When you don’t feel like praying.

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How are your personal, daily, invigorating quiet times going?  Are you a spiritual rock star who prays without ceasing, who rises before the sun every morning to pray and meditate, who memorizes large passages of Scripture and takes notice of the Holy Spirit in every situation?  If so, I want to be more like you and you can stop reading.

The rest of us, however, seem to go through seasons of feast and seasons of famine.  Times when we are excited and eager to read the Bible and pray and talk to everyone we meet about Jesus and times when we get caught up in going to school, buying houses, raising kids, and the day-to-day.

I am a FTM (First Time Mom, for those who do not frequent the motherhood websites).  My precious baby girl just turned six months old and I have a confession to make:  she has rocked my schedule and routine.  Before she came along I was a machine.  I love change and adventure but wherever I find myself I dream big and develop daily habits.  I need routines to be successful so my morning coffee, quiet time and exercise get drafted into my day whether I am living in the middle of the tropical rain forest or working a 9-5 in Denver.

However I was not prepared for this life-change they call motherhood.  My pregnancy was a difficult one that left me on bed rest, sick and delivering a month early.  You can read more about that here.  And after a week in the NICU when we brought home our five pound baby who needed to eat every two hours to thrive, I had no dream or plan of a schedule.  I existed in a fog, trying to keep both of us alive.  I have a confession:  I did not want to read the Bible.

I know, you are shocked.  How can a person call herself a Christian and say that she does not want to read the Bible or have a quiet time?  I’ll tell you how:  I had grown so accustomed to my hour-long routine of study, prayer and sermon listening which was concluded in another hour of blog writing that I thought anything less was not worthy of my effort.  Quite honestly it sounded exhausting.  A well meaning friend asked me how I was adjusting Spiritually after a month or so and I confessed to her that I had been neglecting my routine.  She spoke some beautifully comforting words to me:  give yourself some grace.

You see, I am an academic at heart.  I love to study.  And as such I have always struggled with prayer.  I trust the sovereign plan of God and prayer often feels like lip service because He already knows every hair on my head and every intention of my heart.  But the moment I found out I was sick and that my baby was in danger, my prayer life radically changed.  I prayed.  And I cried.  And I prayed.  And I cried some more.  Then we watched our little baby in the NICU and we prayed some more.  We prayed.  My husband and I have tried (and failed) for two years to develop a prayer routine in our marriage, but the minute she was born we locked into a beautiful habit of regular prayer together.

Our Spirituality and our relationship with God must grow and develop.  It is not static, and God is not interested in providing us salvation from Hell apart from a relationship with Him whereby He changes and refines us.

I was growing in my prayer life.  And I knew that I wanted to develop good habits and set a good example for my daughter.  Have you heard that routines are good for babies too?  So what did we do?  For the next few months, my daily quiet times were made up of reading Bible story picture books with my daughter who seemed to enjoy looking at the colors and pictures.  But God was faithful and spoke just as dynamically to me through “Noah and the Big Boat” as the study on Hebrews I did last year.

We need to be coming to and relying on God for our joy, for our strength, and for our comfort.  We need to be confessing our sins to Him and rejoicing in His forgiveness.  We need to be changing.

“I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I wait for Your words.”

– Ps 119.147

We will only find true peace and ability to persevere if we remain in and abide in Christ:

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”

– John 15.4

But remember to consider your circumstances and seasons.  There will be times when you have an abundance of energy and time to spend hours in deep study.  There will also be times when you have to wake up every two hours to feed an infant and cannot think beyond putting on a house coat.  God is gracious and wants to meet with us and encourage us in all of those circumstances.  He might even get as bored with our normal routines as we do!  He will sustain us differently in these different seasons and in the ways we approach Him.

So instead of beating yourself up for missing a quiet time or intensive study one day, let’s consider today.  Let’s forget what is behind and press on to what is ahead (Phil 3.13)!  Let’s see where God is at work around us and meet Him there.  Let’s allow Him to develop our Spirituality by adjusting to our circumstances and let’s give ourselves grace for those occasions when we are not Spiritual rock stars.  We are all still a work in progress, and it is God Himself who is at work within us:

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”

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I was raised in the non-denominational, evangelical system.  When I started High School, my family began attending a large Southern Baptist Church which fulfilled exactly zero of the normal stereotypes of the SBC.  It had a contemporary sanctuary, a full band (including drums) on stage, and thrived on evangelistic events which drew people in the doors, yet never preached Hell, fire and brimstone.  It was big, it was upbeat, it was cool.  Many evangelical churches in the 90’s and 2000’s moved away from a traditional sanctuary feel, and build modern spaces with state of the art lighting and contemporary sound.  Church became a performance and concert, all with the intention of winning people to Jesus.

With the advent of the hipster, however, it has been particularly interesting to watch a large number of my peers move away from this contemporary structure and begin to long for the traditions and liturgy of the High Church.  They do not abandon the Gospel, but find deep truth and meaning in creeds, reflection and reverence.  The Millennials are beginning to say that they would prefer their church to feel like a church – stained glass windows, an established sanctuary, and a reverent and respectful service that focuses on God instead of entertainment.  Those of us who were raised on strobe lights and fog machines are over it, by-in-large.  In short, we want to know that God is real.  The Church cannot entertain us the way a concert or secular performance can, but we are not looking for it to do so.

This, of course, does not envelope the complete experience of the Millenial.  Many who were raised in the High Church are looking for a release and find freedom in the modern approach of the Evangelical Church, and many who had no exposure to the Church in childhood enjoy the mega church that has a state of the art sound system and rock concert feel, wrapped up by a motivational speaker.  Perhaps this goes to show that we as humans are never satisfied and long for what we do not have?

We have also seen that Church is becoming less and less a normal part of society.  Most Baby Boomers were raised going to church every Sunday.  It was a part of the culture, everyone went.  Nowadays, there is neither an expectation nor condemnation contingent upon Church attendance.  With that, the general understanding of the tenants of the Church and individual denominations is waning, and thus we are regularly seeing people drift from denomination to denomination.  That same Southern Baptist Church gained people from and lost people to the Christian Church, the Lutheran Church, the Nazarine Church and even the Catholic Church and many others.  With this level of intermingling, we see interesting variations of traditions and beliefs practiced in many Churches.

All of that is to say, it is becoming much more common to see people embracing traditions from long ago amongst the Evangelical community, which by-in-large had been abandoned.  For instance, the season of Lent.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  It exists to honor the forty days of fasting that Jesus kept in the wilderness as He was beginning His Earthly ministry, and thus the adherent fasts for forty days, traditionally preparing himself for the celebration of Easter (and the Holy Week) through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self denial.  Many who keep the season choose one particular indulgence which they deem a distraction from which to fast and give the time saved to prayer, and the money saved to the poor – thus we see people giving up social media, a daily Starbucks habit, or something of the like.  Most who keep Lent will attend a service during which they receive the mark of the cross on their foreheads in Ash, and are charged, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” and “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”.

I am neither advocating for or against the keeping of Lent for the next six weeks, but I think that its motivation it is worth our consideration today.  First of all, the focus behind it is eternal:  We were made from dust and we will return to dust.  Therefore, since you will die and you can take nothing with you which you have obtained on this Earth, repent from your sins and believe in the Gospel!  It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that will come the judgment (Heb 9.27).  We know not the day nor the hour that our lives will be expected of us, and thus we must be prepared to meet Jesus face to face – having already met Him through repentance and salvation while alive (Matt 24.36).

Secondly, the focus is Spiritual:  if we can take nothing with us when we die, then we should busy ourselves with making an eternal impact with our finances, time, gifts and energy (Matt 6.19-20).  That boat might make you happy on beautiful days when you can get outside, but it will break down, take up space, and be useless most days of the year.  However, if you use your money to develop a house that keeps and trains people with basic work skills while preaching the Gospel, you will be a part of the salvation process for many, and make an eternal impact by multiplying believers and serving the poor.

Thirdly, the focus is internal:  Jesus commanded us to repent from our sins (Matt 4.17).  It is easy to gloss over our sinful tendencies and habits and assume that Jesus will forgive us, but Scripture plainly teaches us that friendship with the world and peace with sin is enmity with God (James 4.4).  The Christian life is marked by the believer waging war on his sins to glory of God.  This is done through prayer, meditation on Scripture, and life adjustment according to the Word of God.

Lastly, the focus is external:  the intentional sacrificing of money for the poor and to give to the church.  We are commanded throughout Scripture to give the first 10% of our income to God via the Church.  Without this basic tithe, our churches would have no finances to support pastors, ministries or maintain facilities – apart from God’s intervention.  This command is so poignant, in fact, that Scripture tells us if we do not tithe, we are stealing from God (Mal 3.8-10).  But the voluntary giving of alms speaks to the special gifts and sacrifices that we make to help brothers and sisters in Christ, to feed and clothe the poor, and to serve ministries beyond that initial gift.  It has been said that if you want to know what you love, just thumb through your checkbook.  Do you love the poor?

Whether or not you intend to fast and keep the next six weeks of remembrance, remember this:  “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The sufferings and comfort of Christ are ours.

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“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.”

– 2 Cor 1.3-5

Jesus, our Lord and King came to the world to be our savior and lived a life of trials and suffering, moreso than any your or I could imagine.  His heart was so burdened and given to the glory of God and the salvation of His people that He was called the “man of sorrows” (Is 53.3).

But He found peace and solitude from God the Father, the God of all comfort.  He regularly went away to pray by Himself, where He communed with God, was comforted, encouraged and directed by Him.  Jesus, the only God who submitted Himself to flesh and was crucified for our sins, drew His strength and peace from God the Father.

He would get up before the sunrise to go pray (Mark 1.35).  He would sometimes pray all afternoon (Matt 14.23), or all night (Luke 6.12).  He prayed for others (John 11.41-42), and He prayed for Himself (Luke 22.41-44).

We, as Christians, are to be Christ-like.  We are Christ-imitators.  We are little-Christs.  And in following Him, we should expect to receive the same kind of treatment that Jesus did.  Jesus promised that many would be killed for their faith (Matt 10).  And Paul teaches us clearly that all who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted (2 Tim 3.12).

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”

– 1 Peter 4.12-13

We will be called to share in the sufferings of Christ.  It may not be physical torture, but it may be religious persecution.  It may be hatred from others.  It may be discrimination, mocking, loss of job, family or friends.  But when we suffer for our faith, we are joining in the suffering of Christ, and because of that fact we can rejoice.  We might not rejoice in the moment, because suffering hurts.  But we can take comfort and find joy in the promise that we are following Christ’s example.

And as His suffering is ours, so also is the comfort that He experienced from God in the midst of His trials.

God has promised to comfort you when you are suffering for Christ.  Are you experiencing persecution today?  Is someone hating or hurting you today because of your faith?  If so, follow Jesus’ example of turning to God.  He is the God of all comfort, and spending some time with Him in prayer will bring that needed healing to your soul.  As much as Christ’s sufferings are ours to share, so is His peace.  Find your peace in Him today.

Are you praying for France?

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Last night the world watched in horror as the terrorist attacks unfolded in Paris.  As the hostage situation developed, as news slowly emerged from the crowds, all of us good Christians in America started the hashtag trend #prayforParis.  But did you stop and pray for Paris?  Did you stop to pray for our enemies who promised to taste American blood soon?  Did you stop and pray for those people who are suffering, who have lost loved ones, or who are still processing what happened?  Or did you simply watch the news unfold and share the meme on your facebook?

Jesus promised us that in the end, things would get worse and not better.

“For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.  You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.  But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.  Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.  At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.  Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.  This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

– Matt 24.5-14

As we draw near to the end, we must understand and cling to the teachings and prophecies of Scripture.  The world will continue to decline in war and turmoil, and there will even be an increase of natural disasters.  Christians will be hated, persecuted and killed.  And the greatest tragedy and threat of that time is that some Christians will fall away – they will prove themselves to not be true believers by abandoning the faith in the midst of suffering.  They will follow after false prophets and false teachings, they will turn on each other and betray one another.  But in the midst of all of this turmoil, the Gospel will continue to go forth into every nation, and only after there are believers in every people group around the world will the end come.

Understanding this reality, how then should we respond?

Firstly, we must pray.  We have outwardly responded with a call to prayer for Paris.  But we must not only change our facebook status to demarcate our support, but we must actually stop what we are doing, get on our faces before God and pray.  But for what should we be praying?  Should we be praying for peace?  For the end of terrorism?  Yes!  We should absolutely let God know the cry of our hearts (Phil 4.6).  We desire to see peace and for people to stop murdering one another.  But we must also understand that God has told us that things will get worse and wars, tribulation and suffering will increase and not decrease.  Therefore, we must also pray for the faith of the persecuted and that those who are doing the persecuting would come to faith in Jesus.

We must pray for our enemies.  Jesus commanded us to pray for our enemies, to bless those who persecute us, and to give more to those who would demand of us and take from us (Matt 5.44, Rom 12.14, Matt 5.39).  We pray for them primarily for their salvation.  They need Jesus, they need salvation, and everything else is secondary.

We must pray for the persecuted.  Jesus said that those who persevere until the end are those who will be saved.  Therefore, we should pray for our own faith and for the faith of those who are actively being persecuted.  The temptation will be to throw it all away, to lash out in response, to turn on one another in order to save our own skin.  Thus we should pray for our faith and the faith of those around us, that we would persevere and stand firm.

Secondly, we must love.  When we pray for our enemies and for those who are persecuting us, it becomes easier to have a heart of compassion for them.  Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world and He perfectly loved those who murdered Him until the very last moment.  In the same way, He commanded us to love our enemies.  This is not an easy task.  We should be intentionally seeking out their best, and their best is first and foremost their Spiritual welfare.

I am not advocating that we be passive and allow ourselves to be ruthlessly attacked and murdered.  Much good and peace has come from the resolution of WWII and the defeat of Nazi Germany.  And we can learn much from the experience of WWII.  Most Germans were not radical, murderous Nazis.  But the governing party was.  The minority few were, and they successfully murdered approximately eleven million people.  Much of the world united in order to overthrow such a force and stop their murderous acts.  They sought justice and called the radicals to account.

In much the same way, most Muslims are not radical, fundamental extremists who are plotting our demise.  But the predominant face presenting itself against the West and Christian world is.  We should not seek to establish a war against Islam, therefore, but against the regime that is actively murdering people shamelessly.  We can seek justice and order through love.  We can offer compassion to those who are receiving a bad reputation because of the minority.  We can offer refuge to those who are fleeing for their own lives, while the war escalates and hopefully brings and end to the terrorism.

But most of us are not in positions of authority to make those wartime, big-picture decisions.  Most of us are average-joe Christians who watch what unfolds in the news.  Some of us are in the military and will be sent overseas to help respond.  But all of us, in whatever role we have, can establish in our hearts a mindset of love, prayer and focus on eternity.

Are there Syrian refugees in your community or city?  Most of them have fled their home and country because it is no longer safe for them.  Most of them have lost friends and family members to the conflict.  All of them have left behind the world that they knew in search for safety, now living amongst a foreign culture which speaks a language they do not know.  They are afraid, they are lonely, and they are hurting.  We should love them, welcome them, help take care of them as they are suffering more than we could ever imagine.  Is it possible that terrorists have snuck in alongside them?  Yes.  It is not only possible, but it is likely as ISIS has declared this one of their methods.  But we will probably not be able to tell who is who.  If we love them all, however, we might dissuade some temptation to do us harm.  We might, in fact, reveal to them the love of Christ and they could come to salvation.  If we hate them all, however, we will alienate those who need us and we will encourage ill will that was preconceived before they arrived.

Are you in the armed forces and being sent over to respond?  Certainly go in with a purpose and under your leadership, but also maintain a heart of compassion and love.  Remember that not everyone is seeking our demise, and those who are are a product of their culture and many have been taught to hate since they were small.  Their actions are evil, but unfortunately it is all they know.  Jesus can change them.

The issue is a complicated one, and the future of the world will undoubtedly be marked by more terrorist attacks, will involve governments, treaties and even partnerships with Muslim governments.  We can only control ourselves and how we respond personally.  We must love, we must pray, and we must seek the Spiritual well being of our neighbors.  This means that we should not be afraid of the Muslims in our community, but we should engage them, pray for them, and help those who have turned to us for help.

So let’s not just put up a hashtag on our facebook pages.  Let us examine our hearts.  Let us pray.  Let us love our enemies and let us love those who might look like our enemies, even if they are not.  Let us remember that the world most assuredly will spin into destruction as the end nears, and let us remember that the only thing that ultimately matters is the perseverance of our faith.  Pray for the persecuted to stand strong.  Pray for the persecutor to come to faith.  Pray that you will have the faith to suffer well.  And pray for Jesus to come quickly.

Balanced Prayers

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Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of our relationship with the Lord is adoration.  Far too often we think of worship as the music before or after preaching on Sunday mornings, but adoration and love are the foundation on which everything else must be built.  There is model by which we can outline our prayers that has been developed directly from the format in which Jesus prayed, and it goes like this:

   A –  Adoration
   C –  Confession
   T –  Thanksgiving
   S –  Supplication (prayer requests)

When Jesus taught the disciples to pray with the Lord’s prayer, these are the four themes He taught them to pray, and in that order.  Prayer, of course, is not a science and we should not sacrifice the vulnerability and rawness of a real conversation with God in order to walk through these four steps ritualistically.  If you are extremely excited, then pray a prayer of excitement and praise!  If you are broken and hurting, then pour out your sorrow to God.  But by-in-large, we must remember to keep a balance of these realities in our prayer life lest we get imbalanced and neglect part of our relationship with God.

An imbalance of adoration neglects the personal side of a relationship.  Have you ever had someone who just worships you, follows you around and is creepy?  To be imbalanced in confession neglects grace and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit – a life of asceticism, typically.  It is difficult, in my opinion, to be too thankful, but if you neglect confession, adoration and requests, then you are not experiencing the transformation of the Spirit through conviction.  Lastly, many of us live in the imbalance of supplication.  Our prayers are almost completely a list of requests – and many of them we do not even pay attention to see the answer!

We must be balanced and our prayers must be representative of a holistic, healthy relationship.  Praise God today.  Confess your sins to Him today.  Thank Him today, for all He has done and for prayers answered.  And lastly, bring your needs to Him.  Trust Him.  Love Him.  He is your Heavenly, perfect Father.

“I love You, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
And I am saved from my enemies.”

– Ps 18.1-3

Have you praised God this morning?

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I know, I know, you are just not a morning person.  It is hard to roll out of bed and you are still waking up on your commute in to work.  Or perhaps you love mornings and you bounce out of bed ready to face the day!  Whatever your disposition, have you taken time to talk to and praise God this morning?

The LORDS loving kindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

– Lam 3.22-23

The mercy of the Lord and His compassion is new every morning.  This is a wonderful truth to which we should cling earnestly.  As we crawl into bed at the end of the day, we should be thanking Him for the blessings of the day, repenting of our sin and wickedness from the day, and laying down to reflect on the things that He has taught us and resting in His comfort.  But in the morning, we must turn immediately to Him to refresh our Spirits, to praise Him, to commit our days to Him.  His mercies are new every morning, so we need to soak them up.  Bask in His presence.  Take the time to set our hearts and minds on Him and His will, to reflect on His grace and salvation and come into His presence.

“In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice;
In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.”

– Ps 5.3

David gave us a beautiful example of every morning rising, no matter his circumstances.  We should always get up to “eagerly watch” throughout the day.  What is God doing around you?  How can you get involved in His work around you, today?  Are you rejoicing?  Are you mourning?  Are you just going through the mundane?  God is at work around you, so take a moment to ask Him to reveal what He is doing and how you can join Him.

“In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.”

– Mark 1.35

Jesus also made it a daily habit to get up and spend time with the Lord before going about His earthly ministry.  God Himself got up before daybreak to spend time with God, Himself, and to commit His day, energy, mind, heart and will to that of God the Father’s.  If Jesus needed to do it, then we need to do it.

Consider this:  would you rather come to God at the end of the day for a recharge because you spent your day in your own energy and seeking your own goals, and you just want to check in and say hi?  Or would you rather set aside your day to the Lord and let Him guide you through it, energizing, directing, and making an eternal impact through your day?

Do not go through your day today without getting face-to-face with God.  Praise Him.  Rest in Him.  Ask Him to reveal what He is doing around you.  Speak to others about Him.  And you will find that this evening, when you are crawling in bed, you can joyfully reflect with Him about the day that you had together instead of just checking in.

Will God receive my worship?

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We understand God to be a gracious, loving Father who welcomes the prodigal son with open arms (Luke 15).  He stands at the door and knocks (Rev 3.20), He loves us because He Himself is love (1 John 4.7-8).  Because of these truths, we boldly sing songs like, “Come just as you are to worship”, and we proclaim to one another that there is “nothing that can separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8.35).  And while all of these truths are glorious and the foundation by which we can boldly approach the throne of Grace (Heb 4.16), we must also remember that God does not love and welcome us without condition.

Jesus taught clearly that the one who is unwilling to forgive another proves himself to not know God – and to not be forgiven by God (Matt 6.14-15).  And by that reality He warns us:

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”

– Matt 5.22

If we are angry with our brother, and if we call him a fool in our hearts, that is wickedness enough before God for us to be condemned to Hell.  Jesus says that God will not hear the cries from such a heart.  It is so serious, in fact, that He actually teaches us that we are unworthy to go to Church to worship if we have strife with another Christian.  We must first go and be reconciled – we must first go live out the Gospel – before we can come and worship Him and praise Him for that salvation.

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

– Matt 5.23-24

God will not receive our offering or worship until we have submitted ourselves to Him, until we have lived out the Gospel in our own lives, and until we have ceased to make peace with sin.

Does this mean that we have to be perfect before we come to Church?  Most certainly not.  It simply means that we cannot choose to harbor bitterness in our hearts and we cannot make peace with any sin, and expect God to hear us.  The moment that we allow a sin in our lives and do not fight it, we are putting Jesus to open shame – and proving ourselves to not know Him.  If you are fighting a sin, then you are welcome before God.  It is when you choose to not fight it and let it remain in your heart that He will not hear you.  It is when you allow a conflict with a brother, or indulge in pornography, or willingly participate in any sin that you have declared Jesus less valuable and unworthy of your full devotion.  He is not your Lord.

The people of Israel were in such a perilous situation, at one point, and were completely unaware:

“Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways,
As a nation that has done righteousness
And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God.
They ask Me for just decisions,
They delight in the nearness of God.
‘Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers.
Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist.
You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing fnone’s head like a reed
And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?
Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

– Is 58.2-7

God Himself said of the people that they sought after Him “day by day”, and they were taking delight in knowing His ways.  They, as an entire people, were known for “righteousness” and obedience to the Scriptures, and they were praying earnestly for God to reveal His will in their daily decisions.  God Himself said that the people were taking delight in the nearness of God:  fasting, praying, singing.  They were worshiping how God had taught them to worship.  But yet God refused to hear them.  He was displeased with them and did not draw near to them.  They were obviously aware of His distance, and so they cried out:

“Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?”

– Is 58.3

And God responds unashamedly:

“Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers.
Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist.
You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.”

– Is 58.3-4

The Israelites were fasting with the wrong motives.  Remember the hypocrites that Jesus condemned?  How they were fasting so that men could see them (Matt 6.5)?  The Israelites were fasting so that other nations would see and know them for their righteousness.  They received their reward in full, there, on the Earth.  And not only that, but they turned around during their fast and “drove hard all their workers”.  They were terrible bosses, and they took advantage of those who were under them.  In short, they were putting on a good worship face and then they were turning around and not living it out.  They were following the forms that God had established but their hearts were far from God.

Have you ever sat down to pray, “God change so-and-so, humble him, help him see his sin”.  This is a good prayer if prayed from a humble position.  But if it is a prayer of pride thinking, “I’m right and he is wrong”, then it is worthless.  Rather we should examine ourselves, confess our own sins, and live peaceably with all men, so much as it depends on us (Rom 12.18).  We should indeed pray for God to change our unsaved friends, to humble them and reveal their sin to them, but our hearts must be pure in doing so.  The Israelites were praying such a prayer out of strife and contention.

“THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,
BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME,
TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.”

– Matt 15.8-9

And this is a perilous position in which to be.  We might be able to fake it before men, but God can see the heart and will judge harshly such a one:

Then the Lord said,
“Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,
Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous;
And the wisdom of their wise men will perish,
And the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.”

– Is 29.13-14

Is this a terrifying truth to us?  It should be.  There will be no greater sorrow than those who come to eternity’s door and realize,

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”

– Matt 7.21-23

It is much better for us to wrestle with the uncomfortable nature of such difficult teachings while there is still time, rather than to placate ourselves and spend eternity paying for it.

But let us find comfort and security in this promise:

“Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

– Rom 10.13

And,

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

– 1 John 1.9

No one who is still living in his fleshly body will attain perfection and stop sinning completely.  Scripture teaches us that our body is actually at war against the Spirit which indwells us (Gal 5.17).  Therefore, we must remember and proclaim boldly to our Spirit that,

“And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…”

– 1 John 2.1

When we sin, and when we confess it and repent of it, Jesus stands before God and declares the sin as “time served”.  Jesus never sweeps a sin under the rug, He never ignores it.  Rather, He took the punishment for it by suffering the cross and three days separated from God.  He then conquered it by raising again and offering us His righteousness.  We will continue to sin, as long as we are alive.  But let us never make peace with that sin and assume God’s grace will overlook it.  I once knew a man who taught boldly a Sunday School lesson on loving one’s enemy.  He turned around four days later and left his wife, telling the elders of his church “I am unwilling to reconcile with her”.  This man’s worship was not received by God.  He had made peace with his sin of unfaithfulness, bitterness and selfishness, and he was ultimately removed from his church.  Let us examine ourselves daily, as we worship God, as we seek to know Him, as we go to church, and as we live out our daily lives.  Let us confess our sins and die to self.  Let us live out the very grace that we would receive in our own lives.  And when we do sin, let us turn to Jesus and run from it.  Then God will hear and honor our worship.

Dear Musician: Don’t choose your church based on an opening on the music team.

church

OK, so I realize that this is a bit of a targeted issue, but it is widely applicable.  The core of the issue is simply,

How should we choose a church?

First of all, let me point out the glorious and remarkable reality that we, in the west, live in a unique time historically and even in the world today in that we have an overwhelming abundance of churches from which to choose.  Small town USA has a church on every corner – sometimes more – and even big city USA, even though some would have us believe are abandoning the faith, are also marked by churches every few blocks.  I live in Denver Colorado, a notoriously “unchurched” city, and a Google search alone returns pages upon pages of churches that are big enough to have websites.  In my four mile commute to work every day, I pass six churches.

But that is another topic for another day.

So, when you live in a city that has thousands of churches, when there are many in your neighborhood community, and when there are niche churches of all types that cater to age, demographic, race, interests, secondary and tertiary doctrines, the task of finding a church can be overwhelming.  And quite frankly, we as believers have terrible decision-making skills on the topic.  So how should we choose a church?

Step #1:  Pray.  Pray, pray, pray.  Scripture teaches us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5.17).  When you are looking for a community amongst whom you will worship God, with whom you desire to serve God, and from whom you want to learn and grow in your relationship with God, should it not be common sense that we begin the search by asking God for His direction and will?  God’s will is our sanctification:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3

It will often be that we grow, that we become more holy, that we are sanctified when we are outside of our comfort zones and when we walk in faith and not by sight.  If we go out looking for a church that is comfortable and that makes us happy, we might be limiting God in the things that He has for us to do and the things which He wants to teach us.  Ask God where He wants you to go to church.  And follow Him.  He might open unfathomable doors.

Step #2:  Get a doctrinal statement.  Most churches are denominationally affiliated and will be able to give you a comprehensive outline of what they believe, point by point.  If the church is not affiliated, and even some who are affiliated, more often than not the elders will have drafted a statement of belief.  This is extremely important, and should be your first consideration after prayer.  If the church cannot verbalize to you, both in writing and in conversation, what they believe – then you are placing yourself in an extremely dangerous situation.  If there is no defined doctrine, then there is no accountability for any teacher, for any Sunday School worker instructing your children, for missionaries on the field, or even for the pastoral staff.  This is how churches are led astray, form rifts, split, and abandon the faith.  If half of the church believes that you have to be baptized to be saved, and the other half believes that baptism is just a symbol, what do you tell the person who just came to faith last week?  If half of your church believes that God is sovereign over evil and the other half believes that God is only reactionary and “fixes” bad things to make good come out of them, how will you walk through a crisis together?  If some believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation and others believe that there could be many roads to salvation, how can you reach out to your community?

You must agree on the foundational doctrines of the faith.  If you do not yet know what you believe, then get a handful of doctrinal statements and read the Scriptures that they quote, line them up against other churches, pray, seek counsel, get some books, invest some time and grow!

When you get a doctrinal statement, examine it and determine if this is a statement to which you can submit.  Chances are high that there might be a secondary or tertiary doctrines over which you might disagree, but one that is not worth causing a fuss over.  For instance, Southern Baptists are notoriously divided over the topic of the rapture:  Will it happen before the tribulation or after?  This is not a primary doctrine because it does not have any bearing on salvation or how the church functions, and while it can be fun to discuss and consider, it does not impact how we minister to the lost or how we function as a body.  I believe that the rapture will come after the tribulation, but I have joyfully set under pastors who believe the opposite.

We are commanded to submit to our leaders in the Church, and they are given authority over us and will give an account to God for our souls, our obedience, and our maturity.  We get to choose them, but they do have a profound Spiritual authority over us once we join the church.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

– Heb 13.17

Step 3:  Examine the fruit of the Church.  God has given us one primary command:  to make disciples of all the nations (Matt 28.28-10).  Is this church making disciples?  Are they reaching out?  Are people coming to faith?  (You can observe this by noting if there are any baptisms happening.)  Are people learning the Scriptures?  How to pray?  Growing closer to God?  Learning to obey and holding one another accountable?  Is the Sunday service intentionally praising and honoring God?

Step 4:  Ask God if this is where He wants you.  And now we start getting into the nitty gritty.  Let me tell you a brief overview of my story.  I started playing the piano and singing in choirs when I was little tiny.  I put in the hours, I loved it.  When I was in the eight grade my church formed a youth band and I was the pianist/keyboardist.  I had to learn to play by ear and by chord charts.  The band played weekly for the youth and quickly began playing for “big church” as well.  In college I studied performance piano, played the piano and sang for the weekly Campus Crusade meetings and also for my church.  Then I moved to Louisville, KY to go to seminary.  There are two realities that became abundantly clear when I began looking for a church in this new city:  1) pianists are a dime a dozen, and 2) there are a lot of good churches out there.  I was tempted to look for a church that needed a pianist, because I play the piano.  That’s what I do.  I also had taught small groups, children’s Sunday School, helped with youth, led mission trips, and all that jazz, but I play the piano.  That was my primary identifier.

Here’s the deal.  God has given us all gifts and unique abilities to serve Him.  Some people play instruments, some people cook food, some people teach, and some people run Vacation Bible School.  The avenues for ministry and serving God are countless.  But when you take your “Spiritual gift test” and put yourself in a silo with the attitude, “This is what I do”, then you limit yourself, you quench the Holy Spirit, you get in a rut and have an inward focus that will not (and can not) grow.  God might want to use you to play the piano, but He might also want to use you to greet and welcome new comers.  He might want to push you and have you teach.  He might want to get you way out of your comfort zone and send you as a missionary!  Many missionaries do not get to go to church.  And when they plant a healthy church, nationals are preaching and playing the piano, not the missionary!

So when you are considering a church, do not say to yourself, “This is what I do, and if I cannot do it here, then I’m out”.

Consider this, also, that with any leadership position, a healthy and wise church will take the time to vet would-be leaders to make sure that they are people who should be in a position of authority and leadership.  I knew a church that would pay non-believers to play on the music team.  This is a travesty and should not be.  Sunday music is first and only about worshiping God.  We should bring our absolute best to lay on the altar of worship, which means we should practice and come with skilled musicianship.  But we do not sacrifice the heart for quality of sound.  People who are on the stage are positioned there to lead the congregation in musical praise to God.  If those people are not praising God, then they most likely will not lead others to praise God.  And if those people do not even know God, then they cannot lead others to praise God.  If a musician is playing for his own glory, we – as a Church – should never allow them on stage.

And the music leader at a church, along with the senior pastor and elders, will need time to get to know you and examine your heart in your desire to play an instrument (or teach a Sunday School, or go on a mission trip, or whatever).  There is a mutual onus here:  You must test the church and its leadership to examine their heart and commitment to God, to worship, to making disciples, and they must test yours.

Step 5:  Die to yourself.  While there are many amazing benefits that we will reap in joining and becoming active in a Church, it is not ultimately about me or you.  It is about glorifying God and making disciples.  Part of discipleship (well, most of discipleship) is training people up.  If you play the piano (or teach Sunday School, or lead the prayer committee), you do best to train up others to take your place.  A disciple-maker works himself out of a job.  He trains people who will go out and train others (2 Tim 2.2).  Now, this is not as easily applied to musicians as to most other places of service within the church, but the heart is one of humility.  Is there someone else who would like to play the piano?  Then let them.  Take turns.  Whatever.  If you have to play the piano (or whatever your niche is), then you are not worshiping God.  You are worshiping yourself.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

Step 6:  Commit.  Once you are confident that the Lord has led you to a church, then commit.  Give it your all.  There will be difficult seasons, times of Spiritual drought, and times of discouragement.  And this is where we, as Americans, crash and fail.  The minute someone hurts our feelings or we do not like something the preacher said, then we go out to find ourselves a new church.  If we do not submit ourselves to leadership, then we will not grow.  Perseverance through the difficult times is what proves us as believers!  Press in, and “be the change that you want to see”.

When does God not hear us?

prayer

You probably read the title of this article and, if you know any of God’s attributes, thought to yourself, “God knows everything, sees everything, hears everything and is in control of everything”.  That is completely true in every way.  But Scripture teaches us that there are times when God does not “hear” our prayers.  This does not mean that God was not present and incapable of hearing, or that something occurred without His knowledge or influence, rather it means that God has chosen not to listen to us or to give credit to our prayers.

“We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.”

– John 9.31

Wait, what?  Did we not learn in Sunday School that God’s love is unconditional and that He will never leave us and never forsake us?  Scripture actually teaches us that there are a variety of reasons that God chooses not to listen to (regard or answer) our prayers.  The man who was born blind and healed by Jesus stood before the Pharisees and the Jews to give an account of his miraculous healing.  He framed his defense of Jesus for healing him on the Sabbath with this teaching from the Law (the Old Testament) that God does not regard the prayers of sinners but only those who do His will.  This is clearly taught in the prophet Isaiah:

“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short
That it cannot save;
Nor is His ear so dull
That it cannot hear.
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.”

– Is 59.1-2

God’s ear is not dull of hearing, but sin can separate us from God’s provision.  The people were still God’s people, they had not lost their status, but their choices to disobey had alienated them from the presence of God.  Repentance was required before they could resume normal relationship with the Lord.

We learn in Jeremiah 11.11-14 that worshiping idols will keep God from listening to our prayers, Isaiah 1.15 says that violence and shedding of blood will close God’s ears, and Jeremiah 14.10-12 says that a general forsaking of God will break that fellowship.  There are all varieties of ignoring God’s Law:

“He who turns away his ear from listening to the law,
Even his prayer is an abomination.”

– Prov 28.9

Apart from blatant disregard for the Law, there are also sins of omission and general life-choices that can distance us from God, like ignoring the poor:

“He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor
Will also cry himself and not be answered.”

– Prov 21.13

And perhaps the most convicting of all is to ignore the calling of God on your life:

“Because I called and you refused,
I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention;
And you neglected all my counsel
And did not want my reproof;
I will also laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when your dread comes,
When your dread comes like a storm
And your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
When distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently but they will not find me,
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the LORD.”

– Prov 1.24-29

God is very clear that coming to Him for salvation requires repentance.  It will not be complete, and it will be a life-long discipline, but if one chooses to refuse to repent and continues in sin, He will not hear his prayer.

Now, you might be tempted to object with the observation that most of these quotes are from the Old Testament and the Old Covenant.  When Jesus died on the cross, he justified us – He paid for every sin that we would ever commit.  He adopted us as sons and daughters, made us family, and promised to never forsake us.  YES!  This is the glorious truth of the New Covenant and the promise of grace.  Nothing you can do is unforgivable.  But the life of the one who has been justified is marked by continual repentance.  We will be known by our fruit.  If we refuse to give up a sin, if we refuse to repent, then we prove ourselves to have not been justified.  That is why we have ominous warnings like that found in Hebrews:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

This is also why Jesus taught us that we cannot have any unresolved conflict in our lives when we come to Church to worship:

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

– Matt 5.23-24

Our prayer, praise, offerings and presence at Church will be fruitless if we have any un-repented sin in our lives.  God will not honor it.  Not only that, but there may be consequences and ramifications for dishonoring God in such a way:

“Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.  But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.  For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.  But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.”

– 1 Cor 11.27-32

Paul taught the Corinthian church that by taking the Lord’s Supper with un-repented sin in their lives, God was disciplining them – some to the point of death!  God takes sin, repentance, and His glory so seriously that He will not excuse it.  Notice here, that this is not condemnation but discipline.  Those who have been forgiven are still the children of God and He is disciplining them by bringing sickness and death for unrepentance, in order to keep them from falling away completely.  God uses discipline:  sickness, persecution and even death to make us holy.

Scripture also teaches that if we choose sin over God continually, that there can come a time when we are unable to repent:

See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.  For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

– Heb 12.15-17

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

– Heb 6.4-6

This is a terrifying situation.  We know that God is sovereign and working out the salvation of all who have believed (Phil 1.6, Phil 2.13), so those who have been justified will not be lost.  He will not forsake us (Heb 13.5), Jesus will not lose any whom God has given to Him (John 6.37-39).  But it is entirely possible for us to come to God with the wrong heart and motives, and to deceive ourselves into thinking that we have been saved when we indeed have not.  That is why John says some will go out from the Church – and in that they will prove that they were never truly saved.

They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

– 1 John 2.19

So what is the take home in all of this?  God does not heed the prayers of the unrepentant.  We know that believers can have a season of unrepentance and sin, but God will draw them back ultimately.  He will not regard their prayers in that time, however.  We also know that people can believe that they are saved by but by living with sin in their lives and choosing not to repent, they prove themselves to not truly be believers.  Peter teaches us plainly that a man who does love His wife as God loves the church will not be heard by God:

You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.  To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.  For,
“THE ONE WHO DESIRES LIFE, TO LOVE AND SEE GOOD DAYS,
MUST KEEP HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING DECEIT.
HE MUST TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD;
HE MUST SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT.
FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS,
AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER,
BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.”

– 1 Peter 3.8-12

If you have come to God for salvation, repent of your sin.  Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any sin in your life and to give you the strength to fight it.  This is the heart that God hears.  This is the prayer that God answers.  And ask in faith, because the one who is blown about by doubt will not be heard either:

But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

– James 1.6-8

If you can repent today, do it!  Walk in union and harmony with God.  Be at peace.  God’s love and forgiveness is indeed conditional:  you will not be forgiven and welcomed into His presence and eternity unless you confess Jesus as your Lord, and let Him reign over your life.

“If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

– Rom 10.9

This does not mean that we will live lives of perfection.  We will all sin, and when we do sin we have an advocate in Jesus (1 John 2.1).  This means that we live lives of repentance.  When you screw up, when you tell a lie, when you steal something, when you cheat on your taxes, do you hear the voice of the Holy Spirit convicting you?  Do you confess what you did as sin, and seek to make restoration for what you did?  Do you repent?  If so, then you can be confident and assured of your salvation because you can see the fruit of the Spirit redeeming you and making you more like Christ.  Ask God to give you a heart of repentance and to recognize sin, and He will perfect in you the work of salvation.

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

You know what assuming does…

assume

We all assume things in our daily lives.  We have an estimate of how long our commute to work will take, we figure that work requirements have remained the same as we go about our daily tasks, we make plans on what and where to eat based on our previous experiences with restaurants or recipes.  We understand scientific laws and expect that gravity will continue to hold us on the ground and that life will make general sense within our given set of variables.  But we have been taught to joke as a culture about the danger of assuming things that are on the fringe of reasonable expectation when it comes to people, because people will not always do what we expect them to do.

Have you ever stopped to consider that God will not always do what we expect Him to do?  And just because He told us to do one thing one time, He may ask us to do it differently next time?  My pastor showed a survey a few weeks ago asking the question, “Which generation turns to the Bible for direction in making decisions?”  The survey shocked everyone when it showed Millennials as the most likely to pull out the Bible looking for answers.  But as I reflected on the fact that the Baby Boomers and older were not very likely to pull out their Bibles, I had to wonder if it was in part because many of them have read the Bible so much that they think they already know the answers?

I have done no research and cannot offer that as a tested reason, but when I consider my own approach to Spirituality, I recognize that there are two types of questions that we ask God:  First, we ask God’s opinion on a matter.  God’s character, morality and promises never change.  They are established, they are set, and they are clearly outlined in Scripture for us to know.

“For I, the LORD, do not change…”

– Mal 3.6a

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

– James 1.17

Is murder wrong?  You can clearly look up the ten commandments in Exodus 20 and read “You shall not murder”.  You can also read Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5-7 and see that Jesus makes the teaching more intense by saying that being angry with someone makes one guilty before God, just as murder (Matt 5.21-22).  This does not change.

Secondly, we ask God for His direction.  In the Bible God has not given us a road map, turn-by-turn, for the life decisions that we are to make.  He intends for us to “abide” in Christ and receive direction for those life decisions by intimacy with Him and seeking His plan and His will.

When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all Israel, all the Philistines went up in search of David; and David heard of it and went out against them.  Now the Philistines had come and made a raid in the valley of Rephaim.  David inquired of God, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? And will You give them into my hand?” Then the LORD said to him, “Go up, for I will give them into your hand.”  So they came up to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there; and David said, “God has broken through my enemies by my hand, like the breakthrough of waters.” Therefore they named that place Baal-perazim.  They abandoned their gods there; so David gave the order and they were burned with fire.  The Philistines made yet another raid in the valley.  David inquired again of God, and God said to him, “You shall not go up after them; circle around behind them and come at them in front of the balsam trees.  It shall be when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then you shall go out to battle, for God will have gone out before you to strike the army of the Philistines.”  David did just as God had commanded him, and they struck down the army of the Philistines from Gibeon even as far as Gezer.  Then the fame of David went out into all the lands; and the LORD brought the fear of him on all the nations.

– 1 Chro 14.8-17

When David became king, he had the promises of Samuel in his heart and mind that God was going to use him mightily and prosper him as king.  The Philistines set out to fight against David and David, even with those promises, turned immediately to God asking for instruction.  “Shall I go up against the Philistines?”  God not only said yes, but gave him battle plans.  Shortly thereafter, the situation repeated itself.  Would you be tempted to just jump in and do the same thing you had done before?  If you had just been through a battle, against the very same people, in the very same spot, would you expect God to bring victory just as he had done before?  I think I would.  But David was wise and chose to ask God for direction and God instructed David with a different battle plan.  The ultimate outcome was the same, but the method was different.

We cannot presume upon God.  He has promised us big picture things:  We will have ultimate victory in the end.  People from every tribe, tongue and nation will hear and believe the Gospel.  Nothing can separate us from His love or cause us to be lost.  But we still need to turn to Him for the battle plan.  Why?  Because God’s primary concern is our sanctification, and our sanctification is achieved through remaining in Him and relying on Him for daily support, instruction, and sustenance.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3a

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

– John 15.4-7

God rarely does the same thing twice.  Just because a certain ministry works in one church, it does not mean that God intends to use it in your church.  Just because you shared the Gospel a certain way one time and someone came to faith, it does not mean that God wants everyone to hear the Gospel the same way.  Just because God miraculously gave you a job through a random move one time, it does not mean that God wants you to move again.  These are morally neutral issues about which we must seek God’s will.  If we attempt to do these things on our own, we will fail or have moderate, fleshly success.  If we seek God in prayer and submission, He will guide us into His perfect path.

God’s primary concern is His glory and our satisfaction through resting in and knowing Him.  He does not need us, He is not served by us, and He will accomplish His plan with or without us.  But it is our blessing and honor to be included in the accomplishment of His will of bringing people to faith from every tribe around the world.  And if we want to be involved, or better yet, if we want to learn and see what God’s will is for our life, we must stop and ask Him.  Just because He led us one direction before does not mean that He will lead us the same way again.  Let us not presume upon God, but let us stop and ask Him what we He wants for us to do, even if we have been in a similar position before!