God Directed Steps

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     When my plans suddenly change for the better, or I see something extraordinary behind a decision, I state: “We make plans, God directs our steps.” That statement is paraphrased from Proverbs 16:9.

     It seems as I make decisions about my daily schedule, God tweaks it as needed so I don’t misstep. I first made note of this as a new Christian, asking God for direction about whether to enroll in a creative writing extension class at the University of California, Davis. When I didn’t hear from the Lord, I pulled a credit card from my wallet and registered. Shortly after the decision I received a call from the registrar who informed me the class had been canceled because not enough people enrolled. God had answered my prayer for direction.

     More recently my brother sent me a text asking if I would switch weeks with him providing care for Mom on her caregiver’s days off. Although I had to cancel a couple appointments, I was able to help him out. Had we not switched weeks I would have been exposed to COVID and quarantined on the Saturday I was to attend a Christian women’s conference. It seemed my planned week had been changed by God for my protection.

     I have learned to hold my plans lightly not insisting on my way but eager for God to orchestrate my steps.

     This week I am contemplating this Bible verse, mulling it over for deeper meaning, a more solid understanding. I printed the verse from various Bible versions:

     “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” ESV

     “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. NLT

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” HCSB

The “heart” in the original language of the text is our “feelings, will, and intellect.” The planning is to “plot or contrive. To think, regard, or compute.” Our “way” is our course of life or an action to take. To establish or direct is to “render sure, proper or prosperous.”1

I think a key element of this verse is the heart, what is the status of our heart when we make a decision? Is it obstinate and self-focused, wanting its way, or soft and pliable eager to do things God’s way.

I focus on the heart because Proverbs 16:3 seems to provide the direction needed for established steps, those orchestrated by the Lord. It reads: “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” ESV

A devotion I read on Proverbs 16:3 explained that when we commit our activities to the Lord, we hand them off “deciding through prayer what our steps should be, and running them through the grid of God’s Word, discovering if they are in keeping with what would please him.”2

So, we run our plans past God in prayer and by reflecting on Scripture that might be applied to the decision. Then we know our plans will be established. This is where I see God tweaking them for our benefit.

The other day I was ecstatic when I learned I could leave my mother’s house on Friday the week I will cover the day’s off for the caregiver in October. I committed for three days as needed, but my sister said she would cover one making it possible for me to attend a wedding on Saturday. My sister didn’t know there was a wedding, I had not asked. I just committed this activity to the Lord.

I planned my way, but the Lord established my steps.

Let’s Talk:

1-How do you see God directing your steps as you seek him?

2-Do you have a favorite Scripture that helps you make wise decisions? Share it in the comments below!

References:

1-Greek/Hebrew word definitions, Biblesoft One Touch software.

2-“Trusting God in All the Things, 90 Devotions for Finding Peace in Your Every Day” by Karen Ehman and Ruth Schwenk, devotion 44 “If This, Then That.” Published by Bethany House Minneapolis, Minnesota.

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

A Royal Reminder to Have the Same Attitude as the King of Kings

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It’s amazing what you learn about people after their death. Watching snippets of the ceremonies honoring Queen Elizabeth II of England I see that she is a devout Christian.

 I not only know this through the Scripture I hear read during the service, but recorded comments made by the queen about her faith and from statements made by people who knew her.

During one event I hear the reminder that Jesus has prepared a place for Queen Elizabeth.

John 14:1-5 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” ESV

Since we were told she scripted the entire event before her death there is no doubt, she lived with the assurance she would one day see her Savior the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association assembled several quotes from the queen regarding her faith. One written in 2022 in the “Letter to the Lambeth Conference” reads: “Throughout my life, the message and teachings of Christ have been my guide and in them I find hope.”

Finally, I want to mention a statement made by Stephen Harper, the 22nd Canadian Prime Minister, in a television interview. “Her life was about service, about others, it was never about herself.”

Knowing the Queen of England lived in a house filled with servants, it is difficult to envision a member of the monarch as a servant, yet this is the role in which she saw herself.

I am reminded of the counsel Paul gave the church at Philippi:

Phil 2:5-9

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” ESV

One Bible version says “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” Phil 2:5 NIV

The definition of attitude is “a mental position with regard to a fact or state.” [merriam-webster.com]

Just as Jesus took the form of a servant, although God, Queen Elizabeth II took the form of a servant, although royalty. What does this look like? Making your life about others rather than all about yourself. Since each of us are in a different position we each must learn this servant mindset from the perspective of the life God has given us. It’s an “I will” attitude rather than an “I won’t” attitude.

I read that Queen Elizabeth II at age 90 carried out 306 royal engagements within her country and 35 overseas. Although I am not sure what type of preparation this entailed, I do know from comments made by people who met her she seemed to know something about them that made the conversation personal rather than a formality.  

The funeral for the queen was not something I planned to watch for it was lengthy and I too had commitments. But it did cause me to exercise 15 minutes longer on the treadmill listening to the commentators and watching the people involved. A glimpse of a little boy in the crowd hugging a Paddington Bear touched my heart and I felt great compassion for the six young men who carried the coffin up the steep steps into St. George Chapel at Windsor Castle, knowing the pain of stressed muscles.

I am grateful to have caught the comment about her viewing the role of queen as a place of service. It was a fresh reminder to make my life about serving others, not about myself.

Let’s Talk:

1-If you watched any portions of the funeral for Queen Elizabeth II what struck you? Was there anything about her life that was impressive to you?

2-In your current position, how might you serve others?

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Understand Scripture to Avoid Misunderstanding God

From Pixabay

     Frequently I hear students of the Bible issue warnings about taking verses out of their context and applying them to situations that are not fitting. For example, Jeremiah 29:11 is printed on many graduation cards congratulating those who have just earned their high school diploma or degree of higher education. It reads:

     “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” ESV

While a Bachelor of Science Degree may secure a bright future for the recipient, the engineering student is not being addressed in this verse. The words were spoken to the Israelites held in captivity in Babylon.

Scripture out of its context leads to misunderstanding. If the graduate does not do well in the field of engineering, he or she may think they do not deserve God’s blessing. 

Context is not just identifying the audience and the occasion and purpose of the writing; it is looking at the historical setting and the culture of the time. Also, the verse must be viewed in context of the sentences that come before and after it as well as the meaning of the key words in Koine Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament), from which the passage has been translated.

One of the greatest dangers of taking the verses out of context is the misconceptions we can develop about God. I witnessed a Christian recoiling from God as verses in Deuteronomy were covered during a Bible study. One verse in chapter 21 discussed how a woman captured during war against an enemy nation was to be treated when an Israelite man wanted her for his wife. The instructions included “setting her free” if the man took no delight in her.

The person in the Bible study linked that law to God’s character and therefore incorrectly believed it showed God as lacking compassion, grace, and mercy toward the captured woman, yet it demonstrated the opposite. The instructions set Israel apart from other nations who often brutally mistreated women during times of war and it offered the woman protection.1

This misunderstanding could have been prevented by putting the passages in their historical and cultural context.

I was struck by how easy it was to have our view of God skewed, to be deceived. To think less of Him, based on our perceptions when they are so tainted and meager. Yet I should not have been surprised because even Eve, before sin entered the world, began to doubt God’s character.

     “Did God say?” was the question Satan asked Eve. And didn’t God say on the page of the Bible in Deuteronomy that the man could discard the woman captured during war, if he took no delight in her. But it isn’t God’s heart we see in the action it is ours, and so God steps in to guide us.

     It is so easy to fall away when we make God less than who He is by pushing our perceptions onto Him. That is making God in our image, and we are people flawed by sin.

     Look for the Scriptures that describe God, His attributes and character and remember them as you read the Word. If any Scripture seems to defy the truth we know about God, take a second, third, or fourth look. Study its context very carefully so you come to know the true and living God.  

Let’s Talk:

1-Describe a time when you misunderstood God because you misinterpreted Scripture?

2-What Scripture do you see being taken out of context? How is it misused?

References:

1-The Tony Evans Bible Commentary by Tony Evans Holman Bible Publishers 2019, Nashville, Tennessee. [Page 230/Deuteronomy 21:10-14]

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

3 Ways to Become “Other” Centered According to Scripture

     Practice makes perfect. Or so we are told.

     If so, I am being made perfect each time I slide behind the steering wheel of my car, start the engine, and pull out of my driveway onto the road.

     It isn’t my driving that is being perfected, but those Christ-like qualities that make us “other” centered.

     Why? Because driving is a self-centered activity. Each driver self-focused… striving to get to work or an appointment on time, making it home to pick up the house before company arrives for dinner, completing errands, getting to the grocery store before the afterwork rush. That is why we tailgate the slow driver ahead of us, refuse to allow more than one car to merge at a time when stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and accelerate when traffic lights blink to yellow. The problem is we become consumed with our needs as a driver and forget the needs of others.

     So, I begin collecting Scripture to apply to all the situations I encounter.

     Scripture One: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.” 1 Corinthians 10:24

In the mountains where I live the roads are often narrow, winding through the trees. What I dread most as I climb up out of the valley is to see a travel trailer, tanker, or car pulling a boat lugged down on a steep grade in front of me. As these drivers pass turnouts without pulling over to let traffic by, I begin to be agitated. “Inconsiderate,” I think. But are they?

     If I consider their well-being, what might I note about their slow climb up steep grades. The turnouts aren’t very long for one thing and if they pull over the entire line of cars will expect to go by forcing them to stop. If they must stop their progress up the grade will be more difficult.

     Also, they too have a destination to reach and have just as much right to be on the road as faster drivers. Why am I always so indignant when I come behind a slow driver?

     Scripture 2: “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Luke 6:31

     It is not just steep mountain grades that make us possessive of the roadway. When I pull out into a “faster” lane to pass a slower vehicle on the freeway the driver I pull in front always seems to push the gas arriving quickly upon my bumper as if to say, “you aren’t driving fast enough for this lane, get back over.”

The same reaction comes if you don’t know where you are going. There seems to be no mercy for those who find the access to their freeway entrance is on the other side of the road or need to slow a bit to look for an address.

     Scripture 3: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Phil 2:3-4

     I often hear bragging from mountain drivers about the speed they can maintain on Highway 32. This curvy section of road is often closed in the winter due to accidents and sadly it has claimed many lives. Once my small pickup was hit by a rolling tire that came loose from a trailer filled with construction materials. I braked and braked hoping the tire would tumble over the embankment into Deer Creek before colliding with my truck, but it tore out the radiator and battery leaving me stranded at the edge of the road.

     Despite my bad experience, I still enter this section of the road with a bit of conceit. I disdain drivers who speed in the straight stretches but slow to a crawl as they enter the curves. “Valley driver,” I think. It is a snooty attitude without much humility.

We feel anonymous in our car, enveloped in a secluded piece of the world. While there are hundreds of people around us, they are passing through our lives at 30, 50, 80 miles an hour. We have no idea where they are going, whether they are familiar with the road they are traveling, if they are lost, or what thoughts consume and distract them from the task at hand. And they know nothing of us, only what they assume.  

     Every type of human behavior is on exhibit as we drive along neighborhood streets, maneuver congested downtown corridors, and negotiate lane changes on the freeway. Therefore, driving is opportunity to select and apply Scripture. To practice godly interactions until they are perfected.

Let’s Talk:

1-I applied the verses in this piece to driving. What situation in your life might provide good application of these verses and practice?

2-What “other” centered verses have you been putting into practice lately?

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

5 Disciplines to Try for Christian Growth

     My tomato plant has not been very prolific. Although it is the end of August, I have harvested only two tomatoes. Its growth was stunted early this summer when the temperature dropped overnight freezing parts of the vine. I cut away the damaged vine but lost a lot of flowers which would have eventually become tomatoes.

     Although it is a little late in the season, I did some research on successfully growing tomatoes and read: “Harvesting a very large tomato yield means that I did a lot of things right during the growing season.” 1

     This leads me to believe I may have done a lot of things wrong. I uncover a few. Tomatoes are nutrient hungry and must be fed correctly. Also, the right amount of water is key, and tomatoes should only be watered when they need it. I have not fertilized my plant, nor do I check to see if the soil has dried out before watering. My routine is to water nightly.

     Just as haphazard gardening does not make a tomato plant prolific, an arbitrary approach to Christian growth will not make us fruitful either. How do we grow as a Christian? Here are five Christian disciplines, four of which I know well and one I am learning.

     1-Read through the Bible

     I always read the Bible, but I did not always read through the Bible. I find I understand Scripture better if I have the full counsel of God, not just bits and pieces. I once saw a social media post where the author stated she had learned so much more by studying books of the Bible throughout the year rather than reading through the Bible. I think both are important.

     The best way I have found to read through the Bible is to choose a reading system that breaks the Bible into sections allowing you to read parts of the Old Testament and New Testament as well as the Psalms and/or Proverbs daily.

     You can buy a One Year Bible with the breakout sections grouped together or find a plan, many Christian organizations and churches make them available. The Navigators, for example, have a reading plan that features four separate places in the Scripture every day. Another plan breaks the Bible into a book at a time. (You will find these at navigaors.org.)

2-Complete Bible studies

     One year the church I attended announced the start of a men’s and women’s Bible studies. We would meet for teaching and then break into small groups to discuss the answers we had written to the questions in our workbook about the book of the Bible we studied. The first book we studied was Nehemiah and when the study ended, we would start anew on another book.

     Digging deep into Nehemiah changed me. I became a servant of the Lord through this study. Thereafter, every study I have completed has changed me in some way shaping me into the image of Christ.

3-Allow time for prayer

     I love the verse in the song “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” that states “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.”

     Here’s a simple definition of prayer from GotQuestions.org: “Prayer is “talking to God.” It is not meditation or passive reflection; it is direct address to God. It is the communication of the human soul with the Lord who created the soul. Prayer is the primary way for the believer in Jesus Christ to communicate his emotions and desires with God and to fellowship with God.”

     I discuss everything with God. My work, my service, the relationships I have with people, emotional and physical issues, and my desire for the proper application of His Word. Also, I intercede on behalf of others.

     Years ago, I created a prayer journal which is broken into five sections: Praise, Admit, Requests, Listening, and Thanks.

     Praise acknowledges God for his character. I like to focus on the names of God and created a little flip chart by laminating each name and hooking it to mini aluminum carabiner, those clips you use on backpacks which are found in the camping section of stores. The names read thus: Living God, El Chay. He alone is the source of our life. We live because he lives.

     Other people read through the Psalms or read praise devotionals.

     Admit is asking the Holy Spirit to help us recall anything that is not of God so we can address it before it takes root in our heart, such as bitterness and unforgiveness. Psalm 139:23-24 are good verses to bring to God in prayer for insight and revelation.

“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.” [NLT]

     Requests are those prayer needs that come to us regularly though prayer chains, friends, church, social media etc. Write them down and pray over them until there is resolution.

     Listening is the portion of prayer when we take time to hear God speak. Frequently He will speak through Scripture so we need to be listening for answers to prayer during our time of Bible reading.

     Thanks is just that, remembering to be grateful for the answers God gives which are often unexpected.

4-Memorize Scripture

     Knowing Scripture is beneficial in all areas of life. It helps with relationships, gives direction, provides strength, envelopes us in comfort, takes away anxiety, removes shame, and humbles us when we need it.

     I wish I had more Scripture written on my heart, but I do thank God for Google for when I can’t remember an exact verse a few key words delivered to this search engine often helps me find it.

     These tips come from Samaritan’s Purse. 1-Read the verse out loud. 2-Think of illustrations or practical examples applicable to the verse. 3-Say the verse several times. 4-Review the verse on the day it is learned and several times throughout the week.

5-Meditate on Scripture

     This is the new discipline I have begun to study, and you are invited to join me. I will be emailing a verse to meditate upon every Monday morning to subscribers [fill in the form at the end of this blog to become a subscriber] along with an informational sheet that you can download. The first sheet defines Biblical meditation.

     I did not know very much about God or have much Biblical knowledge when my heart opened to Jesus Christ and I walked into His presence. It probably wouldn’t have made much difference if I had known more because I did not have the Holy Spirit to provide the insight and understanding. I had not yet experienced spiritual birth, only physical birth, therefore I was not born again.

     However, once I was born again, I found the church where I belonged and attended regularly. Not just the church service but the Bible studies offered where I could grow in knowledge and application.

     God is faithful. He knows what we need and when we need it and continues to help us grow. It is a never-ending process and I think it will continue into eternity.

Let’s Talk:

1-In what ways has God helped you grow since Jesus Christ became your Lord and Savior?

2-What is your best Bible reading method? Do you read the Bible through every year, if so, what plan do you use?

References:

1-All About Gardening, “15 Tips for Growing Great Garden Tomatoes” by Merideth Cohrs. Allaboutgardening.com.

NOTE: If you would like to explore Biblical meditation with me subscribe to this blog so you will receive my emails.

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

To Step Out in Faith we Must first “Get Our Nerve Up”

     Throughout life I have confronted situations that require “getting my nerve up.”

     As a kid it was jumping from rock to rock in the American River at my grandmother’s mountain cabin. Also spinning on a jungle gym with one leg wrapped tightly around the bar. (I did fall once so hard it left me gasping for breath.)

     When grown so many more…

     Standing at the top of a ski run covered in moguls, entering a racquet ball tournament, taking a speech class in high school, completing the swim leg of a triathlon… The open water tests to become certified in scuba diving was particularly challenging. Especially the one where you breathe through your regulator underwater without your mask. (Yes, breathing while water is covering your face.) 

     Sometimes I must “get my nerve up” to follow certain passages of Scripture. Such as giving out of my poverty rather than my abundance, like the woman at the temple Jesus pointed to in Mark 12:41-44. She put everything she had into the offering box. I want to be all in, giving from my poverty rather than my abundance. That is trust.

     There are many examples in the Bible of people who needed to “get their nerve up.”

     Gideon is one. When an angel of the Lord told him God chose him to save Israel from the tyranny of the Midianites, he asked for a sign. He put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor asking that it be covered in dew although the surrounding ground was dry. There was enough dew on the fleece for him to fill a bowl with water, yet he asked that the opposite occur the following night. And God granted his request. (Judges 6:36-40)

     Moses also had to “get his nerve up.” When God told Moses he was sending him to Pharaoh to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt he asked, “Who am I that I should go?” (Exodus 3:10-11) To give Moses the confidence he needed God revealed himself as “I AM.” He was all that Moses and the Israelites needed.

     Esther had to “get her nerve up as well.” When Mordecai asked her to go the king to prevent the extermination of the Jews, she hesitated for if the king did not hold out the golden scepter granting her entrance to the inner court she would be put to death. She got her nerve up by joining the Jews in a three-day fast. (Esther 4:10-17)

     So often we feel defeated if we aren’t brave enough to step forward in faith immediately, no questions asked, no hesitation. But God sees something in us we can’t yet see in ourselves, and he is more than willing to help us get our nerve up.

     We can practice every scripture passage in the Bible God wrote down for us to follow. It isn’t us who makes it happen, it is God in us.

     When I was asked to pray with people after the church service, I felt unworthy of such a job. I would need to rise from my seat and go to the front of the church at the end of the service while the congregation sang a worship song. Each time I had to “get my nerve up” not knowing who would come forward to pray and what requests they would have for God. My husband would whisper, “Take your eyes off yourself and put them on Jesus.” That was God’s way of “getting my nerve up” and He will provide a way each time we find ourselves in this position.

     Remember we are in good company. Many people we consider giants in the faith took their first step after “getting their nerve up.”

Let’s Talk:

1-When have you had to “get your nerve up” to do something God has requested of you? Please share your experience in the comments below.

2-Is there someone in the Bible you admire for their faith? How did he or she “get their nerve up?”

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

When Reading Scripture Ask: “Do I Understand This Passage?”

     Have you ever been caught off guard? “Taken by surprise, caught when vulnerable, careless, or inattentive?”1

     I have. Once when on a short-term mission trip in Mexico I was one of two people pulled from the group to attend an evening church service in another location. We would each give our testimony and speak to the congregation with the help of a translator.

     A second occurrence was the night my husband, Terry, was ordained as a pastor. I was invited onto the stage where the pastor’s prayed over Terry and then I was asked to say a few words. I had no idea I would be asked to speak.

     The Holy Spirit gave me the words, and I managed a fair presentation in both instances.

However, in 2 Timothy 4:1-2, Paul calls us to a much more important readiness, the application of God’s Word.

2 Tim 4:1-2

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.” NIV

     “Paul’s charge is addressed to Timothy, but it is applicable to every person called to an evangelistic or pastoral ministry, even to all Christian people,” writes John Stott.2

     The readiness we are called to through this passage of Scripture is to be standing by, available, to preach the word whether it is convenient or not.3 It is of urgent importance.

     We are not only to be prepared to know the Scriptures that apply to the situations we encounter, but to deliver them correctly.

     Stott states that the use of Scripture to correct, rebuke and encourage suggests different approaches to teaching. We take into consideration the differences in situations as well as the people we are addressing. Correction suggests an intellectual perspective, a rebuke would pertain to moral teaching, and encouragement addresses emotional issues.

     Yet whatever approach is necessary we are to instruct carefully with great patience. Stott writes: “However solemn our commission and urgent our message, there can be no justification for a tactless or impatient manner.”

     When I read the Bible, I often must stop and dig deeper to practice it correctly. Depending on which version read, this passage could result in some harsh intercession. Reading the verse from several versions is one way to gain greater understanding. Bible software and apps now make it easier to accomplish this task without having a stack of Bibles next to your chair as you study.

     Also helpful, is to look up the words in koine Greek, the common language when the New Testament was penned. Commentaries provide depth as well like the one I used to write this piece.

     I like the question Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading from the book of Isaiah. “Do you understand what you are reading?” [Acts : 26-31]

     The eunuch answered, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?

     I have this same attitude when I study God’s Word and I hope you do too. It’s always a good idea to ask ourselves… “Do I understand what I am reading?

Let’s Talk:

1-What Scripture has stumped you? What have you done to uncover its meaning and application? Share in the comment section below!

2-What are some of your favorite Bible study tools?

References:

1-The Free Dictionary by Farlex. “Caught off guard” found at idioms.thefreedictionary.com.

2-Reading Timothy and Titus with John Stott by John Stott with Dale & Sandy Larsen. Published by InterVarsity Press.

3-The Complete Word Study Dictionary –New Testament edited by Spiros Zodhiates Th.D. Published by AMG Publishers.

Want to Love Others? Seek the Voice of the Spirit

     I have started a journal to trace acts of agape. That ability to remove yourself from a situation and hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speak. It is difficult to clear our hearts and heads of all the misconceptions about “good” and “best” we have learned from family, school, books, cinema, social media, friends… The world cannot understand agape love because it is of God, and we cannot deliver it apart from the Holy Spirit.

     “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT

     But the Holy Spirit can give us a heavenly perspective, provide a fresh outlook. We often say, “I never thought of it that way.”

     When I learned that incorrect information was being passed on about an incident that had occurred at church, I immediately became indignant. How did this seemingly inconsequential exchange become so twisted? In my flesh I became annoyed and defensive.

     Yet amid my anger, I saw that this person was struggling, caught in the grips of all the traps Satan can lay when we are vulnerable. Traps like self-pity, hopelessness, doubt, and fear. Spiritual insight into a situation can only come from the Holy Spirit. At these times all our fleshly responses dissipate and the good of the other person becomes the desire of our heart.

     Best was prayer for this person, seeking guidance on how I might truly help rather than allowing Satan to drive a wedge between myself and another Christian with thoughts of unforgiveness for slander or malice. The Holy Spirit caused me to step back and consider the feelings of another. What would cause her to slightly alter the details of the story about a situation?

     Satan immediately came to mind. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. [1 Peter 5:8] He is a deceiver and all of us succumb to his deception from time to time.

     No foothold for Satan here. Instead, I look for the loving act this person needs. I do not yet know what God will require of me, but I am willing.

     I loop back to the start of this blog. With my new perspective on the situation, free from all animosity, my tendency is to just leap into action with “acts of kindness.” But that is self, doing what “I” think is best. Working on my timeline, my schedule, my wisdom. There is no power in acts of the flesh no matter the motivation. It’s not our idea of kindness that makes a difference but God’s idea.

     And thus, we must quiet the outside voices in our heads so we can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Make sure there is no competition. The outside voices often enter our thought processes attached to self. But the Holy Spirit introduces another point of view, the possible reason for the actions of another and points us to a loving response.

Let’s Talk:

1-When have you been surprised by the Holy Spirit with a completely different perspective, which was selfless?

2-How do you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit when so many voices offer direction?

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

Three Steps to Generosity

     A good test of agape love, “intelligently, intensely willing the best for another,”1 is generosity, giving away our best.

     If someone asks, will we share our favorite fishing hole, recipe, or thrift store? These are things that just might lose their value if too many people find out. The fish may be depleted, our special dish will no longer be so special, and other people may purchase those bargains before we have a chance to look.

     As a freelancer I once had another writer ask for contact information for one of my best paying markets for articles.

When the writer thanked me for my generosity, I realized it was not common to share such information. Truthfully, giving my resource was a backed-into-a-corner moment rather than an act of good will.

     That is not the type of generosity I wish to have. Paul advises the Corinthians not to give reluctantly or in response to pressure but to decide in their heart how much to give. Why? Because God loves a cheerful giver. [2 Corinthians 9:7 NLT]

     I want to be a cheerful giver, for that is agape. This type of giving requires an advance decision, deciding in my heart to be “open-handed” with gifts of “ample portion, marked by abundance.”2  

     Paul provides insight into how to become a generous, cheerful giver.

     One-Recognize God is our provider. Everything we have is from God. “For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat.” 2 Corinthians 9:10 NLT

     Two-As our provider He will increase our resources as we give. “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—-pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” Luke 6:38 NLT

     Three-This abundant return will “produce a great harvest of generosity” in us. Thus, we will be able to demonstrate agape love as a cheerful giver.

     The discussion of generosity in 2 Corinthians is linked to a collection being taken for the believers in Jerusalem who need financial help. As Paul explains how to give a willing gift rather than giving grudgingly the benefits of generosity unfold. God’s love for the cheerful giver is shown in abundant provision. “You will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others,” he says. [2 Corinthians 9:8b NLT]

     He explains that two good things happen because of generosity. The needs of the recipient are met, and they express thanks to God. Thus, God is glorified. We bring glory to God by being generous.

Let’s Talk:

1-Can you remember a time when you were generous with money, time, or something else and you experienced this expansion? If so, share in the comments below.

     “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25 NLT

2-How does knowing that God is our provider help us to become a generous giver?

References:

1-The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words by Terry L. Miethe published by Bethany House Publishers.

2-Merriam-Webster online dictionary at merriam-webster.com.

The Lack of Agape in a World Apart from Christ

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39b

     I have been dwelling on agape love, a selfless love, for a long time. Studying scripture verses, looking up the definition of the Greek words used to define it. The Lord has been bountiful in His help.

     This week He provided more information in a chapter of my Bible study, “Living Wisely” by Cynthia Heald. This author wrote about the difficulty she had loving her father who was an unpredictable man who caused stress. Her way of dealing with the situation was to distance herself from him. But this way of coping was not of God, she wrote. We are to love others as Christ loves us (John 13:34).

     “Christ’s love is unconditional, sacrificial, and everlasting,” wrote Heald. 1

     It is important to understand this love, for it proves to the world we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35).

     It has nothing to do with how people treat us, but everything to do with how we treat them.

     Reading modern advice columns, I see the lack of agape in the world. Here are a few of the issues that would be easy to resolve with sacrificial love.

     **Neighbors ask this person to take care of their cat but never reciprocate or bring a thank you gift. Often they ask for the favor the night before leaving town. [Tell them it is your pleasure to help them out.]

     **A father keeps sending articles on career advice the recipient finds insulting. Other than the messages he sends, contact is limited. The son or daughter wants to know how to tell their father to stop giving unsolicited advice. [Thank dad for the advice. Regularly invite dad to meet you for coffee, breakfast, or lunch.]

     **When family members came to town, which is a tourist area, one couple let them stay in the motorhome parked in their driveway. This helped their family save money on the price of a hotel. Hospitality was further extended by hooking up water, gas, and electricity to the motorhome. Yet upon their departure, the family members simple stripped the bed before leaving.

Advice was needed on how to let these family members know the motorhome was no longer an option when they came to town. [Continue to be hospitable. Make your motorhome available to out-of-town guests anytime you are in town.]2

     Agape love is not an “if you do this, I’ll do that” kind of love. Yet often we want it to be so, and we justify our response with the term “setting boundaries.” Truthfully, I need to find the scriptural guidelines for this practice because I am not so sure it is currently being used correctly. [I will be writing about what I find.] There are too many severed relationships within Christian families.

     Agape love cannot be practiced apart from Christ for it is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

     Rom 5:5—”Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” NKJV

We cannot expect this love from the world, but we are expected to demonstrate the love of Christ to the world.

Let’s Talk:

Challenge–

In the next few weeks, I am going to be purposely practicing agape love. This entails looking for all the opportunities God presents and charting my response. I will record my reaction, how it is right or wrong according to God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit’s direction on how to show the love of Christ.

Let me know if you will join me in this challenge in the comments below.

References:

1-“Living Wisely, Believing the Truths of Scripture” by Cynthia Heald, NavPress.

2-“Real Simple” magazine March 2022 issue, “Modern Manners.”

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved