On the privilege of being poor

I heard a statement once that true wealth is never having to say no to guacamole at Chipotle. I hear that, because I really love guacamole, but wow–it’s pricey.

It’s easy to be wealthy in America. Granted, the definition of wealth varies from culture to culture, neighborhood to neighborhood, family to family. Wealth can either mean that you have a lot of financial assets at your disposal, or it can mean that you have been blessed with the intangibles of life–health, family, friends, faith, etc.

In my experience, most “good Christians” will say they’re wealthy because of all the blessings God has given them, and that is absolutely true. But for a moment, let’s just get real about this. Because money is real, and the struggles we all face with money are real. So shouldn’t we talk about it?

Little white flower in a Colorado field, Happy Meadows Campground, west of Colorado Springs, CO

Little white flower in a Colorado field, Happy Meadows Campground, west of Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are James 1:9-10.

Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.

I read this passage over and over again the other night, mainly because it just made me smile. The way God sees things is so different from the way we see things. And this passage isn’t talking about being rich in blessings. This is unashamedly talking about finances.

If you don’t have as much money as someone else, be happy. I’m not sure the phrase “boast about” is the best translation. According to the Amplified Version, someone who is in “humble circumstances” should “glory in his high position.” That doesn’t mean you go around bragging about being poor. That’s just silly. But what you are supposed to do is to recognize that God’s trusted you with an awful lot.

It’s hard to even say that you’re poor when God’s given you so much already, but when you don’t have as much money as other people, you have to have more faith. And, honestly, faith isn’t something that everybody has in equal measure. So if you’ve got more faith than finances, you should understand that it’s an honor to live that lifestyle.

But likewise, if you are one of those folks who have a lot of money, you’re not wrong. It’s not bad to have money. It only becomes a problem when you love your money more than you fear God. If you’ve got a lot of money, you should be thankful at how God is humbling you. Because even if you’ve worked your tail off to earn your wealth, you have to be humble enough to accept that it all belongs to God anyway.

In my life, as well as in the lives of most people I know, the part about glorying in my high position in spite of humble circumstances bit is more relevant. I am not wealthy, financially speaking, and–yes–I do sometimes say no to guacamole at Chipotle. But I was okay with that because I’m rich in other ways. I have eternal life guaranteed. I have friends and family who love me unconditionally (which is priceless, because I’m so not worthy of love). I have free, open access to the throne room of God, who created the Universe, and He’s given me permission to ask Him for the desires of my heart. That’s huge!

But I’d never thought of a lack of finances as an honor. That’s what this verse is saying. Isn’t it funny how we silly little humans twist God’s perfect plans all up until they’re unrecognizable?

Don’t misunderstand. We shouldn’t aspire to be poor. That’s not the point. If we aspire to anything, it should be to glorify God. That’s the one thing both poor and rich have in common–recognizing God as the source of true wealth.

So don’t be discouraged if you’re poor. God doesn’t have it out for you. It’s actually the other way around. Being poor is a privilege. Not having the same financial status as others gives you an opportunity to show your faith and share your faith with others.

It’s not easy. But faith never is.

How can you expect God to answer when He might not?

I remember the very first time I submitted something to be published. I think it was 1991, so I would have been 8 or 9. I was so excited to send off this awesome poem I’d written, and I thought for sure it would be published. Yikes. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but nothing I slapped together in elementary school was ready to be published. I never heard back from the publication.

But that didn’t stop me. I kept trying. Over and over and over again. And every time, I thought it might be the last time I’d receive a rejection letter. (If any of you are writers, you know what a silly thought that was!) As I got older, I kept writing, kept submitting, but now I was praying. I believed God had gifted me as a writer, and I wanted to use my skills for Him. So I’d write and submit and pray, pray, pray. And guess what?

No. Nothing was ever accepted. Sometimes that was hard to swallow, because I believed I was doing what God had called me to do. So why wasn’t He giving me success? He tells us to expect an answer to our prayers, but it’s still up to Him whether or not He answers. So how are you supposed to balance expecting God to answer your prayer when you know He might not?

AW41W55XCBToday’s verses are John 16:31-33.

Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe? But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

This is Jesus, talking to the disciples. If you have a moment and are able to read all of John 16, you should. Jesus is telling them about all the tough stuff that they’re going to face in the coming days and weeks and months. The disciples, dimwitted as they are, aren’t really tracking until the end, and then Jesus tacks this bit on at the very last.

Look at it again. Jesus is basically saying that He’s going to be abandoned, and all His followers are going to be scattered to the four winds. And He’s sharing this tidbit (and all the heavy stuff that came before it) because He wanted His followers to have peace.

Really? What sense does that make? You’re going to be scattered and alone, and now you know, so you can be filled with peace. Does that make sense to anyone?

The Bible is full of examples where people have prayed to God, and He’s answered their prayers with an affirmative. There are plenty of examples too where people prayed, and God said no. And what we need to wrap our brains around is the fact that whether God says yes or no, He still answers. And His answers are better than ours, even if they make us unhappy at the time.

From my earliest memory, I wanted to be published. I wanted to have a book on the shelf. I wanted people to read my stories. I didn’t know how to get there, but I knew that’s what I wanted. So I tried everything I could think of, and I prayed long and hard for God to make a way for this dream to come true. And it has. It just hasn’t come true the way I expected it to.

God will always answer your prayer. It just may not be the answer you want, and you have to learn to be okay with that. The disciples faced it too. They wanted Jesus to do certain things, say certain things, go certain places, and He refused. Jesus wouldn’t let anyone put Him in a box.

Sometimes the answer isn’t what you want, but it’s always what you need. You won’t find peace accidentally. It’s something you have to ask for specifically. And your peace has to be founded in Jesus, because He’s the only one who can take the bad news and turn it into something good. Being scattered, being abandoned, being alone–they’re all bad and scary, but because Jesus is who He is, He can turn them into something beautiful.

Expect an answer. You will get it. So ask God for what you need. And believe that He will answer your prayer. It may be yes. It may be no. It may be wait. But whatever answer you get is the answer you need. You can trust Him, and because you can trust Him, you can have peace.

Keep trusting even if you have to keep letting go

When I give my worries and problems to God, I struggle with leaving them there. How about you? That’s one of those Christian metaphors we like to talk about–casting our cares on God, laying our burdens down, etc. Practically speaking, it means you do what you can according to God’s rules and then you let God work it out. You don’t spend time worrying or speculating about what could go wrong. You don’t invest emotional energy in fretting anxiously.

Has anyone mastered this concept? I haven’t.

Every time I entrust my fears and failures to the Lord, within moments I’m taking it back. And then I have to go through the whole process of letting go all over again. I get so angry at myself. I get so irritated. But I realized something the other day.

I don’t know anybody who’s mastered the art of trusting God completely. We all fail at this. We all try to carry our own burdens without His help. So instead of beating ourselves up about how often we take our troubles back from God, maybe we should focus on how many times we’re willing to let go of them.

pexels-photo (1)Today’s verses are Luke 11:9-10.

And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

God wants to hear from us. He wants us to pray and talk to Him. He wants us to hand over our burdens because they’re all too heavy for us to carry on our own. But what if we have to ask Him over and over again? What if we have to turn over the same problems again and again?

I don’t like to pester people. I don’t like asking the same questions over and over again. I don’t like being asked the same questions over and over again (this is one of the reasons I would never make it as a journalist). But sometimes you have to. Sometimes you’re not asking the right question. Sometimes you’re asking the right question at the wrong time.

God will always answer. He is unfailingly patient with us, and He doesn’t get upset or unhappy if we pester Him.

Granted, if we know the answer is No, we shouldn’t keep asking. That might bother Him. But if you honestly don’t know what to do or to believe, ask Him. And don’t just ask Him once, ask Him over and over again until you get an answer. And I believe it’s the same with our troubles.

God remembers that we’re not perfect. He knows us inside and out. He knows our control-freak tendencies, and He isn’t angry at us when we try to take things back from Him. But He grieves when you try to keep it.

Don’t keep your troubles because you’re afraid to give them back again. Don’t beat yourself up or assume a negative perspective because you lose patience with God’s timetable. Everybody does. We’re all in the same boat.

It takes a lot of faith to trust your worries and your fears and your problems to God. It takes even more faith to keep giving them to Him, even after you take them back.

Just keeping turning your problems over to God. There’s not a time limit or a transaction limit, like at a bank. It’s better if you don’t take things back from God after you turn them over, but if you do, you can always give them back again.

Ask, ask, and ask again

Do you remember Christmas as a child? Every year, there was something specific you wanted. You would write it down on a list or tell people that’s what you wanted months and months in advance. Did you ever forget that’s what you wanted? Did it ever slip your mind?

No. It wouldn’t have, because you were focused on it. It’s what you wanted, so that’s what you thought about. It colored everything. When you’d go into a store, maybe you’d even see that one thing you wanted so desperately, but you wouldn’t buy it. Even if you had the money to do so, you wouldn’t, because it’s what you’d asked for, and you might be getting it as a present.

Sure, you’d asked for it, and you didn’t have it yet. But yet was the operative word.

739BBHC8KM_1382x922Today’s verses are Matthew 7:7-8.

Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Jesus was a fan of persistence. There were many instances throughout Scripture where He encouraged His disciples and His followers to ask questions, to challenge the status quo, to think outside the box and never give up or give in just because it was popular.

I’m afraid to ask God for things because I think He might not do what I want. I’m afraid of putting my faith in Him completely and trusting that He’ll give me what I’m asking for because what if He doesn’t? What if I’m asking for the wrong things and He doesn’t give me what I’ve asked for?

I’m not old, but I’ve been following Jesus for a long time. And I can honestly say He’s never let me down, and He’s never broken a promise to me. Sure, there have been times when I felt like He did, but that’s because I didn’t see the bigger picture.

I tried writing for myself years ago, and it didn’t work. I dropped everything and dedicated myself to getting published. I barely lasted six months because I didn’t have enough in savings to support myself in the interim. The day I had to shut down my office and go back to a regular job felt like failure, felt like the end of a dream, felt like God had promised me something only to take it away.

But that wasn’t the case at all. And those six months weren’t wasted. I learned a lot during that time, mostly that I wasn’t ready to work for myself yet. I needed time and experience, and I needed to make connections with people I didn’t even know yet.

I asked God to allow me to write for a living, and He made that happen, first by preparing the way for me to get an awesome job as a copywriter. Then, He made it happen again by opening the doors to allow me to go into business for myself.

God gave me what I asked for, but I kept asking for it. I didn’t give up. Writing for myself (for His glory, of course) had always been my dream, and it colored everything I did. It was something I knew I would do whether I could get paid for it or not.

What I’ve learned about asking is that if you keep asking, it helps you stay focused on what you really want. If you ask for something and then stop, you must not really want it.

So ask. Then, ask again. And keep asking until you get it. It’s not nagging. It’s not pestering. It’s a way to stay focused on your dream, and as long as your dream brings glory to God, He’ll help you achieve it. It won’t be on your timetable (trust me on that one), but you’ll get there.

What do you need to tell God today?

My best friend lives in England. She has been living across the pond for about two years now, and I’m not going to see her face to face again until probably December. The first year she was there, the only technology either of us had was text messaging on Skype chat and an actual Skype conversation when we could make the time. But when she went back again, this time she had a smart phone. And this time, so did I.

Needless to say, we are constantly messaging each other. We text on WhatsApp. We message on Facebook. We email. Sometimes all three at once because we’re just that schizophrenic. So while I don’t know everything that’s going on in her life, I usually have a fairly good idea just because we communicate all the time. But even though we are in constant communication, I still enjoy Skyping with her. I love to see her face and hear her voice.

But that’s how it’s like with friends. Even if you already know everything you need to know about them, you still want to talk to them.

calling_1160x768Today’s verses are Matthew 6:7-8.

When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

Similar to doing good deeds for recognition, religious people in Jesus’ day would pray loudly in the streets so that everyone would hear them and understand just how important and godly they were. Well, Jesus put the brakes on that. He said to pray in private.

Jesus treated prayer like a conversation. He didn’t want it to be for show. Prayer is talking to God as though He’s in the room with you. Newsflash: He is!

Some people pray using cute rhymes and songs or prepared lines, and there’s nothing wrong with that. For children, rhymes and songs can be fun, and some of the most beautiful prayers I’ve ever read were written in books. But can’t we just have a conversation with God? Aren’t we capable of just telling Him what we want to tell Him?

We don’t have to use special language. We don’t have to impress him with big words and fancy speeches. Just talk to Him.

God already knows what you need, yes, but He wants to hear from you. He loves you. He cares about you and what’s going on in your day. Sure, He already knows it all, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t want to talk to you. That doesn’t mean He’s not interested.

I used to be afraid to pray out loud because I wasn’t good at it. But when I learned to just talk–and when I understood how much I need God–it wasn’t hard anymore.

If you believe in Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit in your life. That gives you instant and immediate access to God the Father whenever you want. You can approach His throne (boldly, Hebrews says!). You have an open invitation. You can talk to God at any time.

And don’t just throw requests at Him. It’s fine to let Him know what you need, yes. But come on. Nobody wants to hear you read your to do list. We’re talking about a relationship here. Tell Him about your day. Tell Him about your dreams. Tell Him how wonderful He is and how thankful you are that He’s your Father.

God is listening. So what have you got to tell Him today?

Nobody needed that roof anyway

When was the last time you had faith that something would happen? It doesn’t have to be something miraculous. Maybe it’s something as simple as having faith that there would be a movie ticket left to buy when you went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron this past weekend (rockin’ awesome show, by the way). Or maybe it was faith that God would answer a prayer.

Everybody has faith in something. It’s an essential fact of life. But it’s been proven over and over again through history that only faith in Christ is truly life-changing. It’s easy to grasp the fact that faith changes you, but did you realize that your faith can change other people too?

hole-in-roof-2-big.jpgToday’s verses are Mark 2:2-5.

Soon the house where he [Jesus] was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

I hope to meet these four gentlemen someday. I’d love to talk to them, hear about this experience from their own perspective. I mean, it had to be terrifying. Trusting Jesus so completely for the well-being of someone they all cared about.

That’s my sticking place. I don’t have a problem trusting Him with me. It’s trusting Him to take care of the people I love that I struggle with the most.

But these four guys were out of options. Jesus was their only hope, and they were determined to do whatever was necessary to get their friend at His feet. But what I love about this story isn’t that the paralyzed man had faith that Jesus would heal him. It’s that his friends had faith that Jesus would heal him. And it was because of the friends’ faith that Jesus responded.

And I don’t know if that resonates with you like it does with me today, but it’s something I need to remind myself of frequently. I don’t know if you recognize this, but we live in a really screwed-up world. Nothing is as it should be. People hurt each other. Families self-destruct. Friends tear each other to bits.

Trapped in the middle of all of it, helpless and useless, I watch. There’s nothing I can do. I have no words of comfort to speak. I have no wisdom to share or encouragement to offer. What can you say in the face of so much brokenness? When people you love are hurting so badly, what can you do?

And then I remember the four friends. What did they do? They brought their friend to Jesus. Whether their friend believed Jesus could make a difference or not was irrelevant. They believed it. And that’s where I’m trying to stand in our world today.

Regardless of what happens, I believe that whatever God does will be something beautiful. Maybe it won’t start off feeling that way, but He’ll turn even the darkest moments into shining light. I believe that with all my heart. But beyond clinging to the vague, ethereal hope that everything will be okay eventually, I’m not afraid to ask Him to fix what’s wrong in our world right now.

I know what some end-times scholars will say. The way the world is just means Jesus is coming back sooner. The world is supposed to be this way. And maybe they’re right, but they don’t know.

Yes, eventually everything will be okay. But what would have happened if those four friends took that perspective? Sure, their paralyzed buddy might have suffered in this life, but when he dies, he’ll be in paradise. I’m sure their friend was thankful afterward that they hadn’t thought that way.

And just like them, I don’t want to give in to the “eventually” club. Yes, God will make everything right in the end, but it’s not the end. Not yet. We’re close, but we’re still here. And as long as we’re here, why not ask for a miracle? Why not believe He can do the impossible?

Who cares if you’re the only one who believes it? What does it matter if you have to dig a hole and get your hands dirty? What does it matter if people look at you funny? If you believe Jesus is what your friends need, then wouldn’t you do everything in your power to get them to Him?

So drop everything right now and bring your friends to Jesus. Just lay them at His feet. Maybe you can’t do it physically, but you can do it emotionally and spiritually. And don’t just ask Him to help because you feel like you have to. Ask Him for help because you know He can, because He’s the only one who can.

Maybe it’s your faith that’s the key.

Don’t be afraid to ask God for something impossible

When was the last time you asked God for something impossible? I’m not talking about asking for a million dollars or asking for a dream vacation. I’m talking about something out-of-this-world extraordinary. Something no person on Earth has the capability to achieve. Like the restoration of a broken relationship, the redemption of a lost soul, or the healing of a broken body.

We get so caught up in our material wealth in this country that we lose sight of what is truly impossible. We live buried in debt that we can’t get out of, so our idea of impossible is being independently wealthy. But what about the things that really matter? The people we care about, the lives around us, the hurting hearts?

When was the last time you asked for something truly impossible?

Nothing-is-IMPOSSIBLEToday’s verses are Jeremiah 33:2-3.

This is what the Lord says—the Lord who made the earth, who formed and established it, whose name is the Lord: Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.

Yes, this is God inviting you to ask. Throughout the Bible, God invites His people to talk to Him, to get to know Him, to have a conversation with Him, and in every instance in Scripture when someone gets closer to God, they change from the inside out.

Can you imagine what it’s like to encounter God like Moses did? Or like Joshua? Or even like the prophets Elijah and Jeremiah, who heard God’s voice clearly? After you’ve experienced God like that, how could you ever doubt Him?

Granted, they all had their bad days, when the struggles of life overwhelmed them, and then God had to remind them who He is. And, fortunately for them, they listened.

But what about us? What great God experience do we get? Well, I guess that depends on how closely you’re paying attention. No, we don’t get to see oceans parting and or city walls collapsing, but we do experience divine appointments–those moments that only God could have coordinated. We get to witness Him working in our lives and in other people’s lives. We get to see the miracles of nature that God has created.

Everything is a miracle.

And just because we don’t see crazy ridiculous “miraculous” events here in this country doesn’t mean they aren’t happening elsewhere. There are all sorts of reports of impossible things happening around the world–the dead being raised, impossible prayers being answered, God intervening in ways that are obvious.

Just because it’s not happening in America doesn’t mean it isn’t happening in other countries. Sorry to burst your bubbles, friends, but America isn’t the bastion of hope and light that we used to be.

But that doesn’t mean God won’t do the impossible if we ask. I’ve seen Him do impossible things, just in my own life, and I can think of several impossible things that I’d like to see Him do right now. I bet you can think of some too.

So why don’t we ask? Are we afraid He’ll say no? Are we afraid He’ll tell us that He can’t do it or that He won’t do it?

Don’t be afraid.

You know who God is, right? God is good. Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, God is inherently God. He’s the only one who is. So whatever God does is good.

Maybe it doesn’t seem good to us right now, but that’s because we don’t understand it. That’s where trust comes in. Maybe He’s withholding something that’s good right now in order to provide us with something better later on down the road. You just don’t know.

He won’t strike you down for asking. The Bible is full of examples of people who asked God questions we might think are impertinent, and Jesus never rebuked them. If it were an honest question from a heart genuinely seeking, Jesus never turned anyone away. And God is the same.

What is that impossible thing in your life that you desperately wish would happen? Who is that one person you think will never change? What is that relationship you’re afraid is doomed to fail?

Don’t be afraid to ask for the impossible. God is in the business of the impossible, and there is nothing beyond His reach. That doesn’t mean He’ll always do what you ask Him to do, and there are uncountable reasons why He might say no. But we should always remember that if God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want, that just means He’s going to answer them in a better way later on.

God never ignores us. Not ever.

So ask already.

I know what I’m asking for. How about you?