Getting to Know God Better

We only know — what we know — when we know.

A split-second explosion came from the direction of our garage. After checking and finding nothing peculiar, my son and I shrugged it off as odd.

Later that evening, my husband and I find glass across the garage floor. We examine windows and vehicle mirrors for cracks, but see nothing broken. Suddenly recalling earlier events, I mention the noise. Puzzled, we look around and then up. There, high above, we see the remaining jagged edges of the garage door opener’s light bulb.

At our house — maybe yours too — despite an extensive collection of light bulbs, we never seem to have the right replacement. So, while shopping online for a bulb to match the broken one, my husband discovers light bulbs specifically made for garage door openers. These bulbs resist shattering due to constant vibrations, and they interfere less with radio frequencies from opener devices. Huh. This is good to know.

After nearly twenty-seven years of marriage in six different homes, one expects to know this information, yet we are genuinely surprised. We only know — what we know — when we know. Right?! Now garage door opener light bulbs belong in our collection.

I keep thinking about the ordinary bulb, and how we did not know any better. It seemed to work fine. Why would we change it? Improvements are usually sought when things stop operating properly or when someone shares learning from their own experience with us. 

Faith seems to operate in a similar way, doesn’t it? It seems good enough, until it’s not. Illness, addiction, grief, divorce, financial problems…crises force us to examine our faith. We are comfortable with what we believe, when we pray, and how we worship until life shatters in some way. Sometimes we may look for sources of the “noise” and attempt to fix things without God. Or, maybe we avoid and dismiss the issue. But, our problems, they tend to boomerang, don’t they? Breakage begs to be noticed; it keeps showing up under our feet.

While picking up the pieces of brokenness, we question the comfort and complacency of a status quo faith. Maybe we need to know more? Investigating leads to new discoveries like light bulbs…and deeper faith. Surprised, we realize, in spite of our years and experience, there is a lot we do not know. A lot we wish we had known sooner.

Our God is not surprised by our lack of knowledge, shortcomings, or regrets. He loves us right where we are, and right as we are. He wants to be known by us. When we know we need to know God better, he rejoices. 

A new drive to learn and deepen our knowledge about faith can overwhelm us. Where do we begin? How do we learn more?

Learn about Jesus

Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 NIV

Jesus is the center of Christianity, yet many Christians avoid talking about him. Maybe Jesus makes people uncomfortable because the Trinity concept (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) can be difficult to understand. Or, perhaps the world’s different views about the purpose of Jesus’ life here (Savior or Prophet) make belief difficult. When we lack a comfortable level of knowledge about something, we tend to avoid it.

The Bible, however, tells us we cannot sidestep Jesus and still get to heaven. The only way to God is through Jesus. The first step in getting to know God better is understanding who Jesus is and what his sacrifice means.

Study Scripture

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 NIV

Many say the Bible is God’s love letter to us. As such, its contents reveal his power, promises, and will. The Word is alive and active in that it changes us as our faith grows. The Bible is not a book to be read once, understood and finished. Scripture meanings deepen and offer different interpretations throughout our life journey.

The Scripture above likens God’s Word to a sword. Cutting through our spiritual life, the Word lays out before us our own light and darkness. It guides and reassures as needed. Studying the Bible requires more than reading its stories, and understanding its characters and lessons. Scriptures help us make daily decisions and walk God’s path for our life.

Pray

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18 NIV

Prayer is a conversation we have with God. Telling him our hopes, dreams, concerns, and fears brings him closer and welcomes his wisdom into our lives.

Prayer provides space for confession and redirection. It provides more confidence and peace. As we spend time in prayer, we begin seeing more and more of the ways God is working on our behalf. Prayer builds trust in God’s character, anticipation for his blessings, and thankfulness.

Be led by the Holy Spirit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

Being led by the Holy Spirit requires embracing the concept of surrender. Recognizing there are circumstances out of our control, we seek God’s help and direction. God works inside of us through the Holy Spirit, producing results or “fruit” in our lives. For example, the Holy Spirit provides patience in difficult situations, peace in trouble, motivation for God’s work, and prayers when we can’t find words.

Throughout our lives, the Holy Spirit plays many roles such as conscience, counselor, and protector. The Holy Spirit even teaches us how to share God with others. As we grow closer to God, we naturally follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance more and more.  Jesus referred to Holy Spirit as a helper who guides us through life (John 14:26). Human desires can be selfish and idolizing, but the Spirit’s inclinations are never sinful and always line up with what we learn from Scripture.

Fellowship

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27:17 NLT

Spending time with others growing in faith sharpens knowledge and broadens experience. Worshipping at church services is important, but our complicated lives are too much for a Sunday sermon to handle alone. Sermons teach us about God; fellowship helps us apply our learning.

Our faith naturally deepens when we exchange experiences and learning with others. Supportive friendships are built which foster unique ideas and opportunities to serve. In Scripture, God calls us to work together and sharpen each other’s knowledge and talent. Using our various gifts to support each other we can find ways to model Jesus’ life and to spread the Good News (John 3:16). Fellowship brings us close to people who nourish our faith through the giving and receiving of God’s love. 

Now, please excuse me. The new light bulbs for our garage door opener have arrived. Discovering the protection this “light” provides, over all our comings and goings, has taught me nothing less will do. When we know — what we need to know — we know. Press on in faith my friends.

Dear God,

Thank you for opening my eyes to the things I do not see. When life moves along comfortably, I think the faith I have is all I need. But, you graciously teach me to never stop striving in my quest to know you better. You patiently wait for me to discover the pieces at my feet and unlock new learning. You show me ways we operate stronger together. Help me seek more time to learn about your Son and to study your Word. Remind me to pray throughout my day. May the Holy Spirit’s guidance within me overshadow the inclinations of this world. And, may the people I surround myself with encourage my faith to grow deeper still. In Jesus’ Name, Amen 

Other Posts About Growing in Faith:

Living Unashamed of Faith

A Fit Faith 

Living Like a Superhero

Making Pie with the Holy Spirit

A Few Recommended Resources:

Lucado, Max. He Chose The Nails / What God Did To Claim Your Heart. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2000. Print.

Strobel, Lee. Case for christ. Place of publication not identified: Zondervan, 2016. Print.

The Gospel of Mark, John 18-21

Devotional books such as: Jesus CallingBedside Blessings, Earth Psalms, Draw the Circle, or Closer to God Each Day

Online Bible study groups such as: faithgateway, Proverbs31 Ministries for Women, He Reads Truth for Men 

Got Questions Website

Photos courtesy of Pixabay, except the last.

The Worry Fight

Have you fought a few rounds with worry lately? More often than we would like, many of us find ourselves in the ring trying to knock worry out. We fret about things like beauty, money, success, health, family and …. even worry itself! Gradually, worry becomes a fact of life, part of the human condition, or something we expect to come with responsibility.

We stay in the ring, routinely fighting one worry after another, even though we know our efforts are futile. There’s no winning against worry, and we know this. It doesn’t solve anything, but tossing it around in the ring seems to make us feel productive somehow. Then, circumstances change and our current worry opponent becomes weaker. We’re ready to take off our gloves, but then a fresh worry shows up and relieves the old one. So, we stay in the ring, and we keep swinging.

One day a large, unfamiliar worry shows up in the opposite corner. This fight drags on longer than the rest. The punches surprise us. We can’t stay on our feet. Staggering and out of options, we fall against the ropes.

Where do we go from here? Have you been there? I have. I spent a lot of my life in the ring fighting worry, day in and day out. One opponent after another, I stayed on my feet. But, one day the worry was too big and too unknown. It wore me out. I spent some time hanging on those ropes, searching for a way to end the fight with worry.

I read what God had to say about worry. Did you know the Bible tells us ‘not to fear’ hundreds of times? Some sources say 365 times — interestingly, the same number of days in a year. Regardless of the exact number, it is clear God never intended us to fight with worry at all. How did he intend for us to cope?

Humbly Seek God’s Help

 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7 New International Version (NIV)

In Christianity, humility means to hold a modest opinion of one’s importance and abilities in relation to God. Humbly seeking God’s help requires us to overcome any barriers like pride, shame, or even ignorance which stand in the way of our relationship with him. Admitting we cannot find answers on our own opens the door for God to help. Our prayers start a relationship with him, thus serving him in one of the best possible ways.

As we grow in faith, we realize that no problem is too big or small for God. Everything that happens to us concerns him because he loves us, no matter what. We were not meant to handle our problems without his help. However, if we don’t ask him for help, he certainly lets us try (free will). God does not occasionally want our worries. He does not only want to hear about certain things. God wants every concern; he wants ALL our anxiety.

Trust God’s Care and Plans for You

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3: 5-6 New Living Translation (NLT)

When worries weigh heavy on our hearts we try anything to remedy our situation – even more worrying. Urgent situations may cause us to forget to pray or to delay it. We might doubt God’s ability to help us. Or, we might wonder why God would even want to help us. Prayer can become our last resort. Trusting God with “all your heart” means trusting him FIRST, not last.

God wants us to rely on him. We cannot control or fully understand our circumstances, but God does. He has a plan for our lives, and he wants to help us find our way. Prayer provides the time we need to free our conscience and voice concerns. Do our problems magically vanish? No. But, prayer can relieve worry by rejuvenating us with God’s hope and new direction. Scripture brings us reassurance and helps evaluate decisions. We start noticing how love shows up for us in times of trouble, and we may discover how our experiences can help us love others. Trusting God, in good times and in bad, helps us discover paths away from worry. 

Share the Load

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11: 28-30 NIV

Many of Jesus’ teachings in the Bible use farming metaphors. Farming was a common activity people could relate to. A yoke is a harness worn by oxen to pull a load behind them and complete work. In this Scripture, Jesus asks us to share the yoke with him, so he can help pull our burdens in life. Our troubles may not be removed, but Christ’s strength makes our load lighter and more manageable.

Sharing the yoke allows us to focus on the work we can do and leave the rest up to God. Worry only distracts us from seeing the ways God is helping. Dwelling on the what if’s stall us from walking forward in faith-filled directions. Those directions might include things like asking others for prayers and support, exploring resources, taking care of our health, seeking professional help, or enjoying God in new ways. Focusing on God’s guidance and results, instead of worry, makes us more productive in our circumstances.  

Find Peace and Rest

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27 NLT

As God in human flesh, Jesus knew what suffering lay ahead. Praying in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion, he was overcome with anguish and deep sorrow regarding the agony ahead (Matthew 26:36-39). Yet, because of his faith in God’s sovereignty and good, he left willingly with the Roman soldiers who came for him.

His pure heart had never felt guilt, anxiety, or fear until he chose to become sin for us. By accepting our sin while on the cross, he endured not only physical torture, but infinitely worse, a spiritual separation from God (Matthew 27:46). Because of his sacrifice, his believers will never experience this kind of separation from God; they receive the gift of eternal life.

As believers, we never have to endure anything as horrific as Jesus did. But like Jesus, we must remind ourselves not to fear because we also trust God is in control and working things for good. Faith allows us to face concerns one day at a time and remain assured God will meet our needs (Matthew 6:25-34). 

Before he died, Jesus told his disciples he would send peace to dwell within his followers through the Holy Spirit. Our faith ignites the Holy Spirit to offer peace, so even in the most difficult circumstances we know we will be okay. The world cannot offer us that kind of lasting peace.

Fighting worry requires us to bring all our best moves, fancy footwork, and endurance. We’re good fighters, but eventually worry wears us out. Crawling to the ropes, we try hoisting ourselves up. Beaten, tired, and struggling, our minds run out of options.

But wait…someone is on the other side of the ropes. Offering a hand, he pulls us clear of the ring. Turn around. Look at worry now. He’s dancing around, throwing jabs in the air, and searching for an opponent. He can keep swinging. We are done. As our friend and rescuer says, “It is finished”.

When you run out of options, you run into Jesus. 

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage! I am here!” -Mark 6:50 (NLT) 

Press on in faith my friends.

Dear God,

Thank you for your gentle reminders not to worry. You show love and care for me daily through your blessings, people, and opportunities. Keep my eyes open to the ways you work on my behalf so I do not take any of it for granted. Continue teaching me humility so I bring more worries to you in prayer. When I get caught up trying to fix or control circumstances, help me remember to trust your plans and come to you first not last. Help me focus on what I can do instead of worrying about what I cannot. Lead me in finding the plans you have for me. As I feel and see the way faith lightens my load, I pray my peace will also grow. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Related Posts:

Learning to Pray

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Embracing God’s Plan

Trusting God Along the Eagle Trail

Three Ways Gratitude Boosts Faith

Living in God’s Light

People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for. -Harper Lee

When you set out to purposely find something, it’s interesting how apparent it becomes. I am looking for light. All sorts of light, really. It is a suggested Christmas activity in a book I am reading.

Of course, this time of year we see Christmas lights on trees, in neighborhoods and in shopping malls. There is sunlight, fluorescent light, and screen light from our many electronic devices.

There are lights that don’t physically glow, but instead brighten our spirits. They shine, for example, when other hurried shoppers make conversation with us or when we enjoy the outdoors. We feel them when we meet a friend for lunch, hear of a good deed, or spend time with family.

The word “enlightenment” itself contains “light”. Gaining insight from Scripture, meditating, or praying for understanding brings this light.

In the New International Version of the Bible, the word “light” appears 232 times, and closer to 300 times in other versions. Clearly, light reigns as an important theme in faith. What does “light” mean in the Bible, and how does it apply to us?

What does light mean in the Bible?

Light’s significance in the Bible starts immediately in Genesis 1, with the story of God creating the earth.

Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness “night.” And evening passed and morning came, marking the first day. Genesis 1:3 New Living Translation (NLT)

On the very first day, God set out to separate light from dark. Then, throughout the Bible, light continually refers to God and to the removal of darkness. It becomes a metaphor for many things including life, love, goodness, truth, and salvation. In the stories told, God’s goodness is always sovereign over evil. In no instance is darkness ever equal to the light that is God’s power.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. John 1:5 NLT

Unquestionably for the Christian faith, God’s greatest work of light is Jesus. As the Son of God, his life models the way to live in God’s light.

The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. John 1:9

Light in the Bible is synonymous to God and all of his good. Proclaiming faith in God’s light illuminates the darkness in our lives and works to extinguish it. 

What does darkness mean? How can we find our way out of it? 

When we think of darkness, we think of death and sinful, evil, or awful things. But, darkness may also exist due to a lack of knowledge, unintentional circumstances, or choices made. And, sometimes busyness, distractions, and self-centeredness can lead to us dark places as well. Life is good at dishing out darkness and we often find ourselves lost.

But, every day Jesus offers us a new opportunity, with no expiration date, to see and live in his light.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Taking steps to follow the life Jesus modeled helps us start seeing more light around us. We become more mindful and recognize when life is becoming muddled. We get better at noticing the slick spots around us and find surer footing to meet our goals. Bettering ourselves and serving others gradually become higher priorities.

Packed with Jesus’ words and teachings, the Bible lights the way as we walk through life. It reveals the things in this world that trip us up, and it shines light on every situation we come across.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105 NLT

We can find our way through darkness by following the life Jesus modeled for us. By learning about him and believing in him, we experience his guidance through the Holy Spirit. 

Living in God’s Light

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'” Matthew 1:23 NLT 

This week we celebrate Jesus’ birth, an event which divided darkness from light in this world. His life delivered light and hope; his death and resurrection wiped away darkness by offering believers eternal life.

For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 NLT

Jesus, Immanuel, is God with us. He shines through us by way of the Holy Spirit as we mature in faith and reflect Christ’s nature. We are works in progress while we are here. Through faith we can work to understand how God’s plans help us contribute to his light. We live in light through fellowship with God and with others who help us find goodness in a world that is often dark. 

Christmas is more than festivities and time spent with family. It is more than understanding the story of Jesus’ birth. Christmas celebrates light – the light of Jesus, and the light of you and me. There is a lot of light in this world. It is found all around us and inside of us. We can see it. People generally see what they go looking for…

A Prayer for Your Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for another Christmas to celebrate the birth of your son, Jesus, who brought light into our world through his life, his teachings, and ultimately his sacrifice. Teach us and guide us as we strive to model his character more each day. Help us to clearly see the opportunities you place in our paths to do your work, and to recognize the work of others. We pray to see your goodness shining bright in the midst of the darkness this world so often delivers. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Resources:

Turning Christmas Upside Down

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Our Thanksgiving leftovers were still warm when my husband and I started pulling out the Christmas decorations last weekend. With only four amazingly short weeks between holidays, I am sure many of you can relate to our anxious excitement to get a jump-start on the to-do list. After an initial whirlwind of decorating the tree, setting up the manger, and hanging the stockings, I took a break and went for a walk.

There is a certain loop I follow on most of my walks. It winds through the woods, past a pond, into a neighborhood, and back again. Because I am a creature of habit, I usually walk the same direction on this route each time. On this particular day, I decided to live life a little more on the edge and traveled the opposite way. Daring, I know!

Have you noticed how doing things backwards or turning things upside down often brings a different perspective and teaches you something new? This walk was no exception. I came back with a fresh outlook about my walking route and about preparing for Christmas. I was ready to turn Christmas upside down.

What does turning Christmas upside down mean?

The usual preparations for Christmas include decorating, shopping, baking, wrapping, entertaining, mailing holiday greetings, etc. – done in an “orderly” fashion for each household, of course 😉 . When Christmas Eve arrives, many celebrate Jesus by going to church for an hour or so. Some will read the Bible story of Jesus’ birth. In comparison to everything else done in December, little time is dedicated to learning about Jesus until Christmas actually arrives.

Turning Christmas upside down means celebrating and learning about Jesus throughout the month instead of at the end of the month.  

How can we benefit by turning Christmas upside down?

  • We learn new things about Jesus.

Traveling the opposite way on my walk brought a changed perspective on my surroundings. For example, from a different vantage point I realized the huge, beautiful weeping willow tree I pass almost every day was no longer there – only a stump remained. I wondered if it had been gone a long time, and how I missed noticing the emptiness.

In a similar way, turning Christmas upside down helps us see things about Jesus we did not notice before. Reading Bible passages about his birth throughout the month brings ideas to mind that we are unable to take in all at once on Christmas Eve.  Enjoying a new book about the meaning of Christmas or participating in an online Bible study provides learning and a break from holiday activity. Working on a Christmas service project lessens distractions by helping us focus on others. Or, simply carving out some time for prayer can bring us closer to knowing Jesus. All these things send us a different way than the norm.

Activities that help us see Jesus throughout the month deliver knowledge we did not even know we were missing.

  •  We become more aware of Jesus in everyday life.

I’ll fess up. Coming at the scenery of my walk in a different direction made me feel a little out of my element. Because the walk was not done in my natural pattern, I worried that I might miss the normal turns in the neighborhood. As a result, my brain jerked to attention and I became more aware of my surroundings.

Turning Christmas upside down also makes us feel uneasy. There are a million things to do besides focusing on Jesus, right? It feels more natural to get on with the shopping and the wrapping and the planning. But, if we change our route to include Jesus in each day, we begin to notice his love more during the month. We pay attention when our circumstances improve or we learn from them. We smile more and tell people we appreciate them. We thank our loved ones and really mean it. We notice how God is working for our good every day.

Heightening our awareness of Jesus naturally makes us more alert to his goodness in everything we do. 

  • We slow down and enjoy our holiday time.

Learning new things and becoming more aware on my walk caused me to slow down and enjoy myself more. While walking in the opposite direction, I was not lost in thought or on exercise autopilot. My environment captured my attention, and I found myself feeling grateful for that.

If the same logic applies, then learning new things about Jesus and becoming more aware of him in the midst of our preparations will also help us slow down and enjoy our holiday time more.

Taking time to learn and look for Jesus as we walk (don’t run) towards Christmas brings us more gratitude and peace.

So, I am almost finished with my decorating. Yesterday, I placed a snow globe on the table in the entry way. I love snow globes and the miniature magical lands inside them. Everything appears so pristine, orderly, and still while they sit right side up.

Looking at mine like this, I think it’s pretty, but hmm… also kind of boring. The real magic happens when we turn it upside down and shake things around a bit. I turn the globe upside down. There…that makes it more beautiful, more interesting.

I watch the snow swirl, and I smile. A lot of things in life look better after you turn them upside down.

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A Prayer for Your December:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2 NLT

Dear God,

Blessed be your name above all the other things competing for our attention this holiday season. Thank you for the precious gift of your son, sent to offer us eternal life with you. Help us walk in a different direction towards Christmas this year. Bring us new opportunities to learn about Jesus and show us how we can serve you. Open our eyes to your joy in all the preparations we undertake. May we enjoy our walk with you this month, and be filled with the peace and gratitude that comes from spending time in your presence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

 

Resources to Help Turn your Christmas Upside Down

Online Bible Study based on the book Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado 

Scripture readings about Jesus’ birth

The Purpose of Christmas by Rick Warren on Amazon.com

A Scriptured Life posts from the 2015 Christmas season:

Christmas Countdown Challenge Week 1 -Worry

Christmas Countdown Challenge Week 2 -Expectations

Christmas Countdown Challenge Week 3 -Peace

Christmas Countdown Challenge Week 4 -Celebration