Icicle ornament on the tree, Haven, KS

Creating joy from sorrow

I was out late last night, in the same place I was toward the end of January, at Mid-Continent Airport watching the clock. But this time I wasn’t watching the clock, wishing it would stop ticking; this time I was watching the clock, wishing it would hurry up!

My best friend flew in from England around 10:20 p.m. For her it was a 24+ hour day, since she had connections in Atlanta and Chicago, after her nine and a half hour flight from Manchester. She’s been in the United Kingdom for a year, traveling all over Europe, reporting on the events and ministries of missionaries working there. She’s heading back that way again in May, and she’s home for a few months to raise support again. And even though I got to see her this summer, I was ready for her to be home, at least for a little while.

Between luggage issues and delayed flights, among all sort of other excitement, the events of yesterday were a great reminder of how God answers prayers, just not exactly in the way you expect Him to.

Icicle ornament on the tree, Haven, KS

Icicle ornament on the tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 40:1-5.

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.

Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord,
    who have no confidence in the proud
    or in those who worship idols.
O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.
    Your plans for us are too numerous to list.
    You have no equal.
If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds,
    I would never come to the end of them.

I didn’t get home and into bed last night until 12:00 a.m., and I was so hyped up on Starbucks, I’m pretty sure I didn’t drift off until 1:30 a.m. So I’m going to make this brief.

God answers prayers. He listens. No, He may not answer the way you think He will. In fact, most of the time He doesn’t answer your prayers the way you think He will. But He answers.

A lot of things “went wrong” for my best friend yesterday, but everything worked together so that she could still make it back to Wichita. How many times is that true in our lives? I am guilty of seeing my own life like a shallow pool, a linear chain of events that stretches from Point A to Point B. But my life isn’t like that. It’s deeper than that, and the events of my life are a 3D chart than a line graph.

I see one thing go wrong in my life, and I’m threatened to despair. But most of the time what happens is that one thing that didn’t go the way I planned plays a vital role in helping something else happen–something bigger and better than what I expected.

That’s the way God works. He takes the disappointments and sadness in our lives and turns it around to bless us. Only God is big enough to work that way.

So whatver is “going wrong” in your life today, don’t make the mistake of seeing it like an error. Don’t assume that God isn’t listening. Instead, see it like a stepping stone. See it as an opportunity to watch God do something miraculous.

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Otter playing in the water, Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Waiting for God to answer

God is amazing. It’s one thing to believe it when life is difficult and circumstances try your patience; it’s something else to know it without a shadow of a doubt when you fully realize that He actually is listening, that He actually does care, that He actually does have a good plan for you.

Otter playing in the water, Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Otter playing in the water, Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 40:1-8.

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
    and he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along.
He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord.

Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord,
    who have no confidence in the proud
    or in those who worship idols.
O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.
    Your plans for us are too numerous to list.
    You have no equal.
If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds,
    I would never come to the end of them.

You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.
    Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand—
    you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings.
Then I said, “Look, I have come.
    As is written about me in the Scriptures:
I take joy in doing your will, my God,
    for your instructions are written on my heart.”

I’m going to be brief today because I don’t know if any commentary I can add to these verses will make them any clearer than they already are, but this is the state of my heart this morning. I’m just overwhelmed and amazed that God would answer a prayer I’ve been praying for so very long. And I’m looking for some way to express how grateful I am, but I don’t have the words for it. So it’s much like verse 5 says: “O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.”

Now if only I can hold on to this level of confidence when things don’t go my way.

No matter what’s happening in your life or where you are in your walk, God has a plan. And every now and then you’ll get to see a glimpse of what it could be, a tiny part of what He’s doing. And even if you don’t get to touch it or finish it right at that moment, you still get the opportunity to glimpse the greater picture. And that’s enough to remind me that what God is doing is so much bigger than me, so far beyond anything I can accomplish on my own, and it’s so much better to let Him work on His own timetable rather than conforming to mine.

Are you waiting for God to answer? Keep waiting. He will. In some way, He will. Just be alert and pay attention. He won’t leave you hanging. Even though it may not be the answer you want (especially if it’s not the answer you expect), He will answer. It may take some time, but that just means you get longer to prepare for what’s coming. And let me tell you, if God’s got His hand in it, what’s coming will be too much for you. And that’s why He’s giving it to you, so He can help you do it.

Cement frog spitting water at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

God does great things for grateful people

How often do we ask God for thing? If you’re like me, it’s all the time. I usually try to keep an open line of communication with Him all day long, kind of like He’s a friend walking right beside me who I can tell anything. And while I know what the format for prayer is, sometimes I just like to talk to Him.

But what I can’t seem to get used to is how to react when He answers my prayers. Have you ever been there? You ask God for something, and He responds almost immediately? It’s at those times that I really don’t know what to do or how to respond.

Cement frog spitting water at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Cement frog spitting water at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are Luke 17:11-19.

As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

I try not to get my hopes up when I ask God for big things. I believe that He will answer and give me what I’m asking for in His time and in His way, but I usually expect that time to be later and that way to look completely different than what I expect. But every now and then He gives me exactly what I ask for exactly when I ask for it.

It’s then that I need to remember to thank Him. That’s the response I need to have. And I just want to take a moment to do that this morning.

I’ve been praying that the workshop I was attending would be successful and it was, on many many levels. Those of you who know me very well know I struggle with self-confidence, especially when it comes to my writing. But God went out of his way at this workshop to show me over and over and over again that I’m exactly where He wants me and that the things I’ve written are truly things that can be used for Him. I talked to people I didn’t know. I put myself out there for everyone to see, and I wasn’t afraid. And I learned a lot and gained more confidence than I expected. That’s exactly what I was praying for, and that’s exactly what I got.

And I want to thank God for answering that prayer. He didn’t have to, but I’m so glad He did.

What prayer has God answered in your life recently? I’m sure He’s answered something, whether you realize it or not. Don’t be like the nine healed men who went away healed and forgot to acknowledge Who had healed them. Be like the one who came back. Thank God for what He’s done.

God likes to do great things for grateful people.

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Answers

God isn’t required to answer our prayers. You realize that, right? He’s God, and He can do whatever He wants with what is His. That’s what being Sovereign means. And since everything belongs to Him, He can do anything He wants. He can squash us, or He can save us. He can listen to us, or He can ignore us. It’s up to Him.

If it were me, I’d write us all off. Our entire species. Our entire world. We’re just broken, idolatrous people who have every reason to know the truth but still deny it because we want to live the way that “makes us happy” in spite of what it will do to us. But God doesn’t do that. He doesn’t write us off, and He never gives up on us. And that shocks me.

He says He answers prayer. He does. It’s all over the Bible. But when He actually does — and does in a big way — I never know what to say.

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 3:4.

I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy mountain.

This is just one of many many examples in Scripture where God demonstrates that He hears us and that He listens and that He acts on what we request. Which is nuts. For God to act because we ask Him to? Seriously?

Granted, there are many times when what we ask for isn’t truly in our best interests. It’s those requests that He doesn’t answer. Unfortunately, it’s those requests that we set our hearts on so intently that when He doesn’t answer (the way we want) we give up on Him.

But there is a right time and a wrong time for every event in our lives. If we rush ahead of God and try to make our request happen on our own, it might be the wrong time for it to happen. And what’s even scarier, God may let it. He may not stop the wheels you put in motion. And it’s not that you’ll be on your own facing the consequences, but it will be a lot more of a struggle to make it through than it would have been if you let God work for you.

When God’s time is right, when your request mirrors His heart, He will answer. So don’t let it shock you. Because He really does answer. He really does listen. I’ve posted many times before about how we need to expect God’s answers to our prayers, but maybe I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. Because He answered about five really huge requests just in the last week … so huge that it left me speechless.

Not in surprise that He can do it. He’s God. He can do anything. But in shock that He really does listen and that He really will answer specifically in the way you ask.

So if you need something from God today, ask Him for it. Because He answers. The only reason He wouldn’t answer is if your request is self-serving or if the time just isn’t right yet. So if your motivation is sound, just keep asking, and He’ll answer when the time is right. Because He’s God and He knows what’s good for us and He answers prayer.

Irises - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Balancing faith with hope

Are you surprised when God answers your prayers? Does it catch you off guard? It does me sometimes. I ask Him for something, but a part of me doesn’t really expect Him to answer. So when He does, I don’t know how to react.

I don’t have a problem believing that God can do everything He says He can. That’s a no brainer. If He made the universe, He can answer my prayers. But what I struggle with is finding the balance between knowing He can and expecting Him to.

Irises - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Irises – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Psalm 120:1.

I took my troubles to the Lord;
    I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer.

The Psalms are songs; did you know that? And Psalm 120 is a Song of Ascent, which is possibly a song that pilgrims sang on the way up the mountain to Jerusalem for festivals and such. So if you read the whole of Psalm 120, you’ll get a better idea of what the writer is talking about.

One of the things I love about the Psalms is that the writer never hesitates to tell God exactly what he’s thinking and precisely what he wants. The Psalms are genuine, full of real pain and real life and real troubles.

I’m not a scholar, and I don’t speak any biblical languages. So that’s why I always use multiple translations, and I discovered something unusual about Psalm 120:1. The main translations I go to (New Living Translation, Amplified Version and the Message) differ. They don’t usually. Usually their context is the same. But in this case, an entire sentence is missing.

The Message goes like this:

I’m in trouble. I cry to God, desperate for an answer:

Okay. Where is the part about God answering? It’s in New Living. It’s in Amplified. So I randomly checked a few of the other translations available on BibleGateway.com, and the majority of them include it. But some of them don’t.

I can only assume it’s a Hebrew language thing. I don’t speak Hebrew, so I’m not going to try to delve into the language for an explanation. And I know from other verses (and from my own life experiences) that God answers prayer. But this still got me thinking. Because we are supposed to ask God for everything, and we are supposed to do this while expecting Him to answer us.

Mark 11:24 is just one example of this.

I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.

But what happens when God doesn’t answer? What happens when you beg and plead with everything you are for God to do something, and He doesn’t do it? What does that mean? How do you keep expecting Him to do something for you when what you really wanted is something He refuses to do?

If God doesn’t answer your prayer, the first thing you need to do is make sure you’re asking with pure motivation. James 4:2-3 tackles that concept:

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

If your motives are wrong for what you’re asking, God won’t give it to you. A dream that comes from God will always help people and bring Him glory. That’s how you can identify a desire in your heart that is from God, because it’s not about you and it’s not about bringing yourself fame and it’s not about ensuring that you always have an easy life. So if you ask God for something like that, yeah, He’ll answer.

And if you’re not living the way you’re supposed to be, He won’t answer either. Obviously none of us are perfect, but if our lives aren’t reflecting the principles of Scripture, if our hearts aren’t set on seeking God, why would He answer our prayers? If we aren’t ready to live the way He’s told us expressly to live, why would He answer our requests?

But if your heart is right and your life is clean (as much as possible), you’re supposed to ask God and He has promised to answer. So why doesn’t He?

I’ve struggled with this for so long because there are so many things I want, so many dreams I have that can only happen if God intervenes. And for the most part, He hasn’t seen fit to step in yet. And after years and years and years of asking Him for the same thing, how am I supposed to still hope that He’ll answer?

That’s where faith comes in.

How do you balance faith with hope? You can’t have one without the other. But if you focus too much on one, the other will weigh you down. If you have nothing but faith that God does what He wants to do without taking the time to listen to your petty requests, you won’t have any expectations from Him. You won’t ask Him for anything. And that’s not what He wants. But if you don’t temper your hope with faith, you’ll have no foundation for your expectations. And when God doesn’t respond the way you believe He will, all your hope will crumble.

So where’s the middle ground? Is there a middle ground?

Some time ago, I had a revelation about dreams and how they affect my life and God’s answers, but I still ask Him for things. And He still is holding off on one or two of them, and the only way I’ve found to keep hoping that some day He’ll answer is to believe (to remember) that He knows what He’s doing.

I trust Him. And if He hasn’t answered, that just means it isn’t time yet. Either I’m not ready or the rest of the pieces of the puzzle aren’t aligned yet. And He’s just waiting for the day when everything will come together. He’s the one in charge, after all, and He can see the end result. So it’s my job to be patient and keep hoping and keep believing that He’ll do everything He’s promised.

So if you’ve asked God for something and your heart and life match up to what Scripture says and God hasn’t answered yet, don’t give up. God does answer prayers. I can honestly tell you that I know now why God didn’t answer my prayer when I started praying it 10 years ago. I had so much growing to do, and I’m not done yet.

Keep asking, keep hoping. And when He does answer, it’ll be beyond anything you’ve dreamed. He’s working out the details. We just have to let Him.