The world tells us to claim what is ours, but God asks us to surrender to His work of transformation.
The Bible tells us that we have a choice. We can be conformed to this world, or we can be transformed by God. He demonstrates this transformation in a simple seed.
When the seed sprouts into life, it does two things.
Deep roots are important for many reasons:
The bloom of a sunflower is fully open toward the sun, and it follows the sun as it makes its way across the sky. If you watch closely, you can observe the miracle of transformation at the heart of that sunflower as it produces seeds for the next generation.
Like the sunflower, when you surrender, God will transform you.You will sprout from death into life, just like that seed. You will grow roots that anchor deeply into the soil of this life. Roots that allow you to thrive during the storms of life. Roots that allow you to find the goodness of the rain in the midst of every storm.
Like the sunflower, you can follow closely after God. You can choose to be “face-to-face” in a relationship with God, because you belong to Him. He created you, He loves you, and He desires to transform you from the inside out.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
Thought to ponder:
The sunflower reveals the miracle of transformation that you can observe with your own eyes. If God can do this for an insignificant sunflower seed, what might He do for you?
Today marks week 7 of life interruption. In mid-May, my life changed quickly when I started having severe nerve pain from two damaged discs in my neck. For several days, I tried to keep going in my usual routine. But it didn’t take long for me to end up spending my days either in the recliner or lying flat most hours in the day. Nerve pain has a way of getting your attention!
When life comes to a screeching halt, it provides a unique opportunity to gain new perspective. Life moves from “default” mode to “dependence” mode. (Concept taught in Launching Multipliers, a personal discipleship curriculum by Ministry Catalysts.) Instead of being self-sufficient, I am dependent on many people to provide everything from medical care, meals, laundry, etc. And I am not a fan.
Even more importantly, from this vantage point, I can clearly see how I have been living in default mode in many areas of my life. I make my plans and ask God to bless them. I speed through the day, giving my Creator, Savior and Lord a portion of time. My day is filled doing things for God, for others, for myself. And there is a lot of “good” in there; but what would a life of dependence look like… dependence on God’s direction and plan? Exodus-style living where I move when the cloud moves and stay when the cloud stays…
Exodus 40:36-37 Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up.
Those who follow God move when God moves. Not before… not after… When.
My friend, I invite you to become a cloud watcher. It’s not the days that I “set out” that take the most faith and courage. It’s the days where I “did not set out” that are my greatest challenge. Those days where the cloud does not move and God tells me to wait and watch for His signal.
So I’m spending a lot more time watching birds these days. Many evenings, Jerry and I sit in the front room and watch the night fall over the landscape. Mornings are spent with my daughter, walking through 1 Thessalonians to see truths found in God’s Word together.
Days are simple. And I have a great view of the clouds.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” – Luke 4:16-21
When you hear the word “freedom”, what comes to mind? America? After all America is “the land of the free”. Is it the pursuit of happiness, whatever that may entail? There are many official definitions of freedom, such as the absence of subjugation or the absence of being imprisoned or enslaved. It is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one desires without hindrance or restraint.
I have read that America is one of the freest countries to ever exist, perhaps even THE most free. I have also recently read that the so-called experts say that the girth of the modern slave trade has eclipsed - by a wide margin - that of the 1800’s when it was supposedly in it’s heyday.
When we think of slavery, for most of us, it probably brings to mind the African slaves of the Colonies and the United States during it’s first 100 years or so. In short, we think of physical slavery.
Make no mistake, physical slavery is horrific, but the Bible is pretty clear that physical state is not nearly as important as the spiritual state. After all, the spiritual slaves are the ones that Jesus came to set free.
Thinking of slavery in the spiritual context, I would say that the United States is in a competition to be the most enslaved nation in the world. The real tragedy is that most spiritual slaves do not even realize they are in chains. I didn’t.
Until I realized that the hole in my life was Jesus shaped, I set about from one dark master to another. I can look back now and see it for what it was. I pursued these masters, they did not pursue me. Jesus kept freeing me from one after another, but I kept looking for (and finding) a new one. Jesus was my Savior, just not yet my Lord. I doubt that my experience is unusual.
There are so many potential masters lurking about, and so many folks that believe that they are their own masters. It is so easy to fall into the trap.
Although the focus of our society today seems to be on the slavery that occurred 150 years ago here in America, the real problem is the spiritual slavery that abounds today. Only Jesus can truly set us free.
I’m up early, sitting on the porch, taking advantage of one of those early summer cool fronts. The sun is rising, the weather is perfect, and God’s Word is so rich I can almost taste it. A while later the thunder begins to rumble; and within a few moments the rain is pouring, and I’m getting wet. As I close my Bible and begin to grumble, I hear the oddest thing. In the middle of the summer storm, I have a silly bird sitting in the top of my tree, singing its heart out. What an odd combination: a thunderstorm and a songbird.
As I scoot my chair back, grumbling about wet feet, God reminds me that I’m sitting on a comfortable porch. That silly bird doesn’t have a roof over its head, yet there it sits in my tree, soaking wet, singing praise to the Lord.
A while later, my stomach begins to grumble waiting for breakfast. That silly bird is still singing, and God reminds me that the rain prevents that bird from flying. There’s no breakfast insight for my feathered friend. Yet I hear no grumbling squawks, no arguing chirps, no aggravating cheeps - Just praise in its unanticipated fast.
As thunder rolls and lightning flashes, I’m thinking this might not be the safest place to sit; yet that silly bird never ceases it’s fearless praise of the Lord. And God reminds me again that in my weakness, He is perfectly strong. In my uncertainty, He is perfectly able. In my fear, He is my security. And the best I can do under any circumstance is to praise His Holy Name.
Thank you, Father, for such simple reminders to focus on the priorities. First things first, I praise Your Holy Name. When You created that bird inside its eggshell, You had a plan to use it to glorify Your Name. And when You knit me together in my mother’s womb, You planned to use this simple story to bless someone’s heart. So Father, remind us all to put first things first, and praise Your Holy Name.
Isaiah 49:13 “Shout for joy, you heavens! Earth, rejoice! Mountains break into joyful shouts! For the Lord has comforted His people, and will have compassion on His afflicted ones.”
Psalm 59:16-17 “But I will sing of Your strength and will joyfully proclaim Your faithful love in the morning. For You have been a stronghold for me, a refuge in my day of trouble. To You, my strength, I sing praises, because God is my stronghold—my faithful God.”
Philippians 4:4-7“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don't worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I love how Paul starts this passage. Not once, but twice, he tells us to rejoice in the Lord. He isn’t repeating himself because he’s run out of something to say. Listen to those words, and you will hear the urgency in his voice. There are so many distractions in this world that thrill and excite us; but Paul says that our source of joy is in God. So go ahead and celebrate! Cheer, be glad, take great delight, and find genuine satisfaction in the things of God.
Now if you are having a bad day, you might ask: Why should I rejoice? What is there to rejoice in today? Your answer is at the end of the passage, and it has everything to do with finding real peace in your life. Peace that settles into the deepest part of your soul can only come from God. God created you with a desire and a need for peace, and God will provide that peace within the context of his relationship with you; but Paul tells us that we must do something first. This is an “if – then” verse. If you do this, then God will do that. What is the “if” that God is waiting for in your life? He wants to demonstrate what it is to have real peace. Why is He waiting?
As you study this passage and meditate on this question, consider Paul’s circumstances as he penned these words. He’s a prisoner of Nero in Rome. This is the last in a long line of prison cells Paul has been forced to endure. He’s no stranger to suffering. He’s been beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, robbed, hungry, thirsty, cold, and naked (II Corinthians 11:24-27). Yet Paul tells us to rejoice, to be gracious, to not worry about anything, and to give thanks for the very things that trouble us. How could he possibly have learned to give thanks for the things that were bothering him?
If anyone can speak from the voice of experience, it’s Paul. Imagine the benefit to our Christian walk today if we begin to realize and apply the truth of which he speaks. Imagine the benefit if that truth sets us free from the anger and fear that so easily besets us. Imagine the peace of God which surpasses every scattered thought settling over your heart and into your mind. Imagine Jesus Christ himself standing guard as that peace takes up a permanent residence in your soul.
Praise God, you can stop imagining! This isn’t a fairy tale or a self-help skill. This is what happens in the context of a vibrant relationship with God. This is what happens as you seek God in prayer and He faithfully answers. This is what happens when you turn to Him with your worries and your fears, and He calms them. This is what happens when you praise Him in spite of your circumstances, and He is glorified. The peace of God which surpasses all understanding is evidence of a fulfilling relationship with the Living God.
If you are searching for real peace, then follow Paul’s advice. “Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus”(I Thessalonians 5: 16-18).