Walking with the Shepherd

The Bible uses a shepherd as an analogy for Jesus. A shepherd takes care of a flock of sheep, watches over them, and helps them. Sheep are wayward animals that are eaten by predators if left alone. The Lord uses this example to help us know how important our relationship with Him is. We need to stay close and let Him watch over us and direct us.

The shepherd is a guiding figure, a leading figure, and a seeking figure. He finds the lost sheep, leads the tired sheep to food and water, and calls the sheep to follow Him. Each time, the shepherd is the active one, and the sheep are following along.

The Lord is actively involved in our lives. He is moving in our lives for our benefit. His work is to bring us, and each person in the world, to Him. Like the example of the shepherd, he seeks, leads, and calls.

As the sheep in this analogy, we are the ones who should be waiting, feeding, and following. Our role is to allow the Lord to do the work that He is eminently qualified to do: lead His children.

In our lives, when the Lord says, go here, we go there. When He says, do this, we do it. The heart behind our activities is our willingness to be lead and to be His sheep. The heart  the Lord wants in each of us is that of one who serves at the command of the leader: Him.

Each of us must be lead by the shepherd. We must accept His guidance and know that our job is to follow, wait, and be fed. He will provide for each and every need, spiritually and physically.

God says, “I called each of you by name. I called each of you with love. My heart is bound up in you and I want you with a desperation that you can’t begin to understand. Listen to me. Follow me. I will care for you and protect you forever.”

Clarity of Vision

Our culture often tells us to dream big and have great ideas for how life could be. It is true that a vision for our life is vital, because it shapes so much about our choices. However, the influence of those goals is so profound that we need to be sure that the dreams we are building choices around are the best ones for our future.

If we believe the world’s ideas, we should be trying to build the best possible life for ourselves based on luxury and entertainment. That kind of selfish outlook, however, will not bring satisfaction or a closer walk with God. We need to be talking with God about our dreams and goals and building a vision for our life that accomplishes His will for us..

Our ultimate goal is always to know God. The Bible says that’s what eternal life is: knowing God. (John 17:3) All other things in our life should revolve around that one. Knowing Him.

After that, the vision for our life is very individualized between us and God. Each one of us needs to go before the Lord and talk about what God is doing in our life. This may not be a daily thing; maybe it’s only once a year. However, without some time spent with the Lord, clarifying His plans and ideas for you, you are missing out on directed time with Him.

When we clarify our vision with Him, we can find a beautiful purpose that energizes us. God knows us and planned good works for us to do. If we take the time to plan with Him about our work, we will find ourselves given  work that is made for our gifts and talents. It will be work that energizes us and fills us with a sense of accomplishment.

At least on good days it will – on bad days, it might be difficult. But if we have a vision, we know that what we’re working through has a purpose. It’s a part of something bigger, even if that bigger thing is as high level as knowing God; it will have a purpose. Knowing that might not make the work easier or the drudgery less boring, but it will give you a focus and a reason to keep on when others might give up.

God’s purpose for you is real and valid. Each of us has a purpose and we can walk in it daily, hand in hand with the Lord.

Listening to God

We know we’re supposed to listen to the Lord and let Him guide our steps, but in the grind and hustle of daily life, it can be difficult. The voices around us and our own thoughts seem to easily drown out any connection we feel with the Lord. Our daily walk with him must be founded on habits of opening our ears and opening our hearts.

Listening begins with stillness. Pausing our day and our mind to find a quiet place where the Lord can speak to us is imperative to finding our connection with Him. The Lord never leaves us, even we are in a whirlwind of busyness. In that busyness, however, we can quickly find ourselves caught up in it and lose touch with the pulse of the Spirit. We don’t have to be still all day to hear Him, but we do have to consciously practice times of stillness to refresh our connection with Him.

Listening to God requires trust in Him. If we dismiss what He says out of fear or confusion, we will quickly get out of sync with His will. Believing that we can be in tune with Him and hear His will in our hearts is vital to being able and willing to connect with Him.

Willingness to change or do what He says is the final piece of listening. Just hearing Him isn’t enough, if we aren’t putting action to His words. He is in the habit of growing people and isn’t interested in empty words. It doesn’t always mean that we are doing a physical action, but if the Spirit prompts us to stop and breathe, we need to be willing to do that as much as we are willing to do any other act or service.

Listening is the final piece of hearing because it takes the passive act of understanding what He’s saying and makes it a part of  daily life. Listening isn’t something you do once in awhile, or even once a month. It’s an active part of being with Him and walking with Him. It’s the part of seeking Him in every moment.

If you don’t feel that you know how to listen to the Lord in all your moments, start by listening for one moment. Find one time per day that you can be still and talk to Him. Practice hearing Him and responding to what He puts on your heart. From there, you can grow with Him and grow in Him until He pervades every moment.

Opening My Heart

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV)

Trust is listening, accepting and doing the work of God. Before we can trust Him, we have to be willing to be open with Him.

Trust is a frightening prospect in any relationship, including with the Lord. It is a vulnerable place to be. Trust is letting someone else influence you. When you trust the Lord, you are willing to risk the opinions of the world to serve Him.

Before we can trust, we have to be willing to open our heart to the Lord. If we don’t fully open up to Him, we will always be held back in our trust. Asking the Lord to prove Himself before we are willing to walk with Him is a conditional relationship. He wants unconditional access to our hearts and our lives.

Opening our hearts means practicing coming before Him in our daily life and being willing to trust Him. If we hold back our willingness, we are holding back our connection with Him.

When you come before Him, ask yourself and Him if there’s any part of you that is being held back. Maybe there’s fear about what He’ll ask you do, or maybe you are afraid of Him not answering a prayer. Maybe you are struggling to submit your family to Him or your work.

The Bible talks about the Lord testing your heart. Ask Him to test it and find what’s in it that you are holding back. Where are your feelings closed off? Where are you shutting a door in your mind, asking Him not to go there?

As your willingness to open your heart before Him grows, your ability to trust Him will grow. You will experience His faithfulness and His gentleness in leading you through your day.

Trust opens doors to a deeper and more life-altering relationship with the Lord. We can’t force trust or demand it. Instead, we grow into it by being willing to be vulnerable with Him in our mind and hearts.

Am I Good Ground?

In the Bible, Jesus tells a story about a farmer who scatters seeds on the ground; some seeds take root and grow while others, for various reasons, don’t. The seeds represent people and how they react when they hear the truth of God. In the story, only one place that the seeds land  allows them to take root, grow strong and produce fruit. That place is the fertile ground that represents a willing and listening heart.

Most of us assume that we are the fertile soil. We think that when we hear the truth of God, that we are ready and able to lap it up and grow. Assumptions can blind us to areas that need work, though. Not everyone is good ground, but all can be if we open our heart and mind to the Lord.

Willingness to receive anything means that you are open to be given something. Openness invites in; it doesn’t shut out. It means letting the experience of God be worth the risk of being wrong. It defies the fear of being made fun of. It allows the new thing to be explored and learned about.

With each new idea that we encounter, we have to choose if we are going to let it in and then choose whether or not we will allow it to help change us. When we hear the truth of God, whether it is the first time we hear the gospel of Jesus or a new insight from His Word, we must make the choice to let it in. We have to mull it over and think about the truth of it and the practicality of it.  If we look into new ideas and seek to find the joy of God in them, we will be changed.

Good soil listens and hopes and celebrates as new ideas about God are brought to them. Applying God’s truth to our lives is the growth part of being good ground. We try on the new idea for size. We see if it fits us and what it means for our lives. Good soil is a willingness to change if the Lord desires that change within us.

God says, ”I create good soil and I nurture it and fill it full of good nutrients. When my Work falls on the prepared ground, I am there to help it grow and find life in my truth. Listen to me and be ready for all that I have planned.”

Following Christ

Following Christ is a very personal and internal decision. It is something that only you can determine to do. By listening to the Lord, you are able to live in His power and might. Each day we walk with Him is a day filled with joy and comfort. There are days, however, when we may not feel as confident that we’re walking in step with Him.

Each day in God’s presence is a confidence-building day. Walking next to Him builds our understanding of Him and helps us to grow in the knowledge of Him. Each day outside of His presence brings confusion. Walking apart from Him causes us to lose hold of our connection with Him and who He made us to be.

No one can tell if you have committed your heart to the Lord. However, others can see the fruit in your life and how it is helping you to grow. When you are filling your heart with the teachings of God, you grow in the good fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Growing with the Lord means seeing more results like these in your life.

Following after your own ways leads to sin growing in you. Old habits can come back or new sins can creep in. The good fruit in your life is inconsistent or non-existent. Judgment toward others clouds your relationships. You demand your own way and put yourself above others.

Growing in the Lord means that you are reaching for His Spirit and His truth. Finding your way in Him isn’t a path to perfection for the sake of self-improvement; instead, it’s a journey of joy to find freedom in Him.

Talk to the Lord about your walk. Ask Him if He sees you as a growing Christian. In addition, take a look at your fruit. There should always be change toward a deeper relationship with Him, no matter how long you’ve been walking along side Him. Find a fresh truth and awareness of Him and see more of an ability in your life to be free in His name.

Be Humble and Be Glad - Psalm 34:2

Humility and Faith

My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. – Psalm 34:2 ESV

[Note: This is my 100th blog post! I can’t believe I’ve been able to do this. I thought I’d get tired and give up on this a long time ago. Thank you so much for reading! It means a lot to me!]

In an article called Faith is not a Feeling, author Ney Bailey talks about her journey to understanding what faith is.

“After reading and rereading the passage, with all its references to the phrase “by faith,” I began to see that all the people mentioned had one thing in common: No matter whom the writer of Hebrews was talking about, each person had simply taken God at His word and obeyed His command. And they were remembered for their faith….

Through my study of these three passages, I had arrived at a simple, workable definition of faith: Faith is taking God at His word.”[1]

I love this idea of faith defined so simply and I realized that humility can be looked at in a similar way. “Humility is accepting God’s word about who I am.” Humility is an act of faith in regard to who you are. It’s not trying to be anything else than what He created you to be, or do anything else than He is asking you to do.

Faith, while seemingly simple, is very difficult to live out because it requires two things of us: hearing God’s word and accepting it. With all the conflicting voices and ideas demanding our time and attention it is a choice to listen to God and a choice to accept it, no matter what else we hear.

Humility is the same way. There are many things that we hear about ourselves. There are messages around us about what makes us valuable and what or who we should be striving to be.  We have to choose to listen and accept what God says about us in His Word and choose to act and live based on those truths.

Humility keeps us from becoming prideful. It allows us to stay on our knees before the Lord without succumbing to false humility of self-degradation. God doesn’t want us to abase ourselves or grovel like a worm. He wants us to remember who He’s told us we are. To hold to that and let Him teach us more and more about Him and ourselves so He can lift us up and bless us.

When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. – Psalm 69:32 ESV

[1] Bailey, Ney. “Faith Is Not a Feeling.” Starting With God. Web. 23 Jan. 2016. <http://www.startingwithgod.com/knowing-god/what-is-faith/>.

Rejected God as King - 1 Samuel 8:7

Getting Our Way When We Shouldn’t

And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:7 ESV

There are several verses in the scriptures that promise answered prayer. These are not unconditional, however. We must delight in the Lord, and then he’ll give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). Another references says that we must ask according to His will (1 John 5:14). That same author says a little before that we must ask and obey His commandments and do the things that please God (1 John 3:22). So we know that we don’t just get to demand our way and have the Great Vending Machine in the sky spit out our heart’s desire.  1 Samuel gives us another scenario: demanding our way when it’s not God’s way and God giving it to us anyway. What happens then and what can we do to avoid finding ourselves in this position?

In 1 Samuel 8, we meet a great prophet, the namesake of this particular book, and he is getting old. He has a couple sons who should be the ones taking over the job of judging Israel, but they aren’t godly. They put personal gain first and pervert justice by taking bribes (v. 3). The elders of Israel, trying to avoid that problem, go to Samuel and ask him to anoint a king (v. 4-5).

Samuel goes to the Lord with this request and the response is not promising. The Lord essentially tells Samuel not to take it personally; they’ve rejected God, not Samuel. In addition, if they ask for it give it to them (v. 7,9).

Samuel goes back to the people and tries to warn them away from this course. He tells them all the troubles a king could bring, and all the things they’ll lose by being ruled by a man instead of God (vs. 10-18). This doesn’t sway the people, however. They want to be like the other “cool kids” of the time who have a king. After double checking with the Lord and confirming the first response, Samuel agrees to find them a king.

This scenario is useful for us to understand our own requests to God. In particular, request that are something we want, but that God says isn’t best for us. This passage tells us that the people are pulling away from God (v. 8). They don’t remember what God did for them and they don’t care. They want to have what they view as valuable: someone to rule over them and fight for them (v. 20). Never mind that God did that for them. They want a real flesh and blood person they can see.

How many times do we do this in our lives? We say we believe the Lord, but when we can’t see Him moving or understand His plan, we doubt and try to find a solution we can touch and feel and understand. Willingness to trust Him comes at the cost of control. We want to know how things turn out and we want a guarantee that it will be pleasant as we go. However, God doesn’t give us those things. (In fact, there’s more promises of unpleasantness than not. For example, John 16:33).

When you are pulling away from God or when you’re feeling negativity, like fear or anger, stop and check what you’re asking God for. Why are you asking for it and are you willing to take no for an answer. God is making you in the image of Christ, but only if you’re willing. We must chose to commit our lives to the Lord and choose to accept His answers for us. If you’re not, you may get what you ask for anyway, to your detriment.

Even though Israel demanded a king here and there were probably more bad kings than good ones, God still used the kings to bring about His plan. The first king Samuel appointed, Saul, ended up going a little crazy. The second king, David, brought about a time of prosperity that was only increased by his son, Solomon. The line is also the line that Jesus was descended through, as God promised David (1 Chronicles 17:11–14).

God’s plan will be fulfilled and our sin or selfish requests won’t keep Him from His plan. However, God’s ways of doing things are always better and are always worth whatever we feel like we have to give up to follow Him.


Listen and Be Filled

Hearing the Lord Above All

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. – Isaiah 55:2 ESV

This is the message I needed to hear today. There are so many conflicting voices, most of the usually negative, in my head right now that it’s a good reminder to know who I need to turn to for truth and sustenance.

In Isiah 55:2, the imagery makes even more of a statement when you think of it as an analogy with eating real food. The statement “Listen diligently to me” is followed by, “and eat what is good.” Just by listening to the Lord’s words we are being fed. We can hear Him and be filled and full. But we also must choose to “eat” them; if the food is left on the table, it does our bodies no good. We must meditate on them, think on them (like we’d chew on food) and then we make it apart of us (swallowing it).

The next part of it is “delight yourself in rich food.” This is a wonderful thought too, that when we are dining on the words of the Lord and being filled up with nourishment that is meaningful and lasting, it will be a joy. We will be able to find happiness in being near Him and listening to what He’s saying.

“If our own doubts are not enough to stop us from getting up, then there will always be a multitude of other voices trying to keep us down. Unfortunately, it is often the voices of those who are closest to us that echo the loudest and to which we tend to listen most.

“We must determine to listen to the voice of the Lord more than any other voice in our lives.” – Christine Caine’s First Things First devotional 11/12/2015

I recently heard a bestselling author, Andy Andrews, telling about some advice that he was given, “Just because you think it doesn’t make it true.” This may seem simple on one hand, but it is very difficult in real life to implement that truth in a meaningful way.

We often never question ourselves or what we’re thinking or why we’re doing something. If someone else is doing something that challenges our perspective in some way, we either dismiss them or get defensive. But, as Christine Caine points out in her devotional, “we must DETERMINE to listen to the voice of the Lord” (emphasis mine).

We must be willing to get rid of the mental and spiritual food we’re chewing on that isn’t from the Lord and won’t satisfy. We must intentionally practice looking back and forth between our beliefs and our reality to make sure that they are in line. Do we believe something and do something else? Are we saying one thing and doing another? Only the power of the Lord and His words can bring us into alignment and let the truth come through us and into our choices.

Youth with Answers - Job 32:8

How to be a Young Person with Answers

Then the wrath of Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, was aroused against Job; his wrath was aroused because he justified himself rather than God. Also against his three friends his wrath was aroused, because they had found no answer, and [yet] had condemned Job. Now because they [were] years older than he, Elihu had waited to speak to Job. When Elihu saw that [there was] no answer in the mouth of these three men, his wrath was aroused. … “Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me, I also will declare my opinion.'”  – Job 32:2-5, 10 (NKJV)

When we think of Job, we think of the man the book was named after: the sufferer who patiently insisted that he was not a sinner. There are several other characters in the book who are just as interesting, however. One being the young man name Elihu who understood what all the others didn’t seem to get: God first above everything. According to the book of Job, Elihu had been listening to all the conversations that have been going on and he is not ok with what’s happening. He’s upset at Job because he’s trying to justify his own righteousness instead of God’s (v. 2), and he’s upset with Job’s friends because they keep trying to be right even when they can’t find any proof their ideas are true (v. 3).

I can relate to this frustration. I feel like I’ve been in so many situations where the people who were making decisions were the ones that simply wanted to do it like it always been done. Never mind that it stopped working (or never worked), or that there may have been changes since then. In those times, I knew that I could make a difference, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. Sometimes, I said nothing and fumed in my mind. Sometimes, I opened my mouth and probably handled it badly. How I wish I could have had the wisdom of Elihu!

Elihu decides to step in and remind them of the greatness and, more importantly, the sovereignty of God. What Elihu says is good stuff, but how he said it may be even more important. If you are feeling frustrated with people in your life who don’t seem to be getting things right, either older people or simply people in authority, Elihu models the appropriate response.

  1. Listen!
    When we hear others saying things that we feel aren’t beneficial, we often shut down and just start trying to push out our ideas (v. 7). Listening, however, is vital not only to relationship building with the others, but to double check your own ideas. Being young means missing out on one vital component: experience. Older people have it, and it’s very wise to make sure that you’re listening to them to make sure you understand their perspective. It doesn’t make their perspective right, but if you don’t take the time to listen to it, you are make it more difficult for them to listen to you and increasing the chance that your perspective is incomplete.
  2. Acknowledge that All Wise Ideas or Perspectives are from God
    Elihu knew that age was only one indicator of good ideas. He also knew that no matter who you were or how old that all good ideas came from the Lord (v.8- 9). You need to develop that same trust. Trust that God has put you where you are for a reason and that your ideas are relevant to what God needs accomplished. Don’t get arrogant and assume that you’re better than the previous people; you aren’t! Keep humility close and remember the Source.
  3. Be Confident in Your Ideas
    Once you’ve listened and acknowledged God, you can move forward with confidence in your ideas (v. 10). Think through things before speaking and put them out there with passion. You will still need to listen to the others and maybe even modify your thoughts based on what they say. Remember, experience is a teacher you haven’t had yet, so be wise and be willing to change if you run up against new ideas. The one thing you shouldn’t do is feel like you don’t have a right to speak. You do, because of who God made you to be and who you are becoming by humbly walking with Him. Apostle Paul gives his protégé similar advice in 2 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” Live what you believe and be confident. God is with you.