Jesus keeps his promise his way

Category : Jesus, different, faith, hope, prayer, trust

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One of the hardest things to do as a Christian is to trust in the promises of God.  We want to throw our own promises into the mix.  When we read that God gives us freedom, we think, “well that must mean I can retire with a six figure salary.”  When we hear Jesus say that we will be blessed, we think, “that’s great, that must mean I will have an easy life.”

Yet it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that these things don’t always happen.  Is it any surprise that we become quickly disillusioned when our prayers “aren’t answered”?

I grew up believing in the religious “check box god.”  This was a god who would reward you if you just managed to get enough points or answer the questions correctly.  As long as you could do that it didn’t matter what was in your heart or how you lived your life.  Avoiding making a “big” mistake was all that mattered.  And of course “big” was defined as any mistake you hadn’t made before.

But that’s not what Jesus had in mind.

Jesus keeps his promises his way.  We can’t allow ourselves to insert our promises and call them God’s.  It doesn’t work that way.

I was reminded of this in my daily blog reading.  Jim Hamilton a pastor and professor discussed his experience with starting a church.

Sunday after Sunday, month after month, the same four families and a few singles gathered for worship at Baptist Church of the Redeemer.  As this happened, the Lord slowly disabused me of the notion that the church was going to grow because of me.  It hurts to have your pride molded into humility, but it feels good, too, and how liberating!  Not to mention the way others prefer humility to pride.

Through this experience, I learned that Jesus keeps His promise to build His church.  I learned the power of the Word of God.  And I learned – or made progress in learning – to love people.

As I’ve been out of work for 9 months now, I can’t even tell you how many times I have let my assumptions become what I thought was a promise from God.  And it was in those moments that I’ve been most tempted to turn away from him.  But Jesus keeps his promises.  He’s never let me down.  I just need to trust that his promises will be kept in his way, not mine.

reader comment: the power of prayer

Category : God, prayer, reader comments, taking action

I got this email from Chris who writes Got-Fruit.net.

Your post [about the power of prayer] has many wonderful thoughts about how we’re to relate to God and others.  I read that the point is; that we should be just as if not more concerned for the spiritual welfare of others as we are about our own necks.

I too have been trying to get into a better habit of writing down prayer requests more often, as well as how they’re answered.  As you mentioned, it’s not to track when God is blessing me, rather to have a broader view of how and when God is working His will; how I’ve been privy to seeing Him work I suppose you might say.

My experience(s) have been that sometimes the Lord’s work in others is done not just for their sake but for mine as well; I’ll get a glimpse of how He’s blessing or working in another person’s life and I then begin to relate & understand better; my relationship with Christ – where I’m faltering or where I might need to add or delete an activity for example, to adjust to the Lord’s will.

Prayer is something that is remarkable.  It’s a unique chance to communicate with God.  We don’t need fancy clothes, special rituals, or a go-between.  We simply need to take the time and say “hey God” and start a conversation.  What’s not to like about that?!

how do you know God?

Category : Bible thumping, bible, faith, living a life of faith, prayer

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How do you know God?

Do you know God just through a personal relationship?  Do you know God because you’ve been saved?  Do you know God because of what you hear on TV?  Or what your friends say?

For most of us, the way we know God is through rumor and gossip.  Are those words too strong?  I don’t think so.

Most of us have not spent any time working at our relationship with God.  We haven’t put in time reading the Bible.  Because of that we don’t really know God.  We might know about him.  But we don’t really know who he is.  We have to put time in with prayer.  I know that it sounds like work.  And there’s a reason for that.  It’s because it is work!

There is serious danger in not anchoring your faith by reading the Bible and through prayer.  Dan Edelen who writes Cerulean Sanctum (one of the blogs in my weekly reading list) points out, “I learned a great lesson that day. Every Christian wants to jump straight to the third heaven, everyone wants to move in power, everyone wants to be a great saint, but next to none want to lay the actual groundwork that will get them to that place.”

I believe that we don’t need a perfect theology or a perfect prayer life to know Jesus.  Bible thumping is not the point of all this.  But I’ve also learned that the only way I can really come to know Jesus is by reading about his life (the Bible) and talking to him (prayer).

If I don’t have those two things, along with my relationship, then I quickly find myself drifting away from God.  The world is too good at pulling you away from God to not have an anchor firmly attached to the Bible and prayer.

the power of prayer

2

Category : God, living a life of faith, prayer, sharing faith, taking action

I’m a big believer in prayer.

I know this isn’t always a popular position to take in our culture.  Most people, including many people who attend church, think of prayer as a formal obligation at best and a bit strange at worst.  But I’m a true believer as Stan Lee might say.

I fully believe that God is active in answering our prayers.  But that hasn’t always been true.  There was a time I didn’t believe in God, let alone prayer.  Because of that background I got into the habit of “tracking” my prayers.  I don’t mean I plug them into a spreadsheet or anything.  I just make a note of the prayer.  Sometimes by writing them down, other times just making a mental note of what I’ve prayed for.  I did this initially because I wanted to see if God was real.  I wanted to know if he answered prayers.

But now I do it because I find it useful to periodically check my prayers to see if they’ve happened.

They don’t always.  Sometimes, though, I am surprised.  There has been more than one prayer that I’ve forgotten, only to be reminded by a random slip of paper.  Those are the prayers where I think God is gloating a bit.

The benefit of all of this is that I occasionally notice trends.  For instance, it seems that when I pray for myself, many of my prayers are being answered in powerful, obvious ways.  You’re thinking, “isn’t that supposed to happen?”  Yes it is.  But that’s not the only thing I’ve noticed.  I’ve also seen a disturbing counter-trend: my prayers for other people don’t seem to be as effective.

Now there’s a lot of stuff that goes into prayer.  Your relationship with God, your behaviors, your desire to let God work in your life, and what God has planned for you.  Not to mention all the spiritual warfare stuff.  (Which I guess I just mentioned…)  So maybe my prayers are effective for other people and I just don’t realize it.  Or maybe God is trying to work in their lives and they aren’t cooperating.  Or maybe there’s some other reason that I don’t know.

But it makes me wonder: could my prayers for other people be less effective because I’m not praying with the same intensity and urgency I pray for myself?

It’s easy to pray for my own life.  I know the specifics.  I care about each and every thing in my life.  Do I carry that same passion when I pray for other people?

The truth is, I don’t.

And that bothers me.

It bothers me to think that maybe my intensity and desire isn’t enough.  It bothers me to think that I am not praying with urgency for people.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that I am the reason for problems in other people’s lives.  I don’t have enough of an ego to believe that I have that kind of control.  But what it does suggest is that I am not loving others enough.  That I am breaking the greatest commandment: love your neighbors as yourself.

And that bothers me.

Of course just thinking about something isn’t a way to live out a life of faith.

Living out a life of faith means that you need to take action.  You need to move.  You need to get dirty (metaphorically in this case).  So I’ve taken steps to fix this problem.  Since I noticed this behavior I have come up with two ways to enhance my prayer life.

  1. I pray right away.  When someone says, “will you pray for me?”  I don’t wait until some later point to pray.  I do it in the moment.  If I wait, I might forget.  Or I might try to cram it into a busy and hectic day.
  2. “Formal” prayer involves prayers for others.  When I spend specific and deliberate time with God, I make sure to pray for other people.  Maybe not everyone who asked, but enough.  This ensures that people get prayed for repeatedly, and ensures that I am not totally self-centered in my prayers.

Prayer isn’t a magic formula.  It’s not about how many times you say it.  It’s not about saying it some specific way.  It’s about a posture and an approach towards God.  And I want my posture and approach to God to be one of humility, awareness, and love.

grace – it’s what’s for dinner!

Category : different, faith, living a life of faith, prayer, taking action

………

There are days I think I know why God acts the way he does.  I tell myself “well this is why God asked me to do that.”  Some days I’m right.  These are usually the moments when God says, “you must act now to help this person.”  And so I write a check.  Listen to their story.  Or buy them lunch.  I can see how living out my faith makes a difference.

But there are other moments where God says, “ACT!” and I can’t figure out why.  It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in my life.  He asks us to be obedient and to do small things even when no one is looking, and I can’t help but wonder why.

At least until a few months ago.

At the time I was visiting a client for work and preparing for a meeting.  The meeting was going to be held in the only room large enough to house all the employees – the lunch room.  So while I was doing my thing, one of the employees walked into the room to have a snack.

It was just he and I.

He sat at a table on the opposite side of the room, and as he reached for his drink he stopped.  He bowed his head and said a prayer.  Something struck me in that moment.  For a long time I looked at grace as that awkward time before a meal when no one wants to make eye contact for fear of being asked to say it!  In my mind grace was something that was more ritual than necessity.  And I have a tenancy to balk at anything ritualized.

But watching this guy say grace, for no reason other than the fact that he was going to eat something, my opinion began to change.

In that moment I realized it can be something much more.  That something as simple as saying grace before drinking your pop can be used by God to touch others.  We never know who is watching us, and how God might plan on changing their lives.  That’s why it’s so important to live out a life of faith.  We never know who’s life we can touch simply by demonstrating our relationship with God.

So the next time you’re about to pass up an opportunity to live out your faith, don’t.  In fact I encourage you the next time you’re in a restruant to actually say grace.  You may change someone’s life.

God of the unexpected miracle

Category : God, bible, different, miracles, prayer

 

Sometimes we look at God as a giant slot machine.

All we need to do is pull on the handle marked “prayer” and out comes the jackpot.  But that’s not what happens.  While God answers many prayers, he doesn’t always answer them in the way we expect.

For instance, a common prayer might look like this:  “Lord – help me find the home of my dreams.”

When we make that prayer what we expect is to find the perfect house.  What may very well happen is that we suddenly discover we love living in our apartment or current house.  We don’t get the “thing.”  What we get is a new way of looking at what we already have.

This “unexpected miracle” plays out time and again in the Bible.  At one point Israel was under siege which was causing a horrible famine.  Things were so bad the Israelites turned to cannibalism.  This (rightly) infuriated the King.  But instead of trusting God, he blamed God and tried to kill Elisha (who was a prophet).

Yet when the King tried to retaliate against God he was confronted with something unexpected.  Elisha was promising that the famine would end and prices for food would drop to pre-famine levels.  Not only that, they would do it over night.  (Think about gas prices dropping from $4.50/gallon to $0.97 /gallon).

An officer with the King pointed out the obvious – even if the siege ended, they wouldn’t have enough food to immediately feed everyone.  This is logistics 101.

Yet God is the God of the unexpected.  And this miracle was no exception.  Israel prayed for a miracle, and what they got was an unexpected answer.  That night 4 men approached the Syrian camp.  When they arrived they found it to be empty.  There wasn’t a single soldier left.  But there was a ton of food.  In their haste to run away the Syrian’s had left all of their supplies.  God had managed to end the siege and provide food for the city.  Exactly what Elisha had predicted.

No one expected that miracle, but God acted any way.

I say all of this because it’s easy to believe God doesn’t answer prayers or provide miracles today.  Sometimes I even find myself wondering “where are all of God’s miracles?”  I have to actively remind myself that God answers prayers, just not always in the way I expect them.

Last week I experienced one of these unexpected miracles: my girlfriend’s phone broke.  Okay, so that wasn’t the miracle.  The miracle was how we got it fixed!

The phone broke late Wednesday night, and she needed it for work.  We didn’t exactly have the money to buy a new phone or to wait 2 weeks for a replacement phone to be mailed.  So we did something a bit strange – we prayed over the phone and asked that God would “fix” it so that it would work.

And yes, it feels very weird to pray out loud about a cell phone.  But I did it anyway.  I figured God can do anything, why couldn’t he fix a cell phone?

After we finished the prayer we turned it on and nothing happened.  We left the battery out over night hoping that would help.  Still nothing.  Feeling a little discouraged we ultimately decided to go to the cell phone store.  We had resigned ourselves to getting a new phone.  But as I said, God is a God of unexpected miracles.  When we got to the store they simply gave us a brand new phone as a replacement.  No hassle.  No arguing.  Not even a pressured sale to renew a service plan.  They just handed us the new phone, transferred the data, and we were out the door.

That miracle was not expected.  I fully believed God could fix the cell phone and make it work if he chose to do so.  But I expected the original phone to work, not to get a brand new replacement.

God didn’t meet my expectations.  Instead he showed me he is capable of answering prayers in ways I could never imagine.

I wonder about the ways God shows up in my life unexpectedly and I miss him because I have set expectations of what God should look like.  I am reminded that this is what happened to the Pharisees.  They expected God to be legalistic, demanding, and tough.  What they got was a man who hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes and spoke of revolutionary love.  They missed the amazing because they refused to believe in the unexpected.

I don’t want to miss out on God just because he didn’t meet my preconceived notions of who he should be and what he should look like.  I want to learn to expect the unexpected.

prayer thursday: focusing on God

Category : God, faith, fear, hope, prayer, prayer thursday

    

Sometimes I get caught up in my life.  I get wrapped up in the details as they say.  I worry about the little things and because of that I stop focusing on what God is doing in my life.  Third Day has a song called “Blind” that captures this thought nicely. 

How could I have been so blind to not see you
The more that I look the more I find
You’ve led me to the truth
That I am nothing if I’m without you
You opened my eyes and helped me to find
How could I have been so blind

 focusing on God

God, all too often I spend my time worrying about all the mistakes I’ve made instead of focusing on you.  Help me not to do that.  Remind me that you’ve already forgiven my past, and I can’t control the future, so help me to just focus on the present.  Help me to always keep my eyes fixed on you.  So even if it doesn’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything, as long as I’m following you let that be enough.  Amen.

 <comments are open, feel free to add your own prayer asking to remain focused on God>

 

have you prayed about it?

3

Category : God, faith, prayer, taking action

   

At any given moment we have an almost limitless amount of choices.  What do I wear today?  What should I have to eat?  Do I really want to go to the gym?  Who will I go out with tonight?  Do I even want to go out?

And those are just the superficial questions.  There are times when we’re faced with choices that will change our lives forever.  Do I cheat on my wife?  Do I steal from work?  Should I have an abortion?

Every moment of life presents us with choices.  It’s a great burden, but it’s also exciting.  Good decisions often lead to a life of wonderful experiences.  Bad choices can seemingly ruin our lives.  We read books about decision making.  We study things like “leadership” in schools and laboratories.  We measure a person’s genetics to see if they will make good decisions or bad.  We even have dartboards that make our choices for us.  Yet how often do we stop and ask God what he thinks about our choices?

Moses, David, and Jesus all had regular conversations with God.  They all asked him questions as they were making major decisions.  Moses asked for strength as he led the Israelites away from Egypt.  David asked for forgiveness because of his adultery.  And Jesus made sure God really wanted him to sacrifice his life for ours.

Each of those men faced major life decisions and turned to God for help.  To me that seems like a good model to follow.  I don’t want to get to Heaven only to find out I didn’t live my life to the fullest – just because I was afraid to ask God what I should do. 

Prayer is part of how we are to live as Christians.  It’s part of what separates us from this world, while also making us able to serve the needs in this world.  Paul tells us that prayer should be part of how we fight off the dangers of this world.  Why would he say that if he didn’t think it would make a difference in our lives? 

So in this third part of our phrases series, I have just one question: have you prayed about it?   

prayer thursday: patience

2

Category : faith, prayer, prayer thursday

 

There’s no question that sometimes God doesn’t move as fast as we’d like him to.  Maybe we’re waiting for a friend to be healed, or a family member to be encouraged, or sometimes we just don’t have the strength to keep fighting.  It’s in those moments that we can’t understand where God is, and why he hasn’t “shown up.”  And so fear and doubt begin to creep into our minds.  But God’s perspective is different than ours, and that means he sometimes sees things differently than we do.  He hasn’t forgotten us, or abandoned us, we just need to be patient and trust him.

Patience – or “Why I hate sitting at red lights”

God – help me to be more patient.  Help me to trust you more.  Because I certainly don’t wait for you like I should.  I want to always be going, and never have to slow down or stop.  I don’t want to wait, because I’m in too much of a hurry.  Help me to understand that sometimes the reason I need to wait is that I’m not ready for what you’re going to do.  That I need time to grow into someone who can handle the amazing ways you act.  Remind me when I’m impatient that maybe the reason I need to wait is for my own good, for my own safety.  And that by waiting for you, you’re making sure I’m not hit broadside by something unplanned.

<comments are open, feel free to add your own prayer for patience>

prayer thursday: obedience

1

Category : God, faith, fear, prayer, prayer thursday

 

God wants us to be in a relationship with him, and it’s difficult to do that if you don’t spend any time talking to him.  That’s where prayer comes in.  It’s simply a conversation between you and God.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or formal.  In fact, usually the most important prayers come when we’re just speaking from our hearts, not worrying about finding the “right words.”

On prayer thursday everyone is invited to add their own prayer, or prayer requests in the comments section.  This week’s topic: obedience.

Obedience

God – Sometimes we hear you telling us to do something and we ignore you.  Sometimes we ignore you because we’re afraid.  Other times it’s because we “know better.”  But lets face it, we really don’t.  We just want to be the ones in charge.  We’re stubborn.

Help me to overcome my own selfishness, and stubbornness.  Help me to resist the temptation to do it “my way.”  But most of all, help me follow you, even when it feels too big or too overwhelming.  Help me be obedient when I think I can’t.

 <comments are open>