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What Does It Mean to Walk with God?

labrynith by vgm8383 via flickr

Walking is a oft-used metaphor of life’s journey.  Over the years I’ve come to realize that my most important goal is to walk with God.  But what does that really mean, to walk with God?  What does it actually entail to structure the focus, the rhythm, and the path of my life to a relationship with an infinite being?  I will doubtless spend the rest of my life learning the answer to this question (and then trying to live it out!).  But at 43 years of age, this is the framework of what I have so far:

First, to walk with God means to follow Him.  Twenty times the Bible records Jesus uttering these two words: Follow Me.  If my life is focused on God, then I will be looking toward Him, as Jesus looked to the Father, to sense where He is moving in the world, to know the path of love, the path of obedience, and sometimes the path of suffering He would want me to take.  If I am to walk with God I must endeavor to follow Him.

Second, to walk with God means to be shepherded by Him.  Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved pieces of sacred poetry, and for good reason.  We all have a desire to be led by still waters; we all must pass through the valley of the shadow of death.  To go through the good and bad of life, the blessing and the trial, with a loving Shepherd by my side is precious indeed.  But as the prophet once spoke, just like a sheep I am prone to wander off the path, and I must purpose to focus on God and let Him shepherd me.

Third, to walk with God means to abide in Him. The night before He died Jesus took great pains to explain to his disciples the mystery of abiding in Him, and how vital it would be to their lives.  Just as a branch is created to draw life and vitality from the vine, my spiritual life and vitality comes only from Christ.  I cannot walk with God without the practice of abiding in Him.

Lastly, to walk with God means to see Him as the goal and destination of my journey.  There is a reason why mystics throughout the ages have used a labrynith as a spiritual exercise.  To walk through a labrynith is to encounter many twists and turns and seeming changes in direction, and yet to know there will be an end to the journey within the center, and that every step taken will have actually been a step toward that blessed center.  So it is with life.  Though my steps be many, and often seemingly take me away from my goals, I can look toward God as my center and my destination.  I can rest secure that my journey will surely lead me to Him.

 

Accepted by God

To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.  (Ephesians 1:6KJV)

Acceptance.  It’s a beautiful word, one that speaks deeply to our hearts.  Acceptance is one of the greatest blessings that God gives to His children, and so it’s important for us to understand the nature of God’s acceptance and then to rejoice in it.

What is it to be accepted by God?  The Greek word used in the above Bible verse is charitoo, which roughly translates “to make graceful.”  To really understand what that means, you first have to go to the definition of the root word charis, which means “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness.”  Next, you have to see that we are charitoo, made accepted, “in the beloved,” that is, in Christ.  Putting it all together, the verse means that God looks at us and it gives Him joy, pleasure, & delight because He sees the charm and loveliness of His Beloved Son, of Jesus, in us.  That is absolutely dazzling to me, realizing that God has joy when He looks at me (at me!), because of Christ. 

Another insight into how precious this acceptance really is can be found in the only other use of the Greek word charitoo in the Bible.  In Luke 1:28 the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and says, “Greetings, O favored (accepted) one, the Lord is with you!”  Yes, the way that God looked at Mary, the one He chose to be the mother of Christ, is the way that he looks at us once we are in Christ.

How incredible it is, to be accepted by God.  This acceptance goes beyond love; for you can love someone without accepting them.  You can act in love, being kind and gracious and even sacrificing to them, without seeing them with joy in your heart, without them being beautiful in your eyes.  But not so with God: He both loves us and accepts us.

When I meditate on God’s acceptance of me, I remember that it is full, it is free, and it is forever.  The best illustration of this is seen in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  When the father accepts his wayward son, it is full acceptance: the son immediately is given a fine robe to show his father’s favor, and a ring to show he once again has legal authority as a son of his father. 

The acceptance is free: no conditions are stated; no action or any goodness at all in the son merits the Father’s acceptance of Him.  Actually, under Jewish law the son could have been put to death for his behavior, and at the very least the father should disown him.  But no, the father both forgives him and fully and freely accepts him.  For those of us who have had experiences of conditional acceptance in relationships, the preciousness of full and free acceptance is very real.

Lastly, for the Christian God’s acceptance is forever.  Nothing can snatch us out of God’s hand (John 10:28-29), and nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:35-39).  We can rest in God’s complete and uninterrupted acceptance no matter the fears and doubts that may assail our hearts.

What are the results of focusing on God’s acceptance?  As already mentioned, it brings great peace and joy to our hearts.  It also gives us the freedom to accept others as God has accepted us, in the same way that relishing in God’s forgiveness of us helps us to forgive others (see Matthew 18).  Knowing God’s acceptance also encourages us in our quest for righteousness and holiness.  Knowing that God sees us as lovely, we long to become ever more lovely in His sight, yet we now do not do it out of compulsion or fear or bargaining, but out of a joyful, loving, and grateful heart.

Dwell on God’s acceptance of you today, and let it spur you to feel more loved, to be more loving, and to become more lovely for God’s glory.

The Need for Focus

focus by flyzipper via flickr

I’ve been meditating on what it truly means to live a God-focused life. I had to start with thinking about what “focus” really is as it applies to life, and why we need it.

When you see the word “focus” what is the first word or image that comes to your mind? A camera, a lens, an athlete concentrating on the ball, or maybe just an intense stare like the photo above? My working definition of “focus” is to set our senses, our mind, our emotions, our will, our actions, our hopes and dreams all resolutely on something.

When you think “focus” what people come to your mind? Think of people throughout history of great regard. Whether you think of an Olympic athlete like Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame, or a great political leader like Winston Churchill, or a man of science like Thomas Edison, they all shared something that was vital to their success: focus. It was focus that allowed them to accomplish, to rise above, to use their skills & their situation to accomplish great things. Take away focus from Liddell, and there would have been no gold medals. Take away focus from Churchill, and Britain would have fell to Hitler. Take away focus from Edison, and our current technological society would have never happened.

A prime example of a focused life from the Bible would be Paul. Paul stated in his letter to the Philippians that there was only one thing that he focused on doing (Phil 3:13-14), and he said in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that there was only one thing that he wanted to be known for. That one thing, of course, was Jesus Christ.

We can readily see what focus did for great men like Paul. But what about people who don’t think they’re destined to be in the history books? What need for focus do you & I have?

Good question. And the answer is that, whoever and wherever you are, your life does need focus. Why? No matter your particular situation, you will find that focus to be essential to your life.

First, it is clear that focus gives clarity. The American Heritage Dictionary defines focus as:

–The state of maximum distinctness or clarity

–A condition in which something can be clearly apprehended or perceived

When we devote all that we are to something, we can see & understand in ways not otherwise possible. We will be able to see the meaning of our past, the solutions to our present, and the vision for our future with the right focus.

Second, focus allows us to concentrate our efforts, by bringing all that we are to bear on something. As a young boy I loved to take a large focusing lens outside on a sunny day. By focus, that lens concentrated the sun’s rays to become hot enough to set paper on fire (much to my delight!). Focus will allow the output of our lives to be concentrated and channeled into something that will delight us as well.

A life of focus also results in growth. We all want to grow as people. We all see a gap between the people that we are and the people that we would like to be. How do we close that gap? As we focus time and resources on a single area, our experience and skills and wisdom will increase & mature, and we will grow.

Focus allows us to prioritize. Focus helps us to give ourselves to what matters most. Michelle Wie showed interest and proficiency in half a dozen different sports as a young child. Over the course of a few years, she dropped the sports she was good at to focus on the sport she was great at. If she had spent equal time and effort on six sports instead of one, she would have never been able to win berths in pro golf tournaments as a teenager.

Conversely, focus helps us to block out what doesn’t matter. Without focus we will be overwhelmed with a hundred things calling for our attention, without being able to adequately address any of them. As we live our lives with hundreds of television channels, tens of thousands of products in every supermarket and literally billions of internet pages, we are in desperate need of being able to block out what doesn’t matter not just to succeed, but just to survive.

Seeing what matters most and letting go of what is less important is essential to both setting goals and achieving them. My pastor Arden Taylor once described a simple technique for focus that he used. First, draw a box representing your life. Then, ask yourself, “What’s in the box? What projects, what priorities, what commitments, what desires?” If there are too many things in the box all you have is clutter and nothing gets done. If you have wrong things in the box you waste your life. He remarked that he had one thing in his box: one thing that dominated every other priority and project—to preach the gospel of God.

Focus is also the path to fulfillment. People who are focused tend to enjoy their lives more day-to-day. Gallup researcher Tom Rath reports that people who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.

Focus not only helps fulfill our life day-to-day but is also the key an entire life of fulfillment. When we look back upon our lives, we want to see that we spent our days and our years becoming the person that we wanted to be, doing the things that we thought were truly important, and accomplishing the goals that were worthy of our efforts. Focus is vital to all three of these components of a fulfilled, well-lived life.

Finally, we need focus because we only get one shot at life. This truth was powerfully and hilariously illustrated in the movie Groundhog Day. In the movie Bill Murray played Phil Connors, a shallow, self-obsessed television weatherman who gets stuck in a mystical limbo, having to repeat the same day, Groundhog Day, in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania over and over again, dozens of times without any seeming way to break the cycle. Unlike Phil, we don’t have the luxury of experimenting dozens of times to get “today” right— we only have one shot at “today”, one shot at “tomorrow”, one shot at each day that God gives us. The Message paraphrases Ecclesiates 9:9-10 like this:

Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
This is your last and only chance at it.

“This is your last and only chance at it.” Let that truth sink in, and you will want to live a focused life.

Overcoming Temptation by Focusing on God

Temptation— it’s something we all face every day.  There has been much written to help Christians understand and apply what the Bible teaches us on overcoming temptation.  This short article will remind us how focusing on God is a key to overcoming temptation in our lives.

A first step to take when confronted with temptation is to focus on God’s presence.  To focus on God’s presence is to think about how God is with us, and for the Christian in us, right now, right at the moment we are tempted.  A simple way to focus on God’s presence is to meditate on a passage like Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

To be aware of God’s presence should next lead us to focus on God’s holiness.  An essential part of God’s glory is His holiness, and the Bible repeatedly instructs us to focus on God’s holiness as a means to our holiness.  In Leviticus 19:2 God specifically states, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”  When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife he immediately brings God into the conversation as the reason for his refusal to sin:

How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?  (Genesis 39:9)

As David did in Psalm 51, we must always frame sin first and foremost to be rebellion against God and His holiness.

After focusing on His holiness, we can focus on God’s provision.  God has not left us alone and helpless: He will always provide for us, even in temptation.  We can bring to mind 1 Corinthians 10:13—

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Note that there are two promises in this verse: first that God will never put us in a situation that is beyond us, and second that he will always supply what we need.  This “way of escape” may take many forms.  Sometimes it is literal, a way to physically walk away from the temptation.  Other times it may be the wisdom and strength to refuse, while at other times it may be the prayers or help of a friend.  Regardless of the way God chooses, we can trust that He will be faithful in every circumstance.

However, we cannot take God’s presence or holiness or provision lightly, for we must also focus on God’s judgment.  God judges sin, and although our eternal penalty in hell has been atoned for, that does not mean that God will simply pass over our sin.  As a loving father he wants us to grow in holiness, and part of that growth involves discipline when we rebel against Him.  Paul is teaching us for our benefit in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”  As we focus on God we must never forget that there are consequences, sometimes very bitter consequences, for our sin.

Lastly, as we are faced with temptation we can focus on God’s reward.  Our lives of holiness and faithfulness will not go unrewarded by a faithful and holy God.  As we say no to temptation, we can look forward to the future when our present faithfulness will be repaid.  We can strengthen our hearts as we focus on Christ one day saying to us what the master said to his faithful servant in the parable of Matthew 25:

‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

As we focus on God in His presence, His holiness, His provision, His judgment, and His reward we will find the means to overcome every temptation that we face.  Let your focus on God strengthen your heart today.

The Key to Perseverance: Focus on God

 

perseverance by zenzoidman via flickr

  

Perseverance:  noun___    steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.

Say the word “perseverance.”

Now close your eyes.

What situation are you thinking of in YOUR life?

Is it a coworker who seems to be more irritating every week?  That assignment you’ve got to complete even with a boss making completely unreasonable demands?  A friend who seems to “drain” you whenever they’re around?  A parent or loved one struggling with a chronic illness, and you’re struggling to keep it together for them?  A relationship where there’s now more frustration and hardship than joy?

Yes, running a marathon or completing a graduate degree takes perseverance, but it is the perseverance we need in our relationships that seems to tax our souls the most. We lose strength, we struggle with disappointment, and we wonder if there’s going to be any light at the end of the tunnel, any final payoff for our efforts.  In short, we lose heart.

God has good news for all of us whose hearts need perseverance.  He is in the heart business, after all.  What is God’s good news for perseverance? It is Himself.  As with any other issue in life, our solution for perseverance is to focus on God.  Let’s look at focusing on God as the source of our strength for perseverance, the object of our efforts in perseverance, and the rewarder of our deeds of perseverance.

Focus on God as the Source of Your Strength

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.  (Isaiah 40:28-31)
 

We’re human.  We all have a point of exhaustion, both physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  And we all face situations & people that will push us to that point, or at least close enough to make us pretty crabby to be around!  When our strength is fading, we hear the voice in our thoughts: I can’t keep doing this!  I give up!  I can’t persevere any longer! 

The solution to our weariness?  God.  Focusing on God.  Spending time with God. See again what the prophet said: “Those that wait on the Lord.”  “Wait” means “wait”—  to stop, separate ourselves to God, and spend time with Him.  It takes God time to minister to our hearts, and it takes us getting quiet enough to hear His voice.  We need regular time every day to wait for the Lord, to be in His presence, and we need more time, focused time, to wait on Him when we have been exhausted by a trying situation.

Focus on God as the Object of Your Efforts

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

And Jesus will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:40)

There are times we will be kind, be patient, be loving, be Christlike to someone, through that strength that only God can provide.  Yet, in spite of our best efforts, nothing happens.  We remain unappreciated, or worse yet still mistreated.  We become discouraged, and the thoughts come: Why should I keep this up?  This person isn’t worth all this effort?  Why not just give up?

The solution to our discouragement?  Realizing that ultimately we are not being Christlike for that irritating, unlovable person, but on behalf of Christ, to demonstrate His character to the world.  Focusing on God, seeing Him and His glory as the reason for all that we do, gives our heart the perseverance to keep going.

Focus on God as the Rewarder of Your Deeds

O great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts, great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds. (Jeremiah 32:18-19)

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. (Matthew 10:42)

We all struggle with what is right and just in this world.  We look at our efforts, our good works, and we realize that our good deeds are not always having the payback that we think that we deserve.  Frankly, sometimes there’s not any payback at all.  We feel that life is not fair, and the thoughts come:  This stinks.  Why am I putting forth all this effort?  Life just isn’t fair!

The solution to our frustration?  Realizing that God, not the world nor the people in this world, is the source of our reward. Reward sometimes comes in this life, and sometimes it doesn’t.  But our Father is perfectly just, and we can rest fully assured that God will fully reward our service in His Kingdom.  Focus today on God as the source of your strength, the object of your efforts, and the rewarder of your deeds.