PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

I remember as a young girl practicing scales on the piano. It wasn’t my favorite part of playing. I wanted to play the songs right away, but in order to play the songs well, practicing the scales and doing the drills were necessary.  It was the same when I played basketball in high school. Our team had to work on the drills and practice the plays so we’d have more success in game situations. Really any activity from golf to painting, cooking to sewing, or even training a puppy the basics of ‘sit’, ‘stay’, etc. requires patience, perseverance and practice to prepare for success down the road.

                When life is looked upon as a giant practice field where opportunities of discipline and training exist in preparation for the resurrection life that is to come, even disappointments, hardships and irritating situations will become purposeful.

                To be able to walk worthy as a believer is called to, one must first be familiar with God’s instructions. The only way to do this is to prioritize reading and studying the Bible each day and then prayerfully putting what it says into practice.

                As in mastering an instrument, one must be able to recognize the notes before you can play it. Or in basketball, memorizing the plays before you can run them—so it is with the Christian walk. How can one practice what God has instructed if they haven’t read what He’s written for them in His Word? 

                To have any success in knowing God’s Word and practicing it effectively, it takes more than scanning through some verses here and there. It requires diligence, work, and careful care—dividing the word of truth in a way that’s approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:16). The payoff will be a mind that’s renewed, as well as the ability to discern God’s good, acceptable and perfect will(Romans 12:2, Col. 3:10, 2 Tim. 3:16, Heb. 11:6, Jer. 29:13, Gal. 5:22-23).

                ‘Practice’ isn’t based on outward works displayed to impress others with false humility. It deals with the inner man. The Proverbs are full of wisdom re: the heart of the inner man (Prov. 2:2, 4:23-27, 14:30, Prov. 23:7, 12…). The apostle Paul, in his prayer for the Ephesian believers, asked God for them to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man. A strong inner man/woman has their senses trained to discern both good and evil (Eph. 3:16, Heb. 5:14).

                How we respond when we’re tired, stressed, or don’t get our way matters. Do we display impatience, snap at others, raise our voices, complain, gossip, etc.?  All areas that incite our fleshly nature to act out in these ways are opportunities ‘to put into practice’ God’s ways, displaying the fruit of the Spirit instead (1 John 2:16-17, Gal. 5:16, 19-26).

                It’s not always easy and I fall short too often, but God’s grace is sufficient and His mercies are new every morning (2 Cor. 12:9, Lam. 3:22-23).  We all struggle in different areas of the flesh that we need extra ‘practice’ in. Some of mine are in the ‘verbal’ realm. Whether it’s dominating a conversation or trying to debate with those with differing ideas, opinions or beliefs than my own, I am convicted (sometimes afterwards) of God’s words of truth: “…be swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19); “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Phil. 2:3); “Don’t be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart say anything hastily before God…Therefore let your words be few…a fool’s voice is known by his many words” (Eccl. 5:2-3); or lastly “…a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition…” (2 Tim. 2:24-25). These exercises, even as I fail at them, remind me that it’s back to the ‘practice field’ awaiting another opportunity to hopefully ‘nail it’ next time, while accepting God’s chastisement in humility as He corrects in love.  Although it may not seem pleasant at the time, afterward it’ll yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness when we allow ourselves to be trained by it (Heb. 12:5-11, Gal. 5:22-23).

                The key for success on the playing field is to become aware of our areas of weakness that need to be crucified and replaced by the Lord Jesus Christ, which makes no room for the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21, 24, 1 John 2:16-17, Rom. 13:14). This is crucial as well as taking more care to pray up when a situation arises that one may be more inclined to be tempted to sin in (Phil. 4:6). Don’t be too hard on yourself when you fail—if at first you don’t succeed, ‘try, try again’. You can be confident that He Which has begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).

So put forth your time exercising and practicing toward the things that will make a difference on ‘game day’ (1 Tim. 4:7-8, 2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Laura                                                                                    

Good Tidings of Comfort & Joy

IMG_4261One of the earliest and most beloved Christmas carols, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” has appealed to many over the years due to its light, lively style and upbeat tempo. Not only does the music reflect the joy in the ‘good tidings’ (or good news) of the birth of Christ, but the lyrics as well. Christ’s birth, after all, is something to be celebrated and this enduring carol is a reminder of that. Interestingly the old English meaning of the word “rest” in the title of the song meant to “keep” or “make”, encouraging those of the time period it was written to allow God to “keep” or “make” them merry and then went on to tell the reasons why.

Even though the day we celebrate Christmas is not when Christ was actually born, it’s a day we set aside to celebrate God’s goodness & promises fulfilled of the coming Savior. God’s written prophecy is important. Romans 15:4 says, “For whatever things were written before was written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”

Here are some of the prophecies fulfilled when Christ was born:                                 •He would be born of the offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15)—fulfilled: Luke 2:7, Gal. 4:4; •He would come from the tribe of Judah (Micah 5:2)—fulfilled: Matt. 1:1-3, Heb. 7:14, Rev. 5:5; •He would be born in the town of Bethlehem of Judea (Micah 5:2-5) —fulfilled: Matt. 2:1-6; •He would be born a king of the line of David (Isaiah 9:6-7) —fulfilled: Matt. 1:1, Luke 1:32, Acts 13:22-23; •He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) —fulfilled: Matt. 1:18-23, Luke 1:26-35; •He would be a rod out of the stem of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-2) —fulfilled: Matt. 1:6, Acts 13:22-23; •He would have an eternal existence, “Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2) —confirmed: John 1:1-2, 8:58, Col. 1:15-19.

Christmas is about God’s faithfulness now and the hope (for those that believe in Christ) for what God has promised in His Word. This is what brings one comfort & joy in the midst of loss, trying times, and the hardships of living in this present fallen world.

As we understand and embrace these good tidings of joy, we’re also encouraged to share them with those around us—shining God’s love and hope to our dark world (Rom. 15:5, 2 Cor. 1:3-4, Phil. 2:1-2).

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember, Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day.
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r when we were gone astray,

O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

From God our Heav’nly Father a blessed Angel came,
And unto certain Shepherds brought tidings of the same:
How that in Bethlehem was born the Son of God by Name,

O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

“Fear not then, “said the Angel, “Let nothing you afright,
This day is born a Savior a blessed holy sight,
To free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s pow’r and might.”

O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Now to the Lord sing praises, all you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace;
This Holy Child of Christmas shall fill our hearts with grace:

O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Have a Merry Christmas with Good Tidings of Comfort and Joy!

Laura

CONTENTMENT IN EVERY STATE

In whatever state be content us map

Are you satisfied or do you yearn for more?

As I get older and sift through ‘stuff’ I’ve purchased and slowly collected through the years (trying to decide whether to discard, give-a-way or repurpose) & also tend to the upkeep and needs of our aging 20 year old home, the thought of time spent on ‘stuff’ that doesn’t last permeates my mind (Matt. 6:19-20, 2 Cor. 4:16-18, Col. 3:1-3).
I truly desire to minimize managing my ‘stuff’ as I believe that this is one of the enemy’s most deceptive tactics to keep us derailed away from the purpose God has for our lives. The worldly mindset of staying current with the ever changing modern technology & social media—trending home décor—the latest fashions—beauty, health, exercise and diets to keep the illusion of youth & looking outwardly like we ‘have it all together’ can be time consuming and exhausting!
I aspire to be more like the apostle Paul who could truly testify to the statement that, “…I have learned, in whatsoever state I am…to be content” (Phil. 4:11). He, after all, was imprisoned numerous times, often brought near death with countless beatings. He was lashed 39 times, beaten with rods 3 times, even stoned once. He was shipwrecked 3 times including a night & day adrift at sea. On frequent journeys, in the city, wilderness and sea, he experienced danger from rivers, robbers, his own people, and Gentiles. Paul toiled in hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food and in cold and exposure. And if that wasn’t enough to bear, there was the daily pressure and anxiety on him for all the churches he was ministering to (2 Cor. 11:23-29). He had good reason to be discontent but instead boasted of things that showed his weakness and of those things that he was allowed to suffer with that kept him from becoming conceited. He truly knew and understood through experience that God’s grace was sufficient for him and contrary to the world’s ways, God’s power was made perfect in weakness, for when he was weak, then he was strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
King Solomon, on the other hand, although he’d been blessed with great wisdom, ‘played the fool’ as he amassed riches, property, treasures, wives (700), and concubines (300). He had the most & best of everything (1 Kings 10:23, 11:3, Eccl. 2:10). The 3 steps of his downfall were wealth, weapons, and women (1 Kings 10:14-29, 16-21, 11:1-40). If he’d only heeded the Lord’s instruction he would not have been led astray and turn toward idolatry (Deut. 17:16-17, 1 Kings 3:14, 9:4-9, 11:4-8). Thankfully at his life’s end he came to his senses, realizing that all of it was vanity and that only through “fearing God” and heeding God’s Word can one truly be satisfied (Eccl. 12:8, 13-14).
All of us, as well, when we veer from the Lord’s Word that instructs and guides us in the best way to live in our fallen world, slip out of contentment too (2 Timothy 3:16). Time after time, with example after example, from Adam & Eve to Abraham, David, Solomon, … whenever one leaned on his own (fallible) understanding and the world’s bent ways, the path that they veered on led to heartache and woe (Prov. 3:5-7).

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that “…godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it’s certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:6-10). Note he doesn’t say money in itself is bad, but the desire for it. It’s the ‘love of money’—always looking toward it to fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). Paul goes on to write for those who are rich to not be high-minded or trust in uncertain riches but instead in the living God, Who gives richly all things to enjoy. They should be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life (1 Tim. 6:17-19). When our conduct is without covetousness (the love of money), we can be content with what we presently have (Heb. 13:5).


So as you can see, contentment isn’t a ‘stop on the way’, it’s our gauge of where we are in relation to our trust in the Lord—at all times—in hardships, periods of struggle, grief, or pain to times of joy, bounty, and rest. Our aim should be to stay on an ‘even keel’ with life’s ups and downs and realize that when we’re feeling like we’re being ‘rocked out of the boat’; we most likely allowed fear of something to creep in.

As Paul encouraged the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;” and the result of this will be, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

I know that when I feel like I’m heading toward ’going overboard’ or ’capsizing’ in my life, I pause to think about what I didn’t give over to the Lord in prayer and in what way I’m not trusting in Him, but leaning on my own understanding. I also remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). The power that God gives is so mighty that it can pull down any stronghold, as we cast down any thoughts that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God and bring them into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5, Eph. 6:10). If we meditate on God’s Word and the areas that He instructs us to focus on—the things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8), we’ll have less time to look to the things that are temporary and perishing– as all men and women’s lives end in death—returning to dust and the spirit to God the Giver (2 Cor. 4:16-18, Eccl. 3:18-20, 7:2, 12:7-8, Col. 3:1-3).
We can rejoice and be content as God supplies all our needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus as we await our blessed hope and His appearing (Titus 2:13, Col. 3:4, Phil. 4:19, 2 Cor. 12:9)!
    Laura

God's Grace is Sufficient