The devil made me do it?

 

This month I’m studying prayer, and I started with the most famous prayer (probably) in history, the Lord’s Prayer. But it’s not a prayer to be prayed as our only conversation with God. It’s a format or an outline of how to pray, using your own words. And one of the parts of prayer is asking God for help in dealing with temptation before it gets here.

Stone dragon statue looking out over the pool at the Chinese garden at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Stone dragon statue looking out over the pool at the Chinese garden at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:13.

And don’t let us yield to temptation,
    but rescue us from the evil one.

You’re going to be tempted. If you’re human and you’re breathing, Satan is going to throw something at you to get you to take a wrong step, to get you to compromise your faith, to get you to lose your testimony. That old phrase, “the devil made me do it” doesn’t really play. Maybe he suggested it, but if you’re a Christ-follower, you have the power to say no. That makes sin your choice.

Understand that being tempted isn’t a sin. Everyone is tempted. Even Jesus was tempted when He walked on the Earth, but when you’re tempted, you can choose to yield or be strong and stand against it. Yielding to temptation is where the sin comes in.

So many times I think I fall when I’m tempted because I don’t anticipate it. It sneaks up on me, and I give in because I wasn’t ready to defend myself. That’s the trick with our enemy. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and he knows exactly what to throw at us to get us to cave. And if we don’t expect it, we’ll give in.

Now it’s true that sin has no power over a Christ-follower. Even if you do yield to temptation, you won’t lose your salvation. But you will have consequences in this life. It’s a natural law, like sowing and reaping, that actions have consequences. And if you choose to do something wrong, you’ll experience wrong circumstances as a result–maybe not today and maybe not even tomorrow but eventually. And if you don’t experience it, someone you love will.

Sin always has a price. And it always has a harvest.

But God has given us the power to resist temptation. That’s one of the reasons why we have the Holy Spirit, and it’s another reason why we have each other to help us stay accountable. I’m not saying to see Satan under every rock and shrub, but be aware.

It’s foolish for a woman to walk through a dark alleyway at night, even if she has mace. That’s just asking to be attacked. But so many of us treat our lives that way. We go through our daily business, not even thinking about the fact that there is a spiritual war going on around us, where the forces of God and the forces of Satan are locked in combat. The things that are real are the things we can’t see, so what does that say about our lives?

Don’t be naive. You’re going to experience temptation. That doesn’t make you a bad Christian. It makes you human. But if you don’t want to be a fool, anticipate it. Understand that it’s coming. Learn to recognize the tools Satan uses to throw you off track, and ask God to help. He will.

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Foxglove at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

The elephant in the room

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to have a conversation with someone who hasn’t done something they know they need to do? True, they may be really good at hiding it. But if it’s a friend you’ve known for a long time and you know they’re purposefully ignoring something they’re supposed to get done, what do you talk about? Sure, you can talk around the problem. But isn’t there a saying about the elephant in the room? It’s like a cloud that hangs over both your heads, that has a negative effect on your conversation and your relationship.

It’s like trying to talk to someone who has something in their teeth. Can you focus on what they’re saying?

I’ve noticed that’s true in my human relationships. So why wouldn’t it be true in our relationships with God?

Foxglove at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Foxglove at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:12.

And forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

If this looks familiar, it should, because this is the same verse I blogged about on Friday. But on Friday I only took the time to focus on asking forgiveness for our own sins. I didn’t touch on how we need to forgive others, which is just as important as asking forgiveness for ourselves.

As followers of Christ, we are commanded to forgive. Christ told multiple stories about forgiveness throughout the Gospels, and the Bible is full of stories about how people forgave those who had done them wrong. But that was then, right? Is it really still the same? Well, people haven’t changed. So why should this?

If you’re holding something over someone else’s head, that’s what you’re focusing on. That’s a part of yourself that’s tied down. A part of your heart is distracted. And God wants our whole heart. All the pieces not just the ones we’re willing to give Him, not the pieces that are perfect or in good order. He wants all of us.

Unforgiveness is one of the hardest hurdles to overcome, I think. At least, that’s been my personal experience. It takes a lot to really hurt me. Most of the time I just let things roll off. I don’t get offended easily, and I try to live understanding that people are perfect, that everyone has bad days, that life isn’t about me. But every now and then, I run into a situation where someone manages to hurt me on a level that I don’t expect. And as someone who doesn’t get hurt often, it’s difficult for me to forgive, especially if I’m not the one who was hurt. Forgiving others who have hurt people I love is more difficult for me than forgiving people who hurt me.

But unforgiveness is just as damaging no matter who got hurt. And holding on to it does nothing to the perpetrator while it poisons me from the inside out.

I’m not going to go into details but a long time ago I had a friend who stabbed me in the back. I was naive back then, and I didn’t see it coming. The one person I thought I could count on turned against me, and I didn’t understand why. I still don’t. Not really. I thought I let it go. I thought I left it behind me as I moved on with my life, but deep down inside I hadn’t. And that old hurt festered and turned to resentment and then to bitterness, and all the while I was living a good Christian life. Anyone who talked to me wouldn’t have known any different. But I knew I was holding on to it because every time I talked to God, it would come up at the back of my mind–a still, small voice that whispered, “Hey, you need to take care of that.”

And I knew I did. I just didn’t know how to go about it.

I’ll never forget. My awesome pastor preached a message called “Scar Tissue” ages ago in a series called Life Ink that really changed the way I looked at forgiveness. And I remember letting go. Finally. And I can’t tell you it felt like a weight off my shoulders. I can’t tell you that I noticed a change in my daily life. But talking to God didn’t feel strained anymore because I’d finally acknowledged what I hadn’t done yet, and I’d taken care of it.

It’s important to ask forgiveness for yourself, yes. We all do wrong. We all sin. And we need to acknowledge those sins when we talk to God, but we also need to forgive others who have sinned against us. If we don’t, holding that against them will change you, and it will have a negative effect on your prayer life.

Whatever you’re holding on to today, consider letting it go. I’ve never tried to talk to someone with a literal elephant in the room, but I can only imagine how distracting it would be.

Bright red flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Asking forgiveness isn’t for God’s benefit

I struggle with living in denial, sometimes. I can convince myself that just about anything isn’t a problem, or at least that anything can be dealt with later. In some cases, this is a big blessing because otherwise I would drive myself crazy with all the things that I can’t accomplish. Example? I live alone in a 100-year-old farmhouse that brings new meaning to the phrase deferred maintenance. It’s not that the place is falling apart, it’s just that there’s a lot to do and no way for me to do it all, especially not alone.

Right now, my yard (which is mostly weeds) is knee-high because my mower broke. My basement is still half put together after the flooding last week, and I still have towels under the leaky window well because it hasn’t rained enough since then to prove that we’ve fixed the problem. Also, the house is still damaged from the major storm that blew through a month or so ago, but we’re still in storm season, so fixing the damage is a bad idea until the majority of storm season is over. The chicken house is still mostly destroyed from the major windstorm in November, but the only way to fix it is to tear it down and build another one, and who has time/money for that right now? On one hand, this stuff could drive me nuts. But I don’t let it. I know it’s there, but I can live without it being perfect for a little while.

But what about the stuff that I can fix? That stuff isn’t so good to live in denial about. If you’ve spent any amount of time on this blog, you know I have an aversion to doing the dishes. And putting away my laundry. And keeping my office clean-ish. And just housework in general. Granted, there’s no problem with living in denial about any of that, but it doesn’t make for a very orderly home. And I wouldn’t exactly say that being able to ignore those things is a blessing. It’s more of a bad habit, and unfortunately a habit like that can spill over into other areas of our lives.

Bright red flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Bright red flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:12.

And forgive us our sins,
    as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

Can you pray without asking for forgiveness? I can. And I really probably shouldn’t. If you can get through a day without needing to ask God’s forgiveness for something you did or something you said or something you thought, you must be perfect. Either that, or you’re living in denial.

There’s a reason asking for forgiveness, and conversely forgiving others, appears in the Lord’s Prayer. This month I’ve been studying prayer, and I started with the most famous prayer, which is actually more of a format to follow than a prayer to be repeated. This is the example Jesus gave for us to follow when we pray.

Why is it so hard to ask forgiveness? Well, who likes to admit when they’re wrong? Who likes to admit that they need forgiveness? Let’s be real here, Christians. It’s easy to say we need it, but it’s not so easy to live like it. It’s not so easy to ask it. It’s easy for me to sit at my computer and write about how I’m not perfect and how I need God’s forgiveness, but when I get out into the world and I’m making snap decisions and fast judgments and doing the best I can, living the way I’m supposed to isn’t always at the top of my mind. Not like it should be.

And when I make mistakes and realize it, I get defensive because I know better. Of course, I know better. I’ve been following Christ since I was seven years old. And there’s some part of me that tells me to sweep it under the rug and ignore it. It’s forgiven. It’s not a big deal. God knows I’m not perfect.

But what happens if we do that? What happens if we ignore our sin, even the minor ones? Well, in my case, I become accustomed to them. I don’t notice them anymore. I desensitize myself to them. And before long, they become a habit. And when sin becomes a habit, you’ve got big trouble because habits are hard to break, especially bad ones.

 

 

 

Little purple flower, San Pancho, Peten, Guatemala

If it matters to you, it matters to God.

I hate pestering people, but I like getting things done. So my professional life is usually a tug of war between my results-oriented, performance-driven personality and my need to remain anonymous and low maintenance. But sometimes I wonder if my professional life creeps into my personal life a little more than I think.

This month, I’m studying prayer because it something I want to understand better. I’ve grown up praying. I’ve prayed in different languages. I’ve listened to prayers in even more languages than I can speak. I’ve heard prayers I understood, prayers I didn’t, prayers that rhymed. You name it, and I’ve heard someone pray it.

And I’m just as guilty as the next Christian at wondering, “Why would anyone pray for something like that?” Do you ever do that? Do you ever wonder why someone would pray for something?

I hate to admit that I do. I’d like to think I don’t do it as often as I used to because I’ve learned more about prayer the older I’ve gotten. But that doesn’t stop my sharp-tongued brain from thinking things I’ll never say out loud about how silly a prayer request might be.

Seriously. What gives me the right to judge the worth of someone’s prayer request? What are we even supposed to be praying for anyway? We’ve already established that we’re supposed to worship God in our prayers, telling Him who He is. We’re also supposed to pray with an attitude that prefers His way instead of our own. But when we get to the “asking for things” part of our prayers, what are we actually supposed to ask for?

Little purple flower, San Pancho, Peten, Guatemala

Little purple flower, San Pancho, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:11.

Give us today the food we need.

Is that it? Well, it’s far from the shortest verse in the Bible, but not by much. So what on earth does this mean? Does this mean we’re only supposed to pray for things that we need? What about things that we want? Can’t was ask God for those things too? What about our dreams? What about the impossible? Don’t we need more than food?

Remember, the Lord’s Prayer is an instruction manual. It’s the basics of how to pray. It’s like an outline for how to talk to God.

There are other verses that talk about how God wants to know what we want, how God wants us to tell Him about our dreams. And I think Jesus used the “daily bread” example to show us that nothing is too small or insignificant to ask God about.

Do you ever not pray about something because you’ think God wouldn’t care about it? Do you ever skip over a prayer request because you think it’s not worth the time? Well, if Jesus is saying that we can pray for our daily bread, which we were probably going to get anyway, we can pray to ask for help finding our keys. We can pray that our gallon of gas left in the tank gets us to the next gas station. We can pray for the little things.

Nothing is too little. If it matters to you, it matters to God.

Don’t judge your problems by how the world sees them. Don’t make a judgement call about someone else’s issues using the world as a measuring stick. The world has a tendency to muddle things up.

Yes, ask Him for spectacular things. Ask Him for amazing things that no one else could accomplish. But don’t get so focused on those huge flashy things that you forget how huge and important the small requests are. Oftentimes, it’s the small things that mean the most.

Delicate pinkish-white flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Lose the entitlement mentality

Do you pray like I do? You ask God for the things you want and get your heart set on them because–well–of course, He’ll answer. He’s God. And God is good, and what I want is good, so surely He’ll give me what I want. Anyone else think like that?

Yeah, I have to admit that’s the way I used to pray, and I would get so frustrated because God didn’t give me what I asked for. It took a few years for me to be able to look back and understand that the things I asked for then would have hurt me. They would have distracted me. They were temporary. They weren’t worth it. God knew it, but I didn’t at the time.

This is the strange part about praying because we need to bring our requests to God. We need to ask Him for things. He wants us to ask Him for things. But whenever we ask Him, we always need to remember that He may not give it to us, and if He doesn’t, it’s not because He’s bad or mean or a liar. It simply means it’s not time yet or maybe our perception of what we’re asking for isn’t accurate.

Delicate pinkish-white flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Delicate pinkish-white flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:10.

May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
    as it is in heaven.

Continuing our little study of the Lord’s Prayer, this is the second part of the instruction manual for praying. Yesterday we started with remembering who God is, remembering that we need to worship Him first before we do anything else, recognizing and acknowledging Him for Who He is. But what about this second step? What does this mean?

Well, think about it.

May your Kingdom come soon.

If we’re praying for God’s kingdom to come soon, that means we care more about the life to come than we do about the life we’re living now. It’s easy to get caught up in our day-to-day routines. It’s even easier to get distracted by the busyness of life. So I know I forget often that this world isn’t all there is. We have a better home, a better life waiting for us, and we need to be storing up treasures for that life rather than this one. Because on this dirt ball that we call home, what the world calls treasure is temporary.

May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

That’s what I started off talking about. God’s will is done in heaven. Duh. That’s an obvious statement, right? But how often is God’s will done on earth? I can tell you I don’t always do what I’m supposed to do. My life would probably look a lot different if I did. So if we’re praying for God’s will to be done down here, that means we’re asking for God to help us know what His will is on a day-to-day basis. And that means we’re willing to give up what we want in favor of what He says is better–even if it doesn’t make sense.

Neither of these steps is weird or unusual, but how many of us actually use these in our prayer lives? How many of us talk to God about these things? How often do you start a prayer by worshiping God first and then telling Him that you care more about eternity than your earthly life and that you’re willing to give up everything you want to do what He says?

If you pray that way, you’re a better Christian than I am.

What’s the point of praying like this? It comes down to attitude, I think. Once we get our perspective straight and remember who God is, the next thing we need to tackle is our entitlement mentality. We think we deserve things. We think God owes us one. No, we’d never say it out loud, but that’s how we treat Him.

Ask God for what you need. He wants to hear from you. But ask respectfully, understanding that God knows what you’re asking for and why you’re asking for it. Remember He doesn’t look at the outside. He looks at your heart and judges your motivation. So if you’re asking for something out of a selfish desire, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to get it. But even if you ask for something with the purest motivation, you still may not get it, and you can’t let that ruin your faith in God. If nothing else, it should bolster it, because I guarantee ten years from now you’ll be able to look back and realize exactly why God didn’t give you your way. You’ll be thankful then.

So skip the angst when your prayers aren’t answered and just thank God for it now. It’ll save drama in the long run.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Remember who you’re talking to

I don’t like reading instructions. I’m one of those silly people who prefer to jump into assembling things without the aid of an instruction manual. I prefer to guess, even if it voids the warranty and especially if there are parts leftover. I’d rather figure it out for myself than have someone tell me or than have to take the time to figure out which page has the English on it.

Did you know there are instructions to prayer? Jesus gave us a format that we should use when we pray, but not many people use it. As I blogged about yesterday, some folks traditionally like to recite the practice prayer. To me, that’s like reading an instruction manual out loud. I’m sure it’s beneficial, but it doesn’t accomplish what it was designed to accomplish until you use it.

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Blossoming thistle flower as a major storm approaches Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:9.

Pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
    may your name be kept holy.

This is the first line of the Lord’s Prayer. In other translations, you might remember it says something about “hallowed be thy name” but this means the same thing. There is so much going on in these first two lines, I almost split them up to talk about on separate mornings, but they are basically communicating the same concept: God deserves our worship.

That’s the first thing we need to remember when we pray. That’s the first step in the process. Worship. Praise. Telling God how awesome He is.

Why?

How many times do we just go to God with a request? With a demand? How many times do we open the line of communication between us just to ask for something and then shut it down?

Don’t get me wrong. God wants us to ask for things. He wants us to tell Him what we need, but that’s later on in the process. To start with, we need to get our perspective right. We need to remember who we’re talking to.

All too often, I think we get really comfortable with our relationship with God. And on one hand, that’s good. God wants a personal relationship with us. He wants us to call Him our Daddy. He wants to be the closest friend we have–but not at the expense of us forgetting Who He is. He is God. He is I Am. He created everything. He rules everything. And everything is about Him, whether we want to admit it or not. He is terrifying in strength, glorious in power, awesome in love, and furious in wrath. He is so far above us we couldn’t possible comprehend Him, so why do we expect that we can treat Him like a genie in a lamp? Where does that idea come from?

No. Before you ask for things, before you make your requests, before you delve into your list of demands, worship Him. Tell Him who He is to you. Thank Him for what He’s done in your life, in your heart, in our world. Remind yourself of how He’s changed you.

This is so important because by first acknowledging that He is God and you aren’t, it’s easier to remember that He knows what He’s doing. And it’s good to remember what He’s already done for you so you’ll remember that He’s never left you hanging.

So as you pray today, start off by telling God how great He is. Actually, even if you don’t get to your requests, just tell Him how great He is. Thank Him for specific things in your life. Thank Him for specific events in your life, good or bad. Thank Him for always being there.

Once you recognize everything He’s done, it’s hard to stop thanking Him. And once you’re done praying, don’t shut the line off. Don’t hang up the phone. Don’t forget He’s there. Worship Him all day. Keep an open line of communication going all day. When something goes wrong, praise Him. When something goes right, praise Him. Not only will it change your perspective, but it might change your circumstances too. Because Scripture proves that God loves to do things for grateful people who know Who He is.