My low-pressure approach to cultivating intimacy with God

I recently shared some of this material at a ladies’ brunch. It is my hope and prayer that it might help you in your walk with God. ~Elizabeth

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This is a story about getting away with Jesus and how it transformed my life. It’s a story of hearing God whisper, “Come away with me,” and it’s the story of how I said yes – not perfectly, but repeatedly. It’s a story that might seem really elementary to some of you, and you’ve been living this for years. But for me it was groundbreaking, and it happened here in Cambodia.

Our international church was a watering hole for me right from the beginning of my time in Cambodia. It was a spiritual oasis, a weekly time to refresh and renew and meet with God. I remember walking into the church’s auditorium four years ago, feeling something inside me take a deep breath, and just knowing I was home. I met God that first Sunday, and every Sunday after.

But about a year and a half ago I felt God drawing me into deeper communion with Him. I felt Him calling me to a more daily commitment to meet together. Before then, I’d never learned to be consistent in my time with God. I had tried, but my attempts never lasted more than 3 to 6 months at a time. And they were never in the morning. (And I’d kind of always felt guilty about that, actually.)

But I was suddenly finding that Sunday mornings were not enough for me. They weren’t enough to get me through my week. My cup was empty. My well was dry. I didn’t have the strength I needed to thrive. Maybe in my passport country I could have survived like that, going from Sunday to Sunday, with maybe a Wednesday Bible study thrown in. But in Cambodia, I couldn’t live like that anymore. Life in this country was taking more out of me, and that meant that in turn, I needed to take more from God.

I knew, deep down in my spirit that this was what God was calling me to. I knew I needed this, and I knew I wanted it. But I have NEVER, EVER been a morning person. Left to my own devices, I would prefer to sleep.

So I had to start with really small steps. And I do mean really small: 10 minutes. I woke up 10 minutes early. In the beginning all I did was read a daily selection of prayer and scripture from a prayer book. I got a notebook, and I started writing out my own prayers and recording the Bible verses that really stood out to me.

I knew I wanted this to be a long-term commitment, so there were several things I decided not to feel guilty about:

  • I didn’t let myself feel guilty if I skipped a day because I was too tired to get out of bed. I just woke up the next day and started over again.
  • I didn’t let myself feel guilty if I couldn’t keep up with some prescribed Bible reading plan. I didn’t try to catch up when I missed. I just slowly worked through whatever section of Scripture I was in.
  • I didn’t let myself feel guilty if I got sidetracked with other Scriptures or devotional books and deviated from “the plan.” 
  • And I didn’t let myself feel guilty about my short times. I just slowly increased my morning time, usually by 10 minutes at a time.

Each individual meeting with God doesn’t always feel very fruitful. But the seconds add up to minutes, and the minutes add up to hours, and every moment with God means something. When I look back over the last year and a half, I see that these times with God have been the source of some of my greatest spiritual breakthroughs. And that’s not to say I didn’t experience God before coming to Cambodia, because I did. I really, really did.

But here is where I discovered that God’s love for me is much deeper than I ever knew before. Here is where I discovered He loves me as much as He loves everyone else, and I didn’t use to be sure of that. Here is where I learned who I am in Christ in ways I’d never known before. And I’ve had various seasons where God says, “Ok, we’re going to work on this particular sin now, or this particular lie.”

I know I can get really excited when I talk about intimacy with God. But I also want to be very careful how I talk about it because

  • The last thing I want to do is heap more guilt and shame on you or give you something more to DO.
  • I don’t want to give the impression I think I somehow “earned” God’s intervention in my life by deciding to spend more time with God. I didn’t earn His gifts of healing and freedom; everything is a gift and comes from Him alone.
  • I don’t want to give the impression a morning quiet time will solve all your problems. I still walk through difficult times. I still sin — and that still discourages me. I still sometimes skip my morning devotional time. And I still sometimes have a hard time connecting with God.
  • I also know some of you may be walking through a desert right now, or a fiery trial, and thriving may seem far from possible. So I want to be really sensitive to your pain and your weariness.

When we talk about needing to steal away and spend time with God, it can sound legalistic, like this is what you have to do to measure up. But that’s NEVER, ever my intention. All I want is for people to get away and be with God. All I want is to see people healed and set free. Our time with God is NOT where we prove what great followers we are, it’s where the healing happens.

And we will still have trials. Our relationship with God can’t inoculate us against difficulty. And we will still have times in the desert, seasons of winter when we can’t see the fruit or feel His presence.

If that’s you today, if you’re in a difficult or dry season, I want to encourage you not to give up hope. Seasons don’t last forever. Hold out for another season. In the big picture, over the whole course of our lives, if we are drawing near to God and He is drawing near to us, we can thrive even in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

And that is the truth about my story: I’m no longer barely surviving in Cambodia. Cambodia is actually the place I learned how to thrive in my walk with God. Cambodia is where I learned how to abide with Him and to commune with Him. I found God here, and I’m not the same person I was before. In fact, God isn’t the same God I thought I knew. He’s so much bigger and better than I ever thought.

And I’m thankful for that, thankful that I was so needy that it drove me to get more of God. What I was on my own wasn’t enough to handle life here. What was inside me wasn’t enough to live life here. I didn’t have the reserves or the strength the way I might have had in my own country.

I still hear God on Sunday mornings — I’m so thankful for Sunday mornings!! Now though, I hear God throughout the week too. (And since I’m a human and kind of dense and hard-headed, it helps the lessons sink in better if I hear them on Sunday and during the rest of the week.)

So if you are like me and you’re only haphazardly meeting with God, perhaps only on Sunday mornings, and if you’re ready to go deeper into God and into His love, I want to gently suggest that maybe it’s time to make more space for Him in your life, maybe it’s time to invite Him into your busy, stressed-out schedule and into your worried, overwhelmed heart.

I promise you that if you get away with Jesus, it’s going to change your life. Because the time we spend with God is what helps us thrive – whether you’re in Cambodia like me, or somewhere else. Only God’s love is enough to fill our hearts for our days, for our marriages, for our friendships, for our work, for our children, for our ministry. When we’re connected to God, we can be like the trees in Jeremiah 17:7-8, the ones planted by streams of water, flourishing and bearing fruit, even in the dry, desert places.

 

God, you are the only one who can make us flourish in the desert. You are the only one who gives life to our lifeless souls. God, plant us in you, that we may know you, that we may know your heart. Give us your life abundant, and help us thrive in whatever land we find ourselves. And we acknowledge that when you do this, when you make us thrive, it is NOT our doing, it is YOUR doing, and the glory goes to you alone. Thank you for being enough for us, Amen.

How a Night Owl Woke Up to Mornings

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by Elizabeth

I have NEVER been a morning person. I have therefore never had a morning quiet time. I’ve tried afternoon, evening, and not-at-all, none of which worked long-term. About 6 months ago, something stirred inside me and I wanted more time with God.

My husband was already getting up an hour before everyone else while I stayed in bed, sometimes not even getting up in enough time to eat breakfast with the kids. (I told you I wasn’t a morning person!)

I knew I had to start small. I started with 10 minutes. Yes you read that right. 10 minutes before the kids are allowed out of bed. (Yes there is a rule about their wake time, and thankfully my kids are old enough to understand and obey it.) Even that was hard. I kept pushing back the alarm 5 or 10 minutes, and eventually got to 30 minutes with God. Yes, I would like more, and no, I haven’t been able to move it back any earlier. Yet.

Something that really helped me stick with an earlier wake time was not beating myself up if I missed a day. (That’s Grace, applied to time with God.) I know I can start again the next day. So I don’t let myself feel guilty if I miss a day. But if I miss a few days, I know I have to evaluate, because something’s off that needs tending.

And before, when I’ve tried Bible reading plans, if I missed a day, I would try to double up in order to catch up. I decided that wasn’t going to work long-term, so I don’t do catch up days. I either let myself skip, or stay behind. And I don’t let myself feel guilty if I land somewhere else in Scripture and detour from The Plan. Why should I? I’m still in God’s Word! (Yes, I used to feel guilty about detours — oh, the perfectionism that kills.)

Getting up earlier requires discipline in going to bed earlier, and let me tell you, I am STILL not great at this. I still stay up too late sometimes and have a hard time getting out of bed. My introvert self really needs quiet time with God in the morning. Ironically, when my introvert self has been “socialed out,” I’m too exhausted to get up in the morning, thereby thwarting the very healing I need. Too much social interaction interferes with my ability to hear from God, and I just have to accept that fact.

I think the surprising thing has been what has happened inside me since I made this commitment. Sometimes it doesn’t feel fruitful. But if I look back over the last several months, the fruit of peace and intimacy with God is clear to me. I’ve had lots of spiritual breakthroughs. I’ve fallen more in love with God and His Word. I’ve discovered I like reading it; it’s not just a duty anymore.

I remember taking teenagers in America to Acquire the Fire conference several years ago. Phil Joel, former bass player for the band Newsboys, was talking about dedicating his mornings to time with God. After several months of this, he remembers sitting across the breakfast table from his wife, realizing the changes God had made in him, his marriage, and his parenting, and saying, “It’s working, isn’t?”

I think that’s how I feel about my morning times with God. I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I skip and stay in bed. Sometimes I don’t get much out of it. Sometimes I read more than I pray. Sometimes I pray more than I read. Sometimes I sit and stew and worry. Other times I receive visions from God that impart deep, deep healing. All I know is that after several months of this, I have been changed, and getting up early is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

And then, recently, I came across these tips for night owls like me. I had implemented several of them myself in attempting to get up earlier and was excited to know other people thought they worked too. And I LOVE the title “Hello Mornings.” For someone who’s not a morning person, it’s hopeful and helpful to look at mornings through such a warm and friendly lens. I especially like tips #3, #4, #10, #11, and #13. I’m sharing the link in the hope it can help someone who’s struggling to get up in the morning with God.

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The Glory of the Word of God

by Elizabeth

~~~~~ For the word of God is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12) ~~~~~

A peculiar thing happens to me when someone lobs a Bible verse at me and lectures me on how to live my life: I feel trampled upon. I feel controlled and belittled. But when I read Scripture by myself, on my own, and happen upon some life-changing verse — even if it’s something someone else could have pointed out — then that verse is impactful and life changing.

Perhaps this is my stubbornness, my sin nature. But I also believe it’s a testament to the power of the living Word. The Text itself has the power to change us when we encounter it ourselves. I think this is why Scripture readings in church, by themselves and without any commentary at all, can be so very powerful.

When I have an encounter with God Himself, He speaks to my heart and tells me what to do. God’s Word is just so much more effective when God Himself is speaking to me, and not some angry know-it-all. Now, I’m not anti-sermon. I love good preaching and teaching. I love learning information, and I love hearing Bible commentary. What I dislike is having Bible verses thrown at me without love.

The Bible is a living, breathing text, and we were designed to sit under it. To listen, to stay awhile, to be changed. It’s why I have to read it myself. It’s why I feel so much closer to God when I do. Even if I don’t see specific changes happening yet, God’s word is active under the surface of my heart and slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, changing my attitudes over time.

I used to think prayer and Bible reading were separate (yet conjoined) endeavors. But maybe Bible reading is just listening to God talk to us. And if prayer is actually a conversation with God instead of merely my supplications, then listening to Him is one half of prayer. Which means that maybe, reading the Bible is actually . . . praying.

Could that really be prayer? Isn’t prayer when we talk to God? But nothing is separated or segregated in our life with God. I can pray while I sing, and I can worship God without song, when I stand in awe of His creation. So it’s possible that prayer and Bible reading are the same thing sometimes.

Prayer as Bible reading seems so mundane. It’s not fireworks or anything fancy. But it isn’t mundane. It’s God intersecting with the world. It’s God changing my heart – which is actually pretty miraculous if you ask me.

I think sometimes we lose the wonder of a changed heart. But the truth is, when we spend time with God, our hardened hearts can change. This is nothing short of miraculous. This is the glory of the Word of God.

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