Tag Archive for Bible

Overcoming the World: Part 3–Living by the Spirit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against these things!  Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

 

I am a very task-oriented person.  I am all about the to-do lists.  I get pleasure when I check something off, and I get stressed when I get to the end of the day, and there’s still 12 more things on my list that I didn’t get to.

 

Because of this, I have a tendency to turn almost every facet of my life into a sort of mental to-do list.  Everything feels like a competition or a performance to me, in which I will emerge as either a winner or a loser.

 

Most of life really isn’t supposed to be that way, though.  I am learning that it’s actually OK to simply live life as it comes and to appreciate moments as they’re happening.  I am learning that it’s more important to start each day with gratitude than to finish it with a gold medal.

 

So what is it about us that we keep wanting to go back to the things that we know didn’t work the first time?  Are we just addicted to futility?  Or is this just part of the natural state of being human?

 

I think that the problem lies in our tendency to define ourselves by what we do or by what we fail to do.  If I win, then I am a winner, but if I lose, then I am a loser.  Nobody wants to be a loser though, so we do everything we can to win at life.  And if we find we can not win, then we start doing things that are truly ridiculous.

 

Some people try to downplay life’s natural consequences by attempting to eliminate the concept of winning and losing, a concept that I call the “participation trophy” mentality.  You’re a winner just for showing up!  And if you didn’t even show up, we’ll try to find an excuse for you, so that you won’t lose.  After all, you deserve to win!

 

Then there are the “glory days” people (I tend to fall into this category).  These are the people who used to be the best at something, but then they either went somewhere else where there were other people that were better, or maybe they just got old and weren’t as good as they used to be.  If a person like this is focused on the winning, and he isn’t winning anymore, bitterness takes over in a hurry.

 

A person in this kind of a rut can’t let go of the past, can’t be happy for anyone else who wins in the present, and is bleak about the future that he sees for himself filled with nothing but losing.  Because if you lose, then you’re a loser.  But you can’t be a loser, because you used to win.  But now other people are winning, and keeping you from the victory that is rightfully yours.  So if you can’t beat them, then you have to tear them down, so that you can be on top again.

 

Both of these misguided worldviews lead to the same error—trying to put everybody else on earth at the same level so that we can feel good about ourselves, either by having no distinction of greatness, or by declaring ourselves great by attrition.  Both of these philosophies fail, because they are both built on the foundation of defining our worth by what we do, rather than who we are.

 

God gave us a better way to live.  In the Bible, Paul calls it “living by the Spirit.”  This is a churchy way of saying “getting out of your own way and letting God do His work through you.”  Living by the Spirit isn’t about checking things off of a religious checklist.  It is more about being aware of God’s influence in our lives, and allowing ourselves to be led away from our own plans and deeper into His.

 

Notice in the verse at the beginning that it is the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit in our lives, not us.  We don’t overcome the world by accomplishing all nine of those things on our own.  Rather, when we yield to God’s leading in our lives, these fruits are the natural result of the change that He works within us.

 

 

(So what does that look like?  Come back for Part 4—Keeping in Step.)

 

 

 

 

 

Overcoming the World: Part 2–Calling for Backup

 

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.  Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13 NLT)

Everyone has up days and down days.  Christians are no exception.  When we are in a desert faith-wise, as I have been for a while, it is so important to have people around us that can build us back up.  Also, we should remember the example that these people set for us, so that when we’re back on the mountaintop, we can lift somebody else up who needs it.

 

Unfortunately, the tendency in these dry seasons of the soul (especially for a cave-dwelling introvert like me) is to pull away from people.  We get used to our misery, and it seems that we would rather prolong it than to have someone tell us what we need to hear.

 

The problem with that is that when we pull away from people, we pull even further away from God than we were already feeling.  That’s when the old bad habits start rearing their ugly heads again.  One of my biggest fears since accepting Christ is that someone is going to encounter me during one of these bad times and associate what they see in me with Christianity in general.  What if I’m standing at the throne at the End of Days giving an account of my life, and I find out that someone missed out on the Kingdom because of something I said or did that turned him or her away?

 

But fears like this can actually accelerate the downward spiral.  We might figure, “If I avoid people entirely, then I won’t run the risk of blowing my witness and staining the name of Jesus.”  So we pull even further away, not just from society, but even from the hand that feeds us.

 

 

Another manifestation of getting into a spiritual funk like this is that we stop reading the Bible.  Everything we need to adjust our attitudes is right there, and the Holy Spirit is only too willing to illuminate the verses that we need to hear, but again, we are too comfortable in our misery to put forth the effort of opening a book.  I am so grateful to have a wife that will put scriptures in front of me when I am not going to them myself.

 

Do you have someone in your life that cares enough about you to give you a lift like this whether you want it or not?  If you don’t, then find one.  The best place that I have found for this type of community is in a small group (sometimes called “life groups” or “cell groups”) in a church.  If you are not familiar with this concept, it’s a group usually of 8-15 people that meet regularly to go deeper together in their faith than they would get by only going to church on Sunday morning.

 

What we need to remember is that we were set apart from the world to be WITH God and His people, not to be hermits in a cabin in the mountains (not that there’s anything wrong with mountains!).

 

As I mentioned in Part 1, a normal life involves difficulties.  For a Christian, those difficulties include enduring people who mock the Name of Jesus and those who adhere to it.  Sometimes it seems that life would be easier if we didn’t have to endure that, but we have to remember that this life is not all there is.  The next one is a lot longer.

 

God’s joy and peace are there for the having.  You just have to want it.  But sometimes, you need somebody to remind you that you want it.  So don’t ever be afraid to call for backup.

 

Overcoming the World: Part 1–Peace

I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you have oppression; but cheer up!  I have overcome the world.  John 16:33 (WEB)

 

Ever have a day where it seems like the world is just coming down on you and everything seems hopeless?  Ever have about five months in a row like that?  I did.  That’s why you haven’t heard from me in a while.

 

It isn’t that anything traumatic happened in my life in this stretch of time.  I just ran into an extended dry spell where my faith wasn’t keeping up with my circumstances.  Election years in general do that to me, and this has been the worst one ever.

 

In times like these, we Truthseekers need to get a grip on ourselves (and each other) and simply remember just Who it is that’s really running the show, whether or not we are aware of it.

 

God’s goal is never to confound us, but to bring us peace.  Another way to word that would be “confidence.”  He wants us to rest assured that He is not only bigger than whatever comes our way, but that our circumstances are all a part of his plan.

 

There are so many ways that we can learn from adversity.  Sometimes it’s a course correction if we are going a way that we should not be.  Sometimes it’s to find out that we are really stronger than we thought we were.  But sometimes it’s the opposite of that.  Sometimes God allows us to walk through difficult seasons as a means to get us to STOP relying on our own strength and to rely on His instead.

 

That sure sounds like the right thing to say from a spiritual standpoint, but it sure doesn’t feel that way when you’re going through it, does it?  I really admire people who hold unswervingly to their faith when going through things like extended illnesses or financial hardships.  I am one who wants things fixed, and fixed NOW, so I can get on with my life.  Trials and tribulations are an obstacle to my plans.

 

If you think this way, as I often do, that’s the indicator that you’re getting off track.  Because if you’re most concerned about your own plans, then you’re not in submission to God.  He knows what’s best for us, and more importantly, He knows what’s coming next.

 

Maybe it’s just part of being American, but I can get so bent out of shape over my first-world inconveniences.  I can count the major trials I have had in my life on one hand.  They are significant, but they are not a daily occurrence.  We get so spoiled in this country that we forget all too easily that troubles are a normal part of a normal life.

 

The world can be frustrating.  The people in it can be REALLY frustrating.  However, it is pointless to allow ourselves to be mastered by our frustration.  There will be things in this world that we can not conquer, but Jesus has already conquered everything that ultimately matters.

 

Whose Money Is It Anyway? (Part 1–Stewardship)

Whoever can be trusted with small things can also be trusted with big things.  Whoever is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in big things too.  If you cannot be trusted with worldly riches, you will not be trusted with the true riches.  And if you cannot be trusted with the things that belong to someone else, you will not be given anything of your own.  Luke 16:10-12 (ERV)

 

Take a moment to consider this question:  What do you have that wasn’t given to you?

 

We use words like “earn” and “create” to maintain the illusion that we alone are responsible for everything that we have.  However, if these things were really ours, then we couldn’t lose them, could we?

 

Sure, we work for our money, but then someone else has to give it to us.  Then either we give it away to someone else by spending it, or we hold onto it forever and die, at which point we don’t take it with us.  There’s a reason you don’t see hearses towing U-hauls!

 

So if it’s not really “our” money, then whose is it?  King David answered that question emphatically after taking the offering to build the temple in Jerusalem:

 

To you, Lord, belong greatness and power,
honor, splendor, and majesty,
because everything in heaven and on earth belongs to you.
Yours, Lord, is the kingship,
and you are honored as head of all.
  You are the source of wealth and honor,
and you rule over all.
In your hand are strength and might,
and it is in your power to magnify and strengthen all.

  (1 Chronicles 29:11-12 CEB)

 

Everything in heaven and earth (yes, even the money) belong to God.  Therefore, we don’t really “own” anything.  Rather, we are stewards of everything currently in our possession.

 

Simply put, a steward is someone who is placed in charge of someone else’s stuff.  The principle at work here is that at some point, the steward will have to give account of how he or she has managed the property belonging to the Master.  A steward that proves faithful is rewarded, but those who aren’t . . . not so much.

 

You see, how we handle money is an indicator of how we will steward all of the other blessings in our life.  Money is just the easiest one to track.  So how do you track this in your own life?

 

The best way to gauge that for yourself is to figure out who it is that you really serve.  Are you putting your trust in the provider or the provision?   As Jesus said in the verse that comes right after the passage at the top of this post:

 

You cannot serve two masters at the same time.  You will hate one master and love the other.  Or you will be loyal to one and not care about the other.  You cannot serve God and Money at the same time.  (Luke 16:13 ERV)

 

If you are primarily interested in serving God by stewarding HIS wealth, then your needs will always be met.

 

However, if your hope is in the money itself, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

 

(Come back for Part 2—Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt)

 

Fishers of Men: Part 2–Track Record

 

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.  When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.”

 Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me?  My time hasn’t come yet.”

 His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons.

 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did.  The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine.  He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

The headwaiter called the groom and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first.  They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely.  You kept the good wine until now.”  This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee.  He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.  (John 2:1-11 CEB)

 

Jesus hasn’t even had a chance to start teaching or building into these guys who are following Him.  His disciples have only just met Him and have literally not had time to do anything but get to this wedding, perhaps chatting a bit on the way.  They really didn’t have any way of knowing for sure at this point what they were getting into.

 

But then, Jesus reveals His glory to His new disciples by changing the water into wine.  From that point on, the fishermen were themselves hooked.

 

Now go back to the passage at the beginning of Part 1, where Simon (now called Peter) and Andrew drop their nets to follow Jesus full-time.  This event takes place A YEAR after the wedding at Cana.

 

So Jesus wasn’t just walking along the beach casting hypnotic spells on ignorant and gullible people.  First, they knew their scriptures well enough to know that a Messiah was coming.  Second, John the Baptist had pointed them directly to Him.  Third, they had seen Him perform a miracle firsthand.

 

So by this time, Jesus had an established track record with these guys.

 

Luke 5 goes into much more detail than Mark 1 about what Jesus was doing at the lake that day.  He wasn’t just walking along; He was teaching people at the water’s edge.  Then He gets into Simon’s boat, and has him take it out into the lake a bit, so He is better situated to teach the crowd.

 

Afterward, He has Simon go out deeper into the lake and let down his nets.  This doesn’t make sense to Simon, because they hadn’t caught anything all night.  Nevertheless, Jesus already has enough of a track record with Simon that he does it anyway.  This is what happens:

 

They did it and caught so many fish that their nets began ripping apart.  Then they signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  The men came, and together they filled the two boats so full that they both began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this happen, he knelt down in front of Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t come near me!  I am a sinner.”  Peter and everyone with him were completely surprised at all the fish they had caught.  His partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were surprised too.

Jesus told Simon, “Don’t be afraid!  From now on you will bring in people instead of fish.”  The men pulled their boats up on the shore.  Then they left everything and went with Jesus.  (Luke 5:6-11 CEV)

 

They left everything.  Think about that for a minute.  Think of your job, your family, your house, your friends, your community—everything that makes your life what it is.  Is there anything, or anyone, that could make you leave all of that behind you?

 

If you said no, then consider these words of Jesus:

 

Those who love their father or mother more than they love me are not worthy to be my followers.  Those who love their son or daughter more than they love me are not worthy to be my followers.  Whoever is not willing to carry the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who try to hold on to their lives will give up true life.  Those who give up their lives for me will hold on to true life.  (Matthew 10:37-39 NCV)

 

These fishermen were ready to become man-fishers.  They were expectant, they were vigilant, and they were patient.  And because of this, we are still talking about them 2,000 years later.

 

So what about us?  Are we ready?  Are we willing to drop it all and go fishing?  Does Jesus have enough of a track record with us that we would follow Him wherever He would have us go?

 

If your answer is yes, then it’s time to go fish.

 

Fishers of Men: Part 1–Follow Me

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  (Mark 1:16-18 ESV)

 

This is one of a plethora of examples in the Bible where context is everything.  Just reading that passage by itself might make you say, “WHAT?  How gullible are these guys?  Was Jesus some kind of Pied Piper or something?”

 

Because it sounds like He was just going for a walk, saw these two guys, called them, and they came.  Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but you have to know where to look.  So here’s some background.

 

Simon and Andrew are brothers from Bethsaida, which literally means House of Fish.  They are working in a commercial fishing business in Capernaum, on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, where Andrew lives with Simon and his wife.

 

Andrew is also a disciple, or follower, of a radical new preacher known as John the Baptist, who was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah, the Anointed One of God who would redeem Israel.

 

One day Jesus shows up where John is baptizing.  John immediately recognizes Him, and points Him out as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Naturally, word gets out about this event.

 

So the next day, Andrew is there along with another disciple by the name of John, who recorded the events of that day in the Gospel that bears his name:

 

The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples.  When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look!  The Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.

 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”

They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”

 He replied, “Come and see.”  So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.  (John 1:35-39a CEB)

 

After spending the day with Jesus, Andrew immediately goes and gets Simon, convinced that he and John had found the Messiah.  So how were they convinced in a single day?  I’m sure it had a lot to do with what Jesus said to them, which the Bible didn’t record, but there is another reason.

 

Andrew and John recognized Jesus as the Messiah because they were EXPECTING the Messiah.

 

Indeed all Jews in that day were, but most of them didn’t know what they were looking for.  Many were hoping for a military leader to throw off the Roman occupation of Judea.  These folks missed it completely when Jesus was in their midst.  Indeed, many of them were among those who eventually had Jesus executed.

 

But John the Baptist knew that the Kingdom of God was another matter entirely.  And he had done his job in preparing the way for those who had ears to hear his message, Andrew and John among them.

 

(Come back for the conclusion–Track Record!)

 

Your Will Be Done

Then they arrived at a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to the disciples, “Sit down here while I pray.”
He took with him Peter, James and John, and began to be horror-stricken and desperately depressed.
 “My heart is nearly breaking,” he told them.  “Stay here and keep watch for me.”  (Mark 14:32-34 PHILLIPS)

It’s hard to imagine Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world, being “horror-stricken and desperately depressed.”  And yet, it happened.  Jesus was facing the greatest test of His time on earth, and He was facing it as a human being.

 

It’s difficult to wrap your brain around the concept of Jesus being both fully divine and fully human, rather than being some sort of a spiritual half-breed.

 

But if there are any doubts about Jesus being fully human, his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane should put those to rest.  He knew what He was about to face, and He needed strength to get through it.  Matthew’s account of this episode words it this way:

 

He took Peter with him and Zebedee’s two sons James and John, and began to be filled with anguish and despair.

 Then he told them, “My soul is crushed with horror and sadness to the point of death. . . stay here. . . stay awake with me.”  (Matthew 26:37-38 TLB)

 

Despair.

 

The One who was the Light of the World, who came to bring hope to everyone in it, was filled with . . . despair.

 

So considering this, is it any great wonder that we can feel despair when we face our moments of greatest testing?

 

And to take that one step further, usually when we are having our moments of fear and torment, the worst thing that we are facing is the unknown.  We are scared, because we wonder what is going to happen.  Will I have the strength to endure this trial?  What will people think of me if I fail?  What am I about to lose?  Do I really want to know the answers to these questions?

 

Jesus didn’t have the luxury of fearing the unknown.  He knew EXACTLY what was about to happen.  And it scared Him.  A lot.

 

Let’s be clear about this.  Jesus, the Son of God, knew why He had come to earth.  He knew He had work to do, and He knew He had to finish that work.

 

But Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph said this:

 

“Father, if it is your will, take this cup of suffering away from me.  However, your will must be done, not mine.”  (Luke 22:42 GW)

 

 

Jesus knew going into this time of prayer what God’s answer was going to be.  He knew what He had to do, but He was NOT excited about it.

 

Nevertheless, He submitted to His Father’s will.  He did not want to go through with His arrest, torture and execution, but more than that, He did not want to go against His Father’s will.

 

The Greek word regarding God’s will in this sentence is ginomai.  This signifies that Jesus is not only saying that God’s will must be done, but that it must be.  In other words, God’s will is eternal, just as God is eternal.

 

In light of His knowledge of this, Jesus really didn’t have any illusion that His prayer was going to be answered with a “yes.”  And yet, He prayed for God to let Him off the hook anyway.

 

Perhaps this knowing was the greatest reason for His despair?  He knew He wasn’t getting out of this.  I can’t even imagine what He must have felt like in the garden.

 

And yet, He remained submissive, because He never lost focus on what His greatest mission was.  And that was simply for God’s will to be done.  Jesus was sincere about completing His work.  He isn’t just saying “Your will be done,” to sound pious, like it’s the right thing to say while praying.

 

It is, of course, the right thing to say, but it is also the right thing, period.

 

Because God’s will wasn’t about Jesus the man doing something He didn’t want to do.  It was about Jesus the Savior bring God’s plan of salvation to fulfillment:

 

Jesus Christ did the things God wanted him to do.  And because of that, we are made holy through the sacrifice of Christ’s body.  Christ made that sacrifice one time—enough for all time.  (Hebrews 10:10 ERV)

 

This sacrifice began not on the cross, but in the garden, when Jesus made up His mind to be in agreement with God’s will.  Because of this resolution, and the confirmation of His purpose that it signified, we are able to approach God today as His adopted children.

 

But this is about more than our salvation.  Heaven will be awesome, of course, but what about the here and now?

 

Do you ever have situations that you know you won’t be strong enough to face  by yourself?  Isn’t it helpful to know, then, that even Jesus needed to be strengthened not only by angels and the Holy Spirit, but also His three best buds?  It is much less difficult to say to God, “Your will be done” when you have your closest friends surrounding and supporting you.

 

It is not likely that any of us will ever have to face a crucifixion, and we DEFINITELY won’t ever have the weight of the sins of the world upon our own shoulders.

 

Nevertheless, when I am faced with something I really don’t want to do, and fear is holding me back, it helps at least to know that the God to whom I pray knows a thing or two about fear and apprehension.

 

But it helps me even more to know that He still got the job done.

Whatever We Ask: Part 6–Prosperity

“. . .  God wants to make your life easier.  He wants to assist you, to promote you, to give you advantages.  He wants you to have preferential treatment.”  Joel Osteen—Your Best Life Now

 

 

This quote is an example of a concept known as “prosperity gospel.” There are several variations on the theme, but the main idea is that the Bible’s references to promises of blessing and prosperity are a contract between God and His children.  All Christians have to do is confess, or “speak into existence” God’s promises, and He is bound to deliver on them.  Both proponents and critics of prosperity theology sometimes refer to it simply as “name it and claim it.”

 

Indeed, there are many examples of God promising blessings in the Bible.  Here are just a couple of them:

 

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.  My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.  (John 10:10 NLT)

 

 

And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you.  (Deut 28:11 ESV)

 

 

We have both the right and the position to ask God for anything in prayer, but remember this.  He doesn’t owe us anything, and we owe Him EVERYTHING!  If we don’t keep that reality in clear focus, then we are likely to approach God with an attitude of entitlement, rather than one of humility.  The result is that, in our minds, God becomes a supernatural ATM, spitting out the blessing whenever we insert our “believe to receive” card.

 

But wait a minute.  Isn’t “believing to receive” the whole point of faith?  When we ask, we are supposed to believe and not doubt, and God does promise blessings to those who believe, so what’s the problem with believing that God will keep His word regarding prosperity?

 

Actually, there’s nothing wrong with trusting God to keep His promises.  What’s wrong is the American definition of prosperity.

 

Let’s face it, y’all.  We are SPOILED in this country.

 

As I write this, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.  Most American’s can’t live on that.  Just about nobody can raise a family on that.  Fast food workers are demanding more than twice that in some areas.

 

And yet, our federal MINIMUM wage yields an income higher than that of 92% of the world.

 

Think about that for a minute.  If you are working full-time and making federal minimum wage (many states are higher), then you are already doing better than six billion people are.

 

But do you FEEL rich?  In most cases, I would expect that would be a no.

 

And what about those other six billion people who make less?  2.1 billion of them are Christians.  Are they prospering?  Is God keeping His promises to them?

 

Here is a verse that is NOT frequently quoted by prosperity gospel adherents, “Beloved, I pray that with respect to all things you may prosper and be healthy, just as your soul is prospering (3 John 1:2 DLNT).”

 

The folks that would have you believe that it’s God’s job to make your life easier are putting a period in place of the comma in the verse above.  Prosper and be healthy in all things!  Sounds great!

 

But there’s something else there—a “just,” sometimes translated as “even.”  John’s assumption is that physical and material prosperity will follow and accompany spiritual prosperity.

 

So what does that look like?

 

You need look no further than Paul.  First, consider this rundown of his physical circumstances:

 

Five times the Jews have given me their punishment of thirty-nine lashes with a whip.  Three different times I was beaten with rods.  One time I was almost stoned to death.  Three times I was in ships that wrecked, and one of those times I spent a night and a day in the sea.  I have gone on many travels and have been in danger from rivers, thieves, my own people, the Jews, and those who are not Jews.  I have been in danger in cities, in places where no one lives, and on the sea.  And I have been in danger with false Christians.  I have done hard and tiring work, and many times I did not sleep.  I have been hungry and thirsty, and many times I have been without food.  I have been cold and without clothes.  (2 Cor 11:24-27 NCV)

 

And yet, the same man says this:

 

I’m not saying that because I need anything.  I have learned to be content no matter what happens to me.  I know what it’s like not to have what I need.  I also know what it’s like to have more than I need.  I have learned the secret of being content no matter what happens.  I am content whether I am well fed or hungry.  I am content whether I have more than enough or not enough.  I can do everything by the power of Christ.  He gives me strength.  (Php 4:11-13 NIRV)

Contentedness is the secret to a prospering soul.  And this comes from trusting not that God will give you everything you want for your purposes, but that you will have everything you need for His.

 

So how about it?  Is your soul prospering?  If so, then you are already living “Your Best Life Now.”  You don’t have to “believe God” for the biggest house in the neighborhood to make it better.

Whatever We Ask: Part 5–Unstable

But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.  But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.  (James 1:5-8 NABRE)

 

Back in 2012, we ran a series on Doubt, in which we discussed that doubt could be healthy if you put it to work for you by testing new information in your search for Truth.

 

Nevertheless, doubt is not always a healthy thing.  It is one matter to doubt one person’s interpretation of scripture or another individual’s worldview.  It is quite another to doubt God Himself.

 

God knows what you need.  He knows it before you know it.  He is not only capable, but also willing to meet your needs.  Yet, it is not your need that He responds to when you pray.  It is your faith.

 

Prayer is based on trust.  We ask God to meet our needs and hear our petitions because we believe and trust that He will handle the situation.  If we didn’t believe that, why pray at all?

 

But we still do that sometimes, don’t we?  Have you ever offered up a prayer because it seemed like the thing to do, but you didn’t really expect that your prayer would be answered?

 

Jesus’ brother James is not one to mince words, as you can see in the passage above.  He explicitly says that someone who doubts when he prays will not get the answer to their prayer that they hope for.  The key word there is “hope.”

 

There are two different kinds of hope.  There is expectant hope, where you are welcoming an event in advance that has not yet come to pass, and there is “I don’t know if this is going to work or not, but I sure HOPE it does.”

 

Again, what is the point of praying if you don’t expect an answer?  Do you believe that God is God or don’t you?  If we offer up a prayer from a position of worry, then we are literally “of two minds.”  One mind is thinking of God answering the prayer, and the other is thinking of a Plan B.

 

When we do this, what we are really doing is making God the Plan B, because worry and anxiety will always cut in line ahead of whatever else is present.

 

So clearly, it is a daunting task to hold both kinds of “hope” in your mind at the same time.  Just as you cannot serve two masters, you cannot persevere on two different paths in life simultaneously.

 

So when James says that a person who does this is “unstable in all his ways,” he is not only saying that this person is indecisive, but by extension, that he cannot be trusted.

 

That sounds inordinately harsh, but think about it.  We’re talking about Christians here.  If we can’t even make up our minds about relying on the God we claim to serve, then who would ever rely on US to follow through on anything?  A person who spends their life in an endless “What If?” loop never gets anything done that needs doing.

 

So if that’s what unstable looks like, then what about stable?

 

Throughout the Bible, the image of a rock is used to denote stability.  God Himself is referred to as the Rock on many occasions.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also uses this image to describe a life lived by faith:

 

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock.  The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-5 HCSB)

 

Notice the “and” in Jesus’ statement.  It’s not enough to hear what He’s saying and answer with a “yeah, but. . .”  Stability and security come not from passive hearing, but from active LISTENING and the follow-through that accompanies it.

 

Now having used the word “security” there, I am reminded of one more issue regarding the answering of prayers.  One that is particularly sticky to us here in the USA.

 

(Come back for the conclusion in Part 6—Prosperity)

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 3–The Desires of our Hearts

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)

 

This is one of the more misunderstood passages in the Bible. It’s easy to see why. Who doesn’t want to get the desires of his or her heart? Who has ever watched an Aladdin movie without wondering what it would be like to be able to rub a magic lamp and have a genie pop out to grant your wishes?

Unfortunately, many people have looked at that verse above, keyed in on that last part, and subsequently transformed God in their minds to little more than a genie in a lamp.

If you’ll notice though, this verse is a conditional statement. To get the desires of our hearts, we must first “take delight in the Lord.” So maybe we should be focusing more on what that means instead of our own selfish desires?

To “take delight” obviously means, “to enjoy.” But what is it we should be enjoying exactly?

It is the relationship that we have with God as our Father.

In this life, we may have great memories of time spent with our dads. Dad can be our fishing buddy, our baseball coach, our source of worldly wisdom, etc. Many people, of course, have never been able to have a relationship like this with their fathers, but many of those wish that they had.

The relationship with our heavenly Father is different though. He is Abba, but He is also Adonai, which means, “Lord.” As Lord, we serve Him, but as Daddy, we serve Him out of grateful love, not just reverent fear.

When we realize that our service to God is not to avoid punishment but to please our Daddy, then the service itself becomes a joy. God isn’t looking for slaves to command. He wants His kids to look up to Him as if to say, “Did I do a good job, Daddy?”

To be able to hear God answer in the affirmative, we would of course have to have done what He wanted us to do. And to have doing God’s work be a delight instead of a chore, we would first have to WANT what He wants.

Looking at it this way, we begin to see that “the desires of our hearts” have little to do with our desires, but more to do with our hearts.

When we trust Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, He begins a transformation process inside us, gradually conforming us to His image. As we change, our hearts change to become more like His. As we see things more and more from His perspective, we begin to want what He wants—for ourselves, for others and for the world.

Once we get to this place, it is much easier to discern what God’s will is. THEN, when we pray, knowing that our will is in agreement with His, He gives us what we ask for, because it was what He wanted for us in the first place.

And yet, sometimes things STILL don’t go the way we expected.  So what does that mean?

 

(Come back for Part 4—(Un) answered prayers)