How to Open Your Eyes to the Presence of God

Just because we have eyes that see does not mean we use them to see what we should.  

Close your eyes and think of everything around you that is green.  I remember the plant in the corner and the green tapestry in the drapes.  Now look around you and notice everything that is green. I see the palm trees on the coaster, the number on a dollar bill, the color of a pack of gum my husband left on the desk, the pencil holder, a button on my cell phone, the binding on a couple books on the shelf....actually, there is a lot more green around me than I realized!  I had to put on my "green glasses" to see them.

In the same way, we can develop "God glasses" - sensitivity to seeing evidence of what we know to be true about God in our lives, to see Him at work in us and around us.  If we know that God is with us, that He is omnipresent, how much time do we spend noticing? How can we see better?

Donald Whitney, associate professor of spiritual formation, gives some practical steps to opening your eyes to God's presence (from Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health):

  1. Go often to the place where God has revealed Himself most clearly - the Bible.  Absorb it, linger over it, let it percolate the soil of your soul.
  2. Acknowledge His presence with you by talking with Him.
  3. Seek Him in the manifestations of His presence in congregational worship.  His presence there is accessible in ways different than solitary worship.
  4. Continually reaffirm the truth that He is omnipresent.
I would add praying - being in conversation with God throughout the day, asking Him to give you His eyes to see as He sees, to love as He loves, to forgive as He forgives.  And then listening.  

The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, & Beauty - Book Review

“I’m not religious, but I am a Christ follower.” I hear this in my circle of friends and guilty of saying it myself.  It seems no one wants to admit to being "religious", because religion is rules, dogma, and rituals.  Following Jesus isn’t about those things, even though it does involve disciplines and doctrines and walking in Truth. 

Dwight Longenecker raises the question, though, of what “religious” actually means, when he looks at the origin of the word as one who has reverence for the sacred.  Christianity as a religion should not be boring or bland.  It’s not about being good.  Following Jesus is a valiant quest, a battle with darkness, and the discovery of something to die for, which gives us something to live for – the reality of the truth and beauty in Jesus and His work on the cross.

Dwight Longenecker’s book The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty is not about romance in the sense of lovers, but rather, the love of beauty and truth in the quest for understanding.  The religious romantic questions everything because he wishes to understand.  He is on a quest for the hidden treasure for truth and has a map to find it. 

God gives us the greatest story ever – one that is actually true. Wielding his linguistic sword, Longenecker appeals to myths, tales, literature, and movies to show the longing in our hearts for goodness, truth, beauty, and justice because they are God given desires. These ultimately point to the greatest truest story of all, displaying the beauty of the gospel – the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He paints a picture showing the cross to be enchanting, delightful, real, and worth fighting for.

Dwight Longenecker is a Catholic priest, but the differences between Protestant and Catholic theologies are not vividly detectable.  His explicit understanding of the Gospel shines through toward the latter portion of the book. He presents a defense for the truth of the resurrection and the truth of God’s Word with elegant rationale combined with a passion that moves the reader to take a courageous stand.

I loved this book because it helped me to look at the Bible from a different angle and see just how wild and beautiful God’s story is.  He gave me permission to go ahead and love fairy tales and fantasy stories and to see how they point toward the True Story and the adventure of following Jesus. 

This book will not appeal to everyone.  If you are artistic or a romantic at heart, in love with stories and imagination, or if you wish you were, this book might appeal to you and open your eyes to a new way of seeing the adventurous and crazy journey of following Jesus.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.

Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health

My small group leader urged us to read the Bible every day because it will completely change us.  I've been reading the Bible every day for many years, but am I changed?  I've been contemplating this question all week, from whether I am really changed to how I could be reading my Bible better.  I stumbled across a book in my public library by Donald Whitney called Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Heath, and discovered that over the years, God truly has been changing me and still has a lot more transformation to accomplish.  The transformation has been gradual, but occurring, nonetheless.

Donald Whitney, associate professor of spiritual formation, asks the following questions in assessing spiritual growth:
1.  Do you thirst for God?
2.  Are you governed increasingly by God's Word?
3.  Are you more loving?
4.  Are you more sensitive to God's presence?
5.  Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others?
6.  Do you delight in the bride of Christ?
7.  Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you?
8.  Do you still grieve over sin?
9.  Are you a quick forgiver?
10.  Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus?

Some of these I could not say yes to five years ago, and I am encouraged to be able to see that indeed, God IS changing me.

Types of Spiritual Disciplines

What qualifies as a "spiritual discipline" for the Christ follower?  Adele Calhoun has a list of nearly a hundred spiritual disciplines in her book Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us;.

She says “The Christian life is not so much a set of behaviors as it is an orientation of the soul toward God and His Kingdom” (page 206).  That’s the goal of the spiritual disciplines – to open us up and provide the means through which God may choose to pour Himself into us.

There are a variety of ways to categorize the spiritual disciplines.  Here are a few opinions:
·         Richard Foster – inward, outward, and corporate
·         Dallas Willard – engagement, abstinence
·         Adele Calhoun – worshiping, opening, relinquishing, sharing, hearing, loving, and praying
·         Donald Whitney – Bible intake, prayer, evangelism, etc. – intertwined

In the women’s Bible study at my church, we are studying the following disciplines because they are what believers and what Jesus practiced in the Bible:
  • Reading Scripture
  • Learning/Studying
  • Memorizing Scripture
  • Scripture meditation
  • Applying Scripture
  • Stewardship
  • Prayer
  • Worship
  • Fasting
  • Silence and solitude
  • Evangelism
  • Journaling
  • Serving
  • Learning
 Not everyone agrees on what is considered a ‘spiritual discipline’, but some others that God can use to transform us include:
  • Simplicity
  • Submission
  • Confession
  • Celebration
  • Contemplation
  • Examen
  • Relinquishment
  • Voluntary Poverty

Whatever spiritual disciplines we choose to practice, our part is to offer ourselves lovingly and obediently to God so that we can know He has come to us and will work in us.  

Just the Facts? The Problem of Text without Context...

“Let the science speak for itself,” my boss told me.  As scientists, we look at the facts.  But it’s never just the facts.  Facts have to be interpreted.

So I did. I re-evaluated the facts and drew my conclusions. 

Then, my boss tells me in frustration, “You can make science say whatever you want it to say.”  

Rather, what I think he meant was that you can start with a biased conclusion and then pull out the facts that you want to support it.  We both had the same sets of facts but were drawing different conclusions.

Not just in science, but in theology, this occurs as well.  The Bible contains the ‘facts’. Sometimes people start with a biased conclusion and then pull out the facts from the Bible that support it.  This is called ‘pretext’.  The facts may be taken out of context in such a way to support the already-determined conclusion. Thus, the saying that originate with D.A. Carson, “text without context is pretext.”

We should let the Bible speak for itself, to let God speak to us for Himself through His Word.  It is impossible to approach the Bible and science with a blank slate and no presuppositions, but awareness of our presuppositions is a good start to right interpretation. 

I resolve be a theologian and a scientist who is not guilty of pretexting.

Spiritual Disciplines - More Than a Checklist

My practice of spiritual disciplines in my past have bordered on a check-list mentality.  Read my Bible, check.  Prayed, check. Meditated on and memorized a verse or passage, check.  I can be disciplined in these tasks daily.  But does my discipline to accomplish these tasks change me? Maybe a little. Maybe not as much as they could or should.  And now I know the secret of success. 

The secret of success in the spiritual disciplines is the same as it is for any type of discipline.  It’s remembering the purpose.  Physical discipline of exercise – weight loss or fitness.  Academic discipline of study – to pass an exam or become an expert.  It’s merely looking toward the goal.

The goal of the spiritual disciplines is to become more like Jesus - holiness, Godliness, spiritual growth.  The discipline is merely the means to the goal.  We must keep our eyes fixed on the goal as we practice the disciplines.

The spiritual disciplines will not automatically result in holiness.  It is a gift that comes from God, and only He brings about the transformation. The disciplines are the means through which we open ourselves up to God to receive His grace and all He has to give that changes us.  They are the channels of His transforming grace.  The effort does not produce change; it merely puts us in the position to receive it. 

The disciplines position our hearts and minds to receive what God wants to give.  Our part is to offer ourselves lovingly and obediently to God, and then God does His work in us.  We can’t demand Him to do His work, but we can open ourselves up to Him through the spiritual disciplines in ways without which we might miss Him completely. 

Ultimately, as we remember the goal of the disciplines, practicing them becomes a delight, not a drudgery.  They increase our awareness to God and our response to His Word in us. 

One danger of the spiritual disciplines is the check-list or performance mentality that sets our foot on the slippery slope to self-righteousness.  The protection we must take is to focus on God and the goal rather than on ourselves and our success (or lack of) at the actual practice of the discipline.

And Life Comes Back - Book Review

In April 2013, I was almost a widow. Almost. But God decided to keep my husband here on earth a little longer. We’ve been married for over 21 years and I cannot imagine a life without him.  Nor do I want to. But in the back of my mind, I still fear he could have a heart attack again.  I might be a widow this year. How would I cope?

So I was fascinated when I heard of Tricia Lott Williford’s book And Life Comes Back: A Wife’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope Reclaimed.  At the age of 31, Tricia lost her husband suddenly and unexpectedly.  Left with two young sons to raise alone, she had to continue with the routines of daily life of being a mother while grieving the loss her husband and their father.

Because of Tricia’s transparency, I didn’t have to experience the loss myself to know what it’s like.  Her story-telling gripped me, carrying me on her journey with her, and it was an honor to feel a part of it.  I am tucking the phases of grief in my memory bank for future reference, especially the unexpected.  Some emotions she dealt with took me by surprise, made sense, and were feelings her counselor affirmed as ‘normal’ – things I had never heard told, secrets that many Christians would likely not want to share. 

This book was a journey through grief like none I have ever read, and a heart-breaking but beautiful story that shows that the sun does shine after the rain, even a very long season of rain. 

For more information about this book, check out the following links:
  • Author's Website
  • Facebook
  • More Info
  • Read Chapter One
  • Author Bio

  • I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.