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.

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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.

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

The Irreparable Past

Mountains in WV

As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, unremembering delight, nor with the flight of impulsive thoughtlessness, but with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ.

Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.

–Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, December 31

Do you have things in your past that you regret?  I know I do.  Missed opportunities, wasted time and energy, failures, sinful decisions–so many things to regret.  I think it is the rare person who doesn’t regularly have a regret or two.

When I was twenty years old, I came to a realization that I had chosen the wrong major in college.  I had made the choice in good faith with the counsel of others, but about two thirds of the way through my four year course, it dawned on me that I was studying subjects for which I only had a slight ability and liking rather than studying the subjects for which I had a true aptitude .  However, it was too late to change majors without adding an extra two years onto my college career.  I toughed it out the last year and a half, earned my degree, and got a job.  It wasn’t until many years later that I was able to study and work in a field for which I had a great capability and which I loved.  Do I regret that initial decision to study the wrong subject?  Yes, I do sometimes.  I wonder what my life would have looked like had I chosen a more fitting major or changed my major when I first realized my error.  I wonder what paths I would have pursued instead of the ones I walked.  I could spent a lot of time regretting the ways not chosen, but is that a constructive way to live?

I believe that it is not a good use of my time to rue the past.  Instead, I must remember the good news that our God takes those regrets, the things in the past which I should have done but didn’t or should not have done but did, what Oswald Chambers calls the “irreparable things” and He redeems them.  The Lord somehow, in a way that is beyond my comprehension and knowledge, makes those regrettable words, deeds, and thoughts work for good in my life, in my loved ones’ lives, in His kingdom.

It is so easy to fall prey to guilt and depression when we think of all of the things we could have done or should have done.  We question if our life will be all that it could have been since we made a certain choice or turned in a direction that we now see so clearly was wrong.

Yet we have a Sovereign Lord who holds the whole world in His hands and who also knows our entire story from beginning to end.  Wonder at the fact that He is in control not only of the planets and the stars, the atoms and the molecules but also of your irreparable past.  Believe that He has a purpose for that past that seems so wrong and look forward to the promise of the future where He will never leave you nor forsake you.  And keep in mind Julian of Norwich’s words, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”