Tag Archive for faith

Do Unto Others: Part 1–Justice

 

The Lord always does right and wants justice done.  Everyone who does right will see his face.  (Psalm 11:7 CEV)

 

 

 

Way back in 2012, we defined justice as “getting what you deserve.”

 

However, from the quote above, we can see that the Bible has more than one definition of justice, depending on the translation.  It wouldn’t make sense to interpret that God wants to see everyone get what they deserve, when His Word clearly states that, “He doesn’t want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act (2 Peter 3:9b GW).”

 

Instead, what the verse is saying is that the Lord does right, so that everyone who does what He does, having been created in His own image, will get to be with Him.  With this context, we can see that “justice” is referring to righteous deeds.

 

Now we also have established that salvation is by grace alone, and that through faith.  Our righteous deeds do not save us; rather, they are the evidence of our salvation.  Our making the decision to follow God and join Him in His work is what leads us to a state of righteousness.

 

Taking that into consideration, we can see that there is no separation between “being saved” and acting justly.  Doing justice (acting righteously) is the evidence of our salvation, because we are reflecting the image of the One who created us, the One who always does what is just.

 

Justice and Righteousness

 

 

Abraham is a perfect example of how this plays out.  Back when Abraham was still “Abram,” God made him a promise regarding his abundance of descendants, which Abram believed, even though he had no logical reason to do so.  Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

 

This example is frequently cited when people explain salvation by faith, but there is more going on here.  Abram’s act of faith entered him into a covenant with God.  God bound Himself with a promise because Abram fulfilled his part of the covenant, which was to believe and conform to God’s plan.  Therefore, the “righteousness” with which he was “credited” is something like a legal standing.  Abram isn’t just a good guy; he has a distinct position because of his act of faith.

 

In other words, he did the right thing, and it had a good result.  His salvation was through God’s grace, but it was also an act of justice.  Abram got what he deserved, because he did what God expected him to do.

 

The prophet Micah, in chapter 6 of the book bearing his name, asks rhetorically what must be done to get God’s attention and earn His forgiveness.  Then he answers his own question, saying:

 

The Lord has shown you what is good.  He has told you what he requires of you.  You must act with justice.  You must love to show mercy.  And you must be humble as you live in the sight of your God.  Micah 6:8 NIRV

 

The key word in that quote is “act.”  God wants us to do justice, not just think happy thoughts about it.  And how do we do that?

 

The simplest way is to stop thinking of ourselves first.  God wants us to think of Him first, because of who He is.  Next, as written in Philippians 2:4, He wants us to “look out for each other’s interests and not just for your own.”

 

Doing this can be temporarily inconvenient, but it will yield great rewards.

 

(For more on the “show mercy” bit, come back for part 2.)

 

Overcoming the World: Part 10–Be Still and Know

God is our protection and our strength.  He always helps in times of trouble.  So we will not be afraid even if the earth shakes, or the mountains fall into the sea.  God says, “Be still and know that I am God.  I will be praised in all the nations;
I will be praised throughout the earth.
  The Lord All-Powerful is with us; the God of Jacob is our defender.  (Psalm 46: 1-2, 10-11 NCV)

 

Been an interesting few months, hasn’t it?  Our nation is as divided as it has been in a century and a half, and this is taking a toll on our families too.  Truth is nowhere to be found in our government, our media or our culture.  This has created an atmosphere of distrust so thick and noxious that even if this country were to somehow raise up a Truthseeker as a leader, who would even believe him or her?

 

Good news—God is still God.  It’s hard to find evidence in these troubled times that He is still on His throne, but where else would He be?  He does not change, no matter what happens down here.  When we say that the world is “out of control,” we mean that it’s out of our control.  It is never out of His.

 

However difficult this truth can be to hold onto when our lives are in turmoil, we must persevere in doing so.  Whenever our way of life is threatened because of what’s going on in the world around us, we have to remember that this way of life was never meant to last anyway.  We are looking forward to life eternal that will not pass away.  For this reason, we fix our eyes and our faith on the things that don’t move.

 

Bad days are going to happen.  Sometimes we will have seasons of life that could last months or years when we don’t feel God’s presence.  We may doubt His goodness, or even His existence.  However, whenever I find myself in such a spiritual funk, I always come back to what Peter said to Jesus in John 6:68, after Jesus asked the Twelve if they were going to desert Him, as many other disciples were doing:

 

“Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

 

I couldn’t go back to my old life if I wanted to, and there have been days where I wanted to.  There are days when it just doesn’t seem worth the effort or the sacrifice that it takes to live the Christian life, because I can’t see the reward from here.  When my fear outweighs my faith, I forget what God has already done, throughout history, and in my life personally.  Some days I just want to chuck it all, but then I always find myself face to face with the question, “OK, then what?”

 

One thing that I have done for myself, and that I highly recommend for others, is to keep a journal of some sort listing every answer to prayer, every unexpected blessing, any time you have seen scripture fulfilled, any change in your life that can only be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit.  Keep this in an easily accessible place.  I have mine as a document on the desktop of my computer.

 

When times get difficult, or if you’re just in a dry season of doubt, open that up and read it.  Satan can’t get a foothold in your mind if you keep your memories fresh of what God has done for you.  Staying in scripture every day is a good weapon, but it can be even more effective to regularly make the personal connection of where you’ve seen God at work in your life and the lives of those close to you.

 

If you do this, expect there to be some gaps in this journal.  It is not likely that you are going to experience a bona fide miracle every day of your life.  This doesn’t mean that God’s ignoring you.  Learning to trust His timing.  A day always comes when things fall neatly into place, and you can look back and see the progress that led to that point.  You very rarely notice that progress while it’s happening, though.  So when it does, put that in your journal with a note of thanksgiving and praise that God was in control of the situation from the very beginning.  Remember, He can see the end of things long before you get there.

 

It is also critical to remember that God doesn’t always ride in and “save us” whenever we think we need saving.  Sometimes, He lets us go through things for reasons that we aren’t aware of yet.  Sometimes we never learn why in this life.  If we have faith that all of our questions will be answered in heaven, that can help our outlook somewhat.  Remember, God doesn’t come around to our way of thinking; therefore, we must do our best to learn His.

 

The only way to conquer fear is to practice faith.  It has to be exercised just like our bodies.  If you are one of the many who has bought a health club membership, but not lost any weight or inches off your midsection, then you already know that your situation might improve if you actually went to the health club.  Owning the membership doesn’t create actual change.  Owning a Bible without reading it has the same effect.  Knowing about the power of prayer without actually praying—ditto.

 

In the same way, we must keep renewing our minds by reminding ourselves constantly that God does not change.  He does not move.  He is with us and He is for us.  And He always will be.

 

Be still, and know that.

 

Overcoming the World: Part 9–The Armor of God

 

Therefore, put on the complete armor of God, so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger], and having done everything [that the crisis demands], to stand firm [in your place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious].  Ephesians 6:13 (AMP)

 

 

First and foremost, remember that the devil is a created being.  Though he would much like to tell you that he is equal with God, or even superior to Him, he isn’t.  Nevertheless, being spirit, he is more powerful than we are in our flesh by ourselves.  This is why we need to call on the power of the Lord to defend us.

 

In Ephesians 6: 14-17,  Paul uses the imagery of a Roman soldier by telling us to “put on the full armor of God,” meaning that we need to make use of every resource that God makes available to us to win this struggle.  These are the examples that he lists:

 

  1. The Belt of Truth. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know this is my biggie.  The first four tenets of the Truth Mission Statement lay this out.  Acknowledge Truth, recognize it for what it is, give credit to the Source of Truth, and never stop seeking it.
  2. The Breastplate of Righteousness. True righteousness is a right standing with God that is given by His grace, not earned through our efforts.  Knowledge of this righteousness that is imputed to us helps us to do the right thing and to keep our word, among other things.
  3. Feet fitted with the Gospel of Peace. A good pair of running shoes provides you with stability and speed.  So it is with the Gospel.  It is the foundation upon which you stand to face the enemy, and the Good News you take out into the world to foil his plans.
  4. Shield of Faith. Faith is more than just belief.  Even Satan believes in God; he has seen Him face to face!  It is only when you firmly rely on God and His strength that you are able to deflect the devil’s attacks.
  5. Helmet of Salvation. It’s your head the devil tries to get into.  Cover it with the knowledge that God has already accepted you and has no intention of giving you back.
  6. Sword of the Spirit. This is referring to scripture itself.  Hebrews 4:12 says: “For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  This is the double-edged sword that Revelation depicts coming from the mouth of Jesus at the Second Coming, when Satan is defeated forever.  Guess what?  You have access to that very same Word.  It is the most powerful offensive weapon you have in fighting against the devil.

 

With all of these items in place, now you’re ready to pray like you mean it.  That is what vanquishes Satan.  A person who prays while knowing the One being prayed to, knowing that He’s listening and most of all, knowing that He will honor that prayer with His protection—such a person is unstoppable in spiritual warfare.

 

So what is it that actually goes on in the spiritual realm when we pray?  Hard to say, as most of us can’t see it.  Some people do have that gift, but I am not one of them.

 

Author Frank Peretti burst onto the Christian Fiction scene in 1986 with his book This Present Darkness, which vividly addressed this very issue.  In the book, angels are constantly engaged in battles with demons over the souls of people.  Prayer is like a caffeine rush to the angels.  When people put on the armor of God and pray, the angels drive back the demons.  But when prayer falters, the demons have the upper hand.

 

Now I don’t know if that’s how it actually goes down (many theologians argue that it isn’t), but it’s a neat picture (and a highly entertaining read as well).

 

The important thing to remember is, like the soldier, we must always be on our guard.  Satan and his minions do not sleep.  Ever.  They’ll keep coming back, no matter how many times you pray them away.  This doesn’t mean your prayers aren’t effective or that God isn’t listening.  This is just what demons do.  It’s their nature.

 

(For some final words of encouragement, come back for the conclusion in Part 10—Be Still and Know.)

 

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 3–Tithing

The Lord All-Powerful says, “Try this test.  Bring one-tenth of your things to me.  Put them in the treasury.  Bring food to my house.  Test me!  If you do these things, I will surely bless you.  Good things will come to you like rain falling from the sky.  You will have more than enough of everything.  Mal 3:10 (ERV)

 

 

The Bible has many examples of people testing God.  Most of them occur when Israel was wandering in the desert for 40 years after Moses led them out of Egypt.  The New Testament frequently refers back to those instances as warnings of what not to do in a relationship with God.

 

Yet here, near the very end of the Old Testament, God is straight up inviting us to test Him.

 

In 2003, right after I became a Christian, my pastor preached a sermon on the verse above, emphasizing that in this instance alone, God wants us to test Him.  I had never thought of tithing that way before.  In my mind, tithing was like a church tax, or else something that only extra-credit Christians did.

 

Besides, I had very little money at the time.  I was living on my own and trying to pay down debts from my recently failed first marriage.  What did I have to offer God that could win His favor?

 

Did your red light buzzer go off just then?  It should have.  For one thing, God’s favor is just a part of who He is.  There isn’t anything we can do to earn it.

 

And for another . . . does God really need MY money?  He’s God.  I don’t think He’s short of funds.

 

What I have come to learn is that it really isn’t about the money itself.  It’s about trust.

 

God entrusts us with His wealth according to our ability to handle it.  Jesus illustrates this principle in the Parable of the Talents, which can be found in Matthew 25:14-30.

 

But trust goes both ways with God.  He wants us to trust Him not just concerning the money, but also with our general well-being.

 

I chose the translation of the verse at the beginning of this post specifically for the phrase “Good things will come to you like rain falling from the sky.”  To the people hearing this prophecy from Malachi firsthand, in the middle of the fourth century B.C., this would have been a literal message.  They weren’t concerned with having new Cadillacs; they were concerned with their crops, as there was a great drought going on at that time.

 

So in context, what God was saying to Israel at that specific time was, “You want me to stop holding back the rain?  Fine.  Stop holding back your tithes.  I DARE you to give me back the first 10% of what you only have because I gave it to you in the first place.  Do that, and watch what happens.”

 

Now today, many folks who are not proponents of tithing argue that this was a specific message for a specific people in a specific time; therefore, it does not apply to us today.

 

But for me, I just couldn’t get past those words, “Test me!”  God is always testing me to prove my faith; now He wants me to test Him?

 

So that’s exactly what I did.  Here’s how it worked out.

 

The first thing that I had to wrap my brain around is that tithing is not something you do when you can afford it.  It’s 10% of what you have, even if that’s very little.  It’s not about the amount you’re putting into the collection plate.  It’s about trusting that God will bless the 90% you have left.

 

Once I got over my guilt about the tiny little checks I was writing each Sunday and just went with it, I started to notice things happening in my budget.  Like how I never ran out of money at the end of the month, regardless of how bleak things appeared at the beginning.

 

Over the years since then, I have noted many other instances where the math just didn’t add up at first, but things worked out better than I could ever have planned it.

 

The most recent example is this.  After our honeymoon, my wife told me that her dream vacation would be an Alaskan cruise.  Those aren’t cheap, but I told her then that if we started saving, we could set a goal to do that for our 10-year anniversary.

 

So we saved for nine years, at which point, I said, “Honey, we can do this, but it will wipe out our savings.”  We went forward with the plans.

 

Long story short, we went on that cruise and land tour in Alaska.  We just got back a couple of weeks ago.  Counting the flights out and back, it was a two-week adventure.  In my life, I have owned several cars that did not cost as much as this trip.

 

And we still have over three fourths of our savings intact.

 

Not only that, but we had beautiful weather the entire trip (which just does not happen in Alaska).  At nearly every stop, the guides on our excursions were amazed at all of the “rare” things we got to see, such as orcas, humpback whales bubble net feeding, the Hubbard Glacier calving, and the peak of Denali in clear sunshine, just to name a few.

Diana and I at the Talkeetna River with the peak of Denali over my right shoulder.

 

Indeed, God poured out his blessings on my family during this trip, but really, it was just a very obvious and visible manifestation of how He has blessed us, and our finances, all along.

 

Even during the extended periods of unemployment that I have had, I have never felt like we were “in need,” because God doesn’t respond to need.

 

He responds to faith.

 

And that is what tithing is really all about.  It is a tangible expression of the faith that God will meet your needs and then some.  And he blesses it every single time.

 

Do any of you have stories of God’s faithfulness regarding your finances?  I’d love to hear them!

 

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!)

 

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 4–(Un)answered Prayers

All prayers are answered.  Sometimes the answer is, “No.”—Bono

 

 

One of the pitfalls of the Christian life is how easy it is to backslide from “highly favored child of God” to “spoiled brat.”

 

We have seasons of life where everything seems to be going our way, and we give God the glory for that.  But then life throws us a curveball, and the whining starts.

 

“Why isn’t God answering my prayer?  He said He’d give me anything I ask for.  Haven’t I been ‘doing it right’?”

 

The truth is that God does answer prayer, but not always in the way that we expect.

 

Sometimes we get excited and run up ahead when He needs us to hold back and notice something He wants to show us.  Sometimes selfishness creeps in and the “desires of our hearts” become more like the cravings of our appetites.  And sometimes, we simply don’t recognize the answer for what it is when it comes.

 

God is not a vending machine or an ATM.  We exist to serve Him, not the other way around.  For this reason, the point of prayer isn’t primarily to address our own needs.  Jesus explained it this way:

 Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them.  Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants.  Then all your other needs will be met as well.  (Matthew 6:31-33 NCV)

Prayer is your Out box.  When you put something in your Out box at work, do you pull it back and put it in your In box again?  No, you put it in the Out box because you are finished with it.

 

Whatever it is that you are praying for, God has a plan for it.  It may not be the plan you would have scripted for yourself, but think for a minute.  Who’s smarter, you or God?  Don’t you think it might be possible that Father knows best?

 

There’s more to it than that though.  Logic alone will tell you that God is bigger, more powerful and more able to meet your needs.  The question is, “Do you TRUST Him to do that?”  Do you believe that He not only knows what’s best for you, but that He WANTS what’s best for you?

 

How you answer that question will determine how you respond to His answers.  If you really believe that God’s way will lead to a better result than anything you could have come up with, then it becomes a lot easier to roll with the changes when they do come.

 

(But what happens if we don’t?  Come back for Part 5—Unstable)

 

Whatever We Ask: Part 2–Ask, Seek and Knock

Ask, and you will be given what you ask for.  Seek, and you will find.  Knock, and the door will be opened.  (Matt 7:7 TLB)

 

Sometimes, that seems too good to be true.  God really gives us anything we ask for?

 

If that were the case, then it would be all too easy for us to make selfish requests of Him.  Just as James and John asked to sit at Jesus’ left and right hand, it seems logical that being tapped into the greatest power source in the universe could make us a tad greedy and ambitious.

 

So why does Jesus tell us to ask then?

 

If you think about it, when do we ask anyone for anything?  It’s when the one we are asking either has or can get something we want but don’t have.  When Jesus tells us to ask, He is simply giving us permission to do so.

 

Along with asking, Jesus tells us to seek.  He tells us this to let us know that God not only can be found, but He WANTS to be found.

 

For this reason, Jesus also tells us to knock, not just once, but persistently and insistently.  Jesus is basically giving us carte blanche to be a pest in seeking out God and petitioning Him with our requests.

 

He is telling us that we aren’t going to wear God out or bore Him to death by bothering Him with our concerns.  This is because God wants us to see Him as someone that we can approach.

 

But really. . .ANYTHING we ask for?

 

It is clear from the context that it isn’t so much the substance of our entreaties to the Lord as our motivation for asking that is more significant.

 

Remember, we are not God’s spoiled brats, but His adopted children.  He chose us for His family, but we also had to choose Him as our Father.

 

The very nature of the relationship that Christians have with God is one of complete submission.  We ask of Him because He has not only the power and authority but also the WILL to give us what we ask.

 

However, the more we are in submission to God, the less likely we are to ask for something selfishly.  If our primary motivation is to please Him, then we would be more likely to ask for the kinds of things that He would want us to have.

 

(So what kinds of things are those?  Come back for Part 3—The Desires of our Hearts.)