Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


3 Comments

Swimming Against the Current

IMG_0394

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).

Pushing our paddle surfboards off the wet sand, my husband turned to me, “Which way do you want to go, right or left?”

Studying the ripples on the water in the early morning light I eased onto my board and let the current carry me for a moment before answering decisively, “Let’s go right.  That way we’ll be paddling into the breeze and against the current.  It will make the trip back easier when we’re tired.”

It was hard work as we bent our knees, dug in our paddles and slowly made our way through the harbor.  Every muscle in my body was flexed, poised to keep me firmly balanced standing on the board and skimming through the water.  I had no desire to take a spill and get wet in the early morning chill.

As we rounded the tip of Balboa Island for the return trip, we reaped the benefit of our choice to do the hard part first.  We slipped along with the current, feeling like we had the strength of superheroes.  With each stroke of the paddle we made significant progress and could look up and enjoy the sights and sounds all around us in the Newport Harbor.

Skidding onto the cool, wet sand as we returned, I thought about how often our walks of faith mirror what I’d just experienced out on the water.  Sometimes making choices to lead a godly life feels like a fight to swim against the current of the world around us.  Spending time with people who don’t value the things of God can make following Him with our daily life choices a challenge.  When we feel like we have to go it alone, it can be a lot like I felt paddling against the current and into a head wind.  It’s a grueling effort, but the Bible tells us it’s worth it:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15-17).

When we persevere, we grow in numerous ways.  There is probably no faster means for growth than clinging to God in the midst of adversity:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

When we choose to “go with the flow” and let the current sweep us along with the actions and attitudes in popular culture, we’ll find our spiritual disciplines slipping and our infrequent times with God becoming stale and dry.  It is impossible to remain solidly planted in one place spiritually; we will either be swept with the current of the world around or make an effort to paddle against it.

Conversely, there may also be times in life when following God seems easy and fun.  We feel His strength flowing through us as each dip of the paddle into the water propels us forward at an amazing rate.  I liken this to times when we are connected consistently with other Christians and are studying God’s word, worshiping and serving together.  We feel energized and excited as we watch God work among us and are motivated to want more of Him in our lives.

Summer is a season when most organized Bible Studies take a break.  As people scatter for travel or other activities, they tend to put their time in God’s word on the back burner.  It’s still a priority, but not something they tend to with the same diligence.  While rest and rejuvenation are part of God’s desire for our lives, taking a “vacation” from Him or His Word is not.  Many people experience serious spiritual “slippage” in the summer as they focus their attention elsewhere and leave God out of the mix.  Let me encourage you not to be one of those people.

Summer can be a great time to explore a concept that you’ve been wanting to know more about, to read that book that’s been gathering dust on your shelf or to review the study you didn’t have time to savor during the fast pace of the year.  Below are a few ideas to keep you engaged and to help you paddle against the current so that you can continue to build your “spiritual muscles” and experience the rich and full life God has for you, no matter what season it is.

-Pick your favorite Bible Study from the past year and reread it chapter by chapter throughout the summer.  Write down a list of things you want to remember that you learned from it to help you solidify them and apply them to your life.

-Choose a Christian book to read this summer.  Invite a friend to read it with you.  You can even set up a reading schedule to discuss it over coffee or lunch on the weeks you’re both in town.  Here are few suggestions to get you started:

One Thousand Gifts by Ann VosKamp

Seven by Jen Hatmaker

A Confident Heart by Renee Swope

A Different Kind of Wild by Debbie Alsdorf

Unglued by Lysa TerKeurst

 The Me I Want to Be by John Ortberg

Strong Women, Soft Hearts by Paula Rhinehart

The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge

Fresh Brewed Life by Nicole Johnson

-Sign up for a Bible Study being offered at church

-Invite a few friends, neighbors or members of your Bible Study to do a workbook and DVD Bible Study together at one of your homes.  If you live near CPC, there are a number that can be checked out from the church library.  If you don’t, look for studies available at lifeway.com or Christianbook.com

-Sign up to receive a daily devotional at Proverbs 31 Ministries www.provberbs31.org (Lysa Ter Keurst started this ministry)

-Choose a book of the Bible to read through this summer.  Write down questions you have as you read and take the time to do word studies and read commentaries that will help you understand it better.  You can also pick up helpful study guides for specific books of the Bible at the CPC bookstore or other Christian bookstores.

The options are only limited by your imagination.  So, pray and ask God to show you what His plans are for you this summer.  Then, dip you paddle in the water and point yourself against the current- you won’t be disappointed.

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).


Advertisements


1 Comment

The Changed Perspective of a Thankful Heart

IMG_5142

“Sometimes, when we have too many blessings, we become so overwhelmed with our blessings that we forget to be thankful.”

-Lysa TerKeurst What Happens When Women Say Yes to God

 I just got back from shopping for a birthday gift for my sister.  As I breezed in and out of stores looking for the “right” thing to buy her, I felt overwhelmed by the retail messages assaulting me everywhere I looked.  Bottom line:  in order to be adequate, I needed more “stuff” in the right colors and styles to match this year’s trends.  For most of us, our clothes go out of style before they wear out, yet we receive input constantly telling us that we need “more.”    As I shopped, I was grateful that instead of feeling inadequate or out of style, I could thank God for my closet full of clothes.

As I drove home, it got me thinking about how often we are tempted to look at what we think we “need” and not to recognize all that we have.  How often are we asking God for the next thing when we haven’t even thanked Him for the last one?  How often do we long for Him to work in a certain way, but fail to recognize where He is already at work?

When we take time to thank God, it opens the door for us to recognize His blessings in our lives and to find contentment instead of always wanting more.  Lysa says, “God accepts every expression of gratitude, but He loves to know that His gifts are noticed and appreciated, just as we do”  (p. 81).

I love the way Sarah Young writes about thankfulness from God’s perspective in Jesus Calling, “Let me teach you thankfulness.  Begin by acknowledging that everything—all your possessions and all that you are—belongs to Me.  The dawning of each new day is a gift from Me, not to be taken for granted.  The earth is vibrantly alive with My blessings, giving vivid testimony to My Presence.  If you slow down your pace of life, you can find Me anywhere”  (April 29 entry, p. 124).

For my final blog on What Happens When Women Say Yes to God it seems fitting to share two things I’ve pondered in the past week for which I’m thankful.  As you read, think about one thing you’re thankful for, then take a minute to post it in the comments below.   Make it your personal “thank you” note to God for this week.

Thank You #1:  My Health

A week and a half ago I traveled to Texas to spend time with a close friend battling cancer.   For reasons not totally clear to her doctors, she has lost significant strength in her legs and is unable to stand or walk without a walker.  As I was pushing her around in her wheelchair while we were out one day, I was convicted about the number of times I’ve struggled with my body image.  Standing in the unflattering light of a cramped dressing room and examining myself in the mirror can lead to a grumpy and ungrateful heart.  In the past, I’ve rarely thanked God that I’m healthy enough to walk, stand, run, ride a bike and pretty much do whatever I want.  Now, when I look at my body and a critical thought comes to mind, I think of my friend longing to be able to use her legs unassisted and I say, “Thank you God, for a healthy body and legs that work.”

Thank You #2:  A Delightful Teenager (this title is not an oxymoron)

My oldest son turns fourteen in a few days.  In many households, that is the age when the child you formerly knew and loved is replaced by a sullen and withdrawn teen in the throes of adolescent glory.  I thank God this is not the case in our home.  Yesterday, my son walked up to me in the kitchen totally unprompted and gave me a good, long hug (he had to bend down slightly since he is now taller than me).    Not only do I love him, I still like him (and all indicators are that he still likes me too).  The little boy that we prayed would be confident in who God made him to be has grown to a young man with character, integrity and a quiet confidence about him that I certainly never had at his age. I thank God for the ways He has answered prayers my husband and I have been praying since our son was born.

So, I’ve thanked God for two simple but profound things I noticed this week.  Now it’s your turn. This isn’t just a covert attempt to get more comments on my blog, it is an invitation for you to shift your perspective, have a thankful heart and tell God (and the rest of us) how grateful you are.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’” (Hebrews 12:28-9).

Side note:  For those who are part of the Focused Living Bible Study, you know that our year is coming to a close.  I plan to continue posting on my blog during the summer break.  You won’t be receiving reminders from Focused Living, however, if you scroll down to the bottom of the page, there is a button that says “Follow” that you can click.   You should be notified anytime something new is posted.

And now, let the thankfulness begin….