Thy Will Be Done

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Recently a friend asked me about prayer specifically about why some prayers are answered and others are not.  And how should we pray? And what about God’s omniscience and sovereignty?  And what does that mean for our prayers when a loved one has cancer or is seriously injured, or a young person is facing a frightening diagnosis?   I know he is not the only one asking these questions.  I have asked them.  And so have you.  I told my friend that I don’t have the best answers, but I have the Bible and that’s where we’ll find them.

Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  James counseled, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).  And our Lord told us to “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  He assured us: “For everyone who asks received; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). We have God’s approval to “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16).  And nothing is off-limits – we are encouraged to pray about everything.

So what happens when we pray and the situation goes the other way?  My confidence in God and in prayer was severely shaken when my Mom was diagnosed with cancer.  I grabbed hold of Matthew 21:22: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”  No one ever prayed harder than I prayed that God would heal my Mom, and no one ever believed stronger than I believed that He would do it.  My mom died.  What happened to “you will receive whatever you ask?”  Was my whole-hearted-faith still not enough?  Or did Jesus not mean what He said?  The fact is, prayers don’t always get answered the way we hope.  What do we do with that?

We go to the garden with Jesus.  Just before his betrayal and death, Jesus prayed with deep earnestness for this cup of suffering to pass from Him.  He knew His Father had the power to take it away.  He said, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for You.”  Everything – curing cancer, healing broken bodies, taking away suffering.  But he came to the one prayer that God will always answer: “Yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).  “May Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).  My friend shared that more and more, this has become his prayer too.  I also have learned the value and peace that comes with this prayer.  Because it is not a prayer of resignation – it is a prayer of trust and of confidence that God’s will, whether it agrees with my desire or not, is “good, pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

Sometimes we pray and God miraculously answers – this past year has been living proof for me.  But sometimes we pray, and God says, “No.” which, by the way, is still an answer.  My Mom’s grave is proof of that reality.  I don’t know why.  What I do know beyond any shadow of doubt is that I will continue to bring every petition to God, I will ask, and seek, and knock, and then I will put it all in His hands and surrender it to His will.  And I will trust that He is good.  For my friend and for all of us who pray the prayer of Jesus in the garden – may the Father’s will be done.

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God, I have a Question

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Doubt is a dangerous thing for the Christian.  Doubt causes us to distance ourselves from God.  Distance leads to disobedience and soon we loose our desire to witness for Christ.  God wants us to believe without wavering. But we are finite humans and sometimes it is hard to believe, especially when all things seem to point the other way. If anyone should have believed without wavering, it was Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Even in the womb, he recognized the Lord, leaping at the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1: 41-45). John’s whole life was for one mission, “to prepare the way for the Lord” (Luke 3:4). He knew Jesus was the Messiah and he declared Him as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This was confirmed to John at the Lord’s baptism – “I saw the Sprit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” He added emphatically, “I have seen, and I testify that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29-34). Yet John asked a big question, “Are the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20). What changed? John was in a prison cell after speaking out against the Roman king and his adulterous marriage. John’s circumstances were certainly not what he had expected. He had faithfully proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom. He had rebuked the religious elite and the irreligious royals. And rather than blessings, his efforts brought down the wrath of Herod’s wife. He did what God asked of Him and the results were harsh. Can you blame the poor fellow? Haven’t you and I questioned God for less?
With all that he knew, John – weary and discouraged – began to doubt. But Jesus didn’t chastise John. He knew the man’s heart and that those doubts arose from the overwhelming blow he had been dealt. Jesus pointed John back to the evidence. “What do you see, John?” “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22). Look beyond your circumstances John. You preached the coming of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:1). You spoke of my power (Mark 1: 7). Your own words are being fulfilled in Me. Then He added, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:23).
Questions are not the absence of faith. I have had many, many questions for God, and like John, my questions made me search for answers. And those answers strengthened my faith. God always answers honest questions. Don’t be afraid when questions creep in – take them to Jesus. He will not chasten you. He will give you answers that will ground and strengthen your faith. Ask your questions Beloved, Jesus not only has the answers, He is the answer.

Have You Drifted Away from Jesus?

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I have several cousins on my Dad’s side – folks I haven’t seen since my childhood.  We used to get together and play from sun-up to sun-down when we made the trip home with our parents.  We never fought or argued, we were having too much fun.  We ran through the fields or played dolls in grandma’s back bedroom.  We sat on her front porch swing and made up silly songs.  We ate all our meals together, sitting at grandma’s Formica table.  We often piled up in one bed together at night just so we could start the day together again.  Then we all grew up and I stopped making the trips back home. I haven’t seen those cousins in more than thirty years.  I remember some of their names, but we could share a seat on a bus today and I doubt that I would recognize them – or they me.  They will always be my cousins, but the fun times we had together as kids can’t sustain a relationship now after so many years apart.

I fear that many folks have the same kind of relationship with Jesus that I have now with my cousins. Every Sunday found you at church – God’s house – with your parents.  You played with your church friends and shared cookies and Kool-Aid and wiggled in your chair watching the flannel-board Bible story.  You sang “Jesus loves me” and meant every word.  But you grew up, and Jesus became less important and now you remember the name, but not the person.  And it shows – in your language, your habits, and your choices.  You and Jesus hung out together a lot when you were a kid, but that can’t sustain a relationship now.

Jesus said we must remain connected to Him – “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  Branches that separate from the vine wither away and die.  So do people.  Beloved, Jesus longs to welcome you home.  He wants to share more than cookies and fruit punch, He wants to share His life with you.  He wants a real relationship with you that will enrich your life today and endure for all eternity.  He’s right where you last saw Him.  Won’t you come back to Jesus?

Messiah over my Messy Life

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Confession: I am not the best housekeeper. It’s not that our home is filthy, but mostly cluttered; it’s not exactly fit for the cover of Southern Living. Perhaps I should just entertain folks on my back porch to keep them from seeing the inside. Heaven help me if they need to use the bathroom! As much as I want to hide my messy home from others, I also want to hide my messy life from Jesus. I don’t want Him to come past the porch and see the clutter, the dust, and the dirt. Can you relate?
Here’s the problem with that – the Bible says that unless we open the door to Jesus and allow Him entry into our lives – yes our messy, un-Jesus-looking lives – we don’t really have a relationship that will sustain us. He said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:21). Tea and cookies on the porch won’t feed our hungry souls. Jesus desires a full, deep and abiding relationship with you and me.
But what will He think when He steps over the threshold and enters our tattered, cluttered, dirt-encrusted lives? How can we ever explain to Him the mud and the muck that has crept into our hearts? I cringe just thinking about all the junk and trash He will have to walk over. But here’s what I know about my Jesus – wherever He is allowed to enter, He brings His transforming power with Him. Somehow, when His feet step over the welcome mat of our heart, His robes sweep away the dirt and dust. He brings with Him the cleansing we so desperately need. By His blood we are washed, and, to our astonishment, our hearts become pure and fit for His presence.
Beloved, Jesus will not glare at the mess in your life and order you to clean yourself up before He will come in. He comes to make you clean, to make you whole; to transform you heart, your life and your world into a place of order and beauty. Do you hear Him knocking? Won’t you open your life to Jesus?

(P.S. – NO – this is NOT a picture of my kitchen!)

Just Believe

 

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“Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mark 5:36).

Jesus spoke these words to Jairus, a synagogue ruler and more importantly, a father.  His 12-year-old daughter was desperately ill, and he had sought out Jesus to come and heal her.  This was great faith, especially for one entrenched in the Jewish hierarchy.  On their way, Jesus was delayed by an old woman who had suffered for many years.  Jesus stopped to heal her, and during the interruption, Jairus’ daughter died.  Can you imagine the swirl of emotions and thoughts this father was experiencing?  Grief, despair, heartache, disappointment, fear, and let’s be honest, probably some anger at Jesus and the old woman for wasting his daughters’ last living moments.  One emotion we know he wasn’t feeling was hope.  One thought he wasn’t having was belief.  But that is exactly what Jesus said to him: “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”  It was much the same words he spoke to Martha at the tomb of her brother, Lazarus: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).

Did you notice what Jesus didn’t say?  He didn’t say, “Believe that your loved one will be raised from the dead.”  “Believe that I’m going to do a miracle for you.” He said explicitly to Martha, and implicitly to Jairus – “Believe in Me.”  He told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believe in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).  “Martha, believe in Me.”  “Jairus, believe in Me.” Don’t believe in an outcome.  Believe in Me. It took faith to call for Jesus to heal a dying little girl and a dying brother.  But Jesus asked for greater faith, because He was going to accomplish a greater miracle that simple healing.

Beloved, what has “died” in your life?  What did you pray for and hope for day after day after day until there was no reason to hope anymore?  Are you sure about that?  Can you believe still?  Not in an outcome, but in Jesus – the I AM. If it only takes faith the size of a grain of mustard seed to move a mountain[1], then surely you and I can muster enough faith to believe in Jesus who has proved Himself over and over and over again.  Remember, we are not believing Jesus for anything we need, we are believing Jesus is everything we need.

“Don’t be afraid, just believe.”

Lord, hope in You is hope that never dies.  You are everything I could ever hope for.  Please help me keep my heart focused on You alone.

[1] Matthew 17:20

All Things for Good

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“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

It is one of the most quoted verses to encourage others in difficulty. You’ve probably heard some variations of it:

“God works all things to good.”

“God makes all things good.”

“It’s all good.”

I know that might seem helpful in hard times – but if we’re going to quote the Bible, we need to quote it correctly.  For at least two reasons: because it is God’s holy, living Word and because it has a far greater and more encouraging word than we are offering.  Well, three reasons: when we misquote it, we misunderstand it and we misapply it.

When Paul says that “God works for the good” he isn’t saying God’s going to make all bad things good.  He is saying God is working for the good, even in the bad things. He may not change the bad thing to a good thing, but He will ultimately bring something good from it.  Just a side note: that almost always takes time. Sometimes a long time.  And sometimes when the good comes, so much time has passed that we don’t make the connection – and we don’t see that God was faithful all along. That why the Bible says “remember” so frequently.

Back to our verse.  Don’t miss the qualifier: “God works for . . . those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  God works on behalf of His beloved.  Does that seem unfair?  Hold that thought for just a minute – I’m coming back to it.  It’s important to know that when Paul wrote this letter, he did not divide it into chapters and verses, so when we isolate this one verse, we lose his point.  Let’s read a little farther: “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (v. 29).  Now I’m not about to get into predestination – that’s way too deep for Facebook, but I will draw your attention to three words in these two verses: purpose, conformed, and likeness.  God works all things for one good purpose: that His beloved child would be conformed to the likeness of His Son. That explains the qualifier – God cannot fulfill His purpose in someone that does not love Him.  Surrender is the mark of love – and God can only work in those who have Surrendered to His Son. That’s what it means to be a child of God.

Do you see the greater picture and how it applies to your life?  God is working in and through those bad things to bring about His one good purpose for you as His child – that you might look just like Jesus.  Like a master sculptor, He looks at His Son and applies the hard blows of the chisel to shape and mold you into the image before Him. God is not just working to make all your bad things into good things, He is working to make a you into a beautiful reflection of perfection.  That’s the bigger purpose He has for you Beloved.  Now that’s an encouraging word!

For the Weary Servant

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This is for the ones who are weary of being the responsible one, the nice one, the one who always puts others first, the one who gives till it hurts. This is for the one who takes the smallest piece of chicken, the one who gives more than they have, the one who never sits down till everyone else is half-way through the meal. The ones who clean up other’s messes – the mess they left in the kitchen and the mess they made in their life. You are the givers and the forgivers, the doers and the do-with-outers, the backbone of the family and the pillar of the church.
Let me tell you who else you are – you are the imitators of Jesus Christ. You are following the example He gave when He washed the disciples’ nasty feet. You took His calling and made it the theme of your life. “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). That is essentially what you are doing when you put others first. Because you do it out of love. Just as He did. And He sees you Beloved. He knows the burden you bear. And He loves the reflection of Himself in you. He says to you, “Do not grow weary in doing good . . . because your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (Galatians 6:9, 1 Corinthians 15:15).
Take a deep breath weary one, then pick up your towel. Someone needs to see Jesus in you today.

Amazing Grace

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Meditating this morning on Luke 1:26-30 and Gabriel’s words to Mary: “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” (vs 28) What was it about Mary that make her “highly favored?” Was it that she was a virgin? Hardly – there were many virgins in Israel. Was she somehow superior to other young women? The Scriptures don’t support that, even though the Roman Catholic Church teaches that she was.
Here’s the point we struggle with in the 21st century – it wasn’t about Mary at all. When we read the Bible we tend to focus heavily on the characters in the story because we are looking for something in them with which we can identify. “My favorite Bible character is Peter, because I can identity with him; we’re just alike.” I’ve said it myself about certain Bible people with whom I feel a “connection.” In the same way, we look at God and identify characteristics that highlight how He relates to us. And again, I’ve done it – my favorite attribute of God is His faithfulness, because He has been so very faithful to me. That is not wrong in and of itself, but it’s miss-focused. You and I need to see God for who He is, not who He is “to me.”
The Greek word “favor” means “grace.” Favor is a gift, a kindness, a blessing and it says nothing about the recipient, and everything about the Giver. When Gabriel spoke his greeting he wasn’t exalting Mary, he was highlighting the undeserved grace of God to her. We have a hard time wrapping our minds around that because we are a merit-based society. But there was really nothing special about Mary – God’s favor was purely His own choice. She received it in the same manner – praising Him for His grace, mercy and power (vs. 46-55). It is the same with our salvation. Despite what the church teaches, we don’t “choose to receive Jesus” – He chooses us to receive His grace – our only part is to respond in faith.
What’s your story with God Beloved? Do you recognize that you were chosen by nothing more or less than His grace? If we are in God’s blessed family it is all His doing, not yours or mine. Let’s refocus our spiritual understanding on this gift. It’s not about who we are – it’s all God’s Amazing Grace.

God is moving . . .

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Just an observation . . .
The Bible is a full-circle story – from Genesis to Revelation and points in between.
In Genesis 11 men, in their ego and disobedience, determine to build a tower “that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4). In response to their pride and sin, the Lord confused their language so that they could not understand one another and He scattered them across the earth.
Now hop over to Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled the believers and they “began to speak in other tongues” (v. 4). Because of the season, Jerusalem was filled with multiple nationalities, and suddenly they could hear and understand the Gospel – in their own language. God was moving . . .
Our final destination is Revelation 7:9 where “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before the Lamb. The throne room of heaven will ring with Christ’s praises – in every language – languages that came to be because God had to punish man’s rebellion and sin.
God has been working throughout human history for one purpose: the glory of His Son. Every moment, every action, every breath is leading us to this scene. Image the beautiful sound – praise to the Lamb of God in every tongue known to man.
So what does this mean as you struggle through your day? Beloved, God is in control of it all – all of human history and all of your life. Nothing, not even your foolishness and failure is wasted in the hands of the one who holds it all. And just as a multi-language song of praise will fill the heavens, all things in your life will all come together in a beautiful, multi-color picture of God’s glory and grace. Precious one, God is moving . . .

Are You Disappointed With Me God?

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“I am so disappointed in you.” She could have hit me, grounded me and taken away my car, and it wouldn’t have cut me as deeply as knowing I had disappointed my Mom. Her words stuck with me for many, many years and colored my life and my relationships. I have always feared disappointing others – teachers, bosses, friends, family, strangers. And most especially God. Oh, I know I am saved and have eternal life – that is rock-solid. But I have carried this sense of being a disappointment to God for as long as I can remember. Until this morning, and something the Lord impressed on my heart.
Paul wrote often about being “in Christ,” meaning to trust in Him for salvation and eternal life. And I have. That also means that Christ is “in me” (John 17:23). I in Christ and Christ in me. By that, God considers me as one with His Son and all that the Son has is mine (Corinthians 3:21), including His righteousness before God (Romans 3:22). Now come stand with me at the water’s edge and hear the Father’s words as Jesus emerges from the Jordan River: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This, too, is mine in Christ. This rocked my world this morning: God is never disappointed in His Son. And because I am in Christ and Christ is in me, God is never disappointed in me. Friend, the same is true for you – if you are in Christ, He is never disappointed in you.
“But,” you argue, “Jesus was perfect and sinless, and I am not.” It doesn’t matter. You and Christ are one in God’s eyes. “But I am disappointed in myself.” That doesn’t change the truth. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. God is not – will never be – disappointed in you.
When you grab hold of that, it will change everything. It will become your mantra when the enemy tries to dump shame on you. “There is no condemnation for me, because I am in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). You will “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16) because you know He gladly welcomes you into His presence.
Beloved, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see the foolish, sinful person you think you are. He sees His Son in you. And He says – “This one is mine, the one I love, with whom I am well pleased.” Not disappointed. Ever. Christ in you and you in Christ. It’s a beautiful combination.