Beware of answered prayer (and the “rush”)

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Well, that’s an interesting headline, right?

Many Christians, probably most, have had the common experience of finding themselves in a difficult situation and then they do what is wise: they turn to the Lord.  Because He is so faithful, so merciful, and so gracious, we pray to Him and then, not surprisingly, we often find an immediate answer to our prayer.  God is so good we think.

At some point, another similar crisis experience happens.  As it does, we are quicker to respond to Him  (our last “victory” has spawned this glimmer of confidence)  to obey the verse that says, “cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares about you”  (1 peter 5:7).    Again, we find ourselves being able to give witness to the Bible truth that says “call on me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15).

Ever so slowly, many of us will begin connecting the dots.  When I have troubles (and we all do)>>>>I can pray to God >>>> He will answer my prayers.  I said earlier, “slowly” because most of us will turn to God only when the situation has gotten beyond our control.  We acknowledge first, to ourselves, and then to God that we can’t handle a particular situation and we need His help.   The reality though is that most of us, I have to believe,  live our lives, when they are not in crisis mode, as though we don’t need God.  Honestly, I think most of us feel pretty capable that we can handle the routine of life and we know how to get by.

Today, I have two very powerful insights to share with you (at least they are kind of rocking my world):

The first is the reality that I have to be careful of listening to lies.   The Bible says very clearly, “the heart is deceitful above all things, desperately wicked, who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9).  The Bible also says, “…not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3) or not to put any confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3). Our pride is a dangerous, very dangerous trap.

In other words, to have a belief that you only need to, or should go to God when you can’t handle things is setting yourself up for massive failure.  You can’t trust yourself.  The Bible clearly says a person who does is building on a foundation of a heart that is totally unstable. We need God all the time.  We are to act like a beggar, totally needy on God’s provision for our lives—in crisis times and in routine times.

The second reality is meant for an “on the edge” kind of person. You know who you are. You are the type of person consumed by ……  Maybe its work. You keep pushing yourself (and others) to do more and more, produce more and more and you get to a point where you are crying out to God to help sustain you as you go through this hectic season…. and He does.

But, as you take a moment to catch your breath, you recognize the rush of pushing yourself so much and the way God helped you through it that it leads you to begin to crave the next “over the top busy time” where you can again look to God to help you do more than you know you are capable of doing.

Now mind you, I’m not talking of just lay people, you know, people at secular jobs who seek this spiritual experience of God helping them survive and thrive during insanely busy times.  I’m also referring to church workers who push their ministry involvements in the same way.  Inwardly, they crave the rush, the flow of pushing themselves to the brink and looking for God to do something, only God could do.

As an example of this, please read, Luke 10: 17-20.  The disciples were sent out by Jesus to minister and they came back with reports that even the demons were subject to them.  Understandably, the disciples were focused on the new ministry power they had in Jesus’ name. However, Jesus tells them to reset their thinking. He says, father than focusing on the ministry results and experiences, rather rest and rejoice in the fact that your names are written in the Book of Life.  Rejoice in your relationship with the Father.

Let me be very careful to make a few more comments on this last train of thought. I totally get it that we are to live by faith. I totally understand we are to be busy about ministry and looking for God to intervene and show Himself strong in bringing healing, deliverance, and freedom in to people’s lives and circumstances.  I am totally in agreement with looking to Him to move in these kinds of ways.

The caution I am encouraging us to be on the look out for is when our focus is not really on God, but on the rush.  In such a subtle, deceptive way, that rush kind of feeling can become an idol that we pursue, sadly to say, more so than God.

In a similar kind of way, giving gifts at Christmas is a good thing, but when we value more the gifts we receive,  rather than the giver of those gifts, there is a problem.

Prayer is obviously a good thing.  Having the experience of answer prayer, personally, or in ministry or at work is precious.

But, never lose sight on our need to be dependent on Him all the time, 24/7,  and in our reliance on Him to pursue the enjoyment and the awesome opportunity of relationship with a living and loving God.  Praying is a part of that relationship.  However, so is praising Him, just talking to Him, listening to Him, studying with Him, singing to Him, and just meditating on His presence with us and the awesome power and mystery of the Gospel.  We have the privilege of  knowing, and walking through life in a personal relationship with God—-that alone should be the rush we seek.

If you are having big struggles and challenges, then maybe you need to…

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As I look back at my life, (I’m 56 years young today), I understand that I didn’t start thinking maturely, until my mid-late 20’s.  I was very foolish, immature, and self-centered for many, many years.

As I gave my life to Jesus Christ in my young twenty’s, and began desperately seeking His wisdom and life to embed my life, changes began happening. Although I still did (and often still do) things I wish I didn’t, I began to exercise better thinking and habits. Transformation was happening.

Since the early 90’s, I have been involved in a lot of mentoring kind of relationships.  I have listened to a lot of people talking about their difficulties  in their lives.  My heart has broken many times over the stories I heard from people as they shared the struggles they were having in their lives.

It’s interesting to me that as a follower of Jesus Christ, I know I have a tendency (as do so many others that I have come in contact with) to ask God to immediately fix my problems, or better my circumstances RIGHT NOW!

I say, “interesting” because it’s always a balance kind of thing.  My thinking is partially right-on because I am looking to a living and loving God to help me with my problems. That’s a good thing.  This Holy, Sovereign, and Creator God has the power to alter circumstances and He has love in His heart to help me when often, I am the one responsible for my own difficulties.

But balance is required in my thinking (and maybe in yours as well) because often God in His wisdom does not do some kind of “supernatural deliverance” from my hard circumstances, but rather gently, offers empathy (that He understands my feelings), encouragement and hope (that together, we will get through this), and strength to be steadfast and persevere  as I get back upright on my feet in time.

And this is key, in this “resetting of my focus”, He also offers guidance, a road map if you will from the Bible to order my steps and decision-making.  This road map for success and help in my current crisis is typically not glamorous, or dramatic  (as I sometimes want a living God to demonstrate), but nonetheless is sure and is solid truth, BUT…. this guidance does require my obedience.

I can say, I know a lot of Bible verses, but unless I submit myself to obeying these truths, I can’t expect any real results and neither should you.

I leave you with three key Bible verses and a Bible story to further clarify what I’m trying to convey to all of us who need help in navigating the challenges and struggles of life:

Psalm 119:105 – “Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path”  (NASB)

Proverbs 3:5-6  (ESV)- “trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB)- “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

2 Kings 5:1-14  – it’s the story of a man named Naaman. Please read the story yourself, but here is the summary.  Naaman was a soldier who was also a leper.  A little Jewish girl who was taken as a prisoner saw the need of Naaman and said that he should go to a prophet in Israel and be healed.

Naaman lit up with hope. He listened to the girl and went to Israel, expecting a healing ceremony, if you will.  He was looking for something glitzy to happen in healing him.  The prophet Elisha did hear of his leprosy and his desire to be healed, but rather than any show of healing, simply gave Naaman instructions to dunk himself in the Jordan River seven times and he would be healed.

Naaman, at first objected, because his thought of cured supernaturally was fixed on someone waving their hand over him, reciting something, you know some kind of spectacle. . But that was not the way the prophet instructed him.  Naaman was simply expected to obey and exercise faith.  At first, reluctantly, but later with humility and expectancy, he obeyed and he in fact, did  experience a miracle.

It was not that the Jordan River held miraculous power, but rather that the supernatural did play out in his obedience spoken through God’s word, in this case through the lips of a prophet.

So, in conclusion, my friends, the living, loving, and God of miracles still exists-TODAY.    If you find yourself camped out in the midst of overwhelming challenges and struggles in your life, rather than looking for a microwave kind of quick resolution of your problems and circumstances,  come to this Sovereign God as did Naaman; in obedience, with humility, and expectancy.  Take one “dunk” of faith at a time. Miracles still happen, but maybe not as you might expect, not as quickly, or dramatically as you might think.  But they still do happen.

Blessings.

Too much thinking, but not enough …

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Some times, I find that I can make things too complicated.  In other words, I can over think things too much and even get into that “analysis paralysis” mindset.  When this happens internally in my mind, nothing happens externally in my actions.    How about you–can you relate?

For instance, one area that I am really being challenged these days is with a simple command given by Jesus for all of us as Christians– “go and make disciples”.

Matthew 28:18-20 esv

18 “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I think for the most part that’s pretty straightforward–don’t you?  But, here’s the sobering question that I must deal with (and so must you)—“how focused am I  in acting on Jesus’ command?”

Let me share with you one additional set of verses, this time from the Apostle Paul  (I think he got it).  Read what he says:

Colossians 1:28-29 esv

28 “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

In this day and age when across this world, mission statements and vision statements  hang on company walls and in organizational literature, how about each of us as Christians not only embrace this vision internally for our life, but live it out with passion so that others will see it demonstrated externally?

Too much thinking, but not enough …

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Some times, I find that I can make things too complicated.  In other words, I can over think things too much and even get into that “analysis paralysis” mindset.  When this happens internally in my mind, nothing happens externally in my actions.    How about you–can you relate?

For instance, one area that I am really being challenged these days is with a simple command given by Jesus for all of us as Christians– “go and make disciples”.

Matthew 28:18-20 esv

18 “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I think for the most part that’s pretty straightforward–don’t you?  But, here’s the sobering question that I must deal with (and so must you)—“how focused am I  in acting on Jesus’ command?”

Let me share with you one additional set of verses, this time from the Apostle Paul  (I think he got it).  Read what he says:

Colossians 1:28-29 esv

28 “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”

In this day and age when across this world, mission statements and vision statements  hang on company walls and in organizational literature, how about each of us as Christians not only embrace this vision internally for our life, but live it out with passion so that others will see it demonstrated externally?

Are you thinking you can have much success when you look like this?

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Its been said that a picture can be worth a thousand words, well, here is one for you that I hope impacts you, as it has me:

This picture has to do with the Bible truth that as Christians we are to be connected to Jesus Christ–all the time.  In other words, we can’t live the Christian life apart from Him.  We need to be sustained all the time by His life and only then, can we produce fruit that brings glory to Him.  Branches like this one, on their own will never be able to bear living fruit- and neither can we, when we live apart from God.

The Bible teaching on this can be found in John 15:1-14  (NLT)- bold font added.   It  can be summarized like this:

*God desires to produce fruit within us and through us ( positive actions that bless others and glorify Him).

*We are to be dependent on Him (like a branch to a vine or trunk of a tree) to initiate and carry out the positive action first in our self and then through us to impact others.

*These good works we do in conjunction with God are not to earn His favor, but to express our gratitude to Him for His kindness to us (as seen in Jesus Christ dying on a cross for us so that we could have our sins forgiven and we can be reconciled to God)

*our bottom line desire must for God’s reputation to be honored, more than our own

1“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

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Do you desire to submit your life to Him, seeking to understand what it means to be connected to Him?

 

How does it feel to know…

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On my way in to work this morning, I saw something I’ve seen several times before (and have experienced as well).

I saw one car today that was going the speed limit with another car tailgating on the person’s bumper.   I was behind them both for a few minutes and I could tell that the car that was on the other person’s bumper was really getting impatient and frustrated over this slow-moving, “law keeper”.  He couldn’t wait to pass this slow poke and step on the gas.

But, what happened next, I’ve seen before.  Just up ahead was a policeman on the look-out for speeders.  I just had to laugh.   For several minutes and a few miles, all the impatient driver could do was wait for the right moment to fly past this guy who was doing the speed limit.  Little did the frustrated driver realize that by keeping at the speed limit and not speeding past the first driver,  he was actually, most likely saving the cost and hassle of earning a speeding ticket as he would have been zooming past the policeman.

A bit further down the road, the impatient driver did eventually zoom speed past the driver who was obeying the speed limit.  My guess is that as the frustrated driver flashed past the first driver, he did not wave a sign of gratitude for helping him not get a ticket, but in actuality, the first driver’s keeping the law and acting as a source of preventing others from speeding is what happened.

This little driving observation made me realize a few things.   As Christians we are to be salt and light in this world. That means we are not to only be concerned about our walk, but we are also to be mindful that our lives are significant in that God can use our actions to influence others for Himself and as a help to others, whether they realize it or not.

Sometimes others will notice the life within us and our positive behaviors and will be drawn to us.  They will appreciate our example of godly living.  However, many times, there are others that will be repulsed by us.   For some, they may misunderstand what we are doing. For others, our positive actions might be used by God to bring a sense of conviction because they are recognizing they are not living in a righteous way.   In fact, there can be many reasons why our actions (and our very selves) might be rejected by others.  Christians, don’t let that surprise you. The Bible mentions this will happen (2 Tim. 1:8, Matthew 5:10,12, 2 Timothy 3:12)

I further thought that not all people will be grateful for our good conduct and appreciate all that Christians do.  That’s unfortunate because everyone appreciates being respected, although we live in a godly way not out of selfish interests, but out of gratefulness for what God has done and is doing through us.

I think the following verses describe the situation well:

In 2 Corinthians :14-16 (nlt), it says, 14 But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. 15 Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. 16 To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?

Christian, your life matters.  It matters to God, and the way in which you do your walk matters to this world.  Don’t be afraid to look to look in your rear view mirror and see someone angry with you.  You are being a help to them!