What do you need to tell God today?

My best friend lives in England. She has been living across the pond for about two years now, and I’m not going to see her face to face again until probably December. The first year she was there, the only technology either of us had was text messaging on Skype chat and an actual Skype conversation when we could make the time. But when she went back again, this time she had a smart phone. And this time, so did I.

Needless to say, we are constantly messaging each other. We text on WhatsApp. We message on Facebook. We email. Sometimes all three at once because we’re just that schizophrenic. So while I don’t know everything that’s going on in her life, I usually have a fairly good idea just because we communicate all the time. But even though we are in constant communication, I still enjoy Skyping with her. I love to see her face and hear her voice.

But that’s how it’s like with friends. Even if you already know everything you need to know about them, you still want to talk to them.

calling_1160x768Today’s verses are Matthew 6:7-8.

When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

Similar to doing good deeds for recognition, religious people in Jesus’ day would pray loudly in the streets so that everyone would hear them and understand just how important and godly they were. Well, Jesus put the brakes on that. He said to pray in private.

Jesus treated prayer like a conversation. He didn’t want it to be for show. Prayer is talking to God as though He’s in the room with you. Newsflash: He is!

Some people pray using cute rhymes and songs or prepared lines, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For children, rhymes and songs can be fun, and some of the most beautiful prayers I’ve ever read were written in books. But can’t we just have a conversation with God? Aren’t we capable of just telling Him what we want to tell Him?

We don’t have to use special language. We don’t have to impress him with big words and fancy speeches. Just talk to Him.

God already knows what you need, yes, but He wants to hear from you. He loves you. He cares about you and what’s going on in your day. Sure, He already knows it all, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t want to talk to you. That doesn’t mean He’s not interested.

I used to be afraid to pray out loud because I wasn’t good at it. But when I learned to just talk–and when I understood how much I need God–it wasn’t hard anymore.

If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit in your life. That gives you instant and immediate access to God the Father whenever you want. You can approach His throne (boldly, Hebrews says!). You have an open invitation. You can talk to God at any time.

And don’t just throw requests at Him. It’s fine to let Him know what you need, yes. But come on. Nobody wants to hear you read your to do list. We’re talking about a relationship here. Tell Him about your day. Tell Him about your dreams. Tell Him how wonderful He is and how thankful you are that He’s your Father.

God is listening. So what have you got to tell Him today?

Ladybug in the wheat - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Defining glory

I grew up in the church. From cradle to pew to stadium seating, I’ve been in church my whole life. I’m quite comfortable around church culture, but as comfortable as I am there, I try not to stay there. Because let’s be honest: church culture isn’t really relevant to the rest of the world.

But even when I’m trying to expand my boundaries and get out of the church mentality, I sometimes slip back into a nasty habit of using common religious words and phrases that confuse people. It’s the same with any other culture. Groups of like-minded (or not-so-like-minded) people who spend a lot of time together create words and phrases that mean something to them, and when they try to communicate outside their little comfort zones, no one else understands.

I’m a copywriter for a marketing team. I and the other writer in the team often discuss the merits and disadvantages of comma usage, and we quite frequently use terms like nonessential and clause and reductionist. And if you aren’t a writer, or if you aren’t interested in grammar at all, those won’t mean anything to you.

It’s the same with the church. Baptism by emersion. Sanctification vs. Justification. Passing the plate. Fellowship. Giving your heart to Jesus. Terms and phrases like these make little sense outside the church.

Ladybug in the wheat - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Ladybug in the wheat – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 143:11.

For the glory of your name, O Lord, preserve my life.
    Because of your faithfulness, bring me out of this distress.

I’ve always loved the phrase,For the glory of your name. There’s just something moving about it. And it fits nearly any situation that you’re going through.

If you’re happy, it’s for God’s glory. If you’re sad, it’s for God’s glory. Whether you’re gainfully employed or not, it’s for God’s glory.  And so on and so forth. But let’s be real about it; no one really knows what it means. It’s just one of those churchy phrases that is great to tack on to any sentence to make you sound like a better Christian.

What does it mean to live for God’s glory? To suffer for God’s glory? To rejoice for God’s glory? What is glory?

Glory is placing value on someone or something by your actions.

If you own an expensive vase or a rare portrait, you’re going to want to display it in a way that brings attention to it. You’re going to want set it up in a place where the light is just right, where people see it and recognize how priceless it is. That is bringing glory to that object.

If you are given the opportunity to host a famous person in your home, you would give him the best room, feed him the best food, make sure he had everything he needed. And you would introduce him to people with the utmost respect, making sure they know who he is and what he means to you. That is bringing glory to that person.

We don’t hesitate to bring glory to priceless objects or famous people. But when it comes to bringing glory to God, we usually find something else to talk about.

Maybe we just don’t know how. Because it’s easy to bring glory to something other people can see. It’s easy to bring glory to a person who can prove their great works. But bringing glory to God is kind of a different story, isn’t it? How can you glorify Someone who nobody can even see? You can’t very well put God on a shelf and shine a light on Him. You can’t very well take Him to a party and introduce Him to all of your friends. Not literally at least.

But what you can do is recognize Him as your motivation.

That’s what it means to live for God. That’s what it means to glorify God with your life. If He is your motivation, your purpose, your reason for living, that brings glory to His name. That makes people stop and listen up because if you can live and suffer and rejoice and maintain that God is your motivation for living the way you do, people will pay attention.

Some people live for money and material wealth. Some people live for people, social interaction and political influence. Some people live for themselves. But if your driving factor for living is give God the credit for everything, not only will other people notice a difference in you, but you will also experience a satisfying life. Because all the money and all the friends and all the selfishness in our culture can’t bring you peace like God can.

Gobbledygook

Christianity can be like any other club out there, a group of people united by unnecessary membership fees, dress codes, and unattainable standards. The church can easily turn into a club where everyone talks about the Bible in terms that don’t upset or challenge anyone. I know of a church in Wichita that preaches the truth but decided to never preach about money because that made people uncomfortable (even though Jesus talked about money and wealth).

But the other fact that makes Christianity like a club somtimes is the jargon.

If you’ve been around the church for any amount of time, you probably don’t even know half your vocabulary is made up of churchy phrases that no one outside the church will understand.

Phrases like “accept Jesus into your heart” or “take up your cross” or “passing the plate” don’t mean anything to someone who’s never read the Bible, but Christians throw them around all the time and then sneer at people who don’t understand like there’s something wrong with them.

That’s one of the many reasons I love my pastor — he talks straight. I’ve listened to many preachers who can wax eloquent on salvation or a multitude of other biblical topics, spouting off florid verbiage that sounds both poetic and overdone. I have little patience for communication that doesn’t accomplish anything other than making the pastor look impressive for his vocabulary.

So, when I read the verse this morning, my mind immediately jumped to the many sermons I have heard using this text as reference. Even if you haven’t grown up in church, you will recognize the cliches and church-speak all throughout this verse:

Luke 9:23-24

23 Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. 24 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.

There are many phrases in this verse that passionate repetition has turned to cliche. The one that catches my eye mostly is “take up your cross.” You will hear this phrase everywhere, in every denomination almost. Take up your cross! Or sometimes it’s said that we all have our cross to bear.

In all honesty . . . I don’t think I’m studied enough to tell you what it’s probably supposed to mean. I used to know. But I’ve been out of a traditional church for so long most of my knowledge of cliches and church-speak has faded. I’m pretty sure it means that you should take advantange of misfortune and try to use it for good . . . or it’s part of the concept of salvation, that your old self is crucified with Christ and is dead . . . . or it’s part of understanding what it means to live a Christian life, accepting unjust punishment and prejudice without complaint. I know I’ve heard all of those explanations for that phrase, but is one of them right? Or are all of them right? I can’t tell you.

I can only tell you what it means to me now . . . and maybe it’s different for every person. That wouldn’t surprise me. It’s different for me now that I’m older than it was when I was young. That’s the miracle of the Bible. It grows with you . . . .

Whenever I think of Christ bearing up under the weight of the cross during the long, agonizing trek to Golgotha, I remember that He did that for me. No one made Him do it. He chose to die painfully to make a way for me to have a relationship with God. The Jews didn’t kill Him. The Romans didn’t kill Him. He gave up His own life. He could have stopped it at any moment, but He chose to keep going.

Jesus bearing the cross, to me, is a picture of selflessness, of a willingness to sacrifice His life for other people. He hadn’t done anything wrong. All He had done was speak the truth and heal people, both physically and spiritually. He was fully, totally, completely innocent. But He chose to give up His comfort and His position and His very existence to pay for sins He’d never committed. Jesus lived His life for other people, just like He died for all people.

To me, that’s what “take up your cross” means.

Take up your cross daily. Every morning when you wake up, remember that your life isn’t about you. God put us on earth for a reason and He keeps us here to accomplish something.

The church and religion has taken this phrase and turned it into something commonplace, but “take up your cross” is the furthest thing from common that there is. It’s hard. It’s beyond hard — it’s excrutiating. Because no matter if we have chosen to believe in Christ, we still want to live for ourselves. That’s how we’re wired. But that’s not what Jesus did.

But we throw it around like all the rest of English idiom, like it’s just a string of words that doesn’t mean anything. We all have our crosses to bear, don’t we?

Taking up your cross daily — living for other people — is a lifestyle. It’s a picture of what it truly means to follow Christ, to live like Christ, to give up your life. It’s one of the most difficult things we can chose to do as believers.

Can we believe in Christ and not follow Him? Of course. I’ve met a lot of Christians who are right there. There were many Christians in the New Testament who believed in Jesus but didn’t follow Him. But you’ll see if you read Scripture that they didn’t start making a difference in the world until they gave up their lives, until they sacrificed their dreams, until they turned over their wishes and desires to live for other people.

We can struggle and fight to achieve something great for God in this world, but until we learn to live for other people, we won’t accomplish anything. Until we learn that our lives aren’t about us, God won’t use us — not the way He wants to.

What are you holding on to today?

I can tell you I struggle with turning my writing over to Him. I want to write what I want to write. I want to make a difference with my stories and my plans and my ideas, but who are those stories and plans and ideas for? Me or other people? My dream was always to get a book published and reach as many people as possible. But what if His plan isn’t for me to reach a lot of people? What if His plan is for me to reach one or two people? Am I okay with that?

What about you? What are your dreams? Financial security? (I’ve had that one too.) A relationship? (Ditto.) A house? A car that runs consistently? A job you love? Why do you want these things? What is driving you to accomplish your dreams? Are your dreams for yourself?

I had to come to a realization many years ago that my dreams weren’t as important as God’s plans. And it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I had to surrender my dream to God. And I can tell you from experience that my dream hasn’t come true yet — at least, not the specific dream I had. But God has answered part of my dream . . . . .

You’re reading this devotional, aren’t you?