Gazing Upon God

How can we gaze upon God when we can’t see him? He is invisible. No one can see him and live he tells us. Yet he wants to reveal himself through the eyes of our faith. We see him through the Word, nature, circumstances and in many other ways. But he also can reveal himself through our contemplation. What’s that?

I recently read a book entitled Embracing Contemplation – Reclaiming A Christian Spiritual Practice. Many of my thoughts that follow are based upon this book.

Biblical contemplation is gazing on the face of God as he reveals himself through the Spirit. “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (27:4, NIV).

We depend on him to reveal himself. We don’t conjure up the presence of God and dictate what we see. Instead, we expect to receive an experience of his presence as he chooses.

This makes my “skin crawl” even as I write this. I am a conservative evangelical and have been trained to cling to the Word and mediation to insure purity of experience of God. In practicing contemplation, we depend on God to show himself to us as a direct experience through the Spirit, not indirectly through nature, circumstances, and people’s lives.

We trust God to use the Word to reveal himself in a deep way to our hearts. It’s one thing to know God loves us; it’s another to experience it. “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully” (Ephesians 3:18-19, NLT). God uses his Word and our minds to reveal to our hearts how much he loves us.

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Why mess with biblical contemplation? After all, it can be risky. It’s subjective. It requires depending on the Spirit to reveal God. But don’t we depend on the Spirit to interpret Scripture – if not we run the risk of legalism – taking it literally but missing the spiritual truth?

Biblical contemplation helps us avoid a dull, lifeless spirituality that’s practices at the thinking and behavioral level and misses the heart. We can learn to embrace the Christian life as an experience of God and not just knowledge about God. “So, all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NLT).

We can’t make it happen. We depend on God to reveal himself. Our job is to prepare our hearts to receive what he wants to show and tell us. It can involve meditating on Scripture but goes beyond just thinking about God, but also communing with him.

I have been practicing contemplation lately to request him to reveal a happy memory. I then ask him where he was in the scene and if he wants to say anything to me from the scene. I often ask him to keep me from forcing an image or putting words in his mouth. I then wait, but usually not long for an image or his words. All this serves to build an experiential relationship with him of trust and love.

We do need to pray and concentrate on what he wants to reveal and expect he will.

May we learn to experience the love of Christ in a deeper way through the Christian practice of contemplation, so we “will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:19, NLT).

 

 

God is always with us, but mostly we live as if he weren’t. Jacob wrestled with him all night and didn’t realize he was wrestling with God. “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16, NAS) Jacob later said. How often do we fail to realize God is in our circumstances, although he controls them all?

Many days I fail to see God in most of my circumstances. I seem go through a day as if I were on my own again, making life work through my wits and wisdom. I feel good about the pleasant things and complain regarding the painful ones.

God expects us not to fear because we always have him with us to protect and help us through every painful and scary circumstance. “Do not fear, I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10, NAS) he says to us.

And yet I fear – why? Because I am more aware of the overwhelming circumstances which I believe I am going to face alone than his promise to help, strengthen and uphold me in them. The challenge is to believe what God promises, not what my sinful nature is screaming at me. May we grow in obeying the commandment to put to death the screaming of our old nature by depending on the Spirit, and listen to the quiet comforting from Jesus that we are safe (Ephesians 4:22-23).

His presence shows up in little ways – in the eyes of a child, in the plea for help from someone needy, in the life of a godly person, as well as in the life of Jesus. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, NAS).

So how do we become more aware of Jesus throughout the day and depend on his presence?

First, we need to accept the fact he is sovereign. Nothing happens to us that he hasn’t ordained or allowed. “The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything” (Psalm 103:19).

We need to look for him in our circumstances – not necessarily understanding why, but accepting the fact our circumstances have his approval.

We can find Jesus in the Bible as the Holy Spirit takes the Word and applies it to our hearts – not just knowing the truth but experiencing it at the trust and feeling level as we rely on him.

We can find Jesus in books. A couple of years ago I sought God for what role he wanted me to have in furthering spiritual formation in our church. After reading a book called Visioning by Andy Stanley and taking some tests from the book, I understood it was not God’s will for me to lead the charge but to support the one who did have that responsibility.

And we can become aware of his presence in what he has made. We just returned from a vacation in Portland, Oregon, where we stayed on the edge of a forest filled with redwood trees, squirrels, birds and vegetation covering the steep slopes. I felt God’s presence and peace there.

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May we learn to become aware and experience his presence in all areas of our lives as we walk with him through a difficult and sometimes scary journey.

I have found contentment to be illusive. “The glass seems to always be half-empty” for me. I never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but I always seem to want better or more.

When I was getting promoted quickly in the Air Force, I noticed my fantasies for the future kept becoming more grandiose. I am embarrassed to say that they eventually reached imagining being President of the United States.

As I view my life from a more mature perspective, I am finding greater chunks of my life where I do feel satisfied. My wife, family, income and home are where I feel most pleased. Other areas are a work in progress.

So, what does it look like to be content?

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The dictionary says it is being satisfied, pleased, happy, and fulfilled.

So, what keeps us from being satisfied?

The Bible says none of us will be content in the long-run. “Human desire is never satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20 (NLT).

That sounds pretty grim.

“Won’t I be satisfied by the next promotion, car, or success of my kid?” we ask ourselves. Well, no.

John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil.  He was at one point the world’s richest man and first ever American billionaire.  Considering he was a billionaire in the early 1900’s he is still considered the richest person in modern history.  When a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?” He responded, “Just a little bit more.”

Saint Augustine prayed “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

But we don’t rest in God. We depend on ourselves and pursue riches at the expense of higher priorities, like our relationship with God and our families.These riches include power, reputation, and pleasure.

But God says, “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these; Those who want to be rich, however, fall into temptation and become ensnared by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:6-8, NLT).

So, how do we become content?

The Bible says we can’t in a deep way. Only temporarily.

Paul shared the secret of being satisfied when he said:

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength (Philippians 4:12-13, NLT).

So, contentment is supernatural. It’s not a human achievement. It requires God’s help.

If you are content with your standard of living, are you satisfied with your importance? How about feeling loved? Do you regard yourself as an acceptable person and are gentle with your weaknesses?

Learning to rely and experience how God thinks and feels about us gives us the experience of being important, loved and acceptable. “You are precious, you are honored, and I love you” he says to us in Isaiah 43:4. Trusting in his view of us keeps us from searching for significance in riches, power, and influence – which will never satisfy.

May we turn to God to be fulfilled. Only he can give us the wisdom and power to learn to rest in our identity in Christ – and find the contentment that eludes us.

 

 

 

I wasn’t interested in discovering who I was growing up. I was more focused on figuring out who I needed to be to feel safe, respected, and loved by others. I knew being myself did not guarantee these needs would be met. So, I denied parts of me which were not approved of by others, such as weakness, and pretended to be the person who would be respected and approved of.

At twenty, I realized I tried to please others too much rather than myself. Who was I? What were my likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and priorities and values? I needed to know the real me so I could make wise decisions. I began to search for who I really was.

A few years later I received a new me when I became a Christian. The Bible describes this new self as follows: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But the old life still had influence and hindered me from experiencing the new person. I was a new person but the condition of my heart still reflected the sin of the old me. This condition is described in Romans 7:25 as, “So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

We are people who have been given a new life. A life which is becoming like Jesus in what we trust, what we do and how we feel. We are unique expressions of his life filtered through our personalities, experiences, strengths and weaknesses.

When people challenge us to be real, we can tell them we are children of God who are being transformed into being like Jesus. Being real includes sharing where we are at in living out this new person.

So, how do we discover if we are living in the new self or stuck in our old habits and thoughts? One useful exercise is to discover how we feel about the various issues in our lives. This is not easy for some of us because we are skilled at repressing our emotions. But with perseverance, we can learn to experience them better.

Feelings are closely tied to our hearts. And our hearts are the focus of God’s work for it drives our whole lives (Proverbs 4:23). If we experience fear, maybe we aren’t trusting in God’s love and care. If anger, perhaps someone is blocking our goal for respect. If we feel sad, we may be looking at the negative side of an issue too much.

The feelings are warning lights to consult the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what is going on. I pray nearly every day, “Search me, Oh God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there is any hurtful way in me and lead me in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:23-24). Because of the constant conflict between my new heart and the old, there is a lot of confusion in my soul. The Holy Spirit brings clarity and what I need to do to walk in the new life.

So, let’s be real – with God, ourselves and others. To be real, we need to maintain the perspective that we have been bestowed new selves that have great dignity, acceptance and love. Yet, our old selves which are selfish, proud, and rebellious still drag us down. We need to work with God to put to death this influence so we may experience the joy, peace and love of the new life (Romans 6:6). To be real, we also need to be honest about where God is in transforming us into our new identity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on Psalm 34

Many people think of me as brave. They think of me as a warrior and fearless. They may not know that my courage comes from relying on God and his faithful help.

I know it’s hard to turn our fears over to God. We think we know what is best. But God continues putting me in situations that perplex and scare me, making me realize how frail and needy I am.

When I keep my eyes on God, I realize what a great, good God he is. He can do anything and he loves me so much he helps me with all of my problems. When I trust in him, I become less fearful and more courageous.

But sometimes my focus is on the “worst-case scenarios” and I become overwhelmed with anxiety– like when Saul was trying to kill me and I was running for my life. My focus on God became blurred by a blizzard of fears.

When I cry out for help, he rescues me from danger, real or imagined, and enables me to thrive. Yet, I often don’t pray until I’m desperate – until my back is against the wall. But he is faithful to answer my prayers anyway. May I remember to give him credit for his rescues and not chock them up to good luck.

I encourage you to give your fears to him and discover how good he is. Let’s take refuge in him and we will experience radiant joy and blessings.

We all want a long life filled with satisfying things. Listen to me and I will tell you how we get it – by being truthful and doing good in God’s eyes, especially in showing love to others. God chose me to be the future king because I was a man after his own heart and did good.

God watches over us- which we realize when we keep our eyes on him. The Lord stands ready to help us in all the seasons of our lives, if we only continue to reach out to him. Sometimes I feel lazy and don’t want to put the effort in to trust him. And I suffer for it by being more afraid.

I have faced many troubles in my life so far. Yet, God has richly blessed me as I have looked to him instead of my circumstances for deliverance. I was able to overcome the strength of a lion and a bear in protecting my sheep. I successfully fought Goliath by focusing on God’s worthiness and power, not my dangerous circumstances. And God enabled me to do the impossible.

May we learn to look to God for our protection and help and not to good circumstances. He will reliably rescue us from being crushed. Let’s take refuge in God for he will help us through all our troubles.

 

 

Because of artery disease, I have to undergo yearly tests to make sure another aneurysm or other problem hasn’t developed. This year, a screening test showed there was bleeding from around a stent.

The doctor wanted to take a closer look to determine why there was bleeding. So, he ordered a more accurate test and wanted it done urgently. During the wait for the test and results, I entertained a number of “worst case scenarios” of what would need to be done.  These included “it couldn’t be fixed” to major surgery.

I tried to keep my focus and trust in God’s goodness and help, but tended to rely on a good outcome. As the day approached to receive the test results, I felt increasing fear and depression. I knew God could heal me, but would he?

My thoughts were riveted on getting bad outcomes.  The night before the appointment the doctor called and said he had the test results – and there was no bleeding. There was nothing wrong!

I was elated and knew God had healed me. Why was it so hard to trust God to be willing and able to work this miracle?

When we fail to consistently keep our eyes on God during threatening circumstances, we often experience fear and depression. Peter was able to walk on water when he kept his eyes on Jesus – but when he stared at the wind and choppy water, he started to sink. God manifests his reality and power to us as we look to him for support.

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By focusing on Jesus, we remember we aren’t facing life alone. Our confidence becomes his presence and not good circumstances. He will always be with us – but good circumstances come and go.

David was able to kill Goliath because he focused on God’s power and faithfulness. He saw life as it really is – under the complete control of God. He was not fixated on dangerous circumstances, but on God’s help – and he did the impossible.

So, how do we keep our focus on God and not become victims of our circumstances?

We can’t by ourselves. But we can “do all things through him who strengthens us” (Philippians 4:13). With God’s help, we can put our trust in God’s control of our circumstances and help in going through them. Otherwise, we will become dependent on the uncertainty of good circumstances – a sure way to feel anxious.

Another action to keep our focus on God is to control what we see and listen to. We are bombarded with the things of the world through TV, newspapers, conversations, our worldly thinking, and social media. But God wants us to set our minds on the things above (Colossians 3:2) – things like God controls our circumstances, loves us, and always works whatever happens for our good. We limit the input of the world and think about whatever is good, acceptable and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).

It helps to recognize how difficult it is to “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24) and to focus on God. We have many thinking habits and dependences leftover from our old life that drive us to depend on muscling our way through life. We resist depending on a supernatural God. I wanted to give glory to my body for the good test results. However, I knew my body had failed but God was the strength of my body and healed me.

We must work hard to change what we rely on. If we don’t, we will continue to be tossed to and fro by our circumstances. God says, “Be diligent to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11) – this rest sees God in all things and frees us from being controlled by scary circumstances. Where is your focus?

Waiting Patiently

Waiting is hard. Lately it seems God has me waiting for a number of things – the start of a new ministry, lab test results, an article being published, and growth in a couple of faith areas. I’m doing my part to cooperate with him, but I’m challenged to wait patiently for him to do his.

Recently, I had grown discouraged about the lack of results from my writing. Few were reading my blog, I had stopped receiving writing assignments from my church, and my book hadn’t sold in months.

So, I sought the Lord to determine if this was his way of telling me to give up writing, at least for a while. Through my desires, wise counsel, peace, and the Bible he said, “Wait patiently.”

But I didn’t have to wait long for some encouraging results. The next day, I was notified one of my devotionals written a year ago would be published  in an international magazine reaching nine million readers.

Why did he make me wait an extra day to receive the good news? Why didn’t he give me this encouragement the previous day to guide my decision to continue writing? My insight is he wanted me to persevere and do his will despite the lack of positive feedback. He regarded my obedience as more important than being successful.

One problem we often have is we believe our plan is better than God’s. When circumstances fail to meet our desires, we conclude we are getting second-best. But we’re not (John 10:10).

God has reasons why he makes us wait.

It could be we aren’t ready for the responsibility. Another possibility is others who are involved aren’t prepared yet to do their part.

The wait could be a future “no” we aren’t ready to accept now.

We often don’t know why he makes us wait. But God is in control and it’s from him. “Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen” (Job 37:13).This reality helps me to be patient with him, others, and myself.

We can probably recall times when we didn’t wait for God and suffered for it. In a couple of instances, I wanted a promotion so bad I wasn’t cautious and accepted the job, which became overwhelming. If only I had been willing to check the job requirements more carefully.

Learning to rest in who God made us to be can help us feel at peace even while waiting. Experiencing the benefits of our new identity as a Christian means we feel safe, respected, loved, and accepted, even when we aren’t getting what we want. We often are fooled into thinking our deepest needs are met when we get what we want, instead of by following God’s “good, acceptable and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

When we hit brick walls and are forced to pause, we have an opportunity to seek God for direction. He may want us to check our motives. “Search me, O God and know my heart; … and see if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23, 24). Or, maybe he is waiting for us to take some action before he opens the door.

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Timing is important to God. What we want may be God’s future will, but not now. He is good and faithful. May we learn to “Humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6) and wait patiently for him to act.