Have you ever felt caught in a spiritual desert, circling around and around, wondering if you would ever be free? Have you ever heard Jesus’ promise to the weary and burdened, and questioned why Jesus said his yoke is easy and light? Have you ever read the passage about living water and ached to understand what Jesus meant when he promised that those who drank would never thirst?
These are important questions to wrestle with, and if we let them, they can lead us to a closer walk with God. God drew me to salvation around age 17, and since then he has worked slowly but constantly to captivate the focus of my life. In many ways the early years of my faith can be summarized by Deut. 8:2-4, which speaks of God leading his children through the wilderness, allowing them to hunger in order to humble them and teach them how they cannot live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. As a single young woman, I have battled with feeling empty and distant from God, feeling incomplete and feeling like a slave to pride, but I have been set free from these battles through the truth of God’s word. Now, less tossed by emotions and more anchored by God’s promises, my desire and passion is for God, and to disciple and inspire other believers to delve more deeply into the truth that sets us free.
Experiencing the overflowing life
Psalm 1 gives us a metaphor which shows God’s vision for the Christian life, of a man who is blessed by God and stands like a tree planted by rivers of water. It yields fruit in the seasons it is intended to, its leaf does not wither because it is constantly fed by the stream, and it prospers in all that it does.
That is God’s desire for us, and it is a blessing promised to the man who does two things: First, he turns away from sin (Ps.1:1). Disobedience separates us from God, and without repenting and turning from our sinful ways, we will never experience God’s blessing. Second, he meditates day and night on God’s word and commands (Ps.1:2). We are told in 1 Peter 2:2 that we must crave the pure milk of God’s word so that we will grow. We must be transformed in the truth so we can experience the overflowing life God has promised, and transformation takes time. It happens little by little. Here are some keys to remember in that journey.
Keys for the journey
The first thing we must have is a firm foundation of faith. Hebrews 11:1 says faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. So in the times when we cannot see or cannot feel what we ought to feel, we still believe. Verse six tells us the two truths that anchor us through our emotional ups and downs: (1) We believe that God is – he is with us, he is watching over us, he is in control – and; (2) He will reward those who diligently seek him – he hears our prayers, treasures each one and delights to draw us closer and deeper into his love.
Second, we need to keep our motivation before our eyes. In Philippians 3:14 Paul says he is pressing on toward the prize. What is the prize which drives him forward? The answer is found in the context. Later, Paul says “I count all things loss for the excellence of knowing Christ . . . I count them as rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” It is Christ, and a yearning to know his love and glory that drives Paul onward. Our Lord is so worthy of our pursuit and, like finding a treasure hidden in a field, it takes time and effort for us to discover just how glorious he is. It is easy in the search to know Jesus to lose sight of him. It is easy to forget about his amazing grace and love that never fails, and about the freedom and joy and life we can taste in his presence. That is why Paul exhorts us to keep our eyes on the prize.
Third, we need to discipline ourselves and train like athletes for the race God has set before us. The biggest thing that stands in the way of our pursuit of God is our own flesh. Our flesh is our selfish yearning for comfort, pleasure and ease. Galatians 5:17 says that our flesh desires what is opposite to the spirit, so in order to follow the spirit “you may not do the things that you please.” Our culture tells us that love is spontaneous. Often we think that if we have to be “scheduled in,” it means we are not truly valued and loved; thus, in our relationships with God, we don’t want to schedule times for the Lord, but we want to be inspired and drawn into his presence by burning adoration. But what do we do when the fire is not burning? When our hearts are dull to the reality of his amazing love? The truth is that love is not a feeling; rather, it is a choice of devotion to someone. Just like a husband or wife will not always have warm feelings for their spouse, but must choose to foster love by spending time with them and caring for them, so also we must choose to foster our love for God by spending time alone with him. Corrie ten Boom once said, “Don’t pray when you feel like it. Rather, have an appointment with the Lord, and keep it!”
Equipped by the sword of truth
Finally, we must never forget that we are in a spiritual battle and Satan will do everything in his power to keep us from being made strong. Our sword of the Spirit is the word of God (Eph. 6:17) and the enemy of our souls wants to keep us from being equipped by the truth to stand. He will try everything to distract us, filling our minds with all the things that must be done in the moment that we consider spending time in God’s word. Satan will tempt us, whispering that we can read the Bible later, but then activities will never stop and later will never come unless we decide to make the time. When we sit down to read, the enemy will plant distracting thoughts to cause our minds to wander, but we can command him to be silent in the name of the Lord Jesus, and then set our minds upon our reading, seeking to understand and praying for insight.
The Lord Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith, and he has promised that he will draw near to those who draw near to him (James 4:8). May that be our hope and trust in 2016, and when we fail to seek him, may his love and unending mercy be our comfort, and may his grace motivate us to get back up and try again.
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