God isn’t hard to find when you know how to look for Him

When I was a kid, there was a series of coffee table type books that were all the rage, the Magic Eye books. The books were full of large nonsense images that took up entire pages. Each image just looked like one giant collage of shapes and colors with no pattern or order. On the surface, they didn’t make any sense, but if you know how to look at them, you saw something completely different.

3D images were buried in those page-sized nonsense collages of colors and shapes. It took me years to learn how to see the hidden images, but once I figured it out, it was addictive. If you’ve seen one, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, go to the library and check a Magic Eye book out. Seriously. It’s totally worth it.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but those crazy Magic Eye books taught me a really important lesson about following Jesus.

58345D779AToday’s verses are Jeremiah 29:10-14.

This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

Many Christ-followers have heard the famous verse Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” They’re well known and used to comfort Christ-followers over and over again in times when we don’t understand what God is doing in our lives.

What many don’t know is the context. See, God spoke these words to His people just before He sent them into captivity, but He didn’t send them away without reminding them of His promises. God wanted to make sure they understood that even though life was hard (and it was going to get harder), He hadn’t forgotten them, and He hadn’t abandoned them. And if they were willing to look for Him, they would be able to find Him.

That’s a message our world needs right now, both Christ-followers and people who don’t believe.

There are points in my life when it felt like all I did was look for God. I read my Bible. I prayed. I talked to godly mentors. And it felt like I couldn’t find Him anywhere. At that point, I would turn to verses like these and question their validity. Because if the Bible says all I have to do to find God is to look for Him, it was a lie. Because I was looking, and I couldn’t see Him anywhere.

Ever had days like that? Where all you want is for God to just show up? You aren’t even asking for an audible voice, but you just need a sign, a hint, something to tell you that you aren’t alone. Ever considered that you might not know what you’re looking for?

We all have this image of God in our heads, and it’s shaped by different life experiences. And we all have this tendency to tell God how He needs to prove Himself to us. We do. Every does it. We ask God to show us a sign, and when He doesn’t hop to it and wave His arms around for us to see, we give up on Him.

You do realize that God doesn’t owe us anything, right? That’s a hard statement to swallow because–let’s be honest–we all think we’re something. Deep down inside, we think we’re pretty cool. And generally speaking, we’re right. But just because we’re pretty cool people doesn’t mean God is required to prove anything to us.

But He does it anyway. We just have to understand that it’s not what we’re looking for, it’s how we look for it.

Like those stupid Magic Eye puzzles, you have to look for God’s hand in a certain way. You can’t go looking for Him with a chip on your shoulder. You can’t approach Him like He owes you something. And you can’t seek Him with anything less than your whole heart. If you do, you won’t find Him.

God isn’t in the flash. I mean, He can be when He wants to be. He can be as big and flashy and ostentatious as He wants to be, but that’s not really His style. God is in the everyday. He’s in the sunrises and the sunsets that paint the sky a million shades of lavender. He’s in the taste of your morning coffee and the scent of your afternoon cup of tea. He’s in the quiet whisper of the autumn breeze through the leaves, and He’s in every connection you make with other people.

When you learn how to look for Him, you realize He’s not hard to find. He really is everywhere. So don’t convince yourself that He doesn’t care. Don’t tell yourself that He left you behind. And don’t keep asking Him for elaborate signs and wonders when you can marvel at who He is over your first cup of coffee in the morning.

Are you looking for God this morning? He’s right next to you. He’s just waiting for you to open your eyes and see who He actually is instead of who the world wants Him to be.

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Missing God because you aren’t expecting Him

I heard a story on the radio today about a baseball fan who didn’t notice his favorite player taking a photo of him. I’m sure he wasn’t expecting to see him. So when his favorite player showed up close to him, that may be why he didn’t notice him.

But the player, Roy Halladay, didn’t leave it at that. He crept up behind the guy, took a photo with him, and tweeted it, saying: “Oops! You missed me!”

Some people didn’t think it was funny. I think it’s hilarious. But it made me think about passing celebrities on the street. I mean, how many times do we walk right by someone who’s famous just because they don’t look the way we think they should look?

halliday_missedme

Baseball player Ron Halladay takes a secret photo of a young fan and Tweets it saying: “Missed me!”

Today’s verse is Acts 17:27.

His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.

You hear about people searching for God all the time, but what if they’re just not expecting to find Him? I think that’s what happened to this poor young fan. He wasn’t expecting to see his favorite player. But can you search for God without expecting to find Him?

Sure you can. We do it all the time when we say we want to follow Him and then give up when the going gets tough or when life doesn’t work out the way we want to. That’s because we’re expecting God to show up on our terms, and God doesn’t work that way.

Do you really want God on your terms? Because God on your terms can only handle the problems and issues you can think of. I’d much rather have God on His terms, knowing that He can take care of all the stuff in my life before I even know what’s coming.

And the irony of it is that God isn’t hard to find. He’s not hidden. He’s not hiding. And He isn’t going to sneak up behind you and tweet a picture without telling you. He wants you to find Him.

So don’t go through life not expecting to find Him. He’s everywhere, and He has gone out of His way to make sure you know about it. The next time you see a sunrise, that’s Him talking to you. The next time you feel the wind blow or smell a flower or listen to music, that’s His handiwork. Evidence of God’s love and majesty and awesomeness is everywhere, but if we aren’t looking for it, we’ll walk right past it.

Make the choice not to live that way. Be purposeful in your day. Be intentional in your choices and in your reactions.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see God in the simple things. He’s not far away. He’s waiting for you.

 

 

Rainy afternoon in the hills around Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Looking for the light when all you see is clouds

Have you ever experienced a season of life where nothing seemes to go right? Where every step you take is just another opportunity for something to go wrong? To blow up in your face? Just being honest, I’ve been there for most of this year.

Have you ever been there? Maybe you’re there right now. If you are, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve experienced the exhaustion, the fatigue, the worry, and the stress. You’ve struggled through the things you can’t control and the things you can. And you’ve worn yourself out trying to plan for every eventuality, only to discover that it’s worse than you imagined when it happens.

In seasons like that, you have a choice. You can either choose to focus on everything that’s going wrong, or you can look for the tiny ray of light that’s shining through the clouds. Because it’s there. It may be small, but it exists. And it’s there to remind you that all things happen for a reason, especially the things that seem bad.

Rainy afternoon in the hills around Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Rainy afternoon in the hills around Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
    when my enemies and foes attack me,
    they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
    my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
    I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—
    the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    delighting in the Lord’s perfections
    and meditating in his Temple.
For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
    he will hide me in his sanctuary.
    He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
    above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
    singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
    Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
    Do not reject your servant in anger.
    You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
    O God of my salvation!
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
    the Lord will hold me close.

Teach me how to live, O Lord.
    Lead me along the right path,
    for my enemies are waiting for me.
Do not let me fall into their hands.
    For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
    with every breath they threaten me with violence. 
Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.

Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

2013 has been a difficult year in so many ways. Name it and it’s probably gone wrong. But at the same time, it’s been an awesome year. God has given me opportunities to do things I never would have dreamed, and He’s opened doors in ways I never expected. So it’s up to me whether I choose to focus on everything that’s gone wrong this year, or choose to focus on everything that’s gone right because of what’s gone wrong. That’s the key. Nothing really “goes wrong” when you’re following God; it just means you (through God’s strength) have an opportunity to turn something our enemy intends for evil into something that can bless other people.

That can be difficult to remember. But God doesn’t let anything touch us without permission. God doesn’t allow anything into our lives with no purpose. He absolutely doesn’t leave us to face it alone. And when you least expect it, He makes Himself known in a way you won’t see coming. It’s happened so many times in the past year. When I’m down and discouraged and feeling alone, God sends someone into my path who reminds me exactly who He is. Whether that’s what they intend to do or not (sometimes they aren’t even believers), God uses them to help me see that I’m not alone and that none of this is futile. (You may notice this blog now has no ads on it, thanks to one of these reminders I’m talking about.)

So keep your eyes open. Choose to see the opportunities God is giving you rather than the ones you think He’s taking away. Wait patiently and attentively, and you’ll see Him. And remember you’re not on your own.

Stones of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

What we expect determines our focus

My brain is a mess this morning. I’m not exactly sure why. It may be because I had a very pleasant, thoroughly relaxing weekend where I didn’t think about anything and accomplished even less. I woke up this morning, and my brain just simply won’t engage. Have you ever experienced that? Where your brain simply won’t settle on a topic and jumps randomly from distraction to distraction? It happens to me frequently, and sometimes it’s useful. But when I’m trying to get something done, it’s a pain in the neck.

It’s times like those I really pray for focus because there are important things to do, and if I can’t bring my focus in, they won’t get done. When I was thinking about staying focused this morning, today’s verses came to mind.

Stones of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Stones of Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verses are Matthew 24:42-44.

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”

This is Jesus talking about the End Days, about watching for the day when He will return to Earth to take His followers home. Most times you’ll hear this referred to as The Rapture. That’s not a term that’s used in Scripture, but it’s what we use to describe what happens.

It’s hard to stay focused on something you’re not expecting. That’s kind of the point of this passage. If you expect that something is going to happen, you’ll be alert. You’ll be watching for it. You’ll be focused on it. If you’re not expecting anything to happen, you’ll be content to sit down, kick up your feet, and chill out. And I don’t suppose there’s any harm in that, but you wouldn’t be doing your job, especially if you’re supposed to be watching.

It’s kind of like this blog, honestly. If I’m not expecting God to do anything with it, it’s easy to get sidetracked in the mornings when I’m writing it, especially when I wake up in such a fog. I don’t really write this blog for anyone else but me, and it’s miraculous that my working through what God is doing in my life out loud actually encourages other people. I don’t take credit for that; that’s all Him. But if I don’t expect that I’m going to see something true or something encouraging out of the Bible in the mornings, it’s easy for me to suddenly want to give up. Or at least go back to bed and sleep for another half hour before I have to go to work.

What we expect determines our focus.

So what do you expect today? And I’m not exactly talking about what you expect to happen today. You can try to plan for what’s going to happen today, and that’s a good idea. It’s a good idea to be prepared if you can be. But what happens to you isn’t as important what you learn from it. So I guess a better question would be what do you expect to learn today? What do you expect to get out of the events of today? What do you expect you will learn about God today?

Do you expect anything at all? If you don’t, your focus is going to suffer. If you’re a guard watching a door, if you don’t expect someone to come out of that door, you won’t be ready when they do. Your focus will fail. It’s the same with life. If you don’t expect to learn something about God today, you won’t. If you don’t expect God to provide you an opportunity to help someone, you won’t see it when it comes. You’ll blow right past it. You’ll miss it.

If that’s what you expect, that’s what you’ll be focused on.

Instead, think about focusing on who God is. Remember, He’s God. He can do anything, and He’s promised that we can do anything through Him. So if you’re in a place where you don’t get to see Him working, or if you’re too busy, or if you’re too stressed, try to expect Him anyway. You never know where He might show up, but if you’re not expecting Him, you’ll miss Him.

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Enduring when God is silent

I like instructions. I don’t always read them, but it’s comforting to know they’re there in case I need them. So what happens when the instructions don’t make sense? A friend was telling me over the weekend that her husband bought her a desk and assembled it for her, but the instructions were missing pages. So putting the desk together was a nightmare. What happens when you’re missing the instructions and the things you thought would be easy turn into something difficult?

That’s a silly example, but many of us run into that question a larger scale when we’re trying to live. We lose our instructions or we encounter a situation where the instructions no longer seem relevant, and we ask God for guidance. And He doesn’t answer. We ask Him to tell us what do to, and He doesn’t respond. What do you do then? How do you endure when God stops speaking to you?

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Job 13:15.

God might kill me, but I have no other hope.
    I am going to argue my case with him.

Job is one of those people I can’t wait to meet when we get to heaven. He’s one of my heroes. The story basically goes that Job was one of the wealthiest men at the time, but he was also one of the most righteous. He was a God follower, and he wasn’t afraid if everyone knew it. And God pointed him out to Satan one day, telling him about how no one could match Job. So Satan made a deal with God that he could convince Job to turn against God, and God allowed him to attack Job. Overnight, Job lost everything. His wealth. His family. His status. Everything that mattered to him was taken, and he was left with a bitter wife and friends who turned against him.

Job is a big book. It’s 42 chapters, probably the oldest book in the Bible, and the majority of it is Job questioning, until God starts answering. But God doesn’t answer right away, and Job is left to puzzle through all the horrible things that have happened to him without God explaining it.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever had to suffer through circumstances that you didn’t deserve? Okay, let’s be honest. Most of the time the really bad stuff we encounter usually has some root cause in our lifestyle or our choices or our past, and it’s our own actions bringing the trouble to our doorstep. But have you ever really run into situations where you have to suffer through difficult things and you didn’t do anything to deserve them? I have. I know others who have too. And it’s in those moments where I have been really tempted to get upset at God.

I mean, why would He let this stuff happen to me? I didn’t do anything to deserve it. Why is He punishing me for things I don’t deserve to be punished for? That’s not fair.

If you’re there, read Job. Because he was there for 41 chapters. We are all in a very different place than Job was. He didn’t have the Book of Job or any of the Bible. None of it had been written down yet. So he had nothing except his experience and his relationship with God to go on. But we have Scripture. We have the Holy Spirit.

And what Scripture will tell you about God’s silence is that it’s never actually there. God is never silent. We just stop listening.

Are you facing troubles today? Are you facing situations that you don’t deserve? Have you asked God to take them away and He isn’t answering? Do this. Go outside and sit down and close your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Do you hear the wind? Do you hear birds singing? Do you hear leaves rustling on trees? Do you hear other people and life in the city?

God doesn’t have to speak in an audible voice for us to know that He’s talking. He speaks through the Bible. He speaks through Creation. He speaks through provision. He speaks through other people in our lives. He’s never silent, but we often let our troubles distract us.

Job was fortunate enough that God responded to him. God spoke to him. And when God was done speaking to him, this is how Job responded in Job 42:1-6:

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”

We don’t know why God chooses to do the things He does many times, but we know that He is fair and just and good and sovereign, which means He has the right do what He wants with what He made–and that’s everything. We know how the story of Job turned out. God blessed him with twice what he had before, and while Job had endured tremendous suffering, the second half of his life was more blessed than the first ever was.

So if you’re going through difficulty right now, think about Job. It’s okay to question God. It’s okay to wonder. It’s okay to talk to Him, to be honest with Him, to tell Him how you’re feeling, but remember who you’re talking to.

Everyone struggles through dark times. Everyone faces situations that seem unfair. And, yes, it’s frustrating and upsetting. But the more you focus on how God isn’t speaking to you, the quieter He’ll get. But it’s not that He’s speaking softer; you’re turning His volume down.

Prairie dog at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Haven, KS

Seeking is a process

If you look for God, you’ll find Him. Right? He’s promised that in other verses. But the Bible never wastes words. If the words aren’t necessary, they wouldn’t be in Scripture. Every single word is essential. So why does it matter that we search for the Lord with all our heart and soul?

If we can just find God by turning over a stone and exclaiming, “Look! I found God!” why is it important to search with everything we are?

Sincerity is important, yes. If you’re not sincerely seeking something, even if you find it, you won’t understand it.
Because seeking is a process.

Prairie dog at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Haven, KS

Prairie dog at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Deuteronomy 4:29.

But from there you will search again for the Lord your God. And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him.

People say they are seeking God, but that’s a popular thing to say. They also say they’re seeking to find themselves, they’re seeking to find God’s will and purpose, they’re seeking the truth. But everyone seems to forget the first thing that has to happen before you truly begin to seek; first, you have to lose it. Then, you have to really want it.

If you don’t really want what you’re seeking, you’ll be satisfied when you find the first answer that fits your expectations.

This verse is taken out of a passage where Moses is addressing the Israelites. This generation of people was the children of the ones who God rescued from Egypt. That original generation refused to do as God told them. He’d told them to go into the land He’d prepared for them and that He had given them victory. But the people only saw the giants in the land, guarding the way, and they refused. So God caused them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation had died. Their children would inherit the legacy intended for them.

This generation was sold out to God, but Moses warned them that if they broke the promise they were making, if they forged idols and turned away from God that they wouldn’t live in the land for very long and would be scattered to the wind. But even scattered and without a country to call home, if they turned back to God and searched for Him, He promised they could find Him. If you know your history, you’ll know that’s exactly what happened.

Seeking God is popular among Christians. But what does it mean to actually seek God? And what does it mean to seek with all your heart and soul? In the Amplified Version, it actually says to seek with all your heart and mind and soul and life. Think about that; that’s huge. If you’re seeking with all of those things, that means seeking is your entire life.

Have you ever looked for something like that?

Most of the time when we seek something, it’s like we’re looking for our keys. During Judgement House, I couldn’t keep track of my cup. We had those lovely Styrofoam cups that we scratched our names on, but no matter how careful I was, I kept misplacing it. And I looked for it, but in the end I just gave up and got another one. That’s how many people search for God, I think.

We seek sincerely for a day (maybe longer) and then we come up with another explanation. Or we decide that He’s not listening or that He’s not there and we accept a lie because we are too lazy to wait any longer. But here’s the thing, folks, those of us who seek God need to realize the possibility that we may not have lost Him to begin with.

Moses was warning the Israelites that if they turned away from God, if they worshiped idols and were cast out of the Promised Land, they could find God if they searched for Him. But in that situation, the Israelites would have lost Him. They had dropped Him, given up on Him, turned away from Him. So of course they would need to search for Him again if they wanted Him.

But Christians? We haven’t lost God. He’s right here. He’s been here. And if you say you’re a Christian, you haven’t lost Him at all.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying don’t look for Him. What I’m saying is that so many times Christians waste the limited time we have looking for something we’ve already found. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wasted ten minutes looking for my keys, when they’re in my coat pocket.

Yes. Search for God. But if you’re really searching, remember that you have to lose Him first. And if you haven’t lost Him, if you haven’t turned away from Him, why are you wasting time seeking? He’s standing right beside you just asking if you’ll talk to Him. So talk. And don’t put words in His mouth. Let Him speak through Scripture, through prayer, through godly council of mature believers, and don’t argue with what He tells you.

But if you have lost Him, seek. Just don’t do it like someone looking for their keys or for a stupid Styrofoam cup. Seek with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole soul and your whole life. That is how you seek God. It’s not a half-hearted attempt at being good. It’s not you presenting options and hoping God is happy with what you’ve come up with. It’s your entire being laid out in desperate need, crying out to God for the truth. He won’t turn anyone away, even if you’ve turned away from Him.

But even if you find Him, you may not get the answers you want right away. Seeking is a process. And like any other process, it begins with the first step. But that first step is the most important.

The view at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Mountains are big, beautiful rocks that don’t really do much.

It’s easy to look up when we’re in trouble. Something about difficult times makes just about everyone eager to talk to God, to tell Him what’s bothering us, to explain how we need His help. And that’s great. That’s what He wants us to do.

But I think some times we forget that God isn’t just waiting to get us out of trouble; He’s there to keep us from getting into trouble in the first place.

The view at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

The view at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s passage is Psalm 121.

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
    the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
    never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!
    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.

This is brief today, but I don’t know how to say it better than Scripture does. And Psalm 121 is so clear, so concise. There’s not much that needs to be expanded on.

You can look up into the mountains for your help all day long, but it isn’t the mountains or the act of looking up that’s going to save you. God is the One who rescues us from danger, but He doesn’t just rescue us. If we follow Him, He’ll keep us safe no matter where we are.

He never gets tired. He never goes to sleep. He never stops keeping us safe.

Even when it seems like the world is full of danger (it is), as long as we keep looking to God as our help, we can’t fail.

So if you’re feeling vulnerable today, stop looking up at the mountains. Yes, they’re beautiful, and yes they’re a reminder of how strong God is. But if you need to know that everything is going to be okay, remember what God says in the Bible about how He protects us.

That’s where you’re going to find your help. That’s where you’ll find encouragement. Mountains are beautiful, but when you get right down to it, they’re just big rocks. And big rocks don’t really do much.

Our help comes from God, who made the mountains. And He’s standing beside you waiting to help you through your day.