One wrong step doesn’t mean you have to fall

The internet and media outlets are overflowing with examples of how people have made really bad choices, and it seems to be getting worse every day. I swear, every day there’s a new tragedy to report on. Every day, someone makes the headlines for a horrible decision he or she made–sometimes recently, sometimes in the past.

And what I find interesting (maybe sad is more like it) is that the majority is quick to condemn. If the person in question screwed up royally and hurt other people or betrayed someone or did something that popular culture says is wrong, just about everybody is ready to jump on the bandwagon and talk about how evil that person is. And it doesn’t matter who they are or where they came from or even what they did. There’s comfort in following the crowd. There’s security in saying the same things everybody around you says, whether you have all the facts or not.

The truth is much more challenging–much less comfortable. Because maybe we haven’t done “what they did” but we’ve done something similar, and if we were to put ourselves in that person’s shoes, how would we want to be treated? Kind of tough when you think about it like that. Gives new meaning to “but for the grace of God” right? Because I’m not special, and neither are you. We all have things in our lives that we wish weren’t there, but that doesn’t change the way God feels about us.

TightropeToday’s verses are Psalm 66:16-20.

Come and listen, all you who fear God,
and I will tell you what he did for me.
For I cried out to him for help,
praising him as I spoke.
If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
But God did listen!
He paid attention to my prayer.
Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer
or withdraw his unfailing love from me.

Everybody screws up. Nobody escapes it. And that’s not an excuse for sin. If you sin against God and choose to go against what He says is right, you are responsible for your choices. But God doesn’t favor one person over another. He doesn’t love one race more than another. And there’s nothing of us can do to make Him love us more or less than He already does.

I have a hard time wrapping my brain around that because I know what I’ve done. I know what I think, what I feel in my heart of hearts. I know the kind of person I am, and it’s really difficult to accept that someone like God would love me in spite of me. But He does. And I know He does. The Bible says so, and I tend to agree with the Bible when it says stuff.

But the Bible does make it clear that while sin doesn’t stop God from loving us, our attitude toward it will keep Him from hearing us. And our attitude is up to us.

You can call your sin what it is–evil and contrary to who God is. Or you can make excuses for it. You can turn away from it and despise it and seek to never go back to it. Or you can keep dipping your toes in it because it’s fun. What attitude do you think God is going to pay attention to?

It’s not about what you’ve done. It’s about your attitude about what you’ve done. It’s the disposition of your heart toward the wrong you’ve done in your life. Are you sorry for it? Do you want to change? Do you want God to bless you? Do you want God to hear your prayers? Call your sin what it is, and don’t be so quick to jump on other people who’ve fallen off that same proverbial wagon.

We’re all in the same boat down here, people. Nobody lives on a pedestal–not really. We’re all beggars just looking for bread to eat. And God’s within reach, offering a feast to us free of charge, if only we’ll reach out and take it.

Icicle ornament on the tree, Haven, KS

Creating joy from sorrow

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

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

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

Icicle ornament on the tree, Haven, KS

Icicle ornament on the tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 40:1-5.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

God listens better than we give Him credit

Sometimes it feels like God doesn’t listen. I know He does, but what I know and what I feel isn’t always the same. And I’ve been around long enough to trust what I know more than what I feel, but sometimes life gets to a certain point where you just can’t help it. You feel like a nail that’s being pounded into unforgiving wood by a sledgehammer that does more to bend it than drive it in. And no matter how much you ask for mercy, more trouble keeps coming.

In those moments, it’s easy to think that God doesn’t care. It’s easy to believe that He’s not listening. Otherwise, if He cared, if He listened, why would He let so much bad happen in our lives? I don’t believe that God brings bad things to us; the evil in our lives can either be attributed to our broken world or consequences of our own actions. But it’s still difficult to face sometimes because we want God to make it all go away.

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Lions in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 138.

I give you thanks, O Lord, with all my heart;
    I will sing your praises before the gods.
I bow before your holy Temple as I worship.
    I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness;
for your promises are backed
    by all the honor of your name.
As soon as I pray, you answer me;
    you encourage me by giving me strength.

Every king in all the earth will thank you, Lord,
    for all of them will hear your words.
Yes, they will sing about the Lord’s ways,
    for the glory of the Lord is very great.
Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
    but he keeps his distance from the proud.

Though I am surrounded by troubles,
    you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
    and the power of your right hand saves me.
The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
    for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

I know this Psalm. I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about it multiple times, but verse 3 caught my eye particularly this morning. God doesn’t always answer my prayers right away. Most of the time, I have to wait. Or if He answers, I don’t know about it until years later. But just last week God answered me immediately. Without going into the extraneous details, last week I was exhausted and worn out and stressed out, and it felt like the bad news just kept piling up. And as I was driving, I asked God to help me focus on what mattered, to get my perspective back to where it needed to be, and to help me get through it. And just like that, a song started playing on the radio.

I can’t remember what song it was, but it was exactly the song I needed to hear. Followed by another song that was also relevant. Followed by another song that was just as good. Needless to say, I cried all the way home, thanking God for hearing.

I listen to all sorts of radio, not just one in particular. But this one was a Christian station, and though I enjoy the music, most of the time I am not driven to tears by what I hear. But this time I was.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like answered prayer to you, but to me it was evidence that God was listening. I mean, who else could have arranged the music schedule on this station to play the three most relevant songs that would touch my heart in a way that gave me hope and strength exactly the moment I needed it? That’s a God thing.

So don’t ever let yourself believe the lie that God isn’t listening. Because that’s what it is. A lie.

In the dark moments of life, it’s easy to trust what you can see and what you feel because those are the things that are obvious. But we can’t trust our feelings, and we can’t trust our eyes because the things that are real are the things we can’t see. And it’s not sinful to ask God to show Himself in those moments. God wants us to look for Him. He wants us to reach out to Him, and He’s not so far away that He can’t answer.

So keep your eyes open. Keep your ears open too. And don’t be surprised if He answers right away–but don’t forget to be grateful. Granted, He probably won’t take your problem away, but just knowing He’s there, knowing He’s listening, and knowing that He will keep His promise is enough to get you through it.

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

Waiting for God to answer

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

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

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

Today’s verses are Psalm 40:1-8.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Answers

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

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

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

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Otter at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 3:4.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bright flowers on Bolivar Island - Galveston, TX

Witnessing how God works

Sometimes it’s difficult for me to believe that God is actually willing to listen to our problems. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that my life is so important to Him that He would take time to pay attention to my petty issues. But what really amazes me is that God doesn’t just listen to me, He actively gets involved in my life.

Bright flowers on Bolivar Island - Galveston, TX

Bright flowers on Bolivar Island – Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Isaiah 65:24.

I will answer them before they even call to me.
    While they are still talking about their needs,
    I will go ahead and answer their prayers!

Remember we’re talking about God here. God who made the stars, who made air, who made water, who made time itself. God cares enough about us that He’ll answer our prayers before we even know to pray them? That’s huge.

After reading all of Isaiah 65, though, I think this one verse may be taken out of context (but that’s a topic for another devo). But there are other verses throughout Scripture that state this very thing: that God knows what we need before we need it. There’s a verse in Matthew where Christ is talking about the differences between earthly fathers and our Heavenly Father, saying that if human fathers know to do good things for their children, God knows to do even better things for us.

I had an experience with this recently. I had a problem. I mean, it wasn’t a problem problem. It was just going to be something that would cause issues in the future, but it wasn’t something that I could do anything about. I know everyone has probably been there, stuck with a situation that you can’t control that’s going to make your life difficult. But instead of worrying about it, I decided that I was going to just let God take care of it.

Well, surprise surprise, He did.

I found out a few weeks later that the problem was taken care of. And not only was it not even an issue anymore, everyone involved was happy about it. And I didn’t have to do a single thing. God arranged everything to work out in exactly the way it needed to. And what’s more, after I thought about the timing of the whole issue, I realized that He was actually working it out before I had even asked Him to do anything.

If you follow Christ, this is the God you have on your side. If you believe in Jesus, this is the God who wants to be part of your daily life.

But this concept brings up a question. If He already knows what we’re going to ask for, why do we need to ask?

Maybe this is just me, but I think it’s a pride issue. I know it’s a pride issue in my life. I don’t ask for things. I do them myself. If I have to ask someone for help, that’s an indication of weakness on my part, and in my mind, that’s unacceptable. It shouldn’t be that way because everyone needs help, and I’m learning how to ask for things. But for me to humble myself and realize that I can’t do it all on my own is an act of worship.

If I can look at my life and step back and tell God that I need help, that’s me recognizing that I can’t control my life. That’s me letting go, and that’s healthy for me, emotionally and spiritually.

How do you treat your friends? Your real friends? If you never talk to them, if you never express a need to them, how will they ever know you? And how will they ever have the opportunity to prove themselves true friends if you don’t give them the chance? It’s the same way with God. Expressing a need to God not only helps you remember that you aren’t all-powerful but it also gives you the chance to witness how God can work.

If He answers your prayer after you ask, it’s amazing. It’s the most amazing experience to know that He’s listening. But what will really blow your mind is how He works things out before you even know they’re going wrong. And He does that all the time.

Don’t be afraid to ask. He knows what you need, but He wants to hear you ask for it. Because half the time, I’m convinced we don’t realize we need it until we ask. And then He’s there to gently bop us on the head and remind us that He’s got everything under control … and that He always has.

Sunrise over Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Bending down listening

Yesterday I posted a simple Psalm about listening and how God listens to us. But after reading it over and over again, one of the verses kind of jumped off the screen at me.

Sunrise over Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Sunrise over Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 17:6.

I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God.
    Bend down and listen as I pray.

I remember posting last year about how God bends down to our level so we can see that He hears us. But what really stood out to me about this verse today is the fact that we can ask Him to bend down and listen.

I have some really great friends. And we can talk about anything. But if I really need to tell them something, I just have to ask them to listen. Some of them, I don’t even have to ask; they just do it. But you get the point. If you’re close friends with someone, you can ask them to stop what they’re doing and get down on your level so you can communicate with them.

That’s one thing for friends. That’s another thing when you’re talking to the God of the universe.

There are two kinds of listening, the listening that you do from a distance and the listening that you do when you’re close. I went to my church’s First Wednesday service last night and listened to a wonderful message about prayer and boldness and gratitude, but I listened from a distance. What my pastor was telling me was personal, because everything he talks about is personal to him, which is one of the reasons How God can use it to make such a difference in peoples’ lives.

But distance listening is different than “bending down” listening. “Bending down” listening is being so comfortable with a someone that you can share your deepest worries and concerns with them. It’s getting in close with someone else and revealing your faults and flaws and failures and knowing that they will love you in spite of them. It means you can tell them anything. And it means you’re close enough to tell them, “Hey, bend down and listen to what I have to say!”

Check out our verse again:

I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God. Bend down and listen as I pray.

Are you close enough to God to ask Him to bend down and listen while you pour out your heart?  If you aren’t, it’s not difficult to get there. The only person keeping God out of your life on a personal level is you. God wants to be involved in your life. He wants to play a personal role in your decision making. He wants to be an integral part of your day. And many times, I think we actively try to keep Him out because we think He’ll be ashamed of us if He really knows who we are inside.

I’ve got news, Christians. He already knows you. And He loves you anyway. So stop trying to keep Him at arm’s length, and invite Him to “bend down” in your prayer life. Get specific. Get real. And just talk to Him.

God wants to be your friend. Yes, we always need to keep in mind that He’s God. We need to remember who He is. But God isn’t a tyrant and He doesn’t want terror from us. He wants us to call Him, “daddy,” remember? He wants to be that close to us.

Don’t be afraid of what He’ll find if you open up to Him. He already knows. So look up and ask Him to bend down. He’ll do it every time.