In Pursuit of Fruit

What fruitful habits do you have for spending time with God?  Are there personal patterns in your relationship with Him through prayer, Bible study or other means?  Note that I write “fruitful” instead of “enjoyable” because although we’d like to enjoy every moment with God, as our Father He sometimes has to tell us things we won’t like immediately.  As Jesus said in John 15:2 – “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

One example of a fruitful habit for me has been to study more than one book of the Bible at a time.  What do I mean by this?  For example, I currently have a goal to read 1-2 chapters each of the Psalms and the Pentateuch[1] daily, along with study Bible notes.  The idea came from a recent sermon, where the 5 books of Psalms were described as similar in theme to the 5 books of the Pentateuch.  Shortly after, I read that: “Just as Genesis tells how mankind was created, fell into sin, and was then promised redemption, many of these psalms [book 1, or Psalms 1-41] discuss humans as blessed, fallen, and redeemed by God.”[2]  With a little work, I was able to map out a schedule lining up the Psalm readings with the other readings and I’m trying to follow it.  Reading different parts together can help make connections I wouldn’t otherwise.  One connection recently led me to post about frustration with my cat and how it relates to Noah and the ark.

At other times, I’ve been reading a Gospel along with the Psalms, or one of the prophets because changing the pattern over time helps reveal unexpected context or connections.  I wouldn’t talk to a friend the same way over and over again, so why do it with God?  Years ago, when reading Psalm 46:10 and Matthew 21:15-16 on the same day led to a stark reminder that God is worthy of, and will receive, all praise.  These are those verses that nailed the point home:

Be still, and know that I am God.
            I will be exalted among the nations,
            I will be exalted in the earth!”

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
             “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
                        you have prepared praise’?”

I know I can’t require God to speak to me in a certain way, but these occasional “accidents” from different parts of Scripture have reinforced each other in ways I might have never seen or might even have resisted.  Sometimes, we might prefer to keep certain truths away from certain parts of our lives, but when we make time to be quiet, listen and allow different parts of God’s word to collide in ways we didn’t expect, we may uncover an encouragement or a challenge that bears fruit.

What creative and fruitful habits do you have for spending time with God?

[1] The first five books of the Bible, sometimes called the books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy)
[2] Life Application Study Bible, introduction to the Psalms.

Finding Time for God During “RTO”

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During the pandemic, most of us found we had extra time on our hands.  In my case, I did not have to commute to work, and many other activities I’d normally do were shut down, so it was easier (not easy) to make time for private time with God in Bible study and prayer.  However, as I’m now in “Return to Office” mode, working 2-3 days a week in the office, I’ve been reminded of Mark 1:35, which says: “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”

Jesus got up early after a very busy night, which Mark describes in verses 33 and 34: “That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.  And the whole city was gathered together at the door.  And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.”

I am not naturally a morning person, and finding time has been harder, but as I’ve written: “whether you’re working at a job, at home, retired, a student, a parent, or in any role in this world, as God’s creativity was to be reproduced by Adam and Eve, the character of Jesus is being developed in His people in this world.”  “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.[1]  If even Jesus needed daily prayer and time to listen to the Father to get His work done, how much more do we all need that time?

My post-pandemic routine is different than my pre-pandemic routine, and daily time with God is not about the means, but the end.  He has work for each of us to do, and whatever your means of having relationship with the Father, making time to spend with Him is vital for approaching each day as an act of worship and service.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14

[1] Ephesians 2:10

Participating in the Psalms III – Psalm 100:4-5

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Psalm 100 is “A Psalm for giving thanks.”  Yesterday’s post focused on the first three verses, and today’s covers the last two, which continue the Psalmist’s encouragement to personally join them in thanksgiving.

Psalm 100:4 reads:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
            and his courts with praise!
            Give thanks to him; bless his name!”

Verse 3 ended describing us as God’s sheep, and as our Shepherd, He guides us into His presence.  At the time the Psalm was written, this would probably be in His temple, but for us it is whenever we worship in public or in private.  Does our worship involve willing and joyful giving of thanks, praise, and blessing to God?  Or do we sometimes worship reluctantly?  Do we feel we don’t measure up to what God expects?  In case we need encouragement, the Psalmist continues with verse 5:

“For the LORD is good;
            his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Like verse 3 covered yesterday, this verse is a list of things to be thankful for.  A list of reasons we can enter His gates and courts with thanksgiving and praise:

“For the LORD is good” – We can approach God and worship Him because He is good
“his steadfast love endures forever” – We can approach Him because His love is steadfast
“and his faithfulness to all generations.” – We can approach Him because of His faithfulness

It is His characteristics that make Him love us, and His character endures forever.  If we have lacked goodness, love, or faithfulness since we last met with God, His love for us in Christ overcomes it all.  His nature is 100% reliable, and worthy of our thanksgiving!

Take a moment and ask Him how you might participate in the Psalms, being thankful for His character regardless of how your day is going, or how you feel.  He wants to walk through it with you.  Be thankful!

Participating in the Psalms II – Psalm 100

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A recent post about Psalm 96 said that “the writers aren’t just trying to teach about God, but they are trying to share their experience of Him.”  While that Psalm was about how to “sing to the LORD a new song” of praise, Psalm 100 is “A Psalm for giving thanks,” and like Psalm 96, spells out ideas for doing it.  Today will focus on the first three verses, and tomorrow on the last 2.

Psalm 100 begins with:

A Psalm for giving thanks.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
            Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the LORD, he is God!
            It is he who made us, and we are his;
            we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

First, the Psalmist wants the whole earth to make a joyful noise, but notes that singing and making a joyful noise are not the only part of giving thanks.  We are encouraged to thank God by serving Him, not reluctantly, but to serve with the same gladness we have when we sing in worship.

The third verse reads like a list of things to be thankful for.  When we feel like there’s nothing to be thankful for, or no motivation to serve, consider:

“Know that the LORD, he is God!” – Our Lord is not powerless, He is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his” – We are not accidents of a mindless nature, we are His!
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” – We do not have to wander aimlessly through life, not knowing where we are going, we belong to a flock and our Shepherd provides us pasture! 

Take a moment and ask Him how you might participate in the Psalms, carrying these instructions into your daily circumstances.

Don’t Leave Love Letters Unopened

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An old friend used to encourage me to read the Bible every day, and his reasoning was: “The Bible is 66 love letters from God.  If you got a love letter from any other person, would you put off reading it?”  It took many years before I really took this to heart, but I always remembered it. 

Dear fellow travelers,

I pass along that story, but I’ll also add more to it.  The best times are not when we just read these letters.  Devotions aren’t just lessons, memorization exercises, a disciplinary action, or a time to pay your dues so you can get on with your day.  They are time spent with Someone who loves you more than anything, and who wants you to love and trust Him more than anything.  Treat Him as you would treat an honored guest, because He is really there with you.

Think of it this way – How often do you get to spend time with someone who fulfills 1 Cor 13:4-7 perfectly?

Someone who is patient and kind; who does not envy or boast; is not arrogant or rude. Who does not insist on His own way; is not irritable or resentful; does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [1]

Nobody else we see today will be nearly as good to us.

We all miss days, even weeks or longer, but He is patient and kind.  We can try again tomorrow or later today, and He will be there.

[1] This paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 was suggested in a devotional I read last year: “August 30.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).  It was also the basis of a prior post, Jesus is Patient and Kind Even When I am Not