shattered illusions

Category : God, different, faith, fear, trust

Work is crushingly busy right now.  So is life.  Things get that way sometimes.  I think it’s part of the human condition.

I know I’m not alone in this.  There’s a lot of us who have visions of what we want to do – but get overwhelmed by the day to day stuff.  To have wave after wave of emergencies, problems, (and opportunities) hit one after another.  It seems that as hard as I work, the next wave of stuff waiting to crash on top of me.  Sound familiar?

Our faith is no different.

It can be very hard to see the big picture.  Life has a way of becoming so overwhelming because we see a moment-by-moment view.  Imagine yourself swimming in the ocean.  As you strength starts to wane your vision is filled with wave after wave.  Each time a wave crashes over you, you lose a little bit of energy.  A little bit of momentum.  And pretty soon we stop looking for the shore at all.  Because no matter where the shore is, all we care about is making it through the next wave.

I wrote this a few months ago.

Here is my challenge to you – take a week away from the news.  Don’t worry about swine flu, politics, the economy or anything else.  Focus on God and see what he wants for your life.  Focus on breaking out of the lies the world tells you.  And then a week from now tell me what you experienced.  My guess is you actually felt a little hopeful and a little optimistic.  You’ll see that there’s more to this world than just a scientific approach (this comes from someone who spends much of his time studying science).

My guess is you’ll start to see through the cracks and you’ll realize that you don’t have to go along with what the world says.  You don’t have to let it dictate your behavior or your choices.  You have the option to choose freedom.  To choose life.  Don’t let the thief give you lies in place of truth.

I never got around to publishing it.

I find it interesting that all of those things seem not as significant as they once did.  It’s hard to remember the panic people felt with Swine Flu.  (Or the constant media stories about how we were all going to die.)  People were saying Obama would change the direction of the country forever, now they are saying he might not get any major legislation passed.  I personally struggled through nearly a year of unemployment (now I’m employed, which of course makes it harder to write posts on R3!).  And the list goes on and on.

Wave after wave of information comes pounding through our lives.  It’s no wonder we feel tired and worn out.  Yet through all of this God has that big picture view that we lack.  He can see over the waves.  He knows where the shore is.

Sometimes I wonder how God can help me overcome the problems in my life.  Yet he has overcome far greater challenges than swine flu or the economy.  He rose from the dead for cryin’ out loud!

This is why our faith is so important.  Our faith gives us something to hold onto when things seem overwhelming.  Faith isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength.  No one says, “I don’t want a life preserver – it’s just a crutch.  I much prefer struggling in the waves on my own.”  We recognize what it is – something that helps us overcome obstacles we couldn’t by ourselves.

When life seems overwhelming remember that to God our waves are nothing more than a wading pool.  And that all we need to do is reach out and take his hand, and we too can see the shore.

Faith puts things into perspective.

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?!

an R3 update

Category : R3, choice, different, living a life of faith

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This is shaping up to be a very busy week for me.  Which means posting will be light.  I admit, I am tempted to find a way to get the usual 3 posts up this week.  But I’m also reminded of what I wrote a few weeks ago.  Everyone needs time off.  Including a write-a-holic like myself!

As much as I love writing, if I want to produce my best work, I need to be conscious of how I am spending my time.  And not surprisingly it takes a lot of time, creativity, and effort to come up with three interesting, and hopefully insightful, posts per week for R3.  I am convinced this is why God created a Sabbath.  Sabbath’s aren’t designed as punishment or ways to prevent us from going  shopping or eating at Chick-fil-a .  It was so we could actually rest and recover.  We all need that.

But before I go, I do have some updates for you guys.

  1. There are changes coming to R3.  I’ve been hinting at this for a few months now.  But I am in the finishing stages of updating R3’s theme.  I think the changes will bring a lot of new functionality to R3 and hopefully encourage us all to better live out lives of faith.
  2. I have a couple of job interviews in the very near future.  Being unemployed has been unbelievably trying, but I have grown more in the last 9 months than at perhaps any other point in my life.  I finally understand what it means when the Bible says, “God provides.”  That said, I’d appreciate any prayers.  I’m less concerned about “interviewing well” than I am about making the right choices that honor God and advance his kingdom.
  3. This last point is perhaps my most important one of the day.  If you’ve ever wanted to know what stormtroopers do on their day off – know you know.  See?  Even stormtroopers have a Sabbath!

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.

doing God’s will

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

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What do you think of when you hear someone say “I want to do God’s will”?

If you’re like me you think it means something big.  Like moving to Tibet or Africa.  Or maybe eating all your vegetables.  While there’s no doubt God has big plans for our lives, for once “thinking big” is the wrong direction.  I believe that if we want to do God’s will, we should “go small.”

Isn’t God’s will simple things like loving our enemies?  Praying regularly?  Letting someone into merging traffic?  Leaving a generous tip?

How about simply refusing to sell your property like Naboth did.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that “doing God’s will” is measured in the day-to-day responses to God.  In fact, I think this might be the hardest thing about anyone’s journey with God.  If you’re going on a big mission that’s typically a decision you make once.  Do I go to Africa?  Do I quit my job?  Do I move to another town?

No doubt those are big questions, but they are just one question.

The real challenge comes when you have to answer repeatedly the questions of “how will I love my enemy?”  How will I show grace to someone?  How do I avoid temptations that lead to sin?  How will I build the Kingdom in my office when I sit in a cubicle from 9 to 5?

It’s those questions that take daily answering.  And it’s that process that’s the hardest part about doing God’s will.  So don’t feel less obedient just because you aren’t doing something “big”.  Sometimes size doesn’t matter.

prayer thursday: why do you lead

Category : God, different, faith, prayer thursday, sharing faith

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The more involved I become with my church, the more I ask myself, “why do I lead?”  Do I lead because I want to serve people in my community?  Or do I lead because I want to be seen as insightful and intelligent?  Or maybe even to be useful?

Right now I can say with confidence that it’s because I want to serve.  I want to make the world better.  I want more people to know Jesus.  I want more people to experience the freedom I have because of my relationship with God.

But there’s always a temptation there.  Satan is clever, and he’s good at using our own strengths against us.  I am no exception.

Serving

God – Please keep me centered on you.  Don’t let the excitement of new opportunities, new challenges, and new contributions pull me from you.  Don’t let me think that what the church needs is more of me, remind me that what it really needs is more of you.  Help me fight back the temptations to be seen as smart, to be seen as clever, to feel that I am needed.  Let me serve because I love you, and nothing more.

prayer thursday: obedience

Category : God, faith, prayer thursday, taking action

 

This week on R3 I’ve been talking a lot about obedience.  Sometimes obedience takes the form of strange requests from God.  Sometimes obedience is to the mundane, “every day” activities like doing your job or taking care of your family.  So it seems appropriate to include it in my prayers. 

 a prayer for obedience

God help me to be obedient.  Because it seems that most days no matter how much I say I want to follow you, when it comes down to it, I’d rather be doing my own thing.  I know that you ask us to do things because it’s in our best interest.  You don’t waste our time with doing unnecessary things.  But it’s so hard to break from the selfish desires.  So many things in this world say “it’s all about me”.  So many things tell me I should only care about myself.  But that’s not true.  Help me to remember that.  Help me to overcome those things. 

Help me to listen, and act, even when I don’t really feel like it.  Help me overcome myself.

does God want you to clean your room?

4

Category : God, faith, taking action, trust

 

Cleaning and God.  You’re probably wondering what those two things have in common, aren’t you? 

Well to be honest so was I.  At least at first.  But it all clicked a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  Or maybe that was Star Wars?   I think in my case it all started with a problem and a simple conversation with God.  That’s much, much closer and not that long ago.  Last week really.  But I digress.   

When I have a problem I like to talk it over with God.  I’ll talk to God about pretty much everything in my life.  I don’t care if it’s a big thing, like what to do about my job search, or something really important, like where to go for dinner.  I like to hear what God might have to say.    

This case was no different.  I was struggling with a creative / technical issue involving a new project I’ve started.  And I wasn’t having any luck coming to a solution  Especially working at my desk.  So I did what any good ADD-prone person does; I started to clean. 

I figured while I was cleaning I could ask God what he thought about my problem.  I bounced a few ideas off of him.  And then waited.  Nothing.  

“Just great” I thought.  “Not only is my apartment a disaster, but now I’m not getting any feedback from the Big Guy.”

I stood there looking at my apartment, quickly losing the desire to even try to clean the mess.  When I heard God say something.  Now it wasn’t audible or anything.  I didn’t see a burning bush (or a burning can of Pledge).  But the part of me that’s “wakes up” when God is speaking could hear something. 

“Don’t stop cleaning” God whispered.

“What?”  I thought.  “Why does God care if I’m cleaning?!”

To which I heard, “just be obedient.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s not really my favorite phrase.  But I started cleaning again.  The whole time I kept mulling over my problem with God.  I kept asking him questions, and kept getting silence.  In all honesty there was part of me getting frustrated. 

What I didn’t realize was that I had lost track of time.  So when I took a step back and looked up I was shocked to see that what once seemed like an insurmountable problem (seriously, you should have seen the mess) and uncertainty (where am I going to put it all) was replaced with a voice that said, “sometimes all you need to do is be obedient and the problems work themselves out.”

I never would have guessed that God would have used cleaning to teach me more about him.  And while my original problem didn’t get solved, I am encouraged.  Because I know that as long as I keep working, as long as I focus on obedience instead of the “what if’s?” I’ll be okay. 

It’s easy to get entangled in the “what if’s?”  We all do it.  It’s the spiritual equivalent of quicksand: the more we struggle against them, the faster we sink.  Sometimes the best thing we can do is relax, be obedient, and wait for someone to throw us a branch. 

Who would have thought all of that would have come from just being obedient?