Reading: Deuteronomy 5 — 8
Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever! Deuteronomy 5:29 NIV
God so wants to bless us! He yearns for it. “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me … that it might go well with them…”
If my heart is “inclined” toward him — to delight in him, to please him, to obey the promptings of his Spirit — and as I persist with this, God will release his blessing and favour into my life. This is his heart-felt desire and purpose, as expressed in his words above, but it is the inclination of my heart that determines how much his desire for me is fulfilled.
It's as though his desire to bless and bestow favour is pent up, just waiting for the opportunity to be let out. And the inclination of my heart is the key that opens the flood gates of his goodness. No wonder God wants my devotion!
So how do I incline my heart toward God?
Inclination: A disposition or bent, especially of the mind or will; a liking or preference; to deviate from the horizontal or vertical; to lean or bend in a particular direction.
That definition brings to mind certain flowers that turn toward the sun. They don't just stand stock still, pointing straight upwards and unmoved by the sun's presence. Instead, the flower head turns toward the sun and follows it as it moves across the sky. As it does so, the stalk is compelled to bend as well, so that the whole plant becomes inclined toward its glorious source of life and nourishment.
The more closely and consistently that flower can orient itself toward the sun, the greater the “blessing” it receives.
It's the same with me. Not that I can earn God's blessing — it comes as a free gift — but that the degree to which my heart is turned towards him will actually determine how much he is able to bless me.
Father, when I hear your heart's cry for me, I can't help but want to respond — to offer my life wholeheartedly into your hands; to offer to you alone my affection and my devotion. Holy Spirit, help me to hear your voice and feel your promptings. I want my mind and my heart to be fully and always oriented to Jesus, to enjoy his presence and to obey him.
Reading: Colossians 4:2-18
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. Colossians 4:2 NIV
The word “devote” is full of meaning. To devote something is to “set it apart” or dedicate it to a particular purpose. And what am I to set apart and dedicate? Myself. To prayer.
Just as people or things in old testament times were “consecrated” or set apart for holy purposes, I am to consecrate or set apart myself for this holy pursuit: That I might continually converse with and pursue God.
I like the way the NKJV translates the verse. It says I am to “Continue earnestly in prayer…” The Greek word being translated as “Devote yourself” and “Continue earnestly in” is “proskatereo”:
Proskatereo: To be earnest towards, i.e. (to a thing) to persevere, be constantly diligent, or (to a person) to adhere closely to (as one who serves):–attend (give self) continually (upon), continue (in, with), wait on (continually).
Even as I read this definition, I feel a hunger rising within me to reach out to God in prayer. The word “continually” implies that even in the normal activities of my day, my thoughts can be turned towards God.
But more than that, there is a hunger to spend dedicated time with God – to find a place of solitude and soak in his presence; to escape awhile the distractions of the day and enjoy walking and talking with my God.
This call to pray, and to dedicate myself anew to prayer, is one I can't ignore. God is calling, saying, “Come closer. Reach out to me. Drink in my words and search the depths of my love. Delight in me, and I will satisfy the desires of your heart.”
Lord God, I dedicate myself anew to seeking you in prayer. I am hungry. I want to come closer, and to know you more deeply. I want time with you to be at the centre of my life, not at the periphery. Please draw me closer, and let me commune with you here on earth as Jesus did, that I might enjoy your presence with me forever.
See also one of my favourite SOAPs, Sneaking Off With God.
Reading: Mark 1
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Mark 1:35-37 (NIV)
Jesus needed time alone with his father. But now, he was famous; everyone was looking for him, and on this particular day, the only way to find solitude was to “sneak off” early in the morning while it was still dark. Alone with God, Jesus could be himself. He could express himself fully without the need to consider the watchful eye of others, and without interruption.
This time of his was more precious than sleep. He had been up late the previous evening healing people and driving out demons, and now he was up early, before even the first light of dawn, communing with his father in the cool solitude of the morning.
Like Jesus, I need to spend time alone with God. Just as each week there is the opportunity for a sabbath, so each day I should “sneak off” for some alone time with God. What a privilege to have a “one on one” audience with the Creator of the universe! What an honour to be able to enter his presence without an appointment and be welcomed.
Jesus was so hungry for time with his Father, he would choose it over sleep if necessary. Daniel was hungry for it too. Even after becoming chief administrator of the whole Persian empire, he still managed to sneak off three times every day to pray. As for me, no day of mine can be too busy to forgo this privilege. I too am hungry, and God has prepared the table…
Thank you so much Father for the privilege of being able to come into your presence. Thank you Jesus for your example. Help me to “sneak off” with you often, and to make the most of every idle moment. I ask that you would teach me to pray, sharpen my hearing, and quicken my thoughts as I enjoy time alone with you.
This SOAP has always been one of my favourites. I love the idea of “sneaking off” with God. To me it speaks of intimacy and closeness, and a relationship that is passionate. And so it was that the title of this SOAP became the title of this blog. My sincere hope is that as you read “Sneaking Off With God”, you too will find yourself hungering after that close and intimate relationship with God that He seeks with all who will seek Him.
See also Eating at the King's Table
Reading: Mark 10:17-31
You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother.’ ” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Mark 10:19-21 (NIV)
“Jesus looked at him and loved him.” I like that sentence. Of course, Jesus loves each one of us. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16). But something in this man aroused Jesus' particular affection. Perhaps Jesus saw in him a devotion and desire to please God that made him smile.
But Jesus could also see something else – something in the man's heart that was holding him back from complete devotion. He was held captive by love – not love for God, but love for his earthly treasure. To make room for spiritual treasure, he would first have to let go of his precious earthly stash. The one was displacing the other. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24).
I notice that Jesus didn't condemn the man for his wealth. Instead he showed him what was missing, the key that for him would unlock the riches of heaven. And though the man went away sad, I think Jesus held hope that after grappling with his choice, the man would indeed lay aside all that held him, and return to follow him.
Jesus loves my devotion. He enjoys my delight in knowing him. In him there is treasure beyond anything this world has to offer. In him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col 2:3). Nothing can be allowed to take the place that God has in my heart. I want to be able to say, “I have kept to his way without turning aside. I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.” Job 23:11-12
Jesus, I so want the treasure you have to offer. And though nothing can surpass the love you have for me, I long for you to delight in me and be pleased with me. Please show me how I can bring you pleasure, and allow me to know you more closely, and to know your presence with me.
Reading: Joshua 6-13
But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them. Joshua 13:33 (NIV)
The great “divvy up” of the promised land amongst the tribes of Israel must have been a time of great excitement and anticipation. “What will we get? I hope it's nice there!” But the tribe of Levi, whose role was to serve in the house of God, would inherit no land. Instead, God himself would be their inheritance, and they would receive a regular share of the offerings and sacrifices made by the Israelites to God.
I wonder how the Levites felt about that? Were they delighted or disappointed? Did they feel privileged or put out, like winners or like losers in the great inheritance divvy up? I suspect that as a group, and perhaps even as individuals, the Levites experienced the full range of emotions, as I do.
On the one hand, I sometimes desire the things that others have. I like to own things. If I read a real estate magazine, I find myself wanting a new house! When I feed an interest or passion, it grows! On the other hand, I know in my head that what God has for me is better than anything this world has to offer. But how strongly do I believe that in my heart?
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…” 1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)
The value I place on my inheritance has an enormous impact on how I feel and how I live. When I place high value on God, and all that comes with him, I naturally look to him for joy and fulfilment. He becomes the focus of my attention and the object of my affections. Investing energy into being close to him is easy because it's what I most want to do.
But when I allow other things to capture my heart – even good things – so that I unconsciously begin to value them more than God, I find myself looking to those things for fulfilment. They become the focus of my attention and the object of my affections, while pursuing God becomes less appealing than pursuing this new thing.
I want God to be my first love, and so I need to guard my heart by giving him the first share of my time. Making time with God my first priority will help me to keep other passions in perspective, because when it all comes down, they will pass, but what I have in God will last forever. “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17), and the passion that I feed the most will inevitably become the strongest.
Father, thank you so much for the privilege of being invited into your presence, to enjoy your amazing love and grace forever. Nothing else can possibly match that. Help me God to keep my eyes fixed on you. I don't want anything else to ensnare me or steal that number one place in my heart. You Lord are my inheritance, and I choose to put you first, ahead of everything else.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
Reading: Jeremiah 2-3:5
“ ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first-fruits of his harvest; all who devoured her were held guilty, and disaster overtook them,’ ” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 2:2-4 (NIV)
Israel was once enamoured by God, but their love had grown cold. This same accusation is made by Jesus in Revelation 2 to the Church of the Ephesians: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”
Even worse, Israel had taken up with other gods, gods of stone and wood who could not help them. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jeremiah 2:13). In losing their first love, something else had taken its place, something that could not possibly satisfy.
I need to hold fast to God. As in a marriage relationship, feelings of affection sometimes well up in what we call 'love'. Often, however, love consists of actions purposefully carried out as the outward expression of a commitment made. To make decisions that line up with this internal commitment, even when my feelings betray me – that is love.
Consistently choosing to act in ways that protect and value my commitment to God and my relationship with Him is my outward expression of love and my true worship. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) So love and worship go hand in hand.
Thank you Father for reaching out to me, not as a distant and inaccessible God, but as one who is close and intimate. Help me to always act in accordance with my commitment to you, and may my love for you never grow cold, but forever burn bright and clear.
For more on this topic, you might like to read my previous post Jesus – My First Love. Same theme – completely different part of the Bible!
Reading: Revelation 1-2:7
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. Revelation 2:4-5 (NIV)
God is interested in my love ('agape' in the Greek). Yes, my good works, my obedience, my perseverance under hardship – all these are important, if not vital. But my affection toward him is the number one thing. “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:29-30).
My love for God is what energises my relationship. It determines how I relate to God, what I do, how I think, how I respond to things, how I spend my time. Take the love away and it becomes just a set of practices.
The love Jesus describes is not just a feeling. “Repent,” he says, “and do the things you did at first.” To repent is to “think differently i.e. reconsider, or change your mind.” To do the things you did at first implies that my love needs to be out-worked, revealing itself in my actions.
It is possible for me to let my relationship with God slip, so that instead of the passionate all-consuming fervour and hunger that I once felt, it becomes just a set of religious practices, making me not much different than a Rotarian or a volunteer with an aid organisation.
What should absolutely define me is my love for God – expressed in the way I seek him, and make time with him my number one priority; expressed in my worship of him, and the conversation I have with him. And of course, expressed in my obedience to him, placing everything that I have into his hands. Love is like a fire that I need to regularly feed so that it burns strong and hot!
Thank you Lord Jesus that not only do you know me, but you love me, and you actually value my love for you. What an incredible privilege! I choose to delight in you. Help me to draw close to you, and I pray that you would reveal yourself to me, that I might truly know you and love you.
See also: First Things First