Keeping a Worshipful Spirit

I fret when things other than the Lord Jesus Christ occupy my thoughts and time most of the day. I feel that it is a great shortcoming and failure on my part, and in my list of “major offences” against God, those two are lined with “sin”. Maybe unlike most Christians, I am very fearful of God. I still haven’t learned to not connect my sickness and suffering with God’s punishment or chastisement. Often, I still think that my suffering intensifies because I might have offended God in some way (although sometimes I can’t really think of any, unless God is uber-sensitive like that). I know that you think otherwise. I, too, cannot totally believe that God is hovering over me, just waiting for me to slip and then – boom! The punishment comes. I cannot really believe He works that way, yet, it surely feels that way when the sting of suffering grips me.

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So, I am fearful of Him, so much so that I cower in my spirit and when I haven’t behaved perfectly, I actually beg Him to not punish me. But I do not want to go back to those beggarly feelings or living like an adopted-and-unloved child, because I’d been there and it just isn’t true.

Instead, I respond to this fretting and fearfulness (or in other words – conviction) by listening well to the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ and praying more agonizingly. And most of all, I strain to find ways to please Him and worship Him whatever I do during the course of the day.

Well, to be honest, I fret because there are bad habits I have not yet completely forsaken. Bad habits and weaknesses that trump my resolve to “behave myself wisely in a perfect way, to walk within my house with a perfect heart” as David had declared. There are times I still fall prey to them.

opening my cellphone to check  messages and IG (a quick browse) first thing in the morning

my mind dwelling on vain thoughts while waiting for sleep to come at night and back to them in my waking moment

feasting my eyes on things of this world (especially online), even as simple as a pretty teacup

planning, devising (like in home decorating), and round and round it goes

planning, imagining projects for watercolor painting

planning, arranging, scheduling menus and recipes and baking actvities

I may live a sedentary life and most of it in bed, but my mind is always active and busy 😀

With the exception of the first two, the activities I listed above are not bad. But when they worm themselves into my mind more than necessary, and especially during worship service (via live streaming on my laptop), that is bad. They then become distractions, a word I’m becoming to hate more and more everyday.

And the worst thing? When they consume my thoughts, affections, and time. Suddenly at the end of the day, I realize I have wasted my time with vain things, worldly things that don’t really matter to the Lord and eternity. Then, I fret. I get sad and soul-heavy.

I guess I am more prone to such habits or “thought life” because of my situation. I don’t go out (because I can’t). There are very limited activities I can do beside reading, watching, looking, painting, writing, praying, AND thinking. The painting, writing, and reading I cannot do any time I want. I need to wait for strength and comfortable breathing to be able to do them. In the meantime, I browse online. Browsing and looking are my easiest ways to pass the time. But when I am unable to do even those, I keep still and close my eyes. Then, things play in my mind, some are spiritual, some are not.

I don’t want to live this way everyday. I want to be always in the presence of the Lord, yes, even when I am doing something that is not spiritual. I believe this is possible when I don’t let my worldly activities and thoughts and plans consume me. Consume is the key word. When we let things other than God consume us, then they become sin. This is the thing that Apostle Paul mentioned in Colossians 3:5:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5)

Inordinate affection. Inordinate is defined as “1. disorderly, unregulated 2. exceeding reasonable limits: immoderate”*. We should not develop inordinate affection to worldly things. Temperance or self-control is the operative word. It’s not as if I shop and shop online with no care about the price or their necessity. No, not at all. But, for instance, I like collecting vintage or used teacups and I buy them from local IG sellers. Yes, I like looking at them, collecting them, and using them for tea, but I don’t really buy the expensive ones. I only buy the cheap ones. Yet, I feel guilty and fret sometimes because I delight in them and I think about them and they make me happy.

I don’t want to border on covetousness, no matter how simple the things I want to have and enjoy. I always endeavor to live simply, although my heart longs for beauty. 

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: 29 for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:28-29)

God should be the One filling our hearts and minds and not the things of this world. The prayer I whisper every time I find myself being pulled away by my worldly desires is this: “Lord Jesus, fill my heart and mind and days with Yourself that I would be so full of You!” There is a need for intentional and diligent seeking of Him. If we want to be nearer to God, then let’s intentionally draw near to God, for when we do so, He draws near to us. So, I tell myself, “Just do it. Make ways to do it.”

What my soul desires is to worship Him until I should have touched the throne of grace and He should have touched me that I am transformed. And healed. For that to be always my goal.

In my life, it’s my weaknesses that vie for my deep and constant devotion to God, those weaknesses that bring us fleeting thrills. Indeed, there are endless distractions that pull us away from a connected worship of God. In the course of the day, we go through many things, both the needed and the desired, the essential and the exciting, but they should not consume us, they should not occupy more territory in our minds than what we give for the Lord – thinking, meditating, worshiping, and delighting in Him.

The principle behind this is what the Apostle Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31:

But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, 30 those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, 31 and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. (1 Cor. 7:29-31)

Those who buy as though they did not possess. Those who enjoy the things of this world, however simple and innocent, as if they did not enjoy them. It’s like that, right?

Because we are all “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

*From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

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The Pharisee Mentality

I have noticed a beautiful change in my spiritual life lately. Just when I stopped striving too hard to perfect my ways before the Lord and acted instead as His child who is loved, cherished, and a constant recipient of His grace and mercy, that was the time I began to feel and really enjoy His love. For years I had worked very hard to deserve His favor, perfecting my ways all day and night even when I felt my mind and body were burning out and my heart was shrinking.

I had been that hard to my sick and suffering self, willing it to do more for the Lord in each and every day perchance He would took pity on me and He would completely heal me at last. Looking back, I realize it now that those years, though replete with tough and precious lessons, were also the ones that were almost devoid of joy, rest, and a nurtured feeling. As I drove myself hard to win God’s favor, I felt I was becoming more bitter and certainly didn’t know how to rest in God’s love.

I would force myself to read chapters of the Bible even between my morning and evening devotions. I’d praise in my mind unceasingly as I rested. I taught the Bible to my children nightly even when I was dizzy and not breathing comfortably. I learned to sing new songs during my idle time. I didn’t socialize via Internet (and since I couldn’t go out, I had zero social life). I only read the Bible or Christian devotional books. I didn’t watch movies or TV. I never learned computer games. I only approved of Scrabble as a game for the whole family. My days were shaped by a great, cowering fear of God and desperate striving for perfection. Because of all these, when I still suffered despite of all that, I questioned God bitterly in my heart. I couldn’t feel His rest, love, and nurturing. There was only striving. I entertained hurts, resentments, and self-pity in my heart. My posture was of one who questioned, or had the right to question. I had these silent thoughts:

Why does God continue to bless him/her though I haven’t seen his/her perfect ways?

Why is he/she healthy, peaceful, happy though I haven’t seen him/her do diligently what I do for God?

I’ve praised, prayed, read the Bible, obeyed Jesus’ teachings, and yet, I’m still sick and suffering.

Yes, I could only see my attempts at perfection, what I did, but only became bitter because of them. Maybe, unknowingly, I had stood before God silently displaying my works and had not known how to rest in His love and receive His grace. Even when I hadn’t been perfect before Him. Especially when I hadn’t been perfect before Him.

This had made me like the Pharisee in Luke 18:10-14:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)

When I finally let go of perfectionism and my strivings {I didn’t force myself to sing when I couldn’t; I didn’t force myself to read chapters of the Bible when it was hard to breathe; I slept instead of doing one more spiritual thing because it was what my sick body needed; I socialized on FB and it made me happy and I didn’t feel guilty about it; I read good, clean Christian novels; I watched good, clean Hallmark movies or Dove-approved movies (I also watched novel-made-intomovies like Catherine Cookson’s, though I felt miserable with them); I didn’t terrorize myself in my mind when I failed or committed a mistake} – it was then that I truly felt God’s love working in my life. That I can rest in it. When I loosened myself of the grip of perfectionism and allowed some ‘clean, fun living’ with all the shortcomings, mistakes, and failures that came with it – God’s grace and mercy in my life became more palpable.

When I allowed myself to be just His child with the mistakes that a child makes, my praise and worship of Him became deeper and more soul-felt because then I knew that I was under grace and in need of His mercy. 

Why can’t we be more like little children before God – humble and obedient but fun-knowing, imperfect but loving and devoted to Him?

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat. 18:3)

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From Fear to Love Part 2

Yes, there was a first From Fear to Love and you can read it here. I used to live in fear of God, so powerful that I couldn’t have a day’s rest. What is wrong with having a fear of God, you ask. After all, the Bible teaches us to fear God. But in my fear of God, I had not felt His love. I didn’t know how to rest in His love. I only knew His severity, His chastisements (more of punishments), and my fearful reaction – cowering and trembling.

Because of this great fear of Him and my suffering which I believed was His form of punishment of me, I did my best to do only those things that would please Him. I strove to please Him at every heartbeat I took, so to speak. For a very long time, I only knew His severity and saw just glimpses of His love and mercy like a thin shaft of light that strained to pass through a shuttered window. I endeavoured to behave myself perfectly before Him from the moment I opened my eyes in the morning to the time I closed them again at night. And I wondered, oh, many times I wondered, why the physical suffering, the punishment, continued relentlessly. Cruelly. Without respite.

I knew the Lord Jesus Christ as meek and lowly, loving and compassionate. I knew the stories about Him, both from the Bible and from living testimonies. But somehow, I had this image of the all-powerful God who held everything in His hands, who couldn’t stand mistakes and failures, and who chastised His children when they erred. It’s true that He chastises His children. But for me, it seemed it was so much more.

For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives. (Heb. 12: 6)

But even if I had perfected my way, I still collapsed in bed, gasping for breath, for my very life, and wondering what could have I done this time. Instead of resting in the love of the Lord, I wrung my heart, trying to squeeze out whatever fault I’d done. I would repent over and over until I had felt some measure of relief. There was a time, I whined in my mind, that – yes, it was all my fault, I even killed Rizal (Dr. Jose Rizal is our country’s national hero and he was killed in Luneta by firing squad during the Spanish regime).

Later on, I realized that my strivings for perfection could have put me in a position to question God, His compassion (or lack thereof) and judgment. I thought that, perhaps perfection breeds pride. That kind of perfection that doesn’t come from the Lord but from our own works, our own exertions. When my body succumbed to suffering, instead of laying myself at the Lord’s feet and resting in His love and mercy, I would review every thought, word, and act I made in the past few hours. I racked my brain trying to analyze even the minutest fault that might have triggered the “attack” (of God’s chastisement).

Then a shift happened. I can’t say when it started to happen, but I just began to realize that I wasn’t living in cowering fear of God anymore, but in His unfailing love. I then began to experience that, even in the midst of my failures, mistakes, and shortcomings, I could run to Him and rest in His love and know that I wouldn’t be turned away or rejected. Or punished.

Something happened within me, a work of the Holy Spirit for sure, and I knew that God loves me, warts (spots and blemishes) and all. That it is only when we admit we are imperfect, and we are imperfect, that we can truly experience the Lord’s love and mercy.

Now, everyday, I choose to dwell in His love. Not in fear. For I found out that God’s not the one who was attacking me but His enemy.

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Wonderfully Made

The kids and I begin to read and discuss NKJV Greatest Stories of the Bible, reading through Genesis chapters 1 to 2. Hannah reads and we listen, although Tim does his best to keep his eyes open (we start quite late). Hannah keeps her eyes on the page and continues to read,  Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Tim yawns. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them … (Tim yawns for the nth time). I tell him to go to bed while Hannah and I finish our reading and discussion, but no, he wants to stay.

Young Hannah and baby Tim.

Hannah finishes reading, puts down the book and I ask, “What are the things that you learned here about the truth of God?”

She thinks deeply, then gives her answer, “That what God says comes to be.”

I am surprised by her answer. I have my own thoughts about what we have read and it doesn’t include that. “Great! Yes! That is so true! What God says comes to be. His word is very powerful. He is the Word.”

This truth about God is what makes us, His creation, fear Him. For we must fear God. I tell the kids this.

And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, And to depart from evil is understanding.’ (Job 28:28)

I continue to discuss with the kids. Tim blinks his eyes trying to stay awake. He likes our Bible Studies but he’s often distracted.

Another truth about God that we can learn from creation is this: that He blesses. He is a God who blesses. Remember from the days of creation, He blessed the sea and everything in it, and blessed the first man and woman? We need not fear nor worry when we need something. We need not look elsewhere to find answer to our needs, great and small, nor doubt that our needs will ever be met.  We need only to remember that God is a giver of blessings and when we call upon Him, our Father in heaven, He will hear us and will bless us.

This truth about Him tells us about His great love for us. Though we rightly fear Him for He is God Almighty, we know also that His love for us never fails. It’s everlasting. Whether therefore He disciplines us or blesses us, it is all an act of love by a Father who loves His children.

The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. (Jer. 31:3)

I ask Hannah again of more of her inputs about the truth of God from The Creation, and we almost say simultaneously, that God created us and we did not evolve from monkeys as scientists claim. The Bible says we were created in His own image and likeness.

And today, I remember this, as I thank and honor God for making me and fashioning me inside my mother’s womb 46 years ago today.

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. ((Ps. 139:14, emphasis mine).

I might be linking up with these lovely blogs.

Journey with Jesus,