Monday, November 26, 2012

Prayer and Trust

Have you ever heard people say, "Well, I guess all we can do now is pray"?  It drives me crazy when I hear someone say that.  I go crazy because we are so used to relying on ourselves (a false sense of security) that, in one statement, we completely undermine the power, nature, and character of God.  God--the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent Creator of the universe; He has all the power, so why is prayer our last resort?  It's like we can't do anything else to better the situation, so we'll just let Him have it, but then we don't really let Him have it.  We pray about something, then take it back; we give it to Him, then worry about it again.  Do we not really believe 1 Peter 5:7, "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you?"  The irony in the statement, "well, I guess all we can do now is pray" is the implication that we have done all we can first, as if we were really in control anyway.  We are NOT in control.  Circumstances, accidents, situations, and trials happen regardless of how careful, watchful, or prepared we think we are.  It doesn't matter how much we worry, plan, or try to anticipate life's curveballs; there will always be things out of our control.

Some time before the 2012 Presidential election, a woman who professes to be a Christ-follower shared her worries with me about who would be elected to lead our nation.  She listed worry after worry, and when she was finished, I told her she needed to pray for our future President and give her worries to God.  She lowered her head and answered, rather dejectedly and with disappointment in her voice, "I have prayed." Then, I knew the reason she was listing all of her worries--she was still holding on to them, as if her worry would stop them from happening.  She had "prayed" about it, but did not trust God to carry them for her, nor did she trust His plan.  As our conversation continued, I realized more truth about her.  She did not trust God's Word when He says in Romans that "in all things, God works for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose."  She thought that her ways were better than God's and that if her plan did not blossom, then all hope would be lost; her faith in God would diminish because He didn't grant her prayers.

The issue is that the woman never had true faith.  Hebrews describes faith as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."  We are certain of what we do NOT see, that is faith.  If we see first, then where is our faith?  If prayer was our number one plan each day, God could do amazing things through us.  If we would sit back, let Him drive, and trust Him to get us to the destination He desires, the blessings and miracles that would occur through us would be limitless.

In John, chapter 10, Jesus describes our relationship with Him, our Shepherd, this way: "The watchman opens the gate for him [Jesus], and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."  The problem is that many of us don't know our Shepherd's voice.  We don't recognize it because we don't know what we're listening for.  We haven't spent time in His Word, in prayer, and in Christian growth with fellow believers to learn His character.  We haven't let go and let Jesus Christ romance us.  We can't expect to send up a 911 prayer and hear a clear answer.  If we don't walk with him on a daily basis, then we're not going to know His voice when He tries to help us.  He will be like a stranger to us and we will run away from Him Who is trying to lead us to safer ground.  When we do spend time with God each day, digging into His Word and learning from and about Him, we must believe what He says.  We must have faith that His Word is true, because it is, and let the truths we learn about His character shape our way of thinking, our attitudes, our speech, and our actions.

Some of us also have sin standing in the way of our prayers.  Isaiah, chapter 59, verses 1-2 states that "Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.  But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear."  God is perfect, holy, and righteous.  He will not hear us if sin is standing between us and God.  He wants us to "confess our sins" so that he can "forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).  We have no excuse for our prayers not to be heard.  If we walk with Him daily, trust in His Word, and confess our sins to Him always (He knows them anyway), we could do powerful things.  James says that "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 1:19b).

So, we need to pray FIRST and ALWAYS.  We need to pray first in our day and throughout our day, talking to God about everything as we encounter each new situation that comes our way, the little and big things.  1 Thessalonians 5:17 commands us to "pray continually" and James (1:5) directs that "if any of you lack wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."  The problem with our prayers shows up in verses 6-7 of the same passage in James.  He goes on to say that "but when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."  Consequently, not only do we need to pray first and always, but we need to trust and believe that God will do what is best and have faith that His plan is perfect, because it is.  Then, if the situation we have been praying about doesn't turn out like we hoped, we should "give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Kill 'Em with Kindness

Most people's natural reaction to someone who offends them in some way is to show them hatred.  We tend to give them the cold shoulder, say rude or derogatory comments toward them, or do hateful things to the person who offended us.  Are any of those things going to cause that person to wake up one morning and think, I am really sorry I hurt that person.  I never should have done those things.  Look at the way they have been treating me; I must have really messed up.  No way!  At least not in my experience, and not with most people.  I am sure there is an exception somewhere, but most people are going to fight back, or not fight at all, fight or flight.  If we are rude or hateful toward someone, they are either going to come out swinging, or run away and neither reaction is the one we truly want to elicit.

Usually, when we are hurt, we want the other person to apologize, to realize and admit they were wrong, and make it right with us.  I have often heard the phrase "Kill 'em with kindness" used to illustrate how we should treat others who we consider to be our enemies.  While I understand the kindness part, the whole "kill 'em" part doesn't seem so biblical.  I don't think Jesus wants us to be kind to someone just so they will realize that they did us wrong and come apologize to us.  This life is not about us, so everything we do, as Christ followers, should be about lifting up our Lord, which means we need to react to situations that may get us riled up "in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27), instead of in a manner that would please our flesh.  Jesus commands His followers in John 13:34-35 to "love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this, all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another."  Nowhere in those statements is a malicious or selfish motive behind loving others.  And Jesus made no mistakes--He did not distinguish between loving our enemies and our nonenemies.  He said to "love one another"--that means everyone.  After all, no one on earth is really our enemy, anyway.  Ephesians tells us that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (6:12).  So, then the arguments and fights we experience on earth among ourselves is just a distraction from Satan.  Satan would rather us be fighting with one another because then we're not winning the spiritual battles we have the power to win and we're not experiencing victory in our walks with Christ.

This has been a lesson God has had to prove to me over and over again.  I must realize that people's paradigms are different from mine, and there is always another side to a story or situation.  I must not be so easily angered because the situation that would normally offend me is not one-sided.  I must step into the shoes of the other person, understand that though I may not see things from their perspective, that they are probably not acting out of malice.  They probably did not do the thing that upset me with the purpose of upsetting me.  People usually make decisions based on what they feel is the best decision at that time with the information they have.  If they offend me in the process, it was probably accidental, which is why sometimes I am the only one who is upset and it seems the other person has no idea that they even offended me.  So, while I am wallowing in hurt and self-pity, the person who caused that pain hasn't thought anything about it because they didn't do it on purpose.  So, I must believe that everyone means well, continue loving them in spite of what my flesh wants to do, and give the rest to God.  I must trust Him with my feelings, the situation, and the outcome.