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.

Frog on a log at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Circumstances

November 2012 may go down in my personal history as the suckiest month ever. Seriously. Between car wrecks, damaging storms, deaths in the family and now allergic reactions that send me to the emergency room at Midnight … I can’t even guess what’s coming next and I don’t want to.

But no matter how many ridiculously frustrating and sad things happen in life, there’s one thing I’m trying to remember.

Frog on a log at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Frog on a log at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Our circumstances shouldn’t dictate our perspective. Just because we are currently going through difficult times doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us or that He is punishing us for something. It just means that the world isn’t perfect. And it means that we aren’t perfect yet either. Or that we still have a lot to learn about living.

And personally, I think hard times are a good reminder for us that this life isn’t all there is.

There are a couple of verses in Scripture that talk about how to respond to difficult times. The passage escapes me, but there is a verse that says to rejoice in difficult times. But rejoicing in difficulty is different than being thankful in it.

Rejoicing means that you can still be positive even when you’re going through uncomfortable or unpleasant situations. But being thankful? Being thankful for adversity is hard. You have to step back and look at all the troubles in your life and turn to God and thank Him for it. That’s what being thankful in difficulty looks like, and I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been doing too well at that.

How am I supposed to thank Him for letting me have a car wreck that I caused? How am I supposed to thank Him for letting a crazy wind storm tear up my property? How am I supposed to thank Him for my Great Aunt’s death, for my swollen up eyeball, for my stressful work situation? Am I really supposed to thank Him for all of that?

Yes.

Granted, I don’t have to. He doesn’t force us to do anything, and gratitude is something you can’t fake. Not to God.

But so much depends on your perspective. If you can take the difficult situations in your life and be thankful to God for them and be specific when you thank Him for them, know what happens? You look at those circumstances differently.

That car wreck becomes an opportunity to be a better driver and share the story of God’s grace with people. The wind storm that ripped up my property provided a chance for me to get to know my neighbor better. My Great Aunt’s death reminded me of how precious family is and how short life can be. And my swollen up eyeball? … Well … that was a good learning experience of how I shouldn’t ever rub my eye. Ever. … No, it was a good opportunity for me and God to have a serious talk about trusting Him.

Circumstances are temporary. They’re like life. They never stop changing. They’re like the weather in Kansas; if you don’t like it, wait a while and it will change. So if you base your perspective on your circumstances, you’ll be as volatile as the wind. But if you base your perspective and your joy and your gratitude on God and on His Word, even when your life turns upside down, your focus will remain steady.

So when the difficult times come, and they will come (in droves often), don’t get discouraged. Just recognize them for what they are: a chance to grow.

Posts on Jamaica Beach at sunrise - Galveston, TX

Self-imposed blindness

God has a plan. Did you realize that? I mean, I think everyone realizes it, but it’s one thing to realize it and it’s something else to live like it.

God can see everything. Time has no meaning to Him; He created time. Distance or separation has no meaning to Him because He is everywhere. There’s nothing He doesn’t know. And there’s nothing He can’t do. So with that kind of a Person, Someone with that kind of intel, at our disposal, don’t you think it’s a good idea to listen to what He has to say?

Posts on Jamaica Beach at sunrise - Galveston, TX

Posts on Jamaica Beach at sunrise – Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Proverbs 29:18.

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.
    But whoever obeys the law is joyful.

I love Proverbs. They’re always so blunt and straightforward. And this is very true. When people try to live life without listening to what God has said, their lives spin out of control. Maybe not a first, but it’s inevitable.

I get curious, though, when I think I understand all that a verse is saying the first time I read through it, so I always end up checking the verse in other translations too. So this is the same verse in the Amplified Version:

Where there is no vision [no redemptive revelation of God], the people perish; but he who keeps the law [of God, which includes that of man]—blessed (happy, fortunate, and enviable) is he.

I thought this was interesting. The New Living Translation indicates that when people reject God’s Word, they will have no stability. But the Amplified Version is a little harsher. According to the Amplified Version, when people don’t have Scripture (that’s what the “redemptive revelation of God” refers to), they will die. It’s a similar concept, but it’s just enough different that I thought it merited a jump over to the Message.

The Message is my favorite paraphrase, mainly because it usually is able to communicate the meaning and context of the original language in a modern way. So this is the same verse in the Message:

If people can’t see what God is doing,
   they stumble all over themselves;
But when they attend to what he reveals,
   they are most blessed.

When people don’t accept divine guidance — Where there is no vision — If people can’t see what God is doing. Rejection. Ignorance. Blindness. Maybe it’s phrased in three different ways, but really the core of this verse comes down to one thought:

Without God, we’re lost. Without God, we have no direction, we have no purpose, we have no life.

That’s a simple concept, one that every believer accepts without question superficially. But do we really believe it? Because if we really believed it, our lives would look different, our families would look different, our country would look different.

Believers aren’t immune from rejecting God’s direction. As much as I hate to admit it, I do it all the time. God tells me to love people more than I love myself, and sometimes I’m better at it than others. But more often, I end up acting selfishly.

And I think most of the time we’re content to exist in ignorance of God’s will. We’ve convinced ourselves that God’s will is too difficult to find or that if we are able to find it, He will ask something of us that we’re unwilling to give. So we don’t even try.

And if you reject direction and live in ignorance, the only way you can be described is blind. And blind people can’t see where they’re going. It’s the same with families. It’s the same with churches. And it’s the same with countries.

Without God, we’re lost.

God has given us direction in Scripture, and if we believe in Him, we have a responsibility to do what He says, to live the way He has instructed, to be the kind of people He tells us we ought to be.

If we reject that direction, if we ignore that truth and live in self-imposed blindness to God’s plan, we will flail about with no stability and no purpose. And after living for an extended period of time with no purpose, you will lose hope.

So if you know Scripture, don’t ignore it. If you don’t know Scripture, start reading and do what it says. The Bible is God’s Word to us, to tell us how to live, to show us what He expects from us. Scripture tells us our purpose: to live for God.

And once you understand that you really do have a purpose, that you really can follow God’s directions, something pretty awesome happens. You find joy. And joy is better than any perceived freedom you think you’ve gained by flipping God off.

Single tree at sunrise - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Peace is a gift; Trust is a choice.

What does it mean to be at peace? To experience peace, oftentimes we think we need to be alone out in the middle of nowhere. Peace is usually associated with calm, like the eye of a storm or the vast openness of the countryside. Actually, its first definition in the dictionary refers to a the harmony between people groups during the absence of war. But is peace really stillness? Can you only be peaceful when everything is calm?

I have learned that peace isn’t necessarily something you can find when everything is quiet. It’s actually more the other way around. Real peace doesn’t come in those moments when nothing is wrong; real peace comes at the times when everything is going crazy and you have to trust that God is going to work it out. That is real peace.

Single tree at sunrise - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Single tree at sunrise - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

When Jesus was explaining to the Disciples that He had to leave, this is one of the statements that He made. He was leaving, but He wasn’t leaving them with nothing.

What is the difference between the peace we get from the world and the peace we get from God? Is there a difference? Jesus said there was.

The world’s peace is wrapped up in securities and possessions and position. Wealth and status and control–if you have all these things you can have peace because there’s nothing that can hit you that you can’t survive. Right? Peace is knowing you’ve got everything under control. It’s knowing you have money in the bank. It’s knowing you have health insurance. It’s knowing you have a family vision plan. It’s making enough to pay your mortgage. It’s a job you may not like but that pays the bills. It’s not having to worry about anything (except we still worry, don’t we?).

So if that’s peace, what happens when you lose your job? What happens when you don’t have money in the bank and your health insurance goes away? What happens when you can’t pay your mortgage? What happens to your peace?

That’s not the kind of peace Jesus is talking about.

Peace from the world is temporary because anything the world offers is temporary. Finding peace in material things is a really bad idea because those things can be destroyed or taken away. We just had more bad storms blow through Kansas last night, and many folks had a good deal of property damage.

The peace Jesus is talking about in this verse is something that only comes from the Holy Spirit. I wish I knew Greek so I could get the exact word, but the context of the verse from the Message is basically saying that even though Jesus was leaving, He wasn’t leaving us incomplete. God provided everything we needed through the Holy Spirit, so we have no cause to be afraid or distraught.

Peace from God defies explanation.

This verse is pretty much saying that Jesus gave us His peace, the peace He has. Talk about mind blowing! To have the kind of peace that Jesus experienced? So when I think about peace, I don’t think about the eye of a storm where everything is calm; I think about Jesus walking in the midst of a storm and calming it.

The peace we get from God is based in our trust that He knows what He’s doing.

We trust that God doesn’t make mistakes and that He is big enough to work everything in our lives (the good and the bad) together to do something amazing. And if we can trust Him, we get peace because we’re not worrying about the things we can’t control. And we’re not anxious about life. And no matter what comes at us, we aren’t afraid because God is bigger than any obstacle in our path.

In the Amplified Bible, it clarifies a statement out of this verse by saying: “Stop allowing yourselves to be agitated and disturbed; and do not permit yourselves to be fearful and intimidated and cowardly and unsettled.”

Peace is a gift, but trust is a choice.

We can allow ourselves to be frightened. We can allow ourselves to anxious. But we don’t have to allow ourselves to be that way. Instead of choosing to feel fear and indecision, we can choose to trust that God is in control. And when we do that, the Holy Spirit will give us His peace. Not the quiet, soothing, calmness of the open country or the beach or the mountains; nothing nearly so romanticized as that. Most of the time, you’ll just get to sit at an oasis in a sandstorm.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that peace negates grief. Grief is often necessary, and there’s a time and place for it. But peace supersedes it.

God’s peace is something no one can take away from you. And the awesome thing about God’s peace is that it allows you to bring calm into other peoples’ storms too. It doesn’t mean the storm is over. It just means you don’t have to be afraid of it.

Storm rolling in

God can still work things out even when we screw up

I don’t know how often you screw up, but I make a lot of mistakes. I’m not perfect, of course; nobody is. But in the instances when I know the right thing to do, sometimes I choose to do what I know I shouldn’t in spite of the fact. And I have spent a lot of time worrying over my past mistakes and how my actions have affected the people around me.

But I don’t think it’s healthy to live your life looking backward and second-guessing what you could have done differently. You can’t change it. Yes, you can change the way you live because of what you learned, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but after a day when I am less than perfect, I can sink into a deep pit of self-loathing because I didn’t live up to my potential. And I feel like a wretched person because if I had done right, maybe God would have used me to help others.

Storm rolling in

Storm rolling in - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Jonah 1:16.

 The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.

I have always glossed over this verse before. It didn’t really matter to me. After all, the Book of Jonah is about Jonah, a godly man who God sent on a task and who promptly ran the opposite direction. Don’t be too hard on Jonah for trying to escape God; we’ve all tried it too and failed just as miserably.

So what’s important about the sailors?

Well, you really should read the whole first book of Jonah. Actually, you should read the whole book if you haven’t. It’s pretty phenomenal. But in any case, the sailors were the men on the boat to Tarshish, the boat Jonah got on when he was running away from God. And God sent a storm, and the sailors freaked out. Jonah convinced them to throw him in the ocean, and the storm stopped. That’s the story in a nutshell. But a couple of things stand out to me.

One, if you read the whole fist chapter, you’ll see that the sailors knew Jonah followed a different god than they did. Two, they knew Jonah was running away from God. Three, they already respected Jonah’s God enough to pray that He wouldn’t strike them down for throwing Jonah overboard.

And so they threw Jonah over the side, and the storm stopped. And that brings us to verse 16.

The sailors were changed by what they had experienced. And though Jonah played a small part, it was mainly God who did the work.

Do you realize that Jonah probably never saw those sailors again? I mean, it’s possible that he did. But if you know the story, as soon as he gets out of the fish that God sent to save him, he goes directly to Ninevah, where he should have gone to start with. And Ninevah is in the opposite direction of Tarshish. So it’s really unlikely that Jonah would have ever encountered those men again. Jonah would not have known how his circumstances affected them. He wouldn’t have known about their decision to serve God. All Jonah would know is that he screwed up.

Yes, he made the right call on the ship when he told them to cast him overboard. And God redeemed that one good decision to reach the men on the ship. But Jonah didn’t know that.

So how does that apply to us? Well, we’re going to screw up. We just do. You can try to be perfect, but it won’t work. Does that mean we shouldn’t even try? That’s not what I’m saying, so please don’t misunderstand me. We all should aim to be like Christ, to live the way God has directed us. But once you make the decision to do wrong, that decision is made. You will face the consequences, and hopefully you’ll learn the lesson and change the way you live afterward.

But after you ask forgiveness and after you change your thinking, don’t go back and regret what you did. Don’t live in the past. God has forgiven you, and — what’s more — He will use what you did to bring glory to Himself, even if it’s something you screwed up.