath (Proverbs 15:1). Finally, we can ask God not only for His strength to love others better, but to give us the desire to love others, because sometimes, we are lacking even that.
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12, NIV)
Every day we are able to see evidence of God around us. We see the work of His hands in what He has created: our friends, our family, our pets. We see His power when we witness people suffering, yet who find their strength in Him. How have I seen Him this week? I was reminded of His faithfulness as I listened to a wounded friend confide that God would be The One – the only One she would lean on through her pain. I was reminded of what happens when God’s love captures someone’s heart, as I watched one of His faithful followers spend time and energy aligning each chair in our church sanctuary perfectly, in order to glorify Him. And I heard about Him in a song this morning called, “Reckless Love,” by Cory Asbury (see below). It conveys so well the kind of love God has for us. As the song says, “Before I took a breath, You breathed Your life in me…You have been so, so kind to me.”
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins . . . And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” (1 John 4:9-10, 16a, NIV)
We can feel free to bring our troubles, anger, frustration, and sadness to God, and we can be assured that He will listen to our every thought and word. His heart is moved by the things that carve valleys of pain through our souls. He is there when we weep. He is there when we ask why. His understanding and mercy toward us are considerable, and what makes Him great is that they are also considerable toward those we call our enemies. Can we be okay with that? Maybe we can. Maybe we can let it bring us a sense of comfort, knowing that God offers the same grace to all.
“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isaiah 30:18, NIV)
In the past, I have gone to God with anxieties and did not come away from the experience with the peace that I was hoping for. Instead, my tears seemed to be met with silence. I was confused and frustrated as to why it seemed God was not responding. I realize now that in those situations, although it is always a good thing to want to hear from God, it is just as important to turn and hold fast to the truths He has already spoken (and is speaking), through the Bible. Those truths are just for those times.
“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. ”
(Isaiah 41:13, NIV)
When someone is good to you, you want to share it with others. When they are kind, patient, understanding and self-sacrificing on your behalf, you want to give back somehow. When someone has extended mercy and forgiveness to you and has pursued you even though you felt you were not worth pursuing, you want to express thanks. And my way of thanking God is to tell others about Him. To share with others that He is good, patient, forgiving, humble, and a seeker after them. When Jesus left this earth to go back to His Father, He told his disciples to tell others about Him. To let others know that they could come to Him if they wanted to have a life with He and the Father. Both here and now, and forever. When I think about Christmas, I think of all of the fun things that our culture does to celebrate the season – the lights, the Christmas trees, the gift giving, but there’s this quiet voice in my heart that keeps reminding me that Jesus was the greatest gift ever given, and that Christmas is about Him being all we need when entering a relationship with God. We don’t need to make special sacrifices (Jesus did that), we don’t need to put on special garments (Jesus is that), and we don’t need to be perfect (Jesus was that). All we need to do is invite Jesus into our hearts and lives. I was lost before He became a part of my life. I was searching, but I didn’t realize I was searching. And even though I wasn’t looking in His direction, He gently knocked on the door of my heart and drew me to Him. There is nothing I can do to repay God for what He has done, but I can tell others that God is hope, and He can fill your heart with it. That’s not to say that life will be perfect, Jesus told us that life would not be without struggles, but He will never abandon us in those struggles. It is a Merry Christmas, and it’s all because of Jesus.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'” (Luke 2:8-14, NIV)
“While many are busy trying to set forth satisfactory definitions of the word faith, we do well to simply consider that believing is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus!”
– A.W. Tozer