Get Real with God
Get real with God

Bible study can be encouraging…until we begin to put the people of the Bible on a pedestal.

It’s so easy to think of them as almost mythical individuals. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Peter, Paul—we read their accounts and imagine them to be larger-than-life. We even excuse their foibles, frailties, and outright sins because, well, they’re biblical heroes of the faith!

But doing this creates a problem. The problem is that we begin to believe the lie that the transformative power of God isn’t for real people like us with real problems and real sin. After all, the people of the Bible didn’t live lives that included the kind of things we deal with today…or did they?

Then we get to the book of Psalms. In the Psalms we read authors who bare their hearts and tell it like it is. They get real.

Here are just a few examples:

Ever feel as if God doesn’t care about your troubled circumstances? So did David in Psalm 10:1 (NIV):

“Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

But David did not remain stuck there. He refocused on God’s character in verses 16-18:

“The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed….”

We see a similar response in Psalm 13. David began with verses 1-2:

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

Then he concluded in verses 5-6:

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”

Ever feel envious of the wicked and wonder why they prosper while you’re trying to do what’s right? So did Asaph in Psalm 73:3-5:

“I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.”

But just like David, Asaph changed his perspective by the end of the Psalm in verse 28:

“But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”

Perhaps you’ve been falsely accused. David understood that, too, as he wrote in Psalm 109:1-2:

“My God, whom I praise, do not remain silent, for people who are wicked and deceitful have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues.”

And once again, he concluded with a different perspective in verses 30-31:

“With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord; in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him. For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them.”

David and Asaph did not allow their circumstances to define God. Yet they were authentic and transparent about their struggles. And from reading passages such as these, I’ve learned three things to help me as a follower of Christ in my relationship with God:

  • Problem:
    I can be real about my problems in talking with God and with others. Being a Christian doesn’t mean we slap a plastic smile on our face and pretend life is wonderful while we’re crying on the inside. Being authentic means facing reality, whether it’s pleasant or not.
  • Pour out your heart to God:
    God can handle whatever I need to tell Him. He is omniscient—He knows everything. Which means He already knows what I’m thinking, so nothing I say to Him will be a surprise.
  • Perspective:
    It’s okay to tell God how we feel. Even Jesus did it in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…” (Luke 22:42). But like David and Asaph, He also refocused on who God is—in this case, His sovereignty—when He finished the sentence by saying, “…yet not my will, but yours be done.

    I can be real about my circumstances and my discouragement, but I can’t stay stuck there. As a child of God, in Christ, and with the indwelling Holy Spirit, I need to look up. To consider the character of God. To rest in the truth of His attributes. And to trust that He is always at work for my good and for His glory.

Those people in the Bible? Yes they were real people with real problems. Let’s learn from them and model the same authenticity. For as we read what they wrote, we hear echoes of the cry of our own heart.

And when we get real with God and others, a watching world will see His power lived out in real people.


 
The Prayer of Jabez Revisited
The Prayer of Jabez

Do you remember hearing about the prayer of Jabez?

When Bruce Wilkinson’s book, The Prayer of Jabez, was published almost 20 years ago, it took the Christian community by storm. Quickly propelled to the bestseller lists, it encouraged Christians to daily pray the prayer of an obscure man found in I Chronicles 4:9-10. In fact, that’s the only place in the Bible where this man—or his prayer—is mentioned:

“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked” (ESV).

I had been praying my personalized version of this prayer daily since I first learned of it. But I’ve recently revised how I pray this for two reasons:

  • I realized I was asking for things God was already doing
  • I was ignoring the importance of my own obedience for each request

So these days my prayer is revised to reflect those two concerns. Here’s the original post with the updates in bold italics:

Heavenly Father, I ask for today:

Your blessing as You define it…

Some Christians today limit focus their definition of blessing on material provisions. I hear Christians say things such as:

Of course, God is not against wealth. But nowhere in the Bible is material wealth His priority for His children. If anything, material comforts often get in the way of His process to conform us to the image of Christ. God is more concerned with wealth that will last for eternity. Spiritual growth. The fruit of the Spirit. And of course, the most valuable provision He has already given me is the gift of salvation—a restored relationship with Him.

So when it comes to asking for blessing, I’d rather leave the definition to Him.

Now I’m asking for the ability to recognize those blessings as God defines them. To take the blinders off and to stop being influenced by what I want rather than what I need. And to call them blessings even if they don’t initially appear that way.

Your use as You decide it…

Jabez prayed for victory to expand his territory. I don’t know what territory God has for me. Is it to be a greater influence in my family, church, or social circles? Is it to teach His Word? To publish books?

While I have hopes and dreams regarding how God might use me in the future, I never want those desires to prevent me from recognizing how God wants to use me today. Whatever He decides is fine by me!

Now I’m specifically asking for a spirit of contentment with what God has decided. To be content if God doesn’t use me in accordance with my own agenda. For contentment if He has chosen a new direction for me.

Your leading as You provide it…

Over the years, I’ve watched many Christian leaders shipwreck themselves on the rocks of their own grand plans for larger ministries and media empires. God’s plan for them might have been to toil in obscurity, but that wasn’t their plan for themselves.

I can strategize and I can plan. But without the Lord’s leading, my ideas may not be His plans for me. I need to trust Him to direct me onto a straight path (Proverbs 3:6). The Bible often speaks of our “walk” with God. Walking with someone requires that we move in the same direction and at the same pace. I don’t ever want to run ahead of God or lag behind Him!

Now I’m specifically praying for immediate obedience to His leading. Because I know delayed obedience is ultimately disobedience!

And that You would keep me from both giving and receiving pain.

Jabez prayed for protection from harm and pain. Some scholars believe that verse can also be translated to mean that he was asking to be kept from giving pain to others.

I know, from experience, the pain caused by other people. Betrayal. Insensitivity. Negligence. Temptation. But I also know I’ve caused pain, too. How can I pray for protection from pain if I’m not willing to pray that God would keep me from causing it?

Now I’m asking for increased sensitivity to how I might be causing pain for others. It’s a cop out for me to excuse my behavior as “this is who I am.” I need to ask the Holy Spirit to take who I am and make me more like Christ. But for that to happen, I need to surrender to the Holy Spirit, not just day by day, but minute by minute!

So, my personalized prayer of Jabez is:

Heavenly Father, I ask for today:

  • To recognize Your blessing as You define it,
  • To be content with Your use as You decide it,
  • To obey Your leading as You provide it,
  • And to be sensitive to how I might be giving pain, harm, and temptation to others even as I ask for God’s protection from those things for myself.

The change in the way I pray has had a significant impact on the way I approach the events of each day.

How about you? What are your thoughts about the prayer of Jabez?


 
Dandelion Prayer

Dandelions—the bane of many homeowners who strive for manicured lawns. Adults see them as an irritation. A nuisance.

But children see dandelions as a source of unlimited potential. Wishes, hopes, and dreams wrapped up in the seeds of a wild flower.

When you were a child, did you ever pluck a dandelion puff to make a wish? Carefully, of course, because you didn’t want to waste even one feathery seed. After all, the one seed that dropped prematurely might have been the one to carry your wish to heaven.

Then we grow up and face reality…or do we?

dandelion prayerHow often do we, as adults, view prayer the way children view dandelion puffs? We close our eyes tight, carefully pick the “right” words, and fling them to heaven, wishing and hoping God will say yes to our request.

Is that how prayer works?

Not according to the Bible.

Most of us have grown up with a definition of prayer that is incomplete. How many times have we defined prayer as “talking to God”? But prayer is more than just presenting our requests and wishes to God. We don’t just talk to Him, we have conversation with Him.

This means we talk…and we listen. We listen as God speaks to us through His Word. We listen as the Holy Spirit prompts us to act according to His leading.

Prayer is more than just presenting our desires to God. It’s about aligning our thoughts with His thoughts. Our heart with His heart. Our will with His will.

The ultimate goal is not to change God’s mind, but to change ours.

So as summer moves into fall, are you watching the wishes, hopes, and dreams of the summer drift away on passing autumn breezes? Does it seem as if the heavens are made of brass, causing your prayers to hit the ceiling and drop back to earth in mockery of your desires?

Biblical guidance for prayer

Unlike dandelion puffs which depend on the whims of the wind, prayer is never futile. But God does give us some guidance for effective prayer…

A – Jesus tells us to abide in Him and have His words abide in us (John 15:7).

B – Believe when we pray (Mark 11:24).

C – Come with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).

D – Don’t doubt (James 1:6).

E – Don’t use empty phrases (Matthew 6:7).

F – Focus on who God is, not on your circumstances (Isaiah 26:3).

G – Expect God to show you great things (Jeremiah 33:3).

H – Follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in your prayer (Jude 1:20).

I – Intercede for others (I Timothy 2:1-2).

J – Ask in Jesus’ name—would Jesus ask for what you’re asking for? (John 14:13).

K – If possible, kneel, letting your physical position reflect your heart (Ephesians 3:14).

L – Listen for the Lord’s call (I Samuel 3:4).

M – Ask with right motives (James 4:3).

N – Know that the Lord is near to all who call on Him in truth (Psalm 145:18).

O – Before we pray, are we obeying what we already know? (I John 3:22).

P – Persevere in prayer (Luke 18:1-8).

Q – Pray without quarreling with brothers in Christ (1 Timothy 2:8).

R – Rejoice regardless of our circumstances (I Thess. 5:16).

S – Seek His presence (I Chronicles 16:11).

T – Pray with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6-7).

U – Pray in unity with other believers (Acts 1:14).

V – ?

W – Know where your help comes from (Psalm 121:1).

X – EXamine your heart (Psalm 66:18).

Y – ?

Z – ?

Which of these verses is God speaking to your heart about today?

Here’s a challenge for you…
Can you find a relevant verse for the letters V, Y, and Z?  😊


 
Answered Prayer vs. Expectations

Answered Prayer

It’s really difficult to pray without having expectations. Lots of expectations. I should know—we recently came through months of prayer for healing for my husband’s cancer.

Those expectations create a disconnect when God’s answer does not match our prayer.

Even when the answered prayer partially grants our request, we’re often still not satisfied. It’s human nature to focus, not on what we have, but on what we want.

From the first days of hubby’s diagnosis, I threw myself into prayer. Looking for answers. Pleading for healing. Hoping for the best. Preparing for the worst.

However, in those early days, my perspective underwent a significant change. My request morphed into seeking God’s heart instead of His hand. As His child, I knew nothing happens to us by chance. He is always at work for the ultimate good of His children and for His eternal glory.

But there’s a significant difference between knowing something intellectually and living it out. It’s much easier to quote biblical truth when it’s someone else’s problem.

So I prayed, not just for healing, but for God to use this experience in our life and marriage to help transform us into all the Lord intended for us to be. A light in a dark world. More like Christ. Less self-centered. More of an encouragement to others. Less self-pity.

No, it was not easy. Let me rephrase that. It is not easy. For this is an ongoing process, not a done deal.

We received our answer this week. And the answer was what we prayed for: cancer-free. As I shared the good news, hundreds of people rejoiced with us. God is so good!

Still, even if we did not receive the gift of healing from this cancer, God would still be good. He would still be at work, accomplishing His purposes for our good and His glory. And I’m glad we both reached that point before the answer came. Because spiritual growth is not about receiving from God’s hand. It’s about maintaining intimacy with our heavenly Father when His hand is hidden. When we seek His face and His heart instead.

Contentment is not easy. Even the apostle Paul had to learn it, as we read:

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11 NIV).

And the prophet Habakkuk showed us what contentment looks like when he wrote:

“Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

We can release our expectations and be content in whatever the Lord allows because, as a wise person once said:

“We don’t know the future, but we belong to the One who is already there!

What troubling circumstance are you facing today?
What are you praying for—even pleading for?
If God reserves His hand, but reveals His heart, will that be enough?


 
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