Not Worth Praying About ?

whirlpool

 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6)

My prayer life was geared to saving up praying for the Big Stuff. Like, it would be silly to pray for a parking spot. But this past winter the Spirit started to prompt me to  pray for small things.

Let me give you two examples that kicked this off.

First was a computer fix, my wife’s laptop looked like it was dead in the water. Instead of taking it right to the repair shop, I felt led to pray for  an easy solution…so I Googled and found out  that sticking a paper clip into  a little hole on the back of her computer might work…then…answered small prayer… the computer came back to life !

Second was buying the right Christmas tree. I was pretty sure the little trees at our nearby Acme  would be all sold out, so I was already asking my wife  “Where will we look next?” But then came a leading to pray for a tree anyway…….and lo and behold there just happened to be one left….

Praying for the computer and the tree was fine but these little prayers pointed to something more important as they showed that I needed to pray about something else that I thought was little.  I am talking about a bad attitude.

My worst attitude is when my thoughts get filled with vague grumbling,  murmuring, or complaining. Before, I had not viewed that kind of low-key whining as even worth praying about, since at first glance it seems like no big deal. But God takes grumbling seriously, and complaining leads to falling into a vortex of negative thoughts— thoughts that revolve around me and what I deserve and how I should be treated….then I become like the little critter being sucked into the whirlpool in the picture.

But praying for the Lord to change my whining thoughts reverses the whirlpool…I head up and away from it being all about me and increasingly towards — loving God and people !

What do you think is not important enough to pray about ?

A Blah Day ? Don’t Lose Heart.

Most days, I do personal Bible study in the morning. I like to get a fresh insight, a takeaway for the day. But one day this past winter I was looking for my daily takeaway and came up really empty. Why was there nothing new today ? How could spending time in the Bible, God’s word,  seem so  fruitless ?

Outside it was windy and frostbitingly cold, one of those subzero windchill days. Our Ice Age outside led to my feeling a bit of cabin fever inside. I started to feel worldly and aimless.  I lost confidence that a project that I was to turn in soon would be any good. In addition, I had binged on a show on Netflix,  which initially hooked me, but then seemed to grow sillier the more of it I watched. Was I just wasting time ?

This frustration led to giving me my takeaway for any day where there is not a takeaway : Sometimes I just need a personal reminder that Jesus is truth and love!

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1b,2a,3)

Jesus faced opposition. Sometimes we feel drained because we are facing opposition too; but other times we get weary  without feeling any opposition at all.

To refresh us, let’s zero in on one word from today’s verses. Here’s your Greek for today : Aphorōntes. This single Greek word is translated in our Bibles as “fixing our eyes on Jesus.”

Aphorontes means taking our eyes off of one thing and looking at a different thing instead.  We might be focusing on  a variety of things other than Jesus—we might be worried about an endless to-do list ; we  might be binging on Netflix ; or obsessing about a grievance we have with someone. So today’s exhortation asks us to  look away from our improper focus ….and look towards Jesus.

Jesus says he is the way and the truth and the life. And this is not just a fact that we know in our heads. Because as we fix our eyes on him, then through the power of the Spirit, Jesus dwells inside us — giving us  warm, personal assurance that he really does  love us and doesn’t want us to feel weary and lose heart.  When Jesus comes alive in us like that, the day does not seem so blah after all !

Can’t Put This Lamp Out

When Jehoram established himself firmly over his father’s kingdom, he put all his brothers to the sword along with some of the officials of Israel. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.  Nevertheless, because of the covenant the Lord had made with David, the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David. He had promised to maintain a lamp for him and his descendants forever. (2 Chronicles 21:4,6b-7)

Reading 2 Chronicles, we see that Jehoram was a wicked king who did not have a heart for God like his predecessor King David did. Our God is a God of justice. Shouldn’t  justice dictate that God simply snuff out David’s dynasty ? We might think so, but long before Jehoram’s reign, God made an eternally  binding promise to King David : I am giving you a Kingdom that will  never end.

As a result, since God’s promises are irrevocable, he voluntarily painted himself into a corner.  In order not to go back on his word he bound himself to temporarily overlook a lot of evil.

How does God’s  irreversible promise relate to us today? Scripture teaches that Jesus is the fulfillment of the everlasting Kingdom promise that was made to King David. Listen to what God says happens to us when we believe in Jesus :

 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.  (Galatians 4:7)

I have done some pretty stupid things. Indeed, God would have every right to say, “Ken  has blown it one time too many—-he is disinherited !” But, because of God’s promise,  I still belong to Jesus.

Yes, being an heir, I can’t be disowned.  Does that mean I do whatever I want whenever I feel like it ? Not at all. I am so deeply thankful that I have been declared an heir outside of anything I ever did, that I want to live for Jesus with an attitude of gratitude !

Me, A Righteous Man ? Are You Kidding ?

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.(Hebrews 11:7)

A number of years ago our church leadership said I was godly enough to be put on the list of those who were allowed to serve communion.  I was puzzled by it. Why did they think I was godly ? I was so aware of my many  shortcomings …. and figured that being godly was to be on a spiritual plane higher than I was on.

Well, over the following  years I have gotten a better idea about what it really means to be godly. Ironically, to understand what it means to be godly I needed a better understanding of what it means to be an idiot.

To explain how I can be both an idiot and godly, let me throw a Latin term at you : Simul justus et peccator. This means simultaneously righteous and a sinner.

Noah was called an heir of righteousness — even though he got drunk as a skunk.
And David was called a man after God’s own heart —- despite committing murder.

In today’s scripture verse, notice how Noah had faith first, and then righteousness was added. We go nuts if we try to do it backwards, and try to be righteous  without first moving in faith. No wonder I struggled to see myself as godly as long as I was thinking it depended on my own futile efforts !

Now let’s look at a command from Paul :
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesians  4:1)

Paul welcomes us to one of those wonderful Christian impossibilities :
On my own, no way I  can obey the command to live worthily. But propelled  by faith, I can now  begin to live worthy of Christ. And then  it’s not that I am Mr. Righteousness, but rather it is the righteousness of Jesus living in me !

Do you realize you need to live by faith instead of  your own efforts ? Then — by the power of Jesus working in you — you are worthy of being called godly.

Not on My Own

Two are better than one,
   because they have a good return for their labor
If either of them falls down,
   one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
   and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

The Bible is chock full of God’s great promises. We can take them to heart and meditate on them and treasure them and grow in personal piety. But if we think that means the Christian life is only “Jesus and me” then we are in trouble. Because there’s so much in today’s world that gives knockdown punches !

When I fall down, I need the help of others to be able to get back up. One of the great things about Christian life  in community is how God gives us each other to give and receive encouragement.

Here’s a recent example : Awakening in the middle of the night, something from years ago  started to infect my mind. I was replaying a very futile time in my life when my career hopes were getting dismantled; I was stuck about what my next step should be; and I had no one I could confide in for help. I felt heart palpitations start as those old thoughts combined with an ongoing fight with the cable company over billing errors and an intractable conflict in our small group.

In the middle of the night I knew that what God says is true, and that there were Bible verses available for me, but at that time, being able to quote Bible verses was not helping. Bible truth seemed elusive, abstract, and far away.

God provided the antidote : In the morning I requested prayer in my Thursday men’s group. A good friend and brother in Christ prayed that my physical heartbeats would be calm while at the same time I’d have more of a loving heart for the Lord and for people.

Are you stumbling and discouraged ? Is a friend stumbling and discouraged ? God loves it when we help each other back up !

Bible Knowledge : Helper or Killer ?

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  (2 Corinthians 3:6)

What’s the difference between life and killing as we read our Bibles ?

I recently  was stunned by something hurtful an individual who loved “Bible Knowledge” did.

One of my first reactions was to say of course I would never do something like that–but then  I was caught up short —- I must admit that my own life is not always consistent with my Bible knowledge !

So with that in mind here’s a scripture that  has good guidance :

Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.    (1 Corinthians 8:1b, NASB)

Here are a few questions we can ask to see whether we are using our Bible knowledge wisely:

  • Do you not only read the Bible, but also allow the Bible to read you ?
  • The ESV study bible deliberately has its bible study notes in much tinier print than the Bible verses themselves…to remind people the difference between God’s word and man’s interpretation ! In a Bible study group, do you like to show your Bible knowledge by quoting from bible study notes or do you interact directly with what God is saying in the Bible text ?
  • Does your Bible knowledge fill people’s heads with Bible trivia  that has little or no connection to the trials of real life or does it provide shelter for them when they are facing the heat of tough situations?
  • The Spirit knows when to lovingly rebuke when someone is on their high horse and when to compassionately encourage someone who has fallen down. Does your Bible knowledge do this ?

Paul put today’s  admonitions there for a purpose, knowing how easy it is to drift from the Spirit into the Letter. We need a fresh reminder of this every day. Let’s ask the Spirit to continually  make our Bible knowledge life giving !

What Difference Does It Make ?

“‘But on that day I will deal differently with the land of Goshen, where my people live; no swarms of flies will be there, so that you will know that I, the Lord, am in this land.  I will make a distinction[ between my people and your people. This sign will occur tomorrow.’” (Exodus 8:22-23)

 

Because the Egyptians would not let God’s people go, they faced a series of God-sent plagues.

Today’s plague on the Egyptians : A plague of flies throughout your land. With one big exception : In the part of your land called  Goshen, where the Jews lived, there will not be flies.

Imagine if you were an Egyptian being eaten up by mosquitos in your yard and your Hebrew next-door neighbors are going  scot-free. That’s quite a sharp distinction between God’s people and those who were not his people.

Is there still a distinction like that for God’s people today ? If so, what does it  look like? Are we protected from disasters and layoffs and bugs ?

First, I will warn against a  bad distinction. That’s when our distinction is being known mainly for what we are against. We become  culture war fighters whose chief  weapon is condemnation. Given how much anger is in the land today, it is easy to get caught up into it.

Jesus makes a much better distinction :

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

There surely will always be some things we are against. But a much better way to stand out is to live by showing what we are for: spreading the love of Jesus.