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First Thoughts Blog

Belonging to God Is the Truest Thing About You

God has been working deep in my heart and soul over the past 100 days during a sabbatical, a Romania Mission Trip, Fuller graduation, General Assembly and the Transforming Community Retreat.

This quote from Wilderness Time by Emilie Griffin describes part of my journey: “Times come when we yearn for more of God than our schedules will allow. We are tired, we are crushed, we are crowded by friends and acquaintances, commitments and obligations. The life of grace is abounding but we are too busy for it. Even good obligations begin to hem us in.” The past few months have been healing for my soul as I reflected on Jesus’ words to Bartimaeus in Mark 10: 51: “What do you want me to do for you?” My desire is to be in God’s presence but this has been difficult over the past year. The German theologian Meister Eckhart puts it this way: “The reason we do not see God is the faintness of our desire.”

Normally shying from emotion, I have learned that it is important to let yourself feel how deep your desire goes. Desire is the fuel that drives the spiritual journey. Bartimaeus was able to cry out and throw off his cloak, get up and follow Jesus. Similarly, Jesus has invited me in during the sabbatical to help heal my heart and soul. When was the last time I felt a longing for God and a desire to awaken my soul?

God does heal us, and I have felt this process beginning. The safest thing is to be open with Jesus. I have asked myself several questions lately: Am I able to feel Christ’s compassion for the part of me that yearns for something I do not yet have? Am I able to be compassionate with myself? Who attempts to silence my desire?

Desire is the truest thing about you — desire to belong, to contribute to God’s kingdom, to live with the people you love and to live well with God. When I am in touch with desire, a myriad of opportunities begin to open up. Questions often come to my heart: What does Christ want to show me about myself if I am really honest about my desires? What parts of my desire seem to come from my ego-self or from my true self? Is there something Christ is inviting me to do in order to live out my heart’s desire? What aspects of my desires are something only Christ can accomplish? And am I really willing to keep owning my desire in Christ’s presence if I can trust in his timing?
These are questions I will continue to bring before God. Spiritual transformation is a process that only Christ can accomplish in us for the sake of others. God is the only one who can transform my heart and soul. I am learning what it truly means to be still and know who God is in my heart and soul (Psalm 46: 10). This spiritual transformation journey is for the rest of my life.

Whitney Alexander
Associate Pastor of City Ministry

Doing God's Will Series: Introduction


Sooner or later, everyone who seeks to know God asks questions like these, "So what does God want from me?  How do I know what God wants me to do?" 

We wonder, "Is there a specific plan I can discover?  Or is it all as simple as Martin Luther's famous prescription, Love God, and do what you please?" 

These days, we have so many choices that we get fatigued weighing all our options.  I wish God would just drop the instructions in my lap!  But it seldom works that way. 

Over the next month, through messages from the pulpit and the Scriptures in this guide, I will be inviting you to open yourself to God's will for your life.  When we get in sync with God, the world is full of wonders as we see our God show up in so many amazing places and ways. Life takes on a sense of adventure--even if we never leave our homes! 

We will discover that doing God's will is more about deepening a relationship than executing a specific plan.  Let's go together, then, deeper into Christ.

As you journey, feel free to contact me ( or any of our pastors if we can be a companion along the way.

With you in Christ,
Gerrit S. Dawson

Shortcuts to posts in this Series:


Doing God's Will Series: Week One

Day One

Read I Samuel 3.
Consider how each of these ideas from the story relates to God’s call in your life: 
a) Samuel slept in the house of the Lord.  He located himself in a place where God’s presence was known to be felt.  In other words, he positioned himself to be “in the way” when God’s words and call came. 
b) Samuel got up from sleep and made inquiries of an older, wiser person when he first heard God’s call. 
c) Samuel offered a prayer of availability to God, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
d) Samuel had the courage to obey even though it meant risking his mentor’s displeasure.

Use the phrase, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” throughout the day and night.

Day Two

Read Isaiah 6: 1-9. 
Consider Isaiah’s response to being in the presence of the LORD.  What feelings of inadequacy and guilt for “unclean lips” might be making you fear to be in God’s presence?  Consider what gift is given to Isaiah to heal his guilt.  What does God offer you?  Consider as well the question which the LORD asks, “Whom shall I send?”  and Isaiah’s prayer of radical availability, “Here I am; send me!”

Use that phrase throughout your prayers today and tonight.

Day Three

Read Luke 11: 38-41. 
Meditate on the difference between a vocation of busyness and a vocation of devotion.  Why is Mary’s the better part?  What tasks would you like to leave off so that you might pursue your first love, Jesus’ first call to you?

Meditate upon Jesus’ words, “You have need of only one thing.” throughout this day and night.

Day Four

Read Romans 1: 1-7.
Consider that if you know Jesus as Lord and Savior, God has called you to himself. Try to recall the times when you have felt God’s claim and call on your life most clearly. Perhaps write down the story of your first call to know him, and any times of renewal when the first call seemed to come afresh. Explore the circumstances of your responding to God’s call. Give thanks that you were able to say Yes, and affirm those moments with joy throughout the day.

Day Five

Read Revelation 2: 1-7. 
Reviewing yesterday’s work, consider ways in which you may have lost your first love for God.  What has come between you and an undivided devotion to God? Let the memories of your first call to follow Jesus work in you to get behind the later resistance and loss of luster.

Day Six

Read Mark 10: 17-22.
Hear Jesus’ words to the rich young man as words to you. He sees you and he loves you. But then he speaks the one thing you lack? What is it? What might he be asking you to give up so that you will be free to follow him more nearly? Do you feel that you will walk away grieving as this man did? What would help you move towards radical availability?

Day Seven

Read Acts 22: 1-21. 
What was the primary call given to Saul?  What response of availability did he make?  How does responding to Jesus Christ as his Lord precede being given a mission to the Gentiles?  As you prepare to enter a second week considering your vocation, what yet needs to be abandoned in order to be ready to hear God’s particular instructions?  What needs to be embraced?

Doing God's Will Series: Week Two

Day One

Read Isaiah 5:1-7 and John 15: 1-4.
Consider how the image of the vine and vinegrower has been altered from Isaiah 5 to John 15.   Who is the vinegrower?  Who now is the vine?  What expectation of us remains from the Old Testament?  What has changed?

Consider what ways God has pruned you back through the years to make you more fruitful.  Consider what areas of your life might require pruning, and ponder what instruments God might be using to do that.  In prayer, try to risk asking God to do what is necessary to make you a fruitful branch in the vine.

Day Two

Read John 15: 5-8. 
How do you feel about your inability to please God or bear fruit or be radically available on your own strength?

Can you recall a time or a season during which you tried to produce fruit apart from Christ, the Vine?  What were the results?

What causes the branch to wither when cut off from the Vine?  How do people wither when they are cut off from Christ?  When they try to produce different fruit than that which God has designed for them?  Today in prayer, concentrate on admitting your need to be connected to Christ, the vine, in a living way.

Consider the word abide, which means to remain in, or to dwell in.  How does a branch abide in the vine?  How can we remain so naturally, effortlessly in Christ?

Day Three

Read the story of Paul’s living reliance in 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10. 
Concentrate especially on the phrase, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”  Are there times in your life when weakness led you to discover God’s strength?   What areas of defeat, inadequacy, illness or weakness may be urging you towards a greater reliance on God today?  Today in prayer, try to give thanks for the weaknesses you have been given, and invite God’s strength into them.

Day Four

Read Psalm 16, focusing especially on the phrase, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 
Why do we tend to try to live apart from the Lord?  Why does such separation destroy the very “good” in our lives.  Concentrate on the phrase from vs. 11, “In your presence there is fullness of joy.”  Today in your prayers, give thanks for the joy of God’s presence, and invite God to keep you closely connected all through the day.  Tonight, consider if such dependence on God led you to fewer or more loving, useful activities.

Day Five

Read Psalm 32. 
What causes us to keep silent about our sins?  Why does such denial dry up our strength?  How does confession renew our strength?  Read Psalm 130, and note the three blessings connected with God:  vs. 4 “there is forgiveness with you;” vs. 7, “with the Lord there is steadfast love;” “with him there is great power to redeem.”  How does the character of God influence our ability to enter into a relationship of living reliance?  In prayer today, acknowledge both your sin and need for God, moving quickly from yourself to thanksgiving for the forgiveness, steadfast love and power of God.  Take note today of how a concentration on the character of God influences your character and actions.

Day Six

Read John 15: 9-17.
How can abiding in Christ be at once so effortless and so fruitful?  How, in other words, do we expend energy and strength for God in a way that is both peaceful and exerting?

In practical terms, according to verse 10, how is this abiding expressed?

Visualize in prayer the way a branch abides in the vine, and see yourself as held and holding to Jesus.

Day Seven

Consider this quotation from Andrew Murray’s book, Abide in Christ:
...the feeblest can, each single moment, say, as he consents to occupy his place as a branch in the vine, “Yes, I do abide in Christ.”  It is not a matter of feeling--it is not a question of growth or strength in the Christian life--it is the simple question whether the will at the present moment desires and consents to recognize the place you have in your Lord, and to accept it.  If you are a believer, you are in Christ.  If you are in Christ, and wish to stay there, it is your duty to say, though it be but for a moment, “Blessed Saviour, I abide in Thee now;  Thou keepest me now.”

Practice saying this prayer of living reliance throughout the day.

Doing God's Will Series: Week Three

Day One

Read this selection from Andrew Murray’s Abide in Christ.
Each time your attention is free to occupy itself with the thought of Jesus--whether it be with time to think and pray, or only for a few passing seconds--let your first thought be to say:  Now, at this moment, I do abide in Jesus.  Use such time, not in vain regrets that you have not been abiding fully, or still more harmful fears that you will not be able to abide, but just at once take the position the Father has given you: “I am in Christ;  this is the place God has given me.  I accept it; here I rest; I do now abide in Jesus.”

Practice such abiding each day this week, and reflect upon what difference it makes.

Day Two

Read Luke 1: 26-38, concentrating on Mary’s words in vs. 38, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” 
Consider what situations you may encounter today into which you especially want to pray those words.  In prayer, visualize yourself in each encounter maintaining this attitude of “active passivity.”

Day Three

Read Luke 6: 43-49. 
What causes a tree to produce good or bad fruit?  How can the kind of fruit our lives are producing be changed?  What is the connection between the words of Christ, faith, and our actions?  Today in prayer, make the connection between the concept of abiding and Jesus’ instructions on obedience and fruit.

Day Four

Read Galatians 5: 16-26.
What is the difference between a “work” and a “fruit”?  Take a moment to contrast the works of the sinful nature and the fruit of the Spirit.  In what form do you experience the conflict between the fruit God desires to grow in you and the works your old nature wants to manufacture?  In this passage, what are the instructions for winning the struggle?  On what previously accomplished facts do we rely?  What does it mean for you to consciously “live by the Spirit”?

Day Five

Read Romans 6: 5-11.
Note that Paul says both that “our old self was crucified with” Christ and that we yet “must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  This consideration, or “reckoning” as some translations have it, is similar to abiding in the vine and living in the Spirit.  All three involve counting on certain facts to be true, and then living in agreement with those facts.  Prepare for today by briefly considering the sins, diminishments and defeats which typically belittle you.  Count them as dead, as crucified with Christ.  Then consider yourself, visualize yourself, as one who is alive with Christ in his resurrection, made new by the Spirit.

Day Six

Read Colossians 3: 1-4. 
Here is yet another Biblical way of describing the balance between Christ’s work and our consent.  Begin this day by taking time to set your mind on the things above.  Consider who Jesus is and all he has done for you, and is doing now.  Ponder how your ambitions and anxieties may be hidden with Christ in God, and consider that your true life is in Jesus the vine.

Day Seven

Read Colossians 3: 5-17. 
Contrast the two ways of life Paul describes.  How does he use the idea of “clothing ourselves”?  What actions and attitudes would you like to peel off today?  What kind of spiritual clothes do you feel led to dress in this day?  In vs. 15-17, some specific instructions are given to aid this process?  What are they, and how do they apply to your life?

Practice giving thanks, making music in your heart, and letting the words of Christ dwell in you today.

Doing God's Will Series: Week Four

Day One

Read Psalm 36: 9.
Consider the light which illumines this page, and the sunlight which illumines the earth and the moon.  Ponder how light comes works in silence.  Imagine the way the dawn gently brightens the world.  How has God the Holy Spirit worked in your life in gentle, quiet ways?  Are there some works of God which can only be discerned from the perspective of years rather than days?  Consider that the very impulse toward Christ which is in you is a gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells in your heart.  Give thanks today for God’s humble, warming, gently powerful Spirit.

Day Two

Read Romans 12:  3-8.
This excerpt from a novel by Orson Scott Card may provide some direction in how we discover our gifts.  Just translate Card’s use of knack into the spiritual    gifts we have been considering:

When Taleswapper says he’s got no knack, though, I’ll tell you, he’s wrong.  Like a lot of folks, he has a knack and doesn’t even know it because that’s the way knacks work--it just feels as natural as can be to the person who’s got it, as easy as breathing, so you don’t think that could possibly be your unusual power because heck, that’s easy.  You don’t know it’s a knack till other people around you get all astonished about it or upset or excited or whatever feelings your knack seems to provoke in folks.  Then you go, “Boy howdy, other folks can’t do this!  I got me a knack!” and from then on there’s no putting up with you till you finally settle down and get back to normal life and stop bragging about how you can do this fool thing that you used never to be excited about back when you still had some sense.

     Some folks never know they got them a knack, though,
     because nobody else ever notices it either...

Consider:  Why does a gift feel so natural to the one who has it while seeming so extraordinary to those who don’t?

Why do people not know they have a gift until someone else points it out to them? What help would you like from others in the process of discerning your spiritual gift?

Day Three

Read I Corinthians 1: 4-9.
As you consider the wonderful news that you have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit, what do you expect they will turn out to be?  Which gifts do you long to have?  Consider in prayer what draws you to these particular gifts and discuss with God how you would like to employ them in the church.  Make a mental note to check your expectations and hopes with what the inventory reveals.

Day Four

Read I Corinthians 12: 1-11. 
Why didn’t God give all the gifts to every person?  What are the advantages in our having differing gifts?  What is difficult in requiring the gifts of others in your church?  What is exciting about needing each other in that way? Consider the people in your group as you pray for them, and give thanks for how each plays a unique part.

Day Five

Read I Corinthians 12: 12-27. 
What might cause one part of the body to want to be as another part?  How does the absurd image of the whole body being an eye or an ear help us see the importance of a variety of gifts?  Following this anatomical image, where would you locate yourself and your gifts on the body Christ?  Are you more out there in the fray as a hand, or do you need more special covering in order to function best?  Can you identify the importance of your place to the good of the whole?

Day Six

Read 2 Timothy 1: 6-7. 
What risks do we take in offering our spiritual gifts in service to the church?  What practical ways can we encourage each other to use our spiritual gifts?  How does using gifts “fan the flame” of church life and spiritual expression?  Consider in prayer today those people whom you will encourage.

Day Seven

Read Ephesians 4: 7-13. 
Note that the various gifts of leadership are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...”  How is this different from the idea that clergy are supposed to do the work of ministry?  How would the church change if the leaders saw their role as equipping all the people for doing the work of the church, each one sharing in that labor?  How would the clergy and church professionals change if they focussed more on equipping the church for its work?  Prayer for your leaders and pastors today.