Quit Praying!

I’m taking a short vacation from blogging. During this time I’d like to share with you some posts from other people who had interesting and challenging things to say. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. This one comes from Mark Batterson.

One of the defining moments in my prayer life happened a decade ago. I was in a small group with a friend who worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Georgetown University. Jeremy was working on a shoestring budget, and their campus ministry needed a computer. He shared the request at the end of our meeting, and I agreed to pray for it, but when I started praying for it, I felt that the Lord wanted me to stop praying. It was like the Holy Spirit said, “Why are you asking Me? You’re the one with the extra computer!” I quit praying in mid-sentence. I told Jeremy we didn’t need to pray about it because I had an extra computer he could have. (Read the entire post at http://www.faithgateway.com/quit-praying?utm_source=fgtoday&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=fgtoday20160730&spMailingID=51946907&spUserID=MTU2NzY5NTA3MTkwS0&spJobID=964268361&spReportId=OTY0MjY4MzYxS0#.V7mwbPkrLIU.)

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Losing Jesus

I’m taking a short vacation from blogging. During this time I’d like to share with you some posts from other people who had interesting and challenging things to say. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. This one comes from a friend, Leura Jones.

I’ve had words spinning in my head for several weeks, thoughts on summer ending and school starting that I thought I needed to put out there and share with my tiny part of the world. I even got most of it written down, just yesterday.

And then today happened. I got a good, stiff slap-in-the-face. I needed it. Thank you, God, I needed it. It came in the form of a message spoken by a man named Jossy Chacko. If you haven’t heard of him, google him and the work he’s doing in India. His message was that we’ve lost Jesus. The church in the United States, in particular, has lost Jesus. He said we’ve lost our focus, our sense of mission. Like Mary and Joseph traveling home from Jerusalem at the end of Luke 2, we’ve gotten distracted by all that encumbers us and we’ve taken our eyes off Jesus, losing Him in the crowd.

(You can read the rest of Leura’s post at: http://turaleura.blogspot.com/2016_08_14_archive.html#3745691219169317991.)

What and How, Not Why?

I can think of better ways to cap a Fourth of July celebration than doing a face plant in a downtown parking lot. However, a face plant is what I did.

It was night. About 90,000 people (real numbers—that’s what the TV reporter said!)  and I were headed to cars after the fireworks show.  I tripped off a curb into a storm drain, and landed on my face. At first I didn’t know if it was gravel in my mouth or teeth. It turned out to be teeth. Mine. Two of  ‘em, shattered into smithereens.

Later that week, after spending many hours and a much of money at the dentist (with follow up scheduled for still more dental work) a friend told me that she was struggling on my behalf. God could have prevented my accident. Why had He allowed it to happen? she wondered.

Now that’s a valid question. I wasn’t surprised by it because it’s one I’ve asked God many times about other hard things that have happened in my life. What surprised me was that the question hadn’t even crossed my mind this time. Why not?

As I thought about it, I realized to my amazement that my primary emotion regarding the accident and its aftermath had been gratitude. Thank You God that I was with friends when this happened! Thank You Lord that my jaw wasn’t dislocated, and no bones were broken. Thank You Father that I have dental insurance to help with some of the cost. Thank You Jesus that the damage to my face is far less than it could have been. Thank You that I didn’t get a concussion. Thank You God that friends care about me. Thank You that I have soft foods to eat.

And then the biggest thank You of all: Thank You, God, for proving to me that You are with me even in the middle of hard and scary things. Thank You for showing me that I can trust You to take care of me, even in the hard stuff I never could have planned for.

Background: the future sometimes seems scary. It’s a common feeling many of us widows share, especially if we don’t have our peeps nearby. God reminds me over and over in His Word that He will be with me in the future, come what may. But my inexplicable gratitude in the midst of this accident (I take no credit for it at all—it’s was the Holy Spirit, trust me!)—classifies as a near miracle.

I pondered some more and recalled the good advice a friend had given me years earlier: Instead of asking God “Why?” he suggested, try asking Him, “What are You doing in this and how do You want me to respond?” I’ve tried to practice that advice over the years. I certainly don’t do it every time, but apparently it is becoming more of an instinct. (Yay, God! Thanks for continuing to do Your good work in me!)

On this occasion, I don’t actually remember specifically asking those questions. Still, I had a clear impression of what God’s presence and purpose in this hard thing. It’s like He was saying, I want you to see that I am with you no matter what. There’s a lot to be grateful here—focus on that. See all the ways I am with you? Can you start to trust that I’ll be with you in the future, too?

And I did! And instead of feeling mistreated or abandoned, I felt loved and cared for. Instead of feeling afraid, I felt faith rise up. And even some joy!

I still don’t know why God allowed the accident to happen. But I’m glad He helped me see what He was doing and how I could be with Him in it. And that might even be better than knowing why!

 

Unpredictable

I generally demonstrate a decent amount of common sense. I often think in fairly logical ways. And I kind of like that. I like being logical and using common sense. It seems smart. Safe. Comfortable.

But the other day God threw me for a loop. When you ask for the “mind of Christ,” [1 Corinthians 2:16] exactly what do you think you are actually asking for?

I pondered His question. I thought about how wise and quick-witted Jesus was. But I also thought about the many times He defied “common sense” and “logic.” Often it seems that the only thing you could predict about Him was His unpredictability.

He touched people with contagious diseases (Matthew 8:1-3).

He commanded His disciples not to take provisions for their journey (Luke 10:4).

He chose as His apprentices men whom most people considered to be losers (Acts 4:13).

He insisted that we have to die in order to live (Matthew 16:25).

He offended important people—and didn’t even seem concerned about it (Matthew 15:12-13).

He preferred the company of prostitutes and crooks to that of important religious people (Matthew 11:19).

He rebuked His devoted friend for sticking up for Him—twice! (Matthew 16:23; John 18:10-11)

So why, when I ask God for the mind of Christ, do I expect that He will make me smart in primarily respectable, prudent, polite, and understandable, ways? Even Jesus’s own family thought He was “out of His mind” (Mark 3:21). Is that the “mind of Christ” I’m signing up for?

Apparently yes.

As you can imagine, I’ve had some interesting conversations with God about this. He has messed with my rational, logical, efficient, common sense thoughts: thoughts about stewardship (see last week’s post), voting (I can’t say anything more—at least not in this crazy election year) talking to strangers, handling interruptions, responding to social invitations, dealing with work situations, accepting criticism.

I’m paying more attention these days to my gut reactions, intuition, emotions, and wild ideas. Not that I run with every one—that’d be crazy! But I’m realizing that ignoring them (as I usually do) might be just as crazy. So I’m trying to take those “less logical” thoughts and feelings and ask God about them. Is that You, God? Are You wanting me to notice something here? Or to act in an out-of the-box way? Then speak, because I’m listening!

So far, it’s promising to be an interesting ride. But why did I ever think having the mind of Christ would be predictable?

 

Joy in the Midst of Obeying

Last week I had an argument with God. (Spoiler alert: He won.)

It took place in the Walmart parking lot, and it had to do with how I responded to the guy who was asking for money for a teen outreach. I didn’t put anything in his donation bucket. I wasn’t convinced it would be good stewardship. I didn’t know his group. It wasn’t ECFA approved. They’d probably spend my donation on junk food or administrative costs.

As I walked to my car, the Holy Spirit nudged me. It was more like a shove, actually.

That young man loves Jesus. But he’s discouraged. Did you see it on his face?

“Well, yes, now that You mention it, I guess he did look discouraged.”

There’s more than one way to think about stewardship. You don’t know that young man’s story . . . the risk he’s taking to stand on the curb outside Walmart and ask people to support a ministry that has changed his life and that he prays will change the lives of others.  Your gift—even if it were used entirely to buy Coke and Hostess cupcakes—would encourage that man and let him see that he is not alone, that I see him. He needs to know that I am with him, that his love for Me and His faith and obedience matter.

I saw the Lord’s point. But I didn’t really want to do donate. It wasn’t about the money. It was about my pride. I felt foolish going back there after turning him down the first time. So I suggested that perhaps I would do something about it the next time. Would that be okay?

I could tell from His silence that I’d not given Him the answer He was looking for. So I asked Him how much, got that amount from my wallet, and went back. As I approached the table again, the young man looked wary. I smiled at him and said simply, “I changed my mind.” Then his face broke into a surprised grin. Our eyes met, and in that moment, I felt joy. I felt deeply connected to the Father and also to this brother in Christ.

***

The next day, I was reading in John 15. Verse 10 jumped out at me: “When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (NLT).

Something jumped out that I’d never seen before. Previously, I’d thought of that verse in cause and effect terms: If you clean your room, then you can go play. If you finish your peas, then you can have dessert. If you obey my commandments, then you will experience God’s love.

But what I saw this time gave me new perspective. The remaining in love, the joy, comes as I am obeying. In the midst of doing the kinds of things that Jesus does and wants me to do with Him. It’s not obey first, then experience love, joy, peace, and all God’s good stuff—it’s obey and while I’m obeying, He’s right there with me, filling me with all His that He is.

I like that. I hope that next time, instead of arguing, I’ll jump right in there and receive His command as an invitation to share—and experience—His love and joy. That’s a whole lot better than wrestling with Him in a Walmart parking lot.