Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Friend of God

(Below are Jessica's thoughts on Day 11 and 12 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore, we encourage you to share your thoughts and what you've learned in the comments section below each post. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit.)

It truly amazes me to think that God wants to be my constant, closest and most faithful friend. My first thought is that this shows how generous God is, that the Creator of heaven and earth wants to have fellowship with a flawed and fragile human like me. If I go deeper, what it really reveals is the depth of His love. The more we grow in the knowledge and awareness of that love, the more we want to deepen our relationship with Him.

Day 11, Becoming Best Friends With God teaches us to develop the practices that draw us into relationship with God. The two practices that Rick Warren focuses on in this chapter are prayer and meditation. On page 91, Rick Warren shares the insight that "Prayer lets you speak to God, meditation lets God speak to you. Both are essential to becoming a friend of God."

First is prayer, which Rick Warren describes as constant conversation. Just as Nicole shared in her last post, God wants us to talk to him in ways that go beyond formal prayers. He wants us to involve him in our thoughts, conversations and every action. Talking to Him throughout the day and making Him the first person you go to with your thoughts, concerns and needs gives Him the power to make your thoughts His thoughts. Rick Warren also shares the story of Brother Lawrence, a cook in a 17th century monastery. Brother Lawrence used everything he did, however menial or small it may seem, to honor God and deepen his relationship with Him. On page 88, Rick Warren states, "Everything you do can be 'spending time with God' if He is invited to be a part of it and you stay aware of His presence". Awareness of God's presence in our lives at all times helps us to see immeasurable value in all the "little" things we do that don't seem important. Everything done with love for God is of great importance and is never unnoticed.

The second practice to help us develop a friendship with God is meditation, or as Rick Warren describes, thinking about God's word throughout your day (p. 90). Part of being someone's friend is paying close attention to what they say. We have a tremendous advantage in having the word of God in the Bible. The more we get to know what is written in the Word, the more we know the nature of God; what He likes/doesn't like, how we are to live in a way that is pleasing to Him and how much He loves us. When I think of meditation, I think of it as being something really hard, where you have to completely empty your mind (and keep it that way) and stay in a state of physical and mental stillness for an extended period of time. I usually don't last very long this way and feel ready to give up in a matter of seconds. Rick Warren showed me in this chapter that I have great potential for meditation by comparing it to worry. On page 90, he states, "When you think about a problem over and over in your mind, that's called worry. when you think about God's word over and over in your mind, that's meditation. If you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate! You just need to switch your attention from your problems to Bible verses." (Rick Warren) This completely changed my mindset regarding meditation and will no doubt free me as I develop my friendship with God.

Chapter 12, Developing Your Friendship With God gives us four tools to make our relationship deeper and more authentic. First, we are encouraged to be completely and sometimes, brutally honest with God. Rick Warren reminds us, "In the Bible, the friends of God were honest about their feelings, often complaining, second-guessing, accusing and arguing with their Creator. God, however, didn't seem to be bothered by this frankness; in fact, he encouraged it". (p.93) Abraham questioned and tried to negotiate the fate of Sodom, David spoke candidly about his praise and also his affliction, Job complained and vented about his sufferings. These were God's closest friends! On page 94, Rick Warren cautions us about the dangers of hiding our resentment or anger at God because it can lead to bitterness, which is the greatest barrier in our relationship with God. Confessing how we really feel in a given situation allows us to face the truth. Working through these feelings with God helps us to see that God is always for us in all things, even if it is painful and we don't understand ( Rick Warren, p.94). He goes further to say that "releasing your resentment and revealing your feeling is the first step to healing" (p.94)

The second thing we must do to deepen our friendship with God is to obey Him in faith.
Our friendship with God is different in this respect. In most friendships, we will test or at least consider what the other person suggests before doing it. With God, we already know that He has knowledge, love and insight that surpasses that of any person with regard to our lives. Obeying what He commands us to do is the sure way of making our lives better, it reaffirms the foundations of love and trust in our relationship with Him. Rick Warren makes this clear by stating, "We obey God, not out of duty or fear or compulsion, but because we love Him and trust that He knows what is best for us. We want to follow Christ out of gratitude for all He has done for us, and the closer we follow Him, the deeper our friendship becomes" (p. 95)

Third, we must choose to value what God values. When you really care about someone and want to know them in a more intimate way, you learn about what matters to them. Over time and as this person's importance in your life grows, what matters to them starts to matter to you. Rick Warren states, "The more you become God's friend, the more you will care about the things he cares about, grieve over the things He grieves about, and rejoice over the things that bring pleasure to Him." (p. 96) God's beloved and precious son Jesus, the sacrifice of His life and the power of sharing this with others mean the most to God. The more God means to me, the more I am saddened by a lost soul and also more inspired and overjoyed by a life that has been redeemed.

Finally, we must desire friendship with God more than anything else.
David, Jacob and Paul were deeply passionate about their relationship with God and prized it above even their own lives. Each were used in monumentally powerful ways for God's purposes. God promises that He will reward those who seek after Him and that we will find Him if we seek Him with our whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13). Rick Warren talks about how God will use pain to ignite our passion for Him and how we can reignite our passion at any time. He states "Pain is the fuel of passion-it energizes us with an intensity to change that we don't normally possess." (p.98) We aren't called "Warrior Moms" for nothing, just think of how passionate we are to help and heal our children. This is how passionate our God is for us, and how He wants us to desire a deeper friendship with Him. As hard as it seems to "work" at this, it is very comforting to know that we can be as close to God as we choose to be through our actions and choices.

Bible Verses:

John 15:13-15
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

James 2:23
And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,"and he was called God's friend.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Jeremiah 29: 12-14
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the Lord

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Surrendering your Life to God

(Below are Nicole's thoughts on Day 10 of The Purpose Drive Life by Rick Warren. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore, we encourage you to share your thoughts and what you've learned in the comments section below each post. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit.)

I want to take this post to talk about Day 10, The Heart of Worship. I believe that worship is a very important part of our relationship with God. As we learned in the previous post from Jessica, we worship God in so many other ways than just singing. Let's take a look at Day 10.

Day 10 opens up with a very powerful statement...."The heart of worship is surrender." I like how Rick Warren validates our own feelings of this word "surrender" by telling us that is a very unpopular word. Why? When we think of this word today, we think of quitting, giving up and not getting what we want. However, if you look up the word "surrender" in the dictionary it defines the word as "to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another." Surrendering to God is giving up our idea of what our lives should be and how we want them for what he needs them to be. Here's the great thing about it, he loves us so much that what he needs our lives to be like is actually better for us.

Sure, it's easy to surrender parts of our lives to God. I'll go to church on Sundays, I'll read my Bible, participate in a Bible study, and I'll even stop watching that show you placed so heavily on my heart to stop watching. But autism? You want me to just hand over autism and how it effects my child? It's scary. We want our children to be healed. We, as moms, want control over this and want to know when it's going to end, how it's going to end and most importantly if it's going to end. But if we hold on to this, we are not surrendering to God. We can't just give him bits and pieces. So how can we surrender our entire lives to God?

Day 10 shows us that we have three major barriers that block us from surrendering to God. They are fear, pride and confusion. On page 78, Rick Warren writes "We don't realize how much God loves us, we want to control our own lives, and we misunderstand the meaning of surrender." He then continues on with "Trust is an essential ingredient to surrender. You won't surrender to God unless you trust him, but you can't trust him until you know him better." I've heard time and time again that the best way you can get to know God is to spend time with him like you would a friend. When you're upset or just need someone to talk to, talk to God. Stop what you're doing and pray. Pray like you're talking to a friend. I used to have a really hard time with this. I used to think prayers should be very proper and if you didn't know how to pray it's better to keep it short and sweet. Now, I just pray and talk to God like he's my friend. Sometimes I pray about decisions we have to make, things that upset me that someone said, or just to thank him for all of the wonderful things he has given me. Once I realized I just had to be me to talk to him and not be a super religious being, my relationship grew closer and closer. We also spend time with God by reading his Word, the Bible. The thing to remember while reading the Bible is the Bible has some really incredible life changing true stories. Take the time to really learn from them and understand them. If you're reading the Bible and it's not making sense, find a Bible that's easier to read. There are so many different versions available. Personally, I like the NIV and the Life Applications Bible. I typically will read my NIV Bible. When I get to something that I'm not wrapping my head around, I'll pick up the Life Applications Bible and get a more in depth look. Think about it...the more time you spend with your neighbors, friends and even family the more you trust them. The same goes for God. If you want to trust him then you need to invest some time with him.

Our next barrier to surrendering to God is pride. On page 79, Rick shares "That desire-to have complete control-is the cause of so much stress in our lives. Life is a struggle, but what most people don't realize is that our struggle, like Jacob's, is really a struggle with God!" I love the following statement by Rick Warren..."It is when we try to be God that we end up most like Satan, who desired the same thing." Wow! Think about that statement and how true it is. How easy it is for us to see how wrong Satan was to become a fallen angel. How sad is it that at times, we are the same way but trying to take control of something that isn't suppose to be under our control. Rick goes on to explain that we accept what we're given and we move on. We become happy. Then, we notice what others have or receive and we become jealous, angry, envious and pity ourselves. Think about your life as a mom with a child on the spectrum. How do you feel when you hear that a child has recovered? Our first feeling is joy and excitement. We are happy for every child out there that is getting better. But if you are completely honest with yourself and with God, the jealousy, the anger, the envy and the self-pity come quickly creeping in. Why isn't this happening for my child? What am I doing wrong? When we surrender our lives to God, you have more peace inside of you than you do negative feelings. So when these situations come up, your peace overcomes everything else.

Let's go back to what it means to truly surrender to God. Try to take away the idea of one team surrendering to the other only to lose the battle. Don't think about the words quitting or giving up. Instead, see it as trust. Trusting God with our lives. Trusting the one who wants the very best for us even if we don't know how it'll work out. On page 80, Rick Warren says "Abraham followed God's leading without knowing where it would take him. Hannah waited for God's perfect timing without knowing when. Mary expected a miracle without knowing how. Joseph trusted God's purpose without knowing why circumstances happened the way they did. Each of these people were fully surrendered to God." As I've mentioned in previous studies, surrendering our lives to God doesn't mean we give up. We don't surrender to autism. We surrender to God. What's the difference? To me, surrendering to autism means letting autism have control of our lives. Surrendering to God would be giving him control. With God in control, we still do research, invest in therapies for our children, pursue biomedical treatment. We keep searching for a way to help our child. Just because we surrender to God doesn't mean we give up helping our child. It means we give up the negative feelings. The jealousy, the anger, the hurt, the envy and self-pity. We understand that God has control of this and we accept everything he brings to us. We continue to love our children, play with our children and advocate for our children. Surrendering takes the yucky feelings away so that they stop distracting us from what God needs us to do.

Once we have completely surrendered to God, our hearts are full of worship for him. We see the blessings that come with surrendering and that's when we want to worship him. We want to spend time with him, we want to sing to him and even more importantly, we want to share him with others. On page 82, Rick Warren reminds us of Joshua as he was approaching the biggest battle of his life. He surrendered his plan to God and look what blessings he received! He also reminds us of Mary and how God chose Mary because she totally surrendered. I love how Rick Warren also included the following quote from E. Stanley Jones..."if you don't surrender to Christ, you surrender to chaos."

I want to end with what Rick Warren encourages us to do on page 83..."Put Jesus Christ into the driver's seat of your life and take your hands off the steering wheel. Don't be afraid; nothing under his control can ever be out of control. Mastered by Christ, you can handle anything."

Bible Verses:

Give yourself to God...Surrender your whole being to him to be used for righteous purposes. -Romans 6:13

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. -Proverbs 3:5
"He trusts in the Lord; Let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him since he delights in him." -Psalm 22:8

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Aim to Please

(Below are Jessica's thoughts on Day 7, 8 and 9 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore, we encourage you to share your thoughts and what you've learned in the comments section below each post. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit.)

One thing that has consistently helped me in dealing with difficult people is asking God to reveal Himself to me through them. When I pray for this, God will then place this person on my heart in a new way. I begin to see them as He does, sometimes I can see their pain or suffering, sometimes I can see their kindness or goodness, which I may have overlooked. In Day 7, The Reason for Everything, Rick Warren reminds us that everything we perceive brings glory to God in some way. All things were created to glorify God. It blesses me so much when I am able to see my son with autism the way that God does, and is such a confirmation of God's goodness when others see these things in him as well. We bring glory to God by appreciating His creations great and small and by fully being who He created us to be. When we take the time to appreciate the little things we learn to see His Glory. When we change the way we see and use our lives to help others, we reflect His glory in the world we live in.

Day 8 and Day 9 bring us into the first Purpose for our lives, that we were planned for God's pleasure. On page 63, Rick Warren states, "God did not need to create you, but He chose to create you for His own enjoyment. You exist for His benefit, His glory, His purpose and His delight." We bring pleasure to God when we worship. Worship can involve beautiful, powerful music that evokes an awe of God and brings us into His presence. As Nicole mentioned, a great worship CD can do wonders for you! Every part of a church service a form of worship. Worship can also be as simple as reading to our children or even doing our housework with a sense of love and purpose. Anything that we offer with a heart of love and grattitude to God is an act of worship.

Another way we worship God is in our thought life. I've heard it said that in our thoughts we are either talking to God or talking to ourselves. Self-talk can often be negative and can undermine our faith in God. For me, this shift began when I began to increase the "God-talk" so that the self-talk could be more positive and productive. This started with just praying in my thoughts, while driving, at meetings, wherever. Many times this involves asking for His help, it is also to remind myself of all He's done for me and of His promise to be with me always. Inviting God into every area of your life and looking for His presence changes the way you see your life. It also makes you more available to Him to work through you and reflect His glory and goodness to others.

The example of Noah's life really spoke to me, especially in light of the times we are living in. Noah's life is given to us to show what it means to live in a way that pleases God and brings a smile to His face. On page 69, Rick Warren writes, "In Noah's day, the entire world had become morally bankrupt. Everyone lived for their own pleasure, not God's...The Bible says 'Noah was a pleasure to the Lord'... Because Noah brought pleasure to God, you and I are alive today. From his life we learn the five acts of worship that make God smile." Throughout Noah's life, he loved, trusted and obeyed God completely and unconditionally. God decided to save Noah and his family and use him to start over and build a better world. This was so powerful to me, especially when I look at the world we are living in today. If we all offer ourselves and our families to living lives that make God smile, he can use us to help build a world where His glory is reflected in everything we see and do. The first thing Noah did after surviving the flood was to build an altar to God where he would express his thankfulness to God. When we thank God for what He has done, we are filled with happiness and grattitude and God is pleased with us too. On page 73, Rick Warren states, "We enjoy what God has done for us, and when we express that enjoyment to God, it brings him joy-but it also increases our joy". After the Flood, God instructed Noah to "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth...", to use his abilities as God intended (p. 74, paraphrase of Genesis 9:1,3). God created us all to reflect His glory in different ways. We make God smile when we use our gifts and our lives for His purposes.

Day 9, What Makes God Smile?, really focuses on the fact that our God takes delight in us; when we were born, when we're sleeping, regardless of where we are or what we are doing. We are always at the top of His priority list and He wants us to put him at the top of our list too. Just as we are so dear to our God, I believe that our precious children with special needs are even more dear to His heart. These are His most vulnerable ones, who can sometimes allow His glory to shine the greatest; in their accomplishments, their will and their resilience. Think of how vulnerable God's son Jesus made himself for us and the glory of God made perfect through Him. It is a great compliment from God to be entrusted with any child, and a great comfort to know how He loves them.

Bible Verses:

Revelation 4:11

You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.

1 Peter 4: 10-11

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalm 147:11

The Lord is pleased only with those who worship him and trust his love.

Psalm 37: 23-24

If the Lord delights in a man's way,
he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Over here, the view is beautiful

(Below are Nicole's thoughts on Day 4, 5 and 6 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Please know that what we all learn from a study is usually different. Therefore, we encourage you to share your thoughts and what you've learned in the comments section below each post. We're sure you'll lift someone's spirit.)

It happened about seven years ago. It forever changed my life, my thinking and the way I see the world around me. It was the day I accepted Jesus in my life. I was always a Believer but never really had that relationship. Never really truly knew where I was going when I died. But after that day, I knew. I knew how much better my life would be. It's all because of Jesus. I'll never forget speaking to a fellow colleague, who I also refer to as my spiritual mentor. He helped me find my way back to Christ and I am so thankful for him. I remember one day in particular when he was talking about death and how truly amazing it will be when he dies. I remember thinking to myself that this guy was completely off his rocker and needed help. Now I see that I was the one who needed help.

You see, like Rick Warren, my friend knew that our time here on Earth is so minute compared to eternity. He knew that our life now is to not only prepare ourselves for eternity but to help others prepare as well. It was amazing to sit back and watch my friend each day handle stressful situations that I would have screamed my head off over, how he would reach out to others and how devoted he was to God and His purpose. Looking back and knowing what I know now, I see why his life was so easy. It wasn't that my friend's life was so wonderful and that he didn't have his fair share of problems. It wasn't that I was a horrible person who didn't know how to handle things. It was that my friend had the right view on life. He was in the perfect seat at the movie theater. His view was clear. He knew that compared to eternity this life is so short and he wasn't going to waste it on things that don't matter.

Let's think about this for a second. As humans, it's hard for us to wrap our head around the world eternity. I don't think God wants us to either. He wants us to trust Him. So, if we fully trust God and do what He needs for us to do and we realize that what we're doing now is what Rick Warren calls a "Dress Rehearsal for eternity", how much easier does my day look to me! It puts everything into perspective for me. Let me go deeper....autism. If I'm looking at life like my time here is more important than eternity, then the days where my son seems to regress or seems to be completely out of it are going to destroy me. They take a toll on me. Believe me, I have those days where I am looking at life the wrong way. We can't help it. We get so wrapped up in "Earthly treasures". Now, if I change my view on life and look at it as a "dress rehearsal" or a place I'm just passing through, my days don't look so hard. From this view, I'm doing things the way God wants me to do them instead doing them my way.

So how do we do this? How do have God's view on our lives?

For Day 5 & 6, Rick Warren shows us how the Bible uses metaphors to teach us how to have God's view on life. They are as follows: Life is a test, Life is trust and Life is a temporary assignment. For now, let's just take a look at autism, seeing that this is the one common factor in all our lives. However, this is also good to apply to other areas in your life as well. Whether it be marriage, finances, work, etc. Right now, let's focus on autism.

Life is a test: I believe that autism is a test for not only us but for the world around us. We don't truly know how we're being tested or why. I agree with Rick Warren when he writes on page 43, "Character is both developed and revealed by tests, and all of life is a test." I'm going to look at my hard days as a test and do what we usually do with tests, learn from them. I'll learn from them by spending more time with God to find out what He needs for me to learn. The best way to spend time with God is through prayer, reading the Bible and worship. Go on and crank up that worship music as you're driving in your car. It's amazing what it will do for you!

Life is trust: I believe that we need to trust God with our children. After all, they are his children too. He's entrusted us with them during this "dress rehearsal." God is with us and wants the best for our children. He's looking out for them and will help guide us as long as we trust in Him.

Life is a temporary assignment: This is a good way to look at life especially when things just don't seem to get better. Autism is tough. Some months my son is doing great and I think to myself "This is it! He's going to be healed." Only to have the next several months go completely down hill. These are the times I need to remind myself that all of this is happening for a greater purpose. His purpose. It is God's Will that we want done in our lives, that we pray is done in our lives. I have to pick up my cross and handle my tough days. I need to keep pressing forward for God and His Will. I need to remember that this is only temporary and there are oh so many more blessings in Heaven waiting for me.

When I keep all of these wonderful things in mind that Rick Warren tells us about in Day 4, 5 and 6 it really does make my issues seem so much smaller. It's not about me. It's about Him. It's not about my life now. It's about eternity. We just need to change our view on our lives and see it the way God does. Absolutely beautiful.

I would like to end this post by encouraging you to answer the Questions to Consider on pages 40, 46 and 52. They are as follows:

Day 4: Since I was made to last forever, what is the one thing I should stop doing and the one thing I should start doing?

Day 5: What has happened to me recently that I now realize is a test from God? What are the greatest matters God has entrusted to me?

Day 6: How should the fact that life on earth is just a temporary assignment change the way I am living right now?

Bible Verses from Day 6:

Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered, and that my life is fleeing away. -Psalm 39:4

I am here on earth for just a little while. -Psalm 119:19