God’s not a Magic Eight Ball

When was the last time someone trusted you with a huge responsibility? What did you do? How did you react?

I frequently encounter situations where I end up having to make big, important decisions. But just the other day, one of those decisions that only come around in a blue moon landed in my lap.

I hate decisions like that because no matter how you choose, you always feel like you should have chosen something else. Maybe that’s just me.

So what do you do when you’re faced with a difficult choice? Or even a choice between two good options? How do you choose what’s best? Whether it’s a family decision or a personal decision or a professional decision, those big, scary, intimidating choices always come along when you least expect them. And if you don’t take them seriously, you could have major trouble in the future.

Is there a Magic Eight Ball somewhere you can shake that will tell you exactly what you’re supposed to do with yourself?

Well, not exactly.

8ballToday’s verses are James 1:5-8.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

God is nothing like a Magic Eight Ball. Well, I say that. Maybe there are a few similarities. When you do get an answer, it’s usually terse. Go. Now. Stop. Wait. But God doesn’t just hand out answers because you ask for them. You don’t get to determine when God answers your questions or your prayers, and that’s frustrating.

When we’re faced with a choice we don’t know how to make, we’re instructed to ask for wisdom. The Bible is full of examples of people who asked God for guidance who received it, so God certainly is in the business of sharing His wisdom with us. But the thing about God’s wisdom is that He doesn’t just drop it in your skull because you ask for it. No. In most instances, you have to be willing to seek it—in the Bible.

The Bible is God’s Word to us, and it’s full of His wisdom for how to live and how to think and how to choose. Our culture—and even the church to a certain extent—has convinced us that the Bible is too complicated for Everyman to understand, and that’s a lie. Of course, the enemy wants us to think the Bible is too difficult to understand. The more we read it, the more we know how to live for God, and that’s the last thing our enemy wants.

But one thing is true. You can’t read the Bible by yourself and truly grasp what it means in your life. To truly understand what the Bible is saying, you need the Holy Spirit. You need God to reveal it to you.

That’s what you ask for. That’s how you ask for wisdom. You ask God to reveal it to you.

But then, notice what the rest of the verse says? Ask for wisdom, yes, but then you have to trust that wisdom comes from God. You have to believe that God is the one who gives it and no one else. Not politicians, your teachers, your parents, your pastor, your church, your friends, or yourself. God is the source of wisdom, and He’s the only source you can trust.

It can’t be that you’ll accept God’s wisdom for Problem A but not for Problem B, because you don’t like what God says about Problem B.

No.

We don’t get to pick and choose. We don’t get to tell God when He’s right or not. He’s either right all the time, or He’s not God.

And if you spend your time wavering between two differing opinions—because God’s wisdom is the opposite of what the world tells you is the truth—you’ll be unstable. You’ll be insecure. You’ll be uncertain. And you’ll make unwise decisions.

So do you need wisdom today? Ask for it. And then trust what God tells you through His Word, whether you like it or not.

One of you is God, and the other one isn’t. There’s no middle ground. And the more you try to make middle ground, the more unstable you’ll be. You won’t have time to make wise decisions. You’ll be too busy cleaning up the mess from all the foolish decisions you’ve made.

Mom and baby red pandas chilling at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Why doesn’t God answer prayer the way we expect?

Ever seen a kid on a leash? Not an animal leash. Like a harness thing for toddlers. I saw one some time ago and thought it was a pretty cool contraption. I know some people don’t like them, and I understand the reasons why. But still—seems like a neat way to let a kid explore the world without getting too far away.

It’s usually expected in our culture that parents watch over their kids. At least in some form. But if you hover, you’re called a helicopter parent. Seems to me a leash is the best of both worlds. But then, I’m single with no children, so I may not be the best source for things like this.

What I do wonder sometimes is whether or not God is a leash-type of parent, because it seems to me that He is. And, you know, I’m actually okay with that.

Mom and baby red pandas chilling at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Mom and baby red pandas chilling at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are 1 John 5:14-15.

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.

I know God hears my prayers, but He rarely answers my prayers the way I want. I mean, I have those few examples of times when He’s helped me remember where my keys or when situations worked out to my benefit. But generally speaking, God doesn’t snap His fingers and give me what I want just the way I want it or even when I want it.

I have so many examples of answered prayer in my life, but none of it happened the way I thought it would. Best example?

I have a published novel. Sort of. At least, it will be published in December 1. But it didn’t get published in a normal way. No, God pretty much opened all sorts of doors for me to start a publishing company first.

Not what I planned. At all.

Another example? I wanted to write for a living. I wanted to build a career using my writing skills, and I planned to be a journalist. Where am I now? I work for a plumbing manufacturer—a company with a global workforce of 5,000 and I am the only full-time company creative writer. I make a living writing… about plumbing. But I’m writing for a living.

Not what I planned either.

In every instance of answered prayer in my life, God answers in a way that shows me He wants what’s best for me but doesn’t allow me to stray too far away from Him. Let’s take this crazy novel of mine. I had reached the point in its life that I either had to self publish it or give up on it, so when God said, “Start a publishing company!” I wasn’t sure I was hearing Him correctly.

Nameless, by A.C. Williams, available December 1

Nameless, by A.C. Williams, available December 1

So, yes, God provided a way for my first novel to hit print (December 1), but my need for God to be involved with it doesn’t end when my book hits Amazon. No, I need His help to influence decision makers and others in the bookselling industry. I need His help to keep the company running. I need His help to make wise decisions. If anything, I need Him more now that my prayer is answered than when I did before.

Have you got examples like that in your life? Where God answers your prayer in a way you didn’t expect but still makes it necessary for you to hold tighter to Him than you did before?

I really think that’s the same idea as a leash, especially for stubborn, strong-willed people like me. I know just enough and I’m just capable enough that I can go my own way and do my own thing on my own without God’s help and be pretty much okay for a while. I know that about myself.

But I don’t want to be okay. I want to be extraordinary. And I can’t accomplish that without God’s help. He knows it, and I know it. And that’s why I can’t wander too far off. I’ll get myself in trouble.

So when God doesn’t act when or how I want Him to, I need to chill and trust His plan. Because no matter how you look at it, I’ll need him more tomorrow than I do today.

Raindrops on daisies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

We all need a little grace

It’s so easy to complain about people when they can’t hear you. Even if you’re saying true things, it’s a lot easier to say them when there’s no danger of being overheard. Why is that?

For me, I can tell you it’s because I hate confrontation. Even if it’s telling someone something they need to hear, that doesn’t mean they’ll accept it. That doesn’t mean they’ll be gracious. And I’m pathetic. I really am. All it takes to get me to tear up is a sharp word. And while I recognize the importance of a sensitive spirit, it doesn’t make living in the real world any easier.

But if it’s something you can talk about behind closed doors with people who weren’t involved, it’s something you ought to talk about with the person who started the problem.

Raindrops on daisies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Raindrops on daisies at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are James 4:11-12.

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

We’ve all been there. Unscrew the halos. I’ve been there, and you’ve been there. Something happens. Somebody makes you angry. And instead of going to the person who made you angry, you stuff it down deep inside and press on.

But when the opportunity comes up in conversation with other, uninvolved people, you tell the story of what happened. And everyone shakes their heads. How unprofessional! How immature!

Be honest, grownups. You feel vindicated.

There’s something about having people agree with you that is cathartic. There’s something about having people on your side that makes you feel strong. But talking about your hurt feelings with people who didn’t hurt them is the easy path. And nobody who takes the easy way is usually ever called strong.

Talking about your problems with the person who offended you is the harder choice. Facing the person who made you angry or wrecked your day or whatever and communicating honestly with them is not only difficult, it’s terrifying. And for me, most of the time I convince myself it isn’t worth it.

Can you guess what happens when you take that route?

Yup. Nothing changes.

The problems that are still problems stay problems. And your resentment builds and builds and builds, and the person irritating you keeps doing what they’re doing without being held accountable. Why? Well, quite honestly, until you speak up and let them know that they’re irritating you, they probably don’t even know.

We all have different standards of professionalism. Some people are impossible to work with because their standards are so high. Others are impossible to work with because their standards are so low. It doesn’t mean necessarily that one perspective is wrong and one is right. It just means that we all need a little grace.

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t sit back and let your temper build and build until you explode. And don’t be a coward and complain about the situation where they can’t hear. Do something about it. Granted, do something in love. But do something.

First, make sure that what’s bothering you isn’t actually your own issue. When we get stressed out, it’s so easy to blame people around us for our frustrations. But before you jump to conclusions, take a moment and assess your heart and your attitude.

If you can say with a clear conscience that the issue isn’t yours, then approach the person who’s irritating you. Let them know kindly, politely that they’re bothering you. Do it discreetly. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Don’t put on a show. Just be respectful, like you’d want them to be if they were approaching you.

If they choose to make it into a show, that’s their problem. If you’ve addressed them respectfully, reasonably, politely and they turn it into a confrontation, they’re the ones being ridiculous.

But you have to at least give them a chance to make things right before you give up on them. You have to give them the opportunity to realize that their behavior is bothering you before you label them as hopeless cases. If you skip that step, if you give up on them or label them before you’ve even given them a chance to change, you aren’t acting like Jesus.

Jesus is the King of second chances (and third chances, fortieth chances, one-hundred-and-eleventieth chances, etc). How often have we embarrassed Him with our behavior and how often has He labeled us as a lost cause?

That’s right. Never.

So why do we think that gives us the right to do the same with other people?

Big brown bear pacing in the sunlight at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

People who trust don’t throw tantrums

Why do people get so upset at each other? Have you noticed that happens a lot? More and more frequently it seems. A part of me understands it. Sometimes it takes harsh words to spur the indolent into action. Sometimes it takes threats to accomplish things when people just don’t care.

But are harsh words and threats really necessary?

I overheard someone losing their temper on the phone (yes, I guess this is the week for me listening into other people’s conversations), but I didn’t have to jump to any conclusions about what was happening. This was just out-and-out temper tantrum. Complete with cursing and whining and guilt trips and accusations.

And all I could think about as I listened to it was, “Thank God I don’t work with the public anymore.” I had more than my fair share of customers like that, the ones who blow up when they don’t get their way, the ones who throw a fit because their unrealistic expectations aren’t met.

In those situations, I’d bust my butt to make them happy. I’d go over and above and beyond and lots of other prepositional superlatives to help them have a pleasant experience. And most of the time, after they got their way, they’d admit to not being upset about it but that they were just playing the role so they wouldn’t have to face consequences for their actions.

And that’s not always the case. From the sounds of this conversation today, it was an unfortunate situation. The person on the phone screaming profanity every other word was the victim in the situation, but let me be the first to tell you from a customer service perspective, it doesn’t matter if you’re the victim or not. You come at me screaming profanity, and I just want you to stop talking.

But it got her what she wanted.

And what’s really sad? I know Christians who behave like this. People who claim to believe in Jesus, who follow Him, who love Him, act like children having a tantrum when they don’t think they’re being treated right.

Big brown bear pacing in the sunlight at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Big brown bear pacing in the sunlight at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:29.

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

I’ve gotten direct with people on the phone before. But I didn’t shout and scream. I didn’t curse and rant.

There’s something about screaming and carrying on that just wears people down. Getting loud with people just makes them want to give you what you want, so I think many people have gotten into the habit of getting loud when they don’t get their way or when they get their feelings hurt.

Just like a child in a toy aisle who doesn’t get what he wants.

But what does that do to you as a person? What kind of person does that turn you into? What kind of message does it send to the people around you? The ones who are unwittingly stuck next to you while you have your screaming, cussing conversation.

I guarantee, if you turn around and start trying to tell me about what church you go to, I’m not going to be interested. If you turn around and start telling me about how you love Jesus, I won’t believe you.

Now am I saying that we should let people walk all over us? No. There’s a time to stand up and be firm. There’s a time to put your foot down and demand justice, what’s fair. But just because you demand it—even if you legally demand it—that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it. So what do you do when you don’t get your way? Do you throw a fit? Do you scream and shout until somebody gives you what you want?

Or do you sit back and let God keep His promises?

Maybe it’s God’s way of reminding you who’s in control. Maybe it’s God’s method of teaching you that your material things don’t matter. Maybe it’s God trying to help you understand that your way isn’t the best way.

If you really trust God, you won’t throw a tantrum. You may not be happy about it, but if you honestly trust Him, your world won’t come crashing down just because you didn’t get your way.

Think about it and consider that the next time things don’t go as planned. Believe me, you might not get your way, but you might change someone’s life.

And you’ll certainly be a more pleasant person to stand next to at the grocery store….

Fresh-picked peaches in a basket

Fix your thoughts on what’s going right

I don’t mean to eavesdrop. I really don’t. Sometimes people’s conversations just pop out at me. And I generally try not to pay attention because you can’t generalize. You can’t (well, you shouldn’t) judge a situation based on a small exchange you overhear between two people.

But some conversations strike you as so strange you can’t ignore them. That’s what I heard yesterday morning.

“What was the worst part of your week?”

That question wouldn’t normally stop me. It’s not that unusual of a question. But when it’s coming from a motherly figure to her little girl, I had to take a moment to process.

Why would a mother ask her child that as they’re walking out of church? First off, I might be wrong. It might be an aunt. It might even be a grandmother for all I saw of the woman’s face. But either way, coming out of Kidzworld at NewSpring Church, why would you steer the conversation that direction?

If you aren’t from Kansas, you probably don’t know about Kidzworld. So let me be the one to tell you it’s a children’s ministry that makes you want to be a child again. Let’s be honest, grown ups, there aren’t many things that can do that. Kidzworld makes me wish I was a kid again. Children come out of this crazy ministry with life lessons and examples of how to use them in their schools and in their homes, and if you ask them, they’ll tell you exactly what they learned. It’s ridiculous!

And, honestly, that’s what I thought this mom was asking. And that’s why I stopped to listen because there’s nothing more exhilarating to be able to hear a  little kid explain a biblical principle in his or her own words.

What was the best thing you learned today? Or what was the lesson about today? Or what did you learn in Kidzworld today?

But no. That wasn’t the question.

“What was the worst part of your week?”

Again, I’m trying not to be judgmental. I could be jumping to a wrong conclusion. There could be a perfectly rational and logical and reasonable explanation.

What I think upsets me more than anything is the question of whether or not that’s my reaction to life. When I talk to someone, older or younger or peer, is my first thought to ask them what made their week rotten? Am I quick to jump to the negative? Do I direct the conversation to what’s wrong in life instead of what’s going right?

Fresh-picked peaches in a basket

Fresh-picked peaches in a basket

Today’s verse is Philippians 4:8.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

How often do you fix your thoughts on what God is doing in the world? And when I say fix your thoughts, I mean focus on it. I mean take a moment to sit back and think about all the amazing, miraculous, incredible things God is doing around the world and in your own life.

When was the last time you did that? I wish I could tell you I did it more often, but I don’t. I get too busy with life. I get so crazy running around trying to get so many things accomplished on time that I don’t take the time I need to reflect on what God is doing. And as a result, I stop seeing what He’s doing in my life and instead start seeing all the things He’s not doing that I wanted.

People have called Philippians 4:8 a filter for your mind. It’s the verse you’re supposed to use when you’re thinking about anything. Run your thoughts and your conversations through the filter of Philippians 4:8 and see if they hold up.

I’m not saying that we should live in denial. We can’t ignore the fact that the world is broken. We can’t ignore the fact that our lives aren’t what they should be or that we make mistakes. That’s true. All of those things are true.

But there are other true things.

God loves you enough to sacrifice for you. God wants a relationship with you. God cares about what happens in your life. He cares about the choices you make.

All of those things are true too. So why don’t we focus on those things instead of how broken the world is? Why don’t see how much God loves us instead of how flawed other people are? Why don’t we start a conversation by asking what’s the best thing God did for you this week… instead of what’s the worst part of it?

It’s more than a filter. Philippians 4:8 is a lifestyle, and it’s not as simple as seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty. It’s not about optimists and pessimists.

It’s about making the choice to fix your thoughts on the parts of your life that make God happy and leading others–your friends, your coworkers, your children–to do the same. It won’t make the broken parts go away, but you’ll realize that the broken pieces aren’t as much of an obstacle in your path as you think because all you’ll see is how big God is in comparison.

Does Jesus like bacon?

As I’ve gotten older I’ve started enjoying listening to talk radio on the drive into work. I used to get really frustrated because I wanted music. And I still want music. But sometimes it’s interesting to sit and listen to other people and their perspectives.

I heard on the radio yesterday morning that one of the hosts had encountered a question from his son about whether or not Jesus liked bacon. And coming from a child, I think that’s a perfectly adorable question. Culturally, it’s an intriguing question. But realistically, does it matter?

To me, a question like that is up there with asking if God can create a rock that’s too heavy for Him to lift. It’s just not important.

But was really surprised me was the response that some of the listeners had. Someone called in and started talking about how he was sure there would be steak in heaven because he can’t eat it now and he wants to be able to eat it in eternity. And he just didn’t think God would allow there not to be steak in heaven for that reason.

And—okay, let’s just be real here. I like food. Okay? I like food a lot. I like just about any kind of food too (except turnips, but they aren’t really food). Do I want steak in heaven? Well, sure. I like steak. But aren’t there more important things to be concerned about in eternity than what we’re going to be eating?

Today’s verses are Matthew 6:31-33.

A random pig (not my photo)

A random pig (not my photo)

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

I heard someone once talk about how much wealth people would have in heaven. That’s also an interesting topic. But honestly I think that the standards of wealth will be different in eternity. How do I know that? Well, I can point to an obvious answer (Revelation 21:21). On Earth, gold is precious and valuable. In heaven, gold is tantamount to concrete. It’s paving material. It’s what we will walk on.

Heaven’s perspective of riches is different than Earth’s. We put so much value on things that just don’t matter. We worry about things that don’t matter. We focus on things that don’t matter.

And if Jesus told us not to worry about what we’re going to eat when we’re living on earth, I really don’t think we’re going to need to worry about what we’re going to eat when we’re in heaven.

What we need to be focused on instead is who is going to be there.

I like steak as much as the next person. But whether there will be fruits that taste like steak or steak itself isn’t important. I’d much rather focus on who will be sitting across the table from me eating it with me.

When life shakes you, you aren’t alone

Kansas didn’t used to have earthquakes. Not that we have them frequently now, but in the last few years, we’ve had enough to notice. And it’s a little unsettling.

I don’t know if this is a sign of the times or what, earthquakes in weird places, but I do know I don’t really like it. A tornado you can get away from . An earthquake is everywhere.

The last one we had was Monday, I think. And I think it was down in Oklahoma, but we felt it in Wichita. I was up in my cubicle on the 9th floor. I’ve felt them on the ground level before. Being up in a tall building during one was completely different.

People in Kansas often marvel at the lack of severe weather preparedness in other states. But I’m sure people in earthquake-prone areas probably feel the same way about us.

In places where earthquakes happen a lot, the buildings and structures are designed to handle the shaking. Granted, sometimes the quakes are bad enough, design engineering doesn’t matter. But when you live with constant tremors, you have to know how to live. You have to know how to build houses so that even though there’s an earthquake rattling around outside, the house doesn’t fall in on itself.

Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Rose Garden at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Psalms 16:8.

I know the Lord is always with me.
    I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

I was going to use a different verse this morning, but this one stuck out to me. I’ve had some pretty dark moments in the last few days. The Lord and I have been having a lot of conversations about life, the universe, and everything. And He helped me remember something that I already knew: I’m safe in His hands.

If you’re doing what God has called you to do, you’re safe. Even if you aren’t safe, as far as the world would call it. You’re safer in the deepest, darkest, most remote corner of the world if you’re there because God told you to be than if you were in a rich, suburban neighborhood refusing to obey.

And even if we aren’t doing exactly what He’s told us to do, He’s still walking with us, trying to get our attention.

When life blows up and goes crazy, when people you love pass away or get sick, when you don’t have the answers you need, it doesn’t mean that God has abandoned you. It may just mean that you’re letting life get louder than His voice.

God doesn’t scream at us. I’m pretty sure He never has. He speaks quietly, softly, so we have to stop and pay attention. It doesn’t work to blast by and try to do what He wants while you’re trying to do what you want at the same time.

Peace is something we all long for. Imagine not having to worry, not having to fear. Well, you don’t have to. God has everything under control, and just because you don’t understand it or just because you don’t see how it can work out for the best doesn’t mean it won’t.

If we’ve got God in our lives, we have a solid foundation to build on. And no matter how many earthquakes hit us, nothing can shatter that foundation.

So stop worrying. Your worrying doesn’t help. It doesn’t make the situation better for you, and it puts a wall between you and God.

God designed us to live peacefully with Him. Life seems intent on screwing that up, truth be told, but God is bigger than the world. He’s bigger than our problems. He’s bigger than our fears.