I Lift My Eyes

“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

I’ve been thinking lately about prayer. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about where my focus is during prayer. Even as I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Peter walking on the water with Jesus, this thought crossed my mind. Peter lost sight of Jesus and started looking at the waves instead. How often do I do the same thing even in my prayer times?

Recently, I have noticed that my “prayers” sound more like complaints or worry voiced in God’s direction. I attempt to tell God how big my problems are instead of declaring over my problems how BIG my God is. Instead of lifting my eyes up to gaze on the God of the universe and remembering that He cares about me enough to bend His ear to my cries, I allow miniscule worries to drag me down and affect my attitudes about life, God, myself, and those around me. How easily I forget to keep my gaze fixed on the One who is infinitely greater than anything I might face, than any longing I might feel, than any sorrow that might threaten to overwhelm me!

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

I don’t know what you’re going through today. I know that my heart aches for my loved ones and that unknowns about the future threaten to drive me crazy. I also know, however, that God is able to do more than I can imagine and that He is for me. The days ahead may be uncertain, but His promises – and His ability to fulfill them – are not. Nor is His faithfulness to walk with me through whatever storm may lie ahead on my journey with Him. The same is true for you!

You might be staring at the spear of a giant today, holding tight to a little sling and some rocks. Know though, that like David when he faced Goliath, you can stand there with confidence, knowing that “the battle is the Lord’s.” (1 Samuel 17:47) When we see the giants we face in the light of who we are, they can be overwhelming to look at, but in the light of who God is, they are merely specks on the horizon of all that God has in store for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

As you pray today, don’t voice your worries toward heaven. Invite the God of the universe – the infinitely intimate One who loves you – into your circumstances to bring about His best in your life for His glory and your good.

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A Walk on the Waves

Last Friday was my day to share a devotion for the training program where I’m currently serving. As I prayed about what to share, I was reminded of a teaching I did earlier this year. You may have guessed the topic from the title of this post – Peter’s walk on the waves with Jesus, found in Matthew 14:22-33.

I’ve heard people tell this story and teach about it almost since infancy. Peter and the other disciples are in a boat, battling to stay afloat in the midst of a major storm.  At some point between 3 – 6 A.M., a figure comes strolling along in the midst of the darkness, wind, and waves. The disciples are terrified, and I’m thinking the terror is justified. It’s not every day someone strolls along on the waves of a storm while you’re trying to keep your boat above the water…

Jesus calls out that they needn’t fear, that it is Him. As usual, Peter is the first to speak up. “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” I can just see the other eleven guys in the boat rolling their eyes. I picture at least a couple of them trying to stop Peter from getting out of the boat, trying to reason with him about how stupid this idea is. I imagine others still trying to keep the boat afloat, and one trying to ready a net so that they can fish Peter’s body out of the sea.

In thinking over all the times I’ve heard this story, it seems that many people often focus on the end of the story. Yes, Peter started to sink and had to be rescued by Jesus, but let’s not skip the part of the story I find most impressive… Peter got out of the boat! Out of twelve men, only one can say he walked on the water with Jesus.

As I thought about this story, God showed me several things that have challenged my own walk with Him – whether on a seemingly safe stretch of land or the roaring waves of a storm…

1. Peter initiated this adventure. Jesus didn’t call Peter out of the boat; He responded to Peter’s request to come to Him. The Bible points out twice that when Peter got out of the boat his intention was to get to Jesus. He wasn’t content to wait in the boat until Jesus drew near to him. I think Jesus honored Peter’s request because He knew the motivation was to reach Him, not for Peter to have a cool story to tell about how he walked on water. When was the last time you asked God to allow you to do something crazy because you were so desperate to draw closer to Him?

2. Peter’s problem was one of focus. As long as his eyes remained on Jesus, he had no problem, but when he lost focus… uh oh! God showed me that there are two things that tend to cause this problem in my life: pride and fear. Too often when I am “out of the boat” with Jesus, I start feeling pretty proud of myself. “Look at me! I’m walking on water! How cool am I?” Bam! The moment my focus moves from Jesus to myself, I’m going down.

My other tendency looks more like Peter’s. I start looking around me and become fearful. Peter saw the waves and freaked out. Sometimes my circumstances start to scare me, and I focus on them and lose my view of Jesus. More often though, I find myself looking toward Jesus, but trying to sneak a look over his shoulder to see what’s ahead on the path. The waves at my feet wouldn’t be so worrying if I could just see a glassy surface to walk on just ahead… My fear of the unknown gets the best of me more often than I would like to admit. The thing is, though, that looking in Jesus’ direction is not enough. My vision must be fixed on Him and Him alone, or I’m sinking.

3. Jesus didn’t make the journey easy. The last time these thirteen men were in a storm together, Jesus spoke three words, and the wind and waves calmed. “Peace, be still.” Jesus could have easily said that again, and given Peter a smooth surface to practice walking on before the waves started up again. The thing is, though, Jesus isn’t concerned with our comfort zone. He doesn’t always make it easy to get to Him or to where He is taking us. Jesus didn’t even calm the waves when Peter started to fear. It wasn’t until they were back in the boat that the wind stopped. Jesus sustained and saved Peter in the midst of the storm, but He didn’t just fix the circumstances that caused Peter’s fear. Our faith is a muscle that is strengthened with use. Peter’s faith failed in the latter part of the story, but I’ll bet it was stronger as they got back into the boat than it was when the disciples first saw the figure walking toward them on the sea.

4. The final thing I noticed is that Peter didn’t just reach back and grab the boat when he became afraid. I don’t know how far away from the boat Jesus was when Peter took his first steps on the water, but Peter had walked far enough that Jesus was his only hope. As I prayed one day last year, I felt like God said He was proud of me for taking this journey of faith with Him and “getting out of the boat.” And then He asked some questions… How far out of the boat am I willing to go with Him? Will I go far enough that I can’t reach out and grab hold of the boat if I get scared? Will I go far enough that I can’t even turn around and see it anymore?

And you? How far are you willing to go with Him?

Thanksgiving and Pity-parties

Wow. I feel like a terrible human being right now. I think getting my thoughts out might help, but is it right to inflict them on others? I guess I’ll find out.

So, you may be wondering why I feel so terrible, and the answer is that I am in a bad mood. I’m feeling discouraged about several things, and really just want to have a good old-fashioned pity-party. Of course, we all have rough days, so that in itself does not make me such a horrible person. The thing that has solidified that title in my mind is that it is the day before Thanksgiving. How can I be in such a bad mood just when I’m supposed to be grateful? I have SO much to be thankful for, and yet here I am feeling the need for a pity-party about things that are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I know people suffering far worse circumstances than I can imagine, and I feel guilty for my own discouragement about seemingly trivial stuff.

And yet, the feelings remain. The choice I have, not only today or tomorrow (Thanksgiving Day, here in the United States), but everyday, is to either focus on those things and tell God how discouraged I am, OR to focus on Him and remind myself how awesome He is. It isn’t always easy to keep my eyes focused the right direction, but it is possible. When I doubt that, I think of David. I heard someone refer to the story of David and Goliath once, saying that we should not tell God how big our giants are, but tell our giants how big God is.

I love the story of David. He screwed up royally on several occasions, (even committing two of the sins many people would put at the top of the “bad sins” list – murder and sexual sin), and yet he is still the only person in the Bible referred to as a man after God’s own heart. I think one possible reason for this is his brutal honesty with God. He had no problem telling God exactly how he felt about his circumstances, and he certainly had his share of nasty situations to endure. The Psalms are full of David’s complaints, many of them  legitimate; but those same Psalms are also full of his faith and gratitude for all that God had seen him through.

One chapter that comes to mind is Psalm 13. David basically accuses God of forgetting and forsaking him, and says that if God doesn’t answer he’ll “sleep the sleep of death”. Then, he ends the Psalm with these words in verses 5-6(NASB): “But I have trusted in Your loving kindness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.” Psalm 27 finishes with: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” (verses 13-14, NASB)

David knew that no matter what happened in his life, how bleak the picture seemed to be, that God was still good – and He still cared. We can have the same assurance. Yes, I’m feeling a little down today, and some of the things I’m working toward feel unattainable. So what? Without God, those feelings could be true. The choice I’m making today is to be thankful that, because of Him, those goals can be reached. I will see His goodness in the land of the living – even if the results don’t look like I have imagined. I don’t have to sit and dream of the time when I will finally die and go to heaven so that I can see Him. He is here, at work in our lives, if only we will choose to see and partner with Him.

Thanksgiving is not about ignoring discouragements, sorrows, or disappointments. It’s about choosing to focus on all that we have to be thankful for, even in the midst of those things. I want to live every day (not just the 4th Thursday in November), filled with gratefulness for all of the blessings in my life: family, friends, relationship with God, provision, my “job” and the opportunities it brings, and life itself. Each of those things could be separated into countless other things to be thankful for too.

So, I guess I’m not such a terrible human being, after all. I do have bad days, but today I’m choosing to focus on the positive and thank the Giver of all good things for all His many blessings!

What are you thankful for? Leave your answers in the comment section below…