Sing Praises

Psalm 47 is part of my daily Bible reading today, part of the plan for reading through the Bible in a year. As I read, “Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises” (v.6), it reminded me of learning this verse one summer with a 6th grade Sunday school class that I taught. It was easy to learn and stuck with me.

Singing praises reminded me of the story in Acts 16 where Paul and Silas had been beaten and imprisoned, their feet fastened in the stocks (v. 22-24). In the midst of these circumstances, they were praying and singing hymns of praise to God (v. 25)! The prisoners were listening to them (v. 25). (Who is it that hears our praise? Might others also be impacted?)

Suddenly there was an earthquake and the prison was shaken, all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened (v. 26). The jailer, roused from sleep, seeing the open doors, was preparing to kill himself thinking the prisoners had escaped (v. 27). But Paul cried out to let him know they were all there (v. 28). Trembling with fear, the jailer fell down before Paul and Silas, brought them out, and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (v. 29-30).

Acts 16:31, Paul tells the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” Paul and Silas then spoke the word of the Lord to him and all who were in his house (v. 32). The jailer washed their wounds, and he and his household were immediately baptized, having believed in God (v. 33-34).

I love this story, partly because it began with prayers and singing praise to God in a prison cell. Where do we find ourselves? In our situation, can we sing praise to God? As they prayed and sang hymns to God, “suddenly” the earthquake came and opened the doors and broke their chains, setting them free physically. And ultimately, the dramatic event was used by God to set the jailer and his household free spiritually as they believed in God. And I wonder, what might prayer and praise set me free of?

It’s not that it will automatically change my circumstances, but it might just change my heart in the midst of the circumstances as I focus my eyes on God and pray and praise Him. Do I ever really consistently do this to see what might happen? And not just to receive something, but first and primarily to give honor and glory to God, my King and Savior, the One whom I can trust no matter where I find myself.

I’m dropping in some songs below, ones that God has used to speak to me over the last couple of weeks, songs of encouragement and hope during my current season. They remind me that my present circumstances come from a loving God whom I can praise, even during difficult days, for He is worthy and has good plans for my life.

Progress, Not Perfection

This summer has provided more free time than I can ever remember, and it’s been a wonderful blessing. I’ve been able to make progress in several ways.

  • We’ve been eating better — more eating at home, less eating out.
  • I’ve been exercising, trying to walk every other day.
  • I’ve been enjoying time reading and updating the blog, writing a little more here or just in my journal.
  • Along with my mom, we’ve hosted a summer Bible study and daily benefited from studying the life of Gideon (Judges 6-8) together with a group of women of all ages.
  • I’ve been working less and doing a lot to prepare for a busy fall when school begins later this month.
  • We’ve taken care of dental visits and well checks for the kids.
  • We’ve started college visits!
  • We’ve done some traveling, seen extended family, and celebrated the life of my beloved uncle who went to be with the Lord.
  • We also celebrated birthdays and life in meaningful ways.

All in all, it’s been not only a good summer, but one in which I can see progress. You know the defeating saying, “two steps forward, three steps back”? I feel like for us, it’s been “three steps forward, two steps back” or some variation on that where we’ve moved forward and made progress, not perfectly, sometimes going back a little, but then surging ahead again. For this, I am thankful.

The ongoing process of sanctification (our ongoing growth in the Lord, being set apart for His use) is a good one, where the Lord is continuing His good work in us until its completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

But it’s sometimes also a hard process! It seems to require our active participation, that we continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, trusting and waiting on God to do all that He has planned (Philippians 2:12-13). We don’t trust in the seen, but the unseen. We hope in God, resting in His promises revealed to us in His Word.  Sometimes we must wait to see how it will all work itself out.

So we trust Him, walk by faith, without sight, hoping and waiting in confident expectation that God will act on our behalf and finish the good work.

All of this, this sanctification is ongoing. We won’t be perfect here on earth, but we can make progress. And I am filled with hope that God will finish what He has started, and I look to him and find Him near on the journey as we walk by faith.

Is My Heart Really Yours, Lord?

As I was headed to Walmart a week or so ago, I was listening to this song in the car:

Some of the words:

“My heart is Yours, take it all, take it all, my life in Your hands.

I lay down my life, I take up my cross, Jesus,

you are my God, whatever the cost, Jesus.

All to Jesus I surrender, all to you I freely give.

All through Walmart, I hummed the tune still in my heart, said the words over and over, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to you I freely give, I lay down my life…” with thoughts of surrender. My mind was captivated with the song.

Until I arrived at the checkout. There was an abrupt interruption. There were long lines, and I was in a hurry with about 15-20 items. As I stood in line, a man came and just wedged his basket and pushed his body in front of my cart. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve had people ask if they could go in front of me if they only have a few items, but he just decided he was doing it because he only had a couple of things and I had more. (No, it wasn’t an express lane.)

My first reaction (only in my mind thankfully) wasn’t kind. I didn’t want to say, “Oh, sure, that’s fine. Go ahead.” But the moment my heart got ugly, the words of the song flashed back to my mind.

Really? Will you really surrender your whole life to Jesus, give your whole life to Him — oh, of course, except your place in line, right? I was convicted, shamed. I immediately welcomed his place there and struck up a conversation. He seemed needy for conversation, someone to talk to. I found out where he lived and told him about our church plant in that town. As he left, he thanked me for letting him get in line and told me it was nice to talk with someone.

Wasn’t that better than demanding my rights? I could have so easily missed the opportunity by being abrupt in response, ignoring him.

How very quickly my heart can go from willing to follow and love Jesus to getting irritated and wanting my way. It didn’t take long, but I was thankful for the conviction God gave in that moment to recognize it. I’m sure I often miss it. The words were just too fresh on my tongue to miss the inconsistency.

I’ve pondered this encounter a lot the last week. You’ll give up your life, but not your place in line? And if you don’t give up your place in line, are you really giving up your life? Things to keep considering.

Complacency to Joy

My heart is full tonight.

Have you ever battled complacency? If I admit it, I am very content and thankful with life. I love the Lord, my family, my home, my church, my town, my job. It’s easy when things are going along so well to find myself wondering what else God would have me be doing. Am I doing the things He wants? He has given so much. Am I praising Him, thanking Him, daily seeking Him?

There’s nothing I can point to that should cause me to be complacent. But I often wonder, “What else? Am I missing anything?” I am often haunted by time that I waste on meaningless things instead of things I could have done instead.

I think this is because I know the difference with living with less wasted time and more intentionality than I am now. I think about the work the Lord has done in my life, and how after that time my heart longed daily to know what He had for me that day. I know the difference in wasting time on a TV show (a struggle in my past) or Facebook (a current struggle) instead of writing a note of encouragement to a friend or taking time to read my Bible or a book or praying. How many moments and hours am I wasting?

Tonight I was refreshed in the Lord. This is the 8 year anniversary of me bowing on my knees by my bed and surrendering my life to the Lord. I’ve written about it before here. It was life-changing. The things the Lord showed me over a two-day period were that He is my Rock and He is my Strength. Many times over these 8 years, this day, April 28, turns out to be a really special day. One year, I met Beth Moore on this day. She has had a huge impact on my walk with the Lord through her Bible studies.

I don’t want to make too much out of certain days, but I do love to celebrate this one! And tonight at church, the Lord met me. We sang a song about Christ the Cornerstone, the “weak made strong,” the theme of 8 years ago. I wasn’t going to make too much out of phrases in songs.

But then the preacher started preaching from Phil. 4:4-8. During his message, he went to 2 Corinthians 11 talking about Paul boasting in weakness. And then before I knew it, he was in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

These were the very verses God used back in 2005!

The preacher gave the benediction from Psalm 40, how God lifted us from the miry clay and set our feet upon the Rock!

God is my Rock and my Strength, and He used tonight to confirm these truths and remind me of 8 years ago and fill my heart and stir me again with the conviction that He has purpose and plans for me to know Him and to trust Him and to walk with Him.

During the next to the last song, God brought to mind a couple that I felt like He had been prompting me to reach out to about a month ago when I was praying. I had dismissed it later, thinking it might seem silly to them. But God brought them to mind. We then went to sing the last song, and it was the song that I have for this family! A Chris Tomlin song from 2009, a song I have never sung in church. I was just amazed that as God brought them to mind again, He brought this song. Maybe this is the next step I’m looking for, the step to break out of some of my complacency and reach out beyond myself.

He’s shown me that He puts people in my path, and there are several now that I know I need to act on. So I pray for wisdom to know how and when and ask that God would move me from complacency back to joy and a heart filled with Him!