Let’s face it. We all get busy. Too busy. It’s been a while since I wrote my last post. Life has been a little hectic as Carol and I are building our fourth house. And I have finally moved my study into the basement even though it is unfinished. The house is nowhere near complete. But I needed to use my extra time to get the house under roof.
At any rate, I have been busy just like you. Which means that just like you I would like to be able to find simpler ways to do things.
My guess is most believers could not readily identify their spiritual growth plan. While the 7 steps I am offering are not a complete list, this is like Personal Spiritual Growth 101.
But let’s move on to the 7 steps.
That’s it. Not complicated. But you do have to start.
Why not start today?
There are two things about human nature that are universal. We want any pain to cease immediately. And if we do something right, we want to be rewarded immediately
After all, that’s how we train our animals. Do this and there is immediate gratification.
In our dogs’ case, that equals food, pleasure.
When it comes to our piety, our faith & devotion, we tend to feel as if we should get some kind of hall pass on pain. After all, doesn’t God want us to be happy? I want my pets to be happy. But then I’m not trying to build character into my dogs.
Can you imagine a world in which God rewarded piety immediately? Sports would be non-existent. Because you can’t have two winners at the end of a game. What if both teams held a Bible study and prayed before a game? God would be in a pickle.
Ultimately we would become selfish and slaves to all of our prurient interests.
But it’s still a hard concept to shake. When God sets out to be build character in us, He includes suffering.
To be clear there is nothing wrong with asking God to remove the pain in your life. And we should expect God to bless our spirituality. That is pretty much the theme of Proverbs.
Let’s just not put God on a timetable. Perhaps a better solution is to make Proverbs 3:5-6 a daily reality:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths (ESV).
Let’s trust God to decide when it’s time to reward our piety.
In my last post I introduced the subject of wisdom. Wisdom is one of those traits that can be used for good or evil. Our goal is to use wisdom to benefit ourselves, others, and even the organization or business we are associated with. We are gleaning our thoughts from 2 Samuel 17 and 18.
Here’s the storyline in a nutshell. Absalom, David’s son, has been living in exile and Joab wants him to be recalled home. However, as the story continues into chapters 17 and 18 more examples of wisdom and the lack of wisdom will illustrate even more how much we need to pray for wisdom. Six kinds of wisdom pop up in the story. Six kinds of wisdom you can and should pray for. And then a seventh which encompasses all six.
1. So Joab comes up with a plan. To get from here to there you will need planning wisdom.
Joab planned well in the sense that he was successful in getting Absalom recalled. Yes, you may read the story and would rather call it a scheme, and you would be right. However, I simply want to point out that his planning ultimately worked.
In chapter 17 Ahithophel also comes up with an effective plan.
Now Ahithophel urged Absalom, “Let me choose 12,000 men to start out after David tonight. 2 I will catch up with him while he is weary and discouraged. He and his troops will panic, and everyone will run away. Then I will kill only the king, 3 and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride returns to her husband. After all, it is only one man’s life that you seek. Then you will be at peace with all the people.”4 This plan seemed good to Absalom and to all the elders of Israel (verses 1-4; NLT).
2. The plan was acknowledged to credible. However, as good as the plan was it lacked something, which we shortly see. And it was ignored because of what it lacked. So keep in mind that you may have the right plan, but it never gets executed because planning wisdom alone is not enough. Ultimately, you have to sell your plan.How was Joab going to convince the king to recall his son? He needed to make an emotional appeal. And who better than a wise woman who feigned to have her own family issues? So in comes the woman who was able to grab David’s attention and persuade him to act. She had persuasive wisdom. Granted, many use this type of wisdom to manipulate crowds or individuals for selfish reasons. In 2 Samuel 15:6 Absalom deceived the people. There is somewhat of an art to be persuasive. You must you the right words, tone, style, and even environment to persuasively move people.
Let’s jump back to chapter 17 and look at Ahitholphel’s plan. Once again, it was a very good plan. However, it lacked persuasive wisdom. Hushai came along and offered another plan. Actually, an inferior plan. But his plan had metaphors and appealed to Absalom’s emotions. Which plan was accepted and adopted? The one that was more persuasive.
So while you may be praying as you plan, don’t forget to pray for the ability to effectively communicate and persuade.
It may make the difference in whether or not it is well received.
In my next post we’ll look at four more types of wisdom.
Even if the new habit was formed earlier there will still be a critical point in the life of the habit.
That was the case for Daniel. About 400 years earlier King Solomon had suggested that if anyone was living in exile that they might pray facing Jerusalem. Daniel liked the idea and adopted the habit. So three times a day he opened his window and prayed toward Jerusalem.
So far so good…
Until a conspiracy was formed. Some of his colleagues simply wanted Daniel out of office. Who knows exactly why.
You’ll need to read the entire story in Daniel 6.
The point is Daniel had to decide if he was going to continue the habit. He could have prayed with the windows closed. But no doubt Daniel felt that to not pray as he always had would have been a betrayal against God.
How many of us consider our spiritual habits in a similar light?
Think about some of the basic habits we have:
You can add a few more perhaps. But how seriously do we take those habits? Yes, I realize that none of these bring instant gratification. Which can make it easier to let one slide.
But should we abandon those habits, would we consider it an act of betrayal towards God?
Daniel certainly did.
That’s why we read in Daniel 6:10, But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. (NLT)
Your spiritual habits matter.
But those same habits which strengthen you in the tough times, also cause you to betray God if you choose to abandon them.
Are there any spiritual habits you need to reclaim?
In short, if we do our part, then God cannot let us down. Otherwise He will not look so good.
Over the years I have prayed and I have seen unanswered prayers and answered prayers. But some of the most remarkable answers to prayer have occurred when I also fasted.
In fact, I have written in my journal consecutive answers to consecutive fastings. Also, once I prayed and fasted for three days and had three incredible answers to prayer.
So guess what enters my mind if I am not careful?
If I desperately need an answer to prayer all I need to do is fast. In other words, fasting becomes my rabbit foot. Now I am slipping into magic and superstition rather than faith.
And let’s understand. God knows our hearts.
In 1 Samuel there is a story about Rabbit-Foot Theology. It’s found in chapter 4. Israel is at war with the Philistines. Israel was defeated in a battle and lost four thousand men.
Why the defeat? Great question, but they came up with the wrong answer. They went back and got the Ark of the Covenant. That became their rabbit’s foot. After all, if they lost now God would not look so good. And all the press reports that evening would focus on God’s defeat.
But God wants a genuine relationship with us, not a manipulative one.
To be quite honest whenever I fast now I am confronted with this reality. Am I fasting out of a genuine relationship with God or I am thinking that my fasting will force Him to grant my request?
What drives my devotion to God? Do I see Him as a ticket to the better life, whatever that might be?
If I get up at 5am to read my Bible is God obligated to bless me the rest of the day?
If I give up a Sunday morning on the golf course in order to go to church (just an illustration since I teach every Sunday morning), knowing that I can play later, am I expecting God to help me pick up a few extra birdies later on? After all, I sort of earned a little extra favor didn’t I?
Isn’t amazing how easy it is to fall for Rabbit-Foot Theology? None of us are immune to it.
Let’s focus on our heart, and not our rabbit’s foot.
Now that was in the day when you could leave your child alone and he would be perfectly safe. At any rate, she soon realized that she had left one. Hey, remembering three out of four is not bad, unless you are the one who is left behind.
When she arrived back on the crime scene, there I was crying. I was so young I do not recall the incident, however I am sure it accounts for some of my behavioral idiosyncrasies today.
Let’s fast forward to adulthood. We still don’t want to be left behind or left out. There was a time in Israel’s history when they thought God had forgotten about them.
In fact, the pain was so great that in the 80th Psalm the Psalmist repeated himself three times (verse 3 is repeated times).
1 Please listen, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph’s descendants like a flock.
O God, enthroned above the cherubim,
display your radiant glory
2 to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
Show us your mighty power.
Come to rescue us!
3 Turn us again to yourself, O God.
Make your face shine down upon us.
Only then will we be saved.
The historical context is not certain.
Perhaps Israel is about to be invaded by the Assyrian army, or it may be in the past. Either way Israel was in trouble. And as human nature is they felt forgotten and abandoned by God.
Well, that is exactly what Israel is praying. In fact, verse 3 is repeated three times in the Psalm. Three times! This is an impassioned plea for God’s attention.
As I stood crying on the sidewalk, I suppose that was my way of saying, “Mom, please turn around and rescue me.” And when you are in trouble, you will repeatedly ask God to turn around, smile with favor upon you, and rescue you from your trouble.
Yes, you will feel abandoned at times. But just because you cannot see God does not mean He does not care. He’ll show up. Just keep looking.
A little girl starts out having princess birthday parties. She dresses up. She starts looking around and asking Am I pretty enough?
Then she becomes a teenager and asks Am I thin enough? In college she wonders Am I smart enough? When she moves along in her career she asks Am I successful enough? She gets married and her thoughts are Am I good enough? With the first child comes Am I providing enough?
The questions, the doubts, and the scarcity mindset flood our insecure minds. We jump on Facebook and Instagram and count up the number of likes. Do I have enough likes? Probably not. In fact, enough never is quite enough. So we continue to live in shame, insecurity, and self doubt.
What if there was some truth in the idea that we will never measure up? What if that was, in some ways, good news?
One of the more fascinating passages in the Bible is in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. Fascinating because this particular passage is right in the middle of several chapters of genealogies. Most skip these. After all they don’t tend to hold our attention very well.
There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request. (NLT)
Just two verses. But notice his attitude. He knew he was lacking and that was a good thing. It was that feeling of not being enough that drove Him to the Lord to ask for God’s blessing on his life. God has enough; actually, He has plenty. When I was a little boy I went to my dad because he had more than I did.
Before we get to Jabez, we have to read through forty-three other names. Why is Jabez given two verses? The writer of the book of Chronicles puts an emphasis on prayer in the book. Could it be that he stopped at Jabez because Jabez put an emphasis on prayer in his own life?
As a believer, one of the healthiest attitudes we can have is one of scarcity, which in turn leads us to an attitude of abundance because we have been driven to God in prayer. God’s abundant grace is available to those who pray. Our focus is taken off of ourselves and put on the Lord. That’s healthy.
Apparently Jabez’s life didn’t start out so well. We are not given the details and it really doesn’t matter. The family may have had very little, or perhaps his mother was a single mom, or maybe his mother died in childbirth.
Just as the writer of Chronicles did not focus on Jabez’ background, so it also doesn’t matter where you find yourself at this particular stage in your life. Perhaps you are living in an era of scarcity. Don’t let that discourage you. Let it drive you to prayer so that God can change your attitude to one of abundance.
That is what happened for Jabez. He began to ask God to bless him, enlarge his territory, and provide protection so that his life would never go back to a point where he was living without God’s help.
Let’s break this passage into three parts, which will lead to three action items–three things you need to do.
Oh, that you would bless me…
1. Pray every day for God’s abundance. It may be that you need more patience. Maybe it’s more kindness. We could all use a little more self control. I don’t know what you need to pray for, but when God invades your life and abundance is noticed, God is glorified.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:8 (ESV)
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (NLT)
God is able to produce abundance in your life. So ask for it.
…expand my territory!
2. Get ready for more. If you are praying for ten more clients, are you ready to service ten more clients? Maybe you aren’t ready, so God hasn’t answered your prayer yet.
Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!
3. Stay dependent. Once God blesses you, there will be the temptation to believe you did it through your personality, your talents, your giftedness, or your training. Don’t fall into that trap.
Listen to Zechariah 4:6 (ESV) Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
Let go of your scarcity attitude and replace it with an attitude of abundance.
Let’s be honest right from the start. Prayer meetings tend to have the lowest attendance of any kind of meeting. There is something about prayer that is mystical. Plus in a crowd many get uncomfortable to say the least.
However, what about in the privacy of your home.
Let me share four quick thoughts about prayer that will encourage you, and I dare say drive you to pray.
The apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:11 (NLT) is encouraging the church to participate in what God is doing. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.
1. Prayer Helps others. Paul said the prayers of others were very helpful to him. There will be times when there is nothing else you can do for someone but pray. Let this verse encourage you. Prayers are helpful.
2. Paul Urged believers to pray for him. Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:30 (NLT) That’s how huge prayer is.
3. People will Give thanks for the working of God in their lives and the lives of others. “…many people will give thanks.”
4. Who doesn’t want the favor of God in their life? No one! How Encouraging is it to know that your prayers play a role in someone experiencing the favor of God.
Once again, let’s be honest. Wouldn’t you want someone to be praying for God’s favor in your life? Then why not pray for others?
Spend some time and meditate on these verses. You will be glad you did.
Because Prayer is H.U.G.E.
After 29 years of marriage there are many things to be thankful for. Carol became my best friend just over thirty years ago, so I married her. That’s one of the best pieces of advice I can give to any couple. Marry your best friend!
As I look back there have been long walks, cross country vacations, hikes, eating out, lots of conversation, skiing, kids, five kids (which have been an absolute blast), house building projects, and more.
Of course, anytime you make a list off the top of your head you will undoubtedly leave something special out.
However, let me add one that often gets overlooked.
Not mine, but Carol’s.
We have five kids, but I always wanted just four. So after Savannah, our fourth child, I was done. Carol was not. She really wanted a fifth, but she recalls me being adamant about not having another one.
So what did she do? She could have nagged, badgered, and pestered me, but she didn’t. She prayed.
Gabe has quite a heritage. I am not saying we did not pray for our kids prior to their coming into this world. But Gabe was different. In fact, it brings to mind the story of Samuel in the Old Testament.
Hannah was a Jewish woman who desperately wanted to have a child but was unable. She was barren for years, but during that time she continued to pray and ask God for a child. She prevailed in prayer, God heard, and she had a boy named Samuel. (It’s a great story in 1 Samuel chapter 1).
I’m thankful that I have a wife who prevailed in prayer. I often wonder how many times Hannah thanked God for her boy Samuel. I even wonder how often Hannah’s husband thanked God for a praying wife.
Yes, there have been many incredible memories and great times over the years. Yet Gabe is a constant reminder that I have a praying wife.
That’s a lot to be thankful for. 29 years of marriage and counting. In fact, we have already planned our 30th wedding anniversary. Can’t wait!!