Friday, December 27, 2013

An Imitation of God - Part 2

(Yes. It's been more than a month since my last post.)

(I'm sorry.)

Now, it's time to jump into part 2 of this series.

We're staying in Ephesians 5 pretty much the whole way through. My previous post covered verses 1-2 and established both the name and the vision of this series of blog posts - "an imitation of God."  If you have a moment and haven't read that first set of thoughts, go ahead and stop by this post to get what will hopefully prove to be a straightforward foundation for what I'd like to muse over in this post and the ones to come.

After stressing the importance of imitating God in every area of our lives, Paul moved on to point out specific elements that should *not* be found in the life of a believer seeking to emulate the holiness and love of God. Let's contemplate verse three for starters, where Paul explicitly states three "no-no's" of the Christian life:
"But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints..."
Fornication? Uncleanness? Covetousness?

What is this, a Biblical revision of Shakespeare?

Some definitions may help to clarify the meanings of these words suffering from disuse, because, let's face it - we don't go around using these words in everyday conversation.

First of all, let's look at "fornication."  (Oh yeah, we're going there.)

Merriam-Webster defines fornication as "consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other." Other Bible versions translate the Greek word πορνεια (pronounced "por-ni'-ah") as "sexual immorality," "immorality," and other similar terms. Basically, the term references any sexual relationship outside of the covenant bonds of marriage.

Please. We're Christians. None of that going on here. We don't do things like that, remember?

The Barna Group suggested in a recent survey that 5-6% of churchgoers (Protestant and Catholic) find that their greatest temptations revolve around immoral sexual behavior. Granted, 5-6% may not seem that much, but the survey also commented that sexual temptation is one of the struggles people are least likely to admit to. Also, percentages tend to downplay the true size and scope of an issue; while 5-6% may only translate to 5 or 6 people in a group of 100, this number grows with the size of the group. Pretty soon, the 5 or 6 have grown to hundreds and thousands.

Bottom line? Christians struggle with this "fornication" too. Our contemporary churches and coffee-laden focus groups won't eliminate this battle between the flesh and the Spirit, and in reality, no one is immune to a crash-and-burn in some form or fashion - or so Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1-:12-13,

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. 13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience.

Next up: "uncleanness," here we come. That one isn't so hard to tackle; I mean, hit the pause button and think about what it means. If something is "unclean," then it's dirty. If it's dirty, then it's in need of a good cleaning. If it's in need of a good cleaning...

You get the idea. Images of your dog or bedroom may come to mind.

This Greek word, ακατηαρσια ("ak-ath-ar-see'-ah"), can refer to something that is unclean in either a physical (e.g., grease on your shirt) or moral (e.g., an adulterous affair) way. It's going against the grain, against the way God designed life to work, and it's about as attractive to Him as the mess your new puppy made in his crate last night.

Is your nose starting to wrinkle a bit? Mine is.

Finally - "covetousness." Someone who is covetous is "marked by inordinate desire for wealth or possessions or for another's possessions; [has] a craving for possession." (Thanks again, Merriam-Webster!) πλεονεξια (you knew this was coming), when translated to its bare bones of meaning, comes out to the adjective many of us associate with the little green-eyed monster: greedy. To be plagued by covetousness is to need more and more and more; you're compelled by your cravings to the degree that you will do just about anything to obtain the object of your desire. 

Okay, yeah, you're right. No need to go there. Never mind the materialism plaguing our churches: bring your neighbor to church and earn an entry into a drawing for a TV (kiddos, get a game console if you convince Albert from next door to join you at Sunday School!). Never mind our straining and striving and chasing after that prized spot on the morning worship team, the leadership core, or the event management. 

Because, my word, we don't have to worry about covetousness.

Well-intentioned sarcasm aside, I hope you've taken note of these three moral pitfalls that Paul addresses. Why? 

Because I want to point out a pivotal phrase.
"...let it not even be named among you..."
Some versions of the Bible translate this phrase a bit differently, and I think the New International Version hits the nail on the head:
"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity..."
Not even a hint.


You see, we Christians like to regulate our morality by explicit acts. If you went all the way, then that's it for you. But hey, if you only went a little bit of the way - if you only dabbled in a specific sin without actually committing it - then no worries. After all, we're not legalists here; let's not chuck that amazing grace out the window.

No, indeed. Let's not. But let's also not forget the standard that grace calls us to: holiness. Realizing the implications of Paul's challenge to the Ephesian believers is a staggering proposition, and one that I'm sure I don't grasp fully. Not even a hint? Not even a suggestion? Not even a flickering thought? Really?

No. Not even so much as a shred of a suggestion of immorality or impurity for the flesh to feed upon.

For believers who would seek to live a life representing the holiness of the Lord to this disintegrating culture in which anything goes, the implications of holy living dictated by Ephesians 5 are radical. Stupid-sounding, perhaps. Irrational, in some cases.

(Just like willingly offering yourself to be beaten and mocked and crucified on a cross in the most brutal, humiliating manner possible for people who would continue to spit in your face for thousands of years. Because, of course, Jesus never did anything radical or stupid-sounding or irrational in the eyes of arrogant man seeking after remnants of lost immortality.)

This passage calls us to seriously evaluate every aspect of our lives and bring each corner into the light of God's truth. For many of us, it won't involve breaking off adulterous relationships or deleting the pornography from our computers (although for individuals struggling in those areas, such action absolutely should be taken). Instead, it will involve a scrutiny of our entertainment: will the music we listen to, the movies we choose to watch and the television we view, match the declaration of hearts committed to radical holiness - the ultimate rejection of even a hint of sexual immorality or impurity? This kind of examination will not only involve explicit sex scenes or lyrics, but inappropriate language and humor - hints - that foster impurity.

Obedience to Ephesians 5 will demand a stern evaluation of our words, our thoughts, our hearts' desires, because as long as the command of Ephesians 5 is neglected, as long as we dance around sin before a God Who abhors all forms of sin (Psalm 119:28), we will be living only a fraction of the life we were created to live, and the world will have very little reason to seek the hope that lies within our hearts.

So I ask you, as I ask myself: are there any forms of fornication, uncleanness, or covetousness you're tolerating in your life? Any subtle hints of impurity lurking about? Any thought that is not obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5)? Those questions can be hard to answer. Believe me, I know. I still struggle to answer them honestly, knowing that my answer will most likely show a heart not yet fully surrendered to His glory and will demand a change in my life that, quite frankly, I really just don't want to have to make most of the time.

Why bother, then? I think Paul knew we would ask that question, and so he preceded this weighty subject matter with the two verses we looked at in the previous blog post, giving his answer: "...because you are His dear children." 

We're children called to reflect the heart of our Father, demonstrating His worth to this lost and dying world. We do it because we love Him. We do it because He's worth it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

An Imitation of God - Part 1

Just so you know, my previous post went without a sequel for significantly longer than I intended. You'll just have to be content with knowing that my only consistency (apart from, I hope, a love for the Lord and commitment to His truth) is my inconsistency. If I promise a blog post is coming soon, then I probably mean soon in the long-term sense - a month might even be too much to ask. *sigh* Now, I know so many of you are hanging on every word I say and that these ginormous gaps of time in between my posts are driving you insane, but...

Oh, whatever. Who am I kidding? :)

But that's enough drabble about me. Instead, I want to get on with sharing thoughts that have been whispering at the gateways of my head and heart, gently and yet fervently begging for release.

The topic? Christ-likness.

I know, I know. You're ready to tune me out (in a really loving way, of course; instead of angrily clicking the big red "x" in the corner of your screen, you're going to skim the rest of this text, nod respectfully at the Scripture interspersed throughout, and go on your merry way) but please. Don't. You should know by now that I hate using cliches (especially the churchy kind) unless there's a very, very, VERY good reason to do so, and this situation is no different.

I'm not going to talk about loving your neighbor. I'm not going to touch on self-control or anger management. Instead, I'd like to navigate into potentially-dangerous waters and suggest that there's  passage of Scripture that has been woefully overlooked by the body of Christ in general. I want to step on toes, because the painful pinching might make you pull back and examine just exactly why your toesies didn't appreciate being tread upon. Discomfort usually indicates that something is not quite right, you know, so I ask this of you: if it hurts, let it. And then find out why. Don't shove your awkward or sensitive or downright irritated attitude into a corner to melt back into your psyche; instead, ask God to speak in a way that you can't ignore. Ask Him to help you to listen and process and, if it's necessary, change.

And for goodness sake, don't do it for me. What I have to say, ultimately, will never matter. The Word of God is your standard and declares an unchanging truth that will condemn or confirm whether you like it or not. Be compelled by His truth. Do it because He's worth it.

Originally, I was going to try to pack everything into one blog post, but I don't want to overload your mental circuitry or your spiritual senses. I want to take it one bit at a time - so yes, this will be a series of sorts - and give you just enough to manageably ponder before moving on. :)

So, then, with my characteristic disclaimer out of the way: here we go.

The topic, again: Christ-likness.

The passage: Ephesians 5. Specifically, verses 1-20.

(Yes, and now you know why I won't dump it all on you right now. You're welcome.)

Let's just look at the first two verses for starters. Easy enough, right?

"Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are His dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God."
Right away, we encounter a command. Not a suggestion - no sirree, nothing like that. The verb form here is pretty adamant: "Imitate God..." Not, "think about imitating..." or "what if you imitated..." but point-blank, no-punches-pulled: "Imitate God."

My personal inclination is to conclude that this phrase is something I'm supposed to do and I'd better get it done - or, at the very least, try. For example, when I was growing up under my parents' authority, their word was law, and strange and unsual punishments followed the child who dared ignore even the subtlest hints. (Well, so maybe not "strange" and "unsual," but try explaining the purpose of writing "I will take out the garbage" fifty times - or more - to a ten-year-old...) This environment quickly taught me the importance of immediate, total, unconditional obedience.

But why do I care about imitating God? Why *should* I care? In my parents' house, I cared about obeying their commands because my state of health was on the line, but that setting is seemingly worlds away from this scenario. Okay, yes, God is good and loving and kind and just and righteous and holy, but guess what? I was birthed into sin, and my flesh and the Holy Spirit in me still war against one another (Galatians 5:17). Naturally, I don't want anything to do with goodness and love and justice and righteousness and certainly not holiness, and it's only by the grace of God that I pursue any of those things now. My sin-infected flesh shudders at the thought of imitating God. The idea is too contrary to my natural disposition. Heaven - errr, hell, I suppose - forbid!

But then, there is grace! Redemption! I've been set free from the law of sin and death by the blood of Jesus Christ (Romans 7:24-25), and the desire to imitate God is present in me.

And how should I imitate God?

" everything..."

Fo' real? Everything?

(Hey, I didn't write that. Don't look at me. Well, I mean, keep reading the blog post, but quit rolling your eyes at me. It's impolite.)

But really, Paul again makes it clear: down to the tiniest detail of our lives, we are to imitate God.



Non-negotiable. Straight-up. Everything is everything, and if you can't reconcile that with your reality, then you probably need to get a new one. Just a suggestion.

This imitation of Christ extends to our conversation. Our entertainment (music, movies, books...Tumblr, Facebook, YouTube...). Our thoughts. Our spending habits. Our work ethic.

(I think you get the picture.)

If you're alive and you do it, then God says, "Imitate Me in it." And that means maybe you won't do some of the things you're doing now, because you're coming face-to-face with the reality that you just *can't* imitate God while doing it.

More on that in a later post.

"But why should I worry about imitating God? Why, Hannah? You asked that question twelve crazy paragraphs ago, and you still haven't answered it."

Sorry, guys.

"Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are His dear children..." And not just "His children."

His dear children.

Your heavenly Daddy loves you like crazy. No cliches, no warm fuzzies, just truth. He loved you so much that He sent Jesus Christ, Who, as Paul continues to share, "offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God" to the pay the ultimate penalty for our sin and bring us near to God (Ephesians 2:13).

The nature of God, in and of itself, is enough to compell us to imitate Him: truth, goodness, love, purity, beauty, holiness, justice. In reality, He is reason enough. But, since we're a short-sighted bunch of people and need further motivation, gratitude and love will do nicely as well. A heart truly thankful for the sacrifice Jesus offered on the cross and a mind captured by the love that sent Him there will find the desire to imitate God as nothing less than the only appropriate response.

We imitate because we are loved. We imitate because we love in return (1 John 4:9). We imitate because of the sacrifice that was made for us. We imitate as living sacrifices, seeking to be holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1).

To look at that love, at the privilege we have of being called God's dear children, and then choose to turn and pursue your own agenda - well, that's your choice. But based on the Word of God and the commands clearly stated, I'd say it's a choice you should probably weigh pretty carefully.

Thanks for reading; keep an eye out for part two, where we look at just exactly what Paul had in mind when he challenged us to "imitate God."

Friday, May 24, 2013


Hi people. How's it going?


I'm sitting here in my little cubicle at work, waiting for the floodgates to burst open in my schedule later next month as I start running check-ins and check-outs for the various camps that our organization will be hosting. Until then, though, a busy day equates to thumb-twiddling and spontaneously speaking in Russian accents (if my coworkers and I are lucky, we might even battle over who gets to write the two-sentence email that our boss asked one of us to write).

But, seriously. It's fun. You did see my little blurb about Russian accents, right? I wasn't kidding, I promise you.

So, with all this time on my hands, I thought that something more than endless online window shopping and skipping around my Spotify playlists might be called for. Something like, say, finally drafting a blog post on that idea I've had floating around in my head for weeks...

I swear, I do this all the time:

*blog post idea meanders into head*
"Hey, that's neat! I should write a blog post about that!"
*idea settles in for a 2-hour stay*
"Ummm, yeah...let me get back to you on that."
 6 weeks later...

I'm working on it, guys. No promises.

Now, when I jump started this blog, I didn't really envision it becoming a deep theological archive of churchy-what-have-you's, and to be quite honest, I'm working to round out the concept that was originally in my head a little bit more. I'd like to incorporate some fashion tips, beauty know-how, music, movies, books...all that cultural jazz...but it seems all I ever end up writing about are the lessons God is teaching me from His Word. There's nothing wrong with that situation, I'm inclined to think; in fact, there could be everything right with it. I'm not entirely sure. I do know that writing - anything - has always tapped into the deep well somewhere down inside of me, and suddenly I start uncovering thoughts and feelings and ideas that I didn't know were hidden down there. Sometimes they're beautiful, and sometimes they're hideous and yet still beautiful in a strange way, and sometimes...

I just don't know. What say I just keep writing, let God have His way with my fingers and computer and heart and mind, and we see what happens?

Okay then. Here we go.

*Stay tuned for my next blog post - which, I promise, will be much more substantial than this cursory fly-by.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Year One: This is [Our] God

"...but the Lord supported me. He led me to a place of safety; He rescued me because He delights in me.....For this, O Lord, I will praise You among the nations; I will sing praises to Your name" (Psalm 18:19, 49).

^My sentiments as I heave a huge sigh of relief and wrap up the first year of my undergrad studies. Wow. Have I really completed one entire year of this insanity?

But I'm so grateful. And amazed.

I've watched God provide for my needs again and again, from the smallest to the greatest: a meal plan, financial assistance, a job, good grades, supportive friends - all these blessings and more. I've found reminders of His faithfulness at moment when I needed them the most. The sheer fact that I *get* to live this adventure in the presence and power of the Lord overjoys and humbles me all at once.

I'm not being churchy when I say that I am unworthy of the many blessings He has showered me with; this year has given me enough proof of my weaknesses and the areas in which the Refiner's fire needs to burn deeper and melt away the clinging flesh-attitudes.

I think it's ridiculously easy for people to share the incredible things the Lord has done in them and for them and conclude with an oh-so-spiritual, "Yeah, it's fantastic. I don't deserve it."

Inwardly, they're smugly pleased with themselves and the things they've accomplished. Oh, yes, their head may resound with thoughts of God's grace and favor dispensed in their lives, but they have yet to come to grips with their utter lack of worthiness. They've read their Bible, they've baked cookies for church, they have a blog where they write on spiritual themes...they've deserved some of God's blessings, certainly.

I know. I've done the same thing far too often, largely due to the fact that I haven't been confronted full-force with my weaknesses, with the reality that, apart from Christ, I really am undeserving.

But this semester - this year - I've watched my humanity seep through whatever veneer I prided myself on having gently smoothed over my faults and sin. Granted, I had learned much during high school, having grown spiritually and matured in my faith - but I hadn't reached some sort of perfection plateau. College transformed (and, to be honest) is still transforming my view of myself - and of God.

I've shrugged off the promptings of the Lord in favor of my pride and so-called "busy" schedule (time management issues on top of that, anyone?). I've let satan rule me with fear. My love for others has often been insincere, and my eyes have been so taken up with the glitter of the present that I, at times, haven't been able to see the glow of the future God has in store for me.

Long story short, ladies and gentlemen? I'm weak. Above all things, this past year has taught me the message of 1 Corinthians 10:12: "If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall." In His faithfulness, He forgives my sin, but His glory calls me to nevertheless pursue holiness (Romans 6:1-2). And I do. And I fail. And His grace is sufficient in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) as I cry out for His help to please Him and live a life obedient to His words.

Thus, I mean what I say when I declare that I am unworthy of what God has done for me. I can only pray that this message, this truth of my utter unworthiness and His supreme worthiness, will invade me like a lightning bolt invades the trunk of a tree and sets it on fire. I want to always and forever be amazed by the things He does for me, to keep gasping and staring and wondering and murmuring in awe that this is my God.

This is our God.

Another psalm (Psalm 103, specifically verses 1-5) comes to my mind as I meditate on the year gone by:

"Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s."

And, honestly? That's all I can say. It's all I have to offer: an encouragement to you and to my own soul to bless the Lord, the One Who in and of Himself is the highest benefit, our Great Reward; the One Who has set our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12); our Healer; our Redeemer, Who takes our brokenness and brings forth beauty; our Glory, our Joy, our Satisfier, our Strength.

Bless Him. Bless Him for Who He is and what He has done. Even when we are (as we are so very often) unworthy, He is utterly, eternally worthy.

I can't wait to see where He takes me next...

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

You See, There's This Band Coming to Town...

...and I'm really excited about it.

Really, really, really excited.

Ever heard of Tenth Avenue North?

You haven't?


*starts throwing random Tenth Ave goodies at innocent don't know*

Here, watch this:

And take a look at this:

Yep. The Struggle Tour. Snazzy name, eh? Vaguely reminiscent of the title of their most recent studio release...

And you know what? While you're catching up on the last six or so missed years of your musical life (Tenth Ave's first studio album, Over and Underneath, was released in 2008), go ahead and watch this:

The Struggle Tour. Happening in a city near me (huzzah!) and, chances are, near you too. Scroll down the list, find the closest city, and skeddadle on over before you miss it. You won't regret it, I promise.

Now, you may be thinking: why should you care?

Ahem. Excuse you for having the audacity to ask that question. *adjusts spectacles to be more advantageous to peering-down-one's-nose*

But now, in all seriousness: that was a valid question. It would be my pleasure to answer it.

Boy-bands (or pop-rock bands in general) are a common cultural phenomenon. All you need is five guitarists (seven if you really want to make an impression), a hunky drummer, a melodramatic keyboardist, and a dynamic front man who can belt it WHILE clutching the microphone on its stand WHILE strumming away on his snazzy acoustic Hohner. I mean, it's so simple. You wonder why we don't have more of these pop icons showing up on a regular basis.

Oh, wait.

Never mind.

(I'm not even going to confess that One Direction just popped into my mind.)

But, all that say: bands these days tend to be overrated. Especially running around in Christian circles. Names like "Rugged Splinter" (an obvious reference to the cross), "Until You" (again, obviously a nudge at the salvation experience of the lead vocalist), and the ever-popular "Light" (because as a Christian, it's all about the light now, right?) are combined with v-neck tees, skinny dark-wash jeans, and I'm-so-cool-I-can't-smile expressions, and there ya' have it. The archetypical Christian band, redeemed and energetic and squeaky clean. They really have some fantastic lyrics, too; they tend to run along the lines of,

"I love You
I love You
I need You
I need You
I'm going to come alive
Because You

Deep stuff, you guys. My toes can't find their way out.

Ahhh, I'm sorry. The sarcasm is just too fun. I promise I'll stop now and get to my point...yeah...oh, no, wait, I've got it.

You see, in the days of stereotypical religion and the same songs that have simply been rewritten in several hundred variations, Tenth Avenue North is something new and fresh that hearkens back to days when quality came before quantity and words had more worth than filling up the next record contract. At the heart of the ministry of Tenth Avenue North is a desire to do something authentic, something real that leads listeners to experience God. Mike Donehey, the lead vocalist, guitarist, and head writer for the band, wrote rather profoundly:

What we’re hoping for with this music that we’re making is to not just entertain people. I think it’s safe to say that we already have plenty of that. What we’re wanting is to see people encounter truth. Remember, we all worked at a church for some time, and there we saw plenty of emotion. We saw plenty of people having a good time, but it wasn’t long until we realized that if emotion isn’t being evoked by truth, well, then it just doesn’t last. And we want this love in hearts to last. I guess you could say we’re done just trying to get emotional from blast beats and hip guitar lyrics. Instead, we desire to be cut to the heart. To be honest, genuine, and faithful to what we believe is truth.
(Source: Tenth Avenue

"Honest, genuine, and faithful."

I'm cool with that idea. In fact, I'm strongly supportive of that idea. When you have a band that says, "You know what? Enough with the emotionalism, enough with the trend-for-trend's-sake, enough with the popular concept of churchiness. Let's just be honest. Let's just be genuine. Let's just be faithful." Faithful to the truth of God's Word, not our concept of it. Faithful to the power of God that can change lives, not our charged emotionalism that squeezes out a tear or two. Faithful to the message of the cross, which demands nothing less that ultimate, overwhelming surrender.

Tenth Avenue North accomplishes this mission very well. Far from generic lyrics about an ambiguous "You" (in which the only indication that it's talking about God is the upper-cased "Y" in the liner notes), their songs are introspective, well-crafted, and insightful. They explore multiple facets of humanity - the struggle with sin; the redemption of our sin and poor choices; the deep love of God for us, His beloved; and forgiveness - with word choices that are reminiscent of A.W. Tozer or C.S. Lewis. They're beautiful, they're profound, and they're remarkable.

So go ahead and plunge into their music. Visit their website, listen to the music, and be sure to check the tour itinerary for an event happening near you!'s not enough to just say, "I believe,"
'Cause truth is that talk is cheap.
So grace, give me eyes to see.
You came to take us back to the start;
You came to touch the hardness of our hearts.
You gave us truth; that truth is Who You are
It's Who You are. 
 (Lyrics from "The Truth is Who You Are" by Tenth Avenue North on their sophomore album, "The Light Meets the Dark")


Sunday, February 24, 2013

"Open My Eyes" - Cultivating a Spirit of Anticipation

I have a wonderful friend.

Well, scratch that. I have wonderful friends. Please don't think that my first statement means I eek out a social existence via Facebook, Twitter, and this blog without the joy of any real, face-to-face relationships. I promise you: it's not like that.

But I was, specifically, thinking about one friend in particular. The fact that I even know her name is a testimony to God's faithfulness, and when I think about the friendship we've cultivated over the past few years, my mind gets blown. Every time. Kaboom. Little bits of baffled brain all over the place.

We talk about everything: work, church, relationships (both the guy and the girl kind), family dynamics, dreams, successes, et cetera, et cetera. And while we jive on almost any topic our conversation lands on, I think we most appreciate sharing what God is doing in our lives, how He is challenging our faith, and what He's been teaching us through His Word. I would say without a doubt that these more "spiritual" discussions are the crux of our friendship. We're soul-sisters, without a doubt, and I can assure you that there's nothing more incredible than peering in at a person's heart and finding that it, like yours, has been captured by the deep love of Christ.

So, recently, we had a soul-sister talk. It's what we gals do. Call each other up, say "hi," exchange pleasantries, and then get into the stuff that really matters. Life lessons. Friendships. Our respective relationships with God. Forget the who-likes-who and oh-my-word-did-you-see-this-movie superficiality; we're sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17) before the timer on my cell phone reads "00:02:00." (Now, granted, the latest film version of Jane Austen's Emma has come up occasionally...ish. Okay, frequently. But come's Jane Austen!)

She (my friend, not Jane Austen) asked me about my life recently, and I gave her the lowdown on college life. (Unlike myself, she chose to forgo college, feeling that God had a different agenda for her life.) In one of our previous conversations I had mentioned the challenge of maintaining a consistent schedule for my time with the Lord every morning; she now asked how I'd been doing in that area. Thankfully, I was able to share how I, by God's grace, had read God's Word almost every morning and was committed to continuing the practice.

Granted, keeping such a commitment has been challenging at times. On most mornings, my alarm blares in my ear, I hit the "snooze" button, and flop back onto my pillow with a groan. When I finally roll out of bed, I'm still tired - but the day will go on in spite of me, and my professors will have little sympathy for a bleary-eyed student who simply didn't get to bed on time the night before.

But, before I hit the shower, it's devotional time.

I used to ultra-prioritize my mornings, showering and getting completely ready for my busy day before I spent any time in God's Word. After all, I had to be ready and prompt; there's no such thing as "fashionably late," right? As you might expect, my theory didn't work very well. By the time I was satisfied with my hair and had gulped down a protein shake, the clock would read 8:00 a.m., and I was out the door. No devotions, not so much as a prayer.

Therefore, I decided that my very first post-rolling-out-of-bed move would be to open my Bible and a devotional book (currently Springs in the Valley, by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman) with the intent to spend time (however brief) in the Lord's presence before I dreamed of doing anything else. It usually amounted to five minutes or less, but God was (and is) so faithful to show me exactly what I need for the day ahead.

Now, I know what you're thinking. (Didn't tell you I could read minds, did I?) "Sorry, but that doesn't work for me. I do my devotions, but I don't ever hear from God. I don't even know why I bother anymore." Or maybe...

"Yes! That's awesome! I totally get what you're saying! I mean, I just read John 3:16 this morning and the part where it says, 'God so loved the world' was just fantastic because it reminded me how much God loves me, and today has been the best day EVER and oh my goodness I LOVE JESUS!"

Umm... *pats on head* *runs very far away*

But now, in all seriousness, let me ask you: what exactly are you expecting from your devotions?

A spiritual pick-me-up?

A "Jesus high"?

A day in which nothing goes wrong, because you read Philippians 4:13 while you were putting on your makeup?

Or, perhaps: were you expecting anything?

Before I go further, I feel a need to clarify: John 3:16 is a spectacular verse. It takes the Gospel and wraps it into a concise sentence that is easy to remember and powerful to quote. In the same way, Philippians 4:13 is an extremely important reminder that, as 17th century Christian author and preacher Jonathan Burr wrote, "in myself I am nothing; in Christ, all things." Unfortunately, though, these verses have been overemphasized to the point where they have become church-y cliches that we no longer meditate upon reverently, instead relegating them to common catchphrases that mean about as much to us as the conventional greeting of "How are you?"

But, to continue: what are you expecting from your time with the Lord? Do you quickly scan the page and the dash off to the next task on the list? Or do you enter into your devotions with a spirit of anticipation, peering eagerly at every word of every verse, eyes open to the message that you know God has for you that day?

Throughout the Psalms we read of the importance of anticipating God. In Psalm 25:4-5, David prays,

"Show me the right path, O Lord;
    point out the road for me to follow.

Lead me by Your truth and teach me..."

His prayer reflects a heart desirous of and expecting God to respond. He was anticipating God to answer; further, he was willing to follow the path that God led him on.

Psalm 119 is even richer in examples of a spirit of anticipation. In the description of joyful people found in verses 1-2, one of the characteristics listed is anticipation: "Joyful are those for Him [God] with all their hearts" (v. 2). Joy is found in actively seeking ("with all their hearts") God. Again, here comes the word we've all grown to know and love: anticipation. In general, you don't look for something if you don't expect to find it. Expectation precedes seeking.

Finally, perhaps the most vivid but to-the-point prayer that reflects a heart of anticipation is found in Psalm 118:19: "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law." This is my prayer every morning, the words my heart cries out as I seek to know the Lord more and more. Open my eyes! Remove the blinders! Show me what I have never seen before!

Whether it be for you, a friend, a coworker, a family member - a total stranger, even- God has a message that He wants you to hear today. He wants to encourage you, challenge you, equip you to share His love in a fresh way to someone who desperately needs to hear His truth. Don't let a busy schedule or a blind heart prevent His words from reaching their intended destination. Preface your quiet time with this prayer:

Open my eyes, Lord!


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