What is your focus today?

Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once – art, music, social science, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on.  And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the “good” hiding the “best” even more effectually than it could be hidden by downright frivolity with its smothered heart-ache at its own emptiness.

It is easy to find out whether our lives are focused, and if so, where the focus lies.  Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning?  Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day?  Does this test not give the clue?  Then dare to have it out with God – and after all, that is the shortest way.  Dare to lay bare your whole life and being before Him, and ask Him to show you whether or not all is focussed on Christ and His glory. Dare to face the fact that unfocussed good and useful as it may seem, it will prove to have failed of its purpose.*–excerpts from “Focussed” by I. Lilias Trotter

Distractions abound these days, even more so than in Lilias Trotter’s time–home, school, family, friends, work, church functions and ministries, books, magazines, and newspapers, music, movies, and television, phones, tablets, and computers, and so forth.

How hard it is in this busy world with all of its noise and news and amusements to stop and sit at the feet of Jesus, to be still and know that He is God, to quiet your heart and mind so that you might hear His voice.

A favorite hymn from my childhood, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, was written when the author, Helen H. Lemmel, read this pamphlet by Lilias Trotter.  The chorus of this hymn is a reminder of how we can learn to focus on the eternal things:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

I pray that you would turn your eyes upon Jesus today and that, as you gaze upon Him and His grace and glory, you would choose the best things, not merely the good.

*To read the entire pamphlet, Focussed, go here.

Affirming my choice in thousands of ways

Daffodils April 3 2014

To be “saved” requires a severance from the former life as clean and sharp as though made by a knife. There must be a wall of separation between the old life and the new, a radical break. That means death—death to the old life, in order for the new to begin. “We know that the man we once were has been crucified with Christ, for the destruction of the sinful self, so that we may no longer be the slaves of sin, since a dead man is no longer answerable for his sin” (Romans 6:6-7 NEB).

This wall of separation, this barrier, is the cross.

From earliest memory I understood that everybody ought to love Jesus. Then I began to hear that everybody ought to “receive the Lord Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior.” To the best of my understanding that is what I wanted to do, so I did it—I asked Him to come into my heart, as I was instructed to do. It was a once-for-all decision, and I believe He accepted the invitation and came in. So far so good. I was told that I was now “saved,” saved by grace. That was a gift, a free gift, from God. Amazing. Simply amazing that the Lord of the Universe, the One who is “the ruler over all authorities and the supreme head over all powers” (Colossians 2:10, JBP), “the blessed controller of all things, the king over all kings and the master of all masters, the only source of immortality, the One who lives in unapproachable light, the One whom no mortal eye has ever seen or ever can see” (1 Timothy 6:15-16, JBP)—amazing that the same One bends His ear to the prayer of a child or of a sinner of any age and, if asked, comes in and makes His home with us. For His name is Immanuel, God with us.

How shall He be at home with us unless our lives are in harmony with His holy life? Unless He lives His very life in us and we live our lives “in company with Him’? Salvation means rescue from the pit of destruction, from the miry clay of ourselves.

So my decision to receive Him, although made only once, I must affirm in thousands of ways, through thousands of choices, for the rest of my life—my will or His, my life (the old one) or His (the new one). It is no to myself and yes to Him. This continual affirmation is usually made in small things, inconveniences, unselfish giving up of preferences, yielding gracefully to the wishes of others without playing the martyr, learning to close doors quietly and turn the volume down on the music we’d love to play loudly—sufferings they may be, but only small-sized ones. We may think of them as little “deaths.” –pp. 26-27 A Path through Suffering by Elisabeth Elliot

I am re-reading A Path through Suffering for the fourth or fifth time and was struck by this passage in light of our sermon yesterday about Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial.  Our pastor pointed out that the reality of many of us is that we often follow Jesus at a distance just as Peter followed Jesus and His accusers at a distance in Matthew 26:35 before denying that he knew Him.

It seems to me that the only way to be close to Jesus, to walk beside Him rather than follow at a distance is found in this passage from Elisabeth Elliot’s book.  The turning away from my own selfishness and fear and preferences and the turning towards Christ in humility and trust and desire for righteousness.

Advent 2015 – December 1

“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.
“Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God. – Isaiah 40:1-3

Advent is a time for preparation, a time to reflect on the meaning of the child in the manger, a time to stop and think about how the God of the Universe gave up His glory for a time and came down to Earth. I hope to spend a few moments each day this December, meditating on Christ’s love for us at Christmas and preparing my heart and my spirit to receive all of the gifts He has to share with those of us who are His children.

Instead of merely joining the frenzy of shopping and baking and wrapping and parties, why don’t you take a minute to think about the glorious truth that Jesus, the Son of God, came down from Heaven to Earth to be our Emmanuel, God with us, to be the best possible gift God had to give us—Himself.

Blogs I follow

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I have a variety of interests and therefore tend to read books of many genres and follow several blogs that touch on different topics. Some of the blogs I have been following for years and some I have just recently discovered.

I thought that I would share some of these precious little islands of blessing in the vast sea that is the internet. I’m going to start with one that I just recently found and subscribed to because the author is writing a new post for each day of October. Every single one has spoken to my heart and soul and I wanted to share her wise words with you all:

The posts that have most resonated with me this past week are here and here.

The first one on solitude was especially timely as I have been listening to A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in which she talks about the importance of finding an hour a day of solitude and silence in order to maintain the wholeness that is so difficult to find in the midst of the many, many requests for our time and energy each day.

“Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves.”

“I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.”

“With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.”

I have personally found that without at least a few minutes of contemplative time for prayer, reading, and thinking, my mind and heart can easily crumble in the onslaught of the mass of “to do’s” and “oughts” each day. However, when I take that hour or even fifteen minutes to stop, to think, to pray for strength and wisdom, then am I able to meet the onslaught with grace, knowing that my Good Shepherd is leading and will supply my every need in the midst of life’s demands.

Let me encourage you to carve out a few moments of solitude today to think, to pray, to read Scripture, to life your heart in thanksgiving for all of the blessings in your life. Even if the only solitude you can get is the three minutes in the bathroom while the baby and toddler are in the playpen (I remember those days!) it will be worth it, I promise you.

Linda also had posts on Scripture reading plans and journaling, which were thought-provoking and wise. I hope she speaks to your heart as she has to mine.

Counting my blessings

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One of the ways I have learned to feel the contentment I talked about the other day is to count my blessings.  No matter how difficult my circumstances have been, I can usually find at least one thing that warms my day.  I call them simple pleasures, and if you begin to look for them, you will find that your life is full of them.  You only need to develop the habit of noticing.

I would also sing the hymn Count Your Blessings as a way to remind myself to be thankful and content:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

—Johnson Oatman, Jr.

Today’s blessings are a cup of pistachio almond tea, a batch of homemade applesauce, loaves of oatmeal bread rising in the oven, a new Charles Todd mystery to read, and a rainy Saturday afternoon in which to enjoy them. 

What are your simple pleasures and blessings today?

A definition of contentment

 

I have been listening to Gateway to Joy with Elisabeth Elliot over the past few weeks over at BBN Radio.  When they did a repeat of last week’s episodes, I thought I’d poke around for another place to listen and happened upon a treasure trove of talks by Mrs. Elliot on YouTube.

Elisabeth Elliot is one of the women who has most influenced me in my walk with Christ.  Ever since I discovered her books in college, I have spent many hours reading her work, praying through her excellent counsel, listening to her talks in person and in recordings, and being continually challenged to give my all for Jesus Christ.

Who is Your Master? was a convicting way to start my day.  I especially loved her definition of contentment, so much so that I copied it into my planner as a reminder for the rest of my day:

Contentment does not lie in despising what you don’t have; contentment lies in gratitude for what you do have.  And contentment lies in receiving these things as gifts from God, knowing that, if they are gifts, the One who gave them can also take them away…We can hold these things, as it were, on an open palm, ‘Here, Lord, thank You, and any time You want to take them away, they’re Yours.’   –Elisabeth Elliot

A quote from Charles Spurgeon

If God gave us favours without constraining us to pray for them we should never know how poor we are, but a true prayer is an inventory of wants, a catalogue of necessities, a revelation of hidden poverty. While it is an application to divine wealth, it is a confession of human emptiness.
~~C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening Oct. 11