Series: Restoring Vitality – What are you Hoping for?

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In the last blog, we looked at how we sometimes hide from God by trading his ultimate desires, for something we can feel good about.  We tend to trade the richness of intimacy with God for a substitute we can understand and manage.  We do this as congregations too. We hide in our traditions, our doctrinal correctness, and our ministry accomplishments.  And as our effectiveness starts to wane we double down on the substitutes.  We try to dress up the corpse, so we can believe she is only sleeping.  When deep down we know Life has left the building.

The Lord wants us alive, he came to give us his life.  We need to be honest.  We must have the courage to see how we’ve been hiding.  And then we need to ask God to replace our vision of a well-managed life, or ministry for the thing Christ wants most for us – honest and deep fellowship with him.

As you read the following, I hope you’ll let God give you a vision of his desires.

Let’s consider the Apostle John’s thoughts.  John was the one who probably had the most familiar and intimate relationship with Jesus.  In his gospel, John referred to himself as the “disciple Jesus loved.”  He was part of Jesus’ inner circle.  John was the only disciple at the crucifixion.  On the cross, Jesus gave John care of his mother, Mary.  John was the only disciple who wasn’t martyred for his faith.  He lived a long life, growing in deep oneness with Jesus through the ongoing ministry of the his Spirit.  It fits that John wrote a lot about Jesus, his nature and his invitation to a relationship for all who would trust in him.

Jesus spoke of this relationship as “abiding.” “Abide in me, and I in you.” John 15:4

Jesus saw that his followers would be united with Jesus and the Father.  “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one…” John 17:23

Jesus knew his people would be familiar with him.  “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. …the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” John 10:3,4

John described a deep connection with God as the point of it all. “and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3

John used the phrase “in him” as a state of being in a relationship of oneness with Jesus. “so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 5:20

John isn’t the only one who records a God who is interested in a relationship with people.  In fact, the Bible reveals many instances which underscore this reality.  Let me rehearse a few generalities and then we’ll get to a few specifics.

God does relationship things.  First, God is a communicator.  He has spoken and its recorded for us in Scripture.  He reveals his thoughts, his desires and his disappointments. He gives us way more information than we would need, if all he wanted was for us to do the right thing. Second, God is a giver.  God provides and sustains. He provided a creation where we could live and thrive. And his giving is not based on the performance of man.  His rain falls on the just and the unjust. Third, God is an initiator. He approaches humanity rather than waiting for us to find him. Like a pursuing lover, he comes again and again to ignite a love for him within us. Fourth, God is a forgiver. We know forgiveness is part of every relationship because we fail.  God has chosen to bear that burden again and again.  He is a relationship God that’s why he does relationship things.

John wasn’t the only one who had intimacy with God.  Throughout Scripture others had close, meaningful interactions with him.  One of those is way back in Genesis 18:1-8.  Read this:  “And the Lord appeared to him (Abraham) by the oaks of Mamre as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.  When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, ‘O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.  Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring  a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on – since you have come to  your servant.’  So they said, ‘Do as you have said,’  And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.’ And Abraham ran to the herd and took a  calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young mean whop prepared it quickly.  Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared and set it before them.  And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”

This little vignette has relationship written all over it.  God showed up and had a meal with one of his creatures!  This God who spoke it all into being, one day showed up, sat down, washed  his feet and rested in the shade, while enjoying a feast prepared for him by one of his children.  He is a relationship God.

You may say, yes, but not today!  God is different.  God is distant.  No, he hasn’t changed.  He still wants a relationship with the creature he made in his image – that’s us.  This is so much a part of who he is that there was another covenant meal offered by God in Jesus. Though he did it a bit differently this time.  Jesus, who is God in the flesh met with his disciples around the table.   He washed their feet.  They didn’t stand by and watch him eat, they ate with him.  In Jesus, we see that God is even more interested in a relationship than we thought.  We still sit at that table today.

Can you grasp the thought of an intimate relationship with the God of the universe?  It’s a holy and mysterious thought.  Just let me encourage you with this – don’t accept a substitute.  Don’t hide from the hope of living into this mystery.  The revitalization of our faith depends on us having the right goal for our life with God in Christ.  Be satisfied with nothing but being one with him.

My prayer for you is that God gives you a hunger for closeness with him.

Thanks again for reading, commenting, and sharing!  If you have questions they may be the ones the propel us into greater truth.  So, go ahead and share them!

In the next blog, I plan to begin to examine a theological approach that might help us get to this relationship hope.

 

Series: Restoring Vitality – How we hide from God

TOY STORY 3This is the third in a series of exploring our own spiritual growth and health.  I’m calling it “Restoring Vitality” because there are many of us who feel like life is missing from our own spiritual journey.  We may feel stuck or oppressed. Overall, it just doesn’t seem like I should be where I am.  The question is, how do we experience the life God designed for us?

The first blog described the problem of being stuck in spiritual infancy.  There is a problem of not moving forward in our faith toward greater intimacy with Christ. The second blog identified some of the important questions we can ask which will help us honestly assess where we are.  In this blog, I’d like to explore our own strategies for producing a sense of movement when in fact they may be doing the opposite.

If you remember, the first question I thought we should ask was the same question God asked Adam in the garden.  “Where are you?”  It’s a question I don’t particularly like.  It is easier for me to move on with my plans, march through the days and years of my life, hoping and wishing and hiding.  Let’s consider some ways we hide from the intimacy God desires for us.  These are in no particular order.

We trade Jesus for moral rules.  Moral rules make us feel good.  When we obey them, we compare ourselves with those who don’t and then we can feel a little better about hiding in the bushes.  Rules soothe our consciences.  I once knew of two fundamentalist churches who wanted to have a combined church picnic.  But they got stuck on whether the women would be allowed to wear pants! One church felt good about their stricter rules because more rules equals more holiness. The other church felt good about their freedom!  Needless to say, no picnic happened.  I imagine Jesus sitting at the park with unbelievers wishing his kids were there with him.

We trade Jesus for conquests.  Maybe you’re not a rule person.  But what drives you is getting things done for God. Just like rules, we can hide from God in mission statements and in the efforts to accomplish great things for God. Planting a new church, growing a ministry, mission trips, fighting for justice can all make us feel better about being distant from God.  Even if God doesn’t seem especially close, I speculate he will surely like what I do for him.  That is a wrong thought.  Do you remember the condemnation of Matthew 7:22-23? Jesus said, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and do many might works in your name?  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”  God needs nothing we can do for him. Doing something for God without God must be abhorrent to the One who wants to be known.

We trade Jesus for our theology.  I love theology and theological discussions.  From the earliest days of the church, leaders and learners have been trying to summarize, contextualize and categorize what the Scriptures say about God.  It has a real benefit to the church.  But it can become like researching and writing a historical biography.  It’s great to know about Abraham Lincoln.  But I have no way of knowing him.  We rehearse traits, movements and mission of God, while missing the living God.  We easily speak of him out there, or back there, but we hide from him right here. Instead of humbly seeking him, we find significance in our own knowledge and understanding of the truth.  We become more sure while God remains distant.

We trade Jesus for religious practices.  All our religious activities can easily become a Jesus substitute.  I have been in church services where Christ was never mentioned.  And I’ve been to some that didn’t even include a real prayerful conversation with him – as if He wasn’t there.  Church becomes about church.  We judge our activity by how we felt about it, rather than if we actually interacted with the God who was in the room.  We fast at Lent, give our tithes and offerings, hold prayer meetings, teach the Word, all without Jesus being involved.  These things can lull us into a false sense of spiritual vitality all while missing the One who gives life.

Let me stop here and reassure you, there is nothing wrong with these things in principle.  Just like there was nothing wrong with the bushes in the garden.  Adam and Eve misused them to keep God at a comfortable distance.  And that’s what we can do. Morality, mission, theology and even religion can add depth, guidance, comfort and strength to our relationship with God in Christ.  Our temptation is that we forget they are means to an end.  Even our own spiritual maturity is a means to an end.  And that end is intimacy with the God who created us for oneness with him. He created us and redeemed us to live face to face with him.  Any replacement of that hope keeps us hiding from the One who faithfully pursues us.

I hope the Spirit of Christ is nudging you to think that there might be more for you.  There is. It is LIFE in and with HIM.  Hiding from him robs us of the life he gives.  Consider what stepping out from behind your bush might look like.

In the next blog, we’ll take a look at the kind of relationship God actually wants for us and with us.

As always, comments, likes and shares are welcome and appreciated.  Also, if you will subscribe to the blog, you’ll be sure to get the next installments.

Series: Restoring Vitality – Why Am I Still Here?

iu-9This is the second blog in a series I’ve titled, “Restoring Vitality?”  The first is here.

I’ve been graciously invited into the lives of congregations in order to help them assess health and discern what the Lord may be wanting to do in the future.  So like a doctor, we ask questions that get us to the symptoms a church may be experiencing and hopefully the process helps us find a path of renewed health.

I’ve been to a lot of doctors in my life, especially in the last 8 years.  The good ones ask a lot of questions and then they listen for the answers.  If they do that well and they have experience in the area of trouble, then they can guide me toward solutions that will lead to greater health.

Spiritually speaking, when we are stuck in a developmental stage, we need to notice something is amiss.  Is there a pain? How, when, why, does this present itself? What are the results?  Once we’ve done a little honest appraisal of our condition, we can begin to walk through a process by which we can engage the Spirit of God and experience his leading and his fruitfulness in our lives.  Let’s look at a few of the questions that might help us see what’s really happening in us.

WHERE AM I?

Where am I? is the first question.  This is the insightful question that God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden. If you remember, Adam and Even had sinned.  They immediately saw their need to cover up.  So they constructed loincloths out of fig leaves.  Then it says, “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”  And they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God.” (Gen. 2:8).  Then God called out to the man this important question, “Where are you?”

I believe God knew exactly where Adam and Eve were.  And I tend to think he knew why they were there. So, why did he ask?  He wanted Adam and Eve to hear the question. They needed to notice where they were and how they got there.  They had a relationship of oneness with God.  The garden was a place of peace.  The relationships were rich and full.  But their world was now fractured.  It was broken.  They were alone, hiding from God and one another.

There are times it seems that God asks us that question.  “Where are you?”  Am I hiding?  If I am, why?  Do I find myself in the midst of broken relationships?  Am I motivated by fear?  Where am I stuck? Is life harder than it seems it should be?  If God were to walk into the room at this moment, would I expect his embrace, or his rebuke?

The first step of growth is always noticing where I am.  I need to look around within and without.  I need to notice the condition of my own heart.  I need to identify the thoughts and actions that rule my life.

WHAT ARE MY DESIRES?

Another question to ask in this process of honest appraisal is, “What are my desires?”  I think we need to dig deep into the desires of our hearts.  Our desires come from a life of being formed by our families, our own personalities, and our life experiences.  And our desires shape our decisions, our expectations and our reactions to the world around us.

Our desires also shape the way we experience Jesus.  Jesus was walking our of Jericho and there were two blind men calling out to him.  They called, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”  And Jesus stopped and asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?”  They replied “Lord, let our eyes be opened!”  And Jesus healed them.  Their need and their desire to be made whole shaped their experience of Jesus.  They needed a healer.  And they found a healer.

I wonder how my own desires have limited my experience of Jesus.  I have often just wanted Jesus to fix something, or provide something, or relieve me of something, rather than wanting him to transform it – or transform me in it.  I want my “daily bread.”  But I don’t really desire that “His kingdom to come.”

A.W. Tozer wrote in his book, “How to Be Filled With the Holy Spirit,” “For instance, are you sure that you want to be possessed by a spirit other than your own? Even though that spirit be the pure Spirit of God? Even though he be the very gentle essence of the gentle Jesus?”  In this little book, he is telling us that our desires matter.  As long as we want a God to patch up the lives we’ve designed, we will hobble along going from crisis to crisis looking for those little slivers of relief.  As long as we look to Jesus as the guy who will save us from the flames, we will miss the joy of seeing eternity at work now.  Our desires either expand, or limit our experience of God in Christ.

WHAT ARE MY QUESTIONS?

A last appraisal question to ask is, “What are my questions?” This may seem odd to ask a question about questions.  But I think our questions reveal something about where we are in our spiritual journeys.  First, let me say there is nothing wrong with questions.  Questioning is an important part of development.  Job would never have been ready for God to reveal himself, if he hadn’t spent a lot of time asking his questions.  But what we wouldn’t expect is that the next time something went wrong, he would start asking the same questions again.

In Hebrews 6, just before a warning about not leaving the faith, the writer wrote “Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of a faith toward God…” (Hebrews 6:1).  He seems to be saying, “Guys, these are the basics.  We should not have to keep going back to the same questions again and again.  We should be past this by now.”

As we grow in Christ our questions should change.  There will always be mysteries to the faith.  But there should be areas we are becoming more sure of.  There should be questions that are getting settled as we live with Jesus.  And that should lead us to new questions which propel us toward a deeper understanding of our God.

ENCOURAGEMENT, A First Step

I encourage you to take a piece of paper, get alone with God and let him guide you in assessing your spiritual journey.  Even better would be passing this along to a fellow believer in Jesus and talking through it.  Often someone we know well will have some insight that we don’t have about ourselves.

Be assured of this, whether you are hanging out in the bushes, or are experiencing mixed desires, or if you’ve been stuck on the same questions for years, there is a God who is pursuing you with all his love, goodness and strength.  And he wants to lead you to new heights of knowing him.  That’s why Jesus joined us and that’s why His Spirit is still here.

Comments, shares, questions and likes are welcomed and appreciated.  I hope you’re looking forward to the next step in Restoring Vitality, I am.

 

 

Series: Restoring Vitality – Are We Still Here?

p3iQJk+%R5SHFqdjOrOTeQIn the next several blogs, I’d like to explore what it takes to move in our spiritual lives and in our lives together as the Body of Christ.  If you know me, you know I have a heart for the church.  There are many churches which seems to miss out on what it means to be the Body of Christ in a community.  I’ve been to their services – some are loud and energetic and some are subdued – something is missing.  People arrive and leave unchanged.  Christians who have lost their vitality are creating churches that look like them.  In this series, I’d like for you to come along with me to explore what could be different.  But I need something from you.  I need you to think, pray, comment and even critique.  We will enjoy this more, if we can have some interaction along the way.  And then, let’s see where the Spirit takes us on this journey.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 has gotten my attention the past few days, “But I brothers [and sisters], could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it.  And even now you are not yet ready for you are still of the flesh.  For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”

What hit me was that Paul wanted to speak to them in a certain way.  He wanted to address them as spiritual people – people who have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). What does it mean to address someone as a spiritual person?  If we contrast it with what is next in the passage, “but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ”, Paul seems to mean, I wanted to talk to you like mature adults who understood the deep things of Christ.  But you’re still thinking like kids.  They were stuck in their development.  Their spiritual activities may have continued, but their spiritual growth did not.  Because of that, Paul was going to go over things they should have already understood.Instinctively, most of us know the difference between helping kids and helping adults.

Last summer I went to Canada for a conference.  I had a pocket full of change.  Canada loves its coins, different shapes, sizes and more denominations than we use here in the States.  I stepped up to pay for a cup of coffee and instead of trying to hold up the line by fumbling through my unfamiliar coinage, I just held out my hand full of change and said, “here, take what you want.”  The clerk changed her tone.  And she began explaining to me just what she was taking and why.  All the while she was adding it up, out loud, for all the shop to hear.  At the end she said, “Money can be hard, I’m good at it because I’ve been doing it a long time.”  I looked at my wife feeling like an empowered 4 year old – after all, it wasn’t my fault, “money can be hard.”

With children, we simplify.  With children, we make the mysterious more concrete.  With children, we take more steps, we go slower, we use simpler vocabulary.  And for children and the uninitiated that’s appropriate.  Once we’ve been in the faith a while, God might like to address us as adults.  As a Dad, I’ve loved having conversations with my kids at all ages. But I much more enjoy them now as adults.  When we talk, we can talk mystery.  We can delve into deeper things.  I can allude and analogize.  I can ask questions that poke, prod and dig beneath the surface.  This makes me wonder, how would God speak with us if we weren’t stuck in infancy?  Where would he lead?  What would he reveal to us about ourselves, our world, his work and his purposes?  How would my fellowship with him be different?

What were the signs of their continued infancy?  If you read the rest of the book of 1 Corinthians, there is a list of issues they didn’t understand.  The overarching result of being stuck was they weren’t living together well.  They were divided over which human leaders they followed. They were selfish and showed favoritism. They put people into categories. They had a pattern of unresolved conflict. Their worship was people-focused. The message of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had gotten lost.  God’s glorious future had lost its shine.  Their lives were lived by the seen, not the unseen.

This is what they experienced as a body, but isn’t it also what we see in our own lives?  Is God having to address issues that should be second nature to us by now?  Do we take our eyes off the mystery of Christ’s love and live in comparison with others?  Are our spiritual activities more about us and how we feel about them, rather than what Christ is doing in them?

In my next blog, I’ll write about some ways to let the Spirit of God diagnose us and our development.  Do you have any comments, or suggestions?

Until then, here’s my prayer … “Father, thank you for not leaving us as infants, but wanting us to mature as your adult daughters and sons.  Thank you for your gentle touch that loves, comforts, guides, directs and corrects us along the path.  And thank you to the Son, Jesus who gives us his mind, that we might be changed day by day.  And thank you to the Spirit, who empowers and informs our journey.  Lord, there are areas of my life where I am still in need.  Forgive my stubbornness to grow, I pray, and give me the courage to grow.  Amen.”

 

Here’s the next step.

You are God’s Beautiful Boys and Girls

beautiful-boy-film-chalamet-carell.pngLast Saturday, my son and I went to see the movie “Beautiful Boy.”  I wasn’t sure what I would experience, though I was pretty sure it was going to be a heavy movie.  It was.  When the movie ended, the place was silent except for a few sniffles here and there.  It is a story of addiction.  And it doesn’t end in a fake, movie-like, happily every after way.  It is based on a true story, written by David Sheff.  It shows the pain and process of loving a kid with addictions.  As I sat there, I found myself feeling pain for those I know who have had children and siblings struggling with the horrors of addiction.

There was one line that stuck out to me.  It was said during a scene at an Narcotics Anonymous (NA) group session.  When the kid said his addiction was a disease, he was corrected by the group as they recited together something like, “Addiction isn’t the disease, but my way of treating the disease.”  In essence they were saying that the path to addiction begins because there is something else wrong on the inside.  This is profound.  As long as we treat the symptom without dealing with the issue, we will miss the cure.

This week I was visiting with a parent who said his 16 year old announced to him that she thinks she is transexual. Like most of us parents would be, he was floored.  His little girl, who he thought he knew was having doubts about the very essence of her identity.  And he didn’t know how to respond, or what to do next.  Is this another case where culture has pointed our kids to a solution that misses the problem altogether?  Is it another way of treating what is the real issue and do we run the danger of missing the cure?

These issues aren’t just for the young.  I’ve spoken to adults that have jumped from one spouse to another, to another.  They repeat the pattern all the while trying to treat their unhappiness, their frustrations, their anger. And they end up taking their unchanged self into the next relationship hoping this time they’ve found the answer.  But again, they’ve been misdiagnosed and the real cure eludes them.

Some of us do this with pills.  Some of us do this with career moves.  Some of us do it with porn.  Some of us do it with sexuality. Some of us do this with out-of-contol emotions.  Some of us do this with a new commitment to a new morality.  This is so engrained in us that pastors can even do this with ministry. It is the common human approach to finding the cure to our ache, our loneliness, our identity questions, our search for belonging and meaning.  We keep buying into the misdiagnosis and the next fake cure.

What is our disease?  Our disease is that we have left the only One (or keep leaving the One) who knows us to our core and loves us.  Our disease is that we keep trying to fabricate lives with things that can’t bear the weight of eternity.  Our disease is a pride that says, “We’ve got this.” when our lives tell a different story.  Our disease is living in independence from the One who made us with the potential of eternity and deep fellowship with the Divine.

If this is our disease, what is our cure?  Hear and embrace this…

  1. We are created in the image of God.  This doesn’t mean that everything in our life, personality, or desires are given or approved by God.  But it means that our existence has an eternal intention to it.  We are no accident.  And we are created with the potential of eternity and deep fellowship with the Divine.
  2. God invites us back to him.  God, like the Dad we all long for, looks past our crap and failed attempts a self-cure to wait for us with eagerness to embrace us and heal us.
  3. His Son, Jesus is the way to healing. He came to carry our pain and show us life.  He restores our call, our purpose, our hope of being changed and having the life we were made for.
  4. Once we’ve recognized our disease, separation from our God; and the cure, God’s rescuing love; we are freed to discover the joy of living in His presence and being changed by His love.

This sounds simple, but it is life-altering.  If accepted, it reshapes everything within us.  It reorients the core of our being around the Being of the seen and unseen universe.

The questions, the pain, the process may remain for a while, or a lifetime, but we find that God walks in the way with us.  Life is still a place a learning.  It’s a path of growth.  It’s not easy.  But Christ’s presence keeps us rooted, sure, secure and hopeful in the middle of it all. And he has provided others who are walking the journey, so we need not do it alone.

I have found that God and His Son, Jesus believe we are beautiful boys and girls.  Accepting that, in the middle of mixed emotions, is the beginning of the cure.  The rest of the cure is to let Him restore us to the lives He made us for.

Comments, Hopes, Needs, Questions??  Thanks for your time in reading, commenting and sharing.

Calmly Trust in 2 Truths About Prayer

Have you ever been anxious about prayer? Do I pray the right things, with the right words, and have I prayed it enough for God to know I’m serious?  And will that affect how God responds?

I was reading Luke chapter 11, a few months ago and came upon a passage that has always increased my own anxiety about prayer, my prayers.  The story goes like this:  Luke 11:5–8 ”And he said to them,“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’;and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’?I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence [persistence] he will rise and give him whatever he needs.”

This passage seems to be an example for us in how to pray.  The reasoning goes, just like this neighbor was persistent, we have to be persistent with God!  And when we are, he will get up and give us what we need, or want.  This understanding is the common understanding and it can drive us to pray and pray and pray, hoping that we can wake God, and even if it’s in frustration, He will answer.

But as I read this story in it’s context, I think it actually has the opposite meaning.  It is not an example, it is actually a contrast.  It is a story that exemplifies the opposite of how God works.

First, let me explain this from the context.  Let’s look at the flow of the passage.

v. 1-4 The disciples asked how to pray, and Jesus shared an abbreviated version of the “Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:5-9).  Jesus wanted them to know how to pray!  He wanted them to know what God cares about.

v.5-8 Jesus told the story of a man who pestered his neighbor into giving him some bread.

v.9-10 Christ encouraged his disciples to pray, seek and knock because God, the Father is a generous giver.

v.11-13 Jesus highlighted the goodness of our Father in wanting to give good gifts.

So, let me ask, If God tells us how to pray, encourages us to ask because He wants to give, and wants to give good gifts, why would we need to persistently pester Him into giving what I need?  I think that’s where the story, as an example, breaks down.  It doesn’t fit the picture of God we see in the rest of the chapter.

If it’s not a positive example of how we should pray, what could it be?  I think it’s a contrast!  This story shows how a human neighbor reacts. This is not how God reacts to our prayers.  We don’t have a God who is an annoyed neighbor, we have a God who is a loving Father and who is eager to give us what is good.  There is a hint in the text that Jesus meant to use this story as a contrast to how God treats our prayer.

In verse 8, Jesus used the word “impudence,” or some versions use “persistence.”  This sounds like a positive word.  This is why most of us think this what God is asking of us. But this word can have a negative connotation.  The word, ἀναίδεια (anaideia) has the idea of “shame” attached to it.  What this means is, the man asking is without shame (shameless) in his persistent asking.  And by his actions he is showing the neighbor withholding good, to be shameful.  The man behind the closed door is shamed because he is withholding what the Law would require, to be hospitable toward the visiting stranger.

Jesus tells us, our Father is not shameful.  He is honorable.  He is righteous.  He is gracious.  If this story is a contrast, we don’t have to anxiously ask God to answer our prayer.  We can come with calm confidence in His desire to good for us.  We can come trusting in Him, instead of trying to convince him to act.  This frees us to pray with a calm, confident faith.

We can depend on a couple of truths when we pray (let’s make it 3).

  1. God doesn’t have to be talked into answering our prayers.  It is His heart’s desire.
  2. We are free to keep asking (seeking and knocking).  According to verses 9-12, we can ask because He wants to give us something good.
  3. When we ask, God promises to give us the best gift ever, Himself!  When we ask, even as we await resolution, God shows up.  (v.13 “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”)

I hope this reminds you, that prayer is God’s invitation to come to Him, as often as there is a longing in our hearts.  We can ask one time, we can ask multiple times.  We can come with one need, or we can come with a long list.  However we come, we have a Father who will lovingly open the door, join us and share His goodness with us.

Thanks, as always for the comments, likes and shares!

 

What Can a Volleyball Teach Us About Our View of God?

Wilson_The_Volleyball

This came up in a conversation last Saturday, with a young man who was asking about what church he should go to.  He had a choice between a church where he had deep relationships and the second was a church where he just enjoyed a good church experience, but had a hard time making any connections.

I asked him, “do you remember the movie with Tom Hanks, called Castaway?”

He remembered with a smile and said, “Wilson!”

“Yes,” I replied.

Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) was alone on that island.  And he needed a friend.  At some point he adopted the volleyball, Wilson, as his compadre.  He gave Wilson a personality.  He created conversations in his head.  They even had adventures together. He did all this to fill his sense of isolation.  He created a friend in his mind.  This friend met his needs.  But this friend had nothing to do with reality… it was a volleyball, after all.

“You see, we do that with God,” I continued.  Some people want to worship God in isolation, whether alone at a lake, a golf course, or in a sea of nameless worshippers.  It’s just me and God.  There is a great danger to that.

Without deep relationships, with others who interact with Scripture and the Spirit of God, we begin to make God into a friend of our creation.  We hold thoughts about God that we like, or we feel comfortable with, but may have nothing to do with reality.  We do this even when we hear the best sermons, because we hear what we hear.  We pick and choose what “speaks to us.”  And unless we have the challenges, encouragements, checks and balances with others on the journey, we will end up making God into what we think we need.  In the end, we might as well pick up a volleyball!

I finished, “This is why we need relationships.  Go, where you can be involved in lives.  Go, where people will challenge, encourage and even correct your view of God. It’s in the messiness and rubs of relationships that we learn most about Jesus!”  And we’ll know he’s not a God of our making.

The truth is, we can get good sermons anywhere – even from time to time, on this blog.  😃

I’d love to read your comments.
Jim is also the author of “Transformed Pain,” a book about his journey with heart disease and understanding how God works in our pain.