Living Close to God…by Gene Edwards

Living Close to God (When You’re Not Good At It) by Gene Edwards was written for the spiritually handicapped. Edwards describes the “spiritually handicapped” as those who struggle with intimacy in their fellowship with God, who falls asleep during prayer, who has a difficult time focusing during prayer, or someone who lacks the “spirituality” displayed in other Christians.

The chapters are short and the text is easy to read and understand—even a new believer would be able to grasp the exercises suggested. Edwards explains how learning to fellowship with God need not be limited to rigid devotional times, or lengthy eloquent prayers. One doesn’t need a college degree, a high-school diploma, or even be able to read. Edwards makes some intriguing points concerning the education level of most of Jesus’ followers in the Bible, notably that they were 98 percent illiterate.

Living Close To God makes several suggestions to aid the “spiritually inept” in their journey to experience Jesus and hear His voice. Consistent throughout the book was the importance of slowing down–slowing way down–and speaking words of praise to Jesus. Edwards also talks at length about repeating portions of specific Scriptures out loud to God, along with proclaiming one’s love for God, rather than focusing on prayers of request or personal need.  The author makes several useful suggestions that may help the reader “remember” to focus on the Lord for at least a few seconds every day.

I believe a new Christian would benefit most from this book, or perhaps someone who finds it easy to read/study things about God, but hasn’t developed an intimate relationship with Him. The person who seems to be too busy to slow down or the person raised in a legalistic environment who focused solely on “doing” may also find the tips in Living Close To God helpful.

The only problems I had with this book were of feeling pity for the author and the constant redundancy of the text. He stated many times how he had never been told how to experience Jesus on an intimate level while repeating the same “techniques” to aid in intimacy over and over again. I found it difficult to accept that he had never heard about praying Scripture before. Edwards also talked about the church not coming together to experience the presence of Jesus in this way, and I had to disagree with that. I’ve been to many churches that pray Scripture, encourage slowing down, being still, and listening to God.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone I know mainly because my Christian friends already adopt the tips he suggested. As I mentioned before, however, it may be perfect for a new Christian or one who, like the author, has never been shown how to rest in God’s presence, listen to His voice, and spend time praising Him through word and song.

(I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group and was not required to give a good review.)

The Fame Game

“He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30

Suggested reading: John 3:25-25

What is the essence of glory? I was recently struck with this question and wanted to find a suitable answer. The obvious reaction is something like, “God should get the glory,” or “All praise is God’s” and other pious Christian-ese. If you actually sit and think about it, what does “Give glory to God” really mean? Just because I pray, “All glory to YOU” doesn’t mean I am glorifying God. Just because I say, “I want to give God glory” doesn’t mean I am glorifying God.

First I googled “What does it mean to glorify God” and the answer (gotanswers.org) popped up, several paragraphs long. It mentioned several of the above statements, using verses that talk specifially about glorifying God. They were great references but they still weren’t satisfying my curiosity on the issue. I wanted to know what it looks like for ME to give God glory. Is it singing hymns while scrubbing toilets? I could do that out of duty, not love or adoration.

As I sought the Holy Spirit’s guidance, John 3:30 came to mind. “He must become greater; I must become less.” Now that seems like the essence of glory to me; answering the question: who is getting the credit?

It begins with an argument. John (the Baptist) had his own disciples who followed him around, faithfully supporting his ministry. They got wind of something they thought John should know. You see, there was this Man who had the nerve to take over John’s ministry of baptism! John’s disciples were warning him that this Man was getting all the attention, in fact people were flocking to Him in unprecedented numbers.

How would I react if I had a nice little ministry with people flocking to me for answers and counsel, then all of a sudden someone else comes along and steals my thunder? My first reaction would probably be jealousy. Knowing my luck, that person would probably be more beautiful and desirable in every way, knocking me a few more notches down on the self-esteem pole. Figures. Guess I’ll have to give up and find somehwere else to be superior. Heaven knows I can’t share the spotlight with anyone. (Let’s face it, we all think like this from time to time.)

John replies much differently. He is not threatened, jealous, or angry at the Man bull-dozing the ministry he developed. Quite the contrary, he is encouraging this Man! He goes on a 9 verse diatribe of the greatness of this ministry and those God has chosen to complete His purpose. Whether or not John is in the spotlight, he is completely content knowing God’s will is being accomplished. He says, “The one who comes from heaven is above all,” and “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in His hands.” (vs 31, 35).

What does it mean to glorify God? The name of Jesus increasing and my name decreasing.

I had a Pastor say to me, “You have some mad skills” after playing a difficult piano piece with the worship band. Although I was greatly encouraged, I also tried to remember where I came from and how hard I had worked just to master that piece. In fact, mastering it is something I would definitely not claim, it needs a lot more work. Point being, when someone  hears what I play, or marvels at a glorious photo I’ve managed to shoot, I want them to be pointed to Christ. I want them to think, “That’s amazing, God!” or “Thank You for that gift, Jesus“. These are the praises that went through my mind recently when I attended a concert. There was a symphony of musicians from a multitude of churches in our area. These people were crazy talented! When I left that concert I remember saying to my friend, “I think it’s amazing how people so talented are completely content with serving God in this way, rather than pursuing professional contracts or success in the secular market.” You see, throughout this concert Jesus’ name was increased through the beautiful music, while the musicians were merely tools to lift high his Name.

As I reflect on what “gloryifying God” means for me, I am motivated to spend more time on my knees seeking new ways to keep the spotlight on Him.

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” Psalm 29:2

Idols and Adultery

“Those who wander from your commands are cursed.” Psalm 119:21 NLT

 Idols and Adultery

“Woe to them, because they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, because they have rebelled against me! I long to redeem them but they speak lies against me. They do not cry out to me from their hearts, but wail upon their beds.” Hosea 6:13-14

Oh Israel, you’ve done it again. You’ve left your God in the dust to follow after your own lusts and desires. You have committed idolatry and adultery against your Redeemer.  Does this sound at all familiar with the modern day church? How long does God put up with this nonsense? If you have ever sat down and read through the book of Hosea you have likely noticed the theme: Adultery. God even commanded the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute, Gomer, to signify this relationship between Israel and Himself.

Harsh

Not only do we see the adultery of the nation of Israel, we see the consequences of their choices. They knew the truth, yet they chose to ignore it. God declares

Woe to them

Destruction to them

My anger burns against them

I will come upon them like a lion

I’m getting the idea that God takes things like adultery/idolatry very seriously. No, I am not talking about a physical adultery, though that is a very serious sin for sure. Rather, I am referring to the adultery of wandering away from our first love, our True Love and making relationships with other lovers. (Idols)

Some of the more common idols today:

Work

Kids

Church Ministry

Finances

Health

Food

It’s easy to get out of balance; serving the service rather than the One we seek to serve.

Are we wailing to God with our mouths, but not with our hearts? (Hosea 6:14) We must stay in the word to keep our hearts pure, keep Jesus on the throne where He belongs, and keep our priorities straight.

God makes it clear; those who wander from his commands will suffer the consequences.

“After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:15

When our eyes wander from the truth of God’s word, we lose our focus and if it is not regained we can quickly fall into sin.(Idolatry, pride, unbelief…) God disciplines those he loves, and he loves His children! Sometimes he will allow us to suffer the consequences of our choices during our times of wandering.

We would do well to learn a lesson from Israel instead of rebuking them; mean while acting like we would never do the same things. The truth is we probably commit idolatry more times than we realize. We need to heed the warning given to us by the Psalmist:

God does not tolerate willful disobedience, and he will deal with it.

If you have a known act of rebellion in your heart, won’t you allow God to deal with it today? Be thankful if you have not come under major consequences yet, consider that God’s mercy.

 If you’re contemplating sin, run from it! The desire itself could bring forth the act, and sin will always lead to death of some kind. Confess, repent, and be renewed.

Are you counted among the cursed or the committed?

Prayer

Jesus, I confess my idolatrous heart to you. I realize that many times throughout the day I lose sight of you and focus on myself, my needs, what I need to get done, and who or what is bothering me at any given moment. I confess my attitude and ask you to make me whole again through your word. Don’t let me wander from your commands and fall into the deadly consequences of sin! Keep me from judging the actions of my brothers and sisters in Christ, and help me focus on my own heart and relationship with you. Keep me committed to your word.

Focus

“I have tried hard to find you-don’t let me wander from your commands.” Psalm 119:10 NLT

Focus

 What does our life look like without the Word?

It’s so easy to lose focus. I must be a professional at this. How many times have I read Matthew 14:29-30, and scoffed at Peter for not keeping his eyes on Jesus while he was walking on the water? Come on, Peter! How hard could that have really been when you had Jesus right in front of you? Of course, easy to be a back seat Bible reader, isn’t it? How often do we see someone else going through a difficult time, and we proudly tout our Bible logic, “Just trust Jesus!” We’ve done our part, shared some wisdom, and maybe we’ll say a prayer or two for that individual.

Then OUR storm comes.

Before you know it, we’re wandering around in a sea of confusion and doubt. Perhaps this type of thing happened in the Psalmists life, and he recognized his need to stay close to God’s Word. He cried out, “Don’t let me wander from your commands!” How often do we pray such a thing?

 Maybe we would do well to ask God for some focus.

 Maybe, if we had more focus in His Word, our circumstances wouldn’t feel so crushing.

The second our eyes wander from the Word is the same second our focus gets shifted to the storm-from Him to me.

When we are saturated in the promises and truth of God’s Word, it leaves little room for doubt and wandering eyes. Does it mean we’re bad Christians if we have a moment of fear or worry? No, I think that means we are normal.  However, there is a difference between momentary glances at our circumstances (fear and worry) then there is a shift of focus (doubt, unbelief, depression).

If we recognize these feelings within us, we must force ourselves to focus on His Word, the Truth, and His care for us. It’s the only way out of the miry pit of self-pity and spiritual collapse.

“…they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me.” Hosea 5:15

How nice it would be if it didn’t take the misery of guilt, depression, worry, doubts, or pain to seek the face of God? Like the Psalmist we should be asking our Savior to keep our focus continuously on His Word, that we will not become distracted, disjointed, and despairing followers of Christ.

Let us stay committed to focusing on the Word of God and leave no room for wandering spiritual eyes.

Prayer

Jesus, do not let me stray from your Word! Keep me faithful to your truth, and keep my focus on your promises of care and love for me. Do not let the circumstances of life overwhelm and consume me with fear, worry, and unbelief; rather, let my focus be so intent on you that these lies will have no place in my heart. Convict me where I need a change of focus, and draw me deeper into your Word.

Balancing Act

“Let my tongue sing about your word, for all your commands are right.” Psalm 119:172 NLT

Balancing Act

I have been wearing corrective lenses since I was in kindergarten. I remember the first time I wore them to school I was miserably teased. Throughout my growing up years I would continue to be teased for things such as my weight, glasses, and acne. I basically grew up with a distorted view of myself. God said one thing in his word, but I saw myself in a completely different way, based on the experiences my life had taught me. My focus was blurred.

Once I got to my early teens I recognized the need to lose weight or be condemned to a life as an outcast (in my mind that was my reality). What started off as diet and exercise developed into bulimia and self-mutilation; even attempted suicide. It took years of struggling with insecurity and doubt before I finally began to grasp how God made me truly was wonderful. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I have accepted my physical appearance and weight. I spent many hours in Psalm 139 pouring over passages about being fearfully and wonderfully made, but it never sank into my heart, it was a truth that remained in my head. As long as my focus remained on myself and my imperfections, I remained out of balance.

In much the same way we easily become out of balance when we approach the word of God. We often focus on our favorite passages and stay there. For some it’s Isaiah, some it’s Psalms, some it’s the Gospels. It’s easy to become out of balance when we don’t take in the word as a whole, how it was intended to be taken in. How many times have you seen a random verse be taken and used to support an idea you know to be contrary to the word of God as a whole?

Balance! We need balance!

I have been immersed in Psalm 119 for almost a year now, and surely over a year by the time this project is complete, and throughout this time I have not remained solely in this chapter or even this book. I have kept myself growing and learning through the resources of several other studies in other books of the Bible. God’s word was intended to be read as a whole, taken in as a whole, absorbed as a whole, and we often get confused when we take bits and pieces and build ideas and philosophies off of them. Let’s face it; there wouldn’t be dozens, if not hundreds of different religious denominations if there weren’t people interpreting Scriptures differently, with different focuses.

Psalm 119 is clear about one thing. Our focus should always be the word, not a chapter, or a verse, or even a book. Obviously we cannot read all of scripture at once, and sometimes “reading through the Bible in a year” type plans can be a little dry and aren’t necessarily for everyone (though I recommend doing it at least once), but we can certainly stay balanced in our studies by not focusing solely on one passage over and over in our personal time. Doing so is like allowing our spiritual lenses to become blurry and distorted.

The Psalmist declares “…all your commands are right.”

”All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable…” 2 Timothy 3:16

The word is right, the word is just, all the word profits, and the best way to stay balanced as a believer and continue to mature is to keep searching and learning and exploring passages new and fresh. Ask the Spirit to lead us to uncharted territory, books we’ve never read (Hezekiah anyone?!) or doctrines we’ve never studied. If nothing else, we can understand why we believe what we do even better, but as we search deeper into the word of God we will only be scratching the surface. We will discover the clever ways he has tied in his Old Testament prophecies, illustrations and stories with the coming of Jesus; we will see treasures never before uncovered due to apathy of what we didn’t know or fear of what we might not understand. There is enough in the righteous word of God to study for a lifetime! You might spend 30 days in this Psalm 119 devotional, and then move on to a Gospel, or perhaps an obscure Old Testament prophet! Be daring and try something new! You’ll be simply amazed at the intricacies of his word, and compelled to worship even more when you see every infinite detail! Truly you will want to let your tongue sing about the word!

Prayer

Lord, I ask that you keep me balanced as I spend time in your word. Keep me in your truth, guide me in your righteous word, and lead me in the studies you want me to participate in. Show me where I have been unbalanced in my spiritual life, perhaps focusing too much on one thing while neglecting something else. As I continue to walk in your ways today, convict me of any area that needs the corrective lens of your Holy Spirit to redirect my focus.