Shaggy mule at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Before you ask, make sure you want an answer

Have you ever asked a question you didn’t want to know the answer to? I think we all have at some point or another. I know I’ve certainly gotten answers I didn’t want to hear, and when someone tells me something I don’t want to know, I usually react the same way: denial. If it’s an answer I don’t want to hear, I deny its truth. I try to come up with another explanation. Or I ignore it altogether.

And I suppose asking more questions about an answer you don’t like from a boss or a friend or a family member is a good idea. It’s always a good idea to look for the truth, and you can’t always trust that another person is going to tell you the truth. But I’ve learned over the years that if God answers in a way you don’t want, denying it doesn’t help you.

Shaggy mule at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Shaggy mule at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 95:7-8.

For he is our God.
We are the people he watches over,
    the flock under his care.
If only you would listen to his voice today!
The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah,
     as they did at Massah in the wilderness.

God wants us to search for Him. He wants us to reach out in the darkness and find Him, like Paul talks about in his message on Mars Hill in Acts 17 (we just finished up a series about it at church), and He always answers. Not always immediately in a way we can discern, but He always answers. The trouble is, do you want an answer? I think that’s the question we all need to settle before we start seeking Him. It’s easy to search. In fact, it’s expected in our culture now. Everyone searches for something, but some people find their identity in the search instead of in the answers they get.

I know people who are perfectly content to search for God for the rest of their lives, and I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with that. But they’re making it way too difficult. God isn’t hard to find. He’s plainer than the noses on our faces, but He’s not popular. He’s not politically correct. And He answers our questions in a way that makes us realize how much we need Him, and that’s a hard pill to swallow if you want to live life on your own terms.

So ask yourself before you ask Him if you really want an answer. I’ve asked questions out of duty before and ignored the answers because I didn’t like them. Not only was it a waste of time for the person I was asking, I didn’t learn anything. True, later on I wished I’d paid attention, but that’s often how it goes. If you spurn wisdom when you hear it, you won’t have it when you need it.

God’s answers will probably upset you. Just prepare yourself for that because many times we want our own way. We don’t want to submit to His, and we have this idea that if God is good, He’ll let us do what we want. But it doesn’t work that way. It never has, and you don’t have to believe in God or follow Christ to understand that’s not how wisdom works. If you’re honest with yourself, you already know that.

God wants to talk to you. He wants to have a relationship with you. He loves you more than you can imagine, and He wants the best for you. He knows what’s best for you. But we are all like stubborn, willful children who throw tantrums when we don’t get our way, but God is a good parent and doesn’t give in. And we have to learn to accept His answers the first time He gives them to us. Why? Because it will save us a lot of heartache in the long run.

God doesn’t answer us in ways that make us unhappy to deprive us of our fun. He’s not trying to squash us or prevent us from living our lives. He’s trying to bless us. He’s trying to give us a better life than we can ever earn on our own, the kind of life where you have no regrets. Because if you twist off on your own, believe me, you’ll have regrets. And there’s nothing more poisonous to a happy life than regrets.

Do you want God’s answers? Are you willing to listen to what He has to say, even if it isn’t what you want? It’s your choice, but you need to get it settled in your heart before you ask. You need to check your attitude. Sometimes I forget and when God tells me something I don’t want to hear, I block it out, only to get down the road a day or so and wish I’d listened.

He knows what He’s talking about, and He’s worth listening to. Don’t shut Him out, and don’t harden your heart to Him. He wants the best for all of us, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.



Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

God listens better than we give Him credit

Sometimes it feels like God doesn’t listen. I know He does, but what I know and what I feel isn’t always the same. And I’ve been around long enough to trust what I know more than what I feel, but sometimes life gets to a certain point where you just can’t help it. You feel like a nail that’s being pounded into unforgiving wood by a sledgehammer that does more to bend it than drive it in. And no matter how much you ask for mercy, more trouble keeps coming.

In those moments, it’s easy to think that God doesn’t care. It’s easy to believe that He’s not listening. Otherwise, if He cared, if He listened, why would He let so much bad happen in our lives? I don’t believe that God brings bad things to us; the evil in our lives can either be attributed to our broken world or consequences of our own actions. But it’s still difficult to face sometimes because we want God to make it all go away.

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 138.

I give you thanks, O Lord, with all my heart;
    I will sing your praises before the gods.
I bow before your holy Temple as I worship.
    I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness;
for your promises are backed
    by all the honor of your name.
As soon as I pray, you answer me;
    you encourage me by giving me strength.

Every king in all the earth will thank you, Lord,
    for all of them will hear your words.
Yes, they will sing about the Lord’s ways,
    for the glory of the Lord is very great.
Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
    but he keeps his distance from the proud.

Though I am surrounded by troubles,
    you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
    and the power of your right hand saves me.
The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
    for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

I know this Psalm. I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about it multiple times, but verse 3 caught my eye particularly this morning. God doesn’t always answer my prayers right away. Most of the time, I have to wait. Or if He answers, I don’t know about it until years later. But just last week God answered me immediately. Without going into the extraneous details, last week I was exhausted and worn out and stressed out, and it felt like the bad news just kept piling up. And as I was driving, I asked God to help me focus on what mattered, to get my perspective back to where it needed to be, and to help me get through it. And just like that, a song started playing on the radio.

I can’t remember what song it was, but it was exactly the song I needed to hear. Followed by another song that was also relevant. Followed by another song that was just as good. Needless to say, I cried all the way home, thanking God for hearing.

I listen to all sorts of radio, not just one in particular. But this one was a Christian station, and though I enjoy the music, most of the time I am not driven to tears by what I hear. But this time I was.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like answered prayer to you, but to me it was evidence that God was listening. I mean, who else could have arranged the music schedule on this station to play the three most relevant songs that would touch my heart in a way that gave me hope and strength exactly the moment I needed it? That’s a God thing.

So don’t ever let yourself believe the lie that God isn’t listening. Because that’s what it is. A lie.

In the dark moments of life, it’s easy to trust what you can see and what you feel because those are the things that are obvious. But we can’t trust our feelings, and we can’t trust our eyes because the things that are real are the things we can’t see. And it’s not sinful to ask God to show Himself in those moments. God wants us to look for Him. He wants us to reach out to Him, and He’s not so far away that He can’t answer.

So keep your eyes open. Keep your ears open too. And don’t be surprised if He answers right away–but don’t forget to be grateful. Granted, He probably won’t take your problem away, but just knowing He’s there, knowing He’s listening, and knowing that He will keep His promise is enough to get you through it.

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Praising God because of trouble

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with all the amazing things God has done in your life? I was thinking about that the other day. God has done so much for me and brought me so far. He’s helped me grow and become the person I am today, and He’s answered prayers I didn’t even know enough to pray. Even on the bad days, even when I get news I don’t want to hear, He isn’t far away, poking and prodding at me and reminding me just how good He is.

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storms north of Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 52:9.

I will praise you forever, O God,
    for what you have done.
I will trust in your good name
    in the presence of your faithful people.

I don’t praise Him enough. I don’t tell Him how awesome He is often enough. I get wrapped up in my own issues, my own problems, my own shortcomings. I get focused on everything that’s going wrong or everything that’s going right. And telling Him how amazing He is falls by the wayside.

The thing about praising God is that it changes your attitude. It gets our attitudes back where they ought to be. Let’s face it: we get down in the mouth and depressed when we stop seeing God for who He is. Praising God in spite of the difficulties in our lives gets us back on track. And if you believe that, praising God because of the difficulties in our lives makes even more difference.

It’s so easy to just see the difficulties. It’s so easy to just see the struggles. We don’t get the big picture. We aren’t privy to how our lives are going to play out. We know what Scripture tells us: God will be glorified and He’ll make everything right. But let’s be honest. Is that enough? Is knowing that God will eventually make everything right enough to get us through a terrible day that we’re facing right now? Sometimes it is for me. But most times it’s not.

When I’m in the middle of a terrible day right now, I want reassurance that everything I’m struggling through isn’t in vain. Sure, I can cling to knowing He’ll eventually sort things out, but how much better would it be if He’d step in right now and fix my problems today?

Do you ever feel like that?

The funny thing about trouble is that you learn to appreciate it the further away from it you get. Trouble doesn’t last forever. At least, the same kind of trouble doesn’t last forever. That’s not to say you won’t be bombarded with lots of different kinds of trouble, but none of them will stick around forever. And when you get on the other side of it, most of the time you’ll be able to look back on it fondly.

Well, maybe fondly is too strong a word. But I know, in my life, looking back on the difficulties I’ve faced, I wouldn’t trade them for anything now. When I was going through them, I didn’t want them. When I was at the center of all the conflict around me, I would have chopped off a limb to make it all go away. But now, looking back, those struggles were in my life for a reason. God let me experience all those hard things to help me become the person I am today.

So I’m trying to remember that when tough times hit me I need to be thankful for them. Because some day in the future, I’ll look back on this time in my life, and I’ll be able to see how valuable these difficulties are.

That’s not a coincidence. It’s God working. It’s God taking the terrible things in our lives and using them for good. It’s God making something beautiful out of something our enemy intended for evil, and that’s something only God can do. And I don’t thank Him enough for that.

That’s what God does, you see. He restores. He redeems. And that’s the God the world doesn’t know because we don’t talk about Him that way. We get focused on Him as the Rock who supports us in trouble. We focus on Him as the judge who will bring order to the world. And that’s true. Both of those are true, and I’m so thankful they’re true. But the world doesn’t understand that. They don’t see a Rock; they see a crutch. They don’t see a judge; they see a sledgehammer.

What would happen if we praised God more often? What would happen if we thanked Him because of the troubles we face rather than just in spite of them? It’s a challenge we need to accept. It’s a challenge I’m going to try to do better at achieving, for my own sake as well as for the people around me.

Pretty yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

God’s strength is enough

If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you know that I hate waiting. I’m a doer, a performance-driven perfectionist, and I don’t like having to wait on anything, especially if it’s something I can do myself. But I’ve walked with God long enough to know that I can’t do everything, even though I often feel responsible for it anyway. And no matter how much I learn about following Christ, I still try to carry everyone else’s burdens on my own shoulders. If you’re that kind of person too, you know how exhausting it is, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. We weren’t made to carry such heavy loads, but we try anyway.

Pretty yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Pretty yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Isaiah 33:2.

But Lord, be merciful to us,
    for we have waited for you.
Be our strong arm each day
    and our salvation in times of trouble.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m tired. I’m already worn out, and the craziness that is the fall season hasn’t even started yet. Life is only going to get busier as the year spirals rapidly toward its conclusion, and as wild as the first three quarters of the year have been, I’m just moving forward with the assumption that the last quarter will be wilder. It usually is.

The ironic part is that most of the things that are wearing me down are things I have no control over. Why is that? Why is it that the things that sap the most of our strength are the things we can’t change or the things we can’t fix?

This post isn’t deep or revolutionary this morning. It’s probably not even going to be very long. I’m too tired for that. But I ran across this verse this morning, and I remembered something I already knew: God’s strength is enough.

How obvious is that? Why do we always forget the obvious things? I forget the obvious and stress over the the problems I can’t fix. That’s my human experience in a nutshell. But that’s not the way a Christ-follower is supposed to live. It’s not weakness to rely on God’s strength and His help; it’s what He expects.

We were never meant to struggle through life on our own, carrying our own burdens, carrying other people’s burdens, weary and worn out. We’re supposed to give our burdens to Him. God is meant to be our strength and our salvation when we hit those hard moments in life, when we cross those low valleys where it’s too dark to see and we’re too tired to walk any further. We’re not a disappointment when we lean on His strength; that’s what He wants. That’s what He’s there for. And His strength is greater than ours is any day.

So when you encounter those moments, don’t be afraid to draw on God’s strength. Ideally, if you can lean on God’s strength before your own wears out, you might get through the low points in life without being so exhausted. That’s my problem. I exhaust myself utterly before I start letting God take care of things, but I don’t think that’s the way we’re supposed to live. God is walking with us. He’s in our lives every moment, and He’s there waiting for us to let go of our pride and ask for His help.

We don’t need to be weary. We don’t need to reach the breaking point before we ask for Him to help us. Fortunately, He restores the weary and gives new strength to the weak. I’m counting on that as I forge ahead into the highs and lows that are coming. But I’m praying that I remember this time that I don’t need to hit the bottom before I ask for His help. I can walk into trouble with His strength instead of my own, and His strength doesn’t run out.

View from my hotel room window, Chicago, IL

God wants to bless you a lot!

I didn’t plan to post this morning because last night went so late, but I had a thought in my head that wouldn’t leave me alone. So if this is rambling and strange and disjointed, blame it on a late night and no time for coffee yet this morning. =)

View from my hotel room window, Chicago, IL

View from my hotel room window, Chicago, IL

Today’s verses are Ephesians 3:14-20.

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

We ate at a pretty swanky restaurant last night. Usually folks just call it Joe’s, but its full name is something like Joe’s Seafood, Steak and Stone Crabs. It was nice. When your servers all wear fancy suits with bow ties and take fifteen minutes describing the menu, you can usually tell it’s a pretty upscale kind of place.  What they did that was different from other swanky places was that when you ordered crab legs, they actually brought them out, showed them to you, and then they broke the meat out for you. So all you ended up with at the end was a big plate of truly delicious crab.

And that was followed by another round of crab claws. And that was followed by blackened Madagascar shrimp the size of my hand. Followed by wedge salads the size of my head, covered in egg and bacon and onion and avocado and tomato. Followed by entrees that ranged from bone-in filet mignon to seafood. I ordered sole, mainly because I was curious about it. But the waiter put the wrong order in, and I ended up with parmesan coated halibut instead. So he gave me the halibut AND brought me the sole too. And then he brought out two slices of key lime pie. And everyone ordered a round of coffee and cappuccino.

So. Much. Food. I couldn’t eat it all. And it just kept coming.

The really ironic thing about my meal last night is that the wrong parmesan halibut was actually better than the mushroom sole I ordered. It was so cool because I didn’t expect any of it. I knew we were going to a nice restaurant. I’ve been to nice restaurants before. Usually they’re very stuffy and proper, and while the waiters are normally pretty gregarious they don’t go beyond what’s needed to make a good impression. This place was amazing. And it didn’t hit me until I got back to my room at Midnight (ugh) that God wants to treat us that way too.

I think we have this idea of God as a benevolent genie in the sky, sometimes. He’s there to grant our wishes, and when we hit that third wish, we can’t ask for anything else. Or we don’t want to bother Him with our petty little problems. Or we don’t want to always be asking for stuff because when the day comes that we really want or need something from Him, He’ll remember that we’re low maintenance and grant us our request by default because we haven’t asked for anything else.

Is that really how God is? I don’t think so. Check the verse again. God has unlimited resources. And He is able to accomplish more through us than we can even imagine. Does that sound like a God who will stop at three “wishes” granted?

God wants to knock us off our feet with His love and goodness. He wants to bless our socks off. He wants to give us so many blessings that we can’t carry all of them.

And I’m not saying that God hasn’t already blessed us. absolutely not! We’re the most blessed people in the world. If you woke up this morning, you’re blessed. If you have family that loves you, you’re blessed. If you have a car to drive and a job to work and food to eat, you’re blessed. But while I’m thankful for those blessings, God doesn’t want to stop there. He wants to give us more. He wants to bless us exceedingly above what we can imagine.

We just have to let Him. And sometimes blessings don’t come the way you think they will, but they come. Sometimes they’re not easy to accept, but if you accept them, you’ll find yourself way better off than you ever thought you could be. And the beautiful thing about God’s blessings is that they keep coming and coming and coming, even though you’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve any of them. If you show yourself faithful with what you have now, God will bless you with more.