February 29, 2016

Impossible Prayers

Today’s newspaper, as usual, has disturbing articles. ISIS is using social media to recruit followers. A man in China killed his entire family then himself. The leadership race in the USA often seems like a gong show. Canadian leaders are proposal legal changes that protect the rights of terrorists. And on it goes.

How does the average person respond to this? How should a Bible-believing Christian respond to it? Some use the newspaper as their prayer guide. Today’s devotional reading motivates me to pray larger than I usually do. Not that I don’t pray requests that seem humanly impossible, but this challenges me to talk with God about more of these ‘totally beyond me’ issues.

The Bible story is about a man who asked what most people would consider impossible. Chambers points out that not only was his request too much for the crowds who heard it, even the act of his asking disturbed them.

As (Jesus) drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” (Luke 18:35–41)

Chambers asks, “What is the thing that not only disturbs you but makes you a disturbance?”In prayer gatherings, I’m disturbed when people pray only that which seems likely, or for things that make them comfortable. What is it that keeps us from approaching God with difficult issues or from asking Him to use our pain to help us grow?

Chambers says we limit Him because of past failures. If someone needed healing and died instead, or if a job interview was not productive, or if a test was failed, the pattern of hearing ‘no’ from God can put a damper on prayer. I’ve noticed when someone dares to pray those impossible requests or that God’s will is done no matter what, some ‘amens’ might be heard, but others in the group don’t seem too excited about those prayers. Uncomfortable could be a better word. Is this like the crowd was disturbed by the blind beggar because he dared to call out to Jesus? Or because he asked Jesus for something that seemed impossible?

Chambers adds that whatever disturbs me is always something I cannot deal with myself. Obviously I’m not able to deepen the level of faith in others. All I can do is persist in praying about the things that deeply burden me, getting face to face with the Lord, and as Chambers says, being determined to not deify common sense. God does not work in commonsense ways, but in supernatural ways. If what is on my heart seems impossible to me or to others, I still must talk to the Lord about it, whether others are disturbed or not. Only God can answer these things.

The beggar received his sight. Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.” Could my faith stop ISIS or change the hearts of despairing people, or affect the politics in North America? No, but God can change things. At times, He might seem to be “passing by” when actually His ears are open waiting for a beggar to express those impossible requests on her heart.

February 28, 2016

Don’t get in God’s way!

My specific question this morning was about a proposal I’d submitted to our church. At the time, it seemed a good idea. The church leadership approved it. But since then, everything I’ve tried has been thwarted by unexpected circumstances. I asked God about this idea. Was it from Him? If so, what am I supposed to do? If not, then what?

As often happens, today’s devotional reading gave me something to chew on. The disciples proclaimed that they believed Jesus came from God, but Jesus knew something they didn’t know . . .

“Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? (John 16:30–31)

From this passage, Chambers offers a principle about how our faith might not be as strong as we think when we want to do something for God, or it could be misplaced, or misinterpreted. He explains that Christian workers sometimes start a ministry with a sense of need arising out of their own particular discernment.

This made me question why I offered this proposal. I did discern a need, but was that from God? Or was I leaning on my own understanding? Whether I did or not, I still have to keep still before God until I understand what He wants.

Chambers says there is no sin in jumping the gun on a burden God puts in our hearts, but it will be fruitless. God does not bless our “commonsense decisions” because they are not in His domain and when we go on our own to do ‘good’ we can create a competition with Jesus Christ. I can see that if I put my own discernment or ideas on the throne of my heart instead of Him, this would be a subtle idolatry. Instead, I’m to walk in the light as God is in the light, maintaining clarity about my actions and their timing.

In other words, I might do a good thing apart from Him, and be able to back it up with a fine sounding proposal that others think is fine, but if something is motivated by the Lord, no proposal is necessary; it will just happen.

As I write this, I’m thinking, “But what about the commitment that I’ve made to do this thing?” How can it ‘just happen’ when God hasn’t answered my questions about what I am supposed to do?

After writing the above thoughts, we went to church and God answered the rest of my question. During the service, I began to realize that I presumed God would call me to do the work of this proposal. But it is God who is going to do the work. My role is to pray and watch it happen.

With a slightly flushed face, I’m laughing at myself and that tendency to think I have to do everything. How easily I wind up robbing Him of His glory. He knows how to stop that. He puts me in a prayer closet where I will be hard at work but hidden. Then others will see Him doing the work and He will be honored as He deserves!

February 27, 2016

My well is not deep enough!

Christians have ‘prayer lists’ of burdens we regularly bring to God. Sometimes we call them ‘shopping lists’ and occasionally berate ourselves for treating God like a genie in a bottle. We know that prayer is more than lining up with our requests.

However, God does tell us to ask. Where else can we take our burdens? I know if I have a concern and do not take it to Him, I will try to “fix it” myself. That never works!

When Jesus encountered a woman at a well and asked her for a drink, she was shocked at His request for several reasons. But she was even more stunned when He offered her “living water.” She replied . . .

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:11–14)

She wondered where He would get such amazing water. All she knew was the well in front of her. Chambers parallels this well to the depths of human life and the way we tend to go there first when we are in trouble. Some of us think that when we ask God to help us with the problem, He will draw from the only well we know – our resources.

I’ve learned my lesson. No matter how deep that well might be, He cannot draw anything out of it. Without Him, I am nothing and can do nothing.

Yet I have limited Jesus Christ by thinking I need to be smart, or talented, or a good speaker, or particularly gifted so that He can lift my burdens, answer my prayers, or use me in His service. How foolish! He cannot use the well of my sinful human nature; He is Almighty God and draws His response to my needs out of Himself.

I know this, yet like an impatient child, if He is not doing anything for a time, I begin to drift into doubt. Will He do it? Can He do it? For this, I’m often praying, “Nothing is impossible for you” and at the same time trying to offer my own well. In my pride, I’m always disappointed when it comes up dry.

Sin is like that. It relies on my “own way” instead of looking to Jesus. He is the only One who can do whatever needs to be done and do it perfectly. He constantly amazes me. At the same time, I’m constantly amazed at how quickly I forget that.

February 26, 2016

Low is better than high as long as I’m looking up!

I’m amazed how God puts truth before me right when I need it. In the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about my own uselessness and inferiority. It does not take “humility” long to turn into a “pity-party.” I realized this is just another variety of a sinful, self-centered me-focus, I didn’t think that I was insulting Jesus. Chambers uses these verses to point out that I am:

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? (John 4:10–11)

The woman at the well had misgivings about the ability of Jesus. At this point in her experience, she did not know Him or what He is capable of doing, so her misgivings might be excusable, but mine are not. I’ve had many years of seeing what He can do.

But what about me? I cannot do anything apart from Christ. In fact, every person alive is incapable of being what God calls for. We all fall short, even those who have served Him all their lives and accomplished much for His kingdom. Paul said that he could do all things through Christ who gives him strength. It is not the attributes and talents of Paul that mattered; it is the power of God working through Him.

So in my pity-party, I am telling Jesus that my case is a bit too hard for Him? I am saying that Jesus has nothing to draw with—nothing to make of me what He wants to make of me? I am guilty of thinking that I have no misgivings about Jesus, only about myself?

Chambers says that no one has such misgivings about themselves because we know exactly what we cannot do, but we do have misgivings about Jesus. Not only that, I get upset that He can do whatever He wants, but He isn’t doing what I want Him to do.

The issue is that I get looking at myself and the inferiority that I can see instead of admitting this is what I am and getting on with it. God does not wash His hands of uselessness; He prefers it. His Word says . . .

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31)

I’m guilty of spiritual pride, the kind that wants to be powerful, noble, and wise. I’ve also been asking God to change me so I will be contrite before Him and give Him glory. So He is answering my prayers and I am complaining? Duh!

February 25, 2016

Value of Gratitude

Being thankful, or not, reveals much about a person. Those who are thankful seem to be more apt to acknowledge being needy. They also realize that someone else provided for them, maybe even God. Thankfulness is a biblical virtue, even commanded.

It used to bother me if I gave something to someone and they didn’t thank me. I felt disappointed and unappreciated. However, God has shown me that I should badly for their sake. Anyone who has forgotten or neglects to be thankful is missing out on gratitude, which is very important to Him.

Chambers says it is natural to expect some return when we are helpful or generous. This is true. However, God looks for spiritual fruit in the lives of others as a response to His grace. That suggests that if a person is not thankful, or does not acknowledge love and kindness, then a Spirit-filled person will feel badly also, not for being unappreciated but from a concern that the recipient is missing out on being grateful. Paul illustrates this when he wrote to the Christians in Philippi. He told them . . .

Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. (Philippians 4:16–17)

The above serves as explanation for something I noticed this morning. The devotional reading used a different translation from what I use. The New King James Version says this:

And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. (2 Corinthians 12:15)

From the way it is translated, it looks like Paul is talking about serving them along the lines of, ‘I do not care whether you love me or not, I am willing to destitute myself completely, not merely for your sakes, but that I may get you to God.’ In other words, the focus is about making a sacrifice regardless of the response.

However, the version I use gives a different perspective, one that I like better. It says:

I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? (2 Corinthians 12:15, English Standard Version)

In this translation, Paul seems to be looking for a return, even asking a rhetorical question as if his readers should understand this should be their response to his ministry. He reflects the clear teaching in the Bible that sinners do not love God until we realize how much He loves us. This applies also on a human level. If someone loves us to the point of being spent for us, should we not love that person in return?

The original language agrees with that idea. Paul isn’t offering the example of selfless service to point out that the more he is rejected, the more he will love them. This isn’t about him, but about what he wants to see in their lives. He is glad to serve them selflessly, but expects that they will respond to his love.

Jesus gave Himself for me. The Bible says: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

The point either way is that I do things for others without reserve just as Jesus died for sinners whether they responded or not. Paul preached to everyone, regardless of their response. The ministries to the homeless in our city feed these men and women whether they are thankful or complain about the food.

From this, it seems that willingness to serve others without a return is important, yet doing it with hope that there will be a fruitful response is more like Jesus, more like Paul. I am not to martyr myself in service with a focus on ‘look how sacrificial I am’ but with a focus on, “God, use this to bring forth a godly response that pleases You and blesses those who bear the fruit.”

For the family: My brother-in-law’s funeral is March 5.