Why God gave us brains

You have a brain. Did you know? Yes, it’s Monday morning, so it might not have occurred to you. Drink another cup of coffee and it might kick in.

Everybody has a brain. Some of our brains don’t work well in the morning. You might swear some of our brains don’t work well at all. But whether you know you have one or sometimes you aren’t sure, everybody’s got one. So don’t you think we should use them?

Something that’s always baffled me about Christ-followers many times is this concept that if something is wrong, all you need to do is pray about it. That’s it. Just pray about it, and God will take care of it.

Now, that’s not an untrue statement. If something is wrong, the best course of action you can take is to pray about it. But if you’re walking down the street with a sack of groceries and you drop a can of beans, what do you do? Do you stand there and pray and expect that God will appear and put the can of beans back in your sack?

No! You bend over, pick it up, and put it back in the bag. That’s common sense. That’s using the resources God gave you to analyze the problem, come up with a solution, and execute a strategy to fix it.

It’s true God wants us to bring our problems to Him, big or small, but it’s also true He’s given us talents and resources so that we can do things on our own sometimes. He gave us a brain for a reason.

Hadrian's Wall, northern England

Hadrian’s Wall, northern England

Today’s verses are Nehemiah 4:7-9.

But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites heard that the work was going ahead and that the gaps in the wall of Jerusalem were being repaired, they were furious. They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion. But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves.

The Book of Nehemiah is one of the best books in the Bible for leaders to read. It’s also fascinating for writers to read it too because it’s one of the only books that’s written in first person POV. It’s the story of Nehemiah and how he and a crew of workmen rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem against all odds.

With every great story, there is always a source of antagonism. In this case, it’s these sleazy guys who didn’t want Nehemiah to succeed, Sanballat and Tobiah. And at one point, they were making plans to attack the job site.

Well, what did Nehemiah do? He and his guys prayed.

Yes, they prayed. They prayed to God and just trusted that God would make everything work out without any effort on their part, and they slept through the night without any worries or concerns.

Is that what happened? Read the verse again.

They prayed to God AND guarded the city day and night to protect themselves.

I think there’s a principle in that statement we Christians miss sometimes. Are we supposed to pray and trust that God will take care of our problems? Yes! Absolutely! But does that mean we need to sit back and do nothing when we know there’s a threat to the work God is doing in our lives? Absolutely not.

Every follower of Christ is called to accomplish something incredible for God. It’s different for every person, but we all have a calling on our lives. Every God-calling has similar characteristics, namely that it will always bring God glory, always bring others to Him, and always agree with what the Bible says. And whenever you accept a God-calling in your life, you’re going to face opposition.

We have an enemy out there, folks, and he doesn’t want us to succeed at anything, especially if it’s in the name of Jesus. And he’ll use whatever means necessary to stop us.

So if you know someone is threatening the work you’re doing for Christ, do you just sit back and let them come and tear it all down? No!

Now, you don’t have the right to stoop to their level. As Christ followers, we must always remember who God is and how He has called us to live, even when we’re dealing with people who would destroy us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t stand for something. That doesn’t mean we can’t protect what we’ve invested our lives in.

It’s about finding the balance between trusting God and using the resources God has given us. We are to trust God in everything we do, whether we think it’s good or bad. But if you know trouble is coming, if you know something’s not right, God has given you resources and knowledge on how to make sound judgments.

You have a brain. Use it. Do the things you can do, and trust the rest to God.

Yellow rose at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Don’t be afraid to pray out loud

Prayers don’t have to be complicated. I’m not sure where the concept of ritualistic prayers came from, but they’re not necessary if you want to talk to God. You don’t have to speak a different language to talk to Him. You don’t have to wax long and eloquent with phrases that sound impressive. If you’re going to pray, just talk to Him.

Yellow rose at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Yellow rose at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are 1 Kings 18:36-37.

At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”

These two verses come from a larger passage in the Old Testament, one of my favorite stories in the Bible. The prophent Elijah is one of my favorite characters of all time. He has such bold colors in his personality, and he reacts to things in ways that have an impact on people. Elijah’s story is full of crazy emotions and wild roller coaster rides and excitement and humor. If there were ever a Type A personality in Scripture, it was Elijah.

1 Kings 18 chronicles a contest that was held on Mt. Caramel. You see, at this time in Israel’s history, the people had turned away from God. Oh, they still believed in God and they still did all the things that God-followers were supposed to do, but they were also following a false god named Baal. It’s a long story, but the queen of Israel at the time was a Baal-worshipper and brought that type of worship into Israel. And the people followed.

What happens in 1 Kings 18 is a contest between Baal and God. Elijah challenges Baal and his prophets to bring fire to a sacrifice. All of Israel turns out for the contest, and that’s where Elijah utters his iconic words from verse 21: Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.

Without going into too much detail, the contest lasted a long time because the prophets of Baal couldn’t get their god to answer them. And at some point during the morning, Elijah even began to taunt them. If you have a chance to read 1 Kings 18, you should. Elijah says some pretty funny things.

But then, when it’s his turn to get up and pray, he goes overboard. He douses his sacrifice in water. And then, he prays the prayer above, simple, short, to the point.

“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”

There’s not much to that prayer, but God answered it. Oh boy, did He answer it. He sent fire down from heaven, fire that consumed the whole altar, not just the sacrifice but the wood and the stones and the water and the dirt. And Israel remembered who He was and turned against Baal’s prophets.

We make such a big deal out of prayer. Yes, prayer is a big deal, but we don’t need to flail around and make a big show when we’re talking to God. He doesn’t need that. He doesn’t need fancy words or impressive vocabulary. Now, if you pray that way normally–if that’s the way you talk–that’s one thing. But if you’re putting on a show when you’re talking to God, it’s not for Him.

Somehow the Christian culture has embraced this idea of big, showy prayers, and as a result, people don’t want to pray. I know so many believers who are hesitant to pray out loud because they’re not good at it. I used to be one of them.

Not good at praying out loud? I wasn’t aware there were standards. I didn’t know it was a competition.

I used to be terrified to pray out loud because I was afraid I would say the wrong thing. I didn’t want to pray out loud because I was sure I would make a fool of myself. But I got involved in this ministry at church that requires a lot of praying (a lot of praying), and I had to start praying out loud in front of people by default. Everyone did. The first time I prayed out loud in front of people during this ministry I was scared to death, and then I remembered that I’m not praying so that people will think I’m a great Christian. I was praying because I needed God’s help–we all did–and we just needed to ask Him for it. No rituals. No flailing. No secret handshake. Just talking.

I’m not scared to pray out lout now. I got a lot of practice during that ministry, but I also realized that prayer isn’t about me. And it’s not about the people around me either. Prayer is talking to God. Maybe the false god Baal required a lot of strange things from his prophets if they wanted to talk to Him, but the real God isn’t like that. God just wants to hear from us. So we don’t need to hide behind a guise of intellectualism or heady vocabulary. He wants to know our hearts.

Don’t be afraid to pray out loud. And it’s actually better if you keep it simple. Look what Elijah’s prayer accomplished. What matters is the heart of it. And if someone has a problem with how you pray–if someone is judging the worth of your prayer based on how many syllables you use when you’re talking to God–you don’t need to worry about their opinion anyway. Because obviously they have other issues.