Tuesday, March 17, 2009

God in the Whisper

I’ve never been a very heavy sleeper, but when I had children any sleep I might have been getting disappeared. I like to say that once you become a mommy you never really sleep again. I think something clicks inside of you that allows you to get the rest you need (most of the time) while still having one ear open to hear anything from a cough in the night to the pitter patter of little feet coming down the stairs.

I’m sure it’s not that way for everyone. My husband, for example, sleeps perfectly well through everything from my daughter coming into our room in the night complaining about a nightmare to a hurricane-strength gale. For me, though, there is a little piece of me that is always aware of the sound in the night—the still whispers.

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kings 19:11-13 NIV)

I’ve always found this story to be so interesting. In the midst of a really “down” moment for Elijah, God decides Elijah could use a little moral support. And what better support could there be, really, than a visit from God? God brought Elijah His presence, but first to show where He was NOT. He was not in the wind; he was not in the earthquake; he was not in the fire. Imagine how much of a contrast the gentle whisper, sometimes referred to as a “still small voice,” must have been in comparison to the previous manifestations.

God knew exactly what Elijah needed—a personal encounter with God. There was nothing at this time that was fundamentally wrong with Elijah’s theology, but there was something lacking in his experience. We all tend to look for God in dramatic expressions. Sometimes, though, we can only encounter God properly in less dramatic surroundings.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


"And they will call him Immanuel—which means, "God with us." Matt. 1:23

One of my favorite themes of the Christmas story is Immanuel, God with us. The plan was designed at creation, before the first sin had ever been committed. The plan was for God, in the form of Christ, to leave heaven and all its glory and live among the lowest of the low on Earth. It was to be an escape from eternal death. It was to be salvation.

There is something so incredibly comforting about knowing that God is among us, deeply intertwined within the lives and hearts of His people. He's so attached to us that we can feel Him. This plan didn't call for God to raise his hand from Heaven and intervene. It was a divine displacement. The Lord of the universe physically moved from His heavenly kingdom to where we were, immersed in sin's darkness. And with him, He brought light, warmth, and mostly peace.

It's my prayer this holiday season that all of you feel Immanuel's presence with you in a very real way.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Running From God

Do you ever feel like the Christian journey is more about relearning what we already know than learning something knew? Jonah had the same problem. Here are a few of my favorite “new” old lessons from Jonah:

Running Away
God gave Jonah a simple task, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2 NIV). Instead, Jonah chose to run away. A man of God would know that he couldn’t truly run from the Lord, so what did he think he was doing? How many times do we find ourselves turning away from God’s clear direction, even though we know it will end in sadness or frustration? Yet we do it anyway-over and over. I wonder why?

Using our Mistakes
Jonah knew he was being foolish. When he boarded that ship, he admitted he was running from God, yet when things turned bad, he accepted responsibility: “’Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and it will become calm. I know it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you’” (Jonah 1:12). The crew tried to avoid taking such drastic measures, but when God has a plan, nothing against it will succeed. Left with no choice, they threw Jonah overboard, but Jonah had already witnessed to them about God. Once they saw the hand of God calm the sea, the crew “greatly feared the Lord, offered a sacrifice to the Lord, and made vows to him” (Jonah 1:16). Their experience with Jonah ended in a witness to God’s power. Has the Lord ever used one of your bad choices to His own glory?

Second Chances
Whatever choices Jonah made, God was always in control. The fish provided Jonah with the time he needed to reflect on his choices and do the right thing. Even though Jonah knew he had taken a bad path, his prayer in Jonah 2 shows us that he also knew he could turn to God for forgiveness and redemption. Have you ever received a second chance? Jonah’s example shows that running from God inevitably turns into running back home again.

Running Too Fast
When Jonah obeyed the Lord and went to Ninevah, the result was positive. They turned from wickedness, and the Lord took compassion on them. Jonah should have been happy, but instead he became angry. “He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity’” (Jonah 4: 2). Sometimes even when we’re walking with God, we tend to run ahead of Him. Once again, the Lord taught Jonah a lesson he already knew: When we release the reigns and give God control, we’re free to obey and serve completely.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Teaching Children to Pray

The first prayer most of us prayed was the blessing, “God is great, God is good, Let us thank Him for our food,” or the classic bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” When children are very young, getting them in the habit of prayer is more important than what they’re saying. As they grow, though, their prayers should deepen, just as ours do. The goal is to get your children to move from simply parroting a phrase to realizing that they are communicating with the Creator of the Universe.

Teaching children to pray is an awesome responsibility, because we know it is the basis through which they will eventually maintain a personal relationship with God. Many parents feel awkward, though, about teaching children to pray from the heart. It is really much simpler than it seems.

Begin by children see you pray. Children want nothing more than to be like their parents. If they see that prayer is important to you, it will be important to them.

Teach children that prayer is just a conversation with God. Encourage children to pray in ways that are natural for them, instead of trying to formalize prayer or force children to conform to our adult standards.

Make prayer a part of your daily routine. We remember those prayers from our childhood because they were a part of our routine. Learning the rituals and traditions of their faith allows children to feel comfortable in worship services.

Make it real. Ritual is important, but prayer needs to grow as we grow. If we’re shy about praying in front of others, then children will learn to be ashamed of their prayers. Be brave enough to let your children see you pray from the heart.

Be flexible about prayer time. We all live extremely busy lives. Don’t let lack of time keep you from praying. A short prayer on the way to school is better than no prayer at all. If you make prayer a priority, even when there’s no time, children will learn to recognize the importance of talking to God on a regular basis.

Find the best time to make time. If mornings are particularly hectic in your family, set your regular prayer time before bed. Keeping a regular prayer time will strengthen your family bonds as children learn to strengthen their relationship with God.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16 NIV).

Monday, September 15, 2008

Beside Still Waters

In our house, my morning starts at 5:30. I have exactly 30 minutes to take my shower, get some hot tea, and take a deep breath before my children wake up. I used to wake them by singing at the base of the stairs every morning. This year they decided they wanted alarm clocks, so I usually sit on the second stair in the still dim house and wait to hear the familiar beeping that means they’ll be coming down the stairs soon to greet me. This is still one of my favorite parts of the day. It’s my first glimpse of my children, after a night of absence. I hold them close, their little bodies still warm from the comfort of their beds. I rock them slightly, and I kiss the backs of their necks before passing them along to the morning.

We could sleep an extra 45 minutes in the mornings, but we decided years ago to get up early enough to have time to spend with each other. It's our time to relax, cuddle, and talk about what the new day will bring. I ask them every year if they'd rather sleep in, but they say no. Our time together is as important to them as it is to me, but it has to be a conscious choice, a determined effort, or it will never happen. Life is too busy.

A Changing World

Sometimes we’re drawn to the world. Sometimes it looks beautiful to us and we see the hand of God in every aspect of our day. Other times the hand of sin and death is much more apparent, and we have to look a little harder to see through the haze that seems to cover our daily routine. There is a stigma among Christians that if you’re tired you must be doing something wrong. Perhaps you’re not walking on the right path. Perhaps you’re too focused on self. After all, being a Christian is all about service, right? True, but as busy as His daily ministry kept him, even Jesus knew the value of retreat and meditation. He knew the value of making a conscious and determined effort to spend time with his Father.

Finding a Retreat

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: "Everyone is looking for you!" (Mark 1:35 NIV).

Sound familiar? It’s hard to find a place where you can spend time alone with God and not have someone come looking for you. When Christ went out to the desert alone, the Bible says “The Spirit sent him” (Mark 1:12 NIV). Why do you suppose that was? Could it be that spending time alone with God is more of a necessity than a choice? Jesus retreated from his enemies, but he also retreated from his friends. He spent time alone. He rested. He meditated. He prayed. He retreated when he was battle-weary from his time with the Pharisees. He retreated to find direction for his ministry. He retreated when he was physically tired and when he needed a spiritual boost.

Not to spend time alone with God is to miss out on the blessings he has prepared for us. It is to lose the direction and wisdom that might guide us more smoothly through our day. If we are too busy to find the time to separate and commune with God beside the still waters of prayer and meditation, we are entirely too busy.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

How Big is Your God?

We often hear Christians talk about the comfort they receive from their faith, especially in times of trouble. And there have certainly been times when I've cried to the Lord for nothing but comfort--for myself and for those I love. Sometimes it's obvious that there is nothing that can be done in a situation to make things better. But more than once I've been amazed at the comfort God has been able to give in times of sheer desperation and distress. And when you're in the middle of something tragic, the comfort of God is like a cool breath of fresh air on a hot day. It's like gentle, steady rain on parched soil. Sometimes when we see someone in despair finally able to fall asleep, as family and friends we breathe a silent prayer of thanksgiving, because we know in sleep the pain is just a little less. How big is your God? Is he big enough to send comfort when a loved one has been lost? Is he big enough to make you feel a little relief when your heart has been broken in two?

"Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." Psalm 90:2 (NIV)

I'm tremendously glad we have a God who sends comfort in times of trouble; however, I find that when I'm in the deepest despair, it is the knowledge of God's power and supremacy that brings me the most comfort, not necessarily his tenderness. It is his "bigness" that gives me certainty in times of question and doubt. Nothing comforts me more than knowing that the God who holds the universe in his hands also holds me, and that I am infinitely more important to him than anything that can be named. Are you able to find comfort in God's greatness today? Is your God big enough to overcome the minor or major obstacles that you will face on your walk this week? How big is your God?

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Morning with God

In late July my family was at our church's Family Camp. Since I took a vacation earlier in the summer, I commuted back to town a couple of times during the week to do some work. Thankfully it is only a little over an hour away! I'd rather not have had to get up quite so early to make it back to town on time, but I have to say that the blessings I received on my morning commute were an unexpected delight.

There is something about the morning with God, especially when driving through the back country of Tennessee. When the light filters quietly through the dense foliage surrounding the gently twisting road, you feel God is there. When you see baby deer and bunnies moving silently through the still morning forest, your mind can't help but move to the creator of life. When the morning dew sits on the quiet fields, and the gentle fog is still lifting off the meadows and valleys, you can't help but feel the presence of God slowly moving through your heart and mind. No wonder the Bible speaks so frequently about the morning with God.

"Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul." Psalm 143:8 (NIV)

I wonder how different each day would be, if we prayed this prayer every morning, asking God to show us the path we should travel down for the day, dedicating our lives to Him anew with each morning sunrise, allowing the stillness of a brand new day to flood our soul with peace and faith in the God who placed the sun in the sky.