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.
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.
Following the interview, guess what? He had to wait. Waiting turned into anxiety and worrying.
Now his question:
All I’m doing is sitting around worrying. What do I do about that?
No doubt we all have our questions, our unanswerable questions.
What if I don’t get the job?
Will my kids ever get on track?
Can my marriage survive?
Now let me be candid. I would love to have the answers at my fingertips. But if I did, I would most likely simply be blowing smoke.
I’m not sure why Moses had to herd sheep for forty years.
Why did God allow Daniel to be thrown into the lion’s den because he faithfully prayed three times a day?
Life is filled with uncertainty and we don’t always get the phone call we wanted. Wouldn’t we all like to have everything work out all the time?
Here is what we can do. This comes from one of Jesus’ talks on worry. Actually it seems like He is having a case of ADD. In Matthew 6 verse 25 Jesus essentially tells us that we must trust in the providence of God.
And in the middle of His talk, He says, “Look at the birds…” Sounds like something we would say when we get distracted. But Jesus was not distracted. He simply wants us to realize that if God is concerned about these small creatures how much more does He love and care for us.
The birds don’t just fly around and expect food to magically appear in their nests. They do their part. But they are not worrying about their sustenance.
So how do we overcome our anxiety? Simple, but not easy.
Accept that you have done all you can do. You have gone through the interview. You have prayed about the situation. You took the necessary steps.
Believe that God has your best interests in mind. Our desires are not always the best.
Commit it all to the Lord.
With that said, does that mean the anxiety will leave? Sometimes no, because we allow uncertainty to make us anxious.
Perhaps the best way to sum it up is like Jesus did. “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) Devotion to God is a prerequisite for the peace that we long for in the midst of uncertainty.
Put God first and you will have no reason to worry.
Why worry when you can trust God?
The events of the past week illustrate that we tend to do things if no one is watching. When the bombs at the Boston Marathon went off, one of the first comments I heard was, “With all the cameras in place, and all the cell phones with cameras, it should not take long to identify the perpetrators.”
I wonder if the two brothers, who were quickly identified and pursued, even thought about the abundance of cameras. I wonder if they thought about the consequences.
It all reminds me of the verse in Numbers 32:23 (KJV) which says, “…be sure your sin will find you out.” Sobering.
God’s camera is always on. He never misses a thing. When you displayed a bad attitude at work or towards your boss, He saw it.
Sure, you may pull off your sinful act, and you may even attend a party that evening, but you will never get away. Oh, perhaps for a time. Maybe for a long time.
But one day you will be exposed, because God’s camera is always on!
If you are like me you can look back at an unfavorable circumstance that ultimately worked out in your favor.
Stories like this abound in the Bible. There is the story of Jonah who ran from God. That is not the brightest thing to do. Eventually Jonah found himself on a boat in the midst of a violent storm. Then the men on board threw him into the sea and Jonah winds up inside a large fish. God used all of those unfavorable circumstances to accomplish His purpose which was for Jonah to bring revival to the city of Nineveh.
Joseph was loved by his father, hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, cast into prison in Egypt, and forgotten. Yet God used the positive and the negative circumstances, one circumstance after another to bring Joseph all the way to the position of Prime Minister of Egypt.
Your life will likely be the same (excluding the Prime Minister part). Circumstance after circumstance, good or bad, will be used by God to accomplish His purpose in your life. It takes all kinds of circumstances to produce the person and the outcome God is after. God has a particular design in mind for you, and He will work through each one until He arrives at the finished product. His personal development plan for your life will be multi-faceted, but you will like the finished product.
Circumstances. At times you will wonder what’s going on. Your patience may run thin as you speculate as to whether God is actually in your court.
In fact, God is right in the middle of your circumstances!