Why don’t we ask God for advice before we screw up?

Do you remember a time when you did something without asking for God’s direction first? I’ve done it. And, just being honest, sometimes it works out just fine.

There have been times in my life where I just acted or reacted, and when the dust settled, I remembered that I hadn’t asked God what I should do first. I just did it. And God has always been gracious with me and has always gone before me in every situation I’ve encountered. But it’s a bad habit to get into, running ahead of God.

The irony is that if we’d just ask Him, if we’d just talk to Him, He would answer.

raise_your_handToday’s verses are Joshua 7:7, 10-12.

Then Joshua cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side!

But the Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why are you lying on your face like this? Israel has sinned and broken my covenant! They have stolen some of the things that I commanded must be set apart for me. And they have not only stolen them but have lied about it and hidden the things among their own belongings.

You can’t really get the whole story from these few verses, because it’s a long one. You can find the whole ugly deal in Joshua 7. Basically, a dude named Achan disobeyed God and stole some things that he shouldn’t have. Yeah, stealing from God is a big deal, and lying about it is worse.

But that’s not the only point of this story. See, the Israelites were going from city to city, conquering who God told them to conquer. And Joshua had just taken the reins from Moses. He hadn’t been a leader very long. So he was still learning.

And after the city of Jericho fell, the one success no one thought they could achieve, I’m sure they were all hyped up and ready to move on to the next city. So they did. Joshua sent people to scout it out, they said it would be no problem, he sent his army, and they failed. Miserably.

Then, and only then, did Joshua go before the Lord and ask what he should do. But why hadn’t he thought to ask God first?

This isn’t the only time in Scripture where people screw up big time because they didn’t stop and take time to ask God’s advice first. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, there are many, many examples of people who just forged ahead and did whatever they thought was right, only to discover that they weren’t on the same page with God. They thought they were, but if they would have asked, they would have realized they were walking a separate path. And it wasn’t the path God wanted them on.

It’s surprisingly difficult to ask God, though. It’s so much easier just to do it. You know, better to beg forgiveness than ask permission? But that’s a foolish way to live your life, especially when all the answers you need are right at your fingertips.

I know, for me, I can be completely lost and frustrated, and all I have to do is sit down and start talking to God. It doesn’t even have to be about anything in particular. Just talking to Him. Just thanking Him for being there for me. And all of a sudden, I’ll think of a solution I hadn’t thought of before.

That’s not an accident.

Neither is that truth you discovered in your Scripture reading that you’d never seen before.

When you ask God to answer your questions, He always does. Sometimes it’s in your own spirit. Sometimes it’s revealed through Scripture. Other times it’s revealed through circumstances or through the actions of people around you. God has ways of communicating to us that are undeniable, so we have no excuse to not ask His advice.

He’s the God of the universe. He created you and me and everything, and He keeps everything running. We’re crazy if we don’t ask Him for the answers we need. Maybe He won’t give us the answers we want, but since when has getting everything we want when we want it ever been good for us?

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Pride makes us stupid and keeps us that way

A bill I paid online went through yesterday. That was good. But I realized I’d paid the wrong company. That was bad. Yes, I’d issued a credit card payment to my cellular phone provider. And it was no small amount either.

What was my first thought? Quite honestly, my first thought was that I was an idiot. I should have been paying closer attention. And, no, it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was going to take some clever cash maneuvering to get things to even out.

But my second thought was to contact my cell phone company to see if they would issue a refund. After all, it’s not like I’m behind or my payments. Or that I’ve ever missed a payment. But would they do that? Could they do that? Was their system even set up that way?

I almost didn’t call. I almost let it go, willing to figure out how to make it work on my own. But I decided to go ahead and try. And guess what? It wasn’t a problem. I talked to a nice lady who had all the answers I needed, and she informed me that I’d be receiving a full refund in about 10 days.

Thinking back on it now, it was silly to assume they couldn’t do a refund. We did refunds at the libraries I’ve worked at, and I’m sure this wasn’t the first time some dimwitted customer issued a payment to the wrong company. Recognizing that they would probably issue a refund was common sense. Most people do.

funny_signToday’s verses are Proverbs 3:21-24.

My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment.
Hang on to them,
for they will refresh your soul.
They are like jewels on a necklace.
They keep you safe on your way,
and your feet will not stumble.
You can go to bed without fear;
you will lie down and sleep soundly.

Our world doesn’t place much value on common sense anymore. Have you noticed that? Everyone is too busy running around and getting in trouble to even think about what common sense looks like. But the Bible considers it valuable–so it must be.

I’m not sure if you can cultivate common sense of if it’s just something you’re born with. Either way, if you have it, don’t let go of it. Common sense is a gift that will help keep life simple.

If you want to have common sense, though, the best thing I can say is not to ever assume anything. Just because you think you know what will happen, don’t stop asking questions. Don’t give up because you think life is going to go one way or another. You don’t know.

I would have had to go through some really complicated money shifting between bank accounts if I hadn’t made the call to my cell phone company. But I was willing to do it because I assumed they wouldn’t issue a refund. But I swallowed my pride at asking what could be construed as a dumb question, and I asked anyway.

I think that’s the key. We don’t want to sound dumb. We want to sound like we’re in control. We never want to ask questions that we don’t already know the answers to. At least, that’s the way it works with me. I’m getting better. Working as a journalist in an industry I didn’t understand helped me with grasping the fact that I still have a lot to learn.

It’s our pride that makes us stupid to begin with, and it’s our pride that keeps us stupid. So let go of pride. Who cares if you ask a dumb question? If someone gives you crap for asking a question you genuinely didn’t know the answer to, their opinions don’t matter anyway.

If you don’t know, ask. It’s common sense. Don’t lose sight of it, and your life will be much simpler.

 

Q'eqchi woman - Peten, Guatemala

Life is a mission’s trip

The fastest way for me to remember how much Spanish I actually know is to drop me off somewhere in some Spanish-speaking country and leave me there alone for a week. By the end of the week, I’ll be practically conversant. But if you were to ask me something in Spanish just off the cuff now? Yeah, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you.

It’s so easy to adopt the culture of the world you live in. Well, maybe easy isn’t the right word, but the longer you live in a different culture than the one you were born in, the easier I think it becomes to fit in. In some cases, that’s what needs to happen, especially with missionaries who leave America and go to foreign lands. The best thing they can do is to leave American culture in America because other countries don’t need us; they need Christ. America can’t take care of America, so why should a missionary take anything American with them to another country? America needs Christ, just like everyone else. So in that case, forsaking the culture you were born into is a good idea, within reason, of course.

But what if the culture you’re moving into rejects God completely? So how do you live in it without following it? How do you eat the watermelon and spit out the seeds?

Q'eqchi woman - Peten, Guatemala

Q’eqchi woman – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Colossians 2:8.

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.

The verse this morning caught my eye because I don’t think of philosophies as something that can capture you. But they do. The world and people in the world who have good intentions try to rationalize their existence, try to make sense of things that can’t make sense, and the result is a belief system without hope and without purpose. Because the world clings to the idea that there is no God — or if there is a God, He doesn’t care.

That’s what they believe. So that’s how they live. And once you step into that sort of culture, once you begin to adopt those kinds of precepts in your life, they become like a prison. You’d think embracing the concept that you have no rules would be freeing. But that’s not the case. Living a life with no rules just makes you a slave to sin.

I’ve been on many mission’s trips, as a high school student and as an adult. And part of me sort of feels like life is one big mission’s trip. After all, this world isn’t our home. We all may have been born here, but we were born again in the culture of Heaven. That’s our real home. That’s where our family is. So every day we live down here is a mission’s experience where we are supposed to tell others about Christ, to support each other as we go through life and to portray an example of who Christ really is.

As an American, I can tell you that the culture I live in right now isn’t healthy. Granted, there are some aspects that are good, the concept of freedom and free will and the idea of personal responsibility, but those aspects of American culture are slowly disappearing. American culture in the 21st century isn’t something any Christian should aspire to adopt. How can you exist in this culture and stay on target? How can we live here and keep believing in the things that matter when all the things that don’t matter scream so loud it’s hard to hear anything else?

The key is in the verse. Empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense comes from the world. And if it comes from the world, it will be damaging. So stay away from them. Don’t let them into your life. Instead, know what Christ says. Know how Christ lived. Know His perspective on life. And adopt that.

It sounds easy. But it’s not.

We are surrounded every moment by faith system of our world. And while we are surrounded by them constantly — on television and radio and the internet and even our closest friends — it’s easy to adopt their perspective. But the moment you agree to see things their way, you’re opening the door to let the culture take over.

I blogged yesterday about a filter verse we should run our thoughts through; that verse is sufficient for today too. Don’t just switch off your brain and accept everything you hear on television or on the radio or on the internet. Don’t just accept everything you hear at church. Don’t just accept everything your good Christian friends tell you.

If you belong to Christ, this world isn’t our home. So this culture isn’t our home either. Question everything. And if the answers contradict Scripture, if the answers you find go against what Christ has said, don’t believe it. And if you can’t understand it, trust God to work it out.

Lamp post at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Ask questions even if you’re afraid of the answer

I have a lot of unanswered questions. About life. About the universe. About me. And for many of my questions, I would really like an answer. But for some of them, I’m not so sure I would like the answer.

So I think, in many cases, I don’t ask because I’m afraid of what the answer will be.

Lamp post at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Lamp post at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Jeremiah 33:3.

Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.

If you are a follower of Christ, you have an amazing opportunity to talk to the God who created everything. I mean, He’s the one who invented DNA. He’s the one who invented the concept of Time itself. There’s nothing He doesn’t know, and there’s nothing He can’t tell us.

There may be some things He won’t tell us for our own good, but in those cases, I’m sure you would agree that there are some things it’s better we don’t know.

But what about simple things? What about the choices I need to make today? What about the things I need to plan for tomorrow? Or for next week?

God is huge and so immense that you wouldn’t think He’d care. But He does. He loves me enough to be involved in my little life on an hourly basis, and He cares about the decisions I face, the choices I make and the consequences that I don’t even know are coming yet.

Not only does He care, He wants to help. And He’s just waiting for me to ask for it.

I’m not good at asking for help. I’m the person you’ll see wandering around a grocery store because I refuse to ask where the peanut butter is. I’d rather use up gasoline in trying to find a destination on my own than to ask for directions. And when someone with me asks for directions, I usually walk away from them. I’m trying to get better about this because there’s no shame in asking for directions, I just hate doing it.

And I’m good at asking for help for other people. I’m really good at asking God to bless other people or protect other people or to help other people have success. But when it comes to myself, I usually just ask God to bless my day. Generically. Nothing specific. Nothing exact. Granted, if I have a need–a real need–I will be specific. But otherwise, it’s back to general “bless this and bless that” kinds of prayers.

I have a dream. It’s been my dream since I was a very young child. It’s the one thing I’ve wanted since I was old enough to understand what a dream was. And I can count on my hand the times I have asked God to help me with it.

Why is that?

Maybe I’m just so thankful that He’d listen to me that I’m glad for any assistance He offers, even if it is generic or if it is directed at someone else. But I think the truth is that I’m too scared to ask for what I really want.

Why scared? Well … what if He says no? … Or even worse, what if He says yes? Have you ever had a request like that? Something you wanted so badly that the only thing worse than God telling you it isn’t time yet would be Him telling you that it is?

If God tells me no, at least I can deal with that. No has been the constant answer. I don’t like it, but I can deal with waiting. But if God chooses to answer this request, everything will change. And I really hate change. I don’t know what to do with it. I’m a planner and a people pleaser and a structured type of person (hard to believe as unorganized as I am), and when something rocks the boat, it’s hard for me to find my sea legs. And my worst fear is disappointing people and disappointing Him.

So if I don’t ask, I don’t have to worry.

But that’s not what we’re supposed to do.

If God has given us a dream, we need to pursue it. He doesn’t just put desires in our hearts to give us something to do. He gives them to us for a reason because He wants to use us to help other people. And until we use the gifts and the dreams that He’s given us, we’ll never be satisfied with our lot in life. And we can’t use the gifts and dreams in our lives to the level He intended until we ask Him for help.

So … this is me asking for help.

God knows everything. And all we have to do is ask, and He’ll tell us things, things we want to know, things we don’t want to hear, things we don’t understand.

Worrying about what God is going to tell you is a waste of time. You can’t change it, and worrying only makes you miserable. Just like being afraid of the answer makes you miserable and discouraged and depressed. We don’t have to worry, and we don’t have to be afraid.

So ask away. And don’t be afraid of the answer. If God says no, wait some more. If God says yes, step up. Either way, He knows what He’s doing. He won’t let you make a wrong move if you keep listening, and He won’t let you go alone.

Sunrise behind the clouds at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

When a good question becomes a time waster

As 2011 comes to a close, it’s natural to look forward to the new year. People will be making resolutions, mainly revolving around losing weight. Some people will make resolutions to work harder to finish something they started years ago or to start something completely new. And that’s good. We all need goals and dreams, though many folks won’t follow through no matter how good intentioned they are.

But as another year winds down, I think we should take the time to look backward instead of forward.

Looking backward isn’t always productive because it depends on your perspective. And generally speaking, I don’t recommend looking backward at all. Because it’s easy to get caught in the regret trap, where you can see now the things you wish you would have done or how you wish you would have done something differently. But you can’t change the past, and regret is a useless thing to feel for a long period of time.

But there is one reason we need to look back, and David stated it quite well in today’s passage, Psalm 103:1-2.

1 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
      with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
 2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
      may I never forget the good things he does for me.

People are forgetful creatures. We do great when everything is going well, but when something goes wrong and we lose the security we think we had, we blame God. Or we get angry at God. Or we become convinced that God no longer cares about us. Or we give up on God, believing that He must not want the best for us after all. Or that He doesn’t exist.

Okay. Well. Stop.

Because when everything was going fine and all was right in the world, God was good. Only when life takes a turn for the worst do people start feeling abandoned and like God doesn’t care. And once you go down that road — the path of blaming God for the perceived injustices in your life — people don’t seem to be able to drag themselves out of it. And I think it’s less of a God issue and more of a person issue.

Because we think we know better than God.

I know I do. Deep down inside myself, my first inclination when things go wrong is to sink into depression and self-pity and complain about why God lets bad things happen to me. But oftentimes our first inclination isn’t the right inclination. And the moment I start feeling that way, I try to stop. Not because it’s wrong, though.

It’s not wrong to question God. It’s not wrong to wonder why. It’s not wrong to seek an explanation. But those responses waste time. And time is something we don’t have a lot of. And when I look back over my life, I see many examples of times that I knew God was telling me to do something and I waited around demanding a clearer sign. Or I waited to act because I wanted Him to confirm the things I thought He wanted me to do. Or I waited because I wanted to understand why He was testing me. And when I look back on my responses to His calling, I am appalled at the amount of time I wasted.

Not saying that God didn’t eventually use me to accomplish great things. But it took me a long time to get my feet moving. And in the time it took me to get moving, I could have accomplished so much more.

But regretting the things I didn’t do or didn’t finish or didn’t notice is a waste of what time I have now. Because I can’t change it. All I can do is vow not to let those things slip by again. I can promise God that I won’t drag my feet when He tells me to do something, no matter how crazy it sounds. And that when He lets difficult things come into my life, that I won’t question.

I understand that I can question, but I’m going to. Because the sooner I get through the testing, the sooner I can learn what He needs me to learn and move on to the next thing. And then when I look back on my life, I will see that I didn’t waste time trying to understand what God was doing. I just did it. And that way, I won’t forget.

When I encounter a trial, I won’t just sit and ask why; I’ll go through it. I won’t lose time that could have been spent doing something else. I won’t ask why so many times that I forget why I’m experiencing the trial to begin with. And then I will be able to point back to the time when I learned something from the troubles in my life. They won’t just be passing woes that I experience over and over again, pinning me down in a black hole I can’t climb out of. The struggles in my life will have meaning because I know I’m going to learn something — and I know that God is going to keep working even if I can’t see him. 

That’s my hope for 2012. 2011 has been a hard year. I can’t say it’s been the hardest, and I can’t say that I’ve struggled more than other people. Because I have a job and I have a family and I have friends and I have a car and I have a church and I have a house and I have food. So that probably puts me in the top one percentile of the world as far as wealth and provision and comfort.

But I do have a bad memory. And I often forget how faithful He is to me. And I want that to change. May I never get so bogged down in the trials of the present that I forget what He did for me yesterday or what He promised to do for me tomorrow.