And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:13-14.
I loved growing up in the 80’s. We had great music, awesome clothes, less than awesome hairstyles and the best movies ever! I know, I know, what does this have to do with being careful what you ask for, well there is a saying that is quoted throughout one of my favorite moves, The Princess Bride these words are spoken by a poor young peasant to his beautiful young mistress. At a point early on in the movie she miraculously realizes that every time he responds to her requests with these words, “that what he is really saying, is I love you”, deep sigh. How romantic right? Yes teenage girls across the nation swooned and dreamed of their Wesley finding & rescuing them and falling madly in love.
The words spoken in this movie express more than just the romantic love we associate with these characters. These words express a willingness to sacrifice everything for each other. Walking away from what is secure, known and safe. Wesley will sacrifice his very life for the opportunity to be together…sound familiar? The love that Christ feels for us is such that He gave up everything…EVERYTHING, so that we would not be separated from Him. He left heaven, came to earth as a man, lowly and simple, sacrificed Himself in the most unimaginable way, so we could experience real relationship with the Father.
And if that weren’t enough, he promises to give us whatever we ask for in His name. He wants to give us exponentially more than we could ever comprehend. Jesus’ love is such that He sacrificed Himself to reunite us with the Father, but also such that He WANTS to give us every good thing, not everything we want, but every good thing.
Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. James 1:17
His love is such that he won’t give us any less that what is the very best for us. We ask for what we want and His response is, “as you wish”. However, just like when our children ask for a second helping of ice cream or an extra hour after curfew, we aren’t going to give them what we know is NOT in their best interest…no matter how much they beg and plead for it.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11
Recently my prayers have been along the lines of, “God give me patience!”, or “Jesus make me more like you”, or my best one yet, “Lord give me your heart toward others”. These prayers, He loves, these prayers, He answers…sometimes in ways that aren’t comfortable or easy. You know what His answers have been, here are the children I gave you, now let’s stir them up into a frenzy…practice that patience. You want to see people, to love them as I do, go to where you are uncomfortable going, see how they live, see their struggles, now go and love them, right where they are.
He is answering my prayers by refining me, allowing me to enter into situations that will test my patience, bringing me into relationship with people who may stretch my comfort zone. Showing me how He sees the world and not allowing me to judge with my own eyes but to love with His. My heart has been broken, my eyes have seen what I cannot un-see, my patience has been tested to the point of breaking…I have grown.
I used to be afraid of these kinds of prayers, I would make them halfheartedly then wince at what I expected to be the ensuing pain of it all…it didn’t come. Oh don’t get me wrong, when you ask God to refine you, He will and it’s not always comfortable, but He isn’t out to hurt you or break you or beat you down. He wants you to grow strong and mature into the person He created you to be. He will never allow you to be pushed beyond a point you can bear.
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Scripture also tells us how God will work alongside us to help us on our journey toward becoming more like him.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30
Never be afraid to ask God for anything. His answers will shock and amaze you, no prayer will go unanswered, sometimes the answer may be no, or not now or, OK hang on to your hat and see what I will do. No matter what you ask, expect an answer…always.
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:7-11
Can you imagine how it must have felt for God to experience His children’s extreme disobedience? To take it one step farther to have His children completely turn their backs on Him. After He created the world for them; He rescued them countless times from their enemies, blessed, raised up, and set them above…they still turned their back on Him, denied Him, cursed Him and turned their hearts toward that which is death. They chose death over their creator? It’s mind boggling, or is it?
For those of you with children, I want you to think about all those times our kids thought they knew better, turned their back on what they knew (because we taught them) and turned toward the unknown because their friends encouraged them, or a teacher encouraged them, or they were dared too, or we just aren’t as cool as whatever shiny object in the world is calling them. Yup, we’ve been there!
Recently my 8-year-old son has been going through a ‘phase’. Which basically means he knows better, and he wants what he wants, and he isn’t afraid to tell me so. In fact, more than once in the past few weeks I’ve been told how inadequate I am at parenting by this lil man. I will own however, how much it hurts.
This past weekend was particularly difficult, he had made some poor choices at school with regards to him listening and participating in class which led to him not being able to play Madden on Saturday (he’s preparing for football season to start and this is the ultimate consequence). This did NOT go over well. The conversation quickly turned in to a shouting match, which then turned in to him throwing everything at me he could get his hands on…primarily shoes. He’d yell at me about how mean I am, I would tell him that I love him, he would retort that if I loved him I’d let him play, I responded that I love him so much that I am not willing to reward him for bad behavior. On and on it went until we reached the apex of, “I hate you mom”, yup he said it, my heart was broken, I cried and told him one more time that I loved him and had to walk away.
To be clear, I know my son loves me, I would never doubt that. He is an 8-year-old who is trying to flex his muscles and find his way in the world. No throwing shoes at your mom is NOT ok in our home and was quickly addressed. That is not the point however, the point is that we as parents have a small glimpse of how God must have felt and now still feels toward His rebellious children. He loves us, he won’t give us everything we ‘want’ because it is often not what is best for us. And, like I tell my son, throwing a temper tantrum, is not going to change that. Giving in to their every whim is only going to make it worse and the important life lessons we want to teach them will be lost.
I love my son so much (all my children but this particular tale is about him), so I’m not going to give up, I’m not going to give in, I want him to be the amazing man that God has created him to be. Sometimes that means my patience is tested, my heart will ache, and my temper will rise. It’s all worth it because I KNOW that when he stops for a moment (usually takes about 20 minutes in his room), he’ll accept that what I tell him is true, that it is out of love, and that I only want what is best for him. He’ll see how I handle the situation (they notice EVERYTHING) and will learn from my responses that they are motivated by a genuine love for him.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans (along with many many other places throughout the bible) he shares the epitome of God’s love “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
God didn’t wait for us to get our act together to show us love, he didn’t abandon us to our own devices, no, in the midst of our pain and brokenness, in the middle of our sin and disobedience, he sent Christ to die for us…to show us the way, to bring us back to him, to fully express the depth of his love.
I will always love my son, forgive my son and be the best parent I can for him. Sometimes however, that means not giving him what he thinks will make him happy but giving him what will make him whole.
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“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
A friend of mine shared a story with me a few years ago that has stuck with me. At the time we were discussing some of our students and how they seem to get stuck and not able to move forward toward their goal. I kept commenting that even though they can see the path, because that path is new and unfamiliar they are more likely to do an about face and return to the familiar at the first sign of difficulty, it was maddening to see so many not achieve their goals when they were so close.
He told me a story about a little ambitious squirrel. One day he was standing by the side of the road looking off into the distance, he was hungry you see as there wasn’t much food on his side of the road. As he gazed across the vast paved expanse, he saw a huge tree full of acorns. It was like looking at the promised land…and yes, the grass really was greener.
So, this squirrel started across the road, he kept his eyes on the tree, on the acorns and steadily, he began making his way. Just when he had almost reached the other side, he heard a sound, and saw some lights in the distance, he paused and looked around, he took his eyes off the tree, off the acorns, and began looking back toward where he came. The noise got louder, and he got scared, and started to doubt his decision and his direction. He stood in the road paralyzed not knowing what to do as the sound got louder and the lights got brighter… should he continue on his path toward the unknown or should he quickly return to the familiar? The noise gets louder and louder and the lights brighter and brighter, the confused squirrel begins to wonder why he’s in the road, why he risked this danger, what was he thinking and quickly he begins to run back the way he came, without realizing how close he was to safety.
He runs frantically back across the road…but alas the distance is too great, and the squirrel doesn’t make it to safety before the car reaches him.
Moving toward the new is difficult, scary and just about anything in life coming at us can cause us to doubt. We must keep our eyes focused on Christ if we want to succeed. If we do that, if we put Him first then we will reach our destination.
Serious words…often they seem easier said than done.
Jesus asked us to put off the old, to stop living in the past, to move toward something new, to move toward Him. The Apostle Paul tells us, “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” Ephesians 4:22-24
So then, why do we keep reverting back to our old ways, doing what we’ve always done instead of moving toward Christ and all the love and freedom and healing He has to offer?
The million-dollar question right?
Short answer FEAR, I found an acronym that sums it up pretty well; False Evidence Appearing Real. We too easily listen to the lies of; it’s too hard, too far, I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve love, grace, forgiveness. The real evidence, the truth, is that Christ came to earth while we were still sinners to save us and reconcile us to God. Thankfully He didn’t wait until we were perfect, holy and healed (like that was going to happen without him). He came for you, me, everyone; that is the real evidence. Christ came to seek and save the lost, broken, sinful, disinherited, mournful, disenchanted and displaced. He came for each of us.
We don’t have to be scared, we don’t have to FEAR, we only need to have faith that God is who He says He is, not who we think He is. He keeps his promises, always and forever. All too often we give up and lose hope right as we approach the finish line, missing out on God’s blessing and favor.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2
Remember the squirrel, if he had just kept his eyes on the tree, kept moving forward, not only would he have made it to safety, he would have received all the abundance of blessing that was waiting for him.
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Winning and losing, successes and failures, raises, promotions, houses and cars it’s how we keep account of how we are doing in life. Are we getting ahead are we falling behind? James writes, ” My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to you him.” (James 1:2-5)
No, it doesn’t mean we are supposed to be happy when trials happen to us. What James is telling us is to consider the trials as a means by which the Lord can work in our lives to help us grow and become the people He created us to be. I know that the thought of considering the hardest times in our lives as blessings, is difficult. I have lost a child, she was 13 when I lost her, and I did not consider it joy. I did not praise God for that trial, I did not see how anything good could come from that single event. In my wounded heart I felt only my pain. It took me many years…many years, before I was able to look at that trial as something God used to make me more like Him. God not only used that experience to do His perfect work in me, he also fulfilled one of His many promises to, “work all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
What I have found is that in times of trial, disappointment, confusion, or anxiety we need to praise God, not for the circumstances but because He is God! It is in and through those moments that God shows us what He can and will do in our lives. He will provide; a way out, triumph, clarity and calm if we ask it of him. “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let no that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:6-7)
Recently I was driving to the office and i received a phone call. One I had been very anxious to receive. I had been working on a project for months, and this call was going to either let me know that my team and I had been successful or unsuccessful. I will let you know that there was a lot riding on this project, so my anxiety level was a bit high. The phone call unfortunately did not turn out the way I’d hoped, we were not awarded the project. It was in that moment I felt compelled to praise God. No, I did not jump for joy, no I did not skip or dance or throw my hands up in the air. I simply thanked God for what He was doing. I know that He has greater plans for me, plans far greater than I could imagine. I praised and continue to praise Him for what He is doing with my life. Yes, that contract would have been remarkable, something never done by my division. I would have received many kudos and much recognition. Even knowing that, I know that what is in store is better.
I love movies and there is one from which I frequently show clips for team building and motivation. There is a scene in ‘Facing the Giants‘ where Coach Taylor explains his new team philosophy. In this scene he is explaining to his team of high school football players that life is all about God, not us. He stated toward the end that “if we win, we’ll praise Him, if we lose, we’ll praise Him.” Coach is resolved to give it all to God and by doing so accept everything God has for him.
Back in that moment in my car, it would have been easy to feel discouraged, disappointed, be angry, yell out ‘why not, we worked hard, we deserve it’. Instead, I chose to pray and to praise. God is always God, not just when times are good, and everything is going our way. In fact, often times it’s when things seem the darkest, the most unbearable that God’s love, light and blessings flow out in ways we could have never expected.
I choose to praise Him when it’s good and when it seems bad, because I know that He is sovereign. There is nothing that escapes His notice or care. I know He wants only what is best for me and loves me too much to do less. Laura Story’s song ‘Blessings‘ says “We pray for blessings, we pray for peace, Comfort for family, protection while we sleep, We pray for healing, for prosperity, We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering, And all the while, You hear each spoken need, Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.”
Once we can start to see past the immediate pain, fear, anxiety and discomfort of our situations and begin to recognize that God is at work in those moments, we will be able to consider it joy that He is active and working in our lives.
Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
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Let me begin this post with a disclaimer…I’m ranting.
On Sunday our Pastor gave a very thought provoking sermon on the biblical concept of reaping and sowing. Now before you jump to conclusions, yes this is not biblical rocket science you’ve heard this topic covered from the pulpit many times, perhaps many, many times. No, it was not preached to make a point about financial giving, as it is so often presented.
The concept of reaping what you sow is so much broader than we often give credit for. This concept applies to all areas of our lives. Yes, when I said all areas I meant ALL areas! If you lie to someone, you will reap the consequences of that act. If you turn a blind eye to someone in need, that will be paid back to you as well. Our sins, our faith our best intentions done in secret and our blatant misdeeds performed in public, ALL will be returned to us…and in greater measure.
Luke 6:37-38 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
What strikes me in this scripture isn’t that we should give so we get more back, it’s that when you give, whatever you give, will come back to you, running over and poured into your lap. We are often all to quick to ask, disgruntled “I gave Lord, I was obedient Lord, I gave that homeless person my spare change Lord…where is my blessing, why haven’t I received it back?” However, when (not if) we reap the ‘rewards’ of our sin, we blame God for allowing it to happen to us. Wait…what???
God does not create double standards, He is a just God. He looks at the intentions of our hearts and gives in good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.
My friends, hear this scripture for what it is, Jesus lovingly instructing his children on how we should behave and conduct ourselves for Kingdom living.
Matthew 6:1-4 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Mark 12:38-40 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Yes, there is Grace! Many of you reading this have stories you could share about the unmerited blessing of Grace, of a time when you should have reaped the harvest of your sins but God decided otherwise. The best example of this is Jesus!
However we should choose to live our lives better, giving generously of ourselves in whatever way we can.
Luke 6:37-38 (MSG) “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”
Live generously, treat others as you would want to be treated, give your life to Jesus and you’ll receive back more blessing than you can possibly imagine.
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