When God Says “No.”

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“We’re going to pray, and God will give us the funds for this new building,” the preacher bellowed, and the crowd, whipped into a frenzy shouted their agreement. “Yes!” “Amen!” “Hallelujah!” I, however, did not. The woman beside me said, “What’s the matter? Don’t you believe God can do it?” “Oh, I believe God can do it, I just don’t believe He’s obligated to do it.”  She looked at me like I had two heads and turned her back to me. Please don’t misunderstand me, I absolutely believe that God answers prayers – He’s answered more than a few of mine recently.  But some of my prayers are still hanging, and for some of my prayers, the answer was “No.” God knew better. God always answers according to what He knows is better – what fits His good, pleasing, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Sometimes that means we don’t get what we pray for. Even Jesus got a “No” from His Father.

In our last Hebrews devotional, I left you in the Garden of Gethsemane, listening to Jesus plead with His Father, “Take this cup from me . . .” Let’s leave quietly and head back to Hebrews 5 to see how it came out. The writer said, “He was heard.” Jesus’ word did not fall to the ground nor fall on deaf ears. His Father heard His prayers and pleading. So Jesus got what He wanted, right? After all, the Father listened to His Son “because of His reverent submission” (v.7b). Yet you know the rest of the story. God said “No” to Jesus. And He knew He would – the eternal fate of the entire human race hung in the balance. If God had saved Jesus from the cross, you and I would be lost forever.

What do we do with those “Nos?” The same thing Jesus did. “He learned obedience from what He suffered,” (v. 8a). We accept the “No” as coming from the heart of our loving, gracious, all-knowing Father and submit to Him in obedience without grumbling. Are we disappointed? Sure – and we can take that disappointment right back to Him and say, “I’m surrendering this to You because I trust You, but my heart is hurting.” God honors honesty and “He heals the brokenhearted” (Psalm 147:3).  Whether the answer is “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait,” you can trust the heart of your Father, Beloved. It’s the same heart that said “No” to His Son so that He could say “Yes” to you.

Does God Ever Get Tired of Me?

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Which is harder to deal with – a big storm in your life or lots of ongoing frustrations? On the Sea of Galilee, fishermen are constantly on guard for storms. A big storm raging on the lake can overwhelm the strongest fishermen and take out a whole fleet of boats. But equally destructive are the constant waves that are driven across the sea’s surface by the wind, slap, slap, slapping the side of the boat. They wear away the boat’s hull and can eventually bring the boat down.

Sometimes life hits us with an unexpected crisis – the sudden death of a loved one, a health crisis, a job loss, a betrayal – we are overwhelmed and shell-shocked. We need the support of our friends and family. We need prayer. We need help. And thankfully the Body of Christ meets those needs. I can’t imagine where I would be without my church family and Christian friends. But for many of us, the damage comes from a continual struggle, that long-term problem that slap, slap, slaps us day after day after day. The wayward child, an ongoing health issue, the juggle of too many responsibilities, financial struggles, or a frustrating work situation. We still need support and prayer and help, but we’re hesitant to keep asking – or maybe just too weary to talk about it anymore. We feel like we’re just a cumbersome weight. Oh, I know this one well.

But “The Lord will not grow tired or weary . . .” (Isaiah 40:28). His patience never wears thin. He never sighs when we approach His throne of grace with our hands full of needs. He doesn’t dodge us because He’s tired of hearing our woes. I have often come to him over an issue I’ve struggled with for many years, saying, “Father, I know You’ve heard this before . . .” and I sense Him saying, “Yes, but I don’t mind if you tell me again.”

The Bible tells us to “cast all your cares on the Lord because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He will bear the weight of your burdens – and you. What concerns you, Beloved, concerns God because He loves you. He cares about the big storms and He cares about the constant daily battles. If you’re like me, that’s very good news.

Hebrews: Jesus, Man of Sorrows

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I’ve been told I am a “strong” person. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I appear strong because I do a pretty good job of hiding when I am falling apart, although some of you have learned to read between the lines. Like you, I have cried and yelled and begged God to change certain things in my life. Like you, I have struggled with depression and anxiety and despair.  But you and I are in good company.  Even the strongest person in human history came under the weight of emotional affliction.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death . . .” (Hebrews 5:7). If you didn’t know who Jesus was, you would probably think that this guy went into whatever he was facing kicking and screaming all the way. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Luke said, “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (9:51). Jesus walked toward the cross with determination. But the Scriptures are clear that it was a terrible strain on Him.

Of course, you know that this verse is speaking of His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest. Jesus was “very sorrowful and troubled,” even “to the point of death” (Matt. 26:37, 38). He said, “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour” (John 12:27). Luke said His anguish as He prayed produced “sweat like drops of blood falling to the ground” (22:44).  He pleaded, Abba, Father, everything is possible for you Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). I’ve prayed much the same thing, and I am sure you have as well.  The difference is, you and I bear much smaller burdens compared to Jesus, who was feeling the weight of the sin of the entire human race being piled on His shoulders. Isaiah called Him “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). So when the author of Hebrews says that Jesus, our great high priest can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (4:15). it is because He also felt the weight of despair. It was one of the most “human” moments in Jesus’ life.

I’m going to leave you right here, Beloved, in the Garden with Jesus, watching Him cry to His Father. But know that He was not lost to despair, nor are you and I. When we return to Hebrews, we will see that this very human moment is also a moment of divine glory.

You Asked for It, You Got it

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Those of us over 50ish will remember the Toyota commercial from the late ’70s with the song – “You asked for it, you got it – Toyota!” The idea behind the ad was that the car company had listened to what the driving public wanted in a vehicle and had designed a car to fill their wish list. In my family, that same theme took on a different tone, one aimed at punishment for disobedience and especially for “sassing back” at my mom. “Do you want a whipping?” she would ask. The question was not a query for my preference, like asking if I want soup or a sandwich for lunch. It was a warning to stop whatever I was doing.

God also has listened to my requests and has delivered. I asked the Lord to give me a burden for prayer. So he gave me burdens in my life to pray over. I asked Him to make me more compassionate so He brought people to me that had great needs. I asked Him to make me more loving and He filled my life with people who need a lot of love. I asked Him to give me a grateful heart and He put me through hard seasons of loss. I asked Him to make my life fruitful and He began to prune me. Oh, and I learned the hard way to never ask God for patience.

So my prayers are being answered, just not in the ways I envisioned – but in the ways He knows are most effective. Because God is shaping and molding me from the inside out. And He is doing the same for you. Perhaps the hard things, the hard people, the hard circumstances are God’s answer to your prayers.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers [and sisters] when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). God is doing a good work in you. Persevere Beloved.

Five Years Later . . .

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Charles Stanley says: “When circumstances are beyond our control, what we really believe will surface. The depth of our faith in God’s character and promises will become evident, as will any doubts or uncertainties we may have.”

I came across this quote five years ago and at that time I wrote: “I have absolute trust in God’s power and ability to overcome every difficult situation in my life. I don’t doubt His power – I know He can. But I am not as certain about His willingness – I’m not so sure He will.“ There’s nothing wrong with what I wrote. But, like many of you, I’ve been through some stuff in the past five years, and I’ve learned a few things along the way I’d like to share with you.

I’ve learned that God doesn’t need my “suggestions” for how to fix things. I’ve stopped praying, “Lord, if you will just . . .” Because I think too small. God has resources and plans at his fingertips that I could not imagine. Now I pray, “God this is the problem – do what You know is best.”

I’ve learned that whining is not praying. Yes, I take my heart to God. I tell Him my burdens. I bring Him my fears. Sometimes my prayers come from raw pain. But I have banished “woe is me” from my prayers. (Complaining is also not praying, but that was another post.)

And that brings me to the most important thing I’ve learned. My faith needs to be in God, in who He is, not just in what He can do. Because He is “right and true and faithful” (Psalm 33:4). He is good (Ps. 34:8). He is wise (Romans 11:33). He is perfect (Deut. 32:4) His is unfailing love (Ps. 33:18). And He is the God who sees me (Genesis 16:13). When I consider all that He is, I know that I can rest confident that whatever He does, it will be right. The past five years have proven that to be true.

Babbie Mason sang a song that said, “When you don’t understand When don’t see His plan When you can’t trace His hand Trust His Heart.” When you know Him, Beloved, you can trust Him. Every. Single. Time.

What Do We Do About Sin?

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Because you trust me as a Bible teacher, I want to tell you that sin is not an issue in my life. I want to tell you that, but it would be a lie. Yes, I belong to Jesus, He has saved me and redeemed me and continues every day to transform me into His image. He has done such a work in my life where sin is concerned. But like every other human being, I was born with a sinful nature and sinful desires – perhaps different from the things that tug at you, but sin is a real and present danger for me just as it is for you.

How do we handle our bent towards sin? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Recognize sin for what it is and don’t make excuses or exceptions for it. (Psalm 51:3)
  2. Keep God’s Word close – in your hands, in your mind, and in your heart. (Psalm 119:11)
  3. Keep God closer. (James 4:7-8)
  4. Keep sin at a distance. Don’t put yourself in positions you know lead you into sin – whether places, events, movies, T.V. shows, websites, or even people. Take the way out. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  5. Repent when you do sin. (Acts 3:19).
  6. Pray. 

The prayer I find myself returning to again and again is: “Lord cause me to love you so much that sin has no appeal to me.” I came to that prayer while meditating on Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.” I realized that if God is my delight, then I will desire only Him and that is a desire He is more than willing to fulfill. And if God is the delight and desire of my heart, I will take no delight in sin and will instead be repulsed by it because I love God with all my heart. And if I love God with all my heart there is no room in my heart to love sin.

I know I have a very long way to go before that is the reality of my life. Sin still beckons to me.  But this is my prayer – and the desire of my heart. Beloved, will it be yours too?

When You Don’t Know What to Do

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This is going to be short and sweet this morning because every time I’ve started to write, God would say, “That’s you talking, not Me.” I finally stopped and asked, “What do you want to say, Lord?” And this is His message today.

When Jerusalem was surrounded by a vast and powerful enemy, the king of Judah prayed, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You” (2 Chron 20:12).  Can you relate?  I’ve been there too. Recently. I had a situation that was breaking my heart but was also out of my hands.  I didn’t know what to do. The truth is, there was nothing I could do. So I cried out to God. I petitioned others – many of you – to pray with and for us. In the Scriptures, God defeated the enemy of Judah – they didn’t even have to lift a sword. God moved – and continues to move – powerfully for us as well.

Maybe you are at a place in your life where you don’t know what to do. You’ve tried and tried to fix the problem and nothing has worked. Or maybe the problem is so big you’re too overwhelmed to do anything. Go to God in your confusion and uncertainty. Go to Him in the middle of the chaos. Tell Him, “I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you.” Then keep them there. Based on the authority of His Word and my own experience, I can promise you He will move. You may not know what to do Beloved, but God does. And He will. Powerfully.

A Strong Foundation of Love and Peace

I began praying for my granddaughter before she was born and have prayed every day since. I pray for her health, protection, provision, and growth and I pray Ephesians 3:17-19 over her. “That Joy, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that she may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” That part, “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” always puzzled me.  It brings to mind Philippians 4:7 that says that “the peace of God, which surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” How can you know something that surpasses knowledge and understanding? This is a beautiful expression in both verses and it means to take firm possession of something that has complete authority over you and gives you an assurance that cannot be overridden. Specifically, in the terminology for Philippians 4:7, it means to have a superior hold of the mind in reference to “alarm and agitating emotions.” So I am praying that the love of Christ would rule and reign over her. Yes, she is only 2 years old, but I’m praying a foundation for the rest of her life. And I’m partnering with God in “rooting and establishing” her in love so that one day when she is a little older, she will be able to grasp the immense love God has for her. Is there a more important job for a grandmother?

Beloved, the love and peace of Christ are available to you too – today – right in the midst of anxious, frustrating, heartbreaking circumstances. The key is in the verses that surround these two verses – about living in God’s grace, rejoicing in the Lord always, trusting in His presence, praying about everything with thanksgiving, and keeping your thoughts focused on the good stuff.

I encourage you with all my heart to sit with your Bible and a fresh cup of coffee and meditate on Philippians 4:4-9. Then “the God of peace will be with you” in ways you cannot understand, but you can certainly know and rest in.

The Momentum of Sin

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I carried a fresh glass of tea to my desk and set it down to plug up my phone. I reached for the old empty glass and started walking quickly toward the kitchen, but I soon realized I had picked up the wrong one. I tried to stop in my tracks and turn around, but my momentum took me a step or two further toward the kitchen. But I didn’t want to go to the kitchen. I wanted to go back to my desk and get the right glass and then go to the kitchen. I knew what I wanted to do but I kept going in the wrong direction. That may seem like a scene out of a cartoon, but what it reminded me of was the momentum of sin.

Paul said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-16,18-19). We want to be right with God. We want to turn away from sin. Yet our sinful desires set us in motion toward what our flesh craves. There is a war waging within us between our desire to please God and our desire to please our flesh.

How do we break sin’s momentum? First, by preparing ourselves for the battle. Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (12:2). Renewing our minds is a life-long habit of reading, studying, and obeying the Word of God and listening to His Spirit. The more of God we put into our minds the less room there is for the world.

But what do we do when the momentum toward sin is so strong? I heard of an older man known for his godly life who was asked what he did when he was tempted. He replied, “Well, I just say, ‘Lord, your property is in danger.’” Paul said, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:24-25). Beloved, the One who rescued you from death and hell can also rescue you from the powerful pull of sin. Just cry out to Jesus.

Is He Lord?

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I had a t-shirt that got me into trouble in middle school. It wasn’t racy or low-cut or provocative – it was what it said. No, it didn’t have profanity on it or racist comments.  It said, “As long as there are pop tests, there will be prayer in school.” By my middle-high school years, faculty-led prayer had been banned from schools for ten years. Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for state officials to compose an official school prayer and encourage its recitation in public schools. Fifty-nine years later we are reaping the consequences of that decision. Deadly, horrific consequences.

After the 9/11 tragedy, Anne Graham Lotz commented, “for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools, our government, our business, we want you out of our marketplace. And God, who is a gentleman, has just quietly backed out of our national and political life, our public life. Removing his hand of blessing and protection.” What fools we have been.

But we were not the first to tell God to leave us alone. The Old Testament Prophet Amos tried in obedience to deliver the word of the Lord to the people but they told him, “Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the house of Isaac” (Amos 7:16). In other words, “Shut up and leave us alone.” And so God did. He told them, “The days are coming when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (8:11). They had said, “We don’t want to hear from you, God,” and He gave them what they wanted – silence from heaven. For four hundred years. Years of great oppression and persecution and struggle.

You and I can’t plead for God’s help in a crisis and then reject His holy and righteous ways when they rub against our “freedoms.” And I’m not just talking on a big, national scale – I’m talking about our every day lives. The missionary Hudson Taylor said, “Christ is either Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.” You and I have to be all-in. What say you, Beloved? Is He Lord or is He not?