Speaking to God…and Listening: He is Personal!

HIGHLANDS

I love knowing that the God of the Bible is personal; that He hears me every time I speak and delights for me to come to Him again and again.  I can pray big and I can pray bold because He is the God who is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…”  (Ephesians 3:20)

As I grew up, praying to and thanking my heavenly Father was something both taught and modeled as active and relational. It was part of life, but it wasn’t “just a tradition.”

As the years went by, I submitted my life to Christ and began learning to live in a more personal relationship with Him, as all must choose one way or the other (…salvation is not a family “gene” to be granted – it is a one-on-one, chosen response to God’s gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus!*). I was encouraged by others, who discipled me and led into a deeper walk with my Savior, to have honest conversations throughout the day as well as intentional time alone with Him; to come to Him in prayer with praise, thanks, and repentance!

Prayer is not a formula; it is coming as we are into the very presence of the living God! And we can do that because of Jesus!

I love to drive down the road, listening to great music, singing out loud! It’s a delight to my Savior to hear me sing songs that praise Him and/or set my eyes on Him, regardless of whether or not it is simply a joyful “noise” to others.  It is, in essence, a musical prayer of praise!

I love to be busy around the house, ride my bike or walk, get in the car and head to work or anywhere else and just talk to my Savior, sometimes through laughter and sometimes through tears. And I know He hears.  I know He rejoices with me when my joy is in Him and in what pleases Him. I know He delights when, in humility, I come to Him in repentance and say, “Forgive me. Change me.” I know He weeps with me when my heart is hurting.

I love to join with other believers laying out our joys and sorrows before the throne of grace and with my husband bringing our children and those we love before this One who knows before we speak yet wants to hear from our lips.

And I love to leave the distractions and find my quiet place alone to pour out my heart to my Father while opening His Word to hear His voice as well!

God is personal; He is ABBA, Daddy! And He knows me, my heart, and my thoughts better than I know myself.

So today, sometimes I pour out praise and sometimes pain. But, if I’m honest, sometimes I simply complain.

I want answers and, too often, I want them in my timing and the way I think best; and, if not, I want to know why. It’s in those complaining moments, I wonder if I am too casual with God Most High!

Yes, he wants to hear my hurts – but complaining can lead towards spewing it all out with little or no desire to hear His response in return. He is my tender Savior, but also my Mighty King!

The Lord doesn’t mind my “whys,” but He wants me to learn to submit them to Him when He doesn’t give an answer…or at least not the answer I want. But it isn’t the attitude of a dad who says, “Because I said so!” and walks away disgruntled or irritated by the question.

No, it’s very much – “I AM God and I said so!” But with the tender protective attitude of “I hear you, but I know what you don’t know. I see what you don’t see. I want more for you than you want for yourself – because I know what that looks like so much better than you. Yes, it is for Me, God Almighty, to get the glory because I am worthy of honor and praise! (That’s not arrogant – it’s fact!) But I answer according to My will because I love you that much. I love you enough to sometimes say ‘Yes,’ sometimes ‘No,’ and, at other times, ‘Better’ – you just may not recognize the difference…yet!” (To be clear, I know those words are not “quotes” of God from the Bible; rather, a conversation I imagine He might have with me – based on His Word).

As with any relationship, we know and love one another, and increasingly so, as we talk to each other, speak, and listen. If all we do is talk, then walk away or tune out as the other is sharing their heart, not really interested in their thoughts or assuming we know what they will say, do we really know someone? Can we truly love them well? Is it any different with God?

Often, I’m brought up short as I consider the words of a favorite song, “…I’ve tried to hear from Heaven. But I talked the whole time…” (“What Do I Know of Holy?” – Addison Road) when God just wants me to simply “Be still and know that I AM God…” (Psalm 46:10).  And so, as I am reminded of this truth, I’m still learning to pray and listen well…seeking to be still, asking Him to renew my heart and give me a steadfast spirit and open eyes and ears.

More and more, I recognize I DON’T “get it” a lot.  But I don’t have to always understand what God is doing. He is God; I am not. And that is good.

As I have been praying lately for family members, close friends, and some situations for which I have no answers and with outcomes I can’t control, I recognize how my expectations are too small in light of the power of the God of the universe! I see how I unintentionally attempt to limit God when I think my prayers are just the right answer. I miss the fact that, in His timing and ways, He is doing 10,000 things I can’t even begin to see!

I have watched Him turn certain situations around 180 degrees from how I thought they needed to be “accomplished” for a certain outcome and He provided that outcome or better…without doing things my way. How thankful I am when He adjusts my heart to His will, tunes my heart to see His answer in that moment, and doesn’t always give me what I ask for.  I have seen Him soften and transform hearts I had doubted would ever be changed!

But God!  Oh, to see with His eyes always.

We can come as a child, believing yet, at times, asking Him to help our belief; waiting in expectation!

From the outset, we are told to come into His presence with praise (Psalm 100:4) and thanks (Philippians 4:6)!  Don’t our hearts begin to hear His heart as we first choose to put our eyes and our focus on the goodness of our Savior before we lay out our requests, our pleas, our hurt?  We can walk on the churning waters and call out for His help with eyes fixed, not on the circumstances around and beneath us, but straight ahead at Jesus, as Peter did and was able to walk on water!

We are told to “come boldly to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16) with our confidence fully placed on the One to whom we pray. It is not our words that change things; rather, it is the actions of the only One who hears! There are no “perfect words” or “professional pray-ers;” none so eloquent as to peak the interest of the Almighty. He hears the hearts of those who come to Him in humility and recognition that HE alone is able! He hears those who say, “I believe; help my unbelief.” He hears through our tears and our joy!

I have found myself more and more asking the Holy Spirit to “intercede (before God’s throne) for us with groanings that are too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)  So often I don’t know the words to say as I pray, but He has them and they are perfectly tuned to the heart of God.

And, I take pleasure in being able to pray, “Jesus, take what I’m praying and adjust my words and my heart to be in unity with the heart of the Father” – asking Jesus to intercede for me and for those I love as well because He is at the right hand of God doing so for us! (Romans 8:34)

Equally, God has called us to pray for our enemies; for those who have hurt us or those we love deeply and for those who have sinned against us, spoken falsely about us, or attempted to harm us. It is by His grace we can do so and it is His mercy that changes us and enables us to long for their heart change (and, as needed, our own).

I am also humbly being reminded to pray, “Not my will but Yours, God” – all the while asking Him to adjust my heart to pray that faithfully and honestly. Jesus wrestled with the Father’s will in the garden so much so that he sweat drops of blood and, yet, He submitted and went to the cross for us. I pray God will give me a submissive heart to pray and live those words well.

Praying the very words of God back to Him, even inserting names and places, is powerful and effective but also extremely personal. We are entering the throne room of God, bringing His Word to bear on our lives and the lives of those for whom we pray. We know that His Word is living and active and doesn’t return void. We know His Word is His will, so we know we can pray humbly yet boldly and intimately, such as:

“Lord God, I ask you to “fill (insert “me” or another) with the knowledge of (Your) will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that (he/she) may live a life worthy of the Lord and please (You) in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of (You),God,  being strengthened with all power according to (Your) glorious might so that (he/she) may have great endurance and patience…” (Colossians 1:9-11)

I’m learning (again) that God wants me to have open hands, not hands that seek to fix anything (though there are times He wants us to be His hands and feet). Rather, He calls me to, before all things, lay people and situations at His feet, step back, and remind myself as I tell Him, “Yes, Lord, they are Yours; yes, Lord this is Your situation to do as You will. It may be easy or it may be hard, but it will be from Your hand!”

We can honestly pour out our desires and our questions then leave them in the strong Hands that are good, even when it doesn’t “look” or “feel” good! We can fully trust the One Who Himself is Faithful and True.

I will still crank up the music and sing out loud as I drive down the street because it resets me heart! It takes my mind off me and whatever weighs on my heart and exalts Him!

I will still choose to give thanks to the Lord in all circumstances when I “feel” like it and when I don’t! (I Thessalonians 5:18)

I will still pour out my tears before God, as David did in the Psalms. “My tears have been my food day and night…” (Psalm 42:3) and as Jesus encouraged us to “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

I will still pray without ceasing for broken bodies, wounded hearts, devastated relationships, self-pleasing lives and choices (recognized or not), and unredeemed souls. I will wrestle before the throne of God on their behalf out of great love and through tears, as Paul did for and wrote to believers in 2 Corinthians 2:4, “out of great distress and anguish of heart…(out of) the depth of my love for (them).”

But, in the end, I will cease my striving, open my hands, and with thanksgiving in advance of or in spite of the answer, say, “I will trust You, Father!  Speak for me, Jesus! Holy Spirit, intercede with groanings and longings I can’t express…pray as I don’t know how to pray.”

He will hear. He will do just that.

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard (my) heart and mind in Christ Jesus!” (Philippians 4:7)

*You can have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You can learn more about that relationship and chat live with someone at https://needhim.org/knowing-jesus/  or feel free to ask questions here.  I would love to have a conversation giving you reason for the hope I have in Christ!

“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God…” Romans 8:23  But God has provided a way:  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Words Matter

BOOK AND BIBLE (2).JPG

Many years ago, when our children were younger, one of my closest friends, who is now in the presence of our Savior, renamed the two of us: Miss Construed and Miss Understood. For a time, conversations we would have with a couple of other people often seemed to break down and, despite our best intentions, what we meant to communicate was not what they heard; the uneasiness between us all was palpable.

We would nervously laugh and say that Miss Construed and Miss Understood were simply not making themselves clear or that the others were merely “deaf” to our actual thoughts. But neither of us found humor in the division and it wasn’t funny when our own friendship was strained a couple of years later by words that were misunderstood and misconstrued.

Throughout that time, the Lord was teaching me, in hard ways, the importance of words spoken (and even unspoken), how they are said, and how they are “heard.” I am thankful that, by God’s grace, she and I forgave each other and recognized that words can so easily build us up or tear us down; but they can also be used to reconcile and grow us.

Truth spoken instead of a lying tongue.

Certainty of fact spoken with kindness instead of a caustic comment.

Life-giving remarks instead of soul-starving declarations.

Words matter.

We can hear them through our own filter or we can choose to hear with a heart bent towards seeking to understand. We can speak rashly, harshly, or just honestly without love or we can learn to think and, even more wisely, to pray before we communicate our thoughts.

Truth be told, I can be reticent to speak when I know it is important but uncomfortable to do so. Sometimes I am more inclined to avoid conflict and “keep the peace” than address significant issues that need to be discussed. That is neither healthy nor loving.

It is why I am trying to make it a practice to ask God to direct both my spoken and written words; to “set a guard over my mouth,” to “keep watch over the door of my lips,” (Psalm 141:3), and to cause “the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart to be acceptable to You, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer!” (Psalm 19:14) – even as I ask Him to make me bold, when necessary, to speak the truth – that challenges – in love!

I am refreshed to hear words of encouragement and it is my desire to give life-lifting breaths to family, friends, or a random stranger! When I know my words have been soothing to a soul, my heart smiles and I thank God. But when I know my words have broken the heart of another – for whatever reason – it breaks mine as well.

Unfortunately, that desire to encourage sometimes falls flat when I know my intentions, but the words that I speak arrive at another’s ears with a completely different perception. I have to be cautious about how I express myself lest my words be misconstrued. Yet, I know that even well thought out sentiments can be equally misinterpreted.

That’s why humble hearts are also needed on the receiving end as well as people willing to sit face-to-face and heart-to-heart to communicate what was heard, what was meant, and how to go forward with that. Sometimes that will lead to healing and unity; other times, it is a point on which to agree to disagree but without leaving a bitter root.

Hard but important words can feel like salt in a wound and, nevertheless, be just what is needed. Sometimes words of caution or challenge are needed from another to me or from me to another. The balancing act is how to bring them in such a way that we do not come across as either being caustic or seeking to be the Holy Spirit, which is never my intent.  How can we give words that may sting, but not close the door to continued conversations that will hopefully bring change.  In fact, as I write or speak to anyone in any way, I pray that the Holy Spirit will take my words and use them as He sees fit or cause them to be silenced if they dishonor God or would be received in any way that would not be “helpful for building others up according to their needs.” (Ephesians 4:29)

That being said, I know there are times, the Lord will want to use challenging words; yet the intended heart is not ready to receive correction or, because of a preconceived opinion, will not see the facts and will be resentful of the “messenger” or will seek to justify why the words that pierce their soul are either “hateful,” “hypocritical,” “hurtful,” or “completely off base and judgmental.”

I must also check my response when others bring loving confrontation to my life; I must not be resentful of the “messenger.  Rather, before all things, I have to measure my response to any sting I might feel and ask the Lord to show me if and where the message is consistent with what He wants to see moved out of or into me.

There are times to remain silent, to pray diligently for another while refraining from words.

But if we love deeply, there are times, that to remain silent is not loving and can even be a hindrance to the person or a relationship.

Still, our words and our motives must be submitted to God; our conversations taken to the throne of grace before and after. And, if our words are met with resistance and anger, we aren’t to respond in the same way. Instead, we must, in that moment, take the person and their reaction to the Lord and resubmit our own hearts to Him, asking Him to cover any words wrongly spoken and to give us wisdom in moving forward.

“A word aptly spoken (in the right circumstances) is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”  (Proverbs 25:11)

Throughout Proverbs 25, we read of the “goodness” of both a messenger of good news and one who must speak truth that is hard. And yet, it concludes with not seeking one’s own glory and the utmost importance of self-control (both in our actions and our words)!

I know, for a fact, that some of those sweetest “apples of gold” have come from people who have loved me so well that they have spoken hard truths to me; they have challenged me in my attitudes, actions, and/or words. But they have done so for a greater purpose, for God’s glory and my good! They were “faithful wounds” (Proverbs 27:6) and, while it felt like a tearing down in the moment, ultimately God used them to rebuild me, grow me, and strip away those places in my life that were not pleasing to the Lord and were keeping me from my greatest delight in Him and in others!

We speak the truth in love for a purpose!

That purpose is not to prove we are right.

That purpose is not to exact revenge.

That purpose is not to exalt ourselves or the justice of our cause.

That purpose is made clear in Ephesians 4:15 when Paul writes that we are to speak the truth in love – not love of ourselves, but love of God and, so, love for the other person – that “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

We speak the truth that is grounded not in our own opinions or anyone else’s, for that leads to being “tossed back and forth by waves, and every wind of teaching and the cunning and craftiness of people (including ourselves) of deceitful scheming” (v 14).

Rather, the truth is rooted in the very character of God, revealed through His Word that never changes; His story of redemption from beginning to end.

It is not old and outdated as some would claim but is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), written by the very One who created us and knows so much better than any man how He designed us to live as individuals, with Him and with one another.

It is the life-giving, God-breathed Word that is able to refresh and restore our souls and it profits us by teaching us what is true, making us realize what is wrong in our lives, corrects us in that wrong, and trains us (as an athlete trains for a race) to do what is right and good (2 Timothy 3:16) – for God’s glory and our greatest joy!

We have been created to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever!” How awesome is that!

But we need His Word and His Holy Spirit to see Him as He is and to show us what that glorifying and enjoying Him looks like in light of His redemption of sinners just like us! And He has given us each other to “spur one another on” with shoulders to lean on and words of encouragement and challenge as we “do life” together and as we “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

May my words and yours increasingly be life-giving, always pointing to Jesus!

“Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”   I Thessalonians 5:11