Wednesday, October 24, 2007

More Connecting with His Word

Several times a week I wait in line in my car to pick up my kids. Call me a little bit impatient (and you’d be right) or a little bit selfish (and you’d be right again) but it drives me crazy to just sit and wait when there is so much I want or need to get done. So I started keeping a Bible in my car to read during these times.

It didn't work to try to do a page of a Bible study curriculum since I can’t write well on the steering wheel and have to keep scooting the car forward as I make my way up the carpool line. So what I do is choose one verse. Just one. My goal is to read, contemplate, and hopefully memorize that one verse. I read that verse over and over out loud while emphasizing different words in the verse with each reading.

You can emphasize each word individually, which is great, or you can put some together in phrases to emphasize, but if you do phrases be sure to keep them short. It’s also important to do this out loud.

Let me give you an example using Psalm 139:14 from the New Living Translation:

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it.

After going through it all several times, I simply end by praying the truth of that verse. Emphasizing different words each time you say it out loud will help to draw some of the meaning out of the verse while impressing it into your memory. Now you try it! Use Psalm 37:4, Romans 8:1 or Colossians 4:2 if you want some ideas for where to start.

Anyone try the last exercise I described on paraphrasing a verse? I hope some of these ideas will help you connect with God and His Word in your quiet times, your waiting times, or even your carpool lines!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Connecting with Him

When I'm quiet and settled enough to contemplate the possibility of it, I utterly long for a deep, abiding intimacy with God. When I'm still enough to listen for it, my soul cries out for Him. I've found the best place to look for and find Him is in the Bible.

Here is an exercise to connect us with His Word today: Pray first for God's guidance, then choose a fairly short passage of scripture. Read it several times over, then close your eyes and let the Holy Spirit settle its meaning into your mind. Then take out a pencil and write down your paraphrase of the passage. Put it into your own words, making it personal to you. I often turn it into a prayer or declaration of sorts. I'll do one here so you'll get what I mean.

"Lord God, I clear my mind and my schedule to meet with You right now, heart-to-heart and friend-to-friend. Speak to me, please Lord, through your Word. Let me encounter You there and interpret it rightly. Guide me into understanding and truth. Help me to bite off and chew a portion of your abundant life-giving Word and allow it to go deep down into my soul. For Your glory and in Jesus' Name I pray."

I selected Psalm 138, here it is in the NIV version:

1 I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; before the "gods" I will sing your praise. 2 I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. 3 When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted. 4 May all the kings of the earth praise you, O Lord, when they hear the words of your mouth. 5 May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great. 6 Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar. 7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me. 8 The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever-- do not abandon the works of your hands.

My journaled paraphrase:

God, you are the Lord of my life and you are wonderful in all Your ways. And I will speak of You to anyone and everyone without shame or fearing what it might cost me. Though I'm a not a very good singer, I won't hesitate to sing out praises to You! I will worship you inside of church and out, because I find You not only real, but truthful, dependable, loving and just. God, You have chosen to infuse Your power into your Name and your Word - that when I pray in your Name and take in Your Word, magnificent things can happen. Thank You! I've prayed to You in the past and seen You answer me! Plus, no matter what I'm going through You give me the faith and the ability to endure until You choose to change my circumstances. God, I want everyone but particularly our leaders to acknowledge You. I want them to listen to You as they lead us, and to give You honor instead of seeking it for themselves. For I understand You don't hang out in a heart that remains proud, but will shine through the heart that remains humble. No matter what my leaders do or what trouble I may encounter, I trust that You will Shepherd me ... guiding me, protecting me, saving and nurturing me all the way through my life. I believe this because I know I am the works of Your hands, made lovingly with holy purpose, and You never abandon Your purposes. You are eternally faithful to Your people, Your purposes, and Your promises - thank you!

Its great to read a Psalm a day, but something about writing it out in my own words helps me process it, internalize it, and pray it. Which means I'm much more likely to remember it and apply it in my life. This writing exercise also brings the text down to that personal, intimate level which is right where God is with us. Give this exercise a try today - I pray that God and His Word becomes alive to you as you do.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

My quiet time spot

I promised I'd post a picture of my "quiet time spot," which I talked about in the "How I spend time with God" posts. Here's my cafe table by the windows. I hope you've got a special spot somewhere that will beckon you to come and spend some time with God.

Speaking Blessings

I've enjoyed hearing from so many of you as I've read your comments. Several of you wanted to know what I meant when I wrote that I speak blessings over my husband in my "Bragging Rights" post. Its pretty simple, really.

Through out the Bible we see this spiritual principal in action. God's first act after creating Adam and Eve was to bless them (Gen.5:2). He also spoke a blessing over Noah and his family after the flood (Gen.9:1), and Abraham (Gen.12:1-3), and Jacob (Gen.32:24-30), and David and his descendants (2 Samuel 7:24-29). Look these scripture references up today for yourself and read them.

There are also examples through out the Bible of people speaking blessings over other people. Genesis 27 tells the story of a father departing a blessing to his son (vs.27-29) - although this particular story involves some trickery and scandal! In Genesis 48:14-20 we have a beautiful picture of how Jacob (Israel) blessed Joseph's sons by placing his hands upon their heads and speaking. Then in Genesis 49:22-28 we read how Jacob also blesses Joseph. In the New Testament in Luke 2:34, Simeon blesses both Mary and Jesus. Hebrews 7:6-7 mentions blessing being departed. Jesus himself even instructed us to "bless those who curse you" (Luke 6:28).

A beautiful traditional blessing can be found in Numbers 6:22-27. Many pastors speak this blessing over their congregations at the conclusion of the weekly worship service.

These blessings I speak aren't prophetic, except perhaps in a vague sense of the word. A prophecy would come from God's Holy Spirit, and be spoken through a person. A blessing comes from a person, and is spoken to God's Holy Spirit, that it might be carried out. It's an active, intentional prayer spoken with confident authority and faith.

So how do I do this? I often lay my hand on my husband and declare in Jesus' Name that he is blessed of God. I don't always touch him, but I always say it out loud - whether Rick can hear me or not (sometimes he is busy working or asleep). I say this confidently but respectfully - knowing that I cannot command God to do anything, yet believing that God has good plans for my husband and desires to bless him (however He defines that or sees fit). I'll do the same for my kids as we say nightly prayers together, or as as I stop into their bedroom at the end of the day to check on them before I head to bed. While they sleep I touch them or call them by name, as I call them blessed in Christ's name. Sometimes I go into more "detail,"other times I simply declare them "blessed."

Bottom line: a blessing is essentially a commanding form of prayer, seen in the Bible performed by God or by children of God. Its part of the way God reigns in and through our lives. So, all you who desire God's blessing and seek His face, today I call YOU blessed in Jesus' Name!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Understanding the Bible

I used to read a lot of Christian books but I rarely read the Bible other than in church. I figured this was fine because the books contained scripture. (True, but that's a little like eating only the grapes that are loose at the bottom of the bag and avoiding the ones that are still on the bunch.)

If you find it hard to understand the Bible, or feel like many sections of it aren't very applicable to your own life, then begin your quiet time by praying and asking God to give you a passion for His Word, and the wisdom to understand and apply it!

"Call to me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know." Jeremiah 33:3

What a sweet promise from our Maker. Have you spent time with Him today?

PS - Those of you who asked about speaking blessings over your loved ones, I will address that in more detail in a post soon!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

How I spend time with God - setting the stage

In my ideal world, I’d have a Starbucks’ frappachino every morning. But that requires that I go to the coffee shop and shell out $4 to buy one. That doesn’t happen often. Sometimes I buy those Starbucks drinks in the small glass bottles from the grocery store and pull one of those from the fridge. Not the same, but still yummy. More often than not, however, I’m drinking tea with God.

I’m weird about drinking hot drinks in the morning – I only like them at night unless I am freezing cold. On the coldest mornings I’ll have hot tea or hot cocoa with God. However, mostly I drink iced green tea or Diet Coke. We usually meet with friends or family over coffee, tea or food, so I figure why not with God!

Besides my liquid of choice, I like to have a scented candle lit to set the stage. It makes me settle down and feel all warm and fuzzy. Something about that flame says to me: this is special time. The lighting and later the blowing out of the candle marks the official beginning and ending of my "quiet time." Of course, I’m never really apart from God:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

I’m a scented candle kind of gal. That’s an understatement since from where I sit at the moment I can see 11 different candles across two rooms! But I try to use the same candle during my time with God. That way I have a visual reminder of how often I’m spending time with Him. As the wax level drains I know my spirit is filling up. If I get to the end of a week and that candle jar looks just as full as it did on Sunday, I know I’ve not been making time to connect with Him. Some people might like to check it off a to-do list, or mark an X on the calendar day to indicate they’ve spent some time with Him, but I like watching the scented candle wax disappear into the heavens like a fragrant offering.

A final way that I set the stage for spending some time with God is with music. If I’m trying to read the Bible I usually avoid playing anything with lyrics so I can concentrate. I have several instrumental Christian CDs - try hymns set to a Celtic beat for something different. I also have ambient music CDs like a running stream or birds chirping at dawn.

Occasionally, however, I just feel like "gettin' my praise on" as my worship leader girlfriend Gwen says. So I'll put on an up-beat contemporary praise and worship CD and crank it up loud. I’ve been known to dance and sing. I've also been known to lie on the floor with my eyes closed ... lost in the music and the One it is for ... letting the tears that sometimes come push their way out between my closed lids.

Music can usher us to God’s throne room! If you're trying to connect with God or the Bible and can’t seem to “get into it,” try playing some worship music, closing your eyes and contemplating the lyrics as you listen for awhile.

Other times I enjoy the weight of the silence in the room. Sometimes silence is just what the soul needs. Now, if you’re a mom with little ones I KNOW this feels like a tall order. I have two kids, and once they reached school-age I began home schooling them (in an open floor-plan home no less). So alone time and silence were very hard to come by most days. Hard to come by, but not impossible: I could get up before them, or stay up after them. Or I could adapt to the fact that other things were going on around me, and make the effort to press into God anyway. My friend Marybeth who was also home schooling her brood used to tell me she did her praying in the shower because that was the only place she could find some peace and solitude!

Tea, candles, music - none of this is necessary but it helps me transtion into a place of connection with the Lord. So set the stage in whatever ways you can to help you to come to and connect with God. Don’t set yourself up for failure, however, with expectations about how a quiet time “should” be (or used to be) that your current circumstances can’t match. Just make it a priority and press in, letting God take care of all the rest.

Have you decided yet when you’ll sit down with God tomorrow? Remember it doesn’t need to be long; it just needs to be done!

stay tuned for more to come on this topic

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How I spend time with God - the place

For me personally, where I sit is important. I can't concentrate well if I'm surrounded by other projects or clutter. Clutter will make me feel too chaotic to get started, and seeing lots of other things I need to get done will make me think I'm too busy to have time for this today.

That's a lie of course, but I know that's how it makes me feel so I avoid facing my desk, which makes me think of the six deadlines I've got. I avoid facing the kitchen sink because it reminds me of the dishes I need to do, or the meals I need to plan. And I wouldn't dream of going near the laundry room because I seem to be forever behind on laundry! But if I wait for my house to be perfectly clean to sit down with God, I'll only spend time with Him maybe 10 days a year!

Instead I sit at my kitchen table which is situated in a nook with a bay window. I face out the windows with my back to the rest of the kitchen. If my kitchen table happens to be cluttered, I clear it first. Else I move to a different location since I'm so easily driven to distraction.

Spot number two is a little cafe table in my family room that is situated in a corner between two windows. I face, you guessed it, out the windows with my back to the rest of the house. I like sitting at tables because it allows me to easily write down thoughts or scriptures or prayers. My little cafe table and 2 chairs tend to stay clean and clear with little effort (unlike my kitchen table) so its almost always available.

Some days, however, the best I can do is collapse in my recliner and read some out of my Bible. Maybe I'm feeling tired, or a little under the weather, or just totally uninspired, but on these occasions I don't try to have a big Bible quiet time "session." I just crawl in the recliner with God. If you have uninspired days too, do what I do and trust in the fact that God said His Word would never return to Him void. If you have times you feel like nothing you are reading is sinking in, pray that Isaiah 55:ll will be true in your life:

"So will my word be which goes out of my mouth: it will not come back to me with nothing done, but it will give effect to my purpose, and do that for which I have sent it." -Isaiah 55:11

But that's more on par with my next post on this topic ... so stay tuned for more. And check back in the coming days and weeks if you want a little accountability on this. Oh, and feel free to leave a comment and tell me where you like to meet with God, I'd really love to hear about it!
I'll try and post a picture of my "quiet spots" tomorrow.

Making the Effort

Below is my devotion that ran on Encouragement for Today, in case you missed it. Itprompted the nextseveral posts on how I spend time with God.

“Be earnest and unwearied in prayer, being on the alert in it and in your giving of thanks.” Colossians 4:2 (WNT)

I was recently interviewed by a Christian radio station; following the release of our devotional book God’s Purpose for Every Woman. The interview began with a brief discussion of the nature of God’s promises and purposes for women. Next, the topic shifted to the daily discipline of spending time with God, communing with Him through the words of the Bible and prayer. Of course I said how important this was for Christian stability and growth. Then the interviewer challenged, “So bring this home. You are a wife, a mother, a university teacher, a writer, and a traveling national speaker. I’m guessing you are pretty busy. Rachel, how do you find time to have a quiet time?”

There was a day when this question would have struck me deaf and dumb because I didn’t know what the answer was. I knew people who would spend an hour alone with God each day, and I wondered what their secret was. What was it that enabled them to do that? What kept them from falling asleep sitting there alone with the Bible? How did they know what to say, read or think about during all those minutes? How did they keep from getting distracted? How did they even manage to find an hour of free time each day? I kept waiting for a season of my life to come during which a block of time would regularly present itself and my spirit would drive me to God like my sweet tooth drives me to the freezer for chocolate ice cream. I wasted a lot of time idly waiting for that to happen.

“Rachel, how do you find time to have a quiet time?” I don’t find the time,” I answered. “I have to make the time. I can’t expect to find time – that’ll never happen. There’s always going to be something needing my attention, calling my name. I have to make the time, and that means sometimes I have to let other things slide. I have to be OK with letting less important things slide,” I confessed.

I’ve come to realize it’s a matter of choice, a matter of discipline… and a matter of active investment. E.M. Bounds wrote, “The lazy man does not, will not, cannot pray, for prayer demands energy.” That is a simple but profound statement. When I don’t pray it’s because I simply don’t want to expend the energy on it. People who do not pray much probably claim to be too busy or too bored with it, but in reality are too lazy to press into God. Wow. Ouch!

We have to be earnest and unwearied in prayer as today’s verse urges. In the words of a little shoe company called Nike; we have to “just do it.” Let’s carve some time in our days to be quiet before the Lord, to read His words and pray. We can trade a small portion of our time and energy for a large portion of His grace and power.

Purpose to stick to it for several weeks until it sinks into your schedule and your soul. If you want some help being accountable on this, visit my blog listed below. I know we’ll find it is more than worth the effort.

Dear Lord, I want to make the effort and time to interact with You. I want to pray and seek your heart. I don’t want to be too lazy to connect to Your love, wisdom, power and grace. Help me in this, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Application Steps:
If you are not in the habit of praying or regularly communing with God, commit to doing so. It doesn’t have to be for an hour - start with 10 minutes. Gather your Bible, some pen and paper and set the timer.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Some pics from the cruise event

I told you there were some beautiful vistas. I love what God made here!

Above is our ship "The Sensation" docked in Nassau.

Below is me and the event coordinator Rita. Our waiter had folded and placed the towel on my head - not sure if its suppose to be a bow or ears. Either way I didn't care because I was in the middle of eating the chocolate melting cake.

Me with worship leader Gwen Smith. Too bad I didn't more of a tan on this cruise!!

Me goofing around at the ornate Atlantic Hotel in Nassau ... I eventually got my sunglasses back!

Below is me with a couple of the Crossings Community gals:

I have a whole slide-show of pictures on my computer from this event that I've been running as my screen saver for the last week, helping me remember the event and to pray for the ladies I met. ;)

Bragging Rights

OK, I have to brag for just a minute on my husband because he totally rocks!

I met him when I was in college. He was teaching there after getting his master's degree. Yes, I married my professor! Shh, don't tell. (To answer your inevitable questions... he is only 6 years older than I, and no we didn't begin dating until a few semesters after I took his class.) So I know from experience that he is a truly gifted teacher - brilliant, energetic and funny in the classroom.

A couple week's ago the secular university we now both teach at confirmed what I had long suspected - that I am married to the best professor there!! Out of 450+ teachers, Rick was nominated and won one of 3 teaching awards the Chancellor bestows on outstanding faculty. Then from that pool of three, Rick was chosen as the top teacher and awarded the highest honor, the Board of Trustee's teaching award. He looked like he'd just won at the Olympics with the two gold medallions hanging around his neck and clinking together as he walked. I am so proud of him!

My prayer for him today is that he will continue to be a man of integrity and excellence, and a reflection of Christ on that campus. I call him blessed in Jesus' name. This nation needs more great teachers, but even more we need more great teachers who are greatly committed to living biblical principals and allowing that to show through in all they do.

I will tell you that 10 years ago I began speaking blessings over my husband regularly and saw God move in his life in mighty ways. Then I had two children and speaking those blessings over him fell a bit to the wayside - along with daily showers, daily bible study, and a tidy house! I got back to showering and bible study shortly thereafter but only recently have returned to physically speaking blessings over Rick and I again see God moving. So the bragging is really on God as my husband's maker, and as the One who bestows all good gifts.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

back on dry land, and back online

Its been a while since I posted... did you miss me? I didn't sail off the edge of the world on that cruise ship, but rather lightening hit my computer and fried my ability to get online! I'm typing now on my new laptop, trying to get used to Windows Vista.

Speaking of vistas, the Caribbean blue view from the cruise ship was beautiful - not that I saw much of it since I was working all weekend as the retreat speaker. But I enjoyed it. I did this event with my worship leader girlfriend Gwen Smith and we had a great time together. I think we got a little too silly at times. However, I know we weren't too silly for this group - they actually did the electric slide to one of Gwen's songs! Now that was a first.

The ladies at this church (Crossings Community in FL) were just terrific. Gwen and I shared a lunch with a group of them one afternoon that was so special. We laughed a lot but we also talked sister-to-sister, soul-to-soul. I loved hearing how some of them came to Christ, the battles others are facing, and most of all to see their trust in God and their love for one another. That's what its all about, right there!

Well, that and the fact that I ordered not one but two desserts every single night I was on the ship. Why not - its free! The chocolate melting cake was a definite hit. I'm thinking I'd better get off here and go get on the elliptical machine now before that melting cake becomes a permanent part of my silhouette!

To the women at Crossings Community Church, I send my love and my prayers for you to continue to live out loud.