The Risk of Asking

Questioning is one of the first skills we learn. Children exploring the world around us, often ask “Why?”. In 2014, Newsweek reported that preschool children ask their parents an average of 100 questions a day. As children of God, we can find ourselves in similar patterns, asking Abba about the world around us and how we fit into His grand plans. Just like earthly parents, God’s responses vary based on His intimate knowledge of us. God’s answers are as general or specific as He deems necessary.

As disciples of Jesus, we serve an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God. Since God all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present, He can handle our barrage of questions. However, posing questions to the Creator of the Universe poses risks. When we ask God questions, we need to:

  1. Pray from our hearts – God knows our thoughts and motives, confessing them is an exercise that benefits us, not God.  Luke 18:13-14 says“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.‘ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
  2. Pray with expectation – We must release each burden that we deliver to the Lord. There is no benefit to ending our prayer and picking up that same package. Psalm 5:3 says “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice. In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”
  3. Wait and watch for God’s answer – Time waiting on God is never time wasted. Micah 7:7 says “But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”
  4. Commit ourselves to obedience – God provides us with daily opportunities to be practice obedience. Revelation 14:12 says “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.”
  5. Trust in God’s answers – Even when it feels scary, looks like a setback, or takes you out of your comfort zone, remember that God is setting you up for your ultimate victory. Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Instead of assuming God’s role, answering our own questions, we can trust in God’s sovereignty. Revelation 22:13 says “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Regardless of the circumstance, trusting in God replaces worry and frustration with a sense of peace. 2 Peter 1:2 says “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.”

When God provides a response, it may not even remotely resemble the answer that we expect. God is very creative. Isaiah 55:8 says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.” His solutions are not designed to elevate us, but to glorify Him. Each of us has a part in God’s divine plan. God knows exactly where we fit in the grand scheme for eternity. Roman 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Submitting ourselves to God’s will is humbling. It is a major risk and contrary to our human nature. Yet, it reaps tremendous rewards from now into eternity. We can pray and ask God for wisdom to ask Him questions and the courage to be obedient to the answers He provides. Ephesians 1:17-19a says I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” 

 

 

Light as a Feather

Sometimes life can weigh you down. The past week has been more challenging than most. It seemed like each time I got a handle on one situation and got some wind back in my sails, another situation would knock the wind right back out of me.  As the week went on, I just felt heavier and heavier.

Sunday night I was involved in a car accident. As a result, I missed my treasured bible study fellowship class Monday night. My usual Sunday post was published on Tuesday as I emerged from a medicated fog. On the Christian calendar, last Wednesday was also Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season. I have a beloved family member who works at the school where the horrific shooting occurred that day. I spent several hours on Ash Wednesday extremely concerned, not knowing her status. I was relieved to receive a confirmation later that evening that she was safe. However, the personal connection amplified my heartbreak as details unfolded. I attended a community prayer vigil on Thursday.

Attending the prayer vigil, being part of a praying community, completely changed my outlook. As prayers and hymns were lifted for everyone involved including students, families, various facets of the school system, and first responders, I felt a shifting in my spirit. Matthew 18:20 says “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.” Sometimes, when we are frustrated, discouraged, anxious, or heartbroken our instinct is to isolate ourselves. We just want to seal ourselves off from the world and privately tend to our wounds. Isolation can lead to circular patterns of anxious thoughts. Philippians 4:6-7 reminds us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  We weren’t designed to operate in isolation, especially when we are hurting. We are designed to exist in a community. There is strength in numbers. Acts 1:14 says “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.”  Although I arrived at the vigil weighed down by multiple life concerns, I departed feeling much lighter. Galatians 6:2 says that we are to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The burdens of my heart had been distributed among the community of Believers and most importantly, collectively lifted to the Lord we trust and adore. Psalm 55:22 says “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” 

At the prayer vigil, I switched my lens to focus on the Lord and what I felt was right rather than wrong with the world. I reminded myself of God’s covenants and promises. Instead of marinating in a frustrating and uncertain place filled with vexing variables as I mentally played out alternate endings, I opted to focus on God as the constant. He is The One who can balance any equation. Unity, love, generosity, hope, and faith still exists. Caring, wise, resourceful, thoughtful, and generous people still exist. Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

I’m not saying that the rest of the week was a fairy tale complete with unicorns and fairies. I’m saying that my mindset changed. Romans 12:2 tells us “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” I was able to see a path forward. I no longer felt stuck. For the remainder of the week, as I encountered bricks of troubling situations, I lifted the situation to God. I did my best to extend grace to others as I spiritually handed God each brick. I don’t want any of them – God can have them all because God can handle them all!

 

 

Big BAM Theory

It’d been an enjoyable day. After an inspiring worship service, my friend and I headed to the beach, taking in the sun and surf while discussing our goals and dreams. Once the sun set, we headed to a local eatery where we dined alfresco style. After dinner we were heading over to my friend’s car. The night air was so sweet that I was drove with my sunroof open and windows down. We were at a stoplight, listening to sweet melodies dance across the night air when BAM! the driver behind us slammed into my vehicle.

Dazed, I saw the driver pulling over to the right. I put on my blinker and followed suit, mentally agreeing that it’d be best to move our vehicles from the active travel lanes. I was still pulling over when the driver took off!

I’d love to tell you that I’m such a mature Christian that I merely said a compassionate prayer for the poor soul as he blew past me. That is far from the truth. I took off to catch this guy! The offending driver was darting in and out of traffic. He make a hard right on a side street, just as the traffic was slowing for another stoplight. I turned onto parallel street and followed him. After a couple more turns, he managed to lose me. Disgusted, I returned to the original scene of the accident to call the police. The more I thought about it, the more I realized me actually catching up to that driver might’ve escalated into a far more serious situation. I started counting my blessings – we were both relatively ok, the car was still driveable, and so on.

Life can hit us just like that driver did – hard and unexpectedly. Our reaction to life’s curve balls don’t always immediately reflect our relationship with God. Just as I did with that errant driver, we are sometimes in pursuit of the right thing for the wrong reasons. We want immediate justice and restoration. We want to gain without losing anything. We want peace and satisfaction without any discomfort or sacrifice. The good news is, even when we’re initially thrown off-kilter, the more we seek God, the easier it becomes to get back on track. Hosea 12:6 says “But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always.” The truth is, I didn’t see that accident coming, but God did. Nothing takes God by surprise. Psalm 139:16 says “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.” More importantly, God works all things together for our good. Not just the pleasant, fun, and ego-boosting things – but all things – the pain, humiliation, rejection, and disappointment. The valleys as well as the peaks. Romans 8:28 says And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” God wants us to surrender and entrust every aspect of our lives to him. Despite our past or present condition, the Lord’s desire is to be in close relationship with us. Not because He needs us, but because we need Him. Psalm 86:15 says “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” God wants us to be our very best selves. He presents us with countless opportunities through everyday events to invite Him into situations that burden our hearts. 1 Peter 5:6-7 says “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

When we pray, we introduce God into the equation. It’s the best algorithm ever. Only God can take our tragedy and transform it into victory. Prayer is conversation with God. It is not a speech nor recitation but it is an act of humility and courage. In this cynical world, it’s easy to focus on struggles and suffering, rejecting notions of hope and faith. Praying goes against the grain of our limited concepts of security, yet it is as natural as breathing. The truth is, there is no certainty nor security outside of God’s everlasting promises. Psalm 103:17 says “But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children,” Once we enter into conversation through prayer, asking God to cleanse our hearts, order our steps, grant us wisdom, favor, healing, and protection, we operate with a level of peace that surpasses all understanding. Philippians 4:7 says “And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Called to Kindness

Some days I feel like an etiquette referee. I encounter unnecessary rudeness and want to call a flag on the play! I am often thunderstruck by the irony that we have so many ways to communicate and fail miserably at many of them. A text or email exchange can mount a war of words. A curt comment can send me into a tailspin. A brash tone can make me question myself, or worse yet, want to reciprocate with similar harshness.

Every day God presents us with countless opportunities to extend His love, grace, and mercy to others. Unfortunately, we tend to lead with our own self-absorbed agenda instead of seeking God’s agenda first. The results are catastrophic.

It seems that in our desire to do the ultimate and greatest good, we can miss the forest for the trees. We get caught up, then rush and rude our way through the nuances of everyday living because we are too preoccupied with the big picture. We miss extraordinary opportunities because they appear under the guise of ordinary situations. We must remember that we are called to kindness – not just when we feel happy or optimistic, but all the time. This mental and spiritual shift from “Me First” to “God First” is a deep, serious and lifelong work. The good news is that every day we get a new chance, a fresh opportunity, to experience and demonstrate God’s love. Anyone can give themselves a pass: “I’m having a rough day.” or “You have no idea what I’m going through.” But if we reserve expressions of love solely for times in our lives when everything is going swimmingly, we’d never do anything for anyone and God’s kingdom wouldn’t advance one iota.

You may not always be happy or deal with pleasant circumstances, but you can have joy which allows you to operate in love daily. Psalm 19:8 says The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” When we trust God to address every concern we have, we can focus our energy outward and be more compassionate in our interactions with others, even when they do not initially demonstrate or exercise kindness toward us. 1 Chronicles 16:23 says Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place.” It is not by our own will or power, but through God’s Holy Spirit that we are able to express courtesy, kindness, and concern regardless of whether it’s reciprocated. An ability to return callousness, rudeness, or even downright hatred with love is a sacred responsibility. Luke 6: 35-36 Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” 

The Effect of Our Witness

If the possibility of someone watching you makes you nervous, I assure you that you can relax. You don’t have to worry about the possibility because it is definitely happening! United States founding father Thomas Jefferson said “Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.”

For Believers, it is one thing to talk the talk – to declare God’s sovereignty and faithfulness and to affirm trust and belief in God’s mysterious ways. However, walking that talk, particularly in the midst of a crisis, is a completely different exercise. Romans 8:24 says “For in this hope we were saved; but hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he can already see?”

As a young child, I remember a Christian show on TV – sort of a music video forerunner where these beautifully dressed and coiffed people would softly sing hymns in perfect harmony against scenic natural backdrops every Sunday morning as I got ready for church. The camera switched focus from the natural surroundings – lakes, meadows, flowers, and trees – to the smiling singers. Each episode was completely perfect the entire time. I couldn’t fully articulate it, but although the show was visually pleasing, something about it disturbed me. The whole show seemed artificial. Even as a child, I felt that if that was what being a Christian was all about, then I was doomed to fail. Even at seven years old, I couldn’t imagine some constantly smiling, saccharin version of my adult self.

Turns out, I was right. Being a Christian isn’t about being perfect nor fake. Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior doesn’t give you a free pass to sidestep troubles and hardships. In fact, once you declare a side, the enemy may work overtime to distract and discourage you because you have a relationship with your Creator that he will never have again. As a result, you must recognize the power of your witness. Once you declare your identity as one saved by grace and lovingly adopted into the family of The Most High, you will be watched. Those who have yet to take a similar leap of faith are watching just like my seven-year-old self to see if you are Christian of convenience or whether you cling to God, pursue Him relentlessly, and declare His goodness beyond the challenges of an immediate need or situation. John 4:24 tell us that “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” Acknowledging our dependence on God, our trust in Him – His wisdom, favor, provision, restoration, healing, and deliverance – is an act of worship.

Life can present unwelcome and unexpected situations that shake us to our core and challenge our belief in ourselves as well as in the God who we claim to trust and serve. Yet, it is often in the midst of the ugliest situations that we can become the most beautiful witnesses for God. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 reads Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”

Do you recite the gospel or actually live it? When we lead with love over hatred, faith over fear, peace over anxiety, truth over falsehood; we present an honest snapshot of faith in action. It’s not perfect, it’s not pretty, but it is authentic as we become the poster children for God’s grace. Acts 1:8 says “But ye shall receive power after the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” To our observers, we set spiritual landmarks where we point to a place along our journey and bear witness to God ministering to us, delivering us, encouraging us, and blessing us in the midst of otherwise heart-crushing circumstances. We emerge victorious not because of who we are, but because of our belief in who God is.

 

Around the Corner

One night I clicked off the light in one room and had about five seconds before I reached the hallway. The hallway light was on, but for a moment I was in the dark because I hadn’t yet turned the corner.

We are often heading toward the next life destination or well-lighted place. The trouble isn’t the well-lit spaces of our lives, but those dim places in between. Even the most faith-filled Believer struggles with those dim places of uncertainty. It’s easy to profess faith when our surroundings are bright. However, when we find ourselves in the dark, facing unwelcome situations or uncertain aspects of our future, we must remind ourselves that God’s bright, steady light is just around the corner. It exists even when we can’t see it. In the midst of dim situations, we must remember that:

  1. Nothing takes God by surprise – God is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful. When failure, rejection, or loss throw us off kilter, we must press toward the security that God provides. Psalm 46:1-2 says “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains be shaken into the midst of the seas.”
    Isaiah 40:28 says “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”
    Job 42:2 says “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
  2. Trouble doesn’t last always – the enemy tries to convince us that our difficult circumstances are permanent. Even when situations pull us far out of our comfort zone and force us into a new normal, we can rest assured that if we ask, God can adjust our mindset and vision about the situation. 1 Peter 5:10 says “The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ – eternal and glorious plans they are! – will have you put together and on your feet for good.”
    Psalm 30:5 says “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
    2 Corinthians 4:17 tells us “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!”
  3. We are light-bearers – we carry the light of Christ inside us. We possess joy based on our hope and belief in Jesus. As a result, we never walk in complete darkness. No matter what is going on in our lives or in the world, we can cling to the everlasting hope that lives within us and allows us to bring light to whatever dark places we encounter. Psalm 37:5-6 says “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.”
    John 8:12 says “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

The Audacity of Anti-Prayers

In our prayer lives, we tend to have conversations with God about what we want: wisdom, joy, peace, and favor to name a few. However, there is also power in explicitly praying about what we do NOT want: ignorance, pride, hard-heartedness, temptation, and shame to name a few. The more specific we are in our prayers, the more we invite God to unleash His power into our situations.

Over the weekend, I encountered a lady who was emotional and quite upset. A couple of other women were consoling her. I must admit that I initially hesitated about whether I should offer to pray with her. However, I’ve learned the hard way that just as it says in Samuel 15:22, obedience is better than sacrifice. These days, if I feel led by God’s Holy Spirit to do something, I act first and ask questions later. Typically, my obedience is almost immediately confirmed with positive outcomes and a sense of peace. After walking away initially and feeling a heaviness and sense of spiritual urgency, I circled back and offered to pray with her. The lady accepted provided some background, and the small group of us bowed our heads, our hair touching in this intimate circle, as I prayed. I didn’t pray very long, but I did pray for what I believed she needed. I continued on with my anti-prayer, asking God to block unwelcome vices. I’m sharing this principle with you in hopes that it will amplify your own prayerful conversations.

Anti-prayer statements are paramount because of Matthew 18:18 which tells us that “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Is there a spiritual battle going on in heavenly realms? Absolutely! Ephesians 6:12 clearly states that “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Praying and stating what evil aspects are NOT allowed in a situation limits the enemy’s available room to operate. It’s like adding a clause to a contract that closes loopholes that the enemy would otherwise try to maneuver around.

As you pray for yourself, people, and situations that touch your heart, I encourage you to fortify your prayer life by stating what is welcomed and unwelcomed. For example, if you pray for (loose) faith, pray against (bind) fear. Cultivating a prayer life is like learning to play an instrument – the more often you practice, the better you’ll become.

So let us come boldly to the very throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need.” – Hebrews 4:16