Saturday, January 25, 2014

Be Still

In the hectic pace of life, these words from one of my favorite verses of Scripture speak to my soul, but what do they mean, really?  How do we follow this command to stillness?  This verse came to mind as I was reading in Exodus Moses' command to the Israelites to "keep still".  How interesting that this encouragement to stillness is not found just once in Scripture, but multiple times.  Perhaps that signifies the fact that God knew His people would need a reminder of this for all time.  How intricately He knows our hearts and our struggles.  

As I read this verse from the psalmist in several different translations, I saw some unique words that described this idea of stillness even furtherIn the NASB, the beginning of the verse reads: "Cease striving and know that I am God."  And in the Message the entire verse reads, "Step out of the traffic!  Take a long loving look at me, your high God, above politics, above everything!"

"Cease striving"

"Step out of the traffic!"

"Be still"

Oh the power these words convey.  How they speak to my yearning, aching heart that is striving ever so much more than stilling.  Looking at the words from the Message, they seem to be a caution, a warning.  Danger!  When we are not still are we placing our very lives at risk?  I think of the parent racing to grab the child who in her play is wandering much to close to a busy street.  By continuing in our frantic pace, are we also wandering into that traffic filled way?

So what do we do?  How do we become still in the midst of our busy days that are filled with good things as well as struggles?  The first good news is God does not ask us to do this on our own.  In fact, the second part of the verse reminds us of who God is, "I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." NASB  This all-powerful God who loves and cares for us more deeply than we can every fully comprehend or imagine is strong enough to guide us into this stillness.  When we bring our cares to Him as He asks us to and trust Him with whatever burdens are keeping us from the stillness He commands, He will help us through each step.  I struggle at times (much of the time, really) with giving over a care or concern to God only to take it back almost immediately as I let it go, so my stillness tries are more sputters and starts than smooth sailing.  I pondered how could I fully release this things and not try to take them back on.  How do I keep these burdens and cares from continually filling and clouding my mind?  And it was in January 11th's Jesus Calling devotional that these words penned by Sarah Young spoke powerfully to my heart:
"When you bring Me prayer requests, lay out your concerns before Me.  Speak to Me candidly; pour out your heart.  Then thank Me for the answers that I have set into motion long before you can discern results.  When your requests come to mind again, continue to thank Me for the answers that are on the way.  If you keep on stating your concerns to Me, you will live in a state of tension.  When you thank Me for how I am answering your prayers, your mind-set becomes much more positive.  Thankful prayers keep your focus on My Presence and My promises."
Trust.  Thanksgiving.  Perhaps these are the paths to stillness.  Thank you, Lord, for guiding my life and reminding us that You are constantly at work on our behalf.  Praise be to God for His amazing grace and mercy.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Grip of Fear, Part 2

Yesterday, we explored Moses' words to the children of Israel as they discovered themselves to be in a very uncomfortable sandwich situation between the sea and Pharaoh's army.  Today, we look at the very next verse, God's words to Moses:
"Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why do you cry out to me?  Tell the Israelites to go forward."  Exodus 14:15 NRSV
It was in this verse that I found great conviction.  So often I let the fear of what is ahead keep me from moving my feet.  Rather than a frozen response, God urges a faithful response.  As I sought out more meanings for the word "still" in Exodus 14:14, I found the word "silent" in other Bible translations, which spoke to me in new and fresh ways about continually giving over my whir of worry and anxiety to God.  I wonder if it is in that stillness and silence we submit completely to God, trusting that His plan is best even when it is too murky to understand, even when sometimes we don't know how, but trusting in His All Knowing guidance.  Because here's the deal, brothers and sisters, and one I know I lose sight of far too often, He never tells us to move forward by ourselves.  God is with us each and every step of the way.  Each step of faith we take when we may only be able to see one foot in front of the other or even when we cannot see that much ahead, He is with us.  And not only is God with us each and every inch, He desires to be with us.  We are His creation and God longs for us to live out the abundant life He has called us to. 

A few verses later in Exodus, we see God's constant guidance with the Israelites:
"The angel of God who was going before the Isrealite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them.  It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel.  And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night."  Exodus 14: 19-20 NRSV
 What a picture of God's provision and guidance, knowing exactly what the Israelites needed at the time and providing it.  God continually leads the Israelites in this pillar of cloud and fire to guide and direct them.  In fact in Exodus 13:22 we see the power of God's continual presence:
"Neither the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people."
 And here again in Exodus 14:19-20 we see God's cloud of protection that has gone with the Israelites each step of the way moving behind the Israelites to protect them and as they look ahead, what a glorious display of God's eternal power in front of them, the parting of the sea!  God made a way when many of the Israelites might have thought their situation impossible.  God was with them in the fear, guiding them to faith.  Will you trust Him with whatever situation you find yourself in today?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Grip of Fear, Part 1

Oh the fear that freezes, keeping us incapable of action, too timid to take the first step.  The fear the fills our mind with anxious thoughts and worries, cluttering any attempt at clarity of thought and vision.  The fear that builds excuse upon excuse until we forget what we were initially afraid to do.  Oh this fear, I am so well-acquanted with it, far more than I hope or wish.  Are you?  Have you experienced the grip of fear?  If you have, my friend, we are not alone.

Exodus 14:1-31 was the key passage for Day 6 of the She Reads Truth: Fresh Start devotion and it spoke to me profoundly about this concept of fear and it's grip that leaves me immoveable at times.  In this passage, Moses has freed the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and they are starting their journey.  As they get closer to the sea, Pharaoh's army is quickly approaching behind.  Panic fills my heart and mind just thinking about it.  The Israelites have reached the veritable rock and hard place and immediately they long for the previous bondage.  How often do I do that?  Do we do that?  The fear of the unknown grips us and we long for what we have known before even if it wasn't pleasant at all.  There seems to be comfort in the knowing.  But what does Moses say when they start crying out to him in anguish, in fear?
"Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians you see today you shall never see again.  The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still."  Exodus 14:13-14 NRSV
As I read this words of comfort, a command to not be afraid and stand firm, the last phrase caught my attention.  What does it mean to "keep still"?  I looked through several other translations to see if a different word was used and lo and behold, another word for still is silent.  In fact, the New American Standard Version says, "The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent." v. 14 and the Message proclaims, "God will fight your battle for you.  And you?  You keep your mouths shut!"  Well, that certainly caused me to pause and think about how much do I "talk over" what God is trying to tell me?  How often do I let worried and anxious thoughts cloud my mind, so that finding time and place for silent reflection is impossible?  How often are my prayers a personal monologue and not a true conversation with the One who knows all things?  The discipline and practice of silence, here it is in Exodus for the Israelites and here it is for us.  No matter what rock and hard place we find ourselves in, we can rest and trust in the knowledge that God is with us each inch of the way, guiding and directing us and in our stillness and in our silence, we sense His guidance more deeply than before.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Out of Darkness

"The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters." Genesis 1:2 NASB

Do you ever feel like a formless void, unsure of who you are or what God has called you to be?  Those were the thoughts that flitted through my mind as I read Genesis 1 almost as if for the first time.  Do I feel like my life is a chaotic whirl around me?  And then, almost as quickly as those thoughts entered in, the vast comfort that if I am feeling that way, who more wonderful and powerful than the Almighty Creator of the universe who brought light from darkness and order to chaos to guide my heart and my life.  He is the Creator of all things and the giver of life.  He has complete authority to guide and direct me.  He loves us and wants us to live the fulfilling life He has promised to us.  These ideas are not new and fresh, but when received in a moment of whir, oh the peace they bring.  It is amazing how easily I lose sight of the One in whom all things come together.  I let the bits of my life that overwhelm easily entangle me, when if I step back and seek Him first, calm and order thrive.  Our bodies seem to crave order and structure.  As children, when we have a consistent routine, life seems to work better and as I read this first chapter of Genisis, this idea of the
importance of order does not surprise me.  It has been so from the beginning.  God knows what is right and good for us -- separating water from sky.  Water is a great place for fish to dwell, but not so much for people.  He provides the proper environment.  God knows how we need to breathe.  God knows exactly what we need because He created us.    He is Provider -- each day of creation we see this.  God makes a way for us and other living things.  His plans have purpose.

And God provides not only order and proper environments for us, but also the idea of renewal and the ability to begin again.  The seed bearing fruit He creates in verse 11 is not limited to one season, but is created with the capacity to reproduce its fruit each year.  God provides renewal for all of us with his creation of different lights in verse 14 and how they will allow seasons to change.  The changing of seasons fills my heart with refreshment and as one season turns to another, I feel a fresh and new energy to face the day ahead.  Variety finds a home in God's order, too.  Not only in seasonal change, but in the variety of plants and animals He created.  I remember my first trip to Central Market with my grandmother, wandering through the produce aisle almost as if I were walking through a museum, seeing so many varieties of fruits and vegetables that were completely new to me. I know that was just a taste of all the varieties of things that find a home throughout our world.

God's process is true and powerful.  We may not know what each day will bring, but we can trust that the One who created us will walk with us through it.  We need only to trust and allow our gaze to fall continually on Him for guidance, not racing ahead, but maintaining His pace until it becomes the very rhythm of our heart.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Five for Friday: Favorite Devotionals

Happy Friday, Everyone!  I'm so happy to be linking up with a few of my favorite bloggers (NatashaDarciApril, and Christina) to talk about five fun things this week.

One of my resolutions/goals from this post was to listen and part of that specifically was to listen more to the Lord when I spend time in prayer and Bible study.  This goal led me to start considering some different quiet time methods, so I thought I would list five of my favorite devotional resources for my Friday Five this week.  Some are recent finds and others I have used in the past.

1.  Jesus Calling

Sarah Young's book is by far one of the most powerful tools for reflection and drawing closer to God that I have ever read.  God uses each day's writing to inspire and apply new insights to different situations I am experiencing in my life.  After the devotional thought, she lists related Scriptures and I find these to be very useful for further pondering and reflection.  Another nice feature is the app you can purchase for different devices.  It is nice to know this resource is ready at my fingertips!

2.  She Reads Truth

This online resource offers a variety of devotional plans to subscribe to with the added advantage of community discussion.  The plans are also available through the free YouVersion Bible app, which is such a great way to keep up with the daily posts.  Some plans go through books of the Bible and others are topical studies ranging from women in the Bible to the recent advent study.  I have found these studies to be both convicting and comforting and am always eager to see what the next series will be.  I think the next study begins next week!


The Denison Forum on Truth and Culture is hosting this daily yearlong devotional series that emphasizes the importance of spending time with God each and every day.  The first week's focus is describing the different components of what the First15 is all about.  I also enjoy reading Dr. Denison's daily emails that discuss current events through a theological lens.  You can sign up for those emails here.

4.  My Utmost for His Highest

I remember reading this class text by Oswald Chambers when I was in high school and how powerfully it impacted me with each page.  I just saw that there is a website that posts the daily readings.  I have linked it above.  If you are looking for a devotional guide that has stood the test of time, I highly recommend this one.

5.  M'Cheyne Bible Reading Plan

And finally, for the very disciplined, a year-long Bible reading plan.  I confess that I have not made it through the entire Bible in a year, though I have tried several times before.  I'm hoping that I can do this at some point, but feel a 3 year plan might be more my speed.  The M'Cheyne plan is a 1 year plan and it divides the texts up over chapters in several different books each day.  I just did a google search for a 3 year Bible reading plan and found several, so I might have to look into this.  I think it is so valuable to spend time in all of Scripture and these yearly plans allow you to read it all.

I hope this list was helpful.  Sometimes my biggest struggle with daily devotional time is figuring out where to start and these different resources have certainly helped me in that area.  I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!