“Let faith rise up. Oh heart, believe.”

(James 4: 2-3, NLT) …Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. 

Recently, some dear friends of mine received some amazing news — a blessing that is a direct answer to prayers, and an open door that only God could make happen.  I am so overjoyed for my friends, and I can’t help but reflect on who they are in Christ — faithful, humble, kind, generous, selfless, and supportive.  I can’t think of a couple that bears more evidence of spiritual growth and maturity, so it makes total sense to see them reaping the harvest of the seeds that they have sown. 

We all have desires and goals.  We all have those things that we pray over, and I think many of us are looking around for open doors — for answers.  I know that in my own life, I have asked God “why” and “when” a million times when it comes to the desires of my heart.  His response:  Why?  When?  He turns it right back around to me, because it truly is about motives. 

For the longest time, I thought what I needed was another child.  This was a time in my life where I walked through real darkness — truly the valley of the shadow of death.  I felt utterly helpless and very, very alone.  People around me — my peers, unmarried people much younger than myself, and even my fellow “infertile Myrtles” — were all getting pregnant like it was an epidemic to which I was somehow, heartbreakingly, immune.  Talk about disheartening.  So I, of course, began to question God.  I put Him on trial and I badgered Him like an angry lawyer!  God, WHY can’t I have another baby?  WHEN are You going to answer MY prayers?  I’m faithful!  I demand answers! Only to be met with total silence…

So I quit asking God for anything.  Oh, I prayed, but I left my requests in the recesses of my heart.  I had resolved that God was arbitrary and supplications just don’t matter.  He’s gonna do what He’s gonna do anyway, right?  That was the way I felt!  I thought God was being silent because I was somehow undeserving of an answered prayer, but it was during this time that I came across the above verse in James 4, “And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”  Well, there was my answer folks.  I was humbled in that moment.  I realized that God’s plan for me is not always what I think I want.  It’s not about me!  I had been selfish.  I asked myself, “Why do I want another baby?  When have I truly set myself aside and given my all — my focus, my heart, my ability — over to the will of God?” 

Maybe you have been asking God for something, to no avail.  Maybe you’re like I was and feeling defeated and alone.  Please know this — YOU ARE NOT AT WAR WITH GOD!  If you feel defeated, it isn’t because God is keeping you under His thumb.  Don’t you for one moment believe that lie.  He loves you, and He has something beautiful and perfect planned out for your life.  It may not match what you have dreamed up in your human and imperfect heart, but when you let go of that stuff, when you relinquish the control to God, when you set your heart on being faithful to His commandments and precepts, He will begin to open those doors so wide that there will be no mistaking that it is Him and only Him! 

It’s funny how, in retrospect, things almost always make sense.  This past summer, it became evident to me that a former student of mine (a 9 year old little boy) needed a stable home and a family to raise him and provide for him.  Now, I work in public education in an inner-city elementary school, so I do see this a lot, but this time I felt that unmistakable pull that only comes from God.  This child would not get out of my thoughts and God would not leave me alone.  The door had opened, folks.  It all made sense.  We brought this child into our home, and we haven’t looked back, not even once.  All of my questions have been answered.  I asked God why — because…if I had another child of my own I would never have been receptive to opening our home to this little boy.  I asked God when — when everyone was ready. 

Like my friends, who stayed the course, whose focus was always on serving God and growing in Him — and like my own situation — when we are able to shift the focus from self to serving, when our motives are pure and selfless, that’s when things start to happen.  The doors begin to open, and we have but to walk on through them.  Sometimes we have to endure blind faith, but God is never going to leave us behind.  He’s carrying you.  I promise.  Keep your heart steady and pure.  He’ll do the rest.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I thank you that even in my doubt and hurt, when I could not see past my tears and frustration, You were there waiting and ready to meet me with every answer.  Help me to never forget what I have learned through the darkest times of my life, and help me to continue to walk in that wisdom.  Amen.

I Gave Them The Same Reply

When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall and that no gap was left in it — though at that time I had not installed the doors in the city gates — Sanballat and Geshem sent me a message: “Come, let’s meet together in the villages of the Ono Valley.” They were planning to harm me.

So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing important work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same proposal, and I gave them the same reply.

(Nehemiah 6)

Have you ever noticed that when you start to move in a positive direction, that’s when distractions and roadblocks seem to appear? As long as you are just drifting along, not making any waves, things seem to be so much easier. Sure, you might bump into a rock every now and then, but you can just go with the flow and move past it. But when you decide that you’re not going to just let life come to you, when you set a goal and start moving towards it, that’s when things get difficult.

As is illustrated in today’s passage, people will array themselves against you and try to stop you from accomplishing your purpose. Some will be enemies, as in Nehemiah’s case, but even more perplexing is when it is your friends and family are the ones speaking negativity into you! Let’s explore some of the reasons why you might experience pushback:

1. Fear of Change

Humans are creatures of habit. It helps us make sense of the chaos around us when we can recognize patterns of circumstances and behaviors. When you decide to change the status quo, it throws things off and can create anxiety for others.

2. Jealousy

Some people cannot bear to see someone else content, happy, and fulfilled when they are not feeling those things in their own life. They would rather tear you down or hold you back than to see you receive a blessing that they desire but lack.

3. Control

Some want, consciously or unconsciously, to manipulate others. When you choose to acknowledge God as the Lord of your life, and submit to him, it threatens their desire be in control. When you are heeding and moving with the Holy Spirit, people will see they don’t exercise power over you any more.

4. Conviction/Guilt

When you decide to improve yourself or obey a call of God on your life, it can spark conviction in the heart of others who know that they also need to make some changes. Maybe they aren’t ready to up their level of commitment, so seeing you make strides in your life or walk with God makes them see the need in their own life, and it makes them feel guilty.

As I mentioned above, it’s not always our enemies that attempt to frustrate, dissuade or discourage us, but Nehemiah modeled the perfect response for both friend and foe — “I am doing important work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” — He was confident that he was doing the right thing and would let nothing get in the way of accomplishing his goal. They were persistent in their attempts, but Nehemiah was consistent in his responses.

Someday, we will all stand before God and answer for our actions. We will be called to account for our responses to his leading. When God placed a prompting in your spirit, or an opportunity to be busy about his business, what was your reply? What did you say to those tried to stop you? I hope that we will also be able to say, “I gave them the same reply.”

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, you have called us to grow in wisdom and righteousness, and we want to be faithful to that call. When others do not understand the call on our lives or are working counter to it, help us to shrug off the distraction and stay focused on what is important. Give us the confidence to be steadfast in our obedience to you. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen!

“All the things we want are free…”

(1 John 2: 15-17) 15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.

There is freedom in simplicity. 

I always thought by now that my life would be much different than it is.  I must admit, I have been guilty of measuring my success by the standards of society, against the “American Dream,” and by what I have seen in the lives of others my age.  I had imagined more kids, a quiet and settled life in a house somewhere on a shaded street, and a general feeling of easiness that I thought (for some reason unbeknownst to me) would come to my life.  I had been lied to by life…by the things that I’d seen and been enticed to dream of for myself…and it took growing (both in age and in spirit) to realize that this particular ideal is not for everyone…

Everything that the world has to offer comes with a price, and it’s up to us to decide (because God is merciful and allows us the freedom of choice), “Am I willing to pay that price?”  The world is full of things that have been white-washed and bedazzled…situations and circumstances that have been made to look like the norm…all of which begin to feel like expectations…and when we are not careful about our intentions and our plans, we begin to desire much more than we are ever able to attain without greatly sacrificing our time, our resources, and our core values.  That same desire then twists our dreams until they morph into pressures and burdens, and we then become oppressed by a distortion of what used to be pure intentions and innocent goals. 

There isn’t anything wrong with working hard to provide nice things for yourself and/or your family, but what can easily happen is, when you become so focused on (and distracted by) perfection and living up to the rest of the world’s standards, you begin to want more and more…and nothing is ever going to be good enough again.  You see, when the things of this world become your ultimate goal and prize, there is no space left in your life for Christ to live and move.  You may have the house, the cars, the gadgets…you may take big vacations and have the grandest Christmases and birthdays…but at what price?  Do you work so hard, at two and three jobs sometimes, just to maintain a way of life that you really can’t afford?  Are you so deep in debt that you can’t ever see a way out of it?  Do you miss out on making memories and spiritual connections with friends and loved ones because you are always going and working?  Do you forfeit your time in worship because your work comes first?  These are questions you absolutely must be asking yourselves.  We have to be honest with ourselves about our intentions…about the what and why of our lives…because much of the time we are paying a much higher price than we should. 

Matthew 6: 33 tells us, Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

I want to encourage you today, if you have been moving at a pace that is unhealthy both physically and spiritually…if you have lost sight of your purpose and God’s will for your family…if you have become beguiled and distracted by what the world has dangled in front of you all of your life, there is always hope…there is always peace…and there is freedom in simplicity.  Scale back financially.  Make time to sit down and truly enjoy your family.  Give as much and as often as you can.  Just slow down!!  And minimize the stuff.  Keep God at the head and the center of your life, and trust Him enough to let Him take the lead.  Let go.

Free

All those memories

Free

Didn’t cost us anything

All the shiny cars, perfect yards

Chasin’ store bought dreams

We work so hard to have it all

When all the things we want are free

– Free by Little Big Town

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I realize that I cannot love both the world and You, so I ask that You would forgive me for setting my sights on excess when I know that as long as I seek You above all else, I have all that I will ever need.  I pray that as I let go of the distractions of the world, and I fix my eyes on You, that You would help me to revel in the sweet, simple things of life that are freely given to me by Your kindness and grace.  Thank You for the freedom of simplicity that is found when I am obedient to You.  Amen.

Fix Your Thoughts…

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing.  Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me — everything you heard from me and saw me doing.  Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 NLT)

The brain is a very strange thing.  We’ve all had those times where something just gets stuck in your brain.  Often, it’s a song that you heard on the radio that you can’t get out of your head.  You catch yourself singing or humming it under your breath and you don’t even realize that you’re doing it.  It can drive the people around you (and even yourself!) crazy.  It doesn’t even have to be a song you like, but for whatever reason it’s in there and it’s not coming out. 

Then, there are other times when you NEED to focus on something but just can’t.  Maybe it’s an important project at work, or a school assignment, or some task that has been hanging out on the to-do list for days.  It seems like no matter how hard you try to stay on task little distractions pull your attention away or you read the same sentence over & over and the click of comprehension never comes.  It can be infuriating! 

Despite all its quirks, the brain is amazing for its ability to sift through mountains of data quickly.  Scientists tell us that the brain processes trillions of signals each second, receiving all kinds of information about the world around us through our nervous system.  Then, it has to filter all of that data to figure out which signals are important and deserve our attention.  Not every piece of information that we receive is worthy of our attention.

This is what Paul is talking about in this passage. The world throws a lot of junk information at you, and with our current level of technology the stream of information has become an absolute flood!  Whether it is time-wasting entertainment, 24-hour talking heads on the news, social media sites that never stop updating, or the general busyness of modern life, many things are clamoring for our attention.  In addition to the overwhelming quantity of information, the things that the world is feeding to us have become increasingly coarse, vulgar, and rude, as well.

That is why we must be careful to train our minds, “fix our thoughts,” to focus on those things that are worthy of our attention.  We have to be careful about which information streams are allowed into our thought processes, and we have to be intentional about seeking out the voices that are speaking Wisdom and Truth into our lives.  We need to be careful, as well, that we are not drowning out God’s voice, because God will not impose Himself upon us.  If we seek, we will find; if we call, He will answer.  However, He will not force us to heed His voice.

Just as the quantity and quality of the food that you eat can have positive or negative effects on your physical body, the things that we consume mentally and spiritually will have an impact on your inner health.  I hope that you will take a moment this week to evaluate the things that occupy your thoughts.  Are they True? Honorable? Right? Pure? Lovely? Admirable? Excellent? Worthy of Praise? 

Prayer: Father, I pray that you will give us the wisdom to discern those things that are drawing our attention away from You.  Help us to identify and filter out the negative voices, so we can focus our full attention on what YOU would speak into our lives.  Amen.

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