Category Archives: faith

the importance of sacred times

watch on wrist by rambletamble

photo by rambletamble

i’d like to continue our conversation about being present. i shared two things i’ve learned that help me focus everyday all day on what is important to me — daily prayers & “quick pics.” i tend to view these as flexible touch points throughout my day. however, it is vital to my sanity & spiritual growth that i set aside sacred times each day. these are times for “meeting with Christ in your closet,” for quiet, solitude, & reflection. my daily prayers are part of this, but i usually need more than those few quiet minutes, especially in the morning & before i go to sleep. i need time to feast on God’s word, to jot down my thoughts & feelings in my journal, to read a book, to confess, to worship. i need time to soak up the presence of God. my presence throughout the day depends on being in His presence very deliberately, for an extended set-apart time in the morning & evening as well as throughout the day via various touch points.

it took me a long time to understand the importance of what most christians call daily “quiet time.” i call it sacred time because i’m rarely quiet during it! sometimes i may be cast into silence before God, but usually i’m praying aloud & singing, sometimes even crying or shouting [in joy or in anger, depends on the moment]. when i did discover the value of this time with God everyday [in my mid-twenties], it took me much longer to understand the need for consistency, having this time on a daily basis. now, i can’t help it. i feel naked as a jay bird without this time. that doesn’t mean i don’t still skip it now & then because i slept in too late & am in a rush to get wherever i’m going. but those days are always off. and i crave getting back into my “closet” to be with God. i need Him like i need air, water, & food. the more time i spend with Him, the more i realize my need for Him. conversely, the less time i spend with Him, the less cognizant i am of my need. my heart & mind become hardened.

having spent years on a roller coaster in my practice of daily sacred time with God, i know how hard it is to “get back on the wagon” once you’ve fallen off. and i know how much it changes me when i finally do return to Him. it reminds me of heart patients who talk after surgery about how they didn’t realize how badly they felt before with blocked arteries until they could now feel the sensation of better health. they say the difference is huge! so it is too with the spirit. what a difference time with my God makes in my day, in my mind, my heart, my actions, my words, my priorities, my productivity, in everything!

now having a little one to look after each day, i have to be even more convicted about setting aside sacred times. and i’ve struggled doing it! but it’s been worth the difficult adjustments i’ve had to make to ensure i still sit in God’s presence. if you’re not already convinced that you too would be blessed beyond belief by establishing & protecting sacred times, too, here are a few reasons for you to ponder over:

1. our faith will be increased. “so then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (romans 10:17, kjv). while this may directly apply to the written word, i don’t believe that it excludes the other various ways that we can hear God. but listening doesn’t happen accidentally. we must take time to sit before Him, to open our ears & hearts to Him.

2. we will receive guidance from Him. “do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. then you will be able to test & approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, & perfect will” (romans 12:2). “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way” (psalm 25:9). time with God’s word [reading it, memorizing it, meditating on it] renews our minds most effectively, & worship brings us into proper posture before the Creator & King. it is through these characteristics that we will be able to receive His guidance, to know His will, His calling.

3. we will be “successful.” “keep this book of the law always on your lips; meditate on it day & night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. then you will be prosperous & successful” (joshua 1:8). countless references in the bible tell us that success — however it be defined — is from the help of the Lord & is often linked to our obedience. how can we receive His help if we don’t spend time with Him in prayer, in His word, in worship to Him? how can we be obedient to Him without a daily refocusing on His ways?

4. we will please God. in case we thought this was all about us & how we’re benefitted, let’s remember that our purpose in life is not to seek our own happiness but to please God & to bring Him glory. He desires relationship with us, & that requires time together. don’t let your christianity be reduced to a religion. allow Him to elevate it to relationship. as He often does, God takes that which is intended to bless Him & blesses us right back. having an intimate relationship with God will be the most rewarding thing into which we can ever invest our time. sacred time.

if you don’t already have sacred time set apart, spend time in prayer today with your day planner in front of you, & block it out. it is a most holy sacrifice, pleasing to the Lord.

 

going with the flow this year

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written january 1, 2014:

i spend a good deal of time every end-of-year planning for the new year ahead. it’s one of my most important practices as a student of Life. i review my goals, accomplished & unfinished. i reread my “top 100” [a list of anything & everything i want to do in my life]. i reflect on my annual theme & what i’ve learned. i create a new set of goals & choose a new focus for the coming year. [read more on the goals of a student of Life here.]

the past eight years, i’ve worked my way through the list in 2 peter 1:3-8 as my annual themes — faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, & love. [i can’t believe it’s been eight years already!] coming to the “end” of the list, i had to decide whether to start over again at faith or move on to something else entirely. peter writes that these eight characteristics are to be added in ever-increasing measure, so it seems only right to make the full circle back to faith.

however, my faith walk, needs, & struggles are very different now from eight years ago. [thank the Lord!] then, i wasn’t sure what authentic faith even looked like. while i’ve come a long way in this journey with Jesus, i still struggle in many areas about what i actually believe & especially when contrasted to how i act on my beliefs. i especially struggle with consistency. discipline & routine are not my fortes.

i decided this year, my focus would again be on faith, but my “one word” for the year, my focus, would be flow. i got the idea from Jesus’ words in john 7:38-39 — “whosoever believes in Me, as scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” by this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.

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i want to learn more about God’s Spirit within me & how to yield to Him daily. i want to embrace each day within this new season of motherhood that i’m entering — the day-in & day-out routine, the mundance & miraculous. i want to cultivate eyes to see God working in, around, & through me each day, in all the “small” things. and i want to explore faith from a daily standpoint — learning to experience God, worship, & wonder in the everyday simple moments. i figure with a baby coming, this will be pivotal amidst the diapers, feedings, & messes! i don’t want to miss God & the wonder because of the mess & sleeplessness. i want to take each moment as it comes, embrace it, learn in it, cherish it. i want to go with the flow.

in keeping with this theme, all of my goals & plans for this year are more daily in quality. and i’ve tried to keep my plans simpler, smaller, & more flexible. usually, i make grand plans, overcommitting & stretching myself too thin. this unrealistic tendency means i never accomplish what i set out to do. i want to be more forgiving with myself this year, gentler, giving myself a break. and hopefully, rely more on God & His Spirit in me in the process.

[lessons learned] in FAITH

i shared my story of focusing on faith for a year & how i learned more from failure than from any successes. still, i did learn. some of the things i learned may seem like common sense, obvious, & profoundly unprofound. but like i said in the last post, knowing these things in my head, from books & lessons, is incredibly different from knowing them in my soul, from my own experiences. my hope in sharing these lessons with you is not that you will be struck with the profundity of them, but that reading about them will cause you to be more observant of these same patterns & realities in your own faith journey, hopefully propelling you further along the way. being able to put into words the things i learned through my year on faith has done this very thing for me.

>> we can have faith because God is faithful.

it is recounted over & over in the pages of scripture. God is faithful. we can trust Him. we don’t have to be afraid because He is with us. He will not fail us. [that statement alone has carried me through more darkness than i can recount.] this is true even today. anyone who has walked with God for very long can share their own stories of His faithfulness. some stories are miraculous & exciting. others are simple, taking place among the mundane. but all are true & important. our faith is pointless without something worthy in which to place that faith. God is infinitely worthy. He proved it over & over in bible times. He proves it over & over today. 

>> it is important to remember how He’s been faithful in our pasts.

those stories of God’s faithfulness are important, & we would be wise to remember them, record them, & recount them. establishing memorials is an ancient practice of God’s people. the passover is one of the most prominent memorials that God established so the israelites would remember that He delivered them from slavery in egypt. my personal favorite is the story of the ebenezer stone. in first samuel, the ark was captured by the philistines, then it was returned. the israelites mourned their sinfulness against the Lord &, per samuel’s instructions, they got rid of all their idols & gathered together for samuel to intercede for them. while gathered together in prayer, the philistines came to attack them. the israelites cried out to samuel to keep praying. the Lord thundered against the philistines & threw them into a panic so that the israelites could easily defeat them. samuel sets up a memorial stone & calls it ebenezer [which means “stone of help”], & he says, “thus far has the Lord helped us.” that phrase has become something of a slogan that i’ve used in my faith journey. the implication is that God has helped us so far, & He will help us again!

i have taken this story to heart, & when i began regularly journaling in 2006 in conjunction with my focus on faith, i came to refer to my journals [there are now several tomes] to my ebenezers. they are filled with my own stories of how i have seen God faithful in my life. an answered prayer, a needed friend, a conflict resolved, a new lesson learned, a victory achieved. these stories remind me that if He helped me then, He can & will help me now. He’ll come through for me again. the practice of recording & remembering these experiences — setting them up as “memorial stones” — has significantly contributed to my increased faith. life is uncertain, whether you follow God or not. but when you walk with the Lord & actively remember what He has done for you, you can turn around anytime & see your path strewn with ebenezer stones. and it gives you the courage to take the next step into the unknown, with Him by your side. 

>> it’s never easy, but it gets easier.

faith in God is not easy. it is “being sure of what we hope for & certain of what we do not see” [hebrews 11:1]. these things are not easy for temporal, tangible creatures like us. that is why recording the times when we do observe God’s presence & experience His help is so important. when the enemy surrounds us with temptation or the storms of life rage around us, it is difficult to keep God & His promises in view. we need good memories in these times. we need to practice faith now & in the “small” things so that we can be ready when bigger trials come. and come, they will. standing firm against the enemy will never be easy. surviving the storms of life will never be easy. but we have great strength & assured victory in all things when we have faith in God to fight in our stead & to bring peace to/in the storm. and we have great hope when we have faith that God will bring good through any thing, no matter how awful. relying on His strength & goodness makes these times of trial so much easier. but it requires faith. not just faith in God existing, but faith in God coming through for us, being who He says He is, doing what He says He will do. we need to exercise this faith now & record His faithfulness in our pasts. He never promised this life would be easy. but He did promise that walking through this life with Him is easier. “My yoke is easy, & My burden is light” [matthew 11:30].

a year focused on FAITH

i have shared how i became convicted about setting annual goals for spiritual growth in my life. to continue the story from that thursday night devo in january of 2006… our friend, chris, challenged us to choose a theme or focus to guide our year in intentional spiritual growth & to choose a passage of scripture that could guide & encourage us. i chose FAITH.

the passage i chose to keep me focused throughout the year was ephesians 6:10-18 [nasb] —
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addtion to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints…
like i said yesterdayi was completely dedicated to being a christian. but that was different from being completely dedicated to Christ. i didn’t realize that difference in myself until late 2005, early 2006. i had known for many years that i was better at the knowledge side of christianity & i struggled with faith. my sister & i have often commiserated over this shared fact about ourselves. we are incredibly thankful for the foundation our parents laid for us & the heritage from the churches of Christ in knowing the bible in depth. but we rarely experienced the emotional side of christianity, the passion, the heart of God in depth. we relied too much on our knowledge about God rather than on God Himself. i certainly don’t think that faith is a warm fuzzy, emotional kind of thing. faith is a decision. but there is an emotional side to God & the life to which He calls us. sorrow over sin, compassion toward the hurting, anger for injustices, & great joy in His presence. and life is emotional. there are times when no amount of biblical knowledge can stand up alone to our circumstances & emotional turmoil. these are times in which faith is a must. a different kind of knowledge. an experiential knowledge. a relational knowledge. this was the knowledge i lacked & desperately desired. i wanted to be real & for God to be real to me.
for christmas in 2005, my husband shaun gave me a most insightful gift, the book believing God by beth moore. the subject of the book is as plain as its title, dealing with our faith being real & active. it is one of the most influential books in my life. i don’t believe this to be coincidence. first of all, i believe that it was so influential precisely because it was a lesson & a journey that i so needed. shaun knew this & lovingly acted on it. another reason beth states best herself in the introduction: “i am convinced that Christ is always the initiator of matters concerning faith (heb. 12:2). so if i’m on target, you’ve neither stumbled onto this book nor accidentally found it in your hands. Christ is initiating a fresh anointing of faith in your life…” reading this book prompted me to choose faith as my 2006 focus. it was the area i most needed to grow in my walk with Christ. i still read this book through almost every year.
i don’t recall doing many proactive things to increase my faith that year beyond journaling a lot. i finished reading believing God & regularly engaged in the faith practices suggested by beth. my favorite was recording “GodSTOPs” — those times when you notice God active in your life, whether through a sunset or a particular bible verse or a timely conversation with a friend. i continue the practice of journaling these to this day. i also made one of my goals that year to study the bible & pray every day. i didn’t do it everyday. but by the end of december i had made significant progress in having regular “quiet time” with God throughout the week.
from my journal, january 18, 2006: i want to impact my generation & the Lord’s kingdom. i feel (& have always felt) called to stir things up, spark a fire, swing the baseball bat of truth, & dole out passion! and i have felt so helpless, not knowing how; and i have felt so ashamed, not having tried. i certainly don’t see myself or my church “causing the gates of hell to tremble.” we are working so hard, at what? if we’re not fighting for God, we’re standing around for satan. we are nothing more than a glorified social club. i am nothing more than a religious sorostitute. where did we put God? we blend seamlessly with the world… but i will not be like the rest of the world! i will be a follower of Christ, a co-conspirator to God!
i have to shake my head at some of the things i wrote back then… but i’m thankful for that humble beginning to a lifelong journey of learning.
from wanting to be real & effective, i gained a budding sense of urgency [something i’m still growing in & needing much growth in]. o Lord, be faithful to my faith. teach me Your Ways. drench me in a sense of urgency for Your kingdom. restore my life, my purpose, my passion. i wanted to practice my faith daily, even though i’ve never had a disciplined bone in my body. i became very attached to journaling which led to greater frequency in praying & greater thirst for studying & learning. i began to believe that He could help me believe. i began to believe that He could help me change. i began to believe that He could make me victorious in my faith, over my sins, in effectiveness for His kingdom.
but… 2006 was one of the hardest years in my christian life up to that point [& for being so young, i had already experienced a significant amount of trials, especially in the church]. there were many serious & divisive issues within our campus ministry at the time. differences of opinions & beliefs, conflicts, gossip & slander, factions, & poor leadership [including on the part of yours truly] all combined & escalated, creating some nasty consequences. the ministry that i had poured my life into, that i had allowed to become my very identity, was falling apart around me. it was a time of intense faith crisis for me.
i was tempted to & often acted on growing distant from God. and yet God continued to work on me to put my knowledge & fledgling faith into action. through spiritual disciplines, conflict, rebuke, forgiveness, obedience, depression, failure, & self-reflection. and then, it was september. one morning i happened to be doing my quiet time, reading through a book & meditating on some scriptures & songs. it hit me like a tidal wave. my own poverty of spirit. my own sin & weakness. what God has done for me & in me. that morning, i made a new decision. to follow God & not a church. to be in relationship with Him & not a ministry. to embrace the sorrow over my sin & the joy of His salvation. i was baptized at age 12, but i became a disciple at age 25. 
december 31, 2006 found me writing these words: this year has been a period characterized by my entrenchment in campus ministry, inconsistent faith & focus on God, & slavery to sin, depression, & selfishness. i am now reborn, recommitted, & repentant… i’ve spent a year “focused” on faith, yet find myself at the end so unfaithful… what i want from myself is to be unabashedly who i am, to always be willing to learn & improve, to become ever more Christlike, to work hard to reach my dreams, & to never settle for average.
i may have deemed myself still unfaithful at the end of 2006, but i realized a couple of years ago very suddenly how much God has grown me in the ways of faith. little by little, i flopped & failed my way to increased faith. as evidenced by all my falling along the way, no credit to increased faith lies with me. it was all God. i asked for increased faith, even begged for it, & did the few things i knew to do by reading my bible, praying, self-reflection, & attempting other spiritual disciplines. and in my meager efforts [sometimes in spite of my meager efforts!], He was faithful. even through the major faith crisis i faced last year, my reactions were so different from what they were six years ago. He never failed me, & He never forsook me. even in every awful thing that has happened, He has brought something good through it. God has proven Himself so faithful over these years, & He has blessed me with eyes to notice some of it.
He has turned my mustard seed of faith into a tiny seedling. it’s still small to be sure. but it has grown.