Test Me

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139: 23-24, NLT)

The Psalmist David in Psalm 139 had come to a point in his life where he understood that: a) God knows us; b) He has our backs, c) we can’t hide from Him; d) He purposed us; e) He, God, has precious thoughts of us and; f) He wants us to hate sin. Our purpose, as defined by God, is to love Him, bring glory to God through obedience, and enjoy an unconditional, loving relationship with Him. When, as believers in Jesus Christ, we also come to this understanding or epiphany, we then are ready to submit to God and participate willingly in His loving relationship that also involves our testing.

The psalmist, at the end of  Psalm 139 in verses 23-24 quoted above, requested that God search and test him. This, to many of us, sounds strange and maybe even masochistic. The reality of David’s understanding of and devotion to God is made clear in his stated desire to be tested. David wanted God to search and test him to know his often hidden or denied concerns, worries, and apprehensions regarding his adherence to God’s will. Since David had already declared God’s complete knowledge of him, the testing was an exercise designed to reveal to David, himself, his inner thoughts and fears.

In a world where confessions of loyalty, commitment, and character are so easily made by so many, we might also confess that we have concealed concerns about ourselves. These concerns produce restlessness in our hearts and minds, even in the face of God’s promise to provide peace and sanctuary.

1 Peter 5: 6-7 (NLT) says So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. When we comprehend the love that God has for us and embrace the plan He has for our lives, there will not be a casual response or confession of obedience but a searching inquiry of self on our part. When we see the plan and promises of God fall short of expectations, we will not look to God for the cause of the failure but to ourselves. 

When we turn to our loving Father for insight into the issues of our lives, God will lovingly reveal our need for affirmation or correction in our thinking or actions. These revelations sometimes come through God testing us to be obedient or to be faithful to whom we confess (or think) we are.  God wants us to be self-aware as well as God-conscious. Let our response to God speaking to us in our hearts, or confronting us with our true selves, be like David: “search me and test me”. Ask Him to point out anything that offends, and ask Him to lead us on a path of eternal life with Him. We will find that, as we embrace God’s love, He cares for us and will lift us up. God wants us to be in a position to receive His full package of love and blessings.

I Choose Joy

The joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10, KJV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:23, CSB)

You know how sometimes you go to church or an event with a keynote speaker expecting to hear something that will inspire you for the future? Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I have a specific and clear memory of a message our pastor delivered one Sunday morning. This memory is from decades ago, and it still affects and inspires me to this day. His message was called, “If You Let the Enemy Steal Your Joy, He’ll Steal Your Strength.” Whenever life seems a bit daunting, I’m reminded of that message. I recognize that if I spend too much time thinking about the troubles of the world, or my life in general, I can physically feel my strength being sapped.

Think about when you feel tired and sluggish. You don’t really want to do much of anything. Exercise – nope! Read – nope! Interact with someone – nope! Be a couch potato – yep! Take a nap – yep! You can’t think of anything productive to do. Maybe I’m just talking about me, but I suspect there are a lot of you who have felt the same way.

So, why do we need joy? And what’s the difference between joy and happiness? I’m glad you asked. Remember, if we have no joy, we have no strength. We need strength to stand against an enemy who wants to steal from us, destroy us, and kill us. Added to that list of things we don’t want to do when our strength is sapped is prayer. We forget how important it is to pray for the people we love, for the world in crisis, for our neighbors, and even for ourselves. Don’t you see how important joy is?

There are many things that make us happy, but happiness is situational, and it’s not sustainable. You can feel very happy when things are going well in your life but very unhappy and even miserable when things are taking a turn for the worse. Joy, on the other hand, is something you can maintain even when things don’t seem so great. Here are my two favorite definitions of joy:

  1. Joy is that settled state of contentment, confidence, and hope that comes only from trusting God.
  2. Joy is a deep and enduring state of our soul that no circumstance, event, or human can steal from us. It’s delighting in God and choosing to rejoice in all things.

When our circumstances don’t line up with our desires, the joy of the Lord can keep us in an unexplainable place of contentment and peace. Philippians 4:7 tells us, And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (CSB). Joyful people don’t allow misery, sorrow, sadness, or despair to rule their thoughts or guide their actions. Yes, you can feel sadness and still have joy.

The joy of the Lord is a supernatural state of being. It’s not something you can manufacture on your own. It comes from the Father above. When we are in Christ, we are given the fruit of the Spirit which includes joy. It’s up to us to activate it.

There is a lot going on in our world right now – frightening things. It would be so easy to wallow in the misery, thus, allowing my strength to wane. Since I need all the strength I can get, I, therefore, choose joy. Yes, it’s a choice. I can either agree with Satan and languish in the mulligrubs or make a decision to choose joy. What’s your decision today?

Do the First Works

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5 NKJV).

In the Scripture above we find John quoting Jesus as He addresses the church of Ephesus.  In verse 4, Jesus said, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” in reference to the Ephesus church’s relationship to Him.  I think that sometimes in our marital relationships we could say the same phrase.  Although we can recount many good activities and attitudes that our spouses may embody, we still have a “nevertheless statement” that lingers in our minds.

As we have grown in our relationships, we have developed what we may categorize as safe and comfortable habits and activities.  We somehow become predictable and undetermined to meet one another’s basic needs.  That basic need is to know that we love each other and place no one besides God above our personally chosen spouse.  As with God, we want to be number one and have it verified on a regular basis with visible and tangible evidence.  The Word of God tells us we are made in His image.

Therefore as Christ was having a coaching moment with the church of Ephesus, I want to do the same with you regarding your marriage.  We must all remember to do the “first works”.  Repentance, in this instance, can mean making an about-face back to our initial love-act practices. The loving attention and acts of devotion accompanied by verbal affirmation and declarations of commitment must be continued.  We must love each other in the manner that established our relationship as well as continue to grow and expand our love’s communication and demonstration style.

Let’s return to the love works that endeared us to our spouses and continue to explore the many new and varied ways of expressing our love and commitment to one another. 

How May I Serve You?

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13 NLT)  

He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” (Mark 9:35 NLT)

One of my favorite programs to watch is Downton Abbey. Even though it no longer airs on PBS as a regular show, I still enjoy watching it on streaming platforms as well as the full-length movies. If you’ve ever followed the show at all, you immediately understand that there is a distinct difference between the servants and those whom they serve. One thing that particularly stands out for me is that the servants know that serving is their job; it’s what they have been trained to do and have been part of families who have been doing it for generations. Most don’t seem to resent their positions but, rather, take great pleasure and pride in serving with excellence.

It’s unfortunate, but in life and marriage, many have forgotten that we are to be servants of one another. I think most people go into a marital relationship thinking about what they are going to get out of it instead of what they are going to contribute. Imagine what our lives would be like if we woke up every morning with the thought, “How may I serve my spouse today?” The very best servants are those who try to anticipate the needs of someone even before they ask. I’m not suggesting that we become mind readers. What I am suggesting is that we pay attention to our mates and study them to discover where they need help so that we can lessen their loads any way we can. More times than not, it’s in the little things we do.

Some time ago, I heard a motivational speaker tell of the experience of his first job as a valet for the Ritz-Carlton. He shared that their motto was: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” He told us that it was stressed that this philosophy was not just for their clientele but amongst the team of workers as well. Sometimes I think it’s easier for us to put on a good front as we are out and about in the world, but once we cross the threshold of our homes, we forget to continue to be servants. If anything, this is where we need the most practice. In other words, we need not take each other for granted in this area. I know the idea of putting others first is not a popular concept in today’s culture, but, as Believers, we are not of this world or culture.

Let’s pray that God gives us a servant’s heart toward our mates. Let’s make ourselves available to each other by serving one another, and let’s see who can out-serve the other. Mark 10:43b reads like this: If you want to be the greatest, then live as one called to serve others. When we become servants, we become the greatest in God’s eyes.

Pursue Integrity

10:9 He who walks with integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will become known.

11:3 The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them.

20:7 The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him. (Proverbs 10:9, 11:3, 20:7 NKJV)

According to Wikipedia, integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy, in that it regards internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.  We serve a God of integrity that requires us to be like Him but only through the power of His might and Spirit.

God always establishes a standard of conduct, and it always comes with His commitment of support and enablement.  In our families, especially, but in all relationships and interactions, we, as God’s representatives and people, are to be single-minded and consistently committed to the understandings, and convictions we hold toward God.  In the scriptures above, God promises safety in a walk of integrity and warns the crooked, perverse, and dishonest that they will slip and fall and be destroyed.  Proverbs 20:7 lets us know that the righteous and godly walk in integrity and bless their children who follow them.

I want to encourage the people of God to seek to live lives of integrity starting in their homes.  Let our lives represent Christ so that as our children follow our example, they will be blessed now and throughout eternity.  As we allow God to empower us to live consistent, righteous, ethical, truthful, and trustworthy lives, let us commit to being people who “say what we do and do what we say”.  Our God does what He says and says what He does.  God has set the standard and provided the resources to those willing to accept the assignment of being His representatives in the earth.

Remember what Hebrews 13:5-6 (ESV) says, Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. “So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” God will not ask you to go where He will not go with you. God has essentially promised you will never be alone or without help. Pursue God’s plan for your life with the confidence of God’s promised support.

Still More Lessons From Children’s Letters to God

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
 as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. (Psalms 139:13-16, NLT)

Every time I read that little book, it makes me smile and gives me new inspiration. Here is what little Simon wrote:

Dear God,

My name is Simon. That’s from the bible. I am eight and a half. We live across the street from the park. I have a dog name buster. I used to have a hamster but he got out and ran away. I am small for my age. My hobbies are swimming, bowling, my chemistry set, reading, coin collecting and tropical fish. Right now I have three kinds. Well I guess I said a mouthful.

Goodbye, always a friend      

Simon  (No corrections were made to his letter)

I found it very sweet that Simon wanted to give God, his friend, a full description of himself. One thing, though, that he was not aware of is how well God already knows us. He knows EVERYTHING about us. He even knows the number of hairs on our heads. Psalms 139:2-3 tells us that he knows when we sit down and when we rise up and that He is familiar with all our ways.

God knows every possible detail about us, and yet, He still has chosen to love us; so much so that He was willing to allow His Son to die in our place to redeem our lives from destruction and deliver salvation to us! He knows the decisions we will make before we make them and what their outcomes will be.

We have two choices when it comes to understanding how much God knows about us:

  1. To be terrified. In this case, we probably don’t have a close enough relationship with Him, so we walk in constant fear of punishment for the things he does wrong.
  2. To be delighted. Here, we see God as a loving Father who will always forgive us and get us back on track when we blow it.  That gives us the ability to live our lives in freedom, continually staying in touch with Him for guidance and protection.

I choose number two. God doesn’t want us to live in fear of Him. He wants us to know Him as well as He knows us. He wants a loving relationship with us so that we can go to Him for everything about our lives – nothing hidden.

I love the end of  Simon’s letter where he reminds God that he is God’s friend. When we join the family of God, not only do we become His child, He also calls us friends. John 15:15 tells us, I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father (CSB). In most cases, when we have a close friend, we share everything with him/her. They are whom we are most vulnerable. That’s who God wants to be for us. Let’s take Him at His word and allow Him to be our all in all.

(Children’s Letters to God; compiled by Stuart Hample and Eric Marshall ©1991)

Choose to Appreciate

Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time.  (Proverbs 15:23, NLT)

In today’s woke, get real world, so many people seem to specialize in the communication style of criticism.  In a supposed attempt to be real and possibly truthful, people are choosing to make negative, hurtful observations and declarations. Making these types of choices can be destructive and offensive to relationships and interactions of all varieties and communications.  Truth should always be welcomed in any type of communication but cruel, insensitive criticism must be avoided especially within our marriages.

The word appreciate is defined as 1)to be fully aware of the value, importance, or magnitude of, 2) to esteem adequately or highly, 3) to show gratitude for, and 4) to increase the price or value of. The scripture quoted above says that everyone enjoys a fitting or proper reply. The expression of appreciation toward our spouses and family should be chosen as the appropriate form of communication to make our loved ones understand just how much they are valued and esteemed. It is so important to say the right thing at the right time.

I am a great believer in saying what sometimes may seem obvious to us but hidden from those around us. The vocalizing of the fact that we love our mates and family members and value their contribution to our life is a welcome exchange of information that brings joy and warmth to the hearer.  It also is great for us to hear it coming from our mouths, the true valuation of our loved ones. This helps us to remember that we don’t want to use our words to hurt or inflict wounds that may take years to heal.

There are times that unpleasant topics or experiences need to be discussed; but even when spoken, the truth must always be shared in love. There is always something that we can value, and we can make others aware of their importance from our perspective. Then if negative information is discussed, you will have established a foundation of true appreciation and love beforehand.

We can ask God to help us to express our appreciation and gratitude regularly, creating an environment of love, support, and understanding. This will allow us to experience the wonder and joy of saying the right thing at the right time.  Learn to speak many truthful good words to those in your sphere of influence, but especially to the person God has chosen to be your life partner.        

The Battle of the Sexes

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27, NLT)

Did you know that the first battle of the sexes began in the Garden of Eden?

Eve convinced Adam to partake of the fruit in the garden they were not supposed to touch. Why do you think the serpent saw Eve as an easy mark? Being a woman, myself, here’s my theory: Women tend to make decisions, many times, from an emotional standpoint first. Logic typically follows later. Of course, this is a generalization, so you may be the exception.  Satan was able to appeal to her emotional side by pointing out how nice the fruit looked and helping her to imagine how good it will taste and how it will make her feel. Because men tend to see things more logically first (again, a generalization), Satan would have had a harder time tempting Adam. I think he (Adam) would have reminded Satan of what God specifically said to him and more easily resisted.

Satan was very deliberate in choosing Eve to put his plan into motion because he knew that if he could persuade her to eat the fruit, she would be more influential to Adam. It was at that point, I believe, that it was established how powerful a woman’s influence was.

Eve won the battle of the sexes but ultimately lost. Her decision caused Adam to sin and thus caused mankind to lose close fellowship with God. The result of that costly sin was a curse that God placed on their lives: “Then he said to the woman, ‘I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.’ And to the man he said, ‘Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it (Gen. 3:16-17, NLT)’” At this point, God banishes them from the Garden.

Perhaps, this gives us some understanding of why men and women are always in a battle to see who will take the lead in a relationship. It’s because of the curse. But here’s the good news! If you are born again, you are no longer under the curse. We have been redeemed from the curse (Gal. 3:13), so we have the grace and ability to receive strength to resist the temptation to battle over dominion. As husband and wife, we can live in harmony with each other and experience the blessings of obedience to God’s word instead of the curse of disobedience.

God’s best is that we live a life of peace, free from strife, walking in Jesus’ promise of abundant life. However, though being redeemed from the curse and because we still live in this flesh, we will need to make a daily decision to walk in that freedom and continue to stand against the wiles of the Enemy. The dominion both husband and wife should want to seek is God’s Kingdom dominion. He is the true Ruler!

(A side note: It has never been determined what the actual fruit was on that tree, but most people choose the apple for some reason.)

Listen to Understand Part 2

Those who answer before they listen are foolish and disgraceful.(Proverbs 18:13, CEB)

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. (Galatians 6:2-3, NLT)

And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these. (Mark 12:30-31, NLT)

How many times have I assumed that I know what is going on inside my wife or another person based on my observations?  Too many to count. We must remember that the presenting problem, challenge, or issue is rarely the real difficulty.

We must make it a habit to never assume anything, but, instead, ask our mates to explain the concern before attempting to fix, resolve, or rescue.  Proverbs 18:13 indicates that it is foolish and disgraceful to answer before first listening for understanding. It’s always important to ask clarifying questions about statements heard to allow for the greatest opportunity for a true exchange of information. Rather than just exchange words that are partially received, it is far better to make understanding your goal and priority in having these discussions.

Galatians 6:2-3 instructs us to share each other’s burdens as a means of obeying the law of Christ. This law is defined in Mark 12:30-31 as allowing the love of God to be demonstrated in loving your neighbor as yourself.  I think it is very important that we make our spouses our closest neighbor and second priority for love only to God Himself.  These scriptures make it plain that if we feel that we are too important to help someone else, we are fooling ourselves.  The implication is that no one is too important not to provide help and assistance to those in need.  Providing assistance or help requires understanding the need.

I believe that when we make understanding a priority, we will make loving others a priority also.  When we take time to seek clarity in our daily communication, the people we talk to will begin to believe we care and possibly love them.  In many instances, our mates are not looking for fixes but listening ears and open hearts of empathy and acknowledgment of their importance to you.  Listening to your mate or others will allow you to understand and provide the best response representing your true feelings and desire to express love.  This will require that you also listen to your heart and work to communicate your true self to experience being loved in return.

How’s Your Love Life?

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-39, NKJV)

 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1Corinthians 13:13)

As you can probably tell from the verses, I’m not talking about romantic love. With that established, let’s talk about the kind of love it is talking about. You’ve read in many other posts how we describe agape love. This is the kind of love that stands the test of time because it is love that seeks out the best for someone else. According to Alyssa Roat,  co-author of the book, Dear Hero, “it refers to a pure, willful, sacrificial love that intentionally desires another’s highest good.”

So, my question was, “How is your love life?” You may be scratching your head at this point, not sure what to say, or you may be declaring that it’s fine. Well, there is a way to determine how you measure up in that department.

Taking a look at 1 Corinthians 13, we can see that there are sixteen traits of love. After reading these, see how close you are to this standard. I believe I could confidently say that most of us will fall short. Here are the sixteen, according to the Christian Standard Bible verses 4-7)

Love:

  1. Is patient (it never gives up)
  2. Is kind (cares more for others than for self)
  3. Does not envy (doesn’t want what it doesn’t have)
  4. Is not boastful (doesn’t strut)
  5. Is not arrogant (doesn’t have a swelled head)
  6. Is not rude (doesn’t force itself on others)
  7. Is not self-seeking (isn’t always “Me first”)
  8. Is not irritable (doesn’t fly off the handle)
  9. Does not keep a record of wrongs (doesn’t keep score of the sin of others)
  10. Finds no joy in unrighteousness (doesn’t revel when others grovel)
  11. Rejoices in the truth (takes pleasure in the flowering of truth)
  12. Bears all things (puts up with anything)
  13. Believes all things (always looks for the best)
  14. Hopes all things (trusts God always)
  15. Endures all things
  16. Never ends (keeps going) [Parenthesis from the Message Bible]

Aren’t you glad you don’t have to live the kind of life God requires of us by yourself? I am. Looking at all these characteristics of love could easily make me feel defeated if I thought I had to muster up the strength to accomplish them on my own. I’ve heard this statement a lot over my many years of walking with God, “Lord, I don’t know what I’d do without you.” Indeed, we don’t know what we’d do without Him. The good news, though, is that we are not without Him and never will be.

When I assess my behavior towards others, especially my husband, I find that I fall short too many times of God’s ideal of love.  And when I recognize the shortcoming, I always go back to 1 Corinthians 13 to remind myself how I am supposed to be loving them. I always have to ask myself things like, “Did I share that truth in a kind manner? Was I being too sensitive and, therefore, expressing my irritation? Was I being too impatient to listen to their whole side of the story?” You get the picture. God expects us to be imitators of Him, but, again, He doesn’t expect us to do it all on our own. So, how’s your love life? If you find that you’ve fallen short, no condemnation here. Simply do the work that needs to be done to bring correction to yourself. First Corinthians 11:31 tells us that “if we judge ourselves, we will not be judged”. We all have work to do, so let’s