What Are You REALLY Sowing? - Giving, Part 3

Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.
— Luke 6:37-38 (NKJV)
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Giving Is About More Than Money

Money is a big thing, but it’s not everything. Even on a purely physical level, when we think of giving it should go beyond the dollars in our pockets.

We can give our time and our attention. We can give many other resources like tools, coats, blankets, or food. We can give rides to church, a listening ear, a compassionate hug.

Not only are there many physical actions and items we can sow, but there are also spiritual ones, like Jesus mentioned in Luke 6 (for example, condemnation or forgiveness).

Physical Seeds and Spiritual Seeds

Have you ever received a compliment, but you could sense there was something else behind it? Maybe they were flattering you and weren't sincere. Maybe you sensed that they looked down on you and were dispensing compliments as if from a superior to an inferior. Maybe you had a feeling that they were buttering you up because they wanted something from you.

What about this: Have you ever seen somebody who always volunteered, was at every event and part of every clean-up crew, but there was something about them that didn't add up? They were there, but they were never happy about being there. Or perhaps they were always trying to control the situation.

Every time we sow a seed, there is a spiritual aspect to it related to the intention of our hearts. Lets say I volunteer time at the soup kitchen, but in my heart I condemn the people I see there, judging them based on appearance and whether I think they qualify for charity. If I do that, I am sowing my time towards those in need, but I am also sowing condemnation. So when it comes time for harvest, that’s what I’ll get back.

The spiritual side of sowing is often overlooked, because it’s invisible and there’s a time lapse between when you sow and when you reap.

Hidden Seeds Revealed

What spiritual seeds are paired with the physical ones we sow? Here are two short lists to jog our imagination.

Negative seed:

  • Judgment
  • Condemnation
  • Resentment
  • Bitterness
  • Selfishness
  • Fear
  • Unbelief

Positive seed:

  • Forgiveness
  • Grace
  • Hope
  • Generosity
  • Cheerfulness
  • Patience
  • Faith
  • Love

See how this works? It’s possible to administer discipline and correction in love. It’s also possible to help someone begrudgingly while harboring resentment. You can give money to the church and do it in fear. And you can bow out of a troubled relationship with faith.

And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
— 1 Corinthians 13:3 (NASB)

TAKING IT TO HEART: Think about the good things you do. Are you doing them with an inner attitude of love, joy and faith?

Now think about areas your life seems full of negativity. Is there a connection to negative seed you’ve sown in the past?

CHALLENGE: The next time you sow a seed (a word, an action, or a physical object), be intentional about sowing spiritual seed along with it.

Volunteer, and do it cheerfully. Write a card to someone you don’t get along with, to sow hope and grace. Share your stories in the comments below!

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
— Galatians 6:7-9 (NKJV)

How Do We Give To God? - Giving, Part 2

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Giving To The Church

The tithes in ancient Israel were how God provided for the financial support of the tribe of priests who served the nation as their full-time jobs. Tithes also provided for the maintenance of the temple. Some tithes also provided for charity support of widows and orphans who had no family members to provide for them.

Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the field cast its grapes,” says the LORD of hosts. “All the nations will call you blessed, for you shall be a delightful land.
— Malachi 3:8-12 (NASB)

Notice what God is saying here: when the Israelites withheld their tithes from the temple, they were holding out on God. In those days, the nation of Israel had a covenant agreement with God. Obedience to the agreement brought blessing, while disobedience resulted in a curse. But sometimes the curse took a while to show up, and the people would see their neighbors breaking the law and still prospering. Pretty soon, they felt like there wasn’t much benefit to obeying (verses 14-15 of the same chapter).

Today as believers in Jesus, we are free from the curse of the old covenant (see Galatians 3:13). But the principle of sowing and reaping is still in operation (see the first post in this series: What You Give Is What You'll Get). The person who gives generously receives a bountiful harvest.

Charity Isn't Just For Non-Profits

As we see above, God takes it personally when we cling to our resources instead of using them in ways that He has taught us. Let’s look a little closer.

The book of Proverbs gives us another insight: “He who has pity on the poor lends to the LORD, and He will pay back what he has given.” (Proverbs 19:17 NKJV

It’s not just giving to the church that God takes personally. It’s when we give to those in need. Our God is near to the broken-hearted, the hurting, the defenseless. Jesus even went so far as to say that when we act in compassion towards someone in need, it’s as if we’re doing it to Jesus himself (Matthew 25:34-45).

When we take care of their needs, God will take care of ours.

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.
— Luke 6:38 (NKJV)

TAKING IT TO HEART: Is there anywhere you have held back resources that God is nudging you to sow into His Kingdom, either to a church or directly to someone in need?

CHALLENGE: Ask God to show you where He wants you to sow some good seed. It might be money, time, a helping hand, or something else. As soon as you see what it is, don’t hesitate. Sow it, knowing that in doing so you are “more blessed”.

I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
— Acts 20:35 (NKJV)

What You Give Is What You'll Get - Giving, Part 1

He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.
— 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (NKJV)
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During Thanksgiving and the Christmas season we hear a lot about charity, compassion and generosity. In the midst of gratitude for what we have, we are called to remember those who do not have as much.

It doesn't stop with Christmas, though. As Christians we are called to a life of generosity all year round. How does that work?

Spiritual Physics: Sowing and Reaping

In repeated examples throughout the Bible, God uses the analogy of sowing and reaping to describe spiritual principles. It is a simple but striking concept: when you plant seeds, you get out of it what you put into it. There are a couple of layers to this thought.

First, seeds reproduce after their own kind. An apple seed produces an apple tree. A tomato seed produces a tomato plant. Have you ever noticed that people who are kind to others often receive kindness in return? The guy who is always there to help his friends load their moving trucks is the guy who will have plenty of help when it comes time for him to move.

Sadly, this also works with negative seed: when we are rude to others, they are rude right back. When we are unwilling to help, it’s not likely anybody will be there to help us, either.

Second, your harvest will be in direct proportion to how much seed you planted, if all goes well. If you plant ten rows of corn, you’ll get ten rows of corn stalks. Want a big harvest? Plant a lot of seeds.

Looking again at the guy who helps his friends move, it’s likely that if he helped one friend move then that’s the friend who shows up to help him. And if he helped ten people move, he might have eight of them show up to help on moving day. All other factors being equal, more sowing equals more harvest.

Like Sunrise and Sunset, You Can Count On It

Christians are called “believers” for a reason. We believe the Bible contains vital information for life that God has inspired to be recorded and then preserved for His people through the centuries.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
— 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB)

So what does the Bible teach about sowing and reaping?

We’re going to examine this more in the coming weeks, because many things in life work on this principle. After the great Flood, God declared that He would never again curse the ground and wipe out every living thing on the earth, no matter how evil man becomes. He said, "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease." (Genesis 8:22 NKJV)

The natural principle of “seedtime and harvest” is listed right next to night and day, winter and summer, as an immutable fact of life on earth. No wonder Jesus emphasized it so often in His parables. It is part of how the world works, and it applies to more than the plant life.

TAKING IT TO HEART: A farmer sows the kind of seed that he wants to harvest later. What kind of seed have you been sowing? Kindness, money, friendship? Bitterness, complaining, selfishness? How much seed have you planted? A little, or a lot?

CHALLENGE: Ask God to bring to mind one type of seed to sow more generously, and another type of seed to stop sowing. Pray for mercy, that there would be a crop failure on the negative seed you’ve sown, and ask God to multiply the harvest on the good seed. 

A Mystery In The Deep (One Way God Speaks To Us)

I was ankle deep in the ocean waves, sand shifting under my feet. He beckoned me deeper, and the waves came up to my knees. But it didn’t stop there.

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This was a dream, and in the dream, an angel drew me under the waves and into the sea, spiraling down as I held my breath and hoped I could handle going as deep as he wanted me to go.

The underwater world was bursting with life. Colors I’d never seen before in real life dazzled my eyes. And as we took this undersea tour, I had the distinct impression that when God draws you into His ocean, you can breathe underwater.

But before I could test this theory, I woke up.

The Lord likes to puzzle me.

Over the years, I’ve concluded that it’s because He loves relationship. And because He knows me, inside and out. It’s one of our private jokes, like the kind best friends have. If He gives me a puzzle, I’ll think about it until the answer to it comes clear. The enigma of breathing underwater combined with the idea of God drawing me deeper into the waters of His Spirit stayed on my mind for years (it’s still there).

And then this song came out…

And this one…

Seems like I wasn’t the only one God spoke to using the ocean metaphor. In fact, I think it’s safe to say God wants us all to go deeper with Him.

TAKING IT TO HEART: How does God get your attention? Do you have a way to recognize when He’s talking to you?

CHALLENGE: Think back over your life. When did you most clearly feel God was telling you something?

Did He speak through Christian friends? Something in the Bible you read? Did you have an impression in your heart or an idea in your mind? Share one of these moments with a trusted friend. Ask them how God gets their attention.

BONUS POINTS: Leave a comment below with a story from the Bible about God interacting with someone. What's your favorite part of what God did?

What Defines Your Reality?

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Reality is a tricky thing. Even on a purely natural level, it is a profound mix of “fact” and “perception”. Every day we make decisions, small and great, based on what we understand to be true. These choices determine the quality of our lives here and now, and even impact eternity.

When our choices have such serious consequences, it's pretty important that we examine what factors influence our perceptions.

Two Women In The Rain

Two women spend a night in the rain, each in her own tent on her own campsite. Same night, same storm, same campground. Same brand of tent, same kind of sleeping bag and other camp accessories. One of them has a great time, and tells her friends later it was her favorite trip. One of them is miserable, and swears off camping for the rest of her life.

“Camping in the rain is the best.”
“Camping in the rain is the worst.”

Which version of reality is true? It depends upon what she values, doesn’t it? One woman valued the adventure of braving the elements and surviving without her usual comforts. The other valued a warm, soft bed, solid walls that kept out the wind and noise, and a peaceful night’s sleep.

Values are a part of perception.

The Elephant and the Blind Men

A story is told of six blind men who are introduced to a creature they've never encountered before. Each places a hand upon the creature, feels it, and later declares what the creature was like:

“It is a creature like a snake,” says one.
“No, it is like a wall,” says another.
“It is more like a great, leathery fan,” says the third.
“It is like a pillar,” says the fourth.
“No, a rope,” says the fifth.
And the sixth says, “It is hard as wood, and smooth as a spear.”

Who is right? Is it the man who touched the trunk, the side, the ear, the leg, the tail, or the tusk of the elephant? 

The scope of our viewpoint and the information available to us is part of perception.

The Two Hungry Children

Two children miss breakfast and are very hungry when lunchtime arrives. By a stroke of misfortune, both of their lunches were accidentally thrown in the trash by an over-zealous cleaning lady at their school. The class has a midday field trip, and because of the unusual circumstances, their teacher has only her own lunch to offer the children to share. Each child receives a half-sandwich and a handful of grapes. A few of the other children in the class offer odds and ends from their lunches as well: a slice of apple, a few crackers, a granola bar, a piece of cheese.

That night, one child goes home and tells her parents how thankful she is to have such a kind teacher and classmates, people who gave up their own food to help during her time of need. The parents write a thank you card to the teacher and send an email to the school principal commending the teacher’s generosity and self-sacrifice.

The other child goes home and complains about how the school lost her lunch, how the teacher refused to buy her something but instead offered a mere half a sandwich when she was already starving, and the other children only gave her their “scraps”. The parents write a scathing email to the school principal condemning the teacher for discrimination and treating their child like a “dog” by offering scraps, as if they couldn’t have reimbursed the teacher for buying their child a “real lunch”.

Which story is the school principal to believe? Each set of parents has a different perspective, even though the children experienced the same event.

Attitude is part of perception.

A Funeral and Two Mourners

A young woman dies in a hit-and-run accident at night and her body is found the next day. The best guess of the medical examiner is that it was a high speed vehicle coming straight at the girl from in front of her, and with the evident head trauma the girl died upon impact.

At the funeral, the girl’s aunt stands over the grave and sobs. All she can think about is how frightened the girl must have been during her final moments of life, seeing that car's headlights coming straight at her. The aunt has nightmares for years, and still cries every time she thinks of her niece.

But the girl’s uncle feels quite differently about the situation. At the funeral, he places a bouquet of flowers on the grave and says a brief prayer of thanks that his niece didn’t suffer. She had fallen down a slope on the side of the road where she was out of sight from most headlights, and if the vehicle had not killed her instantly, she could have been in agony for hours before she died. Every time he thinks of his niece, he grieves that her life was cut short, but he is always thankful that her death was quick.

Neither of the mourners really knows what happened that night. Each of them imagines the events differently, and their memory of their niece is colored by a different set of emotions.

Imagination is part of perception.

What Reality Will You Choose to Believe?

If reality is colored so heavily by perception, and perception is influenced by values, knowledge, attitude and imagination (among other things), then how are we to live? How are we to choose, when life puts two paths before us?

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.
— Proverbs 14:12 (NIV)

As Christians, we believe the testimony of the historical document called the Bible. We could get all theological and deep about how “inerrant” it is, or whether it ever contradicts itself, or the possibility of translation errors. But the bottom line is that we choose to trust the wisdom that is recorded in that book.

We believe that God created the world and made humanity to be like him. As our Creator and Designer, it’s a no-brainer that he knows what’s best for us. So when he tells us what kinds of behaviors are “good” and which are “wicked” (a word that means “twisted”, bent from its original shape), we know that we’re better off following his instructions.

Because of this, we use the Bible to determine:

  • what values are good
  • what “facts” are true
  • what attitudes are beneficial
  • how to best use our imagination.

How God interacted with people throughout history and how Jesus interacted as the exact representation of God’s character (Hebrews 1:3) are clues to the abundant life the Creator intended for us all along. As we filter our perceptions through the wisdom contained in our "instructional manual", our lives will reflect more and more the reality that we see there.

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
— Romans 12:2 (NLT)

Is Distraction Stealing Your Destiny?

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This past Sunday, Pastor Bill spoke about moving from being distracted to being intentional about where we spend our time (see the Facebook livestream - starting about 31 minutes in). A study at the beginning of 2016 showed Americans spending over 10 1/2 hours per day during the week looking at a screen (mobile devices, TV, computers, etc). That’s over 50 hours a week — like a full time job with some overtime!

Our assignment this week is to take an honest look at our screen time and find areas to cut back on distractions and expand our time spent in real relationship. But where shall we start?

ASK IT

God isn’t far away and uninvolved in our lives. He’s right here, even as you read this. The Holy Spirit is with you and in you, and knowing what to do is sometimes as simple as asking the question in prayer and listening for His answer.

MEASURE IT

As with any improvement effort, it helps to collect data so you can make an informed decision. Track yourself. How many evenings a week do you spend in front of the TV, browsing Facebook or YouTube, or playing video games? How much of your “free time” is spent with a screen instead of in relationship with a person?

When measuring, also consider the nature of the screen use. Is it entertainment? Escape? Keeping up with the news or the lives of your friends?

Look for ways to fill that desire in a healthier way, one more directly interacting with people in ways that further God’s work in you and them. You can replace watching TV with playing games with a family member or pursuing a hobby that uses the gifts God has given you. Replace social media with actually calling a friend.

CUT IT

Once you see an area you can change, go for it. Don’t wait, start today! Cut out the distraction and replace it with something better. If you don’t have a person available to fill the time in real relationship, spend that time in relationship with God. Listen to online sermons or worship music, read your Bible, pray about your life and your loved ones.

RIDE OUT THE DETOX

Your brain is used to the stimulation it was getting from TV, social media, or other screen time. It can be like a sugar or caffeine addiction: when the stimulation suddenly stops, you may experience restlessness or agitation. After a couple of days of change, you may want to go back to the comfort of the old habit. Hang in there! Replace the old with the new, and keep at it until the new becomes the habit.

WE WILL NEVER HAVE “NOW” EVER AGAIN

The time we have here on earth is finite, fixed. We will never get this time back. Every hour we spend distracting ourselves from heartache, pain, or boredom is time that could have been spent pursuing healing, answers, and the purpose that God has for us. (Yes, you have a purpose!)

SHARE IT

You're not alone in this. Especially if you challenge a friend to join you in cutting distractions. Share this post, leave a comment below, or simply bring this up in your next conversation. Use the power of positive reinforcement to keep you motivated!

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
— Ephesians 5:15-16 (NASB)

How Do I Have A Relationship With A God I Can't See?

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Some churches (like ours) talk a lot about having a relationship with the living God. We say during worship, “Use this time to connect with your heavenly Father.” We encourage each other to “stay close to God” during hard times. It sounds really spiritual, and people around us in the pews look like it’s working for them.

But let’s just get real for a minute. What if it’s NOT working for you? What if you walk away from church feeling like you’re missing out on something that everyone else has?

You may have wondered:

If God is invisible, if He is Spirit and I am flesh, how in the world do I “connect” with Him?

You are not alone. The desire for a real, tangible encounter with God is built into our souls. The good news is that God promises that "you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13) But what does that mean? How will you know when you've "found" Him?

While God still does show up in dreams and visions and even speaks to people in an audible voice now and then, most of the time the relationship He has with us is more subtle than that. That's why Christianity is called a "faith". But that doesn’t mean it’s boring or intangible.

You see, God knows you better than anyone else on earth. And once you start pursuing Him, He’ll show up in very tangible ways. Like when He played my favorite song every time I got in my car… and then even played it when I went into several different retail stores. I didn't notice it at first, but He's patient. Eventually it dawned on me that it couldn't be a coincidence. God was saying something to me.

How did He get a Christian song on the playlist inside TJMaxx? And why on earth would He bother? Because He loves us. During that season of my life, I really needed the message He was sending: “I love you enough to surround you with reminders of My presence, everywhere you go.”

And I’ve never forgotten it. Knowing He cared even about such a little thing transformed my relationship with Him.

QUESTION: Do you believe God when He says that He’ll show Himself to you, that He’ll “dwell with” you and “be in” you? Or does that sound just like so much churchy mumbo-jumbo?

CHALLENGE: This week, ask one of your Christian friends how they have experienced the reality of God in their life. Decide if this is something important to you, and if it is, ask God to reveal Himself to you in tangible ways.

If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.
— Jesus, in John 14:23 (NKJV)

P.S. Did you really think we would resolve the biggest question in the human experience in a 500-word blog post? Nah, you knew better than that. God used the entire Bible to illustrate how He interacts with people. Stay tuned and you’ll hear plenty more about it.

Old For New

One of the ways we stayed connected with God during the week is by bringing Sunday worship into our Monday through Friday lives. (I love that one of our commenters already brought this up a couple of weeks ago!)

I heard "Old For New" for the first time this month. I was drawing in my living room (one of the ways I like to relax) and not really paying attention to the video on my TV at first. Then I saw what was happening on the screen. It was an hour-long worship service and they were baptizing people next to the stage while the band played and the people sang, and the words suddenly hit home.

Joy, begin to rise
Hope, begin to light the dark
Our God exchanges old for new

Dawn has conquered night and
Death has lost to life and now
We are exchanging old for new

Oh, the depths of joy in this song. The hope and excitement of that first love came rushing back. What a miracle that we daily exchange old life for this new life, ever new, every day a clean slate, a fresh start!

You turn our flame into a fire
In you we walk in the impossible
We take Your love into the world
We let our light shine
We let it burn!

Let’s let our light shine during the time we have between Sundays. This is the time we can shine the brightest, as we walk through the dark nights of the soul that surround us in the world.

PRO TIP:

Make the most of that YouTube app on your phone or smart TV. Create playlists of your favorite worship songs. Not sure where to start? Bethel Music and Elevation Worship both have songs we use here at LCLC, and their playlists are set up so that if you watch one song, it will automatically go to another, and another, and another. Great for when you’re working out, driving, making dinner, or for background music in the house.

P.S. Here’s the 1-hour worship service, which includes the song “Old for New”:

When You Can't Find Time For God

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Do you ever feel like you want more time with God, but it’s hard to fit it in?

It seems almost blasphemous to say “I don’t have time for God” but at the same time if He knows everything, then surely He’s seen your schedule and will understand. Won’t He?

Yes. Yes, He will. He does see everything, and He has counted the hairs on your head. He knows when a bird falls out of the sky, and you better believe He cares about you more than a sparrow (see Luke 12:7). He knows all about the soccer ball games for your kids, the extra shifts at work, the homework and studying for finals, the hours in the ER, the long commutes. 

He sees, and He cares.

How do I know? First, because that's what the Bible tells us. But also because my experience in life proves it out. He saw me when I was drowning in this struggle as a young mother.

My Father in heaven and closest friend watched as my “alone time” with Him disappeared, as every daylight hour was spent interacting with children or catching up on lost sleep. If you haven’t had kids, you may not know this, but some toddlers want to FOLLOW YOU EVERYWHERE YOU GO, INCLUDING INTO THE BATHROOM. Talk about no privacy!

Before having children, I hadn’t realized how much I relied on my alone times with God. I worked in an office, and I had prayer time available during my commute, bible study during lunch, prayer and praise during walks on my breaks. Plenty of opportunity to fill my God tank!

But as a young mother, if I started to sing a worship song and closed my eyes to soak in God’s Presence, it wasn’t 30 seconds before little hands were tugging on my pants leg and demanding I pay attention to the castle they’d built with blocks on the kitchen floor. After a year with a toddler and an infant, I was baffled and drained and desperate. Surely God didn’t intend for mothers to completely lose their relationship with Him just because they were caring for little ones? What was I missing?

I had to learn to do God-time a different way.

If your schedule is packed full and leaves you hungry for more of God, you may relate to this struggle. If we’re to draw closer to God, how are we supposed to do that with all the demands on our time?

Are you ready for a paradigm shift? Brace yourself: 

Instead of trying to squeeze Him into some corner of your schedule,

start including Him in everything you’re already doing.

Just stop for a moment and let that sink in. Picture it. Imagine God right there with you every minute of your busy schedule. Available to help, ready with answers, inspiration, strength when you need it most. 

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TAKING IT TO HEART: Do you have a constant awareness of God’s presence with you and in you every day? Or do you mostly think about Him on Sundays or in a quick prayer right before you fall asleep? If PG&E could read your God-meter, what would it say?

CHALLENGE: Make God a part of every moment. It may be easier to start with times you can be alone during your normal schedule. What about your commute, lunch hour, break times?

Use those times to re-focus on Him, to remind yourself that He’s right there with you. If you are on your way somewhere, ask God to be part of what happens when you get there, to give you wisdom for decisions, courage for facing conflict, or kind words to share with those you meet.

P.S. If you CAN carve a chunk of time out for devoted time with God, you’ll be glad you did. But whether you make time for “God dates” or not, becoming more aware of His presence in you every moment is the ultimate way to live!