Heavenly Fellowship

My schedule has been jam-packed lately. While reflecting on the past week, I thought about the many ways that I’ve recently connected with loved ones: one-on-one phone calls, conference calls, individual and group text messages, emails, online meetings, and (my favorite) face-to-face interactions.

No matter how brief or extended the exchange, love and concern were the common denominators. Whether it was a prayer conference call, a text from my Mom, or dinner with friends, the love in those exchanges is what made them so enjoyable.

As Christians, universal love is our distinguishing characteristic. John 13:35 says Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” In his sermon about loving our enemies, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted Matthew 5:43-44 which says “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” Ancient Greek culture had seven different words to represent various types of love, including the universal agape love for man, nature, and God. 

Modern society flings the word love around, making it undervalued. We allegedly “love” a lot of material possessions that can be here today and gone tomorrow. Yet, we are often reluctant to invest the time, attention, and energy to express concern or encourage others around us. Sometimes we love selfishly, expecting reciprocity. That’s not love – that’s a business arrangement. Sometimes we hoard our love, trying to ration it out to those whom we deem as deserving. That’s a deception because God loves us all. Furthermore, as the saying goes “Love does not divide, it multiplies.” Life events can harden and close our hearts, for fear of vulnerability or further pain. The trouble is, when something is hard and closed, nothing can go out nor in.

As we pray, we can petition God for the wisdom, strength, and courage to love and encourage those who touch our hearts (in a good or bad way). We can ask God to soften and open our hearts. We can receive and extend forgiveness. Psalm 103:8 says “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Those who know God can demonstrate agape love. 1 John 4:8 says “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Therefore we are not the source of love within ourselves. God is our source of love. We are merely conduits of His love. We are the channels that God’s love flows through. We do not have to be stingy with our love, because we tap it from an unlimited source.

For this reason, when people of God gather, love flows through us, making our times of fellowship, whether we are gathered for a meal, worship, or other activities, a glimpse of the divine. As the song goes, when all of God’s children get to heaven, what a time! Times of fellowship is a glimpse of heaven on earth.

More importantly, as we travel through our various spheres of influence, it is even more critical that we demonstrate love in unexpected places and everyday situations. Dr. Cornel West said “You’ve got to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. A thermostat shapes the climate of opinion; a thermometer just reflects it.” We are ambassadors of The King! You never know how much your simple, genuine extension of God’s love can bless someone else. Wherever you are, there should be a sweet spirit of love and heavenly fellowship.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” -2 Corinthians 13:14

Majoring in the Minor

As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. I am a recovering perfectionist. Recently, amid looming deadlines and competing priorities, I planned a busy day to optimize progress on multiple fronts. I was up ahead of the sun, working, cleaning, planning, and organizing. My logic was that if I made a Herculean effort that day, it would alleviate later stresses.

Throughout the day, I repeatedly encountered unexpected delays and challenges that resulted in me not making nearly the level of progress that I had hoped. By that evening, my perfectly productive day had morphed into a frustrating mess. I was irritated and feeling like an underachiever.

Dejected, I flopped into a chair, then sighed to myself as I realized I needed to get right back up to retrieve something that I needed for my next task. It was then that I caught a glimpse of my reflection. I barely recognized the frowning, stressed-out person that I saw looking back at me. I immediately had a reality check with myself, praying and asking God to help me. I had unintentionally tried to fly solo that day, not seeking God’s guidance on my To-Do List. I’d failed miserably. I invited God into the situation, asking Him to help me recover and prioritize.

The truth is, God wants to be involved every aspect of our lives. He does not want us worried, anxious, nor distracted. Those are tools of the enemy. Philippians 4:6-7 says “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” We need to pray and invite God into every situation that concerns us. Psalm 138:7-9 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand Against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.” How often do limp along in our weaknesses and frustrations, injured and struggling for so long that we no longer recognize it? Job 12:13 says: “To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are His.” God already knows all things in detail. He doesn’t need to come up to speed because He IS the speed.

It took years for me to realize it – but my deep-seated desire for perfection is born of a spirit of pride. Proverbs 16:18 says Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” I didn’t have to fall far. It only took a relatively minor level of frustration to help me see the error of my ways. I spent some time in prayer, asking God’s forgiveness and confessing my need for Him. I continued to pray, asking God to bind up a spirit of pride and loose a spirit of humility. I needed God to order my steps. I did not want to operate in frustration one moment longer. To my relief, as I sealed my prayer in the matchless name of Jesus, a spirit of peace came over me. I returned to my To-Do List with a different mindset. I quickly distinguished between which tasks were critical vs. optional. I reprioritized and remixed my To-Do List based on what I felt God thought was important. A few hours later, I retired for the evening feeling both peaceful and victorious because, in His loving and merciful way, my beloved heavenly Father taught me how to stop being the captain of my own tempest in a teacup. He showed me how to avoid majoring in the minor because only what we do for Christ will last.

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”
-1 Corinthians 15:58

Calling on the Name

Over the holiday weekend, I was delighted to give and receive messages from many loved ones. Yesterday, I reflected on my multitude of life roles and the various names that I answer to. I am a daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, sorority sister, neighbor, girlfriend, coworker, customer, intercessor, classmate, worshipper, and the list goes on. A unique name accompanies nearly every role. I thought about how I am sometimes able to identify a sender or caller based on how I am addressed.

These thoughts led me to think about our expectations when we call on the Lord. As we transform from being self-centered to Christ-centered, knowing the various names of the Lord – who we trust God to be – is vital to our spiritual growth. God is all-encompassing. According to Exodus 3:14, God is the great I AM: “God said to Moses, I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” The I AM reference is not a limitation as if the statement is an incomplete sentence. Rather, it is the opposite. I AM refers to the fact that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere at the same time). There are no boundaries nor limitations. The Lord knows us intimately and understands our motives and intents, even when we are unable to articulate them.

There is no question about how well God knows us. The question becomes how well do we know God? We sometimes restrict God, deciding for whatever reason that a situation is not God-sized. In those moments, we should remind ourselves of God’s names.  There are entire books devoted to the names of God the FatherGod the Son, and God the Holy Spirit reflecting His triune identity as our:

  • Creator (Genesis 1:1)
  • Provider (Genesis 22:14)
  • Healer (Exodus 15:26)
  • Banner (Exodus 17:15)
  • Peace (Judges 6:24)
  • Shepherd (Psalms 23:1)
  • Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6)
  • Savior (Luke 2:11)
  • Redeemer (Job 19:25)
  • Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5)
  • Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4)
  • Peace (Ephesians 2:14)
  • Way (John 14:6)

This is not an exhaustive list, just a glimpse into the powerful entity that we can directly access through prayer. The Lord provides opportunities to learn about Him across his broad spectrum of identities. We need only to believe in Him and call on His name to tap into that transformational power.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
-Isaiah 11:2

 

 

 

 

 

How Big is Your Praise?

As I left a lovely worship service with echoes of “Ride on King Jesus” still stirring in my heart, I went to get a palm branch – a tangible reminder of the victory we have in Jesus – when I was thunderstruck. The palm branches were so large that they were not in buckets but in large barrels! Delighted, I took a palm branch that was nearly as long as I am tall. This plant set my spiritual imagination on fire as I imagined Jesus being welcomed into Jerusalem with people waving these huge palm branches and laying them down on the road as he humbly entered the city. It was a far cry from my original vision where palms were the size of a small hand fan.

As I rode along with the edges of the palm leaves blowing behind me, I began to think about the importance of praise and thanksgiving. Earlier this week, I received a thought-provoking text which asked: “What if you woke up tomorrow with only what you had thanked God for today?” That convicted my heart. We take so much for granted every day. We tend to focus on what’s next or what we don’t have, instead of acknowledging God’s faithfulness which constantly blesses us in so many ways.

Praise and thanksgiving are essential parts of a rich prayer life. Praise gets God’s attention. It shifts focus from us to our Creator. He is the one who can make things happen. John 15:5 says “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” It is interesting that we can holler, cheer, and cry during a performance or sporting event but praise for our Creator often arrives in hushed and reserved tones. Psalm 100:4 says “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”  Everyone likes to be appreciated. Hasn’t a compliment lifted your mood? When your sacrifice is acknowledged, doesn’t it make the sacrifice feel worthwhile? How much more is it with the Master of the Universe? When The One who knows us intimately knows that we appreciate and acknowledge what He does, it gets his attention ahead of submitting our petitions.

I believe just like palm branches of yesteryear, my praise used to relatively small and somewhat mechanical. However, as God brings us through difficult trials, our faith grows. As our faith grows, our praise grows. As our praise grows, our thanksgiving grows. We more readily reflect on situations where He has stepped in to correct, deliver, help, heal, comfort, provide for, and keep us. We see His favor at work in our lives. We experience joy unspeakable as we come into an awareness of Him moving on our behalf. We learn to watch for God’s leading and have a sense of peace that goes beyond our current circumstance. Our life focus shifts, moving from a self-centered existence to one where our every action become an act of worship as God becomes the center of our joy.

I encourage you to wave your spiritual palm branch, honoring God with your praise, worship, and thanksgiving. I believe that no matter what size your praise may currently be, giving thanks to ALLmighty (that’s not a typo) God helps your praise to grow. 2 Corinthians 4:15 says “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”

The Ripple Effect

I recently enjoyed a lakeside stroll. I was fascinated by the rippling water. Some ripples were caused by wind blowing across the water’s surface in small waves. Other ripples were caused by turtles, fish, or other animals breaking the water’s surface. In each case, no matter where they began, the ripples always moved across the entire lake.

The ripples remind me of our prayer journey. Prayer is the practice of paying attention to God. God is always at work, and cultivating a rich prayer life shifts our mindset, allowing us to focus on God’s ultimate movement above our transient impressions. Prayers are powerful spiritual transmissions that reverberate just like those lake ripples. The element of water is symbolic of God’s purification in our lives. Hebrews 10:22 says let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” 

In his book “How to Pray After You’ve Kicked the Dog”, Terry Tekyl explains that we apply prayers like water because we sprinkle some situations in prayer and saturate others. Even when life overwhelms us and we feel that our prayers are small and insignificant, like a drop in that pond, they spread out in all directions and reach their God-appointed destination. 1 John 5:14-15 says “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” Our prayers are alive and continuous. Sincere prayer allows us to express appreciation as well as concerns to God. Our prayers invite God into situations that burden our heart as well as our heart itself. Prayer is a relief and a release, a vehicle to minister to ourselves and others. Psalm 68:19 says “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation. Selah.”

The ripples on that pond reminded me that God is constantly moving, working, arranging, and orchestrating events in our lives. Through the ebb and flow our lives, we can walk in the reassurance that God is constantly at work. Sometimes prayer ripples take a while to reach God’s intended place. However, we must remember that we operate according to God’s timeline, not the other way around. As we continue to pray and seek God’s face,  He blesses us with the spiritual vision to recognize the blessings all around us.

I encourage you to trust God as you become a catalyst for His ripple prayer effect!

 

Not What I Asked For

Ground turkey was on my shopping list. I rounded the corner at my local grocery and began inspecting the ground turkey offerings. I was just about to select a package when a manager suggested that I come back later and make my purchase. I was immediately irritated. I had no idea why this person assumed I’d be interested in making multiple treks to the store. A concern must’ve shown on my face because the manager quickly leaned toward me and explained in a conspiratorial whisper that the ground turkey would be on sale the day after tomorrow. Pleased with this information, I graciously thanked the manager. Two days later, I was delighted to purchase ground turkey as part of a buy one, get one free offer.

I was pleased with the outcome, yet the entire situation made me wonder. How many times have we been so fixated on addressing our immediate situation that we miss out on the “greater” that God has for us? Why are we so quick to settle for what we see instead of trusting God for more? When our plans are thwarted or delayed, why do we abandon them altogether, assuming that we are operating outside of God’s will?

The truth is God has greater and more for us than we can ever expect. God searches our hearts. Jeremiah 17:10 says “But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” Not only does the Lord know our motives, but he also knows the plans He has for us. Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us that “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We must carefully guard against making assumptions about God’s intents or plans concerning us. Just as I learned with my wonderful grocery gain, we must be careful about jumping to conclusions and working ahead of the one who holds all knowledge about every situation that concerns us. Waiting is beneficial because it allows us to watch God’s plans unfold and situations change.

I confess that I am a horrible “waiter”. God is so gracious and loving that He provides me with new opportunities to practice waiting. Waiting is not for wimps nor the faint of heart. Waiting develops character, builds expectation, and drives anticipation. I have yet to be disappointed when waiting on the Lord. Psalm 27:14 says “Wait patiently for the LORD. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the LORD.” The absolute joy, deliverance, hope, and peace that flows from the manifestation of God’s promises makes every situation well worth the wait. When I wait on the Lord, I usually receive far greater than whatever I initially asked. The key to waiting is to align yourself with God’s will. That alignment activates God’s Holy Spirit, John 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”

The next time you feel disappointed about God not blessing you in the manner and timeframe that you specified, remember who HE is and who you are. Delayed is not denied. You can rejoice, even in your waiting, knowing that your heavenly Father is orchestrating events to ultimately bless your life. Psalm 84:11 says “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.”

 

Portable Power

Aboard a late flight, I reflected on how innovation allows us to travel broad distances in a relatively short time. Although there is no distance in the spirit realm (meaning that we can pray about anything regardless of where it may be happening), we also physically cover lots of territories. Imagine if we spoke with God about the places and people we pass as we take trips, run errands, or commute to work. Instead of being frustrated about the unexpected delay of an ambulance, how much more could we support spiritual needs by offering prayers as we see first responders racing by? How would our education system be affected if we offered prayers while sitting in the carpool lane waiting to pick up children from school or seeing students hop on our same train?

Our activities, interests, obligations, and responsibilities provide access to a variety of physical places. If we ask, the Lord will open our eyes to prayer requests that are like ripened fruit – just right for the picking and presenting to God. Psalm 145:18 says “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” We must guard against being blinded by the familiarity of our routines as well as the distraction of unfamiliar places. If nowhere else, we can start by seeking God’s heart, asking Him to burden our heart for the same things that trouble him. Proverbs 8:13 says “To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.” We don’t have to stand idly by and we don’t have to feel anxious nor powerless. Philippians 4:6-7 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

We have a lot of untapped power. While it is important to spend time privately with God, we are also to pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” As we navigate this world, whenever we encounter something troubling, that is our spiritual cue to pray. The prayer need only be sincere, not eloquent nor lengthy. God is not grading our oration ability, He is examining our hearts. He knows our thoughts and motives.

Regardless of where we physically go, because of the portable power of the Holy Spirit that lives within us, we can ask our heavenly Father to make us sensitive to the needs all around us. Romans 8:26 says “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” The next time you are heading to the marketplace, remember to use your portable power!