Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Psalm 150:6
I stood on the back porch swaying back and forth. His little body began to relax. The fifteen-month-old was stubborn. Determined not to sleep. The wind rustled the leaves in the trees. His head lifted off my shoulder. I whispered in his ear, “Do you hear that? God is saying he loves you. Listen. Do you hear Him? ‘I love you Abraham.’” The wind continued its rustle and I continued to whisper words of love in the ear of my sleepy grandson.
As I stood wooing Abe to sleep, God was wooing me to praise. The whisper of the breeze, the twitters of the birds, and the sway of the leaves all resonated with praise to the One who created them. Creation by its very existence gives praise to God.
The quiet flutters of a butterfly, the loud crashes of ocean waves, the brilliant hues of a sunset, even the translucence colors of a rainbow exalt the One who made them. Nature doesn’t need to be reminded to praise its creator. By its very existence, creation lauds the One who made it.
Not only does nature worship the One who created it, it calls us back to our Creator as well. As I stood outside cradling my grandson, God echoed back to me what I whispered in Abe’s ear, “I love you.” Within every squawk, rustle, swoosh and twerp was a reminder of God’s never-ending love for me. By simply being, nature reminded me of God’s endless love.
Psalm 150:6 reminds us that everything that has breath is to praise the Lord. My moments outside taught me two things about praise. One, praise brings glory to the One who deserves it. Nature stands as an altar to the Lord. The sights, the sounds, the smells all proclaim the glory of God.
Second, continual praise gives voice to God’s love. Within the rush of the wind I could hear God saying, “I love you.” Entwined in human words of worship is the audible love of God whispered over us.
Simply put, by praising the Lord we give glory to God and communicate his love to others. By swaying in the breeze, the trees in my yard whispered God’s love to me. Likewise, when I praise God I give voice to His love for others. If I could I would take you outside and stand beside you, telling you to hear God’s words of love being whispered over you.
Sweet friends, our praise might be quiet like a breezy lullaby or loud like thundering cymbals. It doesn’t matter. We are called to praise. So, let’s take a page from the natural world outside and praise the Lord. Then listen for the words of His love for us echoing back.
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. Psalm 62:1-2
My hands pressed down on the side of the bed as I folded myself onto my knees. I lowered my face to my hands and started to pray, “Dear Heavenly Father…” I stopped. I had nothing else to say. The words were missing. Instead of offering empty words of rote religion, I stopped. A heavy sigh expanded in my chest and blew past my lips pulling with it the words, “I got nothing. I’m empty.” My head dropped and I pressed my cheek into the pinstriped covered mattress.
I laid there--silent before the Lord. Not a word was spoken.
A few years ago I started getting up early in order to spend time with the Lord before going to work. Teaching was taxing and a few minutes in prayer before I entered the chaos of high school helped me to align myself to God’s mission for the day and to set aside my stress, anxiety, and frustration.
My usual morning prayers brought a litany of “help me, guide me, show me or teach me” requests. But on the morning of my silence, I had no words. My heart was heavy, but I didn’t know what to say. Trusting the Holy Spirit would intercede for me (Romans 8:26-27), I laid my head down in the lap of my Lord like a child seeking comfort from a parent. I sat in silence with my best friend and greatest advocate.
Part of my journey into a more authentic faith has involved developing honesty in my prayers. What began as conversations with God while running in college, has grown into an ongoing daily dialogue with the Lord (I have expressed some pretty rotten things and said some not so nice words). Through it all, I am learning talk to God as if He is my closest friend. And, just like with a best friend, some conversations call for silence.
In Psalm 62:1-2, David expresses a moment of surrendered silence before God, a moment of saying “I got nothing. I am empty.” In other words, David had fully surrendered his place of struggle to the Lord. If you look closely, David is not asking for anything (no help me), he is not afraid (no protect me), and he is not desperate (no save me). He has taken a posture of reliance and total dependence (I trust you).
David was focused on God alone. He had reached a point in his relationship with the Lord where he could claim that all he needed was God.
What about us? What about you?
Have you been in a season of struggle? Heartbreak or hardship? Have you said all the things you need to say and now are speechless before the Lord? Has your mind run out of scenarios of ways to solve your problems? Have you reached that moment of “I got nothing” “I’m empty”?
Friend, that’s exactly where God wants you and me. It’s in these moments I believe God is calling us into a deeper walk with Him. It’s when we are at the true end of ourselves that we fully trust Him.
Maybe God is calling you to a quiet conversation today. Maybe He is beckoning you to lay your head in his lap allowing his comforting hand to stroke your hair like a parent with an anxious child. Maybe your heart is so tangled you don’t have the words to sort it all out. That’s okay. Sit there. Let the Holy Spirit untangle it for you. Just go. Meet with Him.
Sweet friends, God doesn’t need our words. You see, He already knows our hearts. He just wants us to bring it all to Him and trust Him to take care of us-- with or without words.
And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. Isaiah 58:11
Midwestern family members made a trip to my hometown in the desert, and needless to say they were not impressed. The lack of lush green lawns and expansive trees left them searching for something good to say about it. Similarly, my youngest son returning from a mission trip a few years ago to my home state stated, “I didn’t know there were so many shades of brown.” Having spent most of his life in Florida, the desert did not yield the same color palate as the tropics.
To the untrained eye, the desert is a very barren and desolate place. The lack of water leaves the vegetation looking scrawny and ragged. Softness is missing in the desert. Raw sharp edges adorn jagged plants. The landscape is rough and hard. But to the one who has grown up there, this dry barren place holds a special kind of beauty. Life is tucked beneath the rocks and sand, often lingering in the shade hiding from the sun waiting for the summer rains to come. And when the rains come, the desert blooms.
In Chapter 58 of Isaiah, the people were doing all the right things, but they couldn’t find God. Their prayers were going unanswered. Life lacked joy and fulfillment. Just like my family members, the Israelites were looking for green plants and signs of life, but everything around them was scorched and dry. They were asking: “Why is the desert so brown? Why isn’t God present?”
God’s response in Isaiah 58 is similar to what the desert dweller says to the disappointed visitor: “It’s brown because it lacks water. You can’t see the life because you are looking for it in the wrong places.”
God’s people weren’t experiencing God’s presence because they were living spiritually without Him. Sure, they were jumping through all the right spiritual hoops: fasting, praying, attending church, singing praise and worship songs, but their hearts were far from God. They were keeping up a good spiritual appearance, but the reality was in their day-to-today living they were oppressing their workforce, pointing accusatory fingers at each other, inflicting verbal wounds on those who disagreed with them, and withholding their generosity to those in need. In other words, their lives were marked by hypocrisy. What they said they believed and what they lived did not match.
God gives them directions for finding His presence in the scorched places. He offers a promise for providing water in the dry desert: realize what they are doing, repent, and seek Him.
In order to see the beauty in the land around them, in order for the rain to come and cause their spiritual desert to bloom, the Israelites needed to repent. They needed to stop doing the shallow worship thing and start doing the authentic faith thing. God was calling them away from religion and back into a relationship with Him.
I believe God is making the same appeal to us today. Many of us are experiencing scorched places. Our hearts are dry and our souls are weary. We look around and all we see are shades of brown. Like the desert dweller to the visitor, God is pointing out where to look for His presence: “Look see, it’s in the sunset. Look over there, it’s tucked in the pages of my Word. Look closely, I’m behind the eyes of your friend.” God wants to use the dry places in our lives to lead us into a deeper relationship with Him.
A few years ago, I returned to the desert for my mom’s funeral. The winter had been cold and rainy. Snow had touched the mountains. From the window of my rental car, I was struck by the beauty around me. The desert was so green. Plants were blooming. White and pink blossoms capped the cacti. Yellow flowers filled the Palo Verde trees. The dirt didn’t seem so brown. Water had washed across the desert.
In the same way winter water brought new life to the desert, God promises to bring spiritual life back to us. Isaiah 58:11 reveals that the call back to a relationship with God comes with a promise. A promise of guidance. A promise of fulfillment. A promise of strength. A promise of nourishment. A promise of flourishing. A promise of purpose. When we sincerely seek Him, God promises to water the dry and barren places in our soul.
Sweet friends, if you find yourself in a spiritual desert (or real one), don’t let the shades of brown discourage you. Life and beauty still reside in dry places; you have to look for them in the right spots. God is there even when you can’t see Him.
Hope Is More Than A Word
“For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth” (Psalm 71:5)
Eight years ago I stumbled across the One Word 365 movement. The concept behind it was to adopt one word to guide your year instead of making a list of ultimately unresolved resolutions. Since, I am not a big resolution person to begin with, adopting one word to ponder all year appealed to me. So, in 2014 I adopted the word “intentional” and thus began my journey with One Word 365. Since then I have spent 365 days focusing, relinquishing, following, and being mindful and reluctantly bold. I attempted thriving in 2019 (definitely didn’t turn out the way I thought it would), and last year was spent with hope.
Hope wasn’t my first choice, but it was a “safe” choice. My heart had been circling around another word, but I wasn’t sure I could explain it. My first choice seemed odd compared to the standard words of faith, joy, and peace. So, I settled for my second choice, hope.
I’ll be honest, I struggled with hope this year. I tried wearing it around my neck and wrapped about my wrist like a good luck charm. I clung to it like a life-raft in an ocean of discouragement. I rubbed it across my lips like a magic lantern breathing out wishes for change. I wanted so badly to feel hopeful, but I didn’t. Feelings of disillusionment, discouragement and disappointment marked my year more than hope.
The truth was I had viewed hope as something to be felt. At the end of 2020 I wanted to feel better. I wanted my heart to be lighter. I wanted the anger inside of me to stop churning. I wanted to be able to trust people again; I wanted the disappointment to stop. I wanted to feel like singing in the rain, not crying in it. Ultimately, I wanted the sun to shine in my heart again.
But, hope doesn’t work that way. This year taught me that hope is not a feeling or sense of euphoria. It doesn’t come or go based on my circumstances. It doesn’t hide behind the clouds only to appear when the sun shines.
The truth about hope was in the verse I had posted as my cover photo at the beginning of 2021: “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth” (Psalm 71:5).
The truth about hope was that hope is found in God. In fact, God is hope. You see, I had placed my trust in the word hope, in the idea of feeling hopeful. Basically, I wanted a magic wand to wave my struggles and tough feelings away. I wanted God to instantly make me feel better. Instead of seeking God himself, I was craving good feelings. A year with hope started to teach me that hope was not the absence of disappointment or discouragement; hope was the presence of God in the midst of all the struggles life had to give.
Maybe now you’re wondering, what’s my word for 2022?
Believe it or not, it was the word I considered for 2021, but set aside for hope.
The word I came to for 2002 is behold, which means look or see. Two verses led me here:
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. Isaiah 43:19
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38.
As I enter 2022, I want to look for what God is doing and I want be His ready servant. I want to “behold” the Lord this year.
Maybe you are like me and want to experience God in a new way this year. I challenge you to consider asking God to lead you to a word to guide your thoughts and actions for the next 362 days. I know I have been blessed by the practice since 2014.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:11-12
God loves you.
Maybe it doesn’t feel that way right now, but God loves you.
How do I know this? Because the Bible tells me so.
Are you humming a tune right now?
The song learned long ago in childhood: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” may sound trite and cliché, but it is Truth.
This past year and a half have been a hard emotional time for me: betrayal, disappointment, hurt feelings, and stress have all weighed heavily on my heart and soul tipping me close to the edge of burnout.
The emotional stuff I have been sorting through has become a heavy load for me to carry. The weight of it all has left me feeling overwhelmed. My prayers for relief and change seem to go unheard and unanswered.
You may be carrying heavy stuff too.
We could sit around comparing stuff; one-upping each other as to whose stuff was worse, like the scene in the movie Jaws where the men sit below deck comparing shark-encountered scars, but it really doesn’t matter. We all struggle. We all have things that make us ask: Why me? Where are you God? Do you still love me?
My feelings about God’s love for me have wobbled over the last year and a half. My circumstances made it appear to me as if He had forgotten me. I felt overlooked, unseen. It was as if I wasn’t that important to Him anymore-- like He managed to find someone better.
Even though I may have wobbled in my feelings about God’s love for me, the truth of His love never faltered. He loves me. Period.
The steadfast love of the Lord is repeatedly stated in scripture leaving me with the choice to continue to wobble and worry about how God felt about me or to trust and take Him at His word.
As far as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. Psalm 103:11
Steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. Lamentations 3:22
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. Your steadfast love O Lord endures forever. Psalm 138:8
Feelings are fleeting when held up to the light of Truth. With this in mind, I am working on letting scripture stabilize my heart. I am leaning on the truth that God’s love is steadfast. No matter how I feel, God loves me. He gave Jesus for me and that alone should be enough to settle my heart issue of God’s love.
The apostle Paul settled the issue of God’s love for him and came to this conclusion in Romans 8:38-39:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I don’t know what you are feeling right now. Maybe you feel betrayed. Let down. Abandoned. Alone. Hurt. Disappointed. Tired. Stressed. Worn out. You may be asking: Why me? Where are you God? Do you still love me?
If questions of doubt are crashing around you, take a page from the playbook of Psalms and look up to the heavens. As the sky is above and all around, so is God’s love. He loves you more than you can ever know or imagine. David knew it. Paul knew. We can know it too.
Because the Bible tells us so.
Simply Planting is not Enough
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. I John 4:16.
When we moved into our house over twenty years ago, there were two live oak trees growing in our backyard. Now, there is only one. Within the first few years, one of the trees stopped thriving. It slowly turned into a stalk of bare branches. Dried shriveled leaves dropped to the ground. On the other hand, a few feet away, its brother tree grew taller and wider each year.
Same yard. Two similar trees. Two different outcomes. What’s the difference?
Simply put, the roots.
The skinny trunked tree yielded easily to pressure. It uprooted easily. A slight push tipped it over revealing a nestled circle of untangled tendrils. The tree’s roots had never branched out, grown wider, deeper or stronger. They had stayed in a small, malnourished, weak ball. By not unfolding and reaching out, the tree had failed to thrive. It died. It’s as if the tree decided to keep to itself and try to grow on its own without yielding to the soil around it. Instead of reaching out for nutrients, it stayed closed off and isolated. It was planted, but not rooted. By not digging deep into the soil around it, it starved itself to death.
The same is true for me. Many times in my life I have refused the nourishing work of the Lord in my life. I have deemed circumstances around me too hard and therefore too difficult reach into and use for my good. Like my stubborn tree, instead of unfurling my spiritual roots I stay wadded up and closed off muttering, “Why me? Why now?” I have allowed my circumstances to keep me from trusting God’s love weakening me spiritually like a tree slowly drying up from lack of nourishment.
However, the other tree in my yard is tall and wide with a thick trunk and expansive branches. In spite of being struck by lightning and ripped open by a hurricane, it has thrived. Firmly planted in our backyard, it has become a massive oak tree. It’s as if this tree decided to abide in the yard. It reached out its roots and found the nutrients it needed in the soil around it. The second tree went beyond planting and became rooted. By opening itself up to the surrounding water and soil, it chose to live abundantly.
I am grateful for a God who doesn’t give up on me. He doesn’t allow me to stay in a root ball like my tree. He is a good gardener. Unlike me, He would have known my tree needed to have its roots unwound and released from its tight tangle. You see, God gently takes the hard circumstances of my life and uses them to make me spiritually stronger over time. Gradually, the oak tree that was struck by lightning and shaken by a hurricane has grown into an amazing tree with low thick branches and thin high expansive ones creating a home to birds and squirrels and welcomed shade for our yard.
So, what about us? What kind of tree are we? Are we abiding in the soil of God’s love and His word, or are we trying to make it on our own? Have we reached out for the life-giving source of God through His word or are we staying too far away to receive the nourishment we need to face the struggles life brings us? Are we letting our roots of faith grow deep so we are resilient when the storms of life swirl around us? Or, will we topple over when we feel pressure because we haven’t untangled our roots and grounded ourselves in truth? Are we convinced of God’s love for us no matter what?
I John 4:13-16 emphasizes our need to abide in God. Like trees immersing their roots deep into the soil, we need to immerse ourselves in God’s love through the truth of His word. The deeper we bury ourselves in the love of our Savior the stronger we become. The apostle Paul knew this truth when he stated in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor power, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separated us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
My friends, don’t let yourselves remain tangled up in life’s worries like my skinny tree. Open your heart wide to the love of God. Reach out and dig deep into the truth of His unfailing love. Abide in that truth. Stay there even in hard circumstances. Let the truth of His love nourish your soul helping you grow strong in faith and love like the massive oak tree in my yard.
God’s Sleep Solutions Don’t Come in Jars
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
I Peter 5:6-7
Recent conversations floated in and out of my mind as I walked the vitamin aisle of my favorite store.
“I haven’t been sleeping well. I woke up again at 3 o’clock. I’ve got so much on my mind; I just can’t sleep.”
As I looked around, words of worry stood tangibly in front of me as multiple containers of natural sleep aids sat in rows on shelves and end-caps. Clearly, I was not alone. Sleep issues were plaguing many of us.
So, why can’t we sleep? What is keeping us awake?
If I were to guess, I would say the thing that keeps us awake at night is not a monster under the bed, but anxiety. We’re worried, stressed and overwhelmed, and we can’t turn it off.
Maybe you are like me and melatonin gummies may help you sleep in the moment, but they do not produce a long lasting solution to the true problem: anxiety. My anxiety rises and my mind kicks into overdrive when I get stressed and start worrying about things. Feeling overwhelmed and emotionally weighed down by all my responsibilities create burdens that rob me of the ability to sleep. I’m tired and want more than a short-term solution to my stress.
Thank goodness, I Peter 5:6-7 offers us more than a Band-Aid for sleep from a jar.
How does it work?
I see two steps to finding rest from our worries in these verses. First we submit ourselves to God. We have to humbling admit we need Him (vs. 6). Next, we have to we have to put our “working to solve it” aside and let Him do His work within us by casting our cares on Him (vs. 7).
Picture a dandelion being blown off its stem by the wind. The pieces are carried off and blown away when the dandelion is exposed to a breeze. In other words, in order for the dandelion’s seeds to be blown away, it has to allow itself to be exposed to a gust of wind.
In the same way, in order for us to “cast our burdens” we must first allow ourselves to be exposed to the wind of God like a dandelion outside. We must become vulnerable, or humble, before God and allow Him to blow, or carry our burdens away. The dandelion doesn’t pick the seeds off. It stands outside allowing the wind to do its work. In the same way, we need to set ourselves out in the open before God and allow Him do to his work within us instead of “picking at” the burdens that stress our minds.
Next, once the dandelion is exposed to the wind, the wind carries the seeds away. Like the dandelion, our job is to set our burdens down before God. The dandelion doesn’t take its seeds off before being exposed to the wind. It stands in the open just as it is, full of seeds waiting to be freed. God says He will carry our burdens for us, but in order for Him to do that we have to stop carrying them ourselves. We have to repeatedly lay down our need to “do it all” and yield our burdens to God instead.
For me that means, I need to stop stressing and start submitting. I need to continually turn my worries over to the Lord. I need to tell Him all of my anxieties. I need to stop maneuvering to solve my problems and start releasing the results to Him in order to truly rest. I need to look for His presence in the midst of my circumstances as if I am a dandelion feeling the wind.
So, next time you reach for the melatonin, pray about the thing that is burdening you. Ask God to expose the deeper issue that is at work keeping you awake. Then, ask Him to carry that burden away like a dandelion seed exposed to a wind. Do it again and again as long as you need to until the “peace of God that surpasses all understanding” infiltrates your heart allowing you to stand as an empty stem free from what has been keeping you awake at night.
“All things are lawful”, but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
I Corinthians 10:23-24
As we begin to transition from staying at home, social distancing and mask wearing to going out with friends, eating at restaurants and attending indoor events, we need to take a minute and think about what that looks and feels like: not just for us, but for our friends as well.
This past year has brought many changes to life as we normally live it. For many of us staying close to home with less human interaction has been a sweet respite for our introverted souls. For others, being isolated from humans left our extroverted personalities revved up like quarter horses waiting for the starting gate to open. Besides these two personality traits, some of us struggle with anxiety, OCD, or even depression.
I don’t know about you, but for me navigating the nuances of a new world is a little nerve-racking. I want to be with my friends. I want to go out to eat with them or to get coffee, but not all of my friends are ready for unrestricted life. Not everyone is vaccinated: not everyone can be nor wants to be. Not everyone is free of health concerns for themselves or family members. Not everyone is ready to embrace being indoors in the crowded pool of humanity. And all of us are a little rusty with our social skills.
In I Corinthians 10:23-24, I see the perfect guidelines for navigating relationships where not everyone is on the same emotional, social, intellectual, or physical page. Twice Paul states that “All things are lawful.” In other words, post-COVID I am free to do the things as long as it is not against the law or state health guidelines. I can go out to eat in a restaurant, I can go without a mask in public (at least we can here in Florida), and being fully vaccinated I can hug my friends. Before we get too excited about the freedom we are given, Paul balances his “you are free to do anything” with a “but” statement. Simply put, just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.
Let’s take a closer look. Each time Paul states that it is okay to do something, he follows it up with an only if statement. The only if statements provide us with the guidelines we need for navigating our interactions with the humans in our life. Luckily, there are only two: Is it helpful and does it build people up?
It’s often easy to get tangled up in the “should I do something” when all I really need to do is ask myself: is what I am doing helpful to those around me and does it build them up? If I am asserting my right to do something at the expense of someone else’s well-being, I need to rethink my assertion. If my words and actions guilt my friends into moving at a re-entry speed faster than they are ready, I need to slow down. If time together leaves us feeling more burdened than before we got together, then I need to re-think how I interact with my friends.
As we begin re-entering our world by reconnecting physically with our friends, let’s remember it’s not about us. Paul caps his “it is okay to, but” statements with these final words: “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” I am learning the easiest way to do this is to ask. Before gathering with friends, ask them what they are comfortable doing. Then do what the least comfortable person is comfortable with at the time. It may mean getting coffee and sitting outside at a park instead of going inside the coffee shop. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have an intentional moment of awkwardness than unintentionally wound a friend because I was doing what was right for me and not for them.
When My works Replace my Faith
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Romans 1: 17
For what does scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Romans 4:3
I clean up pretty well (my person, not my house). My stinky post-running body is quickly transformed by a hot shower, fragrant soap, expensive shampoo, a little make-up and a nice dress.
In under an hour, all the remnants of my hot stinky mess of a self are gone.
I wish it just as easy to clean up the hot stinky mess of my heart.
I went through a season of my life where my life was a fraud. From the outside I looked put together: Bible teacher, minister’s wife, stay-at-home mom, the apperance of a growing godly woman. On the inside I was a hot mess: hard hearted, judgmental, works driven, spiritually barren. I was living a life based on external righteousness. I had let my faith become works. I had traded my faith in God for working for Him.
It’s easy to get caught up in the trappings of works based righteousness. We want to please God, so we begin to do the things we think will make Him happy. We join Bible studies, we serve in church, we volunteer in the community, we give up curse words, we avoid worldly things, and we begin to build a resume of righteousness. The problem is instead of allowing righteousness to emerge from the inside out, we fight to force it to emerge from the outside in.
In Romans, the apostle Paul paints a different picture of righteousness. The word he uses for righteousness is better translated rightwiseness. The righteousness of Romans 1:16-17 and 4:3-5, is an inside-out phenomenon. It flows from the very essence of God’s character. Righteousness is an attribute of God which is linked to His nature, tied to His promises, and interwoven with His faithfulness and truthfulness.
We can’t make ourselves righteous: not obedience, being good, abstaining from bad things, or church attendance. Righteousness is given to us by God. He imparts His righteousness to us through our faith. When we accept salvation by faith in Christ, we sign up to walk by that faith for the rest of our lives. Abraham’s faith was counted as righteousness because he continually walked in faith following God.
Righteousness emerges in us when we surrender ourselves to God.
My life gets stinky not because of what is outside of it, but because of what is inside of it. In the same way, my life may look good on the outside, but that doesn’t mean it’s righteous on the inside. You see, when my life is squeezed what is deep inside of me comes out. My circumstances don’t make me righteousness or unrighteous; my circumstances reveal the depth of God’s rightwiseness within me.
God’s goal for me is not look good on the outside. God’s goal is for me to be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus.
Just like a shower can clean up my outsides, God has been scrubbing away at my self-righteousness. Layer by layer He has gently chipped away the harden varnish built up around my faith through my self-righteous works. He is softening my heart bringing me to the end of myself and making me dependent upon Him. In the process, I have begun exchanging striving for righteousness for resting in faith relying on Him to transform my faith into something authentic and true.
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I see after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4
If you could have one wish, what would it be? Cure cancer? Establish world peace? Have children? Get married? Be debt free? Eat ice cream every day and never gain weight? Maybe you are the practical type and would just ask for more wishes.
We all have wishes: things we’d like to change about ourselves, our circumstances, or our world. King David had a lifelong wish as well. In Psalm 27:1-4, David outlines the ultimate desire of his heart. Since David was known to be a man after God’s own heart, it’s worth looking at his heart’s wish.
Before we can look inside David’s heart, we have to look at where he has placed his heart. In Psalm 27:1-3, David establishes that his life is held secure in God’s hands. David has firmly placed his trust in God. He trusts God to lead, save, and protect him. David is so sure of God’s protection that he is not afraid. He does not worry about enemies or adversaries. Even when he is under siege, he is not afraid.
When I feel overwhelmed, anxious and afraid, I need to stop and ask myself: “Where have I placed my heart? Have I placed it in my job? My friendships? My bank account? My health? My children?” I need to get truthful with myself and look to see where I have placed my heart. Fear is a clue for me that something is wrong with my heart. It can be a sign that I have stopped trusting God with the details of my life.
David is confident he’s going to be okay no matter what because he has placed his life in God’s hands. To David’s heart, God’s protection is greater than any fear he will face. He doesn’t need to wish for protection or salvation from what he fears, because he knows he is safe. If I am going to follow David’s example, I need to do the same thing and entrust my heart to God’s hands.
By placing the control of his life in God’s hands, David is free to pursue his heart’s desire. So, what is David’s wish? What does he ask for? What does he seek? Let’s look what is inside David’s heart and find his one wish.
In Psalm 27:4, David articulates his wish. His one wish is to simply be with the Lord. David’s biggest desire in life is to hang out with God every day. He wants to sit with God, listen to Him, and talk to Him. He wants to know God and be known by Him. He wants an intimate relationship with God. David wants God to be his best friend.
If I am honest with myself, spending time with God is not always my top priority. I often seek a clean sink or folded laundry before a moment with my Lord. I’ll choose to listen to an audiobook while on a run instead of engaging in a conversation with my God. I’ll text a friend before I kneel in prayer. In not seeking God’s presence first, I let fears and worries creep into my unguarded heart.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle. Fear causes me to worry about all kinds of things and circumstances. Because my life is not firmly planted in the hands of my Lord, I am trying to control it instead of relinquishing it. The desire of my heart is not for a deeper relationship with God, but with being free from the hard circumstances surrounding me. Desiring to be free from my fears leads me to wish for the wrong things.
But, what if I changed my wish? What if I stopped wishing to be free from my fears and wished instead that God would use my fears to draw me closer to Him? What if I took my worries and sat down with Him and shared them, as if He was my closest confidante? What if every day I spent more time with Him than without Him? What if I just took a moment each day and gazed around me and saw Him? What if I incorporated conversation with Him throughout the routine of my day?
Maybe, just maybe, then like David I too can say with confidence: “the Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid...one thing have I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life…” (Psalm 21:1-4). I don’t know about you, but I want to make my wishes count.
Between a husband, 2 sons, and teaching high school my sanity is found in running and Starbucks. I have a circle of running friends who inspire me to be authentic and real as I live a life of faith before them.