Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

Guarding my heart

Years ago, Solomon wrote: “Guard your heart above all else,  for it determines the course of your life.”

There is a lot of wisdom in this verse in Proverbs 4, although Solomon wasn’t very good at practicing what he preached.

I think most of us would agree with it. Yet, like Solomon, we often don’t obey this good counsel.

As I look back at my decisions – some of them as recent as yesterday – I can see I let down my guard quite often.  Quite often, my wrong decisions flowed from a deliberate decision to ignore what God clearly wanted me to do.

What does it mean to guard my heart?  I think it means resisting temptation and allowing God free rein in my mind, will and heart.

Am I able to guard my heart on my own?  In my experience, the answer is no.  I am more than willing to let my guard down when God asks me to do something I feel will cost me something.

But I realize more and more that I am not helpless.

I can say “Yes” to what God wants me to do and rely on him to give me the strength to do it.  I do have experience in saying “Yes” as well as “No”.

Amazingly, I do feel a settled sense of joy when I say “Yes”.

So, why do I go back to saying “No”?

One reason is that I allow my mind to go to sleep.  I forget the benefits that God has given me when I say “Yes”.  I let my guard down and I think only of the benefits – often illusory – that I will get from saying “No.”

In several places in the Bible, we are told to be alert.  That is my job.  God’s job is to help me out when I turn to him for strength.

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Life’s gifts

My wife and I are always pleased when our grandchildren thank us for gifts we have sent them – often for some small present.

We know that their parents have prompted them to call – or write – in most cases.  But it still brings a smile to our faces.

I’m sure God feels the same way when we thank him.

Recently, I have been thinking about the gifts that come my way every day – things that I take for granted.

For example, I wake up in the morning and my wife is beside me.  We are both in good health.

I eat three meals a day – all cooked by a superb chef.  I live in a warm, comfortable home.  My wife and I have a good retirement income that provides us with all the necessities – and then some.

I live in a neighbourhood where people know each other and care for each other.  I go to a church where Jesus is proclaimed and people are learning to become more like Christ.

We have three wonderful children, all of whom follow Jesus.  They are married to spouses who  are also committed to Christ.  And they have children we adore.

Every day is a gift from God.  He has given me physical and spiritual life.  He is working in me to “will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).  In other words, God is keenly interested in me – so much so that he is lovingly shaping me to be more like Jesus, difficult case that I am.

Of course, the greatest gift I have received is Jesus.  He loved me enough to make me his.  That should be enough for daily celebration.

It is good for me to think of these things – especially when I am all wrapped up in discontent and disappointment.

The apostle Paul talked about being thankful always.  I have quite a list of reasons already.

Power

I am a “mind guy”.  I like to think things through and arrive at logical conclusions.

Jesus was a “mind guy”, too.  He could debate with the religious authorities of his day and defeat them with his words.

But, he was much more than that.  He was God and he demonstrated God’s power.

Jesus’ words certainly had a great effect on his listeners.  But they were particularly persuasive when they were accompanied by his works of healing and miracles.  And his life.

Last night, I was reading Paul’s words in I Corinthians 4:20: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.”

That hit me between the eyes.  I like talking and discussing, but I am not so good at venturing beyond my comfort zone and relying on God’s power.

Paul was dealing with people who had turned away from him and apparently felt that they knew more about God than he did.  So, he said he would challenge them when he saw them to see if their faith was real, proven by living in the power of God.

From what Paul says elsewhere, he views power flowing from our complete commitment to God.  We receive power from the Holy Spirit when we confess that we are weak and we need his strength.  Paul talks of power to live a godly life and to be instruments of signs and wonders.

There is no doubt that Paul lived a life of power.  He told the Corinthians it was not his persuasive words but God’s power that brought people to the Lord.

In Romans 15:18-19, he said that people came to the Lord through preaching and signs and wonders.  It was the power of the Holy Spirit at work.

I realize that I have spent most of my Christian life believing that if I spoke the right words that people could be changed – and circumstances altered.  Paul says talking won’t do it.  I need the power of God at work in me.

This is a message of hope.  The emphasis is on God, not me.  God can do what I can’t do.

Trust and thankfulness

I tend to worry things to death – like a dog with a bone.

So, I have been meditating recently on this passage from Philippians 4:6:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but, in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God.”

The more I think about it, the more I realize what good advice this is. In essence, this tells me that if I truly believe that God has my best interests at heart, I must simply take my problem to him and let go.  And then thank him for what he is going to do.

This involves faith in God and the character of God.  Is he truly loving?  Does he want the best for me?  Am I willing to let God decide what is best for me?

I am more and more convinced of the truth of the well-known verse Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

But what happens when there is no immediate evidence that things are turning out better?  That’s where I need to have faith and trust in God.

I don’t think it is blind faith to trust God when things are going badly.  In my case, I can look back and see that bad things have sometimes turned out for good.

But, what if the bad things in my life never turn out well in my lifetime? Suppose I am unable to see where God has worked things out for good while I am alive?

There, I think it is good for me to try to see things through God’s eyes.  Is my problem part of a larger drama?  Is God working things out for good in a greater plan?

I remember reading about a young Christian girl in the Soviet Union being beaten to death by Soviet police because of her faith.  One of the police officers was so struck by her steadfast faith that he began searching for God and became a believer.

The Bible is full of stories of prophets who spoke God’s word and never saw change in their lifetimes.  But their words have fallen on fertile ground in later generations over thousands of years.

What I love about Philippians 4:6 is the phrase “with thankfulness”.  Thankfulness is one way of stepping out in faith.  It is saying: “God, I thank you for whatever you are going to do.  Thank you that you are working this out for good.”

So, now I am learning to hand over my problems to God and releasing them.