Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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The Changed Perspective of a Thankful Heart

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“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….

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Beach Glass: Living the Reality of Jesus in Our Lives

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Recently I was talking with a friend about making life choices that display the reality of Jesus in our lives. She stopped and said:  “It’s about incorporating our lives into God instead of trying to incorporate God into our lives.”  So often we try to fit God into a box or a category in our lives.  We may be great at talking about our relationships with God when we’re at church or Bible Study.  It’s easy to be kind when we sign up for a Missions day or an outreach event.  We’re willing to be interrupted when it fits into our schedules conveniently.   But if we’re really serious about the idea of saying “yes” to God, then He doesn’t just want to be a compartment in our lives; He wants to be the center.

Lysa TerKeurst says:  “I remind myself often that people don’t care to meet my Jesus until they meet the reality of Jesus in my life”  (p. 70 What Happens When Women Say “Yes” to God).  Maybe another way to put it is:  who am I when no one else is looking?  How do I react when things don’t go the way I want or people don’t perform according to my expectations?  This may reveal more about who Jesus is in our lives than who we are at church on Sunday or Bible Study on Thursday.

So often our reactions to frustrations are rooted in the flesh and we have a simple knee-jerk response.  Instead of stopping to pray and asking God’s Spirit to guide us, we just do what comes naturally, which isn’t usually the best plan.

There is no way to sustain being more like Jesus on our own strength.  We can’t just “try harder.”  The only way to do it is to abide in Him and let Him do the rest: “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

If we rely on our own wisdom instead of seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we are taking matters into our own hands and missing what God has for us.  “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.  This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”  Proverbs 3:7-8

Here are a few things that might impede the reality of Jesus in our lives:

Worry-

When worry swallows us up, we tend to become inwardly focused; we are unaware of the world around us and de-sensitized to the needs of others.  We are so consumed with our own issues that we can become self-absorbed without realizing it.   Maybe you have some regular topics that you worry about in your life: your kids, finances, health, relationships, overwhelming responsibilities.  If you want to experience the reality of Jesus in your life, try letting Him in on your worries and letting Him show you a new perspective.

“Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7.

“You will keep in perfect peace
 those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”  Isaiah 26:3

Challenging People-

Sometimes we encounter people who make it difficult for us to experience the reality of Jesus in our lives.  Rather than avoiding them or trying harder to deal with them on your own strength, try praying and asking God to give you the strength you need to love as He loves.  Pray that God will open your eyes to see the person in a new light and to have a better understanding of him or her.  Pray that God will use the challenge of being in relationship with that person to refine you.   The Bible has much to say about our response to people.  One passage that covers many topics concisely is Romans 12:9-21:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: `It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:

If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Challenging/ Uncomfortable Circumstances-

Lysa talks about “small tests” that we face that make it a challenge to live the reality of Jesus.  If you find yourself struggling “to stay godly when things in life go awry,” try asking God what He wants to teach you and how you can grow (p.69).  So often we’re focused on wanting God to “fix” something.  We want Him to do it the way we want and we miss out on what He is trying to teach us.  If we really believe that Romans 8:28 is true, then we need to ask God to show us the good in situations when we can’t find it on our own:

“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.”

Prayer

If you find yourself in a situation that needs an infusion of the reality of Jesus, try praying a simple one-line prayer.  Better yet, start your day praying and then be on the lookout for how God is at work.  Here are few suggestions for quick prayers:

“Renew my mind”

“God, I don’t have what I need for this situation, but you do.  Please fill in where I’m lacking.”

“Align my heart and will to yours.”

“Give me eyes to see this person or situation as you see it.”

“Pour out your Holy Spirit on me.  Help me to glorify you and bless others today.”

“Show me where you are at work and inviting me to join you today.”

An entry in Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling sums it up well.  Written as if Jesus were speaking directly to us, it says:

“When you are shaken out of your comfortable routines, grip My hand tightly and look for growth opportunities.  Instead of bemoaning the loss of your comfort, accept the challenge of something new.  I lead you on from glory to glory, making you fit for My kingdom.  Say yes to the ways I work in your life.  Trust Me and don’t be afraid.”  (April 15 entry)

Every day we face new challenges that give us opportunities to trust God and to see the reality of Jesus in our lives.  Imagine a shard of glass on the beach- it starts out sharp and dangerous. However, over time sand, water, rocks and even other pieces of glass buff it.  What was once jagged and menacing becomes rounded and smooth through a process of constant rubbing.  God can do the same thing in our lives when we  allow Him to use daily challenges that rub us the wrong way to teach us. Our rough edges will begin to smooth out as we let Jesus have His way with us.  Over time, others will recognize the reality of Him in our lives too.

Click on the link below to listen to “Live Like That” by Sidewalk Prophets.  It is an inspiring song about living the reality of Jesus in your life.


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Committing Our Calendars to God

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“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”  James 4:13-15

As a born planner, this has never been one of my favorite passages of Scripture.   I am alternately irritated and inspired by people who thoroughly live “in the moment.”  I like schedules and lists.  My mom can attest to the fact that once I started elementary school, I planned all my birthday parties.  The guest lists, invitations, games, favors and food were carefully selected months in advance.   Now that I am a mom, I jokingly refer to myself as “Julie the Cruise Director” because of all the planning I do for my boys.  (If you didn’t watch “The Love Boat” in the 70’s and 80’s, just ignore that example and read on).  When my older son was two or three, he would wake up, rub his eyes and say, “What do you have for me today, Mom?”  I hope eventually I can show God that same kind of trust daily.

The compulsion to plan sometimes arises out of fear or the need to control.  We think if we can plan something well enough, we can avoid what we fear.  Similarly, we think if we have control over something, we can avert mistakes or failures.  We have the illusion of control over our lives, but James reminds us that God is the only one with real control.  It’s not a sin to make plans, but it’s important to entrust them to God.  I’m learning to ask for His leading instead of telling Him to bless my unilateral decisions.  People often quote Jeremiah 29:11,  “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  However, my favorite part of this passage comes in verse 12:  “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  This requires time, patience and trust.

God has bigger and better plans than we do.  Beth Moore says it well in James: Mercy Triumphs:  “God is the one with the real plan….We have all sorts of plans jotted on our calendars pertaining to the next year, but they’re mostly based on theory.  His is the only day-timer based on certainty.  That’s one reason why spending time with God in His Word in the morning is so vital.  He wants to prepare us for the reality of our upcoming day.  Not our theory”  (p.152).   Abiding with Him closely is the best way I’ve found to surrender my plans and to let Him shape them.  Many mornings I come to Him fretting over something and leave feeling grounded and at peace.  That doesn’t necessarily mean He gives me a clear-cut answer, but He does change my perspective.  I don’t have to know the details of what the future holds because I know God will be with me, no matter what.

If you are not in the habit of spending time with God daily, let me encourage you to give it a try.  Pick a length of time that feels reasonable, but that will stretch you a bit too.  One day isn’t enough, 365 might be too ambitious.  Maybe it’s two weeks; maybe it’s the forty days of Lent (which starts on Feb. 13 this year).  Just pick an amount of time and commit to seeking God daily for the duration.

If you are not a morning person, pray and ask God to give you the self-discipline to get up earlier.  Plan ahead by turning off the TV or computer; close your book or iPad instead of staying up late.  That way you can wake up to be with God first thing in the morning.  Ask Him to help you make it a priority.  He honors our desires to spend time with Him and will enable you to follow through.  Starting your day with God puts you in the right frame of mind to face whatever comes your way.   It is even more important than your need for coffee or a hot shower in the morning.

Not sure how to start?  There is no “magic formula” so don’t worry.  Some people like the ritual of doing the same thing at the same time in the same place every day; others like to mix it up.  The good news is that God is there with you in it, no matter what you choose to do.  Here are a few ideas to try:

-Start by praying and asking God to reveal Himself to you and to show you what He wants you to learn

-Read a devotional to get your mind focused.  There are many to choose from; two of my favorites are Jesus Calling by Sarah Young or My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.

-Read the Bible; if you are involved in a study I think it is OK to incorporate your homework into this time as long as you are using it as a way to hear from God and not just trying to check it off your “to do” list.  If you’re not in a study, try reading the passages mentioned in the devotional so you can see their context.  Another idea is to choose a book of the Bible and to read through a small portion daily (start with something in the New Testament).

-Pray:  You can talk out loud, pray silently, write your prayers in a journal or put on Christian music and sing your prayers.  Consider mixing up your routine by getting up early some mornings and taking a walk while you pray; try listening to worship music on headphones and using it to prompt your prayers.  When you pray, start with praising God for who He is and thanking Him for what He’s done.  I used to think prayer was just asking Him to do what I wanted, but I’m learning that it’s more about aligning my heart to His.  Sometimes I intentionally don’t ask anything about specific situations and just spend time thanking or praising Him.

-Listen to music: throughout your day, try listening to music that focuses your thoughts on God and reminds you of His truth.  If you are not one who follows Christian music, listening to KLOVE at 107.3 FM or The Message on satellite radio are great places to start.

Most importantly, DO NOT beat yourself up if you miss a day!!  We have a God of grace and He is not keeping a record book logging the minutes of the time you spend with Him.  If you miss a few days, don’t give up!  Keep trying.   You will be blessed and God will be honored.

Post a comment and share what you’re learning about submitting your schedule to God!