Friday, October 31, 2014

Making Time for Jesus (when you have little kids)

making time for Jesus (when you have little kids) - From the Jensens Blog
*This is a practical follow-up to my previous post, "I'm sorry for what I said when I was hungry." 

This is titled 'making time' instead of 'finding time', because anyone who has a busy life (everyone?) knows that there really isn't such a thing as 'free time'.  Here's the reality:  making time for Jesus is a spiritual battle, one that we engage in daily...and if we don't make time for it, we won't do it.  The world and all of our responsibilities will beckon us, "Come do this or that urgent thing first." and it never happens.  As my wise bible study leader said recently, "Satan's first plan is to keep us from becoming a Christian, and his second is to keep us from becoming an effective Christian."  How would he do that?  By keeping us from time in God's presence, praying, reading and meditating on God's word daily.

Over and over again people have asked me how I am finding time to meet with God amidst the chaos of three kids two and under.  Here is the most important answer I can give:  BY GOD'S GRACE.  I don't have super powers, yet God has been faithful to keep me and help me persevere in the midst of a challenging and busy season.  He is good, and I have to rest on that goodness continually when I sense my heart focusing too much on the urgent needs of the present instead of the unseen rewards of eternity.

But there are some other things too, practical things, that have helped in this journey.  I want to share them; not because I have it all figured out (I don't and I'm still learning each day), but because I'm encouraged and inspired to spend more time with God as I hear how other moms with young children are working this out in their daily lives.  Even if you don't do anything I do, but you read this post and think, "I am so thankful for what Jesus has done for me, and I want to make more time for him." That's great!

Here are some things that have helped me feast on my 'daily bread'...

Understanding why it's important
I am the type of person who needs to know why a rule exists in order to be motivated to follow it.  But once I embrace the reason behind it, I can happily live within the boundaries.  It took me a long time to establish a regular time each day with the Lord, making it my highest priority, because I wondered if it was just a legalistic expectation that Christians place on themselves.  But I've come up short in my ability enough times to realize that in order to obey God, give him glory, and have wisdom for the day, I must first be worshipping and enjoying him.  My 'good works' will only be an overflow of my time spent being filled by his love and grace.  Suddenly, daily time with God stopped being a burden and started be a necessary part of doing anything else with eternal purpose.  Also, as I've observed other Christians, it's clear that those who are shining the light of Jesus most brightly are the ones who make time with God a priority each day.  So if that is the type of woman I want to be when I'm 40, 60, 80 and today, then time invested in the Lord is incredibly important!

Meeting in the morning 
I love the powerful story of Susanna Wesley, who put an apron over her head to signify to her 10 children that she was spending time with the Lord.  She couldn't find time to fit in a quiet moment, so she just made one!  I've needed to discover my proverbial 'apron' and figure out how to make time for Jesus, even when I have a busy and demanding lifestyle.

Although I do not believe that there is a biblical mandate to have time with the Lord each morning (because we are justified by faith alone and not our works), it is of great value.  There is just no way around it for me; I've tried to do quiet times at all times of the day, but I just desperately need it in the morning.  I need it like I need coffee and breakfast.  If I don't read scripture, meditate on it, and pray - I'm sure to be feeling frustrated with my children before lunch and groaning over every mess.  I'll be looking for ways to avoid all of the hard stuff, and will miss practical areas where I can be faithful and obedient.

Right now, this looks one of two ways...the ideal thing is for me to wake up before everyone else, and I would say that happens 2-3 days a week.  I say "ideal", recognizing that a long night of being up with babies, illness, or any other manner of routine disruption make this really challenging.  Sometimes I just need to sleep, and that's okay.  But as much as possible, I like to have some time to center my heart and mind on the Lord before I'm being needed for urgent tasks.  If I'm not able to wake up before the kids (or if they somehow sense I'm awake and get up early with me), I plan to do quiet time right after breakfast.  The kids watch a show or play for about 30-45 minutes while I work on bible study and pray.  I sit at the kitchen table and expect interruptions, but this still serves as a necessary time to receive nourishment from the word for my day.  In the event I'm not able to do either of these, I try to do something in the afternoon during nap time (or I just rest on God's grace for me that day, knowing that my relationship with Him is based on Christ alone)!!

Taking advantage of unexpected opportunities.
Sometimes very gracious family members watch my kids for periods of time during the week.  Although I can think of 1,000+ things to do with those precious minutes, I try to take advantage of those times to spend focused and uninterrupted time with the Lord.  This is different that my daily quiet time, and often includes reading a book, digging deeper into a topic I've been curious about or writing down what God is teaching me (which occasionally leads to writing blog posts).  Also, if the children all wonderfully align their naps for the day, I can spend part of the afternoon listening to podcasts of biblical teaching, watching conferences that I wish I could have attended, or otherwise multitasking learning with chores.  Speaking of which - it's been tremendously helpful for me to look for ways to redeem my daily chores and use that time to multi-task, because often those daily things are mindless and you can use that time to think about God!

Refusing to be overcome by guilt.
Okay...let's level here...
All of that sounds really great, and for the most part, this reflects my current habits in this season of life...but my kids also get sick, and I get lazy, and there are days / times / weeks when it just looks less than ideal.  I skip days, I choose my to-do list over my quiet time, and I waste time online.  As I mentioned in the beginning of this post...spending time with Jesus is a daily battle, and sometimes I lose the battle.  But here is the good news:  my standing before God doesn't change if I skip a quiet time or fail to be faithful to him.  He is faithful to me.  He keeps his promises to me.  He holds on to me no matter what.  And I have to remember and recall those truths when I haven't been in fellowship with him!  Because if I don't, I'm likely to start avoiding God altogether because I think he's mad at me or something.  Jesus paid the price, and God's mercies are new everyday!


I would love to hear how you make time with Jesus a priority - and fight the battle to make him number one!

Monday, October 27, 2014

"I'm Sorry for What I Said When I was Hungry"

Thoughts on consuming Jesus as our Daily Bread - From the Jensens Blog

Living as a person who is hungry
I've seen this phrase on T-shirts and art prints everywhere, "I'm sorry for what I said when I was hungry."  And it's funny, because most of us can relate.  Who hasn't been in a situation when they were ready to eat a meal, feeling hungry, and then felt like they couldn't focus or be nice to anyone until they ate?  I have experienced this at wedding receptions without appetizers, on long car rides, and even at parties when I've had to wait and wait for the food to finally be served (wishing I would have snuck a granola bar in my purse).  Of course I was physically present, but my mind was focused on one thing, "When is the food coming?  I'm hungry!"  This state can lead to distraction and irritability...hence needing to apologize after you've eaten for what you said.

Hungry People:
  • Can be irritable and easily angered
  • Can have a difficult time focusing on anything but meeting their own needs
  • Can be more likely to consume unhealthy food because they just want to feel full
We know this about ourselves physically, that when we let ourselves get too hungry, there is no telling what we will do!  Similar things can happen when we hunger spiritually, and interestingly the bible draws many parallels to this pop culture recognition of huger and the heart.

Eating our daily bread
As the Israelites were journeying through the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt, they started to get hungry.  The desert didn't provide much (if any) opportunities for food, so they grumbled at Moses and Aaron, but really, they grumbled at God.  Without having their physical need for food met, they had a hard time focusing on or accomplishing much else.  So God, being merciful and patient, provided for their needs by sending daily manna (bread) from heaven.  Each day they were to gather this bread, eating just what they needed to sustain them that day, and trusting God to bring manna again the next day.  The only exception being the Sabbath day, where they were to rest and eat that which God had provided to them the day before.

While this manna was significant to the Israelites at the time, as God tested their faith, it was even more importantly a sign pointing to a greater form of manna (bread) that God would send over a thousand years later.

Jesus says, "I am the bread of life."  and "I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever."  (John 6:48, 51)

Just as God gave the Israelites manna so that they could daily humble themselves and trust in God's provision for them, God gives us Jesus so that we can daily 'eat of him' and live.  It is telling that God didn't just give the Israelites manna once a month, once a week, or once a year.  He didn't say, "just go gather this occasionally and save a bunch to live off of for a long time."  The Israelites had to wake up each day hungry, and then have faith for their bread that day.  In the same way, Jesus isn't something we partake of occasionally, hoping we can live off of a little truth for weeks or months, but someone we need to connect with daily to be filled.

Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."  (Luke 9:23)

We see from the symbolism of the manna and from Jesus' own words that there is significance in eating of the true bread of life each and every day so we can be filled spiritually.

Living as a person who is full
Just like a person who is hungry can't really focus on anything except for their stomach, we have a difficult time truly serving God and others when we are spiritually hungry.  We might be able to fake it on the outside for a while, but eventually we will break our cover and reveal the starving nature of our heart.  This might come across as anger, irritability, a word spoken harshly, or even a failure to notice what someone really needs.  It's hard to truly love others when you are hungry.

But on the contrary, a person who is full can just rest and pay attention to other things.  They are at peace and are less likely to fill themselves up with meaningless and temporal things in order to sustain them for a time.  Full people can start to think about things other than themselves.  Eating of the true bread of life, Jesus, is not something we do daily so we can check it off of our to-do list, but it's as crucial to our existence as eating food.  We don't wake up in the morning thinking that we can just survive on what we ate last week, we recognize our need for food to sustain us that very day.

Only in a relationship with Jesus Christ can we function as we should with God and others.  First we have to be filled by the true bread of life, and then that overflows, reaching every aspect of our lives.  Full people can be a blessing!

*The journal pictured above was purchased through Life Lived Beautifully on ETSY.  This is an amazing tool, and I would definitely recommend one to anyone who prefers a 'guided' journal for quiet time instead of just blank pages.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Not Shifting Our Hope

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister." (Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)

Behind the Curve
I can understand right alongside you how easy it is to shift our hope. Daily, I read blogs, see Facebook posts, and read Twitter tidbits that preach a different kind of gospel. They say that in order to be a good mom, 
"You must stop exposing your family chemicals."
"You must have a themed birthday party every year."
"You must read to your kids for 30 minutes a day - minimum."
"You must keep up with mom blogs."
"You must start doing educational activities at home no later than 12 months."
"You must dress your kids in unique artisan clothes (eco-friendly, perhaps)."
"You must take family pictures every year."
"You must make sure to document your child's first day of school with a sign."
None of these things are bad, evil, or wrong in and of themselves.  In fact many of them are good, and hold benefit for ourselves and our families.  But what are we to do when these 'good things' start to burden us, making us feel like we are constantly behind the curve?

Re-Adjusting Our Hope
When we feel burdened to the max, throwing stones of mom guilt in our backpacks until we can't go on anymore, what are we to do?  (Maybe now would have been a good time to experience the benefits of those Pinterest circuits we were going to incorporate into our daily routine.)  The answer isn't to just try harder to mimic the moms who seem to be carrying their heavy backpacks just fine.  NO.  The answer is to just stop and take it off, because there is someone who will carry it for you.  His name is Jesus.

In him, all things hold together.  He is over this world of expectations, trends, and pressures to be a certain kind of mom.
In him, we have peace through the blood of the cross.  PEACE.  Not striving to do better and be better.
In him, we are no longer alienated and hostile in mind.  No longer do we need to strive to make a name for ourselves, because the only name that matters is the preeminent one, Jesus himself.

Paul says there is something we need to do if we are going to continue in our faith, to remain stable and steadfast and it is this:  we cannot shift our hope onto anything other than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our hope can't be found in the physical health of our family.
Our hope can't be found in how well we prepare and educate our children.
Our hope can't be found in how versed we are in our culture's norms and trends.
Our hope can't be found in how good our parenting looks to others.
There is nothing to add to what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf.  He has paid all of our dues so that we don't have to keep trying to be a perfect mom.  When we know and trust him, we are seen as holy and blameless before a holy and blameless God.  And if we can say that is true, then we have nothing to fear in this life.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
A favorite hymn of mine goes like this:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

If you are having a hard time with the burdens of motherhood or the burdens of the world, there is only one place to look that will make them grow dim, and that is into the face of Jesus.  You can learn about him and know him through the word of God given to us in the bible.  You can find out about this magnificent Christ who was the firstborn of all creation.  I am confident that getting to know him won't make your life easy and perfect, but it will fill you with joy beyond comparison.

You might also like The Gospel (for moms)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On finding a good bible study...

Stumbling into Study
In 2009, I was recently married and seeking to do something more intentional with my time.  Haphazardly, I was also looking for a bible study as a way to add another activity to my week and have some community.  I had no idea how this choice would change my life!  Although I had been a Christian for a few years, was reading many biblically based books, and was trying to navigate the bible on my own, I had not really "studied" the bible in a structured way.  This meant I did a LOT of picking and choosing and a LOT of reading out of context.  While God is gracious and able to use any of our bible reading to grow our knowledge and love for him, I had no idea the richness of scripture that I was missing out on with my random reading.

Next week, I will begin my 6th year of in-depth bible study.  In the past 5 years, God has transformed the way I read and understand scripture - and in turn, He has transformed my heart.

Making Bible Study a Priority
As I enter another year of in-depth study, I want to encourage you to consider some questions, and pray about how God might want to answer them in your life.

1.  Is the bible a key aspect of your relationship with God?  
2.  Do you read specific scriptures in context and seek to understand them in relation to the greater narrative of the bible?
3.  Do you have people in your life who regularly hold you accountable to reading and studying scripture?
4.  Are you involved in a community of believers with whom you can discuss God's word and its implications for daily life?

Reading the bible is not a requirement for being or becoming a Christian.  The only requirement is that you put your faith in Jesus Christ, repenting from your sin and trusting that his sacrifice for sin on the cross has fully cleansed you and reconciled you to God for all eternity.  However, the implications of this type of faith includes a transformed heart and a strong desire to know God more deeply, obeying him and following his instructions.  If this is a strong desire of yours, then it also logically follows that reading and understanding the bible is an important part of living out your faith and being continually changed.  Because the bible is the way in which God speaks to us, thus transforming our minds and hearts.

Doing a bible study is hard, and it requires sacrifice, but the rewards are eternal.

If you haven't ever studied the bible, why not start now?
I went almost 3 years into my walk with God before participating in a bible study, and it greatly affected my my faith when I finally started.  Studying the bible is different than just reading it at face value, and there is an infinite depth of knowledge as you get to know God through his word.  This is achieved as you give specific portions of scripture your full attention, meditate on the meaning, and pray about how it impacts you.

If you haven't been very consistent in reading your bible, stop worrying about it and get back into it!
God doesn't love you any more or less because you read the bible.  He loves you because of what Jesus did on the cross.  Having time in the bible isn't something for your to-do list, it's something you do because you love God.  So stop feeling guilty, pray and share your heart with God, and get started again!

If you can, join a good bible study and be accountable to other believers!
This could be through your local church, a friend's church, or a para-church organization.  Having a regularly scheduled time when I had to show up, discuss what I read with other Christians, and complete specific study questions was what impacted me the most.  Without fellow believers and a structured study, I'm pretty much still a person who randomly reads my bible here and there without much direction or practical application.

This isn't about being a "better Christian" or adding another thing to your proverbial to-do list.  This is about the truth that God's word is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword.  It will pierce your very soul, transform you, strengthen you, give you peace, and offer deep wisdom.  God will speak to you through it, and draw you near to himself as you ponder who He is and what he has done through Jesus.  Go and enjoy what he has richly blessed you with...an opportunity to study the bible.

Resources and Study Options
Many studies take a break over the summer and start again in September...so now is a great time to get involved!
  • Your local church:  Most local churches have good bible studies or even a Sunday School class that might have material to review throughout the week to help you stay consistent.
  • Bible Study Fellowship:  This organization holds studies in many cities all over the country (and the world).  You can go to their website to look up a location near to you, and visit the welcome class to get involved.  It runs for about 9 months (with breaks for holidays and summer).
  • Precept Ministries International:  This is another organization with wonderful in-depth studies all over the country.  Visit the website for more information and locations.  It runs for several weeks to several months depending on the length of the study.
  • She Reads Truth:  This is an online study where you can also connect with a computer and use an app on your phone or your blog RSS feed to keep up with it.  I think you can also invest in hard copy materials if this is easier for you.