Cultivating Intimacy

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It’s easy to fall into rote behaviors. To pray without thinking; to worship half-heartedly with our mouth singing one thing while our mind jumps to every task awaiting us. To read Scripture without personalizing and digesting the precious, intimate, life-changing Words of God.

It happens every year, it seems. Actually, more like every month, but admitting such would be far too self-disclosing. Somehow, my to-do list begins to grow, tugging at my heart, my mind, my worship. And when that happens, I’m left with two choices: keep going as if busyness is somehow normal and desirable, as if it’s perfectly okay to allow the temporal to crowd out the eternal–to keep me from the One person, the only One, who can strengthen, nourish, refresh, and fulfill me. Or I can stop! And make a conscious choice to slow down.

King David’s words to his son, right before assigning him a monumental task that would take decades to complete, really resonated with me this morning.

“…learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve Him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the Lord sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek Him, you will find Him” (1 Chron. 28:9 NLT).

Learn to know God intimately.

Worship and serve Him with [my] whole heart. An undivided heart. A focused and surrendered heart. And a willing mind, AbideVersejpg-photopublicdomainwhich means, I need to surrender my mind, and all those lists and agendas that run through it in a given day, to the lover of my soul. If I do that, if I intentionally seek Him, I will find Him.

Today, I need to unplug. Slow down. Rest and connect. And I plan to intentionally fill that need. This morning my sweet hubby and I are going to a lavender farm not too far from us, so we can enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, a creation that naturally draws the heart to the Creator. We’ll listen to praise music. Pray. And simply rest.

What about you? When was the last time you set your to-do list aside and simply slowed down? What are some ways, when your heart and mind feel pulled in a thousand directions, that you still it and center it in worship?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, and have a happy, restful, worshipful weekend!

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A Cry for Help

Today we start a new Reach Out month with a great post by Ada Brownell. As I read her story, I was reminded of all the ways God cares for us. Sending someone to help just when we need it, prompting someone to call or send us a card. And I imagine for most of us, there’s been many times when we’ve been on the other end–sensing God’s nudging, telling us to reach out to one of His children. Sometimes that may mean sending a letter or offering a hug. Other times, the moment might be a bit more serious.

A CRY FOR HELP By Ada Brownell

The phone rang.

When I answered, a woman’s voice explained the elderly widower, John, who lives across the street, punched the emergency gadget around his neck to summon help. Since we signed up to take calls, she phoned us.

“Could you please check on him and see if he is O.K.?” she asked.

Quickly I phoned my husband, who had gone to the store, and then ran over to the tri-level where John lives. The garage door was upon, so I barreled through, side-stepping a crimson pool about the size of a cake plate. There sat the old white-haired man on a white plastic lawn chair in the back of the garage, his face covered with blood.

“The emergency service called,” I explained. “What happened?”

“I fell. Passed out. So I called an ambulance.”

Stepping closer, I listened for sirens and heard none. I talked to him about the event, explaining that my husband, Les, was on his way to help.

“Would you like me to pray for you while they’re coming?” I asked. I had prayed with him before.

“Yes,” he said, his bloodshot eyes looking up at me. And then with slightly slurred speech he added, “I need all the prayer I can get.”

I prayed, and he seemed comforted.

Still no sirens. We live close to the hospital, so I have heard them by now, but nothing. He leaned forward. His eyes closed, and then he slipped down and started to tumble to the floor. I grabbed him, but the weight to keep him from dropping to the concrete was almost too much for me.

Then the old man roused, and seemed all right for a few minutes. Les arrived just in time to help when the gentleman passed out again. Les helped me hold the man in the chair.

“Go inside and get a cold rag to put on his head,” Les said.

I’m not one to barge into someone’s home uninvited, but I went, all the time wishing I had grabbed plastic gloves before I left home. Working as a medical reporter and after being in and around hospitals often I knew exposing yourself to blood is risky. I worried most about hepatitis.

After opening several cabinets in the utility room, I found some rags, chose one, wet it in the nearby sink and ran back out and held the cool cloth to our neighbor’s forehead.

“Thank you,” he said, seeming to be more alert.

The cloth warmed next to his skin as I held it. He seemed aware of the blood all over his face, apparently from a bloody nose. I thought of who he was in his prime, a former air traffic controller, probably quite dignified and different from the frail, shuffling man with the bulbous nose we knew now.

I turned the cloth and then used it to wipe the blood off his face. The white fabric was red now against my bare hand, but as I prayed for him it was as if I were doing the deed as an extension of the arm of Jesus, but also as a “cup of water in His name.” After all, I am a Christian and carry His name.

Les had called our neighbor’s son at work and he arrived soon and took his dad to the hospital, because the ambulance never came. The old man had misunderstood and thought when he pressed the emergency caller around his neck that he’d called an ambulance.

A few days later, he had a pacemaker surgically inserted into his heart and now is doing better.

God gave me peace about using my bare hands to wipe away blood, although I imagine if it occurred again, I’d grab plastic gloves we keep around and use when we paint.

I’ve said over and over during my life that I’m not the “nurse” type of individual, except with family. Yet, it seems the Lord doesn’t worry too much about our specialties when he needs someone.

That’s the way it seems my work for the Lord goes. Although many people are more qualified, God needs somebody at the moment, and I’m available.

Most days there is no crisis, but John is lonely. When we have dessert or I cook too much food, I share with John. When I go outside and he’s out, I visit with him a while. It’s really not much, but I’m rewarded with his and the Lord’s gratitude.

Ada Brownell is the author of Swallowed by LIFE Mysteries of Death, Resurrection and the Eternal

A retired medical journalist asks, “Do you know evidence shows we’re more than a physical body?” The book speaks about this mystery and the evidence; the wonder of life with all its electrical systems; the awesome truth about cell death and regeneration; brain death; mysteries surrounding the change from mortal to immortal; where we go when our body dies; resurrection; and a glimpse at what we will do in heaven. Questions and answers make this a great book for group study.

Ada Brownell spent 17 years as a daily newspaper reporter and has written for Christian publications since age 16. Her published writing includes two books, Swallowed by LIFE: Mysteries of Death, Resurrection and the Eternal http://amzn.to/Jnc1rW, and Confessions of a Pentecostal, out of print but now available for Kindle http://buff.ly/KmLPMi

Ada still writes op-ed pieces for newspapers; has more than 275 articles and stories in Christian publications; chapters in several books, including “50 Tough Questions” (Gospel Publishing House). Website/blog: www.inkfromanearthenvessel.blogspot.com.

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I want to give a shout-out to September’s Reach Out Donors:

Simple Faith by Eddie Snipesthe Road to Mercy by Kathy HarrisThe Other Side of Darkness by Linda Rondeau, and Love Turns the Tide by Gail Pallotta. Kathy Harris, is also donating Karyn Williams’ musical CD entitled Only You.

There’s a song I love that says, “I will go.” I often pray that God helps me live those words out because honestly, I recognize my frequent tendency to stay. This post reminded me never to take God’s nudges lightly because truly, we don’t know what He’s calling us to until we get there.

What about you? When have you felt God nudge you to do something and later found out it the event was a bigger deal than you’d expected? Or when has God sent someone to you at that perfect time? Tell us about it.

Reaching Out to the Broken

We’ve all had times when the world seems to be pressing down on us. When we receive tragic news and are in desperate need of comfort. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (NLT).

God sees every tear we cry and, amidst our pain, reaches down to comfort us–most often through His children.  Today author Sandra Robbins shares a touching and courageous story of how God used her to bring comfort to a precious woman facing the unimaginable.

Reaching Out on an Airport Shuttle by Sandra Robbins

People who know me find it hard to believe that I am really a rather reserved person. I have never had trouble standing before an audience to speak or to sing. In college I received a degree in music with the piano as my major instrument, and I have never feared playing in front of large groups. The problem for me has always been the one-on-one experience when I must put myself out there to another person. I am very private and don’t share my thoughts easily even though I encourage others to do that with me.

So when it comes to reaching out to another individual I find myself out of my comfort zone. A few years ago, though, I had an experience where God urged me to respond to someone I didn’t even know but who was evidently suffering.

I was excited that day as I arrived at the airport to fly to Texas for a visit with my daughter’s family. But I wasn’t as excited as were the men on the packed shuttle bus that picked me up in parking lot. Since this was during March Madness, I knew right away from their clothing and their boisterous voices that they were on their way to a basketball game. I squeezed past the ones standing in the aisle and reached a bench that ran along the side of the bus. I sat down, my knees almost touching a woman sitting on the bench facing me.

A man sat beside her, his arm around her shoulder, and she shook with sobs as she stared at a picture in her hand. I was stunned to find someone in so much agony sitting in the midst of so much merriment. Although I tried to look away, something made me reach out and touch her knee. When she looked up, I said, “Is there something I can pray for you about?”

Fresh tears streamed down her face. “Yes, please,” she said. “My sixteen-year-old daughter was in a wreck on her way to school this morning when the car her boyfriend was driving skidded on some ice and hit a tree. She’s not expected to live, and I’m trying to get to her.” She held out her hand. “This is her picture.”

I stared down at the face of a beautiful young girl in a cheerleader uniform, and my heart broke for this mother. As I began to offer up my prayer for this young girl, we arrived at the terminal, and the mother was off the bus almost before it stopped. I caught a glimpse out the window of her running toward the terminal door.

I don’t know who she was, where she lived, or if her daughter did indeed die. The only thing I do know is that God nudged me to reach out to a stranger who needed comfort, and I obeyed. It was enough that she went with the knowledge that a stranger prayed for her in her time of need. I still think of her often and pray she has peace in her life.

My Book

            I’m really excited about my new historical romance Angel of the Cove, the first book in the Smoky Mountains Dreams Series, that released August 1. It’s 1894, and new opportunities are available for young women who want to become nurses. Anna Prentiss’s dream of becoming a student at Bellevue Hospital in New York and working in their maternity ward after graduation depends on the report concerning her abilities that her family gets from a legendary mountain midwife in the Smoky Mountains.

Anna is determined to prove herself as she travels to Cades Cove, Tennessee, a remote valley in the mountains, to assist a midwife who practices under primitive conditions, but she hasn’t counted on meeting Simon Martin, a mountain preacher who grieves his own lost dreams. She has withstood her family’s objections to going to New York, but she never expected her heart would also become her adversary.

As attraction between the two grows, Anna is determined nothing will keep her from her goal, and Simon fears he is losing his new dream of having Anna stay in the Cove with him. Will they continue to dwell on their personal desires, or can they surrender their futures to God and allow Him to make them one heart that is responsive to His will?

But it here!

Sandra Robbins and her husband live in the small college town where she grew up. Until a few years ago she was working as an elementary school principal, but God opened the door for her to become a full-time writer.  Her books have been finalists in the Daphne du Maurier Contest for excellence in mystery writing, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, the Holt Medallion, and the ACFW Carol Award. Since Sandra is a Southerner by birth, she enjoys setting her historical romance and romantic suspense books in both the past and present-day South. To find out more about Sandra and her books go to http://sandrarobbins.net or send her an email at sandra@sandrarobbins.net

Thanks to August’s Reach Out Donors!

Eddie Snipes with I Called Him Dancera novel quite fitting for this campaignJoAnn Durgin with Second Time AroundEileen Rife with Second Chanceanother novel with an outreach focus; Sandra Robbins with Fatal Disclosure, and Ann Lee Miller with Kicking Eternity.
Do you have a Reach Out story to share? Send it to me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com. Authors, agents, and publishers, if you have a book you’d like to donate to my Reach Out Campaign, shoot me an email at the same address.

Grabbing Hold of God Moments

A while back, after one particularly crabby day, my daughter looked at me and said, “You forgot to pray today, didn’t you?”

Standing in our kitchen, schooled by a child, I realized how much truth she packed in that statement. Amidst the hustle and bustle of my day, I’d inadvertently left God out of the equation, and it showed. The peace that surpassed understanding? Forgot to grab hold of it. The strength made perfect in weakness? Missed that one, too. By neglecting to connect with my Power-source, I’d trudged through my day ill-equipped and overwhelmed. 

Our “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” generation tells us to work harder, strive longer, grit your teeth and get it done, but God flips that. He says, “Slow down and come to me, and let me guide you through life’s hurdles.” God never intended for us to walk through life alone. He’s always there, watching, ready to help us move from stress to peace and fear to victory. All we need to do is abide. He’ll take care of the rest.

The 19th century theologian, E.M. Bounds, said, “The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. He who fritters away the early morning, its opportunity and freshness, in other pursuits than seeking God will make poor headway seeking Him the rest of the day. If God is not first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, He will be in the last place the remainder of the day.”

Fritters away the morning. When I neglect my prayer time, that’s what I do. Run around, expending a large amount of energy, accomplishing little. And yet, when I take the time to pause and connect with God, He stills my heart, fills me with truth and clarity, and helps me navigate through the chaos of my day.

I’ve learned when it comes to my relationship with God, the age-old phrase, “It’s about quality, not quantify” rings true. As a mom, most days I don’t have the time to lock myself in a prayer closet, but I do have snippets of time sprinkled throughout my day that can be grabbed and cherished. It’s about recognizing and catching those continual God-moments.

Most often, it’s a mind-set, a realization that God’s there, ever-present. It’s about inviting God to do life with me, whether I’m cleaning toilets or singing praises. Because I’m easily distracted by the here and now, I often use little reminders to help me pause and focus on God.

I tape notes on my steering wheel with a verse or a prayer request. This turns the countless minutes spent waiting at stoplights into cherished God-moments that add peace to the rest of my day.

I set reminders on my phone. When the alarm chimes, I pause for a minute or two to talk to God or remember a verse from my morning Bible reading.

I tape a challenge or “life-change” verse on the inside of our door so that I can pause to commit my day to God each time I leave the house.

I ask God for help turning my day over to Him, clinging to the promise of James 4:8 which says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” This reminds me that God is always there, whether I feel His presence or not.

And finally, I toss out all-or-nothing thinking that tells me prayer must be formal to be effective. When thinking of my relationship with God, I’m often reminded of my marriage. It doesn’t take much for my heart to connect with my husband. On his days off, I enjoy just having him around, whether we are talking or co-existing. It’s about doing life together and knowing we’re united.

I believe our spiritual walk can be strengthened if we view it in the same way. God loves it when we carve out time in our busy day to rest at His feet, but He longs for more. He wants to be a part of our entire day. He’s already there, watching us, loving us. The goal, then, is to recognize His presence, grab hold of it, and cherish it.

What about you? How do you find–make–time for God amidst your busy day? Notice a difference when you do? Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about how to grab hold of those God moments.

Hello…Anyone Listening?

Last night at church we talked about the first commandment–thou shall have no other God’s before Me. Then we talked about how rarely we live this one out. No, we don’t have images made from stone or wood, but we have our idols none the less–those things we hold so tightly, they’ve subtly gained control of our heart. Sometimes even good things can become bad, when gripped too tightly. For me, it’s a constant battle, requiring a constant heart check. Where does my obedience truly lie? Am I really living for Christ and Christ alone, or am I straddling two worlds hoping they’ll somehow merge?

So how do you know when that thing’s become the Thing? When you can’t let it go. When it dominates your thoughts and becomes the central reason for your actions. How do you make the Thing a thing? I’m not sure of that one. I know in my life, my heart, if left alone, quickly darkens. Each day I have to pray for God’s purifying intervention. I pray that He draws my heart toward Him, softens it to the things of Him, and removes anything in me that does not bring Him glory. But quite honestly, the praying’s easy. It’s the doing that gets tough, because inevitably, God shows me something that needs changing, dropping, adding, confessing. And anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it sins. There’s no self-justification here. No, “Well, I wasn’t sure if that was God’s will for me.” God’s not buying it. More often than not, the question is not do we know God’s will, but do we have the courage to obey, even if it doesn’t make sense or means giving up something we hold dear.

Today’s devo first appeared on Ashley Clark’s blog, Everydays.

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The original title: God May Be Calling, But What IF the Line’s Busy?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what happens when God places a call on our lives, but we’re a little too busy with all our good efforts to pick up. Who’s on the other line? Well, it’s probably not Satan incarnate, unless you are really outside my typical blog audience.
 


More likely, it’s those nice folks at church, asking if you can volunteer for a few more service projects. Or maybe it’s a coworker who wants to know if you can pick up a few extra hours.

Or if you’re like me, maybe it’s yourself. And no, I’m not schizophrenic.

I’ve seen this happen to friends who hold the idea of their “ministry” so close to their hearts that they are inflexible when God Himself brings a change to their plans, and I’ve done this many times personally when God is telling me to relax and I feel the need to explain how concerning and significant my efforts are.

The conversation goes something like this, “God, I know You’re listening, and I know you care, but this stuff I’m doing here is pretty important, so please help it work out the best way it possibly can, and please give me strength as I work so hard to exhaust every possible avenue to make this happen.”

When really, the prayer should be more like this: “God, I’m listening. And I’ll follow.”

The. End.

I challenge you today to live in faith rather than in a form of faith that’s really driven by self-imposed, false humility and a legalistic, works-based salvation structure. Remember that it is by grace and grace alone we are redeemed, and all we are that is good is because of Christ’s work in us.

So stop trying too hard to BE that person, whatever he or she looks like in your mind, and realize you already ARE if Christ is at work, living within you.
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Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with Southern grace. She’s currently working on her master’s in English with an anticipated spring 2011 graduation date. When she’s not writing, she enjoys teaching English Composition I and Introduction to Literature. She lives on the Gulf Coast with her husband and two rescued Cocker Spaniels. You can find out more about her and her writing at Everydays and Kaitlyn’s Reply.

And remember, if you loved today’s devo, fb share it, “like” it, tweet it, or leave a comment. And, take a few moments to visit Ashley’s blog. She’s a wonderful sister in Christ who has a fun way with words! And a heart that spills grace and joy on all she meets.

(You might also enjoy reading my interview of Dr. Senske, author of The Calling: Live a Life of Significance on Reflections today.)