The Wind of the Spirit

fanDuring a hot, humid summer, I noticed a few black spots on the walls in the bathroom. Climbing a step stool to get a better look, I realized that mold and mildew speckled the walls, woodwork and ceiling. I took out a brush and cleaning spray and set to work. Hours later I was exhausted, but the bathroom was spotless. To prevent future condensation and mold growth, my husband mounted a fan in the window. Now when I remember to turn on the fan before my shower, the walls and mirror remain free of condensation. The black spots are gone for good.

Just as mold and mildew grew in my bathroom, our spiritual lives can become overgrown with the mold of fear and mildew of worry. Removing those isn’t as easy as scrubbing walls, but it isn’t as grueling either. What we need is the power of the Holy Spirit—who first appeared with a rushing wind—to blow through our hearts and minds and expel those negative thoughts.

How can you invite the cleansing wind of the Spirit? One of the best ways is to read the words the Holy Spirit inspired. Pray before you open the Bible, asking for fresh insights. While you read, conduct an “in-SPECK-tion. (In his book, Loving Jesus, Mark Allan Powell credits David Mann for developing this method.) Ask yourself if there is a:

  • Sin to confess
  • Promise to claim
  • Example to follow
  • Command to obey
  • Knowledge to learn, particularly about God

Speaking to you through the words of the Bible, the Holy Spirit can change your perspective, helping you discern the truth about yourself and God. As Ephesians 4:23 (New Living Translation) says, “…let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.” Don’t let those negative thoughts return—keep the fan running.

Be Seated

Adirondack chairsHave you considered how much time you spend sitting? I hadn’t given it much thought until I filled out a survey that asked me to account for the hours in my day. Once I added up the time I sit in front of a computer at work and at home, I realized that I spend most of my waking hours in a chair.

Probably many of us spend a lot of time sitting. But did you know that Christ is also sitting? Hebrews 10:12 says, “But when [Christ] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Christ is sitting in heaven in a position of honor and glory because he finished everything he came to earth to accomplish.

Christ isn’t the only one sitting in heaven. Ephesians 2:6 says we’re sitting there with him: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms….” Read that again—“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms.” According to the Interpreter’s Bible, the writer of Ephesians uses the same preposition after both verbs (raised up and seated.) This conveys the “thought that these are shared experiences, shared both with Christ and with all other Christians….” Our position in heaven is not a future event but a present reality.

How can this be? How can we be living on earth and also be seated with Christ in heaven? There’s no simple answer, but I glimpsed this reality at the beginning of a worship service. After confessing our sins, we sang “God Himself Is Present,” a hymn with lyrics by Gerhard Tersteegen. While I stood in the pew, hymnal in hand, somehow I was also simultaneously united with the hosts of heaven. As I praised God in the eternal Now, I was filled with a supernatural peace.

I’ve never forgotten that experience. More important than any mystical experience, however, is cultivating an awareness that we are seated in heaven in God’s presence every moment of every day. As we remember that we are sitting with Christ in the heavenly realms, we gain a different perspective on the troubles we face here on earth. I think that’s why the apostle Paul could refer to trials like beatings, shipwrecks, and imprisonment as “light and momentary troubles” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Whenever we face uncertainty or situations that tempt us to worry, we can remember our position. We are seated with Christ in heaven. Our access to him is unhindered. We can find rest in his presence.

The Power of Praise

prisonPaul and Silas, first-century missionaries, were arrested for stirring up trouble in Philippi. They were stripped, beaten, and locked in stocks in a cell deep within the jail. If you and I were beaten and thrown into prison in a foreign country, we would probably be anxious and worried. But Paul and Silas chose to trust God and turned to Him in prayer. Confident that He heard their prayers and would care for them even in prison, they began praising Him. Acts 16:26 tells what happened next. “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.”

When we choose to respond to trouble by praising God, we may not find such an immediate, miraculous change in our circumstances. But we will be gradually set free from the prison of worry and anxiety which holds us. Why? As we consider God’s attributes and praise Him for them, our trust in God expands along with our conception of Him. We are reminded that God is all powerful and will provide the grace and strength we need to face any challenge.

Timothy Keller, author of The Prodigal God, writes, “If you are filled with worry and anxiety, you do not only need to believe that God is in control of history. You must see, with eyes of the heart, his dazzling majesty. Then you will know he has things in hand.”

How can we see God’s “dazzling majesty”?

  • Spend time in nature. Witness the beauty of creation or the vastness of the night sky.
  • Read Psalms of praise (such as Psalms 95-100) aloud. Notice the awe and wonder the psalmist expresses.
  • Worship with others who have glimpsed God’s majesty.

Next time you feel threatened by fear or worry, shift your focus. Spend time considering God’s attributes and His power. Give Him your praise and adoration. You can depend on Him for miracles—fast ones or slow ones.

When have you experienced the power of praise?

 

New Year Reflections II–Seek Forgiveness

At the start of a New Year, how can we leave regrets and bitterness behind? These emotions often reflect a lack of forgiveness. We endlessly replay scenes in which someone wronged us or berate ourselves for doing things we wish we had done differently. The alternative to holding grudges against others or clinging to personal regrets is seeking forgiveness. Seeking forgiveness involves four steps.

First we can ask God to forgive our sins—those things we shouldn’t have done and those things we should have done but didn’t do. The Bible says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). As we confess our sins to God, we can take him at his word, and trust that he forgives us.

Second, we can ask forgiveness of anyone we may have hurt. Often we hurt others unintentionally; other times we intentionally harm another person. Either way, as soon as we become aware of the injury we can ask the person to forgive us. The other person may or may not forgive—that is entirely up to him or her—but the act of asking for forgiveness lets us begin to release our guilt and regret.

Third, we can forgive anyone who has harmed us. This can prove difficult, especially for those of us who worry. When I struggled to forgive a couple, I asked God to show me how. He brought to mind Jesus’ words, “…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44). As I prayed for this couple day after day, I found the bitterness within me lessening until I could sincerely pray for what was best for them. Once I forgave them, I found it easier to forgive others.

Fourth, we can forgive ourselves. If God has forgiven us, shouldn’t we forgive ourselves? As we follow these four steps, regrets and bitterness will diminish.

I believe the first paragraph of “Recipe for a Happy New Year” by an unknown author captures the essence of starting the New Year with a clean slate:

Take twelve fine, full-grown months; see that these are thoroughly free from old memories of bitterness, rancor and hate, cleanse them completely from every clinging spite; pick off all specks of pettiness and littleness; in short, see that these months are freed from all the past—have them fresh and clean as when they first came from the great storehouse of Time.

May your New Year be fresh and clean!

 

New Year Reflections I—Live Expectantly

The New Year is a natural time to reflect on the past year and consider how we want to live in 2013. Wouldn’t it be great to live in such a way that we don’t fear the future or regret the past?

Fear of the future comes from forgetting God, from imagining the “what ifs” and envisioning worst-case scenarios. Instead of expecting the worst, though, we should put our trust in God to provide for us no matter what happens. “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’” (Romans 8:15, The Message).

My friend Kristy recently told our Toastmasters chapter how she developed an “adventurously expectant” outlook. She spent a month praying the prayer of Jabez, asking God to enlarge her territory (1 Chronicles 4:10). As she prayed, she sensed God telling her to focus on the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). At the same time she became interested in making bracelets. First she made one with the word, “Love.” Shortly after she finished it she encountered a woman who needed a listening ear. At the end of their conversation, Kristy hugged her and gave her the “Love” bracelet. As she made a bracelet for each fruit in turn, the Lord brought someone to her who needed that particular virtue. Last she made a bracelet bearing the word “self-control.” She wondered if anyone would appreciate it; the Lord showed her that she should keep that one. She felt blessed.

We can learn to live as Kristy has—prayerfully asking God to make himself known to other people through us. We can awaken each morning thankful for the gift of a new day and eager for new challenges, watching to see how and where God will show up. Jesus said, “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness …” (Matthew 6:33). As we focus on seeking God’s kingdom, our fear of the future will disappear, replaced by eager expectation.

Thanksgiving as a Way of Life

Thanksgiving is the one day a year when we are supposed to focus on giving thanks. If you’re like me, though, you’re probably more focused on meal preparations and cleaning your house. But what would happen if we truly focused on giving thanks not only one day a year, but all 365 days a year? How would our lives change?

Betsie and Corrie ten Boom learned about the power that lies in giving thanks when they were sent to Ravensbruck, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. (They had been arrested for hiding Jews in their home in Holland.) While asking God how they could possibly live in the concentration camp, they received an answer through the scripture they had read that morning: “…give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As they stopped to thank God for what they had, rather than what they lacked, they found the courage and strength to live.

Developing an attitude of gratitude can transform our circumstances also. We can spend a few minutes each day, when we awaken or before we go to sleep, to list the things for which we’re thankful. As we remember to thank God for those things, our worries recede because we recognize how much God loves us and cares for us. As we do this consistently, we will find that worry takes a back seat to gratitude.

In his book, Loving Jesus, Lutheran theologian Mark Allan Powell describes the impact of giving thanks.  He writes that we might give thanks for big things such as life and health as well as small things such as:

…that song on the radio, the taste of red wine, the feeling of my toes digging in wet sand, the sound of my cat’s purr…. Of course, you need not limit your thanksgiving to good things that you experience. Once you begin thanking God for pleasures and blessings that come to others, your lists may become very long indeed. You will need notebooks, not index cards, to keep track of all the items for which you might (and sometimes will) give thanks. Do it. Filling those notebooks with lists of God’s blessings (to you and to others) will be one of the most rewarding spiritual activities you will ever undertake.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

 

Attitude adjustment

I applied for a new job after several other applicants had withdrawn. I assumed the job was mine. When I heard another candidate had also applied, I started to worry. What if I didn’t get the job? How would I handle the disappointment?

At the time my Bible study group was reading about Joseph (Genesis 37-45). The second youngest of twelve brothers, Joseph had big dreams—literally. He made the mistake of telling his brothers about these dreams in which they bowed down before him. Jealous because he was their father’s favorite, they threw him in a pit, then sold him to passing traders. He was taken to Egypt and became a slave in the household of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials. God blessed him, though, and he was put in charge of the household.

Joseph thrived until Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of sexual assault. He landed in prison. But once again God was with him and blessed him. God also gave him the ability to interpret dreams. Ultimately this led to his release and rise to power as the second-in-command to Pharaoh. Twenty-two years after his brothers threw him in a pit, they came to Egypt and bowed down before him, just as his dreams had foretold.

God used bad circumstances (slavery and unjust imprisonment) to work for good, both for Joseph and his brothers. Remarkably, Joseph was not bitter about the trials he had experienced. He told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Genesis 50:20).

Reflecting on Joseph’s story and praying about my situation changed my attitude completely. If God could orchestrate Joseph’s astounding rise to power, I could surely trust him to guide my career path. I felt at peace while I waited to see what would happen.

Whenever we face uncertainty of any kind, we can turn to God in prayer. Asking him to guide our steps, we can wait patiently, trusting that he has not forgotten us. He promises to bring good from any situation, just as he did for Joseph. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

By the way, after several weeks in limbo, I interviewed for and was offered the job. I accepted. Now I face the uncertainty of unfamiliar tasks and new responsibilities. Having trusted God with the outcome of my application, though, I find it easier to depend on him to help me through this transition. God is good—all the time.

Fear Withstood

I met Grace Fabian last summer at a writers’ conference and then read her book, Outrageous Grace. She and her husband, Edmund, were missionary translators in Papua New Guinea from 1969 until his death in 1993. He was murdered while translating the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, into the Nabak language.

After his death, Grace wondered whether she should play it safe and abandon the translation project. Remaining in the village was dangerous—her house was vandalized and trees in the yard were cut down or set on fire. She received eleven eviction notices over the course of a year. In the midst of this turmoil and uncertainty, she came to the scheduled Bible reading for the day—2 Kings 6.

This chapter tells the story of the king of Aram (present-day Syria). His raids in Israel proved fruitless because his troops’ movements were revealed to the Israelites by the prophet Elisha. So the king sent soldiers to seize Elisha. The next morning Elisha’s servant went out and saw an army with horses and chariots surrounding the city. He asked Elisha,

“What shall we do?” He replied, “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.” Then Elisha prayed: “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:15-17.)

As Grace read this account, she realized that God was speaking directly to her. Whenever fear accosted her, she prayed, “Open my eyes, Lord. Let me see your horses and chariots of fire.” Though she didn’t see horses and chariots, she found the courage to face an angry mob—she went outside and served them coffee and cookies. When three hooded thugs wielding machetes broke into her house, she found the strength to pick up a chair and defend herself. One man slashed at the chair, but when she stood her ground, all three backed out the door.

Grace faced real dangers, but she chose faith over fear. She wrote, “I determined, with angels and horses of fire on my side, that my choices would grow out of a place of power, not fear and insecurity. Two powerful truths would be my guiding lights: the power of the presence of a sovereign, omnipotent God [and] the power of the promises in His inerrant Word.” Whenever we become fearful, we can lean on those same two pillars: God’s presence and God’s promises.

Brave

I attended a Girls’ Night Out at a friend’s church, New Life Ministries in Endicott, NY. The focus verse for the event was Psalm 31:34: “Be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord!” We received key rings with that verse on one side and a graphic with a single word, “brave,” on the other.

I had memorized a similar verse while teaching Vacation Bible School many years ago, yet somehow I had missed the connection between having courage and being brave. Brave. Isn’t that the opposite of being worried and fearful? Yet being brave includes acting boldly in spite of fear.

Where can we find the courage to be brave? The answer is found in Joshua 1:9: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” We can be brave because we’re never alone—God is always with us.

This week in my Sunday school class, we focused on the story of David. He was just a boy when he fought the giant, Goliath, with nothing more than a sling shot and five smooth stones. “How could David be brave?” I asked the class. “Because he was on God’s team,” answered one four-year-old. His answer resonated with me. If we have put our trust in God, then we’re on his team. We can be brave and face the giants in our lives, whether they come in the shape of worry, fear, resentment or discouragement. Praise be to God!

 

Unmask Lies—Let Truth Set You Free

I was flying a few weeks ago when the plane encountered some turbulence. I felt the usual terror rising within me. Instead of surrendering to it, I took a deep breath. Then I examined the automatic negative thoughts which caused my anxiety.

  • I can’t tolerate the turbulence.
  • Turbulence means the plane will crash.

I recognized those thoughts as lies and contradicted them:

  • I can tolerate the turbulence. It won’t last forever.
  • Turbulence does not automatically mean the plane will crash.

My panic subsided, simply because I recognized the lies I had believed and replaced them with the truth.

I explained this concept to a friend who is also afraid of flying. “What lie do you believe when you’re flying?” I asked him. “I am not in control,” he said.  His problem was different than mine. He didn’t believe a lie, but he focused on only part of the truth. The greater truth he can affirm is that God is in control. Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29, 31).

Jesus tells us not to be afraid. Why? Because nothing—not flight delays, mechanical difficulties, or turbulence—can separate us from God’s love. (See Romans 8:38-39.) Whatever happens, we need not panic. We are safe in the arms of God.