Breaking Through Frustration and Failure

Jesus said: “Very truly I tell you: No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they have been born of water and the spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” John 3:5-6

The kingdom of God is open to everyone, but there is only one opening: being born of the Spirit.

What is true about the beginning of life in the kingdom is also true as we continue in life

What is true about ENTERING life in the Kingdom is also true about ON-GOING life in the Kingdom. We BEGIN through the Spirit, let us also CONTINUE in the Spirit.

The flesh does some things, and they are important. But the Spirit does things the flesh can not, and these are the most important things.

When we are faced with repeated frustration and failure, this can be an indicator from God that we are working too much on our own power. We need to work differently, through the power of the Spirit. This begins with confession and a renewed commitment to trust God. In this humility, we wait for God to make our convictions clear. Then we obey.

God has given us great gifts–the flesh can accomplish much, as long as it’s submitted to the power of the Spirit.

1 Corinthians 15:10 | 20 Questions

Read the scripture. Pick two questions for reflection and prayer.

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” — Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:1

  1. Generally speaking, what does it mean when one person show’s grace to another?
  2. Being as specific as you can, what is God’s grace?
  3. What do you know about Paul’s past life, before he experienced the grace of God?
  4. Paul knew his identity—past, present, and future. In just a few words, who are you?
  5. Can you make the same claim–that you are who you are because of the grace of God? Why or why not?
  6. How would you complete this sentence? “By the _______________ I am what I am?”
  7. What are all the factors that determine, define, and influence a person’s identity?
  8. What demonstrates or reveals a person’s identity?
  9. Is identity easy to change? Why or why not?
  10. How does a change in identity occur?
  11. What are some internal and external factors that can help change identity?
  12. Assuming it’s had an effect on you personally, how has God’s grace impacted your life?
  13. How can you make God’s grace a regular part of your life…daily, weekly?
  14. What happens when you go too long without experiencing God’s grace?
  15. God’s grace had a powerful effect on Paul’s life. What can keep a person from being impacted by God’s grace?
  16. Do you ever feel like you don’t deserve God’s grace? Why or why not?
  17. How would you respond to this statement: “Grace is always undeserved”?
  18. Who is someone in your life with whom you have a difficult time showing grace? Why?
  19. Is grace necessary for human relationships? Why or why not?
  20. In your experience, how is being forgiven by others powerful?

A deeper method for personal evaluation

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? ” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Growing spiritually isn’t automatic. Left to our natural inclinations, we’ll move away from God, not towards him.

Personal examination doesn’t need to be complex to be powerful.

Great spiritual progress can be made by simply asking, “God, did I do what God wanted me to do today?” Listen to God, and allow your convictions to come into focus through prayer and reflection.

There are times when a deeper examination is necessary for growth and breakthrough. Before we get started, a few assumptions to get on the same page:

  • I’m defining an action as anything that impacts the world around us. It may be a word, a look, a touch, etc. Illustration1.
  • Every action leads to multiple consequences–some of which we observe and some we don’t. Illustration2.
  • With these assumptions in place, shouting alone in the woods with no one to hear you is not an “action” because there are no consequences.

When I want to examine one of my past actions, the following five questions frame my rear view mirror:

KNOWLEDGE: What unchanging principles impacted my action? How did my understanding of good/evil, right/wrong, wise/foolish, true/false guide my decision?

      Illustration3

WISDOM: How well did I apply the unchanging principle(s) to the specific situation to consider the consequences? Was I able to accurately predict all observable consequences? Did I miss something I should have caught?

Illustration4

DESIRE: What was I my goal, what did I want to accomplish? In a sea of consequences, which few were I looking to achieve?

Illustration5

MOTIVATION: Why did I want what I wanted? It’s possible to want the right things, but for the wrong reasons. This question is subtle, but it’s too important to skip. Two thousand years ago, Jesus criticised the Pharisees for being whitewashed tombs6. The warning is still relevant today: looking good without being good is a real temptation for believers. The motivations of the heart are muddy waters! They are difficult to discern because we often have several reasons, they change constantly and they are often in conflict with one another.

Illustration7

ATTITUDE: What was I feeling before I acted? Emotions are often an invisible game changer when they influence our actions. Feeling joy, peace, confidence leads to the best actions. Shame, sadness, anger rarely lead to good actions.

Illustration8

What’s ideal?

You can’t grade a test without knowing the answers. You can’t judge without a standard. As it relates to our KNOWLEDGE, our perception of truth ought to line up with what God says is true. It’s human nature to think we are right most (or all) of the time. One way we grow spiritually is to give up what we think is true and accept what God says is true.

We want our WISDOM to be accurate. That we take the principles we believe in (which are hopefully God’s principles) and correctly apply them to the current situation. We gain wisdom through prayer, observation, and reflection.

DESIRES are typically very specific because they are tied to the moment of our action. However, following the example of Jesus, we are ought to be serving others. If our act was selfish, we missed the mark. As we look to our MOTIVE, we were either humble or we were not.

Finally, our ATTITUDE ought to be joy, a feeling deeper than happiness because it’s not based on our situations. Joy comes from remembering everything God has done for us and the promise of our eternal future in his presence. This world’s greatest setbacks can’t hold a candle to the indescribable light of living in God’s presence.

What’s next?

The next time you make a mistake, or are surprised by your actions, work through these five questions. It will be slow and feel unnatural. That’s ok. Maybe my questions aren’t a great fit and you need to figure out your own. That’s great, go for it! The goal is to draw closer to God!

a simple pattern for PRAYER

Relationships don’t just happen. You know this. They take all kinds of work in several different directions. One foundation for a healthy relationship is communication—speaking and listening.

While the best friendships may not require a strict structure, they do need intentionality and authenticity.

We are intentional when we make the time to talk and listen. Intentionality pushes further: we think through what we want and need to say. We also position our attitude to hear the response and take it to heart.

Of course, none of this is important if we aren’t authentic, telling the truth to ourselves and our friend.

What follows is a simple way to pray with intentionality. There are probably thousands of ways to pray—dig through the old writings and you will find them. I’m not suggesting this is the only pattern—or even the best. Take it for what it’s worth, even if it’s a method that you find lacking: fix it and make one for yourself!

 

ACKNOWLEDGE
Thank God for his gifts and blessings
Thank God for who he is (good, loving, powerful, etc.)

ASK
Appeal to God for help and answers
Appeal to God for others

APOLOGIZE
Confess your sins (pride, ego, mistakes, etc.)

ACCEPT
Follow his voice and your conscience

 

 

 

 

Are you accountable for the most important things?

Ezra had money problems: he had too much. He also needed to travel a great distance–four months from Babylon to Jerusalem–which exposed him to theft. He trusted God for protection, but he also took diligent steps to minimize his risks. Ezra divided the treasures among 12 priests and said:

“Guard them carefully until you weigh them out in the chambers of the house of the Lord in Jerusalem before the leading priests and the Levites and the family heads of Israel.” (Ezra 8:29)

Essentially, Ezra said, “Hold on to this stuff, because we’re going to count it all when we get to Jerusalem.” God graciously protected the travelers from thieves, and the 12 people were faithful in their stewardship. Once they got to Jerusalem, Ezra writes:

“Everything was accounted for by number and weight, and the entire weight was recorded at that time.” (Ezra 8:34)

The newly rebuilt temple was dedicated to the Lord, paid for by the money Ezra bought. Good times. This part of the story was great (spoiler alert: the next part, not so much).

 

In our lives, we have accountability for everything but the most important things. We are accountable to our parents (for their rules), teachers (for their assignments), and bosses (for our work). When we drive, we’re accountable to the law and those hidden cops who are keeping the highways safe. Society has built in accountability…for the little things.

But we’re not accountable for the big things. I’m talking about the conditions of our heart: our motives, fantasies, and desires. This kind of accountability has to be chosen, and it’s easy to ignore and fake.

Accountability makes us stronger. Eventually we’ll be held accountable to God. But for the current chapter of our lives, we get to choose it.

Answering Temptation with Truth

Matthew 4:1-11

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

” ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'”

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

Read the passage two times, make a note of the words, phrases, or verses that don’t make sense. Allow everyone to share their questions without others “answering” or “solving” them.

Without looking at the passage, retell this event in your own words. Once everyone has shared, check the passage to see if anything needs to be added or corrected.

Based on your experience with temptation, how does it work? What are the stages or steps involved? What happens first, second, third, etc.?

In what ways does the spiritual world show up in this passage?

What’s the difference between being “led by the Spirit” and “tempted by the devil? Why did God want this to happen?

Why didn’t Jesus make the bread? He was hungry and later in his ministry, Jesus would feed large crowds of more than 4,000 people and 5,000 people, why wouldn’t he feed himself?

What does this passage teach about the devil?

Where are the physical locations of each temptation? In your opinion, why do these locations matter?

What were the three temptations? Can you come up with some modern-day equivalents?

How does Jesus’ answers address each temptation? In your own words, restate each of Jesus’ answers.

In each of his answers to the devil, Jesus quoted scripture. Why is scripture helpful for fighting temptation?

Satan used scripture in his second temptation, what does this mean? Was Satan wrong or was the scripture wrong?

Why wouldn’t Jesus jump and let the angels catch him (v. 6)? Especially when the angels cam and helped him at the end of this passage…why not let them help in the middle of the event?

CHALLENGE

As you consider the biggest temptations in your life, pick one of the scriptures below for meditation and memorization:

  • “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
  • “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
  • “For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

 

 

God says not everyone’s invited. (Isaiah 55:1)

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1)

In this scripture, we can see at least three things:

  1. An invitation
  2. It is addressed SPECIFICALLY to those in need
  3. A promise for that need to be met and fulfilled

This means that:

  1. Invitations call for a response
  2. Needs call for recognition
  3. Promises call for trust

Therefore we ought to:

  1. Respond to God’s invitation. Invitations aren’t meant ignored or just opened—they are offered so that they will be accepted. God is calling us to move forward, come closer to him, the well is open and we must go to it.
  2. Recognize our need. Drinking water is so much easier when we feel the thirst! Unfortunately, the soul’s thirst is much easier to ignore than our stomach’s thirst. When we know that our soul needs more, we are quick to respond to God’s invitation.
  3. Trust God’s promise of fulfillment. Trust and hope move us forward. We cannot grow closer to God if we don’t trust his promises. And this trust is ongoing, just like it is in our human relationships. It would be so great if we only needed to trust God once and never doubt again!

These three things—responding, recognizing, trusting—are connected, they aren’t really separate actions. Each one works to strengthen the others.

These few words tell us a lot about God. The invitation is evidence of God’s love—no one is forcing him to draw us closer to his sustaining presence. God knows we are broken, that we are thirsty, and he still loves us. God is trustworthy, the Creator who sustains the universe will also give us the waters we need.

Check out the rest of Isaiah 55 to find out how much his waters will costs us.

When God Abandons You

“For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.” (Isaiah 54:7)

God is everywhere, but he is in some places more than most. This doesn’t really make much sense and that’s because our finite minds cannot fully understand or explain the Infinite God. Somehow, “more” of God’s presence was in the tabernacle and this scripture speaks to “less” of God’s presence.

So while God is everywhere–there are no gaps in his understanding or attention or power–God does “pull back” and abandon people.

We don’t know how this works, but we do know why God abandons people (in this case, Israel). It’s actually quite simple and unsurprising: God abandons people who are disobedient, those who reject him and his ways.

Another question pops up: How much rejecting does a person need to do before he experiences abandonment from God? I think this is a bad question…or at least the wrong question. This is like asking, “How far can I flirt before I’ve cheated on my spouse?” Scripture doesn’t give us a solid line that fits every person and every situation.

Instead, let us then concern ourselves with absolute obedience and devotion. This will drive us closer to God which is better than wondering how far we can wander from him.

When we fall short, failing enough to be abandoned by God, there is hope. We can trust that we have been abandoned by a God who has deep compassion. He will bring us back. Israel returned home from captivity. Nineveh’s repentance averted destruction. Peter was reinstated. Paul was confronted and called to apostleship.

Let us take hope when we are abandoned by the God of deep compassion, for he will bring us back after a brief moment.

You should brag more often.

What is it about your life, that you are most excited about?
What are you proud of?
What accomplishments are you eager to share?

Boasting—whether it happens in conversation with others or in the solitude of our hearts—is the act of declaring what we think is good. Some examples:

“My kid scored the winning run.”
“My car is awesome.”
“My income is incredible.”
“My wit is quick.”

Isaiah talked about empty boasting:
“We have heard of Moab’s pride —how great is her arrogance!—of her conceit, her pride and her insolence; but her boasts are empty.” (Isaiah 16:6)

Jeremiah talked about the right kind of boasting:
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me…’” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

Empty bragging springs from a heart independent from God. Self-sufficient achievements are expressions of prides, arrogance, and conceit. Boasting in the Lord glorifies him.

“My kid scored the winning run. He had very little success all season and this really boosted his spirits.”

“My car is awesome. It’s really old and it’ll probably break down a lot, but I’m thankful I have one. Now my parents don’t have to drive me around any more.”

“My income is incredible. I never thought I’d make this much, it’s more than I need and feel that God is calling me to support your ministry.”

“My wit is quick. My neighbor was really angry, I had no idea what to say. In that moment, God gave me the right words to say.”

Genuine boasting in the Lord puts the spotlight on him.

How Do You Know If You Are Too Confident?

There are at least two aspects of overconfidence: perceived and actual.

Externally, some people are viewed by others as too confident. These people might be humble on the inside, but people don’t see it. This is a reflection of their foolish lack of self-awareness.

Naturally, some people are too confident on the inside, and their pride is a reflection of their heart.

Most of the time, internal overconfidence is expressed externally. Sometimes, people seem prideful but their hearts are humble.

Both diseases of overconfidence are inconceivably difficult to self diagnose–all those pesky self rationalizations get in the way.

Unfortunately, I haven’t just observed this, I’ve experienced it firsthand. Understanding the symptoms of overconfidence could lead to greater humility.

Perceived overconfidence exchanges inspiration with intimidation or indifference.

When we see the right amount of confidence in others, we are inspired and appreciate their passion. Your favorite singer doesn’t step on the stage sheepishly.

Actual overconfidence exchanges surrender for self-sufficiency .

Rather than trusting God, the self-sufficient place their trust in their own skills and achievements.

Are people intimidated by you? Are they indifferent and apathetic to your ideas? Who gets the spotlight in your heart, is it God or you? Talk to someone in your life to get an outside perspective.

 

Where do you find refuge?

“The Lord has established Zion, and in her his afflicted people will find refuge.”
Isaiah 14:32

 

(a) Where do you find refuge when you are tired, exhausted, hurting or devastated?

(b) Where has God created refuge for you? In what prayers or places or people can you find his power and presence and protection?

(c) How can you get from (a) to (b)?

(d) What is keeping (c) from becoming a reality?

 

Are You Spiritually Healthy?

What does it mean to be spiritually healthy? Let’s get a little more specific: Were you spiritually healthy yesterday?

Answering this question is easy. Sure, it’s a little personal, but coming up with an honest answer is something most of us could do without much effort.

The next question goes a little deeper:  Why did you give that answer? How do you gage your spiritual health?

Answering this question is tough. You could skip it by thinking, “My spiritual health is based on how I feel.” It takes courage and hard work to come up with a wise answer that’s based on scripture.

The first 10 verses of John 15 uses the word “REMAIN” 11 times–that’s a lot! And it’s not like John lost his Jerusalem Thesaurus, he was intentional with his language. It’s clear that remaining in Jesus is important. But what does it actually mean to remain in him? According to Jesus, there are clear evidences of maintaining a healthy connection with him. We can move beyond guessing about our spiritual health, we can know with confidence. In this passage, we find at least four evidences:

Bearing Fruit — “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (v. 4).
A healthy vine bears fruit, that is it’s purpose. In this passage, Jesus doesn’t specifically describe what fruit looks like. The Bible has a lot to say about bearing fruit, Galatians 5:22-23 is a popular passage. Sticking with this text, we can know we are remaining in Jesus when we do what he created us to do.

Jesus’ Words In Us — “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you” (v.7).
We are spiritually healthy when God’s Word is on our minds. This could be reading (or listening to) the Bible, memorizing a scripture, or meditating on a verse. If we go a whole day or a week without thinking about Jesus’ words, we are missing the mark.

Answered Prayers — “Ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (v.7).
Remember, context is always important when understanding scripture. This promise assumes that we are remaining in Jesus, bearing fruit and keeping Jesus’ words in us. Answered prayer is also evidence of remaining in Jesus. When was the last time you asked for something from God and received it? This is one way you can know you are remaining in him.

Obedience — “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love” (v.10)
Obedience is the foundation for remaining in Jesus, everything in the spiritual life begins and ends with obedience. This is not a matter of earning God’s favor, as Jesus say earlier in this passage, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (v. 3).  We can know if we are remaining in Jesus if we do what he tells us to do.

 

Consider your yesterday: Did you bear fruit? Did you keep Jesus’ words close? Were any of your prayers answered? Ultimately, did you obey Jesus?

 

Learn to Loose

Jesus gave up his rights, he willingly chose to loose when he could have won. He did this because it was the Father’s will and because his kingdom was from another place–not of this world. Under the unfair judgment of Pilate, Jesus said,

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18:36 (NIV)

Jesus had servants who could have fought for him and won. What could it look like for us to follow his example of self-sacrifice?

It doesn’t mean that we seek to be treated unfairly. Jesus taught and healed and did all the things his Father called him to do, but he didn’t look for trouble. Following his example doesn’t mean we choose to be weak. While facing unfair judgement, Jesus was teaching and testing convictions. He answered Pilate:

“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” John 18:34 (NIV)

I love how the Voice translates this verse:

“Are you asking Me because you believe this is true, or have others said this about Me?” John 18:34 (Voice)

It’s not easy to loose when we know we can win. Pride and fear make it difficult. But we can follow Jesus’ example with confidence by remembering that we are citizens of a different kingdom.

As we look into this scripture, we see the principle of self-sacrifice, we have the security to move forward without fear. There is one thing left: what might this look like in our own lives?

 

Seven Easy (and Essential) Habits for Reading the Bible Well

After fasting from food for forty days, Satan tempted Jesus and challenged him to make bread. Jesus quoted Moses and his response was earthshaking:

“Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)

WHY WE READ THE BIBLE

Life isn’t easy. We were either busy, stressed, or both. We make mistakes, and some of them are serious. We need a steady stream of transformation, inspiration, and insight. Every day we need help, and it’s only found in God’s presence and his power.

When we make the time to read the Bible, we do so because we want to deepen our relationship with him.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.

This is a big problem for those of us who have made God our top priority. How can we get into position so that we might live on God’s Word?

SEVEN EASY HABITS

Preparation is key. To read the Bible well, you need to set yourself up to win. What follows is seven easy Bible reading habits–they are easy because anyone can do them. This is a good thing, because I believe they are also essential.

#1. Begin with PRAYER.
Take the following prayer and change it to make it your own:

“God, help me to hear your voice. Forgive me for my sins, my pride and imperfections. Clean my heart so I can hear you speak. Thank you for loving me, and that your love is unconditional and inescapable. Thank you for speaking to me, for loving me first so that I could respond in love back to you. Keep me focused on you and your word, keep me free from distraction. Help me to understand your will for my life, so that I can live according to your purpose for me.”

#2. Pick the right TIME.
Timing is everything. If you are a morning person, make that your primary time to read God’s Word. If you are night person, read at that time. Pick a time when you’ll be at your best and you won’t be rushed.

#3. Choose the right PLACE.
Choose a place where you have the best chance of being distraction free. If you need total quiet to concentrate, don’t try to read your Bible at a coffee shop or a restaurant.

#4. Disconnect from your DIGITAL world.
This should be a “given,” but in our world, it isn’t. Turn off the Wi-Fi, smart phone, tablet, and watch if it’s “smart” too. Everyone you know can live without 24/7 access to your life… the real question is can you live without it? Believe it or not, when you disconnect digitally, the world will still rotate around the sun.

#5. Follow a realistic PLAN.
There are several ways to read the Bible. Some people turn to a random page, start reading, and then find a verse that is personally powerful. What I love about this message is the spiritual submission and readiness to hear God speak. The tough thing about this approach is that it’s not a great way to read for understanding. Pick one book, start at the beginning and read it all the way through. You may read it fast (several chapters or the whole thing) or you may read it slow (just a few verses.) If you are reading a book in the Bible for the first time, my suggestion is that you read as much as possible, preferably the entire book, in one sitting. This will give you the big picture, and then you can go back and read it at a slower pace with an understanding of how everything fits together.

Another challenge for many people is the “read through the Bible in a year” plan. This is a great thing to do! But for many people three chapters a day is too much, and after skipping a few days, the guilt piles up. Follow a plan that is realistic for you.

#6. Delay your DISTRACTIONS.
You will get distracted. It’s unavoidable. Don’t try to deny the distractions, delay them by writing them down. If you are distracted by something you need to do, (for example, “I need to text Bobby”), take 10 seconds to write that down. That’s much better than taking 60 seconds to text Bobby–especially because he might text you back, another distraction! If you are distracted by something you need to think about (for example, thinking about an awkward conversation from a few days ago), indulge the distraction for a few moments, and then ask God to help you return to reading his Word.

#7. Record your QUESTIONS.
The Bible can be confusing. This isn’t just a good thing, it’s a great thing! Every time you are confused, you are positioned to learn something. Don’t let your questions distract you, and neither do you want to loose them. Write them down and make it a point to find the answers later. Ask a friend, your pastor, or maybe even google it–although remember that just because it’s on the web, that doesn’t mean it’s good or true!

I love questions, and I love hearing them from others. Feel free to submit your questions to this site, and I’ll do my best to get you an answer.

A Prayer from Ephesians

A prayer written by Tom Holladay: as a summary of his sermon, which you can find here.

Lord—I want things to change—really change—in my prayer life.
I pray from time to time, I want to learn to pray all of the time. Teach me to pray.
I pray casually, I want to learn to pray earnestly. Teach me to pray.
I pray for a change of my circumstances, but forget to pray for a change in my character.
I pray for my needs to be met, but forget to pray for my love to increase.
My prayers often stretch no further than tomorrow when I want them to reach towards eternity.
Teach me to pray. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

What I love about this prayer:

  1. It’s based on scripture, you can see how it’s connected here.
  2. It’s personal yet aspirational without being judgemental. What I mean is that it talks about where we are “at” and where we need to go, without condemnation. It’s not bad to pray from time to time…but it’s better to pray all the time.
  3. It was a practical application of everything he talked about in the message.

 

The Wrong Way to Pray

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:9–14)

 

In this parable, we see two very different prayers.

The first prayer is from a Pharisee. These people were religious leaders for Israel and considered to be a model of the spiritual life. The pharisee stood alone and prayed a prayer of comparison. In his eyes, he was much better “other people, the robbers, evildoers, adulterers.” His self-righteousness blinded him and he couldn’t see his personal sin.

The second prayer is from a tax collector. These people had a reputation for corruption and sin. He stood at a distance, he could not even lift his head and in anguish he hit his chest. He prayed a prayer of confession, and asked for God’s mercy because he was a sinner.

When we pray, it’s not about how much better we are than others. If you’ve been following Jesus then your live ought to be much different. Confessional prayer is about being honest with God about our sin and asking for his mercy. Confession in prayer transforms your guilt into something better gold, it strengthens your faith and restores your relationship with God.

 

whoreputationattitudeprayerresult
Pharisee"saint" / community leader / spiritualpridecomparisoncontinued self-righteousness
Tax Collector"sinner" / corrupt / unspiritualhumilityconfessionjustified before God

 

A prayer for the burdened

Our savior Jesus said,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Father. I come to you today with a heavy heart. Life is tough and I feel overwhelmed. I am tired and carrying too much. When I consider all that I have before me, rest seems impossible. Your promise of rest feels improbable. God, I give you my burdens, as best I can. Teach me, because I need to learn new truths. I willingly submit to your yoke, your will for my life. Thank you for your gentleness and humility. Everywhere around me is pressure and pride. My soul needs rest it can only be found in you. Forgive me for trying to do everything on my own. Forgive me for the times I settle for the diversions of the world rather than trusting in your true spiritual rest. Amen.

Can Anything Good Come From Feeling Hopeless?

The people in the Bible are far from perfect. It’s actually quite refreshing.

Job asks a question and makes a declaration that don’t paint a pretty picture of faithfulness to God. Job was hopeless and it was real, raw, visceral:

“Why then did you bring me out of the womb?
I wish I had died before any eye saw me.” (Job 10:18)

It’s okay to question your very existence with despair. To be human is to hope; and to be human in a broken world means that we will loose hope. We will trust in the wrong things and be disappointed. Situations will spin out of control and we will suffer loss. It’s normal to feel hopeless at times. It’s my opinion that those to never loose hope lead unexamined lives.

Job’s life was terrible. An while our tragedy may never compare to his, personal pain and loss and suffering is real. Comparisons are largely irrelevant.

Although Job’s question seems to be an expression of feeling, there is a rational side to it. Honestly asking his question can lead to greater wisdom. We ought to ask God for his design on our life. The Creator of the heavens and the earth has a plan for everyone.

Hopelessness can be a time to reboot and rediscover what’s really important. Thinking honestly about the trajectory of our lives is a good thing, even if it’s painful.

Job’s declaration is heartbreaking. When we see these kinds of feelings in others, we ought to respond with love and compassion. When we find this kind of hopelessness in our own hearts, we must do our best to seek God’s presence, which is more powerful than rational answers.

Hopelessness can lead to greater humility, which means depending on God because we’re convinced that we can’t live with out him.

If hopelessness leaves to greater surrender, we have found something good, even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Two Upsides to Unfair Accusations

I felt like I was unfairly accused the other day, and I don’t respond well to what I consider to be unjust criticism. Some people can roll with it, but that’s not my natural response. If you are interested, you can read about that HERE.

That experience had me on high alert when I was reading 1 Peter. God used a few verses from chapter 2 to challenge my thinking:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

  • Naturally, I was challenged by the warning about sinful desires—these are a daily occurrence for me.
  • The encouragement to live a good life among “the pagans,” got me thinking: “What do people outside of the church think about me?”
  • I wasn’t excited about the connection between my internal sinful desires and my external life among non-believers … I’d like to indulge in the self deception that my private life doesn’t impact my public life… grrrr

As if I wasn’t challenged enough, I read Peter’s teaching about false accusations. I was hoping he would say something along the lines of Paul in Romans 12: don’t take revenge so that you leave room for God’s wrath … serve them, because doing so will heap burning coals on their head. Now that’s something I can get behind: SERVE SERVE SERVE and let God handle the punishment.

Peter adds a new color to the picture. In God’s economy, injustice can be the first step that leads to glorifying God. Consider this for a moment:

The person who criticizes is opening themselves up to glorifying God.

The key is to live a good life. One that is so good, that they may notice your good deeds that they glorify God. There’s a long game here: their glorifying of God might happen on the day God visits us—which is to say, sometime in the future.

Living a good life doesn’t guarantee that the attacker will come to faith, and if it does happen, we may never see it. But there is still a hope we need to have: Live such good life so that your false accusers might come to the faith.

Evangelism for everyone: We don’t need to accost and attack strangers verbally!

Listening to criticism is terrible. However, there are at least two upsides:

(1) The light of your good life shines brighter in the darkness of injustice and unfair accusations.
(2) There’s a possibility that your good life will lead to your attacker glorifying God.

The commands in this passage are connected. We are to see ourselves as foreigners and exiles who are noticed by the locals because we are different and set apart. How are we different? By living the kind of good life that prompts critical accusers to glorify God. This kind of life comes only from fighting against our sinful desires.