Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God’s voice is glorious in the thunder

Have you ever told God what to do? I hate to admit to it, but I do it frequently. I think I know best. I tell Him what I expect out of life, and I expect Him to give it to me. And when He turns around and does something that I don’t expect–usually something I don’t want–I get upset. I worry. I stress out. And while I don’t exactly doubt Him, I certainly don’t feel like trusting Him.

Where exactly do we get the idea that we can tell God what to do? I’m not sure if that’s just part of the human condition or not, and maybe it’s an older sister complex. I have always tended toward the bossy side. But seriously who gets to boss God around? Nobody. Especially not me. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. My proud heart is always full of words and possibilities and opportunities that I think I need to take advantage of, and God is crazy for not letting me do what I think is best.

Anyone else ever catch yourself thinking that way?

Today’s verses are actually an entire passage. I don’t do this often, but the whole chapter was just so good, I had to put the whole thing up, especially with what’s been going on throughout Kansas in the last few weeks with all the flooding and storms. The chapter is from the book of Job, and the person speaking in this chapter is a guy named Elihu, who sort of puts Job and his useless three friends in their places. But regardless of what is happening in this chapter (which is relevant, of course), the words Elihu says here are timeless. They’re still true today. And they are words we all need to remember as we tackle life’s ups and downs.

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Storm clouds over the fields at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Job 37

“My heart pounds as I think of this.
     It trembles within me.
Listen carefully to the thunder of God’s voice
    as it rolls from his mouth.
It rolls across the heavens,
    and his lightning flashes in every direction.
Then comes the roaring of the thunder—
    the tremendous voice of his majesty.
    He does not restrain it when he speaks.
God’s voice is glorious in the thunder.
    We can’t even imagine the greatness of his power.

“He directs the snow to fall on the earth
    and tells the rain to pour down.
Then everyone stops working
    so they can watch his power.
The wild animals take cover
    and stay inside their dens.
The stormy wind comes from its chamber,
    and the driving winds bring the cold.
God’s breath sends the ice,
    freezing wide expanses of water.
He loads the clouds with moisture,
    and they flash with his lightning.
The clouds churn about at his direction.
    They do whatever he commands throughout the earth.
He makes these things happen either to punish people
    or to show his unfailing love.

“Pay attention to this, Job.
    Stop and consider the wonderful miracles of God!
Do you know how God controls the storm
    and causes the lightning to flash from his clouds?
Do you understand how he moves the clouds
    with wonderful perfection and skill?
When you are sweltering in your clothes
    and the south wind dies down and everything is still,
he makes the skies reflect the heat like a bronze mirror.
    Can you do that?

“So teach the rest of us what to say to God.
    We are too ignorant to make our own arguments.
Should God be notified that I want to speak?
    Can people even speak when they are confused?
We cannot look at the sun,
    for it shines brightly in the sky
    when the wind clears away the clouds.
So also, golden splendor comes from the mountain of God.
     He is clothed in dazzling splendor.
We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty;
    but even though he is just and righteous,
    he does not destroy us.
No wonder people everywhere fear him.
    All who are wise show him reverence.”

Stone steps along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Life has no coincidences

 

I was marveling yesterday how events in my life (and in the lives of others) have truly unfolded in the best way possible. No, not everything that has happened has been good in the traditional definition of good. But what has taken place in our lives seems to have happened at just the right moment, like a puzzle piece snapping into place.

Is that just a coincidence? Coincidence is based on random chance, and maybe there are times when random chance sounds appealing, but I find more comfort in the concept of intentional design.

Stone steps along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Stone steps along Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verse is Psalm 37:23.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.

When my brother and I were in England visiting the other half of my brain, we got the chance to go to Hadrian’s Wall. If you’re a Roman history buff or a history buff in general, you’ll know what it is. If you aren’t, well, it’s a long stone wall in northern England that’s really old. My friend had a coworker who doubled as a wall warden up there, so he took us along the wall and explained the history behind it and so on and so forth. All along the wall there was a path that stretched out before us. Sometimes it was straight. Other times it went crooked. Most of the time it went up very steeply. We didn’t have to stay on the path, but honestly along those treacherous rises and fells and steep drops, the path was the best place to be.

I think God’s plan often looks like a difficult and challenge path laid out before us. God has a plan for all of us, and if you’re a Christ-follower He’s working everything out in our lives for our good and His glory. Only God is big enough to take the scattered, senseless, chaotic bits of our lives and weave them into a beautiful tapestry.

It’s easy for me to forget sometimes how carefully He has designed my life. Down to the last split second of every moment I live, He knows everything that’s going to happen to me and everything I need. And if I don’t have what I need before I reach those parts of my life, He will supply them. By the time I reach the decisions points in my life, God will have given me everything I need to not only survive but to thrive.

Things don’t just happen in our lives for no reason. No, they’re not always good. Sometimes they’re bad. Sometimes they’re great and wonderful, and in those moments we need to rejoice and thank God for giving us a situation that worked out. But in the times that aren’t so good, we need to rejoice and thank God that He’s got a plan.

If you’re a Christ-follower, God has ordered your steps. He knows where you’re going, and He knows what you will need along the way. And He’s big enough to orchestrate events in your life to help prepare you for what’s coming.

It’s your choice whether to stay on the path He’s laid out or not. That’s entirely up to you. And even if you get off the path, you can still get back on, but ask yourself what it may cost you if you do before you choose.

The path God has laid out for us may not be easy. On the contrary, it may be really hard, really challenging, but He doesn’t ever do anything without a reason. And that means we’ll learn something along the way that we’ll need later on. We won’t have to walk the path alone either; He’ll be there every step of the way.

Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament, London, England, United Kingdom

Jet lag and God’s timetable

If you’ve never experienced real jet lag, I don’t know if I can adequately explain it. I thought I had prepared myself for it, but I don’t think you really know how you’re going to react to it until you go through it. My brother and I returned safely to the flatlands of Kansas from our week-and-a-half journey to Scotland and England Sunday late. Yesterday, I did nothing but rest and recover, and I managed six hours of good sleep plus a nap, which was great. I thought I’d do great today. Well, I barely slept at all last night. Not sure why. But the same thing happened over there. The first night, I slept fine. The second or third night, I didn’t sleep a wink. I’m very thankful I can work from home today.

So this morning as I was trying to get back into my routine of morning devotionals, I couldn’t help but think about God’s perspective on time. Six or seven hours of time difference or even twelve is nothing compared to the time difference we’re talking about with God.

Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament, London, England, United Kingdom

Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament, London, England, United Kingdom

Today’s verses are 2 Peter 3:8-9.

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

A day is like a thousand years. Can you even imagine what that’s like? I can’t. To be able to know what’s going to happen a thousand years from now? To be able to know for sure what’s going to happen an hour from now is too much for me. I’m glad God is God and that He knows what He’s doing.

This is a good reminder for me because I like plans. I like outlines. I like knowing what’s coming before it gets here so I can get ready and think about how I’m going to respond. God doesn’t always allow us that opportunity; sometimes He expects us to jump when He says jump, even if we’re not sure where we’ll land, trusting that we will land on Him.

God’s thinking, His designs, His entire being, is so much bigger than we are. So I suppose this only makes sense. Would you want a God who was tied to time like we are? I wouldn’t. We can’t pick and choose what’s true about God and what’s not. God is who He is, and the trade-off for having a God bigger than time is surrendering to the idea that we’re not in control of our own lives.

God works on His own schedule. He works on His own time. He isn’t bound to our perspective of time. Maybe we think He’s being slow or dragging it out, but He’s not. Maybe we think He’s rushing it and pushing us too hard, but He’s not. He’s simply operating on a timetable that suits His plans, and it’s our job to keep up and hold on for the ride. He’s told us enough about Himself that we know His plans are best, but we aren’t always going to know the details. Part of me likes it that way because if I know the details, I’ll worry. But the other part of me–the planner, the scheduler, the thinker, the control freak–wants to be in on everything. But God knows me well enough to keep me in the dark, and for that I’m thankful.

So if you’re frustrated with God because He’s moving too fast for you or not moving fast enough, just take a deep breath and step back. Remember that God isn’t bound to your schedule; it should be the other way around.

Field of little bright flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

How do you pray and believe?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you would get everything you prayed for? Or would that be nice? Maybe that wouldn’t be good at all. How many of us have prayed for something and didn’t get it and a few years later understood why?

I’ve been there. I’ve gotten myself into a situation where I needed help and I prayed that God would deliver me, and for all intents and purposes it didn’t feel like He had. It didn’t feel like He did anything, like He didn’t even show up. I’ve also been in situations where I asked God for something, and He didn’t give it to me. And at the time, I was heart-broken. I was angry. I was disappointed. Maybe even a bit disillusioned. And in the emotion of the moment, I never wanted to ask Him for anything else again.

Field of little bright flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Field of little bright flowers at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are Mark 11:22-24.

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours.

I can totally understand people getting upset with this set of verses. I’ve been upset with it because it’s obviously not true, right? I have asked for things and believed whole-heartedly that I would get them, and then I never did. So how can Jesus get off saying something like this?

Honestly, I’m not sure any follower of Christ truly comprehends what prayer actually is or how powerful it actually is. I don’t think any of us can really appreciate what God does through prayer.  Maybe I’m generalizing. Maybe I should make it more personal. I don’t think I understand prayer.

I understand asking for things. I understand worshipping. I understand the ins and outs, the bits and pieces, the big picture of prayer. But how on earth can you ask God for something, truly and fully believing that you’ll get it, when you know deep down inside that you might not? That’s a paradox I don’t know if I can wrap my head around. How can you believe something but not believe it?

I don’t have all this figured out. I hope people know that. And I never write anything on this blog that I’m not struggling with personally. In fact, the posts that seem to be the most popular are the ones where I pretty much gut myself and lay everything out for the World Wide Web to see. And this topic is no exception.

I’ve asked for things, and I’ve believed that they’re going to happen. And they don’t. So I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And still nothing. Maybe it’s on me. Maybe that means I’m not doing something right. Maybe that means I need to get up and do something else. But where is that line where you need to stop waiting and start doing?

I don’t know the answer to this one. I just know Jesus. I know who He is, and (being quite frank) that’s enough for me. And in the grand scheme of things, I’ve had more prayers answered than not. And if you think about it, I bet you have too, especially counting the prayers you didn’t know to pray. All I know for sure is that God is good, truly honestly really good. And that He never gives up on us and never abandons us; He never makes mistakes and He always keeps His promises. And if Jesus says He’ll answer any prayer, I believe Him.

Maybe that’s blind faith. I don’t think so because I know who Jesus is, so trusting Him isn’t that difficult. But what about things I’ve asked for that are outstanding? How can I believe that they’ll really happen when I don’t know?

This is what I’ve discovered. Praying specifically is always best. It helps us get our minds and perspectives straight. It’s not that God requires specificity, but it’s better for us. But what do you believe when you ask God for something? Do ask Him for that specific thing and then expect that He will deliver? Honestly, if that’s the way you do it, I think that goes back to the whole genie in the lamp concept, and that’s not who God is. Are we really so presumptuous to believe that we know what to ask for?

Yes, be specific. But believe that God is going to do what He wants before He does what you want. Why? Because He knows better. Yes, ask Him. Yes, make your requests. He wants to hear from you. He wants to talk to you. But we put so many restrictions on God in our prayers. We put Him in a box all the time. We ask for things that are so small, so selfish, so minor, and He wants to do things that are so much bigger than we can imagine through us. So make your little request, but don’t be surprised if God answers in a way you don’t expect. That’s who He is. He works so much higher than we do. He sees so much more than we do. And He has plans for us that exceed our wildest dreams.

It’s not that He’s not answering our prayers. He is. He’s just not doing it the way we want. And in the grand scheme of life and living, which would you prefer? Do you want God to answer your little prayers for your little life so you can go on living in a way that never makes a difference? Or would you rather enjoy the ride? Would you rather leave it up to Him? It’s a scarier option, to be sure, but I’d rather let Him drive.

How do you pray and believe? Make your requests, and believe that God is God and that He’ll do all He’s promised. But know it won’t look like what you think, and it’s far far better that way.

Tree-lined path at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

He’ll answer when it’s time

I’m one of those people who runs around like a crazy person, doing everything I can think of to prepare for trouble or to take care of people who are in trouble, and then I pray. I rarely pray first, although I’m getting better about it. There’s something in my wiring that tells me praying is a last resort, when it really ought to be my first response.

This month, I’ve been doing a personal study of prayer, and in the last few days, I’ve experienced some pretty cool things about prayer that I really feel like I need to pass along.

Tree-lined path at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Tree-lined path at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

The Bible says in John 14:13-14,

You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!

That’s quite a promise. Have you ever put it to the test?

I’ve lived in the same general area since 1991. You can look at that as a good thing or a bad thing, but that’s been my life. And as a result of that, I’ve formed a lot of really awesome friendships. I’ve watched my peers grow up, get married, move away, move back, and have kids. I never liked kids very much, and I’m not a big fan of babies. But in recent years, I’ve had to start liking babies or I wouldn’t have any friends left!

I remember very vividly talking with four of my lady friends about how badly they wanted to have children. But they just couldn’t. It just didn’t happen.So we all started praying together that God would give them families.

Until one day when one of them got pregnant. And stayed pregnant until she had a healthy baby boy. Shortly after her, another one of the ladies got pregnant and also had a boy. And then another one of the ladies ended up with a girl. And it wasn’t just these ladies either. It was half my friends on Facebook. Everyone started having babies, except for this one friend of mine. She and her husband wanted a child. And they had tried everything for years, and nothing worked. We kept praying and praying and praying, but nothing changed.

Whenever we would talk about it, I just kept encouraging her to wait. And I hated that answer, because that was the answer I kept getting too. Not waiting for a baby but waiting for things I want out of life. I’ve been so frustrated with God at times because He doesn’t work on my timetable. I want Him to give me the things I want when I want them. And it’s in those moments that I forget who He is and treat Him like a genie in a lamp, my personal wish granter. And that’s not God.

I remember a particularly difficult day I had during that time. I was just so tired of waiting for what I wanted. And when I get down—really really down—I usually just grab my Bible and start reading Psalms. Psalms always cheer me up. But the Psalms weren’t doing the trick this one night. They just didn’t resonate like they usually did.

So I decided that because I was in such a mournful mood that maybe I should read Lamentations. After all, it doesn’t get much worse than Lamentations, right? I thought it in jest, but now I’m glad I did because I found a passage that changed the way I look at prayer and God’s timing.

Lamentations 3:21-26, 31-33

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. … For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.

I don’t like waiting. I want what I want, and I want it now. I think I’m ready for it, but most of the time, I’m not. If God gave me my way and let me have what I wanted, the weight and responsibility of it would crush me like a bug. He knows how much I can handle. He knows what I can take. There’s a reason why He’s withholding the things I want, and it’s not to hurt me or cause me pain.

I don’t know better than He does.

Waiting stinks, but there’s always a reason for it. Maybe you need to grow. Maybe someone else needs to grow. Maybe circumstances or seasons need to change. Whatever it is, God knows, and He’s not going to interrupt His great plan to grant us our good request. But eventually, He will answer. And when He does, the fulfillment of that prayer will be better than you ever expected.

Baby Hoo has finally arrived! Meet Audrey Kay Hoover!

Baby Hoo has finally arrived! Meet Audrey Kay Hoover!

I spent my lunch break yesterday at the hospital with a 7-pound, 7-ounce little girl who most of us had given up hope would ever exist. She was born June 10 at 10pm. And if God had given into our requests and allowed her to be born four years ago, I don’t think the world would have been ready for this little miracle bundle of crazy.

So if you’ve asked God for something, if you’re waiting on God to answer you, don’t give up. He’s not ignoring you. He’s not trying to hurt you. He’s not testing your patience. He’s waiting for the right time to give you more than what you asked for.

He won’t answer when you want Him to. He’ll answer when it’s time.

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.

Lifeboat on the Galveston Ferry, Galveston, TX

Name it and claim it?

Did you ever scribble your name on your lunchbox? Or on a toy you loved? Even as children, we understand that if you write your name on something, that indicates it belongs to you or that you are taking responsibility for it. But it doesn’t stop with identifying our toys; we label everything to indicate ownership, from carmakers to life vests on board ships.

In the past few days, I’ve been posting about the instances where God has changed people’s names, but I read today’s verse and had a thought of a different sort.

Lifeboat on the Galveston Ferry, Galveston, TX

Lifeboat on the Galveston Ferry, Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Isaiah 62:2.

The nations will see your righteousness.
    World leaders will be blinded by your glory.
And you will be given a new name
    by the Lord’s own mouth.

God, through the prophet Isaiah, is actually talking about something that will happen in the future, concerning the Jewish race and the city of Jerusalem. A promise for what is to come. But as per usual, verses in Scripture can usually have more than one intention. And it’s not so much the verse itself that hit me this morning but the meaning behind it.

God gives new names. He doesn’t just change our names, but he takes our old names, our old identities, and does away with them, replacing them with something new. God is a God of second chances and third chances and fourth chances and fifth and so on and so forth. He never gives up on us, and He’s always there waiting for the day when we realize we can’t handle life on our own.

But there’s a part of naming that people forget, I think, and that’s the part about inscribing names and ownership. Because if you name something, usually it means you own it. If you name something, usually that means it belongs to you. We name our pets. We name our inventions. We name our ideas. And honestly, that’s how it works with God.

Not saying we are property to be owned, but someone has to be responsible for us. Maybe that’s a better way of looking at it. Who else is willing to take responsibility for the out-of-control mess that is my life? Who else other than God?

When we decide to follow Christ, God marks us as His own. Yes. But there’s another level of ownership going on in the universe. God created everything. He owns it all. He’s set His signature on every part of creation, and only those who are too blinded by their own importance don’t see it. And as the Creator, the Imaginer, the Owner, He has the right to do whatever He wants with what belongs to Him.

If you buy a car, people don’t get to tell you where to drive it. If you create an invention, people don’t get to tell you how to use it. Why is it different with God? He created the world, and He gave it to people to take care of. And what did we do? We turned it over to our Enemy to wreak havoc and destroy.

God is sovereign. He has the right to do as He pleases with what belongs to Him, and that includes this world, this universe, and everything down to the smallest quark–which also means you and me, whether we have chosen to follow Him or not. But even more so in the lives of those who have specifically given their lives to Him. We are so fortunate that God is good and patient and loving.

So if you are a Christ follower, don’t be thinking that you get to live however you want. If you follow Christ, don’t get the idea that you choose your own path without consequences. Even people who don’t follow Christ face consequences when they do wrong or when they choose foolishly; don’t think you’ll get away with it just because you gave your heart to Christ.

If God has changed your name, He has taken responsibility for you. He has the right to tell you how to live. And if you want to take issue with that, if you want to live in conflict with Him over that, why did you choose to follow Him in the first place?

Personally, I’m so thankful that God was willing to take responsibility for me. I have so many issues in my life that I can’t handle them on my own, and it’s a comfort to me to be able to turn it all over to Him and ask for help. And the way I look at it: He’s God. He knows. He knows what’s coming. He understands my potential. He wants to help me and do good things for me. So when He speaks, when He tells me to do something, I’m going to do it, whether it makes sense or not.