It may sound strange, but for most of my life I didn’t know I had a heart. I knew I had a physical one. I could feel it beating. But I didn’t know many of my deep feelings, beliefs, and motives.

About thirteen years ago I began a journey in learning how to access my heart and discern what was going on down there. I discovered a messy world of conflicting thoughts and feelings. I thought I believed what I knew in my head, but I began to realize often this was not the case.

We all have a hidden heart that controls us more than we think. We carry into our relationship with God many lies and dependencies leftover from childhood. The world also molds us to live in wrong ways. These false dependencies and lies can still influence us. For example, we are taught to perform well so we can become important. We feel the need to be liked by certain people to be acceptable. We desire to impress to be liked and loved. As Christians, we should know these are lies. Yet, we often live as if they are true at the deep levels of our lives.

We feel confused because what we are believing conflicts with what God tells us in the Bible and what we know in our heads. He says we are important, even when we fail. He tells us we are adequate, even when we are rejected. And he reassures us we are loved, even when we don’t impress.

But because we often don’t examine ourselves, this unbelief is not detected and dealt with. Thus, with our words and actions we deceive ourselves into thinking we are living a transformed life of love and power, but in reality, we are still bogged down in the old ways.

How do we access our hearts to know what we believe and rely on?

One thing we need to do is to slow down daily to clear our minds and listen for the voice of God deep within. We can ask the Holy Spirit to “Search me, oh God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:23,24, NASB).

It is in being silent we may detect the thoughts and feeling we didn’t know we had. Our feelings are useful in discerning what we are relying on. If we feel fear, we are probably not believing God is protecting us. If we are feeling troubled, we may be heading in the wrong direction. If we feel depressed, we may have lost hope of deliverance from a painful situation.

It’s important to remember our feelings do not necessarily tell us what is true about life. But they can tell us a lot about ourselves. We may discover the reason we are fearful is we are relying too much on ourselves. However, the truth about life is God promises to enable us to endure and overcome the challenges. By discovering we are anxious, we can pray and be transformed as we shift our dependency off ourselves and onto God (Philippians 4:5-6).

May we not run from our hearts, but learn to access and know what is in them. This can be the first step in becoming more like Jesus. Let’s remember the condition of our hearts is what measures our spiritual maturity, not what we know.

 

Billy Graham once said having a daily Quiet Time was his most important spiritual discipline. It’s mine too. I know how helpful it has been to stabilize my walk and focus my attention on God’s ways.

However, in my early Christian years I put more emphasis on having a devotional time than was healthy. I almost lost my relationship with my future wife when I blurted out to her “I don’t see how anyone could walk with God and not have a daily Quiet Time” in response to her confessed struggle over practicing the discipline.

Over the years, this time has grown to be the highlight of my day. I enjoy it as I spend time in his presence.

Why should we have a daily Quiet Time?

Spending time with God in this way is similar to when Mary sat at Jesus feet and listened to him (Luke 10:38-42). Jesus commended her for doing this and warned Martha her busyness was distracting her from listening to what he had to say.

Being with Jesus in a devotional time allows us to receive from him guidance, encouragement and insight into the perplexing challenges we face. We also grow in our friendship and confidence in his willingness and ability to help us through the thorny issues we often face.

We are also better able to see life from his perspective and grow wiser.

We not only get to know God better, but also ourselves as he reveals our hearts. He grows us as we make the effort to be available to him in this way.

Practicing this discipline is a way to show God we put him first. We don’t try to change the world in our own fortitude alone, but wait for him to give us the strength.

So, how do we connect to God in a daily Quiet Time?

For me, an early morning time works best. It helps start my day off with God’s perspective. If you’re not a morning person, another time of the day may be better.

Remember to be flexible and open to God’s leading in what to do. Focus on the Word and prayer. It’s not a religious duty. It is a living, breathing time with God. He is a real Person who may guide us through our thoughts, the Word or in some other way to do something different than we had planned.

In recent years, I have often begun the time with asking him to reveal my heart. Often, he uses my feelings to help me identify my heart beliefs. “Search me, oh God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:22-23, NASB).

Once revealed, ask God for help in living his truth, for we can’t live the Christian life without his Spirit working (John 15:5).

The Quiet Time is a container in which we can practice a number of other spiritual disciplines such as:

  • Meditate and apply a passage of Scripture (Joshua 1:8)
  • Pray the Scriptures and making personal requests based on the Scriptures
  • Pray for others
  • Pray for ourselves
  • Read and apply a devotional
  • Listen for God’s voice in silence

Stay in your capacity to spend time with God. Start small and as your capacity grows, spend more time with him. There is nothing magical in a devotional time. But it needs to be supernatural. If he doesn’t reveal and work, nothing happens.

May we remember God has created us to have an intimate, love relationship with him. A daily devotional time can help this relationship develop. We are his children. From this reality, we are to serve others that they may experience the peace and joy of walking with our Father.

 

 

My family and society trained me to perform my way into receiving their approval. Just being me was not good enough. I had to please and impress to receive what I wanted from others. This led to me being hard on myself and often demanding more than I could deliver.

These beliefs were then brought into my relationship with God. I believed God was demanding too. My focus became doing the right things and not on being the right person. I also tended to think knowing the Bible was the same as living the Bible. But it wasn’t. Much of what I knew had little impact on my heart.

But our hearts are what God is most interested in. He says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). We can do right but for improper reasons. Our doing will be pleasing to God if our hearts are healthy. “First, wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too” Jesus tells us in Matthew 23:26.

A friend with significant financial problems has been recently serving our church in several capacities. At first church leadership was suspicious of the person’s motives. They thought the person may be doing the ministries to receive help from the church. But after several weeks of witnessing this persons’ behavior, the church concluded their behavior flowed from a healthy heart. They rewarded this person by loaning them a car.

Many of us believe we need to please and impress God in order to receive his approval and love. We don’t see them as gifts but as something to be earned. But he desires us to rely on his grace. We need to pay attention to what we depend on deep within to feel good about ourselves. Does it take a promotion, impressing the people at church, and being the best golfer in the foursome to regard ourselves as important? Or can we accept God’s gift of importance and be whatever he wants?

God desires us to be real with him. He wants us to know the truth about ourselves and to share it with him. “He desires truth in the innermost being and in the hidden part he will make me know wisdom” (Psalm 51:6).

He desires our love. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. We can only do this when we receive his gift of being loved with no strings attached. Then he wants us to love others in the same way. God tells us we “love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:9). This means treating people with patience, kindness, and always with their best interests at heart (1 Corinthians 13).

We also have to face the humbling truth we can’t do great things for God without him. He hopes we will depend on him. This week our church revealed a God-size vision for what he plans to do through our church. I was excited but puzzled about how insane these plans were and wondered what impossible things he planned to do through me?

God does not want us to turn away from what he asks of us. Instead, he wants us to rely on “”I am the LORD, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27). He hopes we will go beyond our human limitations and be bold enough to trust him for the impossible as he leads.

What does God want from us? He desires our hearts, love, honesty and dependence. May we keep these in focus as we fight the battles of everyday life.

 

 

 

 

 

When I was around twenty years old, I began searching for a purpose in life. I wasn’t satisfied with the reason handed me by my family and society. This purpose was to make a good living, get married, raise three kids, do some good in the community and die.  I was not excited.

Therefore, I searched for meaning for six long years. I sought career success, marriage, fun, popularity, and advanced education. Even though I did attain some success, I still wasn’t satisfied with a compelling reason for being alive. I felt frustrated! Maybe I was chasing fantasies and there was no satisfying reason for my existence?

Then, at twenty-six, I was challenged to consider finding purpose in a relationship with God. I got excited about being involved in a giant rescue mission to help people find meaning in life through following Jesus. Therefore, I gladly accepted the challenge of becoming his disciple. I have never regretted this decision. Living for God’s will has brought me purpose for the past forty-six years.

But living for God is vague and we need the details of how it looks in everyday life. For example, I am entering a new stage where I need a fresh vision. I sense I am drifting a bit and not clearly focused on specific goals God wants to do through me. To help me clarify my purpose, I am reading and applying Andy Stanley’s book Visioning.

I feel sad many of us live much of our lives without a satisfying reason to live. This is what happened to the wisest man who ever lived. Solomon had this to say about life, “It is all meaningless—like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14) After pursuing every activity imaginable, he had this to say about purpose, “Fear God and obey his commandments, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, whether good or bad” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Only when he connected his busyness to God’s purposes did he find meaning. Solomon was wise but did not practice wisdom for much of his life.

But how do we find God’s purposes for our lives?

First, we need to realize God had reasons for creating us. He says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NAS).

As we journey with God through life, he reveals step-by-step what these works are. My works several years ago included working for the County to support my family, being a godly husband, raising my kids to be what God wanted them to be, and serving the church as an elder. Today, except for being a godly husband, all the works have changed.

We need to be careful to not pursue activities just because they feel good or others are impressed. When we don’t receive positive feedback, we can be deceived into thinking we don’t have much purpose.

I have struggled with this in recent years. The works God has given me have not given the feedback from others and myself for me to feel consistently important, loved, and safe. I have trusted more in this feedback than in what God thinks, which is “You are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you” Isaiah 43:4).

Four years ago, I came close to dying from an aortic aneurism. But I didn’t die. In a vision, God told me why. He said, “You didn’t die because I am not through working in you and through you.” Wow! I am important.

As long as we are alive we have a purpose to God for being here. We just need to discover what it is and live it out. May we choose to follow him as he leads us to finish his purposes.

If you are like me, you have spent little time thinking about heaven. There is so much living to do. So many responsibilities and so many tasks to do down here.

Our churches cooperate with this by seldom teaching about it. One of the reasons is most pastors don’t think of heaven much. They frequently receive little teaching from seminaries regarding heaven. Thus, pastors and Christians often have low expectations about heaven. One pastor even said he dreaded going there because it was going to be boring.

Therefore, many of us set our hopes on getting a raise, getting a new house, or accomplishing more at church to gain recognition. This disobeys God’s command to “set our minds on the things above, not the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2, NAS). God wants us to look forward to heaven. He says to us, “Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world” (1 Peter 1:13, NLT).

But why?

One thing is so we have the strength to face the daily battles with bills, raising kids, and all the other problems. Paul encourages us with “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18). We can also be encouraged that these sufferings are producing rewards which God would not have given us without the sufferings (2 Corinthians 4:17).

God knows heaven is great and he wants us to anticipate it with eagerness. He says “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9, NLT).

Then, how can we look forward to something we have never imagined or experienced? By relying on the Holy Spirit to use our imaginations. May we remember some of our most enjoyable and experiences and imagine what heaven would be like if it were much better.

For me, I imagined what a day in heaven would look like. It would include living in a castle in the country, much like the flyover scenery from the beginning of the Sound of Music. I would be living with a family of many loving brothers and sisters. It would be a bright autumn day with Jesus coming over in the afternoon to go fishing with me. We planned to fish in a lake on the castle property which was full of large fish. Jesus and I planned to catch enough fish for a fish fry in the evening in which the castle family would be there. Afterwards, Jesus would hold a strategy meeting for those interested in developing a plan to reach worlds unknown for his purposes.

Will heaven be just like this for me. No. It will be much more exciting and exhilarating. But this exercise has helped me to become more excited about going there. I am sure many of you can imagine a day even more joyous and pleasurable for you, for he has promised that in his presence “is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11, NAS).

God wants us to look forward to heaven because it’s much better than here. In spite of our earthly families, friends, and achievements, the benefits of heaven are much better by far according to Paul (2 Corinthian 5:8). And he should know. He had been there before he wrote about it.

Why wait until this life has little to offer before we start thinking about heaven? Let’s get excited now about where we are going so we can better endure the challenges of this one and be prepared for the next one. May we learn to set our hopes on fully-experiencing the benefits of heaven, which will be even better than whatever we can imagine down here.

Face the Pain

I am beginning to realize how I have been running from a truth for several years now. The truth is that I am mortal. This means someday I will die. I know it sounds morbid, but it’s a truth we will all have to face one day. Yet, I haven’t fully-faced this painful reality. Despite three major surgeries in the last four years, I have continued to ignore the obvious.

It seems like God wanted me to face this pain when I almost died four years ago from an aneurism which nearly burst. But emergency surgery saved me. However, the doctors found extensive artery disease requiring six bypasses to fix the problem.

When I recovered from the surgery, I believed I was good for another twenty years. No. It seems the next year they discovered another aneurism requiring immediate surgery.  After the surgery, I put it behind me again and thought I didn’t need to face my mortality for another twenty years. No. A follow-up exam two years later found a new fast-growing aneurism, which also required immediate surgery.

Because I had not fully-faced the pain of my mortality, I have viewed doctors, tests, results and surgeries as enemies of my soul. They mess with the lie I will never die. This put me under a lot of stress. However, by accepting my mortality, I am beginning to see them as friends. They are my partners in postponing the painful reality as long as possible.

We all have painful things we avoid facing. This could be a difficult childhood, a failed marriage, bad health, or a major mistake we have made.

We must reach the point where the pain to avoid facing it is greater than the pain to confront it. God will need to bring us to this point.

In facing our pain, we need to ask God to help us be honest and depend on him to reveal the truth to us. We then need to ruthlessly turn away from the lies we are still clinging to regarding the situation. We need to rely on him to give us the guidance and strength to press on toward healing. Like me, we need to see how running from our pain is hurting our ability to live a joyful and powerful life today.

Two things which are helpful in this healing process are to talk and listen to God through praying the Scriptures and to seek out quality counselors.  Some of my richest times of gaining strength have been in praying the psalms. In those times, I both meditate and pray the requests in the psalms. I often digress and have a conversation with God about how the verse applies to my situation.

Counselors, both professionals and spiritually mature friends, can help us sort out the tangled confusion of our thoughts and feelings. One of my favorite verses is, “Victory is won through many advisors” (Proverbs 11:14, NIV).

So, what are you running from? Ask God to help you know. Ask him for the courage to face whatever it is. Be encouraged! God is relentless and loves us so much he will never give up helping us face our pain and transforming us to be like Jesus.

 

 

 

Balancing Life

The last three months having been particularly difficult for me. I had some health challenges including surgery and a major ministry commitment which added a hundred hours to my schedule in three weeks.

My system was thrown out of balance. I felt anxious and struggled with depression. Pain and fatigue were evident as well. I was so tired that I chose to stay home and rest rather than go with my wife to visit her relatives.

During the week she was gone, I reread the book Anxiety and Stress by Archibald Hart. I realized I needed more balanced.  Life was more than producing and impressing. I needed to beef up my exercise, friendships, relaxation, and rest to have the power to overcome the challenges ahead.

But what else could I do to be more balanced?

I reflected on what happened to me thirty years ago in which the challenges had worn me down. Job pressures, moving, and mid-life issues had exhausted me physically and emotionally. Over a three-year period, I learned how to slow down and add to my physical and emotional resources. This included giving myself permission to rest as needed, Sabbath rest on Sundays, recreational activities, and intentional relaxation. I have continued to practice many of these habits for the past thirty years. For the most part, they have helped me to have the strength to meet the challenges.

Recalling this journey over thirty years ago gave me hope God and I could restore my strength again to confidently face the challenges ahead. I am convinced nothing less than an all-out commitment to greater balance will be sufficient. God doesn’t seem to be lowering my challenges to fit my resources. Instead, he is challenging me to raise my strength to match his increased challenges.

As God and I developed an approach to a more balanced life, I was able to use the approach from thirty years ago as a starting point. This time the balanced approach had nine categories of activities.

Balance was the key. The elements of my recovery plan included counseling, spiritual growth, recreation, relaxation, nurturing social relationships, medical, and exercise. Also, it’s important to give out to others for all get and no give is not healthy for our souls. I know it will work because it has in the past and God has led in developing this one. He has been helping me implement it with good results so far.

Each day I seek the Lord on what I need to put into my schedule to sow good seed to reap a harvest of emotional and physical strength. I try to do at least one thing in each category as God leads. For example, one day I chose to do activities that were recreational, counseling (through book reading), exercise, social, rest, personal (like journaling) and spiritual. What I do is a day-to-day thing as God leads. I also do other things too, like ministry and chores around the house.

So, let’s not be victims of our circumstances. God has promised us the ability to face and overcome future challenges. Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NASB). This means facing with power whatever happens. Our job is to follow God and be responsive to leading the balanced life we need to be able to face the future with joy, peace, and love.