Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

Perceptions of God: Does He Really Listen?

On Thursday night, my wife and I were watching the latest episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.” In it, one of the characters, Dr. Kepner, had previously been a virgin for, say, 27 years or so. Last week in an adrenaline rush she gave up her virginity to her best friend Dr. Avery. This week, in a fit of panic as they both thought they were failing their boards, they slept together again. The thing that makes this all interesting to me is that after the first time Kepner tells Avery that she had kept her virginity because “she loved Jesus.” But she was afraid Jesus didn’t love her anymore.

Let’s stop there for a moment, because it’s an interesting perspective. As a Christian, this greatly confused me, until I thought about it from a secular perspective. Is the perception of God out there that He expects you to live a perfect life, and once you fail He’s done with you? It seems like it might be. Who knows, perhaps even some believers in Christ feel this way.

But I feel like this perception comes from a failure to read your Bible. The Bible is full of passages that attest to not only God’s enduring love but also His faithfulness. Consider this verse in Hebrews 13: “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.'” Or perhaps Isaiah 41:13: “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” It seems like that perception is actually a bit borne out of pride. Why would I say that? Well, if you are aware of these verses, the only explanation for feeling like God stops loving us is that we think we know better how God feels toward us than He does, like we have some special knowledge He doesn’t.

So I don’t think there is any reason, if you study God’s Word, to think that one act like losing your virginity is enough for God to say, “That’s it. No more love for that one.” But in this week’s “Grey’s” episode, Dr. Kepner goes even further after her second escapade. She admits to her test administrators that she thinks God doesn’t even hear her anymore. Now she’s committed the same sin twice, and this is enough to push God over the edge, apparently.

But this, to me, is again a mis-perception of God, and even a mis-perception of Christianity to some extent. And yet many people really feel this way and many more perceive it to actually be this way. If God has ever listened to us or spoken to us, then He is always doing those things. How do we know? Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Or Psalm 102:27: “But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” Or James 1:17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

God doesn’t change! So if we think God isn’t listening, what has changed? It’s us! Think about it. We’re the ones that are sinning, so we’re the ones that are changing our tune with how we relate to God. God’s not changing His responsiveness; we’re changing our willingness to listen.

I think it’s important when you feel like this to realize that God is not a God who likes to confuse, trick, scheme or plot revenge. He’s a God that continues to pursue you even when you turn aside or even turn your back. But He’s always willing to listen, and not just to the “saved” or the “elect.” He’ll listen to anybody, and He’ll speak to those that are genuinely willing to listen. We just need to make sure we’ve got the radio dial tuned to the right station, or that we’re not trying to use our cell phone in the wilderness. The reception’s much better when you’re headed where you need to go.

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What Am I Doing, and Why Am I Doing It?

I had some prayer time with God today while I went for a walk, and I was confessing some things to God, among them an addiction (I have tried not to call it that, but it is what it is) to gambling. I used to love going to the casino and playing/watching poker, largely because I was decent at it, and so didn’t lose the money that most do at a casino. God put a question on my heart today in trying to help me realize some various points He needed to hammer home. The question is this: “If you had $100 to do whatever you wanted with, no repercussions, what would you spend it on?” I wrestled with this. Would I go gambling? Would I spend it on my wife or daughter?

Ultimately I came to the realization that I wouldn’t gamble, which helped me draw the conclusion that God has helped me overcome that addiction. But what was worse was that God made it clear that in trying to choose between a small handful of things, I neglected to ask, “What would You have me do with that?” See, while I might have overcome my addiction, what I have yet to overcome is the selfish attitude that the casino touts as glorious and the word deifies as success. Not once until God made it clear to me did I think that maybe buying food for the homeless or donating it to missions might be a better use of that money than on myself. I didn’t think about what would bring Him the most glory.

Why does God ask us to do these things? It’s a question that I had to ask myself when an atheist recently asked me to put myself into Abraham’s shoes when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac. Though I tried to make myself appear humble by quoting Isaiah 55:9, it made me stop and ask myself what the purpose of going through these things is. I came to a couple of conclusions:

1) God’s ways are not our ways. In the Abraham/Isaac situation, we tend to base the morality of the situation on the action being performed. God’s morality is based on how we treat the request. Our way goes on the physical nature of the act; God’s way goes on the heart’s intent behind the act.

2) God would not ask anything of us that He’s not willing to do Himself. God asks for our sacrifice because He has sacrificed. God asks for us to set ourselves apart because He has set Himself apart. God asks us to go and pursue men because He has pursued us. God asks us to be obedient because He is always obedient to His own nature, since He is clear that He will never change.

I cannot possibly hope to understand everything God does in this world, and why He does it. I only know that He asks something of me, and I do it because there is no reason not to. God has demonstrated why He asks, what He is looking for. When I study, when I listen, He is clear. Perhaps there is so much moral ambiguity because we spend all of our time deciding what we think is right instead of listening for why His way is right.

My verse for this week I think sort of fits in this jumbled mess of a post, because it is about letting self go and understanding that God’s ways are not my ways, but His power is greater than any way I can possibly fathom to get it done:

    “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” — 1 Peter 4:11

Suffering For Christ’s Sake

You know how many critics of the Bible talk about how dis-jointed or inconsistent it is? I wonder how many of these critics have turned to God’s Word when going through something in their lives. I mean when things get really tough, when you start to wonder if you’re doing things the right way, when you’re really beating yourself up over how you are living, where do you turn?

I have re-confirmed recently that the truth that is found in God’s Word is as potent today as it was to those reading in first-century AD (or CE, for you science lovers). When you need counsel or advice, the Bible is overflowing with encouragement, help, understanding and affirmation.

I commented to WIFE the other day that life seems to be getting harder and harder. I figured this was OK; I remember hearing the quote, “Life is hard, then you accept Jesus, then life gets harder and then you die.” So I assumed that suffering was a part of the Christian life, and I ought to learn to deal with it so that I could gain Christ. WIFE was not so easily convinced (in all sincerity, wives are awesome this way, aren’t they?).

She first asked how long I’ve felt this way, which upon realization has led me to some separate convictions that I’ll keep to myself for today. Then after the message we heard at church this week, she hit me with another conclusion that she gleaned from these verses. In Matthew 25 (the parable of the three servants, or the parable of the talents), the master responds to the good work from the first two servants this way, according to the NLT: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!” Note what the reward is for being faithful. It’s not money, notoriety, success, comfort. It is more responsibility!

And it is this conclusion that is both interesting and challenging. God doesn’t reward our faithfulness with the easy path, as WIFE put it. He puts more things in front of you, expecting you to be faithful in those things as well. And He only places them there because He knows you are capable, given how you handled the few things you were given previously. In a position of leadership in some areas, this struck me as rather relevant.

But my wife went even one step further with the challenge, which I will now posit to you, the reader: knowing that the reward for faithfulness is more responsibility, more work, more suffering, do you still want to be faithful with what you are given? Think about this in some specific terms, like money for example. If you give to God a little, and He blesses you with an abundance, is this a reward for your good service, or a challenge to do even more with the extra money you’ve been given? And are you willing to answer that call?

To tie all of this up neatly, God pointed me to the podcast of Afshin Ziafat, a pastor from whom I heard a message while on vacation in Dallas, TX. Two weekends ago, the topic of the message was “Knowing God’s Will,” which I think we can all agree we would love to be able to do. I’m not even through with the podcast, but in listening and reading along I was so convicted that I stopped the recording and had to write this blog.

The verse he uses as a starting point for what I’m sure is going to be a great rest of the message is 1 Peter 4:1-2, which says, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” So the suffering that I feel like I’m going through is part of seeing the will of God fulfilled, and He wouldn’t have me do it if He didn’t subject Christ to the same types of suffering! What reason do I have to feel like MY life is hard, to focus inward on myself? Rather, I am to “arm myself with the same attitude” as Christ, so that I can be a conqueror of sin and the “evil human desires.”

So Lord, today I accept the responsibility You have tasked me with, and I thank You for showing me that my suffering is not needless but also pales in comparison to knowing You and fulfilling Your plan. Help me have a desire to not care how hard my life gets, as long as it serves You and Your people. It’s in Jesus’ name I pray this, amen.

Stop Yapping!

Extroverts have it hard. Don’t laugh, even though I’m being partially facetious. What looks like on the exterior a great deal (better networking, more friends, maybe even easier to find romance) becomes harder when relationships get on a personal level. Think about it; when a one-on-one relationship occurs, who thrives? It’s the introverts! They are the ones who are best at communicating on an individual level. If you really stop and look around, the most meaningful and deepest relationships always involve at least one introvert.

And the truth is that it carries over into our relationships with God. WIFE is an introvert; I’m an extrovert. And I can’t tell you how often I marvel at how amazing her relationship is with God. He is teaching her so much on almost a daily basis, that I wish that I could get just one-tenth of the inspiration and love from God that she gets in her quiet times. Why is it so hard for me?

When I step back and look at myself rationally, I realize that it’s because I don’t thrive on quiet. I get my energy by feeding off of other people. I like to be in the middle of things, to have a conversation always going. Usually I’m the one keeping that conversation moving, because I love to hear myself talk. And yet, it seems like my relationship with WIFE grows most when I’m willing to sit back and listen. It’s a novel concept, this listening, and one that introverts have mastered. What are some of the cliches? “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” “Silence is golden.” There is value in listening, and it’s a skill that I still am years away from figuring out completely.

But it’s something worth figuring out. Because when things are quiet, God can speak. When I’m praying, I often turn it into a “Here’s what I’m feeling, God” session. But how many relationships work when only one person is talking and only one person is listening? Not many, that’s to be sure. But when I’m in my car, in my bed, on my couch, and I just say, “I’m going to let You speak, God,” I am always blown away by the fact that He actually does! It makes me sad to think about how often I’m closing my ears or drowning out His voice by my constant jabbering about MY feelings, MY desires, MY problems. God has answers, and I’m realizing more and more that if I actually let a quiet time be a quiet time, I may actually hear what some of those answers are.

So extroverts unite! Take a lesson from those around you, and stop yapping so much. God may not appear to you in the tornado, in the earthquake, or in the tempest. He may pass by all those things in front of you, and then speak in the whisper of the wind. My prayer for myself and for any of you is that we’re prepared to listen and be blown away.

Marriage

Do you ever wonder if you married the right person? I don’t. It’s a nice feeling when you are constantly convinced that the person God ordained for you is sharing your bed. My wife is a subscriber to this blog, so I know she’ll read it, but that’s not why I’m writing it. It’s to encourage any of you out there that may be having doubts, or even those who are single and wondering who their spouse will be. If you seek God, He will give you the right answer all of the time. Every time I pray for my wife, God assures me that she is who He created for me, from the beginning of time. Don’t think for a second that He can’t and won’t do the same for you.

Back When I Was Your Age…

“Let them sacrifice thank offerings,
and tell of his works with songs of joy.”

Psalm 107:22 (NIV)

One of my previous endeavors in study was to touch a little bit on hermeneutics. Those of you who have studied hermeneutics know that one of the key things in this type of study is context; this meaning that if you want to understand the meaning of a verse, you have to look at the whole passage around it to get what the writer is trying to communicate. Sometimes this extends through multiple chapters to understand the key point of the message.

Since I’ve done this previously, I find myself often looking past one single verse to interpret the whole meaning. In this case, I was doing some work for the Bible study “One True God” by Paul Washer, and he referenced this verse. In reading this verse, I got so much from it that for this post it doesn’t warrant going any further.

The first line says to “sacrifice thank offerings.” Having read through the books of the Law earlier this year, I understand somewhat the significance of the different types of offerings, so seeing “thank offerings” here makes sense to me. But in present day, thanks to the New Covenant, we don’t sacrifice offerings anymore. So how does this apply?

To me, this phrase carries two-fold significance. The first involves offering thanks, which is a vital part of prayer. As much as prayer should be asking Him for guidance, it should also be to thank Him for the blessings that are evident in our lives. And importantly, there should be a balance between the two. While I sometimes fall into this trap, I think realistically that you can’t petition without recognition. Thanksgiving and praise come before requests.

The second part is sacrifice. That part should be somewhat self-explanatory. After understanding His greatness, we can’t help but submit ourselves to His will. Still, as easy as this may be to see, it’s a lot harder to do, and we all know that. It doesn’t mean that we can’t give back of ourselves from what He’s given us. Ultimately, to submit to His will and power is the least we could do.

The other phrase in this verse is of no less importance. It says to “tell of His works” with “songs of joy.” Worship is a huge part of why we were created. Praise and thanksgiving can and should be included in worship of our Lord. However, when I first read this, it hit a little deeper than that to me.

When the verse says “tell of His works,” the first thing that came to mind was sharing what he’s done. Now of course we can share with each other what God is doing and has done, but how much more important is us to pass down God’s work to future generations. I know that things tend to hit me more powerfully when they happen to people I know, so I can only imagine that our children and grandchildren would be more affected if we were to tell specifically of the works God has done in our own lives than if they were to read the Biblical accounts. That’s not to undermine the importance of what is written in the Bible; but for personal application, if we’re not passing along testimony about what God has done in our own lives, we’re missing out on a huge opportunity to really affect the personal relationships the next generation of men and women will be having with the living God.

Perhaps this is why songs are so powerful. There’s an old saying that if you put someone in a song, they are immortalized forever. We still listen to songs created by the previous generation; they were handed down to us by our parents and by friends we have who were around when they were present day. If a Beatles song can have such staying power, how much greater can the songs telling of the great wonders and works of our Lord endure?

As a musician, this speaks power to me. I’ve written some worship songs in the past, but I guess I never realized until now how important worship songs were to pass along to my daughter. It makes me grateful that every day WIFE has our daughter watching Praise Baby DVDs, so someday when she hears the words and asks me what they mean, I might be able to tell her of some of the great works God has done for me personally. And that’s something worth offering thanks for.

Daddy’s Hands

I came to an understanding this morning as I was with my daughter. You see, she is almost 8 months old, and we are beginning to see a little bit of separation anxiety in her when we try to pass her off for other people to hold. She clearly prefers her parents to other people, which in a way is sad and in a way is comforting.

I’ve always sort of wondered why separation anxiety occurs. I think I had a revelation this morning. My daughter woke up at 6:00 AM to eat, and after her meal and a few minutes hanging out with daddy, she was ready to go back to bed. I marvel at her ability to just rest her head on my shoulder, getting comfortable, and drifting peacefully off to sleep. Watching her do this, I realized that she felt safety in my arms, and that was able to help her relax and go to sleep. Daddy’s hands were her refuge.

It also made me realize how often I take my Father’s hands for granted. How often do I try to lean on my own understanding instead of taking my cares to God? Recently, I have been attempting to make prayer more personal, because I know how easy it is for me to make a “God, please…” list of requests for prayer time. But when things get shaky, how often do I turn to the Lord and just let His hands be my refuge? What about you, reader?

Here is a video featuring the song “Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn, and while it is a great tribute to all of the earthly fathers, if you listen to it with your Heavenly Father in mind, it also has great meaning. I hope that all of us will re-learn about the safety in our Father’s hands, and go to that place of refuge more often.