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: Psalms 140 to 150
For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honour and sing for joy on their beds. Psalm 149:4-5 NIV
…the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love. Psalm 147:11 NIV
When the day is done, and it's time to pause from all my chores, what is it that comes floating to the surface of my mind? And what is the emotion that triumphs over all others as I lay in my bed at night?
I'd really like for it to be joy. And here is just one more reason for joy to well up: The Lord delights in me! What an honour! Not only does he know me, but he enjoys me! Even while I lay sleeping, God is thinking about me.
And, he delights not just in me as an individual, but in us as his people — the whole family of those who have put their hope in his unfailing love. As we grow together in love and maturity, we are for God a source of very great pleasure!
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1:3-8 NLT
I find it so satisfying when I wake in the night or early in the morning to turn my thoughts toward God. It has become my regular habit. Now here is one more reason to feel joy in the quiet watches of the night — God takes delight in me!
I don't have to be someone I am not. God delights in me just as I am, and takes great pleasure in seeing how I am coming along as his Spirit continues his perfecting work in me. It's so good to be on the receiving end.
Knowing that God delights in me also makes me want to please him. And, it inevitably draws from me thankfulness. God is so good — sometimes all you can do is just soak it up.
What a wonderful privilege Lord, to bring you pleasure. My wife perhaps will not appreciate it if I “sing for joy on my bed” as the psalmist suggests, but Father, you can wake me any time you like, and I will relish the opportunity to rejoice in this honour — to bring you pleasure. Thank you so much!
Reading: John 18:1 – 19:27
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:25-27 NIV
I find myself captivated by this beautiful yet curious exchange between Jesus, Mary his mother, and John, “the disciple whom he loved”. I always think of the cross as the place where a “divine exchange” took place — Jesus' holiness for my sin; his good standing for my shame; his wounds for my wholeness; and much more besides. It is indeed a beautiful exchange which Jesus invites us to make with him.
But here, near the foot of the cross, another exchange is taking place. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is losing her dearly loved son, only to unexpectedly gain another.
Exchange: An act of giving one thing, and receiving another in return.
We usually focus — and rightly so — on how God gave his Son for us. This event, this sacrifice, is the very centre and foundation of our faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV).
But on the human level, someone else was giving over their son too. Someone who with great faith and humility had once said, “I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Many years had passed since Mary's declaration, but no doubt the words spoken to her at that time were again fresh in her mind as she stood before the cross:
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33 NIV
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35 NIV
Here, now, these words were being fulfilled. And although it isn't recorded here, I like to think that Jesus wasn't just “taken from” Mary, but that even in the midst of her grief, Mary was able to “offer him” into the hands of God, believing that God would indeed fulfil the promises he had made to her all those years ago.
And there at the cross, the sweetness of Jesus' love for Mary is revealed one last time before he dies. Her husband Joseph was already dead, and it seems her younger sons were not in position to care for her.
But Jesus knew this. And in a beautiful and very personal reflection of the divine exchange that was taking place on the cross, Jesus offers to Mary a new son — John — to care for her, and comfort her, and protect her from shame. “Dear woman, here is your son. [John], here is your mother.”
(I think it inconceivable that John was surprised by Jesus' words at the cross. Rather, Jesus will have planned this with John well beforehand — that when his time came, John would take Mary into his family home and care for her. So when Jesus said to John, “Here is your mother”, he was really saying to John, “It's time.”)
It is indeed a beautiful exchange which Jesus invites us to make with him. And all the more beautiful because for each of us, that exchange will be different. We each having different things we need to bring to him.
Indeed, it's an expression of the sweetness of his love that he deals with each of us as individuals. He knows our name. He knows our every need. And his desire is that each of us will fully discover all that he won for us at the cross.
Lord Jesus, may that be my life's pursuit! What a privilege that I can stand in your presence holy and welcomed! But Lord, what else is in my heart? What else that needs to be healed and restored? How yet is the divine exchange to be worked out in me?
Today, I offer my life to you afresh, and ask that you would help me to discover and experience all the riches that you won for me at the cross. Let nothing of your sacrifice be wasted.
Reading: Psalm 131
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131:1-2 NIV
“Song of Ascents” is a title given to fifteen of the Psalms, 120–134. It is thought these songs were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (see Deuteronomy 16:16), or by the priests as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.
These songs were not for God's benefit, but for the singers' – to prepare their hearts and minds to enter into the presence of God. This particular song (Psalm 131) was written by David, who seemed to have discovered the secret of intimacy with God.
And what was his secret? Come like a child. In practical terms, that meant putting aside his pride and all efforts to make himself something he wasn't. He knew he couldn't impress God, and he knew he didn't have to.
Instead, he had learned to cultivate that beautiful child-like attitude of surrender and trust that God so enjoys as we come into his presence.
I too need to cultivate that same attitude of surrender and trust.
Cultivate: Break up (soil) in preparation for sowing and planting; promote the growth and development of; foster.
Father, I see that there is such a beautiful simplicity about pleasing you. I want that same attitude that David had, that beautiful child-like attitude of surrender and trust that you so enjoy.
Lord, I give you permission to break up the soil in my heart, that it might be made soft and tender. If there is any stoney attitude or hardness of thinking that needs turning over, please expose it and help me to deal with it.
Is there anything you want to sow and plant in my life? I invite you, please have your way. And I ask you to grant me the wisdom to always remember the way into your presence.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18 NIV
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: Psalm 139
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-11 (NIV)
The presence of God is not like a WiFi hotspot. I can go wherever I like, even to furthest-away places imaginable, and still be connected. And, I can go way beyond my comfort zone and be no less supported by God than if I was right here in my sweet spot. Yes, “even there [in the farthest reaches of my world], your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
The problem is, my sense of confidence is still partially founded on my own limited skill set rather than on God's infinite power. I know this to be the case because I have a “comfort zone”, and when I go beyond it, I get anxious.
If I really had fully accepted the truth of God's constant love and presence, I wouldn't have a comfort zone. Instead, I would feel comfortable everywhere. I would certainly still have a “competence zone”, but beyond that I could nonetheless rest in the knowledge that “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
As it is, my competence actually comes from God anyway, whether I'm working within my own gifts and abilities or not.
So the current situation is this: The all-knowing all-powerful God of the universe loves me and is with me 24 hours per day, but my sense of competence and security is still, to some degree, based on my own limited natural abilities. Hmm…
When I'm considering, “Can I do this thing?”, my default setting is to measure the task against the “possibility-limiting hurdle” of my own capabilities. But when I do this, it simply shuts me down, squashing my trust in God and capping the level of my obedience. I will never step into all that God has for me with this approach.
Clearly my default setting needs to be changed! What if I ask the question, “Can God do this thing?” The answer will invariably be “Yes!”, which really opens things up! Getting over my own inadequacy puts me in a much better position to decide what I should do. Because fear will no longer be part of the equation, nor my own limitations, but rather, God's enabling presence. What a refreshing place to be!
Lord God, I want my confidence to be totally in you. I want to live the life of faith. I confess that fear has sometimes limited my obedience to your promptings. Please help me as I say, No more! Fear, be gone! Holy Spirit, I give you permission to lead me. Wherever we're going, whatever we're doing, I am willing.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)
Why not read the whole of Psalm 139! It's such a good reminder of God's constant presence, and of his intimate love and concern for each one of us.
Reading: Colossians 3:1-17
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)
The old me is dead. I “died with Christ” (Colossians 2:20), and then three days later, I was “raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1). This happened at a specific moment in history nearly 2,000 years ago, but I got to “share in it” when I made my own personal decision to accept Jesus as my Lord, and be baptised. With that burial and resurrection, I became a brand new person, a “new creation”. Home is no longer where it was. My new permanent address is now “hidden with Christ in God”.
But with this monumental shift in the spiritual realm comes the realisation that all my old settings need to be re calibrated – the way I think, the way I respond, my priorities, my focus, the things I pursue – everything.
Calibrate: Correlate the readings (of an instrument) with those of a standard in order to check the instrument's accuracy; adjust to take external factors into account; carefully assess, set or adjust.
It's still happening, this Re-calibration. In fact, the more time goes by, the more I discover in my heart and mind that doesn't correlate with those of the 'Standard'. As I read my Bible, I keep becoming aware of things in me that don't line up with the way that Jesus is, or his expectations of me.
Yet I don't feel guilt. Rather I feel hunger. I find that I am wearing some old attitude that I suddenly, desperately want to get rid of. I see a standard of faith that I fall woefully short of, and I desperately want my faith to grow to meet that new standard. I discover once again that God desires intimacy with me, and I long to go deeper in my relationship with him.
What a wonderful privilege to have the Spirit of God doing this work in me. He really is re-calibrating me. It's as I turn my heart and my thoughts toward him that he truly can have full reign to do his work. Coming before him as I read my Bible, setting aside time to walk and talk with him, and choosing in all my decisions to honour my declared devotion to him – these things open the way for God to reset and restore everything in my life that needs putting right. How good is that!
Holy Spirit, I offer myself into your hands, and say, “Have your way.” Please re-calibrate me so that I might be like Jesus. I want to love like him, and be pure in every thought and motivation. Jesus, I thank you that my future is now in your hands, and for the privilege of being able to walk with you now, and every day. Come, Lord Jesus!
Reading: Psalm 130
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130:1-6 (NIV)
To wait: To remain inactive or in a state of repose until something expected happens; to be available or in readiness; to look forward to eagerly.
When the psalmist talks here about waiting for the Lord, it's clear that no one else will do. No one else can satisfy the cry of his heart. If God doesn't come through for him, he is sunk. There is no plan B. I'm reminded of the lyrics of a Hillsong United song:So I look to you So I look to you No one else will do No one else will do
It's often when I'm at my lowest that I get to truly appreciate how much I need God. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.” Because when all I delight myself in ceases to satisfy and the things I lean on give way, it's then I see with clarity my absolute need of God. Even those closest to me can't truly satisfy the deepest desires of my heart, but only the One who holds my very soul in his hands.
And yet, God is not 'the god of instant gratification'. He allows me to become hungry so I will come to his table. He allows me to become needy so I will seek provision from his hand. He even allows me to become desperate so my floundering feet will discover that he really is my Rock and upon him I can stand. Otherwise I might put my faith in what cannot deliver and my hope in what is doomed to fail.
But God can deliver, and in him my hope is secure. And so I can rest in that hope, I can “Be still and know that God is God”, and I can say with the psalmist:
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.”
Father, you are good! I can trust you when my circumstances seem bleak and help isn't forthcoming, because you will never fail me. Help me to rest in your love as I wait for you, and never to lose my hope in you.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)
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: Colossians 2
…that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2a-3 (NIV)
To discover Jesus is to discover “the mystery of God”. He is “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints [that's us who have believed]. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27).
I picture this mystery of God as being like a bulb in the ground which over “ages and generations” sent up its shoot and grew. In time a plump flower head developed, and all who sought God wondered, “What will the flower look like?” Not until Jesus came and died and then rose from the dead did the flower finally open fully to reveal God's wonderful plan for us. And the plan was Jesus. In him, a living intimate relationship with God can begin as we discover the “surpassing riches of God's grace.”
In hindsight, the plan of God can be seen right through the Old Testament, but how wonderful it is to discover for ourselves the “glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in [us], the hope of glory.”
It's interesting that “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are “hidden” in Christ. They are not just 'lying on the ground' waiting to be casually picked up. They are only found as I earnestly seek Jesus, searching the written Word to discover the “living Word”, reaching out for him in prayer, and looking to the Holy Spirit to reveal more of Jesus to me.
There is so much more to this “mystery of God” than just the initial discovery. Having found Jesus, I am like an explorer in the desert who has discovered a great archaeological treasure protruding through the sand. Having found it, I start to dig to discover more of what lies hidden below, initially with an excavator, then a spade, then a small trowel, and finally a brush as the beauty and intricacy of the treasure is revealed.
This is not some small artefact to be added to my collection of wisdom and knowledge, but a whole kingdom, a lifetime's worth of treasure hidden in Christ and waiting for me to uncover and enjoy and marvel at.
Lord Jesus, what a privilege that you should open the way for me to know you. I long to know more of you. Thank you for your written Word. I pray that as I read it and ponder on it, you would reveal yourself to me in increasing measure, and bless me with the wisdom and knowledge that are to be found in you.