This speaks loudly.
There is nothing I need or want more than Jesus. He is the One who fills all the blanks, and gives clarity to all the questions that resonate in my heart.
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:25-26
“I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11
A few months ago, while packing boxes, I was standing in a room full of books and items trying to determine what I needed to keep, and what could be given away or trashed. There were things which, at one time, had been necessary for the moment but were no longer worth keeping. I was trying to be very discerning as to what was most important; what was of great value to me; and what was of utmost importance to store. If you’re like me, boxes of things you’ve forgotten about tend to follow you from one move to another. It wasn’t an easy process, and at times it was emotional, but it was necessary in order not to waste storage space with things that I really didn’t need.
Recently I was unpacking a box, and came across something my mom had kept and given to me years ago. It was a sweatshirt from when I was in Kindergarten at Carnell Elementary; the Carnell Colts. For those who know me, I can hear you joking about how I could probably still wear it. Maybe I can, and maybe I can’t. Nonetheless, I didn’t need it and it was just another thing to store somewhere that would continue to follow me, in a box, from one place to another. Don’t get me wrong, just looking at it brought up some great memories. It was the sweatshirt that made me run faster when I wore it, and gave me special skills when I was playing football at recess. But it was time to part with the sweatshirt. “Kenny, give me the woobie.” (Those who know great lines from great classic movies will get that reference.)
Here’s the point: It is hard to store what is most valuable, necessary, and important when there are lesser things taking up space. I’m speaking of something of much greater worth and significance than the things of this world that get lost, are stolen, fade away, become destroyed, or rust.
The Psalmist writes,“I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11
To “store” something means that I not only keep it, but in this context in the Hebrew writings it means to “hide away,” because it is like treasure. In other words, the writer of this psalm is saying that God’s word is of such great value in showing me how to navigate life so that I take steps in the right direction, that its counsel, comfort, and truths are worth treasuring in the place where my emotions are stirred. God’s word is of great worth because it becomes guardrails to my affections and emotions, pointing them in a Godward direction. As well, it speaks truth to the thoughts in my mind that so often can become conflicting.
CLEAN OUT THE CLUTTER . . .
There was a popular show a few years ago, Hoarders, that shed light on compulsive behavior revealed to hoarding items within a home: food, trash, books, toys, clothes, and other things piled up to the ceiling, blocking the hallways, filling up rooms, thus making it impossible for healthy and safe living conditions. There were some episodes that were hard to watch. To see what some people had become trapped in due to trauma or a tragedy in their lives was heartbreaking to say the least. The purpose of the show was to bring in help by way of therapists and professional organizers to assist in the physical clean up, as well as ongoing counseling for those suffering from compulsive hoarding disorder. Some were success stories; others were not.
When I think about what I’ve stored in my heart, and what I still have a tendency to hoard, they are certainly not things that keeping me from sinning against God, but rather keep me in sin against God: anger, jealousy, envy, pride, unforgiveness, and the list could go on. Some of these are blatantly obvious; you can see them clearly. But there are, perhaps, those feelings and thoughts that have been tucked away deep in the recesses of your heart and mind, that you have kept so long, yet give no thought to, that are negatively affecting your life in ways you haven’t really considered. All of these take up space that crowds out our heart, and leaves no room for the true treasure we need to store. When God shows me what I need to rid my heart of, as I confess those things as sin, I begin to experience and enjoy the freedom found in treasuring Him.
King David, prayed this in Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” In other words, David was acknowledging, “God you know my heart. You know what hurts me, and grieves You! Show me and lead me in how to really live life well!”
I’ve found that asking God to show me what is in me, that I’m not even aware of, is a healthy spiritual discipline that eliminates the clutter and creates space for the true treasure God has for me. It believe it will be for you, as it is for me, a daily discipline that will help you take steps in the right direction.
KEEP THE TREASURE . . .
There is a state park not too far from where I live that is known for digging for diamonds. People will come from all over the country to explore the 900-plus acres in hopes of unearthing diamonds. Just a few years ago, there was an 8-carat diamond found that was worth close to $500,000. That’s crazy. I really do need to get a shovel.
Can you imagine digging up a diamond that’s worth half a million dollars? Talk about finding treasure. But there’s a different kind of treasure in God’s word that is lasting; it’s eternal; and it is much more valuable than an 8-carat diamond. I can hear some saying I’ll take the $500K . . . in cash, please. Money isn’t evil, but the love of it sure is. I don’t have time to tell you the countless stories of people who thought they had true treasure after winning a lottery, only to later declare for bankruptcy.
When your soul lives lavishly on the riches of God’s word you have stored in your heart, you recognize more clearly the worthless trinkets the world seeks to sell you as treasure. I’ve come to realize that when a heart is void of the authentic treasure of God’s word, it will easily pursue what deceptively sparkles like diamonds.
To begin a day without storing up the life-sustaining and life-protecting treasure of God’s word, is like waking up and deciding to walk across the Sahara Desert with no water or food. You will not make it far. So, I strive to begin each day digging into the Scriptures. And daily, I always come away with treasure that enriches my life, and helps me take one more step in the right direction.
As you think on this, ask yourself, What do I need to rid my heart of that is keeping me from storing up true treasure and taking one more step in the right direction?
“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” Revelation 2:4-5
God often speaks to me through music, as He did this morning through this song.
As long as you are breathing, you are a candidate for being hurt and hurting. I know because I have been hurt deeply, and I have hurt deeply. There are moments where the hurt you bear, both what you’ve received and given, seems unbearable. It is like a crushing weight that is suffocating, and a searing pain that doesn’t subside.
Hurting expresses itself in anger. It makes you tentative. It causes you to be untrusting. It can lead to isolation. And hurting, unattended and not cared for well, will be wholly detrimental.
So what do you do when you are hurting?
1. Admit it. Hiding the fact that you are hurt doesn’t help heal the hurt. You will never find healing in isolation. Admit it to God. Admit it to yourself. But what I have found to be true is that there needs to be great caution with whom you share your hurt. Brené Brown, in her book Imperfect Gifts, says there are those who can become “flying debris,” and do more harm than good. I’ve found that to be true in my life. But I’ve also found two or three men with whom I can share my hurts; those who have my best interest at heart and aren’t looking for something to gossip about. They aren’t interested in the details of who has hurt me, or who I’ve hurt for that matter, but they are invested in my healing. Healing doesn’t begin until you admit that you are hurting.
2. Examine it. It is important to identify why you are hurting and where you are hurting. Ask God show you the places in your heart you may even be unaware of where hurt is hiding and growing. It may be pain from a wound someone has caused you, or you have caused someone else, and have suppressed it deeply within the recesses of your heart. A great book that has been extremely helpful to me is Emotionally Health Spirituality, by Peter Scazzerro. Personally, I believe that every person should read this book. It’s one I wish had been written 30 years earlier. As well as reading, and working through the wisdom and practical help offered in that book, another helpful discipline I have established in my life is praying what David praying in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” God is a much better examiner of my heart, and much more gracious in His findings, than I am. And He knows exactly how to shepherd us through the valley of the shadow of death and into green pastures beside quiet waters.
3. Care for it. I can’t heal my hurt, but I know who can. The Psalmist reminds us that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3 There is no greater care giver than God. His heart is compassionate towards us, and His hands are skillful in bringing healing to our pain. Charles Spurgeon said, “There are many sorts of broken hearts, and Christ is good at healing them all.” I’m finding that to be true.
4. Release it. Hurt that is held on to, is hurt that never heals. There is a great quote that is often attributed to C.S. Lewis, although it is not certain that he said it. Nonetheless, it is a great quote in which the words are absolutely true. “Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars–you have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” Moving forward doesn’t mean that you don’t feel. But what it does mean is that you don’t allow the hurt to be a weight that pulls you down to the depths. Forgiving those who have hurt you deeply, and asking forgiveness of those whom you have deeply hurt, is what frees you to move forward in healing and sustaining grace.
Many of the Psalms are attributed to David, but they could be my Psalms too. And yours. They tell my story, and echo the resonating cries that fill the chambers of my heart.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!” Psalm 130:1
Been there. And it has felt deep because it was deep. That’s where sin drags you–to the depths of its dark ocean. Sin doesn’t allow you to float on the surface; it is like a whirlpool, or a tumultuous undertow, that you can’t withstand. And that’s where David was at times; it’s where we all find ourselves on occasion. Lest we think it’s the “big” sins that drag us under, don’t forget it was six relatively small holes that filled six compartments of the Titanic’s hull that led to its sinking in just over two hours. All sin leads to sinking, which is why we all need rescue because we all have sinned. (Romans 3:23)
When we find ourselves sinking, our only hope is to cry out for rescue.
“O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!” Psalm 130:2
There’s desperation in David’s cry. But that makes sense, right? There’s always a desperate cry when a person recognizes they are in a hopeless situation.
When I was in college, a group of friends and I were doing a concert in northern Arkansas. We had some free time prior to our rehearsal and sound check so we decided to go canoeing on a creek that emptied into the White River. The float was uneventful; no rapids and nothing difficult. It was just an easy trip with some good friends.
After finishing the float, and while we were waiting on someone to pick us up, we saw three whirlpools formed by fast flowing water feeding into some large ribbed pipes that went under a wide-concrete road that went across the creek. There was ankle-deep water covering the road, but the creek water fed through the pipes coming out the other side and continued on, eventually connecting with the White River. For some reason we were fascinated by these whirlpools, and began to throw things in them and watched them be taken under. Stupid fun, until I got to close to the edge of the moss-laden road and slipped into the creek. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but remember the three large ribbed pipes where all the fast flowing water was converging? As soon as I fell in, I was immediately swept into one of the pipes and instinctively wrapped my arms around the top of the exposed ribbed pipe, clinging for life. The water was fairly deep, but what made this so treacherous was the water flowing through the concentrated area of the pipe. The water was so powerful that I couldn’t move. I had already taken off the life-jacket, so my chest was pressed up against the pipe, cutting my chest and making it hard for me to breath. From mid-chest down, I was in the pipe. Because of the pressure against my chest, I couldn’t even cry out for help. Slipping into the creek happened so quickly that none of my friends saw me, until one turned around and saw me sucked three-quarters of the way into a drainage pipe. Fortunately he screamed to the others, and as they came over to help I finally had managed to get one leg from the pipe (I’m convinced that I had a guardian angel with scuba gear on that did some stellar work). While they were grabbing the back of my swimsuit (which gave me the worst wedgie I’ve ever sustained . . .and didn’t mind at the time), and my arms and pulling me up, someone had called a park ranger. After being rescued, and shaking from fear and exhaustion, the ranger came over to see if I needed any medical attention. It was then that he informed us that if I had gone into the pipe, I would not have come out on the other side due to a welded metal grate inside the pipe. It was a desperate situation; even more than I knew at the time. I was trying to cry out for help and fortunately, by God’s grace, my friends saw my dire circumstance and came to my rescue.
Only those who recognize their situation as desperate, cry out desperately to God for help. Just ask the children of Israel when they were enslaved by Egypt. Or Jonah. Or a multitude of others we read about in the Scriptures.
God’s ears are always attentive, and His response is always full of mercy, to those who cry out to Him. Many a person have allowed the pride of their life be the death-weights that led to the sinking death of their soul. Crying out for mercy is not a weak thing to do, it’s the wise thing to do when you recognize the weight of sin and the dire consequences that ensue.
The great news is that God’s mercy is not a one-time offer. His mercies are new every morning. “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23
Not only is God merciful, but He offers forgiveness of sin and full redemption to all who cry out to Him and turn from sin. Against God’s righteous and Holy standard, not one of us could stand because of our sinfulness.
“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Psalm 130:3
But because He is good and gracious, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. (Romans 8:1) In other words, Jesus took the weight of all our sin so that we could, by placing our full trust in Him for salvation, be set free from the death-penalty of sin. Such is grace to all who cry out to God.
“For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him there is plentiful redemption.” Psalm 130:7
His steadfast love and plentiful redemption are more than enough, and all I, as well as you, will ever need.
In my last blog, I shared with you that the first step in moving in the right direction is that I must daily surrender the thought that my way is better than God’s.
That’s not an easy thing to do unless you’ve come to the end of yourself. In other words, it means that you have given up trying to figure out life on your own, and charting your own course. Going it on your own never ends up leading to a good place physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.
As long as we are full of ourselves, and often are, we leave no room for God in the every day moments of our life. Daily there is the subtle questioning, “Why would I need God’s direction when I feel like I’m doing just fine figuring it out on my own? I don’t need God’s instruction. I don’t need to listen to His voice. I’ve got this.”
Like the time, when I was in middle school, I decided to ask my dad for the keys to the car during a moment when he was distracted. There wasn’t even a hint of the thought going through his mind, “Oh, Shawn needs the keys to the car because he wants to back the car out of the parking space and pull the car up to the front door so that he can show me that he really does know how to drive.” But that was going through my mind. I had this driving thing figured out. I mean, after all, I had driven down our street at 10mph numerous times (at least 3 or 4). No more need for instructions, or driving lessons. I was pretty much a pro at this.
So, after hitting the car in the parking spot next to me while trying to back out, and continuing to accelerate out of the parking spot, the debris of bumper parts, trim, and paint chips made two things very clear: I didn’t have it figured out, and I would be forever grounded with no hope of early release.
I made a wreck of what I thought I ruled over. Chaos overtook what I thought I had mastered. Had I asked my dad if I could have backed the car out, he more than likely would’ve said “yes,” but not without him being in the seat next to me giving me instruction so I wouldn’t wander into the parking space that was occupied next to me.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve rushed ahead, seeking to impress God and others, and even myself, with my prideful “I’ve-got-this” mentality. And each time I’ve gone it alone, without seeking God’s wisdom and counsel, I’ve found myself wandering from His commands and into places that have wrecked me (sometimes a fender-bender; other times a collision), and left a trail of varying debris.
But thankfully, God reminds us in Psalm 119 of the second step we can take in moving the right direction so that we avoid wandering from His commands.
STEP TWO: I MUST SEEK GOD’S INSTRUCTION WHOLE-HEARTEDLY.
When we have surrendered the thought that our way is better than God’s way, the next step is to seek God and discover what His instructions are in navigating every day life. He hasn’t left us to try and figure it out on our own because He knows that our hearts are prone to wander. That is the honest confession of the psalmist when he says, “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from Your commandments!” Psalm 119:10. His plea seems desperate because he knows the tendency of his own spiritual drift. It’s our tendency as well.
The instruction of God’s word keeps our heart in the right lane. Without it, and our acknowledgment of his counsel, we drift dangerously into the wrong lane. It is nothing less than distracted living, and nothing good comes from a distracted heart. Just ask King David. He should have been at war, but he wasn’t. He should have turned his eyes away from Bathsheba, but he didn’t. Distracted living. Just ask Peter, one of Jesus’s disciples. He should have trusted Jesus, but he was distracted by the waves. He should have stood up for Jesus rather than fold like a lawn chair, but he didn’t. Distracted living. The Bible is full of stories of men and women who thought it best to go their own way, and not one of them fared well.
Before we are too quick to point out their distracted lives, we need to add our names to the story as well. When I look back at the debris left in the wake of my moments of spiritual drift, it’s easy to see (if I’m honest with myself and God) the times where I did not seek or heed God’s instruction. I can look back and see moments where I was only half-heartedly seeking God; like driving down the highway paying no attention to the instruction of the warning sign that reads, “Bridge out ahead.” Half-hearted seeking leads to wholehearted distraction; and wholehearted distraction can lead to a whole lot of damage and debris.
But life’s landscape does not have to be littered with the debris of our self-seeking ways. So how do we navigate life well so as to take steps in the right direction by wholeheartedly seeking God?
• READ the Scriptures daily; they always point you in the right direction.
• TRUST completely that the Scriptures are God’s word to us for our good. His way may not be the way we would choose, but it’s always the best and right way. He knows life’s terrain infinitely better than us.
• CHOOSE to follow His ways. To know the right way to go and not to is foolish.
• ENJOY the path He has you on because it leads you to the life you really desire, not the life you think you do.
This life we travel is marked by steps, and depending on the steps you take will determine the joy or sorrow of your journey, and ultimately your destination. So, let today be a day you choose to take another step in the right direction.