Mop Up

God and I went out to dinner together recently. If you’d happened by, you would have seen me sitting at a table for one. You probably would not have seen God, but He was there. Trust me on that.

Earlier that day, a friend mentioned off-handedly that God delighted in me. I must have hesitated at her unexpected comment, because she challenged me: “Ask Him! I dare you!” So that’s what spurred my little dinner date with God.

As I waited for my meal to arrive, I wrote in my journal. “So do You delight in me, God? Will You tell me in a way I can know?”

I noticed there were a lot of children in the restaurant—more than I’d seen there on previous visits. I didn’t think much of it, but tried just to focus on hearing what God might want to say to me.

My thoughts drifted to different Scriptures. Your Father in heaven gives good gifts! (Matthew 7:11). You are called, chosen, adopted, blessed, redeemed, forgiven (Ephesians 1:3-7).

You do not have to earn or merit My delight and blessing, I sensed God whispering in my spirit. But I wasn’t confident in what I was hearing. I mumbled something to God about my lackluster performance at something or other earlier that day.

I’m not obsessed with your performance, I thought I heard Him say in response.

“You’re not!?” I sputtered in surprise. I should definitely know better by now, but sometimes I still assume that God is watching me with a critical eye, waiting to see how well I am towing the line. “What, then?”

I’m watching you just to see how you are. I love to see what you are doing, what you bring to different situations.

Just then, I heard a crash of hard plastic and a whooshing mini tidal wave. A little girl had dropped a gigantic glass of soft drink. Coke went everywhere. The child—no more than three years old—froze while her parents sprang into action.

The dad found a bus boy to clean up the mess. The mom bent down and looked her daughter in the eye. “You need to say you’re sorry to the man who is going to mop this up.” The little girl looked scared. But when the teenaged employee came with his mop and bucket, she obeyed.

“I’m sorry,” came her timid little voice.

The bus boy looked at the girl with a huge grin. “It’s not kids’ night if we don’t have at least two mop-ups,” he said warmly. His kind response put everyone at ease, me included. To my surprise, I teared up, even. I realized that God really was there—where else do you find grace, mercy, and unconditional acceptance?

“What would it be like for me to go through life without worrying about my performance all the time, Father? I’m so intent on getting things right that I often miss Your smile.”

You’d experience freedom. You’d be able to sense my delight.

I knew He was right. But before I could respond, He continued.

The way I see it, if we don’t have at least two mop-ups, it’s not humans’ night.

I started to giggle, but suppressed it. After all, the others in the restaurant probably wouldn’t have understood. But I knew what God meant. And I realized in that moment that He truly does delight in me. He’d answered my prayer and showed me in a way I could know.

 

 

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Got Questions?

Have you noticed how fashionable doubting is these days? Our culture values cynicism.  We’re made doubting and questioning an art form. We’ve elevated skepticism to new heights.

But I’m hardly one to criticize. I’m don’t exactly accept things at face value, either. I’m not proud of this, it just is.

I am pretty sure I would not have been one of the ones of whose faith would amaze Jesus. I probably wouldn’t have heard Him say, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matthew 8:10). He’d be more likely to say to me the same thing He said to Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

I used to be reluctant to admit my doubts and questions. I thought they sounded irreverent and I was afraid of offending God. But I couldn’t help noticing how doubt-filled some of the Bible heroes were. Have you ever noticed how many of the saints struggled to make sense of their lives and how God operates in the world?

Consider just a few of the many biblical examples:

Job—“Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy?” (13:24). “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” (21:7).

David—“Why do You stand afar off, O LORD? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). “Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they?” (Psalm 13:1).

The Sons of Korah—“O LORD, why do You reject my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14)

Jeremiah—“Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (12:1). “Why do You forget us forever? Why do You forsake us so long?” (Lamentations 5:20).

Habakkuk—“How long, O LORD, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save” (1:2). “Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they?” (1:13).

From these Scriptures and many others, God is showing me what to do with my questions—and what not to do with them.

I need to speak up. God sees my heart. Whether I talk to Him about my questions or not, He is aware of them. When I try to hide them, when I try to fake that everything’s perfectly fine, thank You, I effectively shut Him out and I also run the risk of heart hardening. But when I bring my questions to Him with frankness and respect, He listens. He allowed Thomas to ask questions. He permitted the prophets, psalmists, and patriarchs to express doubts—and He allows me that same mercy. And what’s really cool is, as I bring my doubts into the light of His presence, often He meets me there and helps me to see things from His perspective. He gives me understanding that melts doubt and leads to trust. So I am learning to speak up—as long as I’m speaking to God and not to people. Which brings me to the other thing He’s showing me about questions.

I need to keep quiet. It is right to talk to God about my doubts. But it is wrong to poison other people with them. Doubt is contagious. Remember the 10 faithless spies in Numbers 13? Or in our own day, have you ever seen Christians flaunt their doubts publicly? They don’t just hurt themselves—they take others down with them! Asaph, a worship leader in David’s day, recognized the danger of broadcasting his doubts. Like many of us, Asaph saw how evil people seemed to thrive while righteous people suffered. But rather than post his doubts on the Internet or write a best-selling book about them, he kept quiet. “If I had spoken out like that,” he said, “I would have betrayed your children” (Psalm 73:15). Asaph took his questions to God—and God alone—and God gave him a new perspective that built his faith.

If you, like me, sometimes have questions about what God is doing in the world or in your life or with your prayers or with the people you love, don’t stuff them—but don’t spread them around like gangrene, either. Take them to God. Pour out your heart to Him and let Him answer you like He did Thomas and Asaph, and a host of others who dared to speak up and ask God.

 

A Battle of Cosmic Proportions

I have “regulars” on my prayer list. Do any of these people show up on yours?

  • A woman questioning the foundations of her faith.
  • A teenager who walked away from faith altogether.
  • A young adult with damaged ideas about life.
  • A man struggling with sexual identity.
  • Several men and women overwhelmed by depression.
  • A young adult with an addiction.
  • A Christian leader crippled by discouragement.

I pray for these people regularly, asking God to deliver, heal, reveal truth, uplift, set free, convict—whatever it seems they need. But recently, when I was praying for one of these individuals I believe God challenged me to a bigger-picture way of praying.

Every one of these people is under the enemy’s attack, I think He whispered. You need to intercede at the root of the problem—the source.

Right away, a familiar passage from 2 Corinthians 10 came to mind:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (3-5)

At the root of each of these people’s struggles is a strategy of the enemy’s: a stronghold, argument, or pretension that sets itself up against knowing God for who He really is. The enemy uses these lies and strategies to try to get people’s eyes off Jesus and the life, peace, and purpose that He offers. Although my list may only have a dozen or so names on it, the enemy uses these lies and strategies against tens of thousands of people.

So what if I were to pray for the individuals on my list, but also to pray concerning the enemy’s schemes? I’ve been trying that. My prayers go something like this:

I pray for the person who has walked away from faith, but then I remind Satan that no one can snatch God’s sheep from His hand (John 10:28-29) and I remind Jesus that He is a good shepherd who leaves the 99 to go after just one straying lamb (Matthew 18:12). I ask Him to do that for everyone who has strayed from the fold.

I pray for the man struggling with sexual identity, but then I remind Satan that God created male and female, and in the image of God He created them (Genesis 1:27). I ask God to restore His imago dei  to everyone struggling with identity issues so that they can live freely in who He made them to be.

I pray for the Christian leader struggling with discouragement, then I let Satan know that I am not unaware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). I know that he tries to defeat the saints by wearing them down (Daniel 7:25). But I remind him that God is greater. The joy of the Lord is their strength (Nehemiah 8:10). He renews the strength of those who wait on Him so that they can mount up with wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:29-31). I ask God to encourage and fortify every Christian leader who is discouraged.

God is reminding me that this battle we’re in is not merely an individual one, though individuals are certainly involved. Our battle is on a cosmic level—Satan against Jesus Christ and everyone who bears His name. Could it be that as we pray for one struggling soul, our prayers can have more effect in the heavenly places than we know?

 

 

Building amidst Opposition

I’m no construction worker, but if I were, I would rather not pour concrete or lay bricks during a tornado. If I’m building, I want to do it on warm, dry, sunny days. I feel the same way about building God’s kingdom. I’d rather do that on sunny days as well.

But we don’t always get to choose our building conditions. God showed me this in Nehemiah 4 where I was reading a few weeks ago.

As you may recall, Nehemiah was the project manager, as it were, for the daunting task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall. The Babylonians had razed the city in 586 B.C. but at this point, 142 years later, God put it on Nehemiah’s heart to rebuild.

Despite very clear indications of God’s provision and favor, however, Nehemiah and his co-laborers still faced fierce opposition. One enemy in particular, a guy named Sanballat, was relentless in his taunts, insults, lies, threats, and schemes. “What are those feeble Jews doing?” he mocked. “Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” (Nehemiah 4:2).

But Nehemiah refused to let Sanballat’s vicious words demoralize him. “Hear us, our God,” he prayed, “for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders” (4:4-5).

Although the people continued to work “with all their heart,” God did not take away the opposition. On the contrary—it seemed to intensify. Understandably, the people became fearful, weary, and discouraged.

So what did Nehemiah do? Did he let the tired ones rest and the fearful ones take shelter? That might be what I would have done, but not Nehemiah.

Nehemiah prayed, obviously. Nehemiah’s nothing if not a prayer warrior. But he didn’t just sit idly by, waiting for God to intervene. Rather, Nehemiah redoubled the effort. He stationed groups of armed people along every portion of the wall. He commanded them to work with one hand and to wield a weapon in the other. The work must not stop, no matter how fearsome the opposition. There was too much at stake!

“Don’t be afraid of them,” he urged the people. “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes” (4:14).

The applications to us are clear. We, too, are involved in a great building project: we’re called to build the kingdom of God. But we, also, face formidable opposition: the enemy hates God’s kingdom and doesn’t want it to advance. So what do we do?

Nehemiah gives us a good strategy:

  • Remember the great and awesome Lord!
  • Build with one hand,
  • defend with the other.
  • Remind one another of what’s at stake,
  • and fight for our families, our sons and daughters.

You know, I’d prefer to either build or defend. I really don’t want to do both. I imagine you may feel the same way. But that strategy simply isn’t effective in times of great spiritual opposition. So, I’ll encourage you and you encourage me to keep on building and keep on defending so the kingdom of God can keep on advancing.