When You Get Laid Off

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I was recently laid off.  For the past four years I have worked for a non-profit that relied on the generosity of a major donor for our office and warehouse, and the donor could no longer afford to give the space so we had to close down.  This coincided either perfectly or terribly with my first pregnancy – such that our closing day was just days before my due date.  So now I find myself in a brand new life circumstance:  unemployed and a first time mom.  This is extremely unnerving for me.  I have always been a motivated go-getter with a relatively clear “career path” of missions and vision for my life.  But it is exceptionally difficult to job hunt when you are very pregnant and will be in immediate need of maternity leave upon starting a new job, so my maternity leave is unpaid and for the indefinite future.

Did you know that God has a plan, even in seasons of unemployment?  Three fighter verses are good to keep close during such a time:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

– 1 Peter 1.6-9

“For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.”

– Is 64.4

We will be tempted to sin during seasons of unemployment in a variety of ways – namely to the unbelief of impatience and doubt, mingled with envy and bitterness.  These sins are sneaky and can be subtle at times, not showing themselves as gross sins which our friends and accountability partners will quickly notice and point out, but growing slowly in our hearts.  We must be aware of them and count them as dangerous sins which will threaten our joy and peace with God:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

– Gal 5.19-21

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

– Col 3.8

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

God has promised to meet all of our needs.  These needs are the ones He has defined that will sharpen our faith, cause us to rely and depend on Him, bringing Himself the most glory and honor through our refinement (Phil 4.19, Rom 8.28, 1 Peter 1.6-9).  He loves us as His children and He will give us every good and perfect gift (James 1.17).  He will meet our needs as the good Father (Luke 7.11).  He will bless and work for those who wait on Him (Is 64.4).  To not believe these promises is to not know God, and to be headed for an eternity separated from Him in Hell (Rev 21.8).

Therefore, we must be patient and wait on the Lord.  Those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength (Is 40.31).  They will not be put to shame (Is 49.23).  And the very quietness and trust will give us strength (Is 30.15).  We must neither give up nor act out ahead of God’s timing.  We must consult God for every decision and wait on His timing and direction.  We must embrace the circumstances in which He has us and we must move at the pace in which He directs us.  We will thus learn the lessons He is aiming to teach us and will receive the blessings He is aiming to give us.

That may mean He is teaching us to surrender our self-sufficiency and rely on Him.  That may mean He is teaching us to embrace a new role in our lives [like motherhood].  That may mean He is teaching us faith and submission [by depending on a husband to provide while we care for a child].  That may mean He is teaching us to die to our pride by working a job that might not align with our career goals but will provide for our families.  That may mean He is teaching us patience, perseverance and selflessness which are not optional Christian characteristics!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

As we cultivate faith – or as God cultivates faith in us – we will exemplify these attributes.  We will have peace, patience and faithfulness while we wait on God.  We will work and be responsible to care for our families and we will look to Him for direction for our next steps.  We will live well, and we will ultimately be able to die well.  We will know God’s faithfulness.

“Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole with infinite love; and infinite power enables me—to rest upon that love. I am in a dear Father’s hands—all is secure. When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness—and immutability—and truth; and I have the sweetest peace—I cannot have more peace.”

– Charles Simeon

Let not your hearts be troubled.

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Does your heart ever grow troubled?  What types of things lead to those troubles?  The future?  Decisions?  Children?  Security?  Jesus spoke on fear, anxiety and discouragement quite frequently.  His basic logic was:  God is sovereign and in control, so do not worry.  It sounds so simple, yet the vast majority of us still get worried (or concerned) when we find ourselves in transition or need (or want).

Perhaps the most dynamic command to not fear or worry is this command and promise:

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going.”

– John 14.1-4

Fighting sin always begins in the mind.  We have to understand what God defines as sin and submit to His Truth.  Once we recognize what sin is and see it in our lives, we have to confess our sin and begin the process of repenting from it – by the power of the Holy Spirit.  When we are tempted or long to engage in whatever sin is before us, we can and must make a conscious decision to not sin.  Our emotions will be torn, but our minds are our strength.  After we successfully refuse the sin or temptation a few times, our emotions will catch up to the decision that we are making.  Thus we always begin by the “renewing of our minds” (Rom 12.1-2).

It is good discipline to intentionally claim promises of Scripture and to replace sin with a God-honoring activity when we are feeling tempted.  This keeps us from dwelling on the pleasures of sin or the immediate gratification we might seek.  Jesus regularly offered promises and hope along with His instruction to help us along this path.  For instance, “Do not let your heart be troubled” – don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t be anxious.  Instead, remember that we have an eternal home in God’s house and Jesus has prepared the way for us to get there.  He is, indeed, the way.  He utilized the same tactic when confronting fears and anxieties about our daily needs:

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?  And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  And why are you worried about clothing?  Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?  You of little faith!”

– Matt 6.25-30

Jesus uses logic to confront fear and anxiety.  Have you ever been concerned about what you will eat?  Or not having clothing?  And I don’t mean having that dream where you are giving a speech naked.  We truly want for very little, but Jesus promises that God – who feeds the birds and clothes the fields with flowers will feed and clothe us as well.  He loves us and will provide for us in the ways He deems best.

 

What is so interesting about the first command and promise, however, is the fact that Jesus gave this command to not fear during the last supper.  He had already washed the disciples’ feet, He has already sent Judas out to betray Him, He has already predicted Peter’s betrayal and yet while explaining His death and departure He seeks to comfort the disciples.  This command/promise is actually a continual flow of thought from Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s betrayal:

Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me?  Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.  Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me…”

There is no break here.  Jesus is saying, I’m getting ready to die.  Peter says, I want to go wherever you go – I would die for you, and Jesus responds, you won’t even make it through tonight without denying me.  But don’t worry about it, I’ve got your eternity secure with God, just keep believing in God and in Me.

Jesus is just hours away from betrayal and the cross.  In fact, twenty four hours from this very conversation Jesus will be dead – and He knows it – and He is busy comforting the disciples about what is to come.  We see earlier in the chapter that Jesus’ heart was already troubled and in distress because of the coming events, not that He was stressed or worried in the way we get worried, but because He was dreading what was to come (John 13.21).  We can walk in faith and not desire to have to walk through what we are experiencing, as long as we claim the promises and obey throughout the trial.  Jesus obeyed and submitted to the plan of the cross even though He did not want to die on the cross and be separated from God.  He Himself claimed the promises and looked to the end goal when His heart was tempted and hurting.

We must do the same.  Look to the promises.  Are you worrying about the future or eternity?  Jesus has prepared the way for us to spend eternity with God through His death and resurrection.  He has prepared a place for us to live in eternity with God.  Are you worrying about what you will eat or wear?  God knows our needs and will provide for us, in the manner He deems best.  This may mean that we go hungry at times, or that we do not get designer clothing, but it will all work out to our best and to God’s glory (Rom 8.28).  But let us fight those fleshly worries in our minds, and let us also follow the example of Jesus who, even though His own heart was troubled, comforted those around Him.

Here is a great fighter verse for those moments when you are afraid, worried or hurting.  Use this, along with any others you already have to continually transform your mind while you walk in obedience and give our hearts time to catch up.

“When I am afraid,
I will put my trust in You.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I have put my trust;
I shall not be afraid.
What can mere man do to me?”

– Ps 56.3-4

 

Do you primarily love God or trust Him?

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We, as a people, have generally been infatuated with ourselves.  Because we are born naturally loving ourselves and seeking our own best interest (human, sinful nature), often times our perception of love is based on what we can get out of someone else.  Has someone ever asked you to do something or proposed an idea, and you ask “What’s in it for me?”  Do you ever get tired of giving in to other people’s desires and whine, “When is it my turn?”  We even unknowingly seek out a spouse by what he can do or provide for us.  Do you (did you) have a check list of non negotiables?  Must be funny (to make me laugh), must be educated (to stimulate my mind), must have a good job (to be able to take care of me), must be attractive (so I can impress my friends and enjoy looking at him), and the list goes on.

Now, I am not saying that we should choose lazy bums to marry just for the sake of being selfless, but we should intentionally examine our understanding of love.  Are we in it to give or are we in it to get?

As Christians, we can easily fall into the temptation of “loving” God because of His benefits.  Scripture even teaches us that love, fundamentally, is Jesus dying for us.  Right?

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

– 1 John 4.10

The first Bible verse most of us learn is John 3.16:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

And the first church song most of us learn is “Jesus Loves Me”,

“Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.”

And since we have been indoctrinated that God is love, and He loves us, we continue to write similar songs!  “I am a friend of God”, “We are no longer slaves”, etc.  Yes, these things are true – but it is not a worship song to sing about who we are.  It is a worship song to praise God for who He is.  Think about it.

Campus Crusade for Christ has written an evangelistic tool called the “Four Spiritual Laws”, and the first one is, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”.

Yes, it is the most glorious truth in the universe that God loves us and that He gave His son to die in our place so that we can be forgiven of our sins.  But often, instead of recognizing the nature of God’s love: giving of Himself to meet our needs and take care of believers, we just soak it all in.  We think we are the center of the universe and can just absorb all of the good things that He has for us.  Then we are upset, hurt, confused and cranky when things don’t work out the way we hoped, dreamed or planned.  If God loves me, then why?

We need, however, to learn what love is and practice it ourselves.  Jesus was not just a gift, He was an example.  He loved us and because of that love, He sacrificed everything He had in Heaven to live a life of poverty on Earth and died for us.  Therefore, if we love Him in response, we should sacrifice everything that we have and give up our lives for Him!  Now, Jesus may not ask us all to die the death of a martyr, but we all must be willing!  This is why Jesus said,

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

– Matt 16.25

If we are “loving” God because of His benefits and not because of who He is, then we are truly loving our lives and not Him.  We will thus lose our lives, eternally.  Does God make you feel warm and fuzzy?  Are you “claiming His promises” and enjoying His benefits without enjoying Him?  Or are you so overwhelmed by the sacrifice that He made, that you accept the gift and in return surrender your life?

Thus our love must be rooted in trust.  It is not my intention to square love and trust against one another.  When understood correctly, they coincide and compliment one another perfectly.  When we have a skewed perception of love, however, we can learn love more fully if we understand trust.

God is sovereign, and He does have a plan for all of our lives.  He does work everything together for good for those who love Him.  He does love us, and work our sanctification in our lives.  He is intentionally utilizing every life situation in which we find ourselves to mold us into the image of Christ, and that all to His glory and honor.  Because of this fact, our circumstances may often become what we did not want or expect.  God sanctifies us by burning out the impurities:  He is the consuming and purifying fire.  If we expect God to make us happy, then our understanding of love with leave us disappointed and hurt.  But if we expect God to make us holy, then we can have peace in the difficult times.

“You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
Trust in the Lord forever,
For in God, the Lord, is everlasting strength.”

– Is 26.3-4

Trust and love both fundamentally look outward.  God’s love looked at us and broke His heart because of our sin and condemnation.  Our love must look at God in awe and wonder, praising Him for the gift of salvation and surrendering of our lives.  We can learn love more fully by learning to trust.  Trusting always looks outward, it cannot be misconstrued to be about me.  Trusting necessarily means not having control and expecting someone else to have control, and to bring about the best conclusion to a situation.  And it also recognizes that the “best” may not be our desired outcome, but the most God-glorifying outcome which will lead to our maturation and sanctification.

Why do you love God?  How do you love God?  Do you expect God to serve your wants and needs?  Or do you love God by surrendering your life to Him and trusting Him?  Let us learn to love God more by trusting Him today.

Can I really change the world?

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Our cultural quirkiness of individualism has spiraled such that motivational speakers, teachers, coaches, parents and everyone around us has taught us since childhood, “You can be whatever you want to be”, and “You will do great things”.

You can change the world.

Just set your mind to it, practice enough, work hard enough, and you can do anything.  It is interesting to see the ways that this has affected the non-profit world, specifically.  Fifty years ago, people were (by in large) in search of a steady job and the righteous among us would give money to the Church, or missionaries, or relief programs.  Non-profits, activists and world changers were few and far between.  Those that were established were able to grow, over the years, to massive scales – i.e. The American Red Cross, World Vision, etc.  But now, our individualism paired with our ambition has led to the development of countless non-profits and humanitarian workers.  People believe that they can change the world, and they are trying.

This mentality and teaching has crept into the Church, and is slowly poisoning her in her missionary and outreach efforts.  We have been indoctrinated with the belief that we can change the world, we can be anything that we want to be.  I am special.  God wants to do great things through me.  Me.  Me.  Me.  See where I am going here?

God is sovereign.  He is in control of the entire universe.  The whole world.  Everything in it.  He knows the timing of the End, He knows everyone who will be saved, He knows everything that will happen.  And not only does He know it, He planned it.  He wrote the story.  He wrote the back of the book (the Bible), and He can see all of history in it’s completion.  He is not concerned about what you and I think we are going to do for Him.  He does not need us to accomplish His plan.

“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things…”

– Acts 17.24-25

In His sovereignty and in His power, God has called some of us to salvation.  If you believe in God and have a relationship with Jesus, it is because He breathed life into your dead spirit and gave you an affection for Him (Eph 2.1, John 3).  God did not, at that point, say “Ok, now let’s see what you can do, I hope you can change the world”.  God’s first and primary concern is our sanctification:  our being made more like Christ.  He wants us to know Him, to love Him, to obey Him, to trust Him.  It is the Mary and Martha story.  When Jesus came to their house, Martha was busy making food, and serving Jesus with her works.  Mary, on the other hand, was sitting at Jesus’ feet while the housework was neglected.  Martha entreated Jesus to force Mary to help her, and Jesus said that Mary had chosen the good thing, the right thing, to be still in Jesus’ presence rather than to be busy serving Him (Luke 10.38-42).

Jesus did give us many instructions.  Going to the world to make disciples of the world was not only one of those instructions, but perhaps the greatest of those instructions (Matt 28.18-20).  We cannot make disciples who know and love God, however, if we only are busy serving Him and do not know and love Him ourselves.  The greatest calling is to know God, and to love God.  And when we know Him and love Him, it will naturally pour out of our lives and impact the world around us.

If we enter into our Spiritual live and endeavors with the mindset that we want to change the world, we will be disappointed.  Even if you manage to solve the world’s clean water problem such that there is no person left without access to clean drinking water, even if you were to be the person to bring peace to the Middle East, even if you could single handedly end the Syrian crisis and every refugee was adequately cared for, you would be left wanting.  Why?  Because God has created us for more than solving human problems.  He has created us for knowing Him.  And we can get so caught up doing good things, and even serving Him that we never truly know Him.

Be extremely careful not to mistake serving God as knowing God.  
Do not assume that serving God is intimacy with God.  

But at the same time, remember that God has indeed called us to action.  Jesus exemplified the perfect balance.  He regularly went away by Himself to pray.  He sought God, He knew God, He asked God for direction and help.  And in the strength He received from His time with God, He went out and taught the disciples how to know and love God, and He served the world.  His impetus, however, was not to change the world, but to obey God.

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”

 – John 6.38

What does this mean?  What does this look like?  Let us consider international missionary service.  Little Johnny can be raised in a church that has a very strong missionary emphasis.  He learns in school and from American culture that he can be whatever he wants to be, he can change the world.  His parents and teachers have told him, “You are going to do great things Johnny!”  As Johnny grows up, he becomes a Christian and goes on some short term mission trips with his youth group.  He decides to give His life to the missionary service.  He goes to seminary.  He gets married and he moves overseas.  He then starts trying to change the world.  How?  By preaching the gospel to everyone he meets.  But after three years on the field, no one has believed.  Johnny begins to get discouraged.  By the time his first missionary appointment is over, he thinks that he is a failure.  He then starts to doubt God, he doubts his faith, he doubts the calling to make disciples and he goes home, gives up and his dreams are shattered.

But what if little Johnny had spent his time and energy getting to know God and believing that only God can change the world.  Johnny, when He comes to faith, learns to trust God in good times and bad, learns to love and cherish God and walk through difficulties.  He believes and is convicted by God’s commandment to make disciples of all the nations, so he goes to the missionary field with his family.  After three years of faithfully sharing the Gospel, no one has believed.  But Johnny is not discouraged because Johnny knows and loves God.  He finds his strength and encouragement in his relationship with God, not with the product or revenue that he can produce for God.  Instead of giving up after his first term, Johnny returns to the field, obeying the commandment and trusting God to do whatever it is that God intends to do.

Many of us have been on a mission trip and said – either out loud or in our hearts – that if even one person believes it is worth it.  Yes, resoundingly yes, if one person believes because of a mission trip, that trip was worth it.  But God is sovereign over salvation and those who come to Him, and He does not need us to bring about that salvation.  My efforts will save no one.  He wants me to know Him, love Him, trust Him and obey Him.  So what is it that would make a mission trip “worth it” to God?  When the team members know Him, love Him, trust Him, and obey Him.

From the outside it will look the same.  It will be a group of people going out and sharing the Gospel with those who have never heard before.  What is different is the inside.  Are you going in order to do something great for God and change the world?  Or are you going to obey God because you love Him, and waiting for – trusting Him – to change the world?

God has given us the beautiful and glorious blessing to be a part of His plan to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.  But you may or may not see the fruit.  You may or may not receive the glory.  You may or may not realize your role in another’s salvation.  Do you need the validation of seeing the fruit?  Or can you trust God in His direction over your life?

You might change the world.  You might take clean water to every one.  You might end the Syrian crisis.  You might end racism in the United States.  But this will not satisfy, because it is not the ultimate reality for which you have been created.  Jim Carrey soberingly stated:

“I wish everyone could get rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of so they would know that’s not the answer.”

So let us make it our greatest ambition to know God, and obey Him for the simple joy of pleasing our father.  If He chooses to change the world through us, let us point all of the glory back to Him.  If He chooses to place us somewhere to faithfully serve and share and never see the fruit, let us be satisfied, content and full of joy that we know Him, we love Him, and we are serving Him.

“Obey God and leave the consequences to Him.”

 – Charles Stanley

Stanley encourages us to obey God in the midst of opposition.  But consider the opposite side as well:  obey God and let Him change the world, in His time and in His way.  Obey God and leave the results to Him.  Our highest calling is to know and love God.  So get busy about knowing Him today.  Spend time with Him.  Do not just do things for Him.  Find your value and identity in being a child of God, not in what you can do for Him.

Why me?

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If you are alive, you have gone through some sort of crisis in your life.  And chances are high that somewhere during the suffering of this crisis you asked the question, “Why me?”.  I was sixteen years and one week old when I got my driver’s license – as the law in Indiana required.  I drove myself to Cross Country practice, and some of my girlfriends had invited me to come out for the soccer team, so I left the high school (where cross country practice took place) and drove out to the county elementary school (which I had not attended, and to which I had never driven), and I accidentally drove past the school.  I continued driving looking for an optimal place to turn around and eventually I came up to a gas station.  Wanting to turn left on the cross street so that I could turn around in the gas station parking lot, I came to a complete stop.  At the same time a woman had stopped on the cross street to my right.  Remembering from driver’s ed that the car to the right at an intersection has the right of way, I waited for her to go first as we had stopped at the same time.  My street did not have a stop sign, however, and therefore I had the right of way.  She waved me on, and without looking back, I started to turn left.  There was a van coming straight at me, speeding excessively, and she T-boned my huge Ford Taurus, spinning us both and knocking me out briefly.  When I came to, and when I processed what had happened, I immediately started praying, “God, no!”  And then, “God, why me?”  and lastly, “God, why didn’t you let me die?!”  You see, my father had promised that if I ever wrecked his car, that I would not drive again until I was 18 or until I had bought my own car.  And this happened the very first day that I had my driver’s license.  And my father was a very strict man.  I would have preferred to go home to Heaven then to suffer the consequences of my mistake.

Now, looking back on everything, it was a minor thing – even though my family still gives me a hard time.  (I am now fifteen years accident free, thank you very much!)  But in the moment, my world had come to an end.  I despaired of life.  And I spent many years paying off that mistake.

The tragedy of the “Why me?” question.

Having the immediate response asking “Why me” to tragedy, to a mistake, to anything is detrimental to our souls.  It is a black hole into which our culture is being sucked – or is willfully pursuing – that will destroy us.  Why?  Because at it’s core is pride and a false understanding of reality.  At the core it says, I am a good person and I do not deserve this.  It elevates self, it looks past everyone else, and it fosters entitlement.

In this world there will be suffering for everyone.  Even if you are born as royalty and your every whim is catered, there will come a day when a parent or friend dies.  There will come a day when something does not go how you planned it, or wanted it. You will fall down, you will wreck your daddy’s car, you will break something.  The entire religious system called Buddhism is built on the statement and belief that “All of life is suffering”, and the goal of the religion is to remove one’s self from bondage to this world and therefore escape suffering.

The Bible teaches us that life on earth is vanity, marked by suffering, and chasing after the wind:

“I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.”

– Ecc 1.14

If you do not know from your own experience that there is suffering in this life, then come back once you have realized it, I will not spend any more time trying to convince you that there is.

But what about entitlement and our response to suffering?  Our culture wants to believe and tries to convince us that “You deserve to be happy“.  We continue to make and upgrade products that make our lives easier.  We have convinced ourselves that education will enlighten us and elevate us and give us the opportunity to work the job that we want in order to make lots of money, change the world, and be happy.  But as soon as we graduate college we realize that there are few jobs out there and that everyone has the same education, so now we are highly educated self-declared elitists who are unwilling to work for our success, and become depressed when life is hard and we have to work a job that we hate.  I want to be unique, I want to be creative, I want to change the world, and I want to get rich doing it.  But then it does not happen and we bemoan our existence shaking our hands at God, or the universe, or society and say, “Why me?”.  I don’t deserve this.  I did everything right.

But when we come to faith in Jesus Christ, and when we allow the Bible to be the authority over our lives, we realize that this worldview is deeply flawed.  Jesus promised us that in this world there would be much suffering, and He was our forerunner and example of how to endure suffering:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

– John 16.33

And not only is there suffering promised just by the very nature of being alive, but Jesus promised us that the world would hate us because it hated Him first, and that we would suffer persecution because of His name.

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

– John 15.18-20

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

– 2 Tim 3.12

We need to first and foremost change our mindset.  We will encounter suffering, and if we want to be like Jesus, if we want to be saved, we are guaranteed that the world will hate us and persecute us.  Do we deserve to be happy?  Nope, not by the world’s standards.  But God will use our suffering to make us holy.  If we have this mindset when we enter into a trial, we will no longer ask, “Why me?”, but we will seek the Lord’s direction through it.  Scripture teaches us that we actually find favor with God when we suffer unjustly and handle it well:

For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

– 1 Peter 2.19-24

We were actually called to suffer.  We are not so intrinsically good and pure that we should be kept from suffering.  God uses suffering to test us, to refine us, and to make us holy (Rom 5, James 1).  So if you are walking through a trial today, instead of getting defensive, instead of questioning God, turn to Him and rejoice.  Trust Him.  Follow Him through the trial.  Ask Him what His plan is, ask Him for the strength to suffer well and follow the example of Jesus.  Praise Him that He is refining your faith and giving you an opportunity to grow.  Stop asking, “Why me”, and start asking, “How can I glorify you through this?”

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity…

– 1 Tim 1.8-9

Does God care about dreams?

Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.

It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

– Ps 127.1-2

The summer of 2001, my sister and I went on a month-long trip to Guatemala.  Because of the malaria risk there, it was recommended that we take an antimalarial medication and the entire group was prescribed with a once-a-week pill.  Unfortunately, our pharmacist mislabeled the bottle to read “Take once daily until completed”.  Unknowingly, my sister and I overdosed on our malaria medication by seven times the prescribed amount.  After only a few days, we were both terribly sick and bedridden, exhibiting symptoms of malaria.  We did not realize immediately that it was the medication causing our illness so we continued to take it for a while, but upon realization of the mistake, we stopped taking it.  It took a few days to recover, and my sister even had a relapse of the illness while we were in Guatemala.

One of the symptoms of malaria is vivid dreams and hallucinations.  I have been able to remember my dreams for most of my life, but during that stint they became extremely dynamic, such that I would wake up not sure if what I had dreamed was reality.  Now, I am no doctor and I do not know, medically, if that is a symptom that would be long lasting, but ever since that summer my dreams have maintained intensity and vividness.  Sometimes they are pleasant story lines, sometimes they are random memories, I have had occasional dreams in which I wrestle with demons and many in which life circumstances take a turn to which I do not know how to respond Biblically.

For years I have just accepted and rolled with my dreams.  I have, at times, had to call people when I wake up to make sure that they are all right.  I have also had to check my attitude towards friends or situations because what I remember did not actually happen.  Many of my close friends laugh at me and grieve with me at the absurdity that can be my dreams.

But my mentor pointed out this Psalm to me a few weeks ago:  God blesses his Children, even in their sleep.

Now, this could be interpreted many different ways.  Have you ever thought about how strange it is that God created creatures who have to go unconscious for one third of their existence?  Wouldn’t we be more productive, intentional and useful if we did not have to sleep?  I think (I have no Biblical foundation on which to build this, it is just my thought) that God created us as weak beings that need to sleep to help us realize our finitude and dependence upon Him.  I have not seen a Scriptural logic that explains our need for sleep or why God created us thus.  However!  We all know how wonderful it is to sleep and wake up rested, or take a nap on a rainy afternoon.  This passage could mean that God blesses us by giving us sleep.

It could also mean that God so deeply penetrates our being that we are influenced by, aware of and blessed by him in our subconscious – even when we sleep and/or dream.  There are multiple examples of God speaking to His people through dreams in the Bible, and daily accounts are coming in from around the world of people seeing visions and seeking out Christians because of a dream or vision.

I believe both to be true.  God is present in and affecting our subconscious.  He is purposeful about everything in life!  And I do think that the very refreshing nature of sleep is a blessing, too.  But my mentor pointed out the simple fact to me that since God is interested in our subconscious, he blesses us in our sleep, that we can surrender our dreams to Him.  Hey may allow unpleasant dreams to continue so as to build dependence on Him, the way He did not free Paul of his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor 12.8-10).  Or he may free us from unpleasant thoughts/oppressions/dispositions as He is the great physician (John 5.1-9).

Whatever your need is, do not think it too silly to bring before God.  He cares about our dreams.  And blesses us, even while we sleep.

To ruin a prayer, or to not ruin a prayer.

Prayer.  Do you struggle with it?  I do.  I am coming to believe that people experience their relationship with the Lord in such different ways according to their dispositions, personalities and learning styles, among many things.  I am a thinker, right brained, logical, black & white kind of person.  Therefore I love to read, study, meditate and bask in the Truths of Scripture and often find my encouragement there.  I do enjoy music, as well, and often find sweet times with the Lord at the piano.  But to just sit down and pray?  That is hard for me.

I have heard much teaching on the Spiritual discipline over the years, and there are many confusing verses and teachings on prayer in Scripture:

“You do not have because you do not ask.”

– James 4.2

Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”

– John 14.13-14

“The effective prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

– James 5.16

“You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

– James 4.3

These teachings of Jesus and the Apostles as so strong and clear.  Pursue God, pursue His will and His plan and ask according to His purposes and whatever we ask, with the right motives, will be granted unto us.

Easy enough?

Well how do I know my motives?  How do I know if I have found God’s will and plan?  I wrote a few months ago about understanding the will of God.  He has revealed certain aspects about his will:  “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess 4.3).  And he tells us that the one who is not conformed to the world is able to discern the will of God, “that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12.2).

OK.  So we know that if we are walking in the ways of the Lord and praying according to His plan and will, that whatever we ask will be granted.  In Christianese people often close out their prayer with a qualifying statement along these lines, “We ask all of these things, but your will be done” or “If it would please you, let these things be done”.  I pray that a lot, because I rarely trust my heart and my motives.  And probably too there is a level of disbelief and not wanting to put God on the spot.  I have heard many people say that that ruins a prayer, it makes it impersonal, it takes the power out of prayer because we are not asking in faith.  But this week I was reflecting on Jesus’ final prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was crucified:

“And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’  He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.’  Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.  And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.”

– Matt 26.39, 42-44

If there was ever a person on the face of the Earth who knew the will of the Father, it was Jesus Christ.  And look at how He prayed.  He poured out His heart, and then He surrendered His desires and said “Whatever you want”.  This does not ruin a prayer.  Jesus knew how to pray.  He is our key example of prayer.  Trusting in the sovereignty of God, in His perfect plan, in his established path for our lives does not ruin a prayer, it builds faith.  Even the Lord’s prayer, when he was teaching the disciples how to pray, Jesus said “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” (Matt 6.10).

I do not have some great, deep insight into prayer for you today.  I did just read a great book on prayer by Paul Miller called “The Praying Life”, and I highly recommend it.  I reflected a bit on prayer last month here as well.

I have just been reflecting today on the fact that God wants our trust and our submission.  Trying to pray the perfect prayer, hone our intentionality so as to be so attuned to His will that our prayers never fail, or giving up on prayer because we are inadequate are all flawed approaches to our interaction with our Heavenly Father.  Maintaining a relationship with Him through open and honest communication is important, while understanding that His will is perfect and at times is above our own – it was even above Jesus’ – so being able to say “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done” is a good place to be.