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I Want God More Than I Want His Gifts

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Yesterday I was talking with God and I told Him that I want Him more than I want to use the gifts He has given me. And I would like for that to be my desire for the rest of my life. I “want to want” God more than anything and everything He gives me.

I want Him.

Now, don’t misunderstand…I do want the spiritual gifts God has given me and I do want to continue to use them. God gave them for a reason: to bring glory to His name, to draw people to Himself and, amazingly, to give us a way to partner with Him in all of this. These gifts He has given us are good things to be used for good purposes. I whole-heartedly encourage you to use your gifts, like I wrote about in my last post.

But….

Sometimes our priorities can get out of whack, can’t they? Sometimes we desire to use our spiritual gifts more than we actually desire to know God or to spend time with Him. Maybe we are unconsciously working for God’s approval…when we already have it because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Perhaps we enjoy the attention we get from using the gifts. Or maybe we feel exempt from ministering to hurting individuals we meet on a daily basis because we use an “important gift” in a large group setting on Sundays. Whatever the case we need to return to the joys of walking with God in the cool of the garden. As one of my pastors asks, “Did you marry God for His money?” Did I marry God because I love Him and delight in Him or am I in this relationship because of the stuff He gives me?

In the midst of those questions, these sentences from Paul call out to me:

“God didn’t send me out to collect a following for myself, but to preach the Message of what He has done, collecting a following for Him. And He didn’t send me to do it with a lot of fancy rhetoric of my own, lest the powerful action at the center—Christ on the Cross—be trivialized into mere words.” (1 Corinthians 1:17, Message)

And then this verse dropped into my heart:

“My question: What are God-worshipers like? Your answer: Arrows aimed at God’s bull’s-eye.” (Psalm 25:12, Message)

All of this confirms to me that God heard my genuine heart’s cry of wanting Him more than gifts or status or fame or stuff. He alone is worthy of my praise.

“God-friendship is for God-worshipers; They are the ones he confides in.”
(Psalm 25:14, Message)

So…If you are a God-worshiper, you are aimed at God’s bulls-eye (which I take to mean the center of His will and purpose). Also, if you are a God-worshipper, you are a friend of God and He wants to confide in you.

Isn’t that brilliant!? God is awesome in the true sense of the word!

This week as we lead up to the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, our Messiah, let’s take some time to evaluate our heart and our priorities. Have we turned away from our True Love? If so, just turn back to Him…He is lovingly waiting.

 

The World Needs the Gifts Lying Dormant in You

A long time ago I asked a friend to give me some advice about what I should do with my life. He said:

Be the person you have always wanted to be.”

That sounds so simple and obvious but often the simple is profound. He meant start doing the things you need to do now to lay a foundation for living out the deep desires and gifts God has designed in you. Sometimes we choose or feel forced to put our gifts on the back burner for a period of time. And often we need to re-arrange our priorities or renew our focus in order to bring these gifts back to a full boil in our life. It’s important to take the time to do this because God created certain gifts in you that He wants you to use to glorify Him. We also usually feel more fully alive when we are using these gifts. And…the world needs the gifts lying dormant in you.

Where Do You Begin?
Several years ago I was in a job in which I constantly felt drained and had a long commute attached on top of it. I let myself become bitter and way too focused on myself and my own misery. Previously, over many years, I had served in different areas of leadership in the church. But at this point, even though I wanted to serve…I felt exhausted. I wanted to write more but often couldn’t find inspiration in my small amounts of free time. Eventually I left that job for something better suited for me. I wanted to start serving in the church again but I wasn’t sure of the where and how. So, I decided to start where I was, as a member of a small group Bible study.

I made a decision to change my mindset from being a “mere group member coming to sit and receive” to starting to look for ways to serve and use my gifts within the group. We hosted it at my house. Hospitality. I showed up prepared with something to say. Thinking like a Leader. I was open to God using me to speak into the lives of the other group members. Teaching and Encouragement. After a year I started leading a women’s group. The next step. Even if you’re not in a place of leadership, start having a leader’s attitude and begin using your gifts right where you are. Don’t wait!

Everyone in the Body Has a Gift to Share
The Bible tells us that every person has been given gifts from God to build others up and to glorify God. We should be using them!

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

While it’s good to be using our gifts at weekly worship gatherings, these gifts aren’t and shouldn’t be limited to the four walls of the buildings we call church. Remember that we, as followers of Jesus, are the church. Now, let’s use every gift He has given us for His glory no matter where we work and live. At work, at family gatherings, small groups throughout the week…wherever you are!

Have You Disqualified Yourself? God Hasn’t
We can be hard on ourselves, can’t we? If you’ve done something that makes you feel like you’re now forever disqualified from ministry and God can never use you, I encourage you to return to God and surrender your failure to Him. Ask for His forgiveness. And then receive it. Now, move forward and start using your gifts again to the glory of God. You’re in good company. Look at the life of almost every person in the Bible and you’ll see how they blew it multiple times, but God didn’t give up on them. Just step out in faith. God will meet that faith with His power! Remember…

“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

So…
+What makes your heart sing? What are the gifts God has given you? If you don’t know, ask God to show you. He will. Also, ask other people who know you well to point them out. Most likely, they will be able to naturally, or supernaturally, call out the gifts in you.

+Not sure where to start using your gifts? Simply start in the place you’re in right now.

+Ask God to give you the courage to step out and be the person He created you to be.

Prayer
God, thank you for redeeming my life through Jesus and for creating gifts and a deep desire in me to use those gifts. I surrender myself and these gifts to You. Help me to identify these gifts and to begin using them, right where I am, for Your glory. And I ask that You will also open up new opportunities for me to use these gifts. Amen.

God’s Redeeming Power

I want to share with you a powerful and miraculous true story of God’s redeeming power in the life of someone who had “lost it all” due to her own destructive actions.

Many of you know the Christian writer and speaker Beth Moore. Her sister, Gay, is a recovered alcoholic and Gay’s personal story is shared in seven moving installments right here on Beth’s Living Proof Ministries Blog. I have linked to the final installment…once you get there you will see how to read each post in the order they were written.

Whether you or someone you know struggles with alcoholism, or you simply want to read about a life transformed by Jesus, please take some time to read it.

One of the main things Gay shares that she learned is that God kept giving her opportunities to recover, but she had to do her part in that recovery effort. Once that clicked she was able to move out of her addiction and into freedom!

John 8:34-36: “Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son (Jesus) sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (NIV)

Be the Change

“When Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, it was not just for our neighbors’ sakes that he commanded it, but for our own sakes as well. Not to help find some way to feed the children who are starving to death is to have some precious part of who we are starve to death with them. Not to give ourselves to the human beings we know who may be starving not for food but for what we have in our hearts to nourish them with is to be, ourselves, diminished and crippled as human beings.” -Frederick Buechner; from Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons

God Cares about the Oppressed
God created us to live in relationship with others and to care for one another. As some people say, we are the hands and feet of Jesus on the earth. We are here to know God, make Him known and help people who have need. The quote from Buechner speaks to me because it connects with what I know to be true about God as is evident throughout the entire Bible, both Old and New Testament. God cares very deeply about those who are oppressed. Whether the oppression comes from tyranny, poverty, demonic presence, lies you are believing, or something else. He cares and wants to set us free. He sent Jesus to set us free and bring redemption and salvation. So, if we know Jesus and are following His personal example and teaching, I believe we will be moved to action to help others to become well and walk in freedom.

Love in Action
“Love in action” means lots of different things and looks different in people’s lives. Whether its adopting a child, spending time with a lonely senior, cleaning the house of a sick friend, mentoring an at-risk child…..whatever it is, I want to encourage you this week to take what you read in the Bible, along with the passions and gifts God has given you, and look around your community and world and just do something! We can’t do everything, but we can do something and that something is meaningful to the person we do it for. It is also meaningful to us because we are getting outside of our own little box and become more like Jesus in the process. Jesus said He came to serve others, not be served. He is our example.

Faith Should Compel You to Help
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:14-18, NIV) This isn’t a theological debate between faith and works. James simply and clearly says that faith should compel you to move into action. It’s not about keeping your faith to yourself or puffing up with biblical knowledge. Turn your good intentions into action, and change the world.

So…

 +What passions and gifts did God give you that will help other people?

+What are some long-term goals of how you can help others?

+What one small thing can you commit to doing this week to help someone in need?

+If you don’t have much of a desire to help, ask God to give you compassion for people in need and to show you His heart on the matter. He will.

Prayer
God, thank You for giving me Jesus as my role model of self-sacrifice and service. He came to serve and asks me to do the same. Enlighten my eyes to see the needs around me this week and give me a desire to take time to decide on an action plan of ways I can begin to reach out and help someone in need, in this city and around the world. Amen.

(The title of this devotional comes from a famous quote attributed to Gandhi, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.”)

Step Out in Faith…God Responds!

Hi Everyone! Here is my first short video devotional. Hope you take a few minutes to watch it and are encouraged.

The Sheltering Tree of Friendship

“The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once described friendship as ‘a sheltering tree.’ What a beautiful description of that special relationship. As I read those words, I think of my friends as great leafy trees, who spread themselves over me, providing shade from the sun, whose presence is a stand against the blast of winter’s wind of loneliness. A great sheltering tree; that’s a friend.” -Chuck Swindoll

Friendship As a Sheltering Tree
I love that description of friendship being a sheltering tree. Over the years I have so often felt sheltered by friends as I’ve experienced difficult, sad and confusing situations. My friends are so wonderful and faithful…there to listen, encourage me and offer wise advice. I feel protected by my friends. I feel sheltered by them. And I also shelter them, as well. Just like it is a relief to retreat under a big tree on a hot summer afternoon, it is truly a relief to be cared for and protected by a friend. But what about those times when we are in a transition, find that we don’t have as many “real friends” as we thought we did, or simply have a hard time forging the bond of friendship?

Be a Friend!
Several years ago when I moved to a different state and was the “new person in town” looking to make friends, a close friend challenged me that if you are looking to build new, meaningful friendships, you should focus on being a friend first. He said, “So many people are looking for a friend to meet their needs. Stop looking for a best friend and be a best friend to someone.” I like that. Often it’s easy to feel like a victim if people aren’t reaching out to us. Yes, we all want to be reached out to and feel special…and in a healthy friendship there is mutual caring and giving….but during those times when we are forming new friendships and not many people seem to be reaching out to us, take the initiative to reach out to others. Take the time to be a friend.

Showing Honor in Friendship
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NIV.) Jesus demonstrated ultimate friendship when He laid down His life for His friends…us. When He was living on earth He would continually demonstrate love for His friends and show them honor by sharing His entire life with them. He was open, vulnerable and was Himself with them. He also spent time healing them, listening to them, encouraging them, lovingly correcting them when necessary. Jesus did have healthy boundaries where He spent time on His own, but He really took the time to invest in the people around Him, and to become close friends with many of them. I am convicted that I dis-honor my friends when I am slow to respond to them, don’t return phone calls, and don’t make an effort to keep up with their lives. I have noticed this recently with people who don’t live locally and who I have been friends with for a long time. It is easy to take them for granted and to be lazy in a friendship, but I really want to make a commitment to continue to honor them and maintain our friendships.

Jesus Offers Us His Friendship
Shortly before Jesus went to the cross He told His closest friends on earth, “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.” (John 15:11-13, MSG.) Not only is Jesus teaching us how to care for one another, He is naming those of us who follow Him as “friends”….and He cares for us.

So…
+What can you do to reach out and be a friend to others?

+Are you friends with Jesus? Is there something holding you back from accepting His gift and offer of friendship?

+Have you become complacent in keeping up with long-time friends? What can you do this week to show them honor and to reach out to them?

Prayer
God, thank You for creating friendship! It is so special and truly is a sheltering tree. Help me to reach out to others to form new friendships and to be intentional about honoring my friends and staying a part of their lives. Help me to take time for friendships. Most of all thank You for Your personal and precious friendship and for demonstrating through Jesus how to be a true friend. Amen.

Filling Up on Grace and Peace

Do you ever wish you could stop by a station that had unending reserves of grace and peace? Similar to a gas station, you could pump yourself full of grace and peace, filling up to overflowing with enough of each to power you through every encounter, need and situation. What if you can do that, with the never-ending resource being God Himself?

“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” (2 Peter 1:2)

I also like how the Amplified translation says it:

“May grace (God’s favor) and peace (which is perfect well-being, all necessary good, all spiritual prosperity, and freedom from fears and agitating passions and moral conflicts) be multiplied to you in [the full, personal, precise, and correct] knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” (2 Peter 1:2)

Often we quickly read over this opening greeting from Peter. But recently when I read it again, it stopped me in my tracks. I began to really think about what it says. Grace and peace will abundantly be ours when we know God and His Son Jesus more and more. When we decide to follow Jesus, He gives us the full resources of Himself, but often we either don’t know it, don’t believe it, or don’t fully know how to receive and walk in it. The more we truly know and believe His goodness, mercy, right motives, grace, love, salvation, holiness, tenderness, character, etc., we will increasingly possess more grace and peace in our lives. Those characteristics will be multiplied in our lives. And this will come from the pure (full, personal, precise, and correct) knowledge and understanding of God; that He is good, and He is for us. Therefore we do not have to fear anything that may happen and we can always walk in peace, extending grace to ourselves and to others, as we trust Him. Isn’t that amazing? The truth that when I know and understood the full character and being of God, I can walk with total peace and grace.

We are all in the process of getting to know God more. It is a journey that takes time, just like the forming of any meaningful relationship. I encourage you to keep going this week! Keep seeking God. Keep getting to know Jesus. Keep praying, keep asking, keep reading, keep talking to God. And I know you will find yourself walking in more peace, more grace, and more of every good thing as you do.

So…
+Are you growing in knowing God and His Son Jesus?

+What hinders you from knowing God more? Fear, doubt, laziness, apathy, believing lies instead of truth? Take some time to search your heart and let go of the things that are a hinderance.

+What habits can you begin to cultivate that will help you get to know God more?

Prayer
God, thank You for giving us Your Son Jesus. Help us to know You more in every way. And thank you for Your promise that as we know You, an abundance of grace and peace will be multiplied in us, filling up to overflowing in our hearts and extending to those we meet. Amen.