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9. What makes God smile?

L`OSSERVATORE ROMANO

OUR DAILY BREAD

BQ9

May the LORD smile on you....

Numbers 6:25 (NLT)

Smile on me, your servant; teach me the right way to live.

Psalm 119:135 (Msg)

 The smile of God is the goal of your life.

Since pleasing God is the first purpose of your life, your most important task is to discover how to do that. The Bible says, "Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.' Fortunately, the Bible gives us a clear example of a life that gives pleasure to God. The man's name was Noah.

In Noah's day, the entire world had become morally bankrupt. Everyone lived for their own pleasure, not God's. God couldn't find anyone on earth interested in pleasing him, so he was grieved and regretted making man. God became so disgusted with the human race that he considered wiping it out. But there was one man who made God smile. The Bible says, "Noah was a pleasure to the Lord."

God said, "This guy brings me pleasure. He makes me smile. I'll start over with his family." Because Noah brought pleasure to God, you and I are alive today. From his life we learn the five acts of worship that make God smile.

 God smiles when we love him supremely.

 Noah loved God more than anything else in the world, even when no one else did! The Bible tells us that for his entire life, "Noah consistently followed God's will and enjoyed a close relationship with Him."

This is what God wants most from you: a relationship! It's the most astounding truth in the universe-that our Creator wants to fellowship with us. God made you to love you, and he longs for you to love him back. He says, "I don't want your sacrifices-I want your love; I don't want your offerings-I want you to know me."

Can you sense God's passion for you in this verse? God deeply loves you and desires your love in return. He longs for you to know him and spend time with him. This is why learning to love God and be loved by him should be the greatest objective of your life. Nothing else comes close in importance. Jesus called it the greatest commandment. He said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment."

 God smiles when we trust him completely.

 The second reason Noah pleased God was that he trusted God, even when it didn't make sense. The Bible says, "By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn't see, and acted on what he was told.... As a result, Noah became intimate with God."

Imagine this scene: One day God comes to Noah and says, "I'm disappointed in human beings. In the entire world, no one but you thinks about me. But Noah, when I look at you, I start smiling. I'm pleased with your life, so I'm going to flood the world and start over with your family. I want you to build a giant ship that will save you and the animals."

There were three problems that could have caused Noah to doubt. First, Noah had never seen rain, because prior to the Flood, God irrigated the earth from the ground up.' Second, Noah lived hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean. Even if he could learn to build a ship, how would he get it to water? Third, there was the problem of rounding up all the animals and then caring for them. But Noah didn't complain or make excuses. He trusted God completely, and that made God smile.

Trusting God completely means having faith that he knows what is best for your life. You expect him to keep his promises, help you with problems, and do the impossible when necessary. The Bible says, "He takes pleasure in those that honor Him; in those who trust in His constant love."

It took Noah 120 years to build the ark. I imagine he faced many discouraging days. With no sign of rain year after year, he was ruthlessly criticized as a "crazy man who thinks God speaks to him." I imagine Noah's children were often embarrassed by the giant ship being built in their front yard. Yet Noah kept on trusting God.

In what areas of your life do you need to trust God completely? Trusting is an act of worship. Just as parents are pleased when children trust their love and wisdom, your faith makes God happy. The Bible says, "Without faith it is impossible to please God "

God smiles when we obey him wholeheartedly.

Saving the animal population from a worldwide flood required great attention to logistics and details. Everything had to be done just as God prescribed it. God didn't say, "Build any old boat you'd like, Noah." He gave very detailed instructions as to the size, shape, and materials of the ark as well as the different numbers of animals to be brought on board. The Bible tells us Noah's response: "So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him."

Trusting God completely means having faith that he knows what is best for your life.

Notice that Noah obeyed completely (no instruction was overlooked), and he obeyed exactly (in the way and time God wanted it done). That is wholeheartedness. It is no wonder God smiled on Noah.

If God asked you to build a giant boat, don't you think you might have a few questions, objections, or reservations? Noah didn't. He obeyed God wholeheartedly. That means doing whatever God asks without reservation or hesitation. You don't procrastinate and say, "I'll pray about it." You do it without delay. Every parent knows that delayed obedience is really disobedience.

God doesn't owe you an explanation or reason for everything he asks you to do. Understanding can wait, but obedience can't. Instant obedience will teach you more about God than a lifetime of Bible discussions. In fact, you will never understand some commands until you obey them first. Obedience unlocks understanding.

Often we try to offer God partial obedience. We want to pick and choose the commands we obey. We make a list of the commands we like and obey those while ignoring the ones we think are unreasonable, difficult, expensive, or unpopular. I'll attend church but I won't tithe. I'll read my Bible but won't forgive the person who hurt me. Yet partial obedience is disobedience.

Wholehearted obedience is done joyfully, with enthusiasm. The Bible says, "Obey him gladly." This is the attitude of David: `Just tell me what to do and I will do it, Lord. As long as I live I'll wholeheartedly obey."

James, speaking to Christians, said, "We please God by what we do and not only by what we believe." God's Word is clear that you can't earn your salvation. It comes only by grace, not your effort. But as a child of God you can bring pleasure to your heavenly Father through obedience. Any act of obedience is also an act of worship. Why is obedience so pleasing to God? Because it proves you really love him. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey my commandments.”

God smiles when we praise and thank him continually.

Few things feel better than receiving heartfelt praise and appreciation from someone else. God loves it, too. He smiles when we express our adoration and gratitude to him.

Noah's life brought pleasure to God because he lived with a heart of praise and thanksgiving. Noah's first act after surviving the Flood was to express his thanks to God by offering a sacrifice. The Bible says, "Then Noah built an altar to the LORD ... and sacrificed burnt offerings on it."

Because of Jesus' sacrifice, we don't offer animal sacrifices as Noah did. Instead we are told to offer God "the sacrifice of praise" and "the sacrifice of thanksgiving.” We praise God for who he is, and we thank God for what he has done. David said, "I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the LORD."

An amazing thing happens when we offer praise and thanksgiving to God. When we give God enjoyment, our own hearts are filled with joy!

Worship works both ways, too. We enjoy what God has done for us, and when we express that enjoyment to God, it brings him joy-but it also increases our joy. The book of Psalms says, "The righteous are glad and rejoice in his presence; they are happy and shout for joy."

 God smiles when we use our abilities.

After the Flood, God gave Noah these simple instructions: `Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.... Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

God said, "It's time to get on with your life! Do the things I designed humans to do. Make love to your spouse. Have babies. Raise families. Plant crops and eat meals. Be humans! This is what I made you to be!"

You may feel that the only time God is pleased with you is when you're doing "spiritual" activities-like reading the Bible, attending church, praying, or sharing your faith. And you may think God is unconcerned about the other parts of your life. Actually, God enjoys watching every detail of your life, whether you are working, playing, resting, or eating. He doesn't miss a single move you make. The Bible tells us, "The steps of the godly are directed by the LORD. He delights in every detail of their lives."

Every human activity, except sin, can be done for God's pleasure if you do it with an attitude of praise. You can wash dishes, repair a machine, sell a product, write a computer program, grow a crop, and raise a family for the glory of God.

Like a proud parent, God especially enjoys watching you use the talents and abilities he has given you. God intentionally gifted us differently for his enjoyment. He has made some to be athletic and some to be analytical. You may be gifted at mechanics or mathematics or music or a thousand other skills. All these abilities can bring a smile to God's face. The Bible says, "He has shaped each person in turn; now he watches everything we do."

You don't bring glory or pleasure to God by hiding your abilities or by trying to be someone else. You only bring him enjoyment by being you. Anytime you reject any part of yourself, you are rejecting God's wisdom and sovereignty in creating you. God says, "You have no right to argue with your Creator. You are merely a clay pot shaped by a potter: The clay doesn't ask, Why did you make me this way?”

In the film Chariots of Fire, Olympic runner Eric Liddell says, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel God's pleasure." Later he says, "To give up running would be to hold him in contempt." There are no unspiritual abilities, just misused ones. Start using yours for God's pleasure.

God also gains pleasure in watching you enjoy his creation. He gave you eyes to enjoy beauty, ears to enjoy sounds, your nose and taste buds to enjoy smells and tastes, and the nerves under your skin to enjoy touch. Every act of enjoyment becomes an act of worship when you thank God for it. In fact, the Bible says, "God ... generously gives us everything for our enjoyment."

God even enjoys watching you sleep! When my children were small, I remember the deep satisfaction of watching them sleep. Sometimes the day had been filled with problems and disobedience, but asleep they looked contented, secure, and peaceful, and I was reminded of how much I love them.

My children didn't have to do anything for me to enjoy them. I was happy to just watch them breathing, because I loved them so much. As their little chests would rise and fall, I'd smile, and sometimes tears of joy filled my eyes. When you are sleeping, God gazes at you with love, because you were his idea. He loves you as if you were the only person on earth.

 God enjoys watching every detail of your life.

 Parents do not require their children to be perfect, or even mature, in order to enjoy them. They enjoy them at every stage of development. In the same way, God doesn't wait for you to reach maturity before he starts liking you. He loves and enjoys you at every stage of your spiritual development.

You may have had unpleasable teachers or parents as you were growing up. Please don't assume God feels that way about you. He knows you are incapable of being perfect or sinless. The Bible says, "He certainly knows what we are made of. He bears in mind that we are dust."

What God looks at is the attitude of your heart: Is pleasing him your deepest desire? This was Paul's life goal: "More than anything else, however, we want to please him, whether in our home here or there." When you live in light of eternity, your focus changes from "How much pleasure am I getting out of life?" to "How much pleasure is God getting out of my life?"

God is looking for people like Noah in the twenty-first century people willing to live for the pleasure of God. The Bible says, "The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who are wise, who want to please God."

Will you make pleasing God the goal of your life? There is nothing that God won't do for the person totally absorbed with this goal.

THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

Point to Ponder: God smiles when I trust him.

Verse to Remember: "The Lord is pleased with those who worship him and trust his love." Psalm 147:11 (CEV)

Question to Consider: Since God knows what is best, in what areas of my life do I need to trust him most?

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10. The heart of worship

L`OSSERVATORE ROMANO

OUR DAILY BREAD

BQ10

Give yourselves to God.... Surrender your whole being to him to be used for righteous purposes.

Romans 6:13 (TEV)

 The heart of worship is surrender.

Surrender is an unpopular word, disliked almost as much as the word submission. It implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser. Surrender evokes the unpleasant images of admitting defeat in battle, forfeiting a game, or yielding to a stronger opponent. The word is almost always used in a negative context. Captured criminals surrender to authorities.

In today's competitive culture we are taught to never give up and never give in-so we don't hear much about surrendering. If winning is everything, surrendering is unthinkable. We would rather talk about winning, succeeding, overcoming, and conquering than yielding, submitting, obeying, and surrendering. But surrendering to God is the heart of worship. It is the natural response to God's amazing love and mercy. We give ourselves to him, not out of fear or duty, but in love, "because he first loved us."

 Offering yourself to God is what worship is all about.

After spending eleven chapters of the book of Romans explaining God's incredible grace to us, Paul urges us to fully surrender our lives to God in worship: "So then, my friends, because of God's great mercy to us ... offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer."

True worship-bringing God pleasure-happens when you give yourself completely to God. Notice the first and last words of that verse are the same: offer.

Offering yourself to God is what worship is all about.

This act of personal surrender is called many things: consecration, making Jesus your Lord, taking up your cross, dying to self, yielding to the Spirit. What matters is that you do it, not what you call it. God wants your life-all of it. Ninety-five percent is not enough.

There are three barriers that block our total surrender to God: fear, pride, and confusion. We don't realize how much God loves us, we want to control our own lives, and we misunderstand the meaning of surrender.

 Can I trust God?

 Trust is an essential ingredient to surrender. You won't surrender to God unless you trust him, but you can't trust him until you know him better. Fear keeps us from surrendering, but love casts out all fear. The more you realize how much God loves you, the easier surrender becomes.

How do you know God loves you? He gives you many evidences: God says he loves you;' you're never out of his sight; he cares about every detail of your life; he gave you the capacity to enjoy all kinds of pleasure; he has good plans for your life; he forgives you; and he is lovingly patient with you. God loves you infinitely more than you can imagine.

The greatest expression of this is the sacrifice of God's Son for you. "God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." If you want to know how much you matter to God, look at Christ with his arms outstretched on the cross, saying, "I love you this much! I'd rather die than live without you."

God is not a cruel slave driver or a bully who uses brute force to coerce us into submission. He doesn't try to break our will, but woos us to himself so that we might offer ourselves freely to him. God is a lover and a liberator, and surrendering to him brings freedom, not bondage. When we completely surrender ourselves to Jesus, we discover that he is not a tyrant, but a savior; not a boss, but a brother; not a dictator, but a friend.

 Admitting our limitations.

 A second barrier to total surrender is our pride. We don't want to admit that we're just creatures and not in charge of everything. It is the oldest temptation: "You'll be like God!"' That desire-to have complete control-is the cause of so much stress in our lives. Life is a struggle, but what most people don't realize is that our struggle, like Jacob's, is really a struggle with God! We want to be God, and there's no way we are going to win that struggle.

A. W. Tozer said, "The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven't yet come to the end of themselves. We're still trying to give orders, and interfering with God's work within us."

We aren't God and never will be. We are humans. It is when we try to be God that we end up most like Satan, who desired the same thing.

We accept our humanity intellectually, but not emotionally. When faced with our own limitations, we react with irritation, anger, and resentment. We want to be taller (or shorter), smarter, stronger, more talented, more beautiful, and wealthier. We want to have it all and do it all, and we become upset when it doesn't happen. Then when we notice that God gave others characteristics we don't have, we respond with envy, jealousy, and self-pity.

 What it means to surrender.

 Surrendering to God is not passive resignation, fatalism, or an excuse for laziness. It is not accepting the status quo. It may mean the exact opposite: sacrificing your life or suffering in order to change what needs to be changed. God often calls surrendered people to do battle on his behalf. Surrendering is not for cowards or doormats. Likewise, it does not mean giving up rational thinking. God would not waste the mind he gave you! God does not want robots to serve him.

Surrendering is not repressing your personality. God wants to use your unique personality. Rather than its being diminished, surrendering enhances it. C. S. Lewis observed, "The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become-because he made us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be.... It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own."

Surrendering is best demonstrated in obedience. You say "yes, Lord" to whatever he asks of you. To say "no, Lord" is to speak a contradiction. You can't call Jesus your Lord when you refuse to obey him. After a night of failed fishing, Simon modeled surrender when Jesus told him to try again: "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.' Surrendered people obey God's word, even if it doesn't make sense.

Another aspect of a fully surrendered life is trust. Abraham followed God's leading without knowing where it would take him. Hannah waited for God's perfect timing without knowing when. Mary expected a miracle without knowing how. Joseph trusted God's purpose without knowing why circumstances happened the way they did. Each of these people were fully surrendered to God.

You know you're surrendered to God when you rely on God to work, things out instead of trying to manipulate others, force your agenda, and control the situation. You let go and let God work. You don't have to always be "in charge." The Bible says, "Surrender yourself to the Lord, and wait patiently for him."

Instead of trying harder, you trust more. You also know you're surrendered when you don't react to criticism and rush to defend yourself. Surrendered hearts show up best in relationships. You don't edge others out, you don't demand your rights, and you aren't self-serving when you're surrendered.

The most difficult area to surrender for many people is their money. Many have thought, "I want to live for God but I also want to earn enough money to live comfortably and retire someday." Retirement is not the goal of a surrendered life, because it competes with God for the primary attention of our lives. Jesus said, "You cannot serve both God and money" and "Wherever your treasure is, your heart will be also."

The supreme example of self-surrender is Jesus. The night before his crucifixion Jesus surrendered himself to God's plan. He prayed, "Father, everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine."

Jesus didn't pray, "God, if you're able to take away this pain, please do so." He had already affirmed that God can do anything! Instead he prayed, "God, if it is in your best interest to remove this suffering, please do so. But if it fulfills your purpose, that's what I want, too."

Genuine surrender says, "Father, if this problem, pain, sickness, or circumstance is needed to fulfill your purpose and glory in my life or in another's, please don't take it away." This level of maturity does not come easy. In Jesus' case, he agonized so much over God's plan that he sweat drops of blood. Surrender is hard work. In our case, it is intense warfare against our self-centered nature.

 The blessing of surrender.

 The Bible is crystal clear about how you benefit when you fully surrender your life to God. First, you experience peace: "Stop quarreling with God! If you agree with him, you will have peace at last, and things will go well for you." Next, you experience freedom: "Offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits.... [his] commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!" Third, you experience God's power in your life. Stubborn temptations and overwhelming problems can be defeated by Christ when given to him.

As Joshua approached the biggest battle of his life, he encountered God, fell in worship before him, and surrendered his plans. That surrender led to a stunning victory at Jericho. This is the paradox: Victory comes through surrender. Surrender doesn't weaken you; it strengthens you. Surrendered to God, you don't have to fear or surrender to anything else. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, said, "The greatness of a man's power is in the measure of his surrender."

Surrendered people are the ones God uses. God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus, not because she was talented or wealthy or beautiful, but because she was totally surrendered to him. When the angel explained God's improbable plan, she calmly responded, "I am the Lord's servant, and I am willing to accept whatever he wants." Nothing is more powerful than a surrendered life in the hands of God. "So give yourselves completely to God."

 The best way to live.

 Everybody eventually surrenders to something or someone. If not to God, you will surrender to the opinions or expectations of others, to money, to resentment, to fear, or to your own pride, lusts, or ego. You were designed to worship God-and if you fail to worship him, you will create other things (idols) to give your life to. You are free to choose what you surrender to, but you are not free from the consequences of that choice. E. Stanley Jones said, "If you don't surrender to Christ, you surrender to chaos."

Surrender is not the best way to live; it is the only way to live. Nothing else works. All other approaches lead to frustration, disappointment, and self-destruction. The King James Version calls surrender "your reasonable service." Another version translates it "the most sensible way to serve God." Surrendering your life is not a foolish emotional impulse but a rational, intelligent act, the most responsible and sensible thing you can do with your life. That is why Paul said, "So we make it our goal to please him." Your wisest moments will be those when you say yes to God.

Sometimes it takes years, but eventually you discover that the greatest hindrance to God's blessing in your life is not others, it is yourself-your self-will, stubborn pride, and personal ambition. You cannot fulfill God's purposes for your life while focusing on your own plans.

If God is going to do his deepest work in you, it will begin with this. So give it all to God: your past regrets, your present problems, your future ambitions, your fears, dreams, weaknesses, habits, hurts, and hang-ups. Put Jesus Christ in the driver's seat of your life and take your hands off the steering wheel. Don't be afraid; nothing under his control can ever be out of control. Mastered by Christ, you can handle anything. You will be like Paul: "I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses inner strength into me, that is, I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency."

Paul's moment of surrender occurred on the Damascus road after he was knocked down by a blinding light. For others, God gets our attention with less drastic methods. Regardless, surrendering is never just a one-time event. Paul said, "I die daily." There is a moment of surrender, and there is the practice of surrender, which is moment-by-moment and lifelong. The problem with a living sacrifice is that it can crawl off the altar, so you may have to surrender your life fifty times a day. You must make it a daily habit. Jesus said, "If people want to follow me, they must give up the things they want. They must be willing to give up their lives daily to follow me."

 Surrender is not the best way to live; it is the only way to live. Nothing else works.

 Let me warn you: When you decide to live a totally surrendered life, that decision will be tested. Sometimes it will mean doing inconvenient, unpopular, costly, or seemingly impossible tasks. It will often mean doing the opposite of what you feel like doing.

One of the great Christian leaders of the twentieth century was Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. Through Crusade staff around the world, the Four Spiritual Laws tract, and the Jesus film (seen by over four billion people), more than 150 million people have come to Christ and will spend eternity in heaven.

I once asked Bill, "Why did God use and bless your life so much?" He said, "When I was a young man, I made a contract with God. I literally wrote it out and signed my name at the bottom. It said, `From this day forward, I am a slave of Jesus Christ.'"

Have you ever signed a contract like that with God? Or are you still arguing and struggling with God over his right to do with your life as he pleases? Now is your time to surrender-to God's grace, love, and wisdom.

 THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

 Point to Ponder: The heart of worship is surrender.

Verse to Remember: "Surrender your whole being to him to be used for righteous purposes."

Romans 6:13b (TEV)

Question to Consider: What area of my life am I holding back from God?

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11. Becoming best friends with God

OUR DAILY LIFE

L`OSSERVATORE ROMANO

QB11

Since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life.

Romans 5:10 (NLT)

 God wants to be your best friend

 Your relationship to God has many different aspects: God is your Creator and Maker, Lord and Master, Judge, Redeemer, Father, Savior, and much more.' But the most shocking truth is this: Almighty God yearns to be your Friend!

In Eden we see God's ideal relationship with us: Adam and Eve enjoyed an intimate friendship with God. There were no rituals, ceremonies, or religion just a simple loving relationship between God and the people he created. Unhindered by guilt or fear, Adam and Eve delighted in God, and he delighted in them.

We were made to live in God's continual presence, but after the Fall, that ideal relationship was lost. Only a few people in Old Testament times had the privilege of friendship with God. Moses and Abraham were called "friends of God," David was called "a man after [God's] own heart," and job, Enoch, and Noah had intimate friendships with God. But fear of God, not friendship, was more common in the Old Testament.

Then Jesus changed the situation. When he paid for our sins on the cross, the veil in the temple that symbolised our separation from God was split from top to bottom, indicating that direct access to God was once again available.

Unlike the Old Testament priests who had to spend hours preparing to meet him, we can now approach God anytime. The Bible says, "Now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God-all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God."

Friendship with God is possible only because of the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. "All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends." The old hymn says, "What a friend we have in Jesus," but actually, God invites us to enjoy friendship and fellowship with all three persons of the Trinity: our Father,' the Son,6 and the Holy Spirit.'

Jesus said, "I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” The word for friend in this verse does not mean a casual acquaintance but a close trusted relationship. The same word is used to refer to the best man at a wedding and a king's inner circle of intimate trusted friends. In royal courts, servants must keep their distance from the king, but the inner circle of trusted friends enjoys close contact, direct access, and confidential information.

That God would want me for a close friend is hard to understand, but the Bible says, "He is a God who is passionate about his relationship with you.'

God deeply desires that we know him intimately. In fact, he planned the universe and orchestrated history, including the details of our lives, so that we could become his friends. The Bible says, "He made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him."

Knowing and loving God is our greatest privilege, and being known and loved is God's greatest pleasure. God says, "If any want to boast, they should boast that they know and understand me.... These are the things that please me."

It's difficult to imagine how an intimate friendship is possible between an omnipotent, invisible, perfect God and a finite, sinful human being. It's easier to understand a Master-servant relationship or a Creator-creation relationship or even Father-child. But what does it mean when God wants me as a friend? By looking at the lives of God's friends in the Bible, we learn six secrets of friendship with God. We will look at two secrets in this chapter and four more in the next.

 BECOMING A BEST FRIEND OF GOD

 Through constant conversation

 You will never grow a close relationship with God by just attending church once a week or even having a daily quiet time. Friendship with God is built by sharing all your life experiences with him.

Of course, it is important to establish the habit of a daily devotional time with God, but he wants more than an appointment in your schedule. He wants to be included in every activity, every conversation, every problem, and even every thought. You can carry on a continuous, open-ended conversation with him throughout your day, talking with him about whatever you are doing or thinking at that moment. "Praying without ceasing" means conversing with God while shopping, driving, working, or performing any other everyday tasks.

Knowing and loving God is our greatest privilege, and being known and loved is God's greatest pleasure.

A common misconception is that "spending time with God" means being alone with him. Of course, as Jesus modelled, you need time alone with God, but that is only a fraction of your waking hours. Everything you do can be "spending time with God" if he is invited to be a part of it and you stay aware of his presence.

The classic book on learning how to develop a constant conversation with God is Practicing the Presence of God. It was written in the seventeenth century by Brother Lawrence, a humble cook in a French monastery. Brother Lawrence was able to turn even the most commonplace and menial tasks, like preparing meals and washing dishes, into acts of praise and communion with God. The key to friendship with God, he said, is not changing what you do, but changing your attitude toward what you do. What you normally do for yourself you begin doing for God, whether it is eating, bathing, working, relaxing, or taking out the trash.

Today we often feel we must "get away" from our daily routine in order to worship God, but that is only because we haven't learned to practice his presence all the time. Brother Lawrence found it easy to worship God through the common tasks of life; he didn't have to go away for special spiritual retreats.

This is God's ideal. In Eden, worship was not an event to attend, but a perpetual attitude; Adam and Eve were in constant communion with God. Because God is with you all the time, no place is any closer to God than the place where you are right now. The Bible says, "He rules everything and is everywhere and is in everything."

Another of Brother Lawrence's helpful ideas was to pray shorter conversational prayers continually through the day rather than trying to pray long sessions of complex prayers. To maintain focus and counteract wandering thoughts, he said, "I do not advise you to use a great multiplicity of words in prayer, since long discourses are often the occasions for wandering." In an age of attention deficit, this 450-year-old suggestion to keep it simple seems to be particularly relevant.

The Bible tells us to `pray all the time.” How is it possible to do this? One way is to use "breath prayers" throughout the day, as many Christians have done for centuries. You choose a brief sentence or a simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath: "You are with me." "I receive your grace." "I'm depending on you." "I want to know you." "I belong to you." "Help me trust you." You can also use a short phrase of Scripture: "For me to live is Christ." "You will never leave me." "You are my God." Pray it as often as possible so it is rooted deep in your heart. Just be sure that your motive is to honour God, not control him.

Practising the presence of God is a skill, a habit you can develop. Just as musicians practice scales every day in order to play beautiful music with ease, you must force yourself to think about God at different times in your day. You must train your mind to remember God.

At first you will need to create reminders to regularly bring your thoughts back to the awareness that God is with you in that moment. Begin by placing visual reminders around you. You might post little notes that say, "God is with me and for me right now!" Benedictine monks use the hourly chimes of a clock to remind them to pause and pray "the hour prayer." If you have a watch or cell phone with an alarm, you could do the same. Sometimes you will sense God's presence; other times you won't.

If you are seeking an experience of his presence through all of this, you have missed the point. We don't praise God to feel good, but to do good. Your goal is not a feeling, but a continual awareness of the reality that God is always present. That is the lifestyle of worship.

Everything you do can be "spending time with God" if he is invited to be apart of it and you stay aware of his presence.

Through continual meditation

A second way to establish a friendship with God is by thinking about his Word throughout your day. This is called meditation, and the Bible repeatedly urges us to meditate on who God is, what he has done, and what he has said."

It is impossible to be God's friend apart from knowing what he says. You can't love God unless you know him, and you can't know him without knowing his Word. The Bible says God "revealed himself to Samuel through his word." God still uses that method today.

While you cannot spend all day studying the Bible, you can think about it throughout the day, recalling verses you have read or memorised and mulling them over in your mind.

Meditation is often misunderstood as some difficult, mysterious ritual practised by isolated monks and mystics. But meditation is simply focused thinking a skill anyone can learn and use anywhere.

When you think about a problem over and over in your mind, that's called worry. When you think about God's Word over and over in your mind, that's meditation. If you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate! You just need to switch your attention from your problems to Bible verses. The more you meditate on God's Word, the less you will have to worry about. The reason God considered Job and David his close friends was that they valued his Word above everything else, and they thought about it continually throughout the day. Job admitted, "I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.' 2° David said, "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." "They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about them. "

Friends share secrets, and God will share his secrets with you if you develop the habit of thinking about his Word throughout the day. God told Abraham his secrets, and he did the same with Daniel, Paul, the disciples, and other friends.

When you read your Bible or hear a sermon or listen to a tape, don't just forget it and walk away. Develop the practice of reviewing the truth in your mind, thinking about it over and over. The more time you spend reviewing what God has said, the more you will understand the "secrets" of this life that most people miss. The Bible says, "Friendship with God is reserved for those who reverence him. With them alone, he shares the secrets of his promises."

Start today by practising constant conversation with God and continual meditation on his Word. Prayer lets you speak to God; meditation lets God speak to you. Both are essential to becoming a friend of God.

THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

 Point to Ponder: God wants to be my best friend.

Verse to Remember: "Friendship with God is reserved for those who reverence him." Psalm 25:14a (LB)

Question to Consider: What can I do to remind myself to think about God and talk to him more often throughout the day?

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12. Developing your friendship with God

BQ12

 

OUR DAILY BREAD

L`OSSERVATORE ROMANO

 He offers his friendship to the godly.

Proverbs 3:32 (NLT)

Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.

James 4:8 (NLT)

 You are as close to God as you choose to be

 Like any friendship, you must work at developing your friendship with God. It won't happen by accident. It takes desire, time, and energy. If you want a deeper, more intimate connection with God you must learn to honestly share your feelings with him, trust him when he asks you to do something, learn to care about what he cares about, and desire his friendship more than anything else.

I must choose to be honest with God

 The first building block of a deeper friendship with God is complete honesty-about your faults and your feelings. God doesn't expect you to be perfect, but he does insist on complete honesty. None of God's friends in the Bible were perfect. If perfection was a requirement for friendship with God, we would never be able to be his friends. Fortunately, because of God's grace, Jesus is still the `friend of sinners."'

In the Bible, the friends of God were honest about their feelings, often complaining, second-guessing, accusing, and arguing with their Creator. God, however, didn't seem to be bothered by this frankness; in fact, he encouraged it.

God allowed Abraham to question and challenge him over the destruction of the city of Sodom. Abraham pestered God over what it would take to spare the city, negotiating God down from fifty righteous people to only ten.

God also listened patiently to David's many accusations of unfairness, betrayal, and abandonment. God did not slay Jeremiah when he claimed that God had tricked him. Job was allowed to vent his bitterness during his ordeal, and in the end, God defended Job for being honest, and he rebuked Job's friends for being inauthentic. God told them, "You haven't been honest either with me or about me-not the way my friend Job has.... My friend Job will now pray for you and I will accept his prayer."

In one startling example of frank friendship, God honestly expressed his total disgust with Israel's disobedience. He told Moses he would keep his promise to give the Israelites the Promised Land, but he wasn't going one step farther with them in the desert! God was fed up, and he let Moses know exactly how he felt.

Moses, speaking as a "friend" of God, responded with equal candor: "`Look, you tell me to lead this people but you don't let me know whom you're going to send with me.... If I'm so special to you, let me in on your plans.... Don't forget, this is YOUR people, your responsibility.... If your presence doesn't take the lead here, call this trip off right now! How else will I know that you're with me in this, with me and your people? Are you traveling with us or not?...' God said to Moses, `All right. Just as you say; this also I will do, for I know you well and you are special to me.”

 God doesn't expect you to be perfect, but he does insist on complete honesty

Bitterness is the greatest barrier to friendship with God

Can God handle that kind of frank, intense honesty from you? Absolutely! Genuine friendship is built on disclosure. What may appear as audacity God views as authenticity. God listens to the passionate words of his friends; he is bored with predictable, pious cliches. To be God's friend, you must be honest to God, sharing your true feeling, not what you think you ought to feel or say.

It is likely that you need to confess some hidden anger and resentment at God for certain areas of your life where you have felt cheated or disappointed. Until we mature enough to understand that God uses everything for good in our lives, we harbor resentment toward God over our appearance, background, unanswered prayers, past hurts, and other things we would change if we were God. People often blame God for hurts caused by others. This creates what William Backus calls "your hidden rift with God."

Bitterness is the greatest barrier to friendship with God: Why would I want to be God's friend if he allowed this? The antidote, of course, is to realize that God always acts in your best interest, even when it is painful and you don't understand it. But releasing your resentment and revealing your feeling is the first step to healing. As so many people in the Bible did, tell God exactly how you feel.

To instruct us in candid honesty, God gave us the book of Psalms-a worship manual, full of ranting, raving, doubts, fears, resentments, and deep passions combined with thanksgiving, praise, and statements of faith. Every possible emotion is catalogued in the Psalms. When you read the emotional confessions of David and others, realize this is how God wants you to worship him-holding back nothing of what you feel. You can pray like David: "I pour out my complaints before him and tell him all my troubles. For I am overwhelmed."

It's encouraging to know that all of God's closest friends Moses, David, Abraham, Job, and others-had bouts with doubt.

But instead of masking their misgivings with pious clichés, they candidly voiced them openly and publicly. Expressing doubt is sometimes the first step toward the next level of intimacy with God.

I must choose to obey God in faith

Every time you trust God's wisdom and do whatever he says, even when you don't understand it, you deepen your friendship with God. We don't normally think of obedience as a characteristic of friendship; that's reserved for relationships with a parent or the boss or a superior officer, not a friend. However, Jesus made it clear that obedience is a condition of intimacy with God. He said, "You are my friends if you do what I command."

The word Jesus used when he called us "friends" could refer to the "friends of the king" in a royal court. While these close companions had special privileges, they were still subject to the king and had to obey his commands. We are friends with God, but we are not his equals. He is our loving leader, and we follow him.

We obey God, not out of duty or fear or compulsion, but because we love him and trust that he knows what is best for us. We want to follow Christ out of gratitude for all he has done for us, and the closer we follow him, the deeper our friendship becomes.

Unbelievers often think Christians obey out of obligation or guilt or fear of punishment, but the opposite is true. Because we have been forgiven and set free, we obey out of love-and our obedience brings great joy! Jesus said, "I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!"

Notice that Jesus expects us to do only what he did with the Father. His relationship with his Father is the model for our friendship with him. Jesus did whatever the Father asked him to do-out of love.

True friendship isn't passive; it acts. When Jesus asks us to love others, help the needy, share our resources, keep our lives clean, offer forgiveness, and bring others to him, love motivates us to obey immediately.

We are often challenged to do `great things" for God. Actually, God is more pleased when we do small things for him out of loving obedience. They may be unnoticed by others, but God notices them and considers them acts of worship.

Great opportunities may come once in a lifetime, but small opportunities surround us every day. Even through such simple acts as telling the truth, being kind, and encouraging others, we bring a smile to God's face. God treasures simple acts of obedience more than our prayers, praise, or offerings. The Bible tells us, "What pleases the LORD more: burnt offerings and sacrifices or obedience to his voice? It is better to obey than to sacrifice."

Jesus began his public ministry at age thirty by being baptized by John. At that event God spoke from heaven: "This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him." What had Jesus been doing for thirty years that gave God so much pleasure? The Bible says nothing about those hidden years except for a single phrase in Luke 2:51: "He went back to Nazareth with them, and lived obediently with them" (Msg). Thirty years of pleasing God were summed up in two words: "lived obediently"!

I must choose to value what God values

This is what friends do-they care about what is important to the other person. The more you become God's friend, the more you will care about the things he cares about, grieve over the things he grieves over, and rejoice over the things that bring pleasure to him.

Paul is the best example of this. God's agenda was his agenda, and God's passion was his: "The thing that has me so upset is that I care about you so much-this is the passion of God burning inside me!" David felt the same way: "Passion for your house burns within me, so those who insult you are also insulting me.

What does God care about most? The redemption of his people. He wants all his lost children found! That's the whole reason Jesus came to earth. The dearest thing to the heart of God is the death of his Son. The second dearest thing is when his children share that news with others. To be a friend of God, you must care about all the people around you whom God cares about. Friends of God tell their friends about God.

 I must desire friendship with God more than anything else

The Psalms are filled with examples of this desire. David passionately desired to know God above all else; he used words like longing, yearning, thirsting, hungering. He craved God. He said, "The thing I seek most of all is the privilege of meditating in his Temple, living in his presence every day of my life, delighting in his incomparable perfection and glory." In another psalm he said, "Your love means more than life to me.'

Jacob's passion for God's blessing on his life was so intense that he wrestled in the dirt all night with God, saying, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."" The amazing part of that story is that God, who is all powerful, let Jacob win! God isn't offended when we "wrestle" with him, because wrestling requires personal contact and brings us close to him! It is also a passionate activity, and God loves it when we are passionate with him.

Paul was another man passionate for friendship with God. Nothing mattered more; it was the first priority, total focus, and Ultimate goal of his life. This is the reason God used Paul in such a great way. The Amplified translation expresses the full force of Paul's passion: "My determined purpose is that I may know Him-that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly."

 The more you become God's friend, the more you will care about the things he cares about

The truth is-you are as close to God as you choose to be. Intimate friendship with God is a choice, not an accident. You must intentionally seek it. Do you really want it-more than anything? What is it worth to you? Is it worth giving up other things? Is it worth the effort of developing the habits and skills required?

You may have been passionate about God in the past but you've lost that desire. That was the problem of the Christians in Ephesus-they had left their first love. They did all the right things, but out of duty, not love. If you've just been going through the motions spiritually, don't be surprised when God allows pain in your life.

Pain is the fuel of passion-it energizes us with an intensity to change that we don't normally possess. C. S. Lewis said, "Pain is God's megaphone." It is God's way of arousing us from spiritual lethargy. Your problems are not punishment; they are wake-up calls from a loving God. God is not mad at you; he's mad about you, and he will do whatever it takes to bring you back into fellowship with him. But there is an easier way to reignite your passion for God: Start asking God to give it to you, and keep on asking until you have it. Pray this throughout your day:

"Dear Jesus, more than anything else, I want to get to know you intimately." God told the captives in Babylon, "When you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I'll make sure you won't be disappointed.”

YOUR MOST IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP

 There is nothing-absolutely nothing-more important than developing a friendship with God. It's a relationship that will last forever. Paul told Timothy, "Some of these people have missed the most important thing in life-they don't know God.' Have you been missing out on the most important thing in life? You can do something about it starting now. Remember, it's your choice. You are as close to God as you choose to be.

 THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

 Point to Ponder: I'm as close to God as I choose to be.

Verse to Remember: "Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you." James 4:8 a (NLT)

Question to Consider: What practical choices will I make today in order to grow closer to God?

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13. Worship that pleases God

L`OSSERVATORE ROMANO

OUR DAILY BREAD

BQ13

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 12:30 (NIV)

 God wants all of you.

God doesn't want a part of your life. He asks for all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. God is not interested in halfhearted commitment, partial obedience, and the leftovers of your time and money. He desires your full devotion, not little bits of your life.

A Samaritan woman once tried to debate Jesus on the best time, place, and style for worship. Jesus replied that these external issues are irrelevant. Where you worship is not as important as why you worship and how much of yourself you offer to God when you worship. There is a right and wrong way to worship. The Bible says, "Let us be grateful and worship God in a way that will please him." The kind of worship that pleases God has four characteristics:

God is pleased when our worship is accurate.

 People often say, "I like to think of God as . . . ," and then they share their idea of the kind of God they would like to worship. But we cannot just create our own comfortable or politically correct image of God and worship it. That is idolatry.

Worship must be based on the truth of Scripture, not our opinions about God. Jesus told the Samaritan woman, "True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.'

To "worship in truth" means to worship God as he is truly revealed in the Bible.

God is pleased when our worship is authentic.

 When Jesus said you must "worship in spirit," he wasn't referring to the Holy Spirit, but to your spirit. Made in God's image, you are a spirit that resides in a body, and God designed your spirit to communicate with him. Worship is your spirit responding to God's Spirit.

When Jesus said, "Love God with all your heart and soul" he meant that worship must be genuine and heartfelt. It is not just a matter of saying the right words; you must mean what you say. Heartless praise is not praise at all! It is worthless, an insult to God.

When we worship, God looks past our words to see the attitude of our hearts. The Bible says, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

Since worship involves delighting in God, it engages your emotions. God gave you emotions so you could worship him with deep feeling-but those emotions must be genuine, not faked. God hates hypocrisy. He doesn't want showmanship or pretense or phoniness in worship. He wants your honest, real love. We can worship God imperfectly, but we cannot worship him insincerely.

 God pleasing worship is deeply emotional and deeply doctrinal. We use both our hearts and our heads.

 Of course, sincerity alone is not enough; you can be sincerely wrong. That's why both spirit and truth are required. Worship must be both accurate and authentic. God-pleasing worship is deeply emotional and deeply doctrinal. We use both our hearts and our heads.

Today many equate being emotionally moved by music as being moved by the Spirit, but these are not the same. Real worship happens when your spirit responds to God, not to some musical tone. In fact, some sentimental, introspective songs hinder worship because they take the spotlight off God and focus on our feelings. Your biggest distraction in worship is yourself-your interests and your worries over what others think about you.

Christians often differ on the most appropriate or authentic way to express praise to God, but these arguments usually just reflect personality and background differences. Many forms of praise are mentioned in the Bible, among them confessing, singing, shouting, standing in honor, kneeling, dancing, making a joyful noise, testifying, playing musical instruments, and raising hands. The best style of worship is the one that most authentically represents your love for God, based on the background and personality God gave you.

Gary Thomas noticed that many Christians seem stuck in a worship rut-an unsatisfying routine-instead of having a vibrant friendship with God, because they force themselves to use devotional methods or worship styles that don't fit the way God uniquely shaped them.

Gary wondered, If God intentionally made us all different, why should everyone be expected to love God in the same way? As he read Christian classics and interviewed mature believers, Gary discovered that Christians have used many different paths for 2,000 years to enjoy intimacy with God: being outdoors, studying, singing, reading, dancing, creating art, serving others, having solitude, enjoying fellowship, and participating in dozens of other activities.

In his book Sacred Pathways, Gary identifies nine of the ways people draw near to God: Naturalists are most inspired to love God out-of-doors, in natural settings. Sensates love God with their senses and appreciate beautiful worship services that involve their sight, taste, smell, and touch, not just their ears. Traditionalists draw closer to God through rituals, liturgies, symbols, and unchanging structures. Ascetics prefer to love God in solitude and simplicity. Activists love God through confronting evil, battling injustice, and working to make the world a better place. Caregivers love God by loving others and meeting their needs. Enthusiasts love God through celebration. Contemplatives love God through adoration. Intellectuals love God by studying with their minds.'

There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to worship and friendship with God. One thing is certain: You don't bring glory to God by trying to be someone he never intended you to be. God wants you to be yourself. "That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship."

 God is pleased when our worship is thoughtful.

 Jesus' command to "love God with all your mind" is repeated four times in the New Testament. God is not pleased with thoughtless singing of hymns, perfunctory praying of cliches, or careless exclamations of "Praise the Lord," because we can't think of anything else to say at that moment. If worship is mindless, it is meaningless. You must engage your mind.

Jesus called thoughtless worship "vain repetitions." Even biblical terms can become tired cliches from overuse, and we stop thinking about the meaning. It is so much easier to offer cliches in worship instead of making the effort to honor God with fresh words and ways. This is why I encourage you to read Scripture in different translations and paraphrases. It will expand your expressions of worship.

 The best style of worship is the one that most authentically represents your love for God.

Try Praising God without using the words praise, hallelujah, thanks, or amen. Instead of saying, "We just want to praise you," make a list of synonyms and use fresh words like admire, respect, value, revere, honor, and appreciate.

Also, be specific. If someone approached you and repeated, "I praise you!" ten times, you would probably think, For what? You would rather receive two specific compliments than twenty vague generalities. So would God. Another idea is to make a list of the different names of God and focus on them. God's names are not arbitrary; they tell us about different aspects of his character. In the Old Testament, God gradually revealed himself to Israel by introducing new names for himself, and he commands us to praise his name.'

God wants our corporate worship gatherings to be thoughtful, too. Paul devotes an entire chapter to this in 1 Corinthians 14 and concludes, "Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way."

Related to this, God insists that our worship services be understandable to unbelievers when they are present in our worship gatherings. Paul observed, "Suppose some strangers are in your worship service, when you are praising God with your spirit. If they don't understand you, how will they know to say, `Amen'? You may be worshiping God in a wonderful way, but no one else will be helped. " Being sensitive to unbelievers who visit your worship gatherings is a biblical command. To ignore this command is to be both disobedient and unloving.

 God is pleased when our worship is practical.

 The Bible says, "Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship." Why does God want your body? Why doesn't he say, "Offer your spirit"? Because without your body you can't do anything on this planet. In eternity you will receive a new, improved, upgraded body, but while you're here on earth, God says, "Give me what you've got!" He's just being practical about worship.

You have heard people say, "I can't make it to the meeting tonight, but I'll be with you in spirit." Do you know what that means? Nothing. It's worthless! As long as you're on earth, your spirit can only be where your body is. If your body isn't there, neither are you.

In worship we are to "offer our bodies as living sacrifices." Now, we usually associate the concept of "sacrifice" with something dead, but God wants you to be a living sacrifice. He wants you to live for him! However, the problem with a living sacrifice is that it can crawl off the altar, and we often do that. We sing, "Onward, Christian Soldiers" on Sunday, then go AWOL on Monday.

In the Old Testament, God took pleasure in the many sacrifices of worship because they foretold of Jesus' sacrifice for us on the cross. Now God is pleased with different sacrifices of worship: thanksgiving, praise, humility, repentance, offerings of money, prayer, serving others, and sharing with those in need.

Real worship costs. David knew this and said: "I will not offer to the LORD my God sacrifices that have cost me nothing."

One thing worship costs us is our self-centeredness. You cannot exalt God and yourself at the same time. You don't worship to be seen by others or to please yourself. You deliberately shift the focus off yourself.

 Real worship is rooted in the word, When Jesus said, "Love God with all your strength,' he pointed out that worship takes effort and energy. It is not always convenient or comfortable, and sometimes worship is a sheer act of the will-a willing sacrifice. Passive worship is an oxymoron.

When you praise God even when you don't feel like it, when you get out of bed to worship when you're tired, or when you help others when you are worn out, you are offering a sacrifice of worship to God. That pleases God.

Matt Redman, a worship leader in England, tells how his pastor taught his church the real meaning of worship. To show that worship is more than music, he banned all singing in their services for a period of time while they learned to worship in other ways. By the end of that time, Matt had written the classic song "Heart of Worship":

 I'll bring You more than a song, because the song itself is not what You've required.

You search much deeper within

than the way things appear.

You're looking into my heart.

The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.

  THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

 Point to Ponder: God wants all of me.

Verse to Remember: "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 12:30 (NIV)

Question to Consider: Which is more pleasing to God right now-my public worship or my private worship? What will I do about this?

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14. When God seems distant

L`OSSERVATORE ROMANO

OUR DAILY BREAD

BQ14

The LORD has hidden himself from his people, but I trust him and place my hope in him.

Isaiah 8:17 (TEV) -

 God is real, no matter how you feel.

 It is easy to worship God when things are going great in your life-when he has provided food, friends, family, health, and happy situations. But circumstances are not always pleasant. How do you worship God then? What do you do when God seems a million miles away?

The deepest level of worship is praising God in spite of pain, thanking God during a trial, trusting him when tempted, surrendering while suffering, and loving him when he seems distant.

Friendships are often tested by separation and silence; you are divided by physical distance or you are unable to talk. In your friendship with God, you won't always feel close to him. Philip Yancey has wisely noted, "Any relationship involves times of closeness and times of distance, and in a relationship with God, no matter how intimate, the pendulum will swing from one side to the other."' That's when worship gets difficult.

To mature your friendship, God will test it with periods of seeming separation-times when it feels as if he has abandoned or forgotten you. God feels a million miles away. St. John of the Cross referred to these days of spiritual dryness, doubt, and estrangement from God as "the dark night of the soul." Henri Nouwen called them "the ministry of absence." A. W. Tozer called them "the ministry of the night." Others refer to "the winter of the heart."

Besides Jesus, David probably had the closest friendship with God of anyone. God took pleasure in calling him "a man after my own heart." Yet David frequently complained of God's apparent absence: "Lord, why are you standing aloof and far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?" "Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help?" "Why have you abandoned me?"

Of course, God hadn't really left David, and he doesn't leave you. He has promised repeatedly, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." But God has not promised "you will always feel my presence." In fact, God admits that sometimes he hides his face from us. There are times when he appears to be MIA, missing-in-action, in your life.

Floyd McClung describes it: "You wake up one morning and all your spiritual feelings are gone. You pray, but nothing happens. You rebuke the devil, but it doesn't change anything. You go through spiritual exercises ... you have your friends pray for you ... you confess every sin. You can imagine, and then go around asking forgiveness of everyone you know. You fast ... still nothing. You begin to wonder how long this spiritual gloom might last. Days? Weeks? Months? Will it ever end? ... It feels as if your prayers simply bounce off the ceiling. In utter desperation, you cry out, `What's the matter with me?"'

The truth is, there's nothing wrong with you! This is a normal part of the testing and maturing of your friendship with God. Every Christian goes through it at least once and usually several times. It is painful and disconcerting, but it is absolutely vital for the development of your faith.

Knowing this gave Job hope when he could not feel God's presence in his life. He said, "I go east, but he is not there. I go west, but I cannot find him. I do not see him in the north, for he is hidden. I turn to the south, but I cannot find him. But he knows where I am going. And when he has tested me like gold in afire, he will pronounce me innocent.'"

When God seems distant, you may feel that he is angry with you or is disciplining you for some sin. In fact, sin does disconnect us from intimate fellowship with God. We grieve God's Spirit and quench our fellowship with him by disobedience, conflict with others, busyness, friendship with the world, and other sins.

But often this feeling of abandonment or estrangement from God has nothing to do with sin. It is a test of faith-one we all must face: Will you continue to love, trust, obey, and worship God, even when you have no sense of his presence or visible evidence of his work in your life?

The most common mistake Christians make in worship today is seeking an experience rather than seeking God. They look for a feeling, and if it happens, they conclude that they have worshiped. Wrong! In fact, God often removes our feelings so we won't depend on them. Seeking a feeling, even the feeling of closeness to Christ, is not worship.

When you are a baby Christian, God gives you a lot of confirming emotions and often answers the most immature, self-centered prayers-so you'll know he exists. But as you grow in faith, he will wean you of these dependencies.

God's omnipresence and the manifestation of his presence are two different things. One is a fact; the other is often a feeling. God is always present, even when you are unaware of him, and his presence is too profound to be measured by mere emotion.

Yes, he wants you to sense his presence, but he's more concerned that you trust him than that you feel him. Faith, not feelings, pleases God.

The situations that will stretch your faith most will be those times when life falls apart and God is nowhere to be found. This happened to job. On a single day he lost everything-his family, his business, his health, and everything he owned. Most discouraging-for thirty-seven chapters, God said nothing!

How do you praise God when you don't understand what's happening in your life and God is silent? How do you stay connected in a crisis without communication? How do you keep your eyes on Jesus when they're full of tears? You do what Job did: "Then befell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."'

 Tell God exactly how you feel.

 Pour out your heart to God. Unload every emotion that you're feeling. Job did this when he said, "I can't be quiet! I am angry and bitter. I have to speak!" He cried out when God seemed distant: "Oh, for the days when I was in my prime, when God's intimate friendship blessed my house."' God can handle your doubt, anger, fear, grief, confusion, and questions.

Did you know that admitting your hopelessness to God can be a statement of faith? Trusting God but feeling despair at the same time, David wrote, "I believed, so I said, `I am completely ruined!" This sounds like a contradiction: I trust God, but I'm wiped out! David's frankness actually reveals deep faith: First, he believed in God. Second, he believed God would listen to his prayer. Third, he believed God would let him say what he felt and still love him.

 Focus on who God is-his unchanging nature.

 Regardless of circumstances and how you feel, hang on to God's unchanging character. Remind yourself what you know to be eternally true about God: He is good, he loves me, he is with me, he knows what I'm going through, he cares, and he has a good plan for my life. V. Raymond Edman said, "Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light."

When Job's life fell apart, and God was silent, Job still found things he could praise God for:

 • That he is good and loving.

 • That he is all-powerful.

 • That he notices every detail of my life.

 • That he is in control.

 • That he has a plan for my life.

 • That he will save me.

 Trust God to keep his promises.

 During times of spiritual dryness you must patiently rely on the promises of God, not your emotions, and realize that he is taking you to a deeper level of maturity. A friendship based on emotion is shallow indeed.

So don't be troubled by trouble. Circumstances cannot change the character of God. God's grace is still in full force; he is still for you, even when you don't feel it. In the absence of confirming circumstances, job held on to God's Word. He said, "I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread "

This trust in God's Word caused Job to remain faithful even though nothing made sense. His faith was strong in the midst of pain: "God may kill me, but still I will trust him.”

When you feel abandoned by God yet continue to trust him in spite of your feelings, you worship him in the deepest way.

 Remember what God has already done for you.

 If God never did anything else for you, he would still deserve your continual praise for the rest of your life because of what Jesus did for you on the cross. God's Son died for you! This is the greatest reason for worship.

Unfortunately, we forget the cruel details of the agonizing sacrifice God made on our behalf. Familiarity breeds complacency. Even before his crucifixion, the Son of God was stripped naked, beaten until almost unrecognizable, whipped, scorned and mocked, crowned with thorns, and spit on contemptuously.

Abused and ridiculed by heartless men, he was treated worse than an animal.

Then, nearly unconscious from blood loss, he was forced to drag a cumbersome cross up a hill, was nailed to it, and was left to die the slow, excruciating torture of death by crucifixion. While his lifeblood drained out, hecklers stood by and shouted insults, making fun of his pain and challenging his claim to be God.

Next, as Jesus took all of mankind's sin and guilt on himself, God looked away from that ugly sight, and Jesus cried out in total desperation, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus could have saved himself-but then he could not have saved you.

Words cannot describe the darkness of that moment. Why did God allow and endure such ghastly, evil mistreatment? Why? So you could be spared from eternity in hell, and so you could share in his glory forever! The Bible says, "Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God."

Jesus gave up everything so you could have everything. He died so you could live forever. That alone is worthy of your continual thanks and praise. Never again should you wonder what you have to be thankful for.

THINKING ABOUT MY PURPOSE

 Point to Ponder: God is real, no matter how I feel.

Verse to Remember: "For God has said, `I will never leave you; I will never abandon you."' Hebrews 13:5 (TEV)

Question to Consider: How can I stay focused on God's presence, especially when he feels distant?

When you feel abandoned by God yet continue to trust him, you worship him in the deepest way.

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