The Magic of Shutting the Gates

Time –

it’s the big equalizer among all of us.  You have 24 hours in a day and I have 24 hours in a day.

So the ‘I don’t have time for God’ excuse just doesn’t fly.  We all have 24 hours and some of us find regular time with God.

Yes, I know all of our situations are different – work schedules, kid’s schedules, and all kinds of commitments fill our calendars.  That’s where the challenge comes – how we choose to fill our calendars.  Because it’s a choice.

I am now in a very blessed time of my life in relation to time because I am retired.  I retired 2 years ago and I’m still in the ‘awed’ stage of my new schedule.  This cannot possibly be my life now!  My calendar is 99% filled with things I want to do.  I have a lot of time for God.

But this was not true of my life before retirement.  I worked for 34 1/2 years straight for Corporate Jack in the Box.  I was married with a 9 month-old child when I started for Jack and had another baby 4 years later.  I traveled a lot and got promoted regularly gaining more and more  responsibility with a dream of becoming a VP.

With a husband who worked, 2 kids, a house, a dog and a 60-hour workweek, you can imagine my life.  And right in the middle of all of that, God challenged me to put him first.  I had been running on empty for quite awhile, not happy when I realized that this is how the rest of my life could be.  So when I realized that God was offering me the only way I was going to find the joy and purpose in the middle of this craziness, I accepted the challenge.

And I began to reorganize my priorities.  I changed my focus from my career onto my relationship with God.  I started using my time differently –  I stopped working 60 hours a week.  I cut down to 40 or 45 hours a week, always used all of my vacation days to spend with my family and asked God to take care of the next raise or promotion.  Interesting – I performed better when I worked less and I ended up with a career that blessed my family instead of taking away from my family.

My week was still packed with work, kids, sports, work travel, and more.  There wasn’t much I could do about that.  So I revamped my weekends.  I stopped planning anything on Saturday night that would make us too tired to get up for church on Sunday.  I started doing my laundry, shopping and cleaning on Saturday, leaving Sunday open for worship and time with my spiritual family in the morning.  Sunday afternoon became a great time for Bible study small groups.  Sunday became God’s day – all day.

I admit, it was hard for me to find my personal time with God during the week.  I have never been a ‘get up at 4 am to read my Bible type of person’.  It just doesn’t work for me – I’m a ‘get up at 4 am and go right to work’ person.  I’m also not a ‘read a devotional every day’ type person.  I don’t get much from that, I want to dig deeper.

So in the middle of the busiest time of my life, I would try to find an hour or two here or there during the week with God, knowing that I was going to dedicate Sunday to him.  I believe God honored my desire to spend time with him because, somehow, I would often find myself spending two or three precious hours with him on Saturday as well.

I find it interesting to read when Nehemiah confronts the leaders in Jerusalem about ‘neglecting God’.  They had stopped supporting the Levites so the Levites had to go get jobs and were unable to serve in the temple.  Everyone had started working on the Sabbath – selling all sorts of produce and merchandise inside the walls of Jerusalem.

This could not go on so Nehemiah shut the gates to Jerusalem when Sabbath started and they stayed closed until the Sabbath ended.  He put guards on the gates and told everyone to start bringing their tithes to the temple again and start supporting the Levites so they could go back to their temple duties.

He shut the gates.

I feel like that is what I needed to do to find significant time to spend with God.  I had to shut the gates on all the other things that me and my family could do on Sundays.  I had to shut the gates to the things my family could do that would keep us out late or up late on Saturday.  I had to reorganize Saturdays to make room for God in my weekends.  Looking back, I feel like this re-prioritizing was a blessing for my entire family because it slowed down our Sundays and we had more time to hang out with each other.

And I saw God multiply my time on Saturday and Sunday.   On Saturdays I could get all of errands and chores done AND play in the pool, have friends over and have fun.  On Sundays I had time for God – worship and service in church, small group Bible studies and extra time to read and study God’s word which eventually led to this blog.

Closing the gates worked.

Thank you for your truth, Abba Father.

Why?

Why is this happening?

Why am I struggling through this?

Why?

I have discovered that many of my ‘why?’ questions are not answered immediately.  God’s answer comes later.  In some cases, many years later.

I have learned to recognize God’s movement in all of my why’s.  God is a huge planner.  He is the master orchestrator of the past, present and future for all of his children.

Why am I going through a tough time today?  Often I realize much later that the first tough experience trained me for an even tougher trial that was coming my way.  I learned lessons in the first struggle which helped me be more successful in navigating the next difficult situation in my life.

God prepared me.

As I read God’s Word, I see God’s preparation as a consistent thread in his epic love story.  In the book of Esther, Esther asked Mordecai to gather together all the Jews of Susa to fast with her for 3 days as she prepared for her audience with the king.  She was going to reveal the fact that she was a Jew and ask him to save her people.  At that time in history, you were putting your life in danger by going to the king when he had not invited you.  If the king didn’t want to see her, he could have her killed.

As the story unfolds, we see that over those 3 days of fasting God helped Esther develop a strategy for delivering her message.  She set the stage first so that the king was ready to grant her plea for mercy for her and her people.

Preparation.

I know it’s a big part of why God let’s difficult things happen in my life –

and your’s.  Each step of the way, God guides us and teaches us what we will need to know for the next step, training us so we are ready to complete the purpose he has for us here.

Thank you for preparing us, Abba Father.

Where Is It?

Where can I find satisfaction?

Is contentment even a possibility for you?

God speaks to you and me in Haggai about the negative consequences that happen when we have our priorities wrong –

We work hard but have little to show for it…except for a lot of bills.

We eat but there is still a hunger in our souls.

We drink but we are still thirsty….for something.

We put on clothes but then we need to buy more because the last thing we bought didn’t satisfy us.

Our money disappears like we’re putting it in pockets filled with holes.

Can you relate to any of those?

I can.  I have experienced all of those at different times of my life when my eyes were focused on something other than God.

I love how God uses the pictures of a pocket full of holes.  Before I put God first in my finances, it felt like all of my pockets had holes in them.  And was I satisfied?  No!

I learned that if my life is about money and stuff, I will never have enough.  And that is what God is telling you and I today in Haggai.  God was talking to the Israelites because they were busy building their own houses while ignoring the rebuilding of God’s house, the Temple.

What is keeping you and I too busy to put God first in our lives?

God is telling us to get our priorities straight and THEN we will find satisfaction.

Thank you for your truth, Abba Father.

My Special Possession

Do you have a special possession?

If someone asked me that, I would have to think awhile because I’m not very attached to “things”.   I’d probably say the ring that my mother left to me when she went home to heaven is special to me. It became invaluable to me after she was gone.

My own wedding ring is also important to me.  It symbolizes almost 40 years of love and commitment between my husband and I.  Every five years we changed or added to my ring so when I look at it, I see the history of us building a marriage that has lasted through many storms.  After our son who was a Phoenix Police Officer was killed in the line of duty, I added some blue sapphires onto my wedding ring in honor and remembrance of a great son and the awesome man he grew up to be.  Precious.

My eyes were opened to my real answer to that question this morning as I was reading in Ezekiel that God says he is the special possession of the priests.  The priests were not allowed to own any property or land.  God was all they needed.  God took care of them and he didn’t want them to be distracted by other possessions.

Wow!  This applies to me!  God takes care of me and provides for me.  He doesn’t want me to be distracted by possessions.

My relationship with God is my very special possession.  I can’t imagine life without him.  There is nothing I own –  my mother’s ring and my ring included – that gives me the love, joy and strength that God gives me.  Nothing gives me the forgiveness and freedom that only comes from God.

Yes, God is my special possession.  My relationship with him is so much more precious and perfect than anything I could every buy or own.

I live my life in gratitude for all you are, Abba Father, and for all you have done for me.

 

 

Life-giving

He doesn’t make us give up good things.

He doesn’t make our lives boring and rigid.

In Ezekiel God calls his laws ‘life-giving” and that’s exactly what I have experienced.

I have to explain first – I have a strong rebellious streak (which is no news to God) so I think of the words ‘God’s laws’ more like ‘rules’ that a good Father makes because he loves his children so much and wants the best for them.  God’s laws come from love, not from control, ignorance or anger.

My Father’s rules give me a life of freedom from the guilt and shame caused by my sins.    I am free to live each day in his grace and strength and love.

Living in line with God takes away any loneliness I might feel because he is always with me – loving and guiding me.

It’s life-giving.

Knowing God relieves me from worry and anxiety.  He is in control – now and into eternity.  I’m so glad I don’t need to try to control my world anymore.  The truth is I was never in control anyway – no matter how much I fretted about it and worked at it.

God’s got this – all this.  It’s life-giving.

Watching God move in my life and in the lives of others is constantly exciting because nothing,

nothing!

is impossible for God.

It’s life-giving.

Listening to God’s directions gives my life purpose and meaning.  This is extremely important to me.  He gives me motivation to get up in the morning.  God’s faithfulness is amazing as he teaches me how to keep growing my faith and obedience.

It’s life-giving.

I don’t have to give up anything I don’t want to give up.  In reality, there have been a lot of things I chose to give up because God showed me they were not good for me.  They weren’t helping me grow closer to him and they were sabotaging my efforts towards some things I really wanted – like a great marriage, awesome kids, a fulfilling career and making a positive difference in my world.  I gave up those things because I chose to give them up.  I traded them for God’s best in my life.

My Father’s life-giving rules are his very best for me.

Thank you, Abba Father.

 

His Breath

Tired.

Dried out.

Lifeless.

Ever feel that way?

Do you feel that way now?

Good news!  God tells us through Ezekiel that he can bring us back to life.  He is able to breathe life back into our souls so that we can become alive in him again.

I know this is true because I’ve experienced it.

In my late 20’s I was what I call a ‘cultural Christian’.  I had loved God and believed in Jesus my whole life but my personal relationship with God was pretty non-existent at that time.  My family went to church and I sang in the choir.  I sat in the congregation on Sunday and commented on what a great sermon it was but I rarely remembered it past the parking lot.   I prayed – but I never listened.  I never watched for God’s answer.

I was too busy with all the other things I thought I wanted.  I had a great husband, two awesome kids, a good start on career, nice cars and our first house.  Everything was great, right?

Then why did I feel so anxious and lost and stressed all the time?  I had everything I thought I needed but my life still felt very empty.  If this is all there was, I didn’t want it.  It was all wayyyyyyy too much work.

My husband was going through a similar angst and he began to be discipled by a very Godly man.  As I watched, I was amazed to see my husband gradually find the joy and fulfillment that I was looking for.

Wow!  I never even considered that a relationship with God could be the answer to my emptiness.

So I opened up my heart and mind to God.  One of the pivotal steps I took was to become a member of a small group who was studying the Bible and getting serious about their relationships with God.

Through studying God’s word and experiencing the power of small group Bible studies, I started to hear God.  I began to know his voice.  And he challenged me to seriously put him first in my life.

No Way!  That was a crazy idea!  I already had a husband, kids, career, family, friends and church on my plate.  I was struggling every day not lose ‘me’ in all of that.

But I knew I had to try something.  I realized that my lack of purpose and joy wasn’t going to work long term.  The cracks that were starting to show up in my life were going to break wide open if I kept running on empty.

So I gradually started to put God first.

As I read and listened and opened up my heart to God, I began to feel the hole in my life start to fill up.  He breathed a fresh wind of his love and grace and strength into my soul.

I discovered that God wanted me to put him first in my life so he could help me with all the rest.  He has made me a better wife, a better mother, a better boss, a better sister and a better friend.  That’s what he does when we put him first.

God’s love has filled my life to the point that it overflows onto the people around me.  The two greatest commandments – loving God and loving others – are accomplished in our lives by doing the first one.   When we really love God with all our hearts, we experience so much of his love that it naturally runs over into the lives of the people around us.

All orchestrated by God as he breathes life deep into our souls.

There are no dry bones here.

Thank you, Abba Father.

Under Attack

I’ve been there.

Have you?

I have often felt the attacks of the Evil one.  So I can relate to the Israelites when I read in Jeremiah that the siege ramps were being built against the walls of Jerusalem.  The attack is coming!  I can feel it.

I’ve been there.

When I read that the city will be conquered through war, famine and disease, it all sounds familiar.  Attacked on all sides – I’ve been there.

How does Satan attack me?  It’s not unusual for my computer to start not working well when I sit down to enter these blogs.  If my computer is behaving, then the internet or WordPress will start being uncooperative.  Satan doesn’t like these blogs and he doesn’t try to hide it.

Satan also tries to distract me from the Truth with his whispers in my head at night trying to make me question the fact that God is good.  I normally start reciting scripture and the whispers stop.  My questions also stop because I am reminded of the truth.

Satan often tries to get me to focus on the negative things in my life.  He’ll pile on the junk trying to get me to think about all of that instead of God.  He attempts to make bitterness, frustration and unforgiveness look like the natural response to situations in my life.  Regular reading and study of God’s word keeps me grounded in the Truth.

None of these attacks are working, Satan.

Meanwhile, I know God’s Army of Angels surround me and they are fighting my battles in the spiritual realm.  We already know the end of this story – God and his armies are the winners.

Satan with his siege ramps has no power unless I give it to him.

And he isn’t getting a toehold here.

Thank you for your Truth and your Army of Angels, Abba Father.

What Does It Mean?

It all connects.

Choices I make today result in consequences I have to deal with tomorrow….

and 10 years from now….

and 20 years from now.

My decisions are important.  I have to figure out ahead of time if my choices are going to take me to a place I want to be.

I need wisdom, right?  Some of this stuff is hard to decide.  So I go to God.  In James 1, God has promised to give me generous amounts of wisdom whenever I ask.  I just have to believe I have received it.  I need to trust him and get rid of any doubts.

How can I be so sure that it’s God talking to me and guiding instead of myself or  – even worse – Satan?  I have studied God’s word for many years and, when I am listening, I recognize his voice.  I know what he would say.  I know his truth and that’s what he uses to guide me.

It’s so much different that the lies of this world.  It’s easy to discern.

I love the story in Daniel of the human hand that appeared and wrote a message to King Belshazzar on the wall in the middle of his big party.  It was a warning.  The bad consequences of his choices had piled up and the King was going to pay the price with his life.  He died that night.

I obviously want to make better choices that King Belshazzar did.  So I go to God early on in my decision-making.  And – sometimes – he writes a warning on the wall in my mind.  “Don’t go there, you won’t like what happens.”  “Don’t do that, you won’t like the consequences.”

I love these warnings because he is always right (of course).  I really don’t want to go there.  I definitely don’t want to do that.  I need to make a better decision now so that I don’t end up in a place I never wanted to be.

It all connects.

Please give us your wisdom, Abba Father.

It’s Supernatural

I can’t explain it.  There are no logical and rational ways to describe the ‘God magic’ that happens in my life.  I have story after story of God interacting with my life and God intervening in my life.

One of the ways God constantly intervenes in my life is enabling me to memorize scripture.  I have a terrible memory.  I don’t remember names, I don’t remember dates, I don’t remember who wrote what or who sang what.  I have trouble remembering my own phone number sometimes.

But I can memorize scripture.  I do the legwork of getting out my cards hundreds of times and then God gradually etches his words on my brain.  I have memorized several chapters of the Bible including James 1 and now I’m halfway through James 2.  The whole book of James is my goal – unless God changes it.  Supernatural.  It’s not me.

I had a family situation a while ago where I thought I needed to take care of something.  I thought I needed to call someone and get something figured out.  I was really concerned about it and kept praying about it but it looked like nothing was happening.  I kept putting this call on my ‘to do’ list for each day and it never got done.  That’s very unusual for me so I realized God was stopping me from making this call.  Then I got a call from the family member involved and they had totally taken care of the situation in the way that I was going to suggest.  How awesome that this person decided to do the right thing on their own (with some serious nudging from God).  My job was just to encourage them and pat them on the back!  Perfect!

God had it handled.  I learned a lot from that situation.  I have to give God time to orchestrate his answers.  I have to pray and keep my mouth shut.  I have to actually give situations to God without taking them back.  I realized I always want him to work his ‘magic’, it’s  better that way.

So, when I read in Daniel that Daniel has some of the same vision that Ezekiel had, it’s not hard to recognize God doing his supernatural thing.  Their visions were extremely similar even though Daniel’s was many years after Ezekiel’s.  I’m not surprised.  If its true, it’s true.  They were visions about the ‘end times’ so they are still true today.

The visions were about the ongoing battle between good and evil – God and Satan.  We are in the middle of that same battle today and this conflict will not be finished until the world ends.

Meanwhile, when we have faith and trust in our powerful Creator God, we get to experience the supernatural.

Thank you, Abba Father.