Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

When God Whispers

Sometimes God whispers. In I Kings 19, God chose a whisper to communicate with Elijah. Elijah was discouraged and depressed. In verse 12: “After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”  In verse 13, Elijah knew it was the Lord and went out to the opening of the cave he was in to await the message God gave to him.

God whispers when the need arises. Elijah had too much going on in his life. He was over-stimulated. He had just called down fire from heaven that licked up the water and dust off the ground. He had just seen the power of God bring rain to a land that had a seven-year drought. Now he was seeking to escape Jezebel who had a contract on his life.

We certainly don’t have the same kinds of events going on in our lives, but at times we all live over-stimulated lives. We live in a world that is over-stimulated.

Simply making choices at the grocery store can be challenging. You want a bag of potato chips. You walk down the potato chip aisle and you have to choose among plain chips, barbeque chips, sour cream chips, fried pickles with ranch chips, deep dish pizza chips, chile con queso chips, Cajun spice chips, or Chesapeake Bay crab spice chips.

You want a bottle of shampoo and again the choices are overwhelming. Walk down a different aisle this time and you can buy clarifying shampoo, neutralizing shampoo, chelating shampoo, keratin shampoo, color-protecting shampoo, volumizing shampoo, or dry shampoo.

Restaurant menus sometimes resemble a book in size; some are even spiral-bound. You put all those choices together with the stress of a job, friends, family, and elderly parents and you are definitely over-stimulated,

Like Elijah, we need a whisper from God. The prophet Zephaniah said to God’s people, “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17.)”

We need to listen for God’s whisper. Here are ways we may do this: Slow down. Pay attention when your pace is too fast. Plan some quiet time in your life. Turn off the noise. Take a break from your phones, your television, and your email. Find time to retreat. Find solitude. Take a walk, sing, and observe nature. Even God rested on the seventh day.

In The Message translation of the Bible, David wrote, “Open your ears, God, to my prayer. Don’t pretend you don’t hear me knocking. Come close and whisper your answer. I really need you” (Psalm 55:1-2, MSG.) He also wrote, “He leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2.)

Remember God loves you and wants to show you grace. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23.)  He sometimes speaks in the earthquake, in the fire, in the wind, and the thunderstorm. But there are times when God speaks in a whisper.

Live life in such a way that, when needed, you can hear God whisper.

Work on Yourself

Goethe wrote, “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door and the whole world will be clean.”  This statement made me consider a thought that I don’t have often enough:  that one way to improve the world around me is self-improvement . Paul makes a similar point:  “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (I Corinthians 9:27). In other words, to influence others I must improve myself.

In communication theory, one of the ways researchers have found to improve the way we communicate is not to change the other person, but to change our response to that person. Maybe the problem with communication is not with others, but with ourselves.

Jim Rohn said, “To be successful in life work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”  When we seek to improve the quality of life we want to begin with ourselves. Work on self to be a better influence in the world.

The apostle Paul was a believer in self-improvement, as we can tell by the earlier statement from him. He also reminded Timothy of the potential we have for self-improvement: “ For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7.) And Peter wrote this among other traits to develop, “…add to your faith virtue”  (II Peter 1:5.)

A familiar dialogue between Jesus and a rich man illustrates the need for self-improvement.  Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?  “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.  “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony,  honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself. “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:16-22). He still needed to work on himself.

As Paulo Coelho wrote, “When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.” Our Christian light will shine a little brighter with continual self-improvement.

Unique Faces

Clown eggsThe clown industry is interesting. No two clowns have the same working face. A beginner must send a sketch of his proposed face to the Secretary of the International Circus Clown Club, who paints the face on an eggshell and compares it with the hundreds of other faces in a collection housed at Croydon, England. If the new one duplicated a face already in use, the novice is advised to create a new face.

These thoughts made me ponder faces. No two are exactly alike. God made each of us special. Think of all the billions of people who have been born, and no two are exactly alike! Even identical twins have slight differences. I’m sure it must be frustrating for an aspiring clown to dream up a new face—one that is unique. But God does it all the time.

This is just one characteristic of humans that illustrates the greatness and glory of God. The fact that none of us is exactly like anyone else demonstrates that we could not have come into existence by chance. There has to be a supreme being. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping that creeps upon the earth’” (Genesis 1:26).

It all began with God! God made it possible for humans to have the dominant role on earth, and we need to be reminded of God’s supremacy and our dependence on Him. We can remember that as we see each person’s unique face.


In Defense of Silence


Silence has to be a part of our relationship with our Savior. In Habakkuk 3:19 we read, “Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Trappist Thomas Merton wrote, “A man who loves God necessarily loves silence.”  Jesus had his favorite places to go alone; the garden of Gethsemane was one. He needed to get away from the crowds and followers. He needed the time alone in silence with the Father. Job said, “Stand still and consider the wondrous works of God.“

Silence is difficult for many of us. We kill the silence with words. We need to spend time in silence. It is hard to feel the closeness of Jesus without silence. The greatest tribute we can pay to anyone “…is a moment of silence.”  We need many of those moments with God.

Build into each day periods of silence. This might be in the family room or office before the family rises in the morning. Perhaps give yourself extra time before a plane departure and slip into the chapel available in most major airports. Public libraries can be a place to embrace silence. Some cathedrals and church sanctuaries are open for prayer and meditation.

Let God speak to you as you sit in silence. I find that ideas, names of people, and issues sometimes enter my mind in times of silence. I often sit in our solarium in the early morning darkness or out on our deck in warm weather. People and ideas just seem to “float” into my consciousness; I try to respond by contacting that person or giving attention to an issue that I have forgotten about. Without the silence, I cannot bring these thoughts to the forefront of my mind.

Develop leisure time activities that involve silence. Walking the streets of our city before rush hour traffic and before children are walking to school is such a time for me. Place a bird feeder near a window in your kitchen and observe the birds as they come for food. Just clearing your mind for the activities of the day can give you peace and comfort.

You need silence for prayer time. Perhaps a reason David was described as a man after God’s own heart—in spite of his sins—is because as a shepherd he had much silent time to commune with God. Even Jesus, the perfect human, still needed quiet time to pray to the father.

Herman Melville wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended to by silence.” That includes our time with the Master each day.

According to Plutarch, writing in 4 B.C., Herod Archelaus, a well-known politician and tetrarch of Judea, sat down in the chair of his local barbershop. “How would you like your hair trimmed?” asked the chattering barber. Archelaus responded, “In silence.”

The Samaritan Spirit

Good SamaritanOne of the most familiar and oft-referenced stories in the Bible is the narrative surrounding the Good Samaritan. The story may seem to be out of date when we think of our modes of travel today in contrast to the way people traveled 2000 years ago.

The principles of altruism, however, are the same today as in the time of the Samaritan, the hero of this story. Jesus emphasized three actions that I believe are timeless in living the Christian life. Here is what we should do when we find a person in need.

TIME. The Samaritan gave the injured man his time. I’m sure he was as busy as the priest and the Levite who chose not to stop and give assistance. But he realized the needs of the helpless and hurt man took precedence over whatever else he was traveling to do. Sometimes the best we can do is give our time. Simple acts like playing a game with a child or stopping to check on an elderly person who no longer lives an independent life may be the best action to take.

SKILLS. The second act of the Samaritan was to use what first aid skills he had. He was not a physician or a professional first responder. But he did what he could with the skills that he had. According to Luke 10:34, the Samaritan  “… went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.”Perhaps our skills are only to hold the person’s hand or maybe provide food and make the person comfortable. But we are instructed to do what we can.

PROVISION. The last action the Samaritan took was to provide money to care for the man. The story continues in verse 35:  “The next day he took out two denariiand gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” He paid for his room and board and whatever expenses he might incur. In today’s dollars, one writer guessed two denarii would equal about $150. The third action might not be possible for some, but we might provide a meal or encourage the person to spend the night in our home. For some, money might be the best action he or she can take. Perhaps you are one who always has extra money on his or her person for emergency situations such as this one in our story; perhaps what you provide is comfort in a different way.

The Good Samaritan story tells us who our neighbor is and what actions we should take to help. Our neighbor is anyone in need and we can help him or her with our time, our skills, and our money.

Don’t Forget to Wave

rupert-brookeThe poet Rupert Brooke set out to travel by boat from England to America. All the people on deck had someone there to see them off—except him. Brooke felt very alone. Watching the hugging and kissing and good-byes, he wished he had someone to miss him.

The poet saw a youngster nearby and asked him his name. “William,” he replied.

“William,” he asked, “would you like to earn a few shillings?”

“Sure I would!  What do I have to do?”

“Just wave to me as I leave, “ the lonely man said.

Rupert Brooke wrote later, “Some people smiled and some cried, some waved white handkerchiefs and some waved straw hats. And I? I had William, who waved at me with his red bandana for six shillings and kept me from feeling completely alone.”

Loneliness is a pervasive problem in our culture. One in five Americans suffer from persistent loneliness according to The Huffington Post. From the very beginning, loneliness was a problem. Adam was alone and God gave him someone to spend his life with (Genesis 2:8, 18). I learned from a film on listening that for one tribe in Africa, capitol punishment is to withhold human contact from that person.

A ministry we can all be a part of is to help people cope with loneliness. Pay attention to the people who live alone. Make it a point to call or ask him or her to have coffee with you. Or invite yourself over and bring a pastry. If you know someone in a convalescent home, pay him or her a visit. I heard of one individual who made it a point to occasionally visit a nursing home and ask at the main desk which residents never had visitors. Then he would get the names and room numbers and stop by for a short visit.

I try to smile and speak to people I meet on the street. Sometimes I will nod and wave at another car approaching a four-way stop. I strike up conversations with servers in restaurants, checkers at the grocery store, cab drivers, and cashiers at service stations. You never know when all a person needs is a kind word, a smile, or a wave.

Even Jesus felt loneliness. Alone in the garden, Jesus wanted his three closest friends to go with him in his darkest hours before his crucifixion (Luke 22:39-46).

You may not feel comfortable initiating a conversation with a stranger, or know what to say when you visit someone you don’t know very well. But in some form or another, you can always wave.

Lunch with a Stranger

A few weeks ago on a warm July day, a friend and I ate lunch in the outside section of an ethnic restaurant.  As we ate, a man stopped and asked us for money.  My friend responded, “I can’t give you money but we’ll buy you lunch.  Have a seat and eat with us.”  He seemed hesitant to do so , but he took a seat; we called the server to give him a menu and he ordered the special of the day at my friend’s suggestion.

He was not sure what to say or do, but my friend very pleasantly asked about his family and I asked where he was from.  In the course of conversation he told us he had spent the past year in a nursing home and had just been released a few weeks earlier.

We asked him why he had spent such a long time and his answer was, “I have cancer, but the medication keeps it under control.”

We chatted a little more, his food came,  and he started to eat.  Then he said, “You guys are really nice to do this for me.  I have not told you the truth about my condition.  I have Aids and that’s the reason I have been in a nursing home.  It is easier to say I have cancer because people see me differently if I tell them I have Aids.  But you guys are nice and respectful and I wanted to be truthful with you.”

We talked a little longer, he thanked us again for lunch, and we went on our way.

I think it is difficult to know how to respond to those who have no place to live or not enough money to buy food.  People wanting money are camped out at busy intersections with their “homeless” signs as well as on the busy streets of our cities.  Sometimes we ignore them or give them a couple of dollars; sometimes, if we have prepared ahead of time, we give them a bag of personal items from the backseat of our car.

Sharing a meal with a person in dire straits may not only feed the body, but personal conversation feeds the spirit.  After a few minutes, our new friend felt comfortable sharing a part of his personal life that he would not ordinarily share.  He needed food, but he also needed someone to take a moment and show that they cared.

If Jesus were here today and walking our busy streets, I see him eating lunch not in the Banker’s Club but with a beggar in the closest Wendy’s.  I see him stopping and encouraging the one standing on the street corner with his cardboard sign.  Jesus tended to seek out those in need and minister to them as he went from village to village.

He often spoke of helping those in unfortunate circumstances, such as in Luke 6:30-31, part of which we often refer to as The Golden Rule.  The story of the Good Samaritan proclaims that a neighbor is anyone in need (Luke 10:25-37.)

Probably too many times I do not follow through with sharing a meal or taking the time for conversation with a person like the one in this story. I have to admit, however, that I feel the best about myself after I have had lunch with a stranger who has become my neighbor.

A Word Fitly Spoken…

“A word fitly spoken” is one of my favorite Biblical expressions (Proverbs 25:11, KJV). The main reason is that words we use have dramatic impact. For example, just say the word “bomb” in an airport and you will immediately be detained or arrested, and, at the least, probably miss your flight.

One of the most important ways to apply “a word fitly spoken” is with words of affirmation. A conversation I had not long ago dramatically illustrates this point.

As I was walking through the dining area at our weekly church-sponsored free meal for the community, a lady called me aside for a private conversation. She discussed several personal issues and obviously had very low self-esteem. Finally she said to me, “Would you tell me I’m a good person?”

I was so taken aback that all I could do was to say the question back to her. This gave me time to think and finally to respond, “Can we pray about this?” to which she readily agreed. In my prayer, I stressed how important she was to God and to others, and sought God’s help in helping her accept this. This was a conversation I will not soon forget.

One of the most valuable actions we can take is to affirm another person. Such expressions as “You did a good job,” or “You look very nice today,” or “I appreciate what you did for me,” are ways all of us can be a shining light to those around us.

A statement I especially enjoy saying is in response to a child who tells me his or her age. I say, “That is a great age to be!”  I’m usually rewarded with a smile and more conversation.

Affirmations will help a person have a good day and perhaps motivate him or her to pass on an affirmation to someone else.

Several centuries after Solomon wrote, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11, NKJV), Paul made a similar point with these words, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt…” (Colossians 4:6a, KJV.)

Let’s work on fitly spoken words, seasoned with a little salt.

What Rooms are in Your House?

When I was growing up in the fifties and sixties in rural southern Indiana, we had a “great room” and did not even know it.  According to “Listing Ups,” a real estate resource, the “great room” combines all the parts of the living room and family room into one big room with high ceilings and plenty of light from windows.

For us this room (without the high ceilings) was literally the living room because except for bedrooms and bath, this room was where we lived and were family.  You see, this room was also the furnace room.  Our coal stove sat in the middle of the room and was attractive to all family members because we could keep warm in   that room.  This room was Mom’s quilting room and we had to navigate carefully around the quilting frames in January and February because that is when she spent much time making quilts.  On Tuesdays this room usually became the ironing room.  Lots of conversation occurred while Mom ironed our clothes she had washed on Monday.

This was the changing room for me in the winter because it was the warmest place in the house to change clothes.  When more than four or five guests came, this became the formal dining room with card tables moved into the space to accommodate everyone.  Mom usually had the visiting preacher for dinner sometime during each gospel meeting and we ate and talked in that space.  Family birthdays were celebrated in that room.

It was the entertainment room because the radio was in one corner and I could get close enough to listen to Red Skelton or follow “The Lone Ranger.”  Later it became the television room where we watched through a snowy screen “The $64,000 Question” and the “Kennedy Nixon debates.” With the radio or television off, on rare occasions it became the homework room.

Today we have compartmentalized much of the activities of the family at home.  We have a separate room for each of the above in many homes.  With the busy lives we live, I’m not sure we have nearly enough family time to eat together, laugh together, pray together, and learn about what each member of the family is doing or has done.

David reminds us in Psalm 90 that our time on earth is limited even if we live several decades.  Our children live in our homes for a short time and then have families of their own.  Our homes need to be places where we can share family time and enjoy helping each other grow and mature physically and spiritually.

Create a schedule where you all regularly spend time around a table eating, playing games, having lively discussions about what you are thinking, talking about school, or working.

It was easier in the fifties and sixties because we did not have the numerous choices families have today.  The examples I gave earlier were not so much choices but a way of life for families growing up in America in that era.  Let’s be sure to have a room where the whole family looks forward to being present and sharing our lives.

–Steve Boyd

The Seed Catalog Approach to Life

Winter is just around the corner, and winter always reminds me of  my dear aunt Alma who lived into her nineties. My family and I would usually visit her on any trip to my hometown. In late winter when we visited, what do you think would be a major topic of conversation with a lady who lived by herself on a small farm in Southern Indiana?

It wasn’t about what she did 30 years ago, or what she was unable to do today, or people she had known who had recently died. No, most of the conversation revolved about the seed catalog. She couldn’t wait to start planting seeds. We talked about the kinds of flower seeds she would buy and plant.

Then we got serious about the best kinds of tomatoes. She made the statement on one February visit the previous year she used tomato plants and that the plants didn’t yield the quality of tomato that the ones she had grown from seed had. So this year she was growing her own tomatoes—from seed!

As I left, I couldn’t help but think that one of the reasons she was still active and vibrant was her overall attitude about life. She didn’t dwell on the past and its good times and bad. She didn’t dwell on her aches and pains, but on seed and the beautiful flowers they would produce and the fruits and vegetables that would be abundant the following summer.

What about us?  Do we generally carry with us an overall cheery disposition, always looking with optimism to the future?  Paul said, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 4:1).  We never read of Jesus’ complaining that there were too many people in the audience, or that the crowds He preached to were too noisy, or that He could not take another day on the road without some rest. He always seemed to be pressing on to a new town, a new audience, and a new challenge.

There is something to be said about visualizing the tomorrows, and pondering the beauty of what those days can bring. Maybe we all need a little more of the seed catalog philosophy of life.