God doesn’t always give you what you want

I’m staying in a swanky hotel right now. I mean, it has a bathtub. A real, honest-to-goodness bathtub that’s deep enough to soak in. And it has a shower too. Super swanky.

When I checked in at the desk, the lady asked me if I wanted a coffee maker brought up to my room. Now, I kind of have a coffee problem. I like coffee. A lot. Black or with milk or half-n-half or cream. Lattes, cappucinos, espressos, whatever. I love coffee.

Generally, hotel coffee is horrible, though. I usually can’t stand it, but when I wake up in the mornings early and write these devotionals, I desperately need a cup of coffee. So I’m willing to take anything. So, I told the lady at the desk, yes, I’d love to have a coffee maker in my room.

I got up to the room, and a guy from downstairs knocked and brought in my coffee machine. But it wasn’t a cheap little coffee pot like I’ve got at home. It wasn’t even a fancy coffee pot. It was a Keurig! A real-life Keurig with real-life coffee pods and everything! It was awesome!

How many times do we ask for something and expect a cheap response? How many times do we pray to God and ask Him for a specific result and expect a cheap answer? I do it all the time, but is that how we’re supposed to ask?

0125151521Today’s verses are James 4:1-3.

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? 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.

I ask God for stuff all the time, and it’s normal for me to automatically assume that He won’t give it to me. That’s not because God’s mean. It’s not because I don’t trust Him. It’s just because I’m not sure my motives are always right.

I can’t be the only one out there who asks God for things I know I don’t need. Surely others have asked God for things, knowing that obtaining them probably wouldn’t be in my best interest. I’ve just asked for them because I wanted them. I’ve asked because it would make me happy or it would make life easier or it would help me feel vindicated.

There’s nothing wrong with being happy or having an easy life or feeling vindicated about something, but what is your motivation? For me, if I ask God for something because it will make me happy, that means I’m not content. If I ask God to make my life easy, that means I’m being lazy or giving into fear. If I ask God for vindication, usually that means I’m being insecure and letting my pride direct my actions and thoughts.

If you want God to give you what you’re asking for, check your motivation. Check your heart, because that’s what God looks at.

Hey, singles. Do you want a husband or a wife? Why? Is it because you feel incomplete without them? Is it because you need a spouse to move on to the next step in your plan for life? Or are you just sick of being the fifth wheel when all your friends are getting married and leaving you behind? If you want to get married, what is your heart motivation?

Hey, employed person. Do you want a raise? Do you want a promotion? Why do you want it? More money? More status? More power? What is the motivation behind your desire?

Hey, unemployed person. Do you want a job? Why?

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are or what kind of life you lead. If the motivation of your heart goes against what God says is right and true–or if your desire will go against God’s bigger plan for your life–God won’t give you what you ask for. Period.

And He’s not being mean. He just wants what’s best for us, while we usually can only see what’s good.

But you know what? Sometimes when you ask God will give you more than what you ask for. Sort of like my amazing coffee machine. I didn’t expect to get it. And even then, it wasn’t what I expected when I got it–it was better! And God’s just like that.

So if God hasn’t answered your prayers today, don’t give up. Yes, check your heart. Make sure your motivation is what it should be. And then, keep asking. The day is coming when God will blow your mind.

You can celebrate even the most Mondayish of Mondays

Ever wake up, and you’re just in a horrible mood? There’s no real reason for it. You’re just in a funk. And then things get worse? You forget stuff and have to go back for it. You lose stuff and waste time looking for it. You are so preoccupied with everything you forgot, you lose track of the things you actually remembered?

That was me yesterday morning. Just an all-around, no-good, Mondayish Monday. For no particular reason. I just couldn’t seem to get out of it either. I was grumpy at home, grumpy at work, grumpy to people I talked to.

But then something landed on my desk. By all rights, it should have made my mood worse. But it didn’t. Instead, it just made me realize that life isn’t as bad as it could be. Someday I’ll figure out how my brain works, but until then I’m just going to assume it was that “last straw” kind of moment. In those moments, you can either choose to cry, or you can laugh about it.

My default is laughter. So that’s what I did. And almost immediately, once I started seeing my day from that perspective, my attitude got better. Because maybe it sucked, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Maybe that doesn’t sound like something to celebrate, but wait until you’re there. And then you’ll understand how much joy you can find in the simple realization that life is so much better than it could be.

Bad Hair Day - AlpacaToday’s verses are Deuteronomy 30:19-20.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life.

This is God talking to the Children of Israel. They are the descendants of the Hebrew slaves who Moses led out of Egypt, but because of their sin they weren’t allowed to enter the Promised Land. They had to wander the wilderness for 40 years until that generation died out and only their children were left.

This statement is to those children.

See, everyone wakes up in a bad mood once in a while. Everybody has bad days. And that’s okay. We’re human. But that also means we’re capable of making a choice.

You can wake up in a bad mood, but it’s your choice to stay in a bad mood. You can have a bad day, but it’s your choice to foster a bad attitude about it. Your attitude isn’t bad because your day was bad. That’s not how it works. Your attitude is bad because you chose that attitude.

When God gave the Children of Israel the choice to trust Him or rely on themselves, they chose themselves. They chose exile. That was their choice. When God gave their children the same choice, they chose to follow Him instead because they saw the mistakes their parents had made.

The truth is, we’re all born in a broken world. Nothing down here is ever going to work right. It’s not supposed to, not since Adam and Eve broke it. But a day is coming when all of that is going to change. All the things that are wrong, God will make right again.

But God has given us a choice. Follow Him or follow yourself. Believe He is right, or believe you know better. That choice is up to us. It’s always been up to us.

And on the most Mondayish of Mondays, if you believe God really does know what He’s doing, you can still sit back and laugh at the troubles and problems that come your way. Why? Because God is in control and everything that happens to you will work out for His glory and your good.

Didn’t say it would be good. But God will use it for good and will make it good. That’s His promise, and He never breaks His promises.

So are you having a bad day? It’s all right. Bad days happen to everyone. But just because it starts badly doesn’t mean it has to end badly. Talk to someone who loves you. Take a walk outside. Get a glass of cold, clear water to drink. And take a moment and think about everything you have and everything God has given you, and it won’t take long before you remember just how blessed you really are.

Lion roaring about something at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Sometimes you gotta explode

Maybe it’s different for extroverts, but when I get really upset about something or when I am really disappointed about something or really hurt about something, I don’t blow up. I simmer. I’m like a bottle of soda pop that you shake up but don’t open—you can see the bubbles threatening inside, but they have nowhere to go, so they stay put until they settle down. And I suppose that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with being that way.

Except what happens if someone opens a bottle of pop right after it’s been shaken up? Or dropped?

Yeah. It explodes. And makes a mess. So what’s better? To explode first? Or to explode later?

I wish there were an option to not explode, but—just being real here—everybody explodes at some point. Or at least everybody hits a breaking point at least once in their lives, though whether you explode or not depends on your personality.

So, is that okay? Is it okay to hit the point where you can’t take it anymore? And when you get there, what do you do about it?

Well, I think the number one thing you can do is talk about it. And don’t feel like you have to go to a therapist. You don’t even have to go to a friend or a family member. You don’t have to go anywhere. You can stop what you’re doing and tell God about it.

Today’s verses are from Psalm 13.

Lion roaring about something at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Lion roaring about something at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

The Psalms amaze me. Sometimes they disturb me. I can’t believe that David or the other Psalm writers would commit some of these thoughts to paper. But all I have to do is think about some of the things I’ve accused God of doing (or not doing), and I feel just as verbally abusive toward God as the Psalmists.

Here’s the point. God knows that we aren’t perfect. He knows our stories. He knows our personalities. And He knows how much we can take before we snap. Sometimes we need to snap because that may be the only way we get the picture that we’re not in control of our lives.

David snapped. More than once.

David accused God of lots of things. David wailed in his despair. He hurled emotional statements at God and at others and at himself, and if he hadn’t been in such a state, he probably never would have said any of it.

Did God strike him with lightning? Did God give up on him? Did God abandon him?

No. Even when David’s life turned upside down because of his own sins, God never left him. So why do we think that God will leave us?

What I find most fascinating about the Psalms is that so many of them begin with the writer crying out to God for help or out of despair and depression. So many Psalms start with the writer acknowledging how lost he is. But every Psalm usually ends with the writer—the same one—cheering and rejoicing and praising God.

How does that happen? How can you start out piteously and end up victoriously?

Well, first you have to get piteous out of the way. And you can’t do that until you accept that you feel it and face it with the truth—God is stronger than any trouble you’re facing.

Many times when I’m crying out to God on the bad days, I’ll draw myself up short because my brain reminds me just how much God has done for me. I’m in the middle of bemoaning my present circumstances, and it’s like a little voice whispers: “Hey, dummy, what about last week when He did something impossible for you?”

Or not even impossible. Something kind.

Why does God allow horrible things to happen in our lives? I don’t pretend to know, but I do know that no matter how awful it may be, He can turn it into something good—something better than it ever could have been by itself. And He never will abandon us, no matter what we say or do. If you truly belong to Him, you’re stuck with Him for eternity.

So don’t bottle it up. Or do. Either way, when you explode, make sure you take it to God first. He’s big enough to take it, and he’s patient enough to love you through it. There’s nothing you can do to change that, for better or for worse.

Egyptian statue's head at the British Museum, London, England, UK

Do the license plates match the driver?

I did something yesterday that I’ve never done before. I rented a car and drove to Colorado Springs. When I woke up yesterday morning, I hadn’t planned to do it. When I posted yesterday’s blog, I didn’t realize I’d be writing today’s blog at the St. Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs.

But my life is just kind of funny like that.

To make a very long story short, my parents were vacationing in Colorado and my mom ended up having a problem with one of her fingers. Basically, she had to go in for emergency surgery. And I waited around home as long as I could, but when things started getting (more) complicated, I couldn’t stand it any longer. And I jumped.

One rented car. Most of my desk work from the office. An awesome boss who understands. Seriously…. the whole thing just ran really smoothly and I made it safely to Colorado Springs in about eight hours.

What was interesting to me, though, is that my rental car had Missouri plates. It was a little dark blue Nissan Altima. Really nice car. Did the job very well.

But as I was driving along the highway, another car pulled up beside me. A couple in the front seat looked at me and then drove on past, and I realized they had Missouri plates too. Maybe they knew someone with a dark blue Nissan Altima from Missouri? Maybe they thought they knew me? (or maybe they were just being weird)

Either way, they were obviously disappointed when they drove by and saw me inside. Not from Missouri. A Transplanted Texan who calls Kansas home.

They saw my rented car and expected to see someone they knew inside, but when they got a look at the inside, it wasn’t what they thought.

And I couldn’t help but think about how that relates to other aspects of life, especially in my study about attitude.

Egyptian statue's head at the British Museum, London, England, UK

Egyptian statue’s head at the British Museum, London, England, UK

Today’s verses are Matthew 23:25-26.

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

How many times do you meet someone who presents the image of a “Good Christian,” the consummate Christ-follower, the role model believer? I’ve known a lot of them. But once I really got to know them, once I peeled back the layers and the masks and peeked inside the car windows, I got to see them for who they really were. And I was disappointed.

No, nobody is perfect, and we shouldn’t expect people to be perfect. We shouldn’t judge people for not meeting expectations. We shouldn’t judge people at all because we don’t know their hearts or their situations. But if you encounter a “good Christian” it’s normal to assume that their character will match their appearance. And that’s not always the case.

Those types of Christians have done more damage to the faith than anyone else. I’ve run into so many people who have chosen not to follow God because they’ve met Christians who don’t act like Christians.

So I don’t want to be like that. Not ever. I want my inside self, my character, my thoughts, my everything to be genuine, to be real, and to be 100% sold out to Christ.

It’s difficult, though. When you’ve grown up in the church, when you’ve lived so much of your life around church people, it’s so easy to put on a face. It’s so easy to put the mask on and act like a super Christian. And I’m not talking about teaching. I’m not talking about sharing the Bible with people. I’m not talking about trying to live a life and make choices that honor God.

But what about if someone asks how you’re doing? What about if you’re struggling with your faith? What about if you’re struggling in general? It’s so much easier to put a mask on and pretend like everything is okay, but that’s not healthy. And it’s not helpful.

No, I’m not going to be perfect, but I can be honest about not being perfect. I’m going to make mistakes, absolutely, but I can take responsibility for them and try never to make them again.

That way, my plates will match the person driving. What shows up on the outside won’t identify me as something I’m not.

A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

How you think determines how you act

Okay, readers. Confession time! Not out loud if you don’t want to. But to yourself. Name one person (just one) who you absolutely can’t stand.

And, go!

Did someone come to mind? If you don’t have anyone in mind, you may not get out enough.

What do you think about that person? When that person comes to mind, what do your thoughts look like? Are they sad? Are they bleak? Do you sag in your chair just thinking about them?

Do you get angry? Do you want to just punch them in the face the next time you see them? Or are you more the type to just passive aggressively ignore them in hopes that they’ll leave you alone without you having to cause conflict?

If you’re like me, you have people in your life who drive you insane, but since you don’t like conflict, you’d much rather just ignore them until they go away. People like that don’t really hurt anything. They’re just there. They get dramatic and cause issues, but they have their uses too. You just try not to have to deal with them, and when you do have to deal with them, you do your best to get done and get out.

But what I’ve discovered is that the more I dislike someone, the more my thoughts turn against them too. My heart, my attitude, turns against them and before I know what’s happening, I’m not satisfied with just being passive aggressive. Instead, I start treating them badly. Unfairly. Rudely.

And that’s just not right. And it’s certainly not honoring to Christ.

A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

A meerkat at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:21-22.

You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.

It’s difficult to live with difficult people, but we always need to remember that we may not be as easy to live with as we think we are. Everyone has their quirks. If we didn’t, if we were all the same, imagine how boring life would be.

That doesn’t excuse bad behavior, of course, but that works both ways. Which is better? Treating someone badly? Or treating someone badly because they bother you?

How I think about someone drastically affects how I treat them, how I respond to them, how I speak to them. I read something somewhere that said you laugh more easily at things people you like say. I’ve found that to be true.

I’m not saying that we need to drop everything and live our lives for foolish people. That’s not a good idea. But what we do need to start doing is controlling our thoughts better. That’s where I struggle. My brain runs constantly. I can’t shut it up.

Maybe I can’t shut it up, but I can redirect it. I don’t have to think bad thoughts about people who bug me. I can choose to focus on their aspects that I enjoy. And there has got to be some aspect of them you don’t despise.

Can’t find it? Stop being so critical for a moment and look at yourself in the mirror. You aren’t perfect either.

How you think affects what you do. How you think about people affects how you treat them. So be careful what you let your brain think about. Don’t focus on the bad things about people, especially people you work with or people you live with. Focus on the good things.

Granted, there are times when things need to change. Sometimes situations can reach a place where something needs to be done. But in general you don’t always have control over that. Most of the time, you are where you are, and they are too.

And in that case, it’s either learn how to live with them or forfeit your testimony. Because I can guarantee if you’ve treated someone like garbage because they bother you, they haven’t seen Christ’s love in your life.

A portable toilet outside Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

Mixed messages and your relationship with God

After I graduated from college, I couldn’t find a writing job anywhere. The local newspaper had been sold and wasn’t taking any new employees. There were no marketing positions open. Nothing. I couldn’t even find a secretary job that would take me.

And that’s how I ended up as a sign language interpreter. Yes, a sign language interpreter. For a truly adorable little second grade girl in a public school. Not many folks know I did that, mainly because I didn’t do it for very long, only a semester. I really don’t think I was qualified.

Something I learned? Sign language is less about the hand signs and more about the facial expressions and body language. That surprised me at first, but then I got to thinking about “normal” communication. And it’s true.

Wouldn’t you agree that what you say is less important than how you say it? I mean, you can say the words people want to hear, but the tone of voice you use can communicate the exact opposite of what you’re saying. And more often than not, people listen to your tone or your body language more than the actual words you’re saying.

It’s the same way with your attitude. You can tell God that you want to honor Him and do what He says, but if your attitude isn’t turned toward Him too, all you are is words.

A portable toilet outside Glen Eyrie Castle, Colorado Springs, CO

A portable toilet outside Glen Eyrie Castle (which has lovely bathroom facilities inside, no mixed messages there), Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Matthew 15:11.

It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.

Whatever you have in your heart is what’s going to come out when you speak, whether you say good words or not. You can say good words and still tear people down with your tone of voice. You can claim to be doing what God wants while your heart is cold toward Him.

There’s nothing in the world you can put in your body that will destroy your soul. The only thing that can corrupt you is the attitude you already have in your heart.

So what is that attitude? Are you stubborn and willful? Are you proud and self-centered? Are you desperate to control everything? Or have you just convinced yourself that whatever consequences you’ll have to face for disobedience will be worth it?

When I was interpreting, I remember very clearly that there was one day–one day out of many–that I really felt like I did a good job. And I remember what happened that day: I forgot about myself.

I forgot that I was sitting in front of a room of second graders on a chair three sizes too small for me. I forgot that I really didn’t know what I was doing, that I really wasn’t qualified. I forgot my insecurities and my anxieties and for once I actually, really accepted my role as an interpreter and just did it. And it was great.

How badly do I need to do that with my life now? I really just need to focus on what God has called me to do–not worrying about what I’m qualified for or what I’m capable of or who will be disappointed or who will think I’m ridiculous.

But I want to do it myself. In my time. With my rules. And it just doesn’t work that way.

What I need is an attitude of honesty and humility. So instead of trying to communicate without facial expressions, instead of my tone contradicting my words, I want to embrace an attitude of wholehearted, genuine honesty. Instead of just paying God lip service and then doing whatever I want, however I want, I want to start doing things His way, even if I don’t think it will work.

How about you? When was the last time you told God something you didn’t mean? Did you even think about it? Or did it just roll off your tongue and you forgot about it?

So stop mixing your messages. God knows the truth anyway, and all you’re doing is confusing people around you. And you’re not doing yourself any favors either.

One of the tigers at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Why it’s important for God to be the boss

Sometimes in life, you meet foolish people. And I’m not talking about silly people or goofy people or even immature people. In many cases, people who are silly or goofy or immature are just young or young at heart or don’t have the life experience you do. But that doesn’t make them fools.

The Bible has a very specific definition of a fool. A fool is basically a person who knows what’s right and chooses to do what’s wrong anyway.  A fool is someone who refuses to learn from his/her bad choices.  A fool is someone who won’t listen, not to you, not to authority, not to God.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a fool. The opposite of a foolish person is a wise person, so the next question we need to ask ourselves is what does it mean to be wise?

One of the tigers at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

One of the tigers at the Omaha Zoo, Omaha, NE

Today’s verse is Psalm 111:10.

Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.
All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.

This is one of those verses Sunday School teachers make kids memorize, but I’m not sure if people really take the time to explain it or understand it. As a child, I didn’t really get what it meant to be afraid of God.

God has always been a huge part of my life, and I’ve never been afraid of Him. But my mom helped me understand the concept of what fearing God looks like.

I’m not afraid of my boss. Not really. She’s intimidating in her own way, but only because she has authority in my life. So because I recognize her as my authority, I do what she asks me to do. And that’s the same way with God.

God is our authority. God has the right to tell us what to do. But it’s up to us to accept that authority or reject it. But what this verse means is that if you accept God’s authority, you’re on your way to becoming wise. So the the opposite must be true too. If you reject God’s authority, you’re on the fast track to foolishness.

One of the first steps to not being foolish is having an attitude that is teachable.

Have you met teachable people? They’re awesome to be around. They’re willing to learn. They don’t insist on getting their own way. They quietly allow you to explain yourself, your point of view. They don’t act like they already know it all. That’s the kind of person I want to be. That’s the kind of student, friend, daughter, sister I want to be.

How does your attitude check out? When God tells you to do something, do you automatically reject it? And I’m not talking weird, creepy voices in your head. I mean out of the Bible. That’s the way God communicates with us the majority of the time.

If the Bible says to live a certain way, do you do it? If you don’t do it, why not? Is it because it’s uncomfortable? Is it because it’s unpopular? Is it because you just don’t want to?

It’s okay. Everyone’s been there. I’ve been there in the last few weeks. Where God has obviously told me to do something, and I didn’t do it because I didn’t want to.

That doesn’t mean I’m not His child. That doesn’t mean He’ll throw me away. But it does mean that He’ll go out of His way to show me that living that way isn’t in my best interests.

Respecting God’s authority in your life is the very foundation of wisdom, because when you accept who God is to you and who you are to Him, it changes your perspective on everything. Or it should.

Do you respect God’s authority? Do you recognize that He is God and you aren’t? And if you do, do you accept what that means? That His way is best? Just because you believe one doesn’t mean you act on the other.

It’s difficult to do. It’s hard to live the way God wants sometimes, especially when you want to do things your own way. But live long enough and you’ll learn that God really does know what He’s doing. And your life will be so much easier if you just stop being stubborn and do what He says.

Maybe people say being foolish is fun, but it isn’t really. When you’re a fool, you plateau. There’s only so much foolishness a person can achieve. But wisdom? Wisdom opens doors. Wisdom stretches out farther than your eyes can see. Wisdom is a great adventure that never gets boring, never grows old, and never ends.

So which one do you want?