Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Most Important Relationship 3 - Talking to God

I was a praying kid. I said my prayers every night, and at one point I even wrote my own little book of prayers.  I’ve been driven by a hunger to connect to God for as long as I can remember.  One morning when I was about 11, I came down to breakfast in tears. I was worried that God wanted me to become a nun and move to Africa. You see, I was a Catholic at the time, and that was the most committed thing I could do….but I really wanted to get married and have a family! I was in a place many Christians find themselves. We want to be close to God, want to please Him, but don’t really know what that looks like. How does a physical human connect with an ethereal God?  

I was helped greatly in my early twenties by Dr. Sherri Barden, a passionate woman who believed that everyone in our church needed to be close to God.  She was the one who got me started on writing in a spiritual journal.  So what do we say to God? I mean, beyond the Santa Claus-like list of things that we want from Him?

Here are some ideas:
1.       You can always talk to Him about your life, your day, what’s going well, what’s going poorly.  It’s kind of “diary” conversation, only you are specifically sharing these things with the Lord. When I was younger this occupied a lot of my spiritual journal space, but then, I had my share of the angst of youth!
2.       You can tell Him how much you love Him and appreciate Him.  Share what you like about who He is. Pour on the praise and adoration. 
3.       You can talk to Him about His Word. You can talk about verses that are meaningful to you, verses that make you love Him, or even ones that upset you. He doesn’t mind….He can take our questions!
4.       You can talk with Him about ways you want to change or grow.
5.       You can ask for His help with things that are troubling you.
6.       You can confess sin and repent.
7.    Sometimes I meditate on the lyrics of a song that I find meaningful, like what it will be like when I come face to face with Him in heaven. 
8.       It’s also OK to ask God for things, I just try and not make that the focus of my communication. Who wants a relationship like that?

This is just a start. If you have any fun ideas of ways you like to relate to God, I’d love to hear them! I hope we all have a good week communing with our Lord.  Make sure that after you talk, you take time to listen….that, by the way, will be the topic of my next post!

Psalm 40:16a 
Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You....

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Most Important Relationship 2 - Learn How to Listen

To say that Nick and I had a rocky start to our relationship would be the quintessential understatement.  We were actually engaged and cancelled our engagement before the wedding. Yes it was difficult. And awkward.  And the reasons are not really the focus of this particular story.  At this point in my life I had developed a habit of writing to the Lord daily in a journal. I’d been taught by my pastor to write to the Lord in one color and then write down what I felt like He was saying to me in another color. I’d been doing this for years at this point, and had learned to hear God’s voice much better than that first fall day I described in my last post.  So, when the Lord told me in my notebook that I was going to marry Nick Sewell after all, I was worried.  The idea of being wrong again, after all we’d been through terrified me.  What if this was not God? I’d be married to the wrong person! So, I talked to someone I trusted and asked their opinion. They suggested that I set the word aside and trust that God would continue to show me the right direction in time and help me to be sure in my heart that this was the right thing. So I did.

But in the meantime, regularly when I’d talk to the Lord in my notebook, He’d talk to me about Nick.  He told me over and over again. “You are going to get married in December. He is going to ask you, and when he does I want you to say yes. Practice it now. Say it out loud. Yes.”  This all started in August. Nick and I weren’t really hanging out at the time. There’s no place to go but the altar when you’ve already been down that road.  Anyway, this continues into November. Finally, about half-way through the month I quit writing in my notebook. I couldn’t hear from God.  I was an idiot.

On December first Nick took me out to a garden that was totally covered with deep snow. He’d written this in the snow, “I love you, Tammy will you marry me?”  He looked at me and said, “I’ve already talked to Pastor. I want to get married as soon as possible. What about December 29th?” I stared at the snow. I stared at him. The first thought that came into my head was, I do know how to hear from God!!

Nick had absolutely no idea what God had been saying to me.  But I knew. And when I really needed the confidence to say yes, I could. I love God so much. He knew I needed some assurance that this was His will. He also knew whom I needed to marry. Next to salvation, marrying Nick Sewell was the best decision of my life.  I also learned that God does truly speak to us if we learn how to listen.

John 10:27 (NKJV)
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Most Important Relationship of All

The first time I realized God was speaking to me, and I knew it was Him, I was 22 years old. I had spent the previous several months lying on my bed at night and crying out to Him. “Lord, I want to know that you’re real. Show me that you’re real. I know there is more to you than what I know.”  That cry of my heart went up over and over again.  I didn't see any immediate changes. But eventually, God began to work.  I liked to walk and pray, and so one fall day I was out walking in one of the neighborhoods of our college town.  Leaves were turning colors and crunching underfoot.  The sun shone and the air was crisp.  I’ll never forget it.  As I walked along I was fervently praying and in the middle of my prayer these words would slip out, “I want you to love me and serve me.” Embarrassed, I’d correct myself and repent of my own self-centeredness. “I’m sorry, Lord. I want to love you and serve you.”  This happened over and over.  I’m so selfish I can’t even pray right, I thought ashamedly. The funny thing was, as I walked along I realized that I had done this same thing quite a bit over the past several months and I was sincerely questioning myself.  What was my problem? All of a sudden it hit me. I almost screamed out loud! “Oh dear God! I think You are saying that to me!!”  At this revelation, my heart accelerated and I came to a sudden stop on the sidewalk.  I began gushing, “Of course, Lord. I will love you and serve you!!”

That was almost 25 years ago and the beginning of what has become the most precious relationship of my life.  A couple of people have asked me recently to share about how I have built my relationship with the Lord over the years, so today I’m starting a blog series on that topic.

The first lesson I learned was that God hears us when we cry out to Him.  He responds in His way in His time, but He responds.  And He loves hunger and desperation.  This was a good reminder to me to stay hungry.

Matthew 7:7-8 NIV
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Thursday, January 19, 2012

God's Friend

“She shoots, she scores! GOAL!!!” That, my friends, is music to my ears.  I’m quite the goal oriented person.  I love purpose; I love getting things done and checking things off my list.  It’s a useful quality in this world and has helped me achieve many things. However, I’m working on being a little less goal oriented in my time with Lord.  Too often I want a purpose. I want to get revelation or have a heart change or go to battle in the prayer closet.   It’s not cool to always want something from the Lord. After all, He is the most relational being in the Universe. You know how I know? Why else would He go to all the trouble to create and then redeem mankind? We’ve certainly been a pain in his heavenly backside! And He knew we would be before He even said, “Let there be light.” It’s totally crazy when you think that He went to all that trouble just for relationship. To be close to us. To me. To you.

Thinking about that is changing my quiet times. He wants to be with me.  He wants to know me.  I’m good about sharing my heart with the Lord, but I realized I always come before Him wanting something.  I know that I would be upset if I felt like Nick always wanted something out of our interactions. As if it wasn’t enough to simply be in my company.  The Lord probably doesn’t like it either.  This week I’ve tried to come without an agenda except to sit in his presence and keep him company. I chat. I tell Him I love Him. I sit quietly. I listen.  It’s been sweet and meaningful.   I think it might be blessing Him. J It’s blessing me!

PS….Oh and by the way, if you read the last post and are wondering, I’m feeling much better.  I’ve been feeling better and better ever since church Sunday night.  Funny. All that drama and I was on the verge of breaking free and I didn’t even know it.  It’s a good lesson about not giving up hope.

James 2:23(NIV)
And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.

Monday, January 16, 2012

In The Midst of Struggle

It’s been a hard week. I was tempted, for a moment, to pretend that my life is all perfect, but that would be a lie and I’m not much good at lying (I lack a proper poker face). Besides, from the beginning I felt like God wanted me to be honest in this blog…to avoid the trite and coined phrases that ring hollow in the midst of life with all its challenges. So here’s the truth.

Health issues are frustrating me.  I hate even saying that. I don’t want that to be my reality. But things have been hard the last couple of weeks. I’ve been tired, low energy, not sleeping and I have a constant headache. Then there’s this thing with my hormones where I’ve started throwing up and getting migraines at certain times of the month.  I had two doctor appointments scheduled for today and I wasn’t excited. I feel like my life is slowly being drained away by hours spent at doctors’ offices. I know I’m being melodramatic, but it’s the plain raw truth. I’m feeling dramatic. And I’m tired of hurting all the time.

I almost didn’t go to church last night because I was feeling crummy.  In the end, I dragged myself into the sanctuary in a pretty desperate state.  It’s a good thing God’s not freaked out by drama.  Worship started and I felt the desperation drain right out of me the longer I stood there.  One of the songs we sing has a repeating refrain that goes like this:

“My heart will sing, no other name--Jesus, Jesus.”

By the time I’d sung this about ten times I was wrapped up tight into His presence. 

I keep thinking that my life is being wasted. After all, how can I serve God if I’m sick all the time? I had a fresh revelation in the midst of all of this that I still think I need to earn something here in this life to make my existence legitimate.  But God only wants me to live for Him.  Him alone. He is my only song. Nothing stands in the way of that, not sickness, not difficulty, not drama. Nothing.  I can live for Him bedridden, weak, in any state.

My heart only sings one name.  

Philippians 4:11(NKJV)
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content

Thursday, January 12, 2012

An Exchange of Love

I’m still basking in the glow of my trip to the Healing Rooms that I talked about in my last post. Every time I think about my time with the Lord I tear up again. When I tried to talk about it with my small group this week I actually broke down and cried. I’m not even sure why, maybe because it was such a precious experience.

I can’t get over how well God knows me. You’d think that what I really needed was to be filled with a sense of His love for me (and that would be cool J).  But it’s easier for me to believe that God loves me than it is to believe that I love Him.  You see, I really WANT to love Him and I think that I do...but am afraid that I don’t. The longing of my heart is to be close to the Lord and love Him deeply. So when God made me aware of the love that I have in my heart for Him, it was such a….relief.  It makes me so happy.  I laughed out loud just now as I wrote that! It’s like my heart says, “I DO love you, Lord. I DO. I really do. Halleluiah.” My tears may actually be tears of joy and relief.  It’s like the truth of my heart was verified by Him as He said, “Yes, you love me. Let me communicate this love I feel from you.”  That might be it. As if it was an exchange of love.  I do believe God wants our relationship with Him to be an exchange of love.  I pray that we all continue to move towards this-- the greatest relationship of our lives.

Since it kind of fits here, this is my Christmas poem to the Lord:

Oh Lord, I look to you.
You are my hope and my strength.
You make my day worth living.
I love and adore you more than any other.
I want to live each day closer to you than the day before.
You deserve all honor, all praise.
There is none as lovely as you. 
What makes you beautiful is your heart--
Your Kindness.
Your Forgiveness.
The way you love.
You love me when I am unlovable and that is incredible to me.
You make me feel like I can go on no matter what happens.
You value me and like me….and I am amazed by that.
You are my very best friend.
My desire is to love you more and more the longer I live.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The God Who Is Our Peace

Yesterday I went for prayer for my hip at the Healing Rooms in Lewiston. It’s getting better and I’m walking a lot more, but it still hurts every day and I would really like to get healed. I’d love to ditch the brace for good…even though I struggle to have faith for that.  I went into the prayer room and they started to pray.  I moved to bend my head down in a respectful praying position when my eye was captured by a banner on the wall proclaiming some of the names of God.  El Eylon, the most high God.  El Shaddai, God our sufficiency.  Jehovah Shalom, the God who is our peace.   As they prayed, I just stared at that banner and started to cry. I love Him so much, this God who is my peace.  I forgot all about my prayer for healing and sat in his presence while tears rolled down my cheeks.

I came in there wanting something from the Lord but as I stood there I was overwhelmed with everything I already have been given. I have Him. I have His love and companionship. This God who is so amazing…so many things at once…our healer, our peace….and still the Most High God . Bigger than I can even comprehend.   For some crazy reason, in the midst of his greatness (and wouldn’t you think He’d have more important things He had to do?) He wanted to bless me yesterday.  And bless me He did. His presence overwhelmed me so much that I could feel it. My heart was filled with some great emotion, like it might be when you’ve heard some incredible news and your heart is warmed by it. I’m getting teary again just reliving it.  I’m having a hard time here, I can’t put the right words to it but I’m going to keep trying….. The part that surprised me was that I was very aware that my heart was filled to bursting with my love for Him.  I’m crying again, right back there, thinking of His goodness and how blessed I am to be loved by such a God.

To be made aware of my love for Him was actually a joy.  You see, I tend to be the type who looks at her life and says, “This is just not enough.” I often feel like I don’t love God enough, don’t care enough, am too selfish, whatever. But I do love Him. More than any other thing. And He knows it. And He showed me that yesterday.  I know my loving Him makes Him happy. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fighting For a Spiritual Life

I missed God this week. I was lonely for Him in the midst of a very busy life. School started back up after Christmas break and things got busy in a hurry. I’ve been putting in 10 hour days at work and then coming home to be with the family. Nick’s in the middle of a 7-day fast and I’ve been dealing with dinner by myself so he wouldn’t have to be around food. Usually he and I do that together. Now it’s Thursday night and I feel sort of like a dishrag that’s been wrung out.  It’s times like this that I realize how hard it is for mothers to maintain an active spiritual life (It’s probably just as hard for fathers…but I’ve never been one so I can’t speak to that!)  Anyway, I was talking with the Lord about that this evening, about how much I missed all the time we spent together during the break and how I’m so tired it’s not like I can enjoy a relaxed and meaningful moment with Him now.  At this point I’m just trying to be faithful.

It was as I sat here trying to be faithful, trying to connect with the Lord, wanting to get past my own fatigue and past blind obedience, that I determined in my heart that I was not going to give up.  Even if sometimes it feels impossible to actually be a spiritual mom, I’m going to keep trying. 

It was good to talk to Him tonight. It was good to rest in His presence and share my woes. It was good to tell Him I love Him. It helped me feel close to Him….even though I was tired and barely hanging on and it wasn’t exactly a precious moment. 

I realized something important today-- if we’re going to be close to the Lord this year we’re going to have to fight for it.

James 4:8a (NLT)
Come close to God, and God will come close to you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year! Welcome to 2012!

On New Year’s Eve Nick and I took a bunch of stuff to Goodwill; the fruits of all our labor in the basement on Friday.  While we were there, the clerk said that he’d had 50 people come through that day with donations and requests for tax deduction forms.  Clearly, we weren’t alone in our desire to purge and organize.  I’m sure we fit the pattern of some statistical analysis, the same one that directs stores to stock up on organizational bins and exercise equipment in preparation for all the New Year’s Resolutions that will be decided upon today.

Will you make any New Year’s resolutions?  I didn’t (not that it’s a bad thing) but I did spend time with the Lord and talked with Him about 2012. It is a tradition that Nick and I have. On New Year’s Day we spend time with God and ask him if there’s anything He might want to share about the year. It was a good conversation.  I’m not going to copy/paste the whole thing in, but there is one part of it I want to share.  When I asked Him about this year, this is one thing that I heard:

You need to enlarge your tents, become more than you are. You are going to be a more spiritual woman at the end of this year than you were last year. You are going to be closer to me, know me better, and be freer in me.

That sounded great!  And it wasn’t as if I felt burdened by it or like God wasn’t happy with my current state. It made me feel hopeful. He wouldn’t say that if it weren’t entirely possible in Him. It is what I want. It’s what He wants for me as well.  It’s where I’m going (hopefully) in 2012.

This is the thing I just love about the Lord. He is totally for us. He wants us to be close to Him. He wants us to feel loved and to know Him. He wants great things for us.  I hope we all press forward to the great things He has for us this year.

Psalm 126:2-3 (NKJV)
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
         And our tongue with singing. 
         Then they said among the nations, 
         “The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us,
         And we are glad.