There come times I need to be reminded that God is sovereign. He’s in control. Of all things. From the beginning to the end.
He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him. He has a plan. He has a story to be told.
Nothing takes Him by surprise. He has an answer for everything. All things, big and small, are being woven into His sovereign and redemptive plan.
Psalm 33:11, “But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (NIV).
But despite the knowledge of God’s sovereignty, our minds struggle to reconcile the atrocities we face. Brutality in Charlottesville. Terror attacks in Barcelona. Policemen shot down. Just to name a few.
Maybe it even becomes more personal for you. A broken relationship. Rebellious child. Or terminal disease knocking on your door.
It is at times like this that it is difficult to find an answer. We cannot solve the problems that we see. We grapple to make sense.
But then I remember the story of Joseph. A boy who was sold into slavery by his older brothers. When you look at the story of Joseph, it appears that something went deeply awry. Somehow God’s plan got messed up. From the outside looking in, it looks like evil wins.
But now, take a look at God’s perspective. Psalm 105:8-13 says, “He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac, which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance. When they were few in number, of little account, and sojourners in it, wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people.” Long story short, God had a plan all along to take Israel to Egypt and back to Canaan. It should not come as a surprise to us. This was part of God’s plan all along. Four generations ago, to Joseph’s great grandfather Abraham, God said this, “Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13).
This really does blow my mind. We may think we are in control, but in actuality, it is God. And because God is ultimately in control, we can find rest for our weary souls.
What are you facing today? How will you face your personal adversity?
God’s plan in your life may not look anything like you expect. Things may not appear to be going well. You may not be able to see how God is going to use your life for good…and for His glory. It may appear that God has somehow messed up. But hold on…because there is more. There is always more. God is working out his plan from generation to generation. His plan is never short-term!
Under the protection of Joseph, we see the nation of Israel grow and flourish. Psalm 105:23-24, “Then Israel came to Egypt; Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham. And the Lord made his people very fruitful and made them stronger than their foes.”
God’s story is not just about Joseph. God’s story is not just about you. God’s story is about every tongue, tribe, and nation. God’s story spans the entire globe.
When I was five years old, I really, REALLY wanted to have a pet. I begged and begged my parents for all kinds of animals to come live in our home. I remember being allowed to babysit the pet gerbil from my kindergarten class over one weekend and sitting in my room for hours and playing with that little critter. You would think that would be the tipping point for my parents and persuade my parents to run out to Petsmart to buy something. Anything. They could ignore me all weekend! I kept to myself. No arguing with my brothers. No whining that I had nothing to do. I was a happy camper. But then the little critter had to go back to school and I kept up the fight. I enlisted my two brothers.
When the little critter went back to school, I kept up the fight. I enlisted my two brothers alongside me. My parents were outnumbered. We thought of all the reasons why a pet was a necessity in our home. It would teach us responsibility. It would be a companion for us. We would teach it tricks. We would somehow get jobs and pay for the pet food and supplies.
And then a lightbulb went off in my head. I would get God on my side. I would ask Him for a pet too.
“Dear Jesus, I want a pet. I want a kitten. A cute, cuddly kitten that I can sleep with and eat with and push around in my doll stroller. But if that’s not okay with you, a puppy is fine too.”
And then I started bargaining with my parents and with God. I will be obedient. I will take out the trash and set the dinner table. I will keep my room clean. I will be nice to my brothers. I will say “please” and “thank you.” Just tell me what you want from me and I will do it. I will earn a pet with my good behavior.
Funny how much our prayers sound like my childhood prayer.
We feel like we have to convince God to do what we want Him to do. We feel compelled to explain to God all the reasons why we need Him to answer. We think we have to prove ourselves. Maybe we need to give God some new information or inspire Him with some fresh ideas. Maybe if we talk more, He will listen. We feel like God is holding out on us and we have to put up a fight. We have to pray harder and longer and maybe…just maybe, He will see our side. This kind of praying puts a wedge between God and us…as if God were some kind of hoarder and we have to win His will.
The problem with this kind of praying is that it has an unbiblical view of God. It portrays a view that God is stingy, ornery, stubborn, and unkind. It makes one think they have to do something to earn God’s favor. Like He is an ogre and you have to steal your blessing from him or somehow get Him to release it.
But there’s more. This kind of praying also has an unbiblical view of self. It puts you in the driver’s seat. It makes you think that you can do something to get God to give you what you want. You can build a better argument like I tried with my parents to earn a pet. If you have the right words. If you have the right formula. If you pray in the right posture or order your words in the right order…then maybe, just maybe God will act on your behalf.
There’s a lot wrong with praying this way. For starters, it is burdensome and anxiety prone. It puts a burden on you to be more clever, wiser, and persistent. This person believes they have to work hard to get God to answer prayer…and they are left always wondering if their prayers will be heard.
The truth is God thought of prayer, not humans. God loves answering prayer. And God longs to do His work here on earth by involving us, humans, in the process.
God answers prayer…but He doesn’t always follow our instructions.
What are you praying for? Do you have a proper view of God? Do you have a proper view of yourself?
I love listening to my kids pray. There is such a sweet tenderness found there. Our five-year-old son, Comerson, loves to pray and typically jumps right in at dinner time to let his prayer be known.
“Dear God, thank you for Daddy, and Mommy, and Kade, and Avery, and Addie, and Luna [as he looks around the table at everyone sitting there]. And help me get a good nights sleep. And help me stay in my bed. And I not be scared. And thank you for food. And Spiderman. Amen.”
Because of course, Spiderman needs our prayers. He has the entire city of New York to look out for. Clearly, he needs God’s help!
It’s simple. It’s sincere. And it clearly correlates to the level of his knowledge about God. He is five years old.But as we grow in our knowledge of God, our prayer lives change. Our prayers become deeply rooted in the character of God. They become an intimate conversation. They become an open dialogue.
The Apostle Paul knew how to pray. He was a man who exhibited great boldness. Raised the dead. Healed the sick. Found that jail chains could not keep him bound. But his courageousness extended beyond himself…it was rooted in and grounded in God. Look at his prayer for the church of Ephesus. Pay close attention. What did he want the people to know? Ephesians 1:15-19 (NIV) says, “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”
Webster defines “know” as having developed a relationship with (someone) through meeting and spending time with them; to be familiar or friendly with.
Why do you think Paul would pray for the people of Ephesus to know God better? Why didn’t he pray for them to have bigger houses or name-brand clothes? Why didn’t he ask God to help their kids make the cheerleading squad or football team? Why didn’t he ask God for material wealth? Any ideas? Why is the knowledge of God so important?
To know God means more than knowing about God, it means experiencing Him throughout our daily living. Our experience with God impacts every fabric within our daily life. Our thoughts. Our actions. Our heart. Our underlying motivation is that our Heavenly Father knows us too.
What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands [Isa. 49:16]. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.
This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.
—Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 41-42, emphasis added.
Ask God to be your daily bread. Ask him to meet you right where you are.
I’m feeling terrible—I couldn’t feel worse!
Get me on my feet again. You promised, remember?
When I told my story, you responded;
train me well in your deep wisdom.
Help me understand these things inside and out
so I can ponder your miracle-wonders.
My sad life’s dilapidated, a falling-down barn;
build me up again by your Word.
Barricade the road that goes Nowhere;
grace me with your clear revelation.
I choose the true road to Somewhere,
I post your road signs at every curve and corner.
I grasp and cling to whatever you tell me;
God, don’t let me down!
I’ll run the course you lay out for me
if you’ll just show me how.
Psalm 119:30-32 MSG
It is a fight to believe in an invisible, seemingly far-away God who you cannot physically touch, see, or smell. It often sounds absurd that we would believe in God and heaven and hell. But possibly even more absurd is not only believing that God is real…but actually living like it. To live like God is real and has a purpose for us in each day. Now that sounds more like a challenge.
But in our everyday, run-of-the-mill kind of life, there come days when we just can’t see it. We can’t see the purpose through the thick clouds, or find our way through the redwood forest. We don’t know how God is possibly working things together for our good because what we see doesn’t look good in any way, shape, or fashion. To be honest, what we see seems quite the opposite. It’s horrific. Depressing. Downright bad. How could God possibly be involved in it? It is during days like this that the fight to believe gets real.
No more messing around.
It is time to take our faith out for a spin.
I have sat right here a time or two. And most likely, you have as well. A place where discontentment comes lurking as you find yourself choking to catch a breath. The bills are stacking high on the kitchen counter or you feel the pain of rejection. Your kids are constantly quarreling or you cannot muster the strength to keep going. You can’t get along with your spouse, or maybe it’s you boss who is giving you fits. Don’t matter what you current predicament may be…the truth is that it isn’t fun.
During times like this, I am confronted with the fact that I have kept a piece of my life off-limits to God. I have put up a barrier, telling God, “You can do whatever you want with my life…EXCEPT THAT, of course, would be too much for me.” I fail to forget that God has given me everything. The clothes on my back, the roof over my head, and even the children who bear my image.
God constructs our lives whether we give him permission or not. He doesn’t wait around for our okay. He does as He pleases…and He also does it for our own good. If we believe the Bible, we must believe that the heart of our sovereign, unpredictable, powerful, and omniscient God is good. He is always good. It is our fight for control that gets us in trouble. It is the same fight that began long ago with Adam and Eve in the garden. They wanted to do things their way rather than listen to God. They wanted to be the ones holding the control button.
We try to manipulate, twist and turn, and get cozy and comfortable because somewhere deep down within we are afraid of what might happen if we let go. Somewhere deep down we are afraid to say “yes” to God. We are afraid He may send us to Siberia or the uttermost ends of the earth or cause us to take an oath of poverty. We worry He might cause us to get deathly ill, or be scoffed at by others for being a “Jesus freak.” We think that God will do the most terrible things to us, rather than living a life of ease. But I have to ask you a question…What are you most afraid of? What are you afraid of being stripped of? What do you think God will make you do? Do you really think you are better than God at making decisions for your life?
When we have a false belief about God, we develop a barrier in our relationship. It is because what we see with our physical eyes seems more real than an invisible God that we cannot see or touch. We allow things like fear, worry, and doubt to creep in, causing us to lose sight of God. God is a God who has laid down His life for us. We must believe that He can be trusted. And even if we have to journey through suffering, we must believe that we will be better because of it.
We must live a life that has more than earth as its focus.
Are you trusting God today? What barriers get in your way (for example, doubt, distractions, and disappointment) and why? What are you holding on to?
God wants you to tilt your head up for a moment to see that there is a bigger story unfolding right now. An eternal story is taking shape, in which you have a role. There is more going on then whiny kids and temper-tantrums and traffic that doesn’t go anywhere. There is more to life than over-stuffed closets and runny noses at night. Yes, I promise you there is more than hurt feelings and arguments and feeling like you are no good. God wants you to see a glimpse of Him.
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:17-18
I want to live like Jesus. I hope that I willingly surrender in order to seek Him more. I wish I didn’t crave the things of this world. But I have a problem. There is a war going on inside. I cannot figure out how to manipulate God to give me exactly what I want and when I want it. And if I’m going to live the kind of life that is pleasing to God…then I need a heart transplant. I am going to need more faith. Bucket loads of it. Which, by the way, is sold out on Amazon and the world’s knock-off version doesn’t quite satisfy.
We often get stuck right here. We can feel the tension rising inside. We think we want more faith, yet we act like it is in short supply. Which begs the question, “What is faith?” and “How do I get more?”
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (NLT). Unfortunately, many of us have mistaken belief for faith because we’ve been disappointed with the results of our prayers. We think faith is something we can muster up. We try harder. We pray longer.
Faith differs from belief. We can believe a lot of different things. Some right. Some wrong. We can be persuaded. We can change our mind. We can back up our reasoning with theories and explanations. But if we are not careful, we can apply the same technique to God. We can cut and paste Scripture in an effort to get God to perform. This is not authentic faith.
Real faith has only one focus: GOD.
Mark 11:22 exhorts us to, “Have faith in God.” And it becomes challenging for us to place our hopes, our dreams, and desires in the hands of an unseen God. We fear His plans will not align with ours. His will may be contrary to our own. Our safe, comfortable, and predictable life may be rattled. But when we finally step out and take a leap of faith and discover that God is real, we are changed. And this is my pray for each of us…that we be changed more and more in order to live a life that brings glory to God.
God is God. He knows what He is doing. Our prayers release God’s power for God’s purposes. Our faith has substance when it is placed in God and God alone. When we abandon our own made-up idea of how our prayers should be answered and put our trust in God.
Faith does not know how God will bring His will into being; faith knows God will bring His will into being.
God doesn’t have a “one-size-fits-all” answer to our prayers. His ways are always higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). His plans stretch farther than our immediate circumstances. He is mysterious and does as He wills. The one thing God is most after is His glory because it is how we come to know God is real. And even in instances when we suffer, we must trust that God will somehow be glorified.
We must come smack dab and face the fact that our faith is not based on how we feel. Our feelings are fleeting and changing and moody (just being honest), and cannot see with clarity the confidence that faith provides. If we want to be people who pray powerful prayers…the kind of prayers that change lives…then we have to have our faith grounded in God’s Word. Only then will we be able to stand amidst the chaos in our lives. As Oswald Chambers once said, “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.”
God doesn’t do things as we would expect. In fact, from our earthly vantage point, life seems excruciatingly hard sometimes. Throughout Scripture, we see that there must be another way….a way that seems absurdly difficult and involves the desertion of our well thought-out plans and assumed privileges. We see Israelites who aimlessly wander in the wilderness (Exodus 18) and a giant who was slayed by a mere child (1 Samuel 17). We see a man swallowed up by a fish for three days (Jonah 1) and a donkey who has the ability to speak words (Numbers 22). We see the mouths of lions shut up (Daniel 6), and men who walk in the fire (Daniel 3). I really could go on and on. But most absurd of all is that God would make Himself man and consider us a part of His divine plan. He sent Jesus, His very own Son, to be brutally murdered on our behalf. God has given us everything at such a great cost. Maybe it is time we reconsider how we think our lives should go. Maybe it is time to surrender, and stop putting up such a fight. Maybe it is time that we recognize that God’s ways are always better than ours.
The only way we get more faith is from the source Himself. God is the initiator. Our faith grows from experiencing God firsthand. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Are you able to give God glory in the midst of your suffering? Faith involves risk, which means sometimes we have to stretch and believe that God is good.
We read the Bible and envy the fact that God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve, personally confronted Moses in the fiery bush, spoke from the whirlwind to Job, and called to Samuel in the dark. Over and over and over again we see accounts where God seemed so tangible. Within reach. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t quite seem fair.
Maybe you find yourself in an invisible stuck place today, unable to make space for God to penetrate the deep recesses of your soul. You want to make God a priority in your life, yet struggle to overcome. There are disappointments, bitterness, worries, sadness, and struggles that seem to take preeminence. Barging right on in.
God seems so far away.
God spoke through dreams, and writing on the wall, and from a thunderous cloud…and to Saul on the road to Damascus with a blinding light. And I believe that God is still capable of such wonders today. However, in our hope for the supernatural, unexpected, extraordinary miracle…we forget that the road is often hard. We may have the misconception that being a Christian translates to a life of ease. And due to this false notion, we wait to go to God until we have our life cleaned up. Ducks in a row. All prettied up and tied with a bow.
We must realize that God is after more than neat, pretty packages. He is okay with messy lives too. We must admit that we need God just as we are. Times of spiritual dryness are normal, not an anomaly. There is no need for you to pretend.
As believers, we all experience such times. The sermon seems boring and your thoughts are drifting afar. The worship music seems endless and you can’t wait to sit down. You read the Bible and it seems like an empty chore. Small groups. Christian articles. Times of prayer. Nothing seems to break through the cadence of your routine life.
You may feel the uncomfortable distance widening between who you know you are and the Christian you pretend to be. The guilt and tension are rising, but you are not sure where to begin.
Start with some honesty. Tell God exactly how you feel. Confess your wandering soul. Sometimes as we dig within, we find the root of our sin. I wish I could give you a neat, tidy answer…but in this instance, there is not a “one-size-fits-all.” Somewhere within us lies some misplaced expectations, appalling apathy, buried hurts, or raw disappointment.
But here is the good news…we have a God who is unsurprised by our indifference and has unrelentlessly set His affection upon us before the beginning of time! He has shown His commitment to you by sending Jesus! He is devoted to you for the long-haul.
We can find freedom in being real with God. Go ahead and confess how you feel to Him. Talk it out. By unraveling our emotions, we begin to connect the dots between the truth of who God is versus how we feel. It is easy to get lost in this dissonance, but I promise you…it is worth fighting through!
Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness. No one knows you better than God Himself. What you are experiencing today does not come as a surprise to God. God knows your most desperate situation, your deepest longings, your silent cries, your biggest disappointments, your personal shortcomings, your loneliness moments, your painful rejections, and your greatest doubts. He knows it all. It doesn’t take Him off guard. And there is not a single thought or emotion that has not been covered by the blood of Christ.
Receive God’s love. You were bought for a price because God loves you. You were worth dying for. He hasn’t stopped loving you. It is a continuous, unending, every single day kind of love. On days when we don’t deserve it. On days when we give God the cold shoulder. Let’s not forget that God loves us even then.
God is able to pull you through this lull. You are not the only one who has been in a stuck place before. Meditate on the words of David. Ask God to do it for you!
I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the LORD.
If God tells us to listen to His Son, then it must be possible for us to hear Him. God would not instruct us to do something that is impossible for us to do. But that being said, I know that we often struggle to discern whether or not we are hearing the voice of God. Sometimes it doesn’t seem all that clear.
For starters, in order to hear the voice of God, we must belong to Him. Jesus promises that His sheep HEAR him, FOLLOW him, and are KNOWN by him (John 10:27). We belong to Jesus if we have been saved by grace. As His, we are promised that we will recognize His voice.
The primary way we hear the voice of God is through His Word. When Matthew, Mark, Luke, James, and John sat down to pen Scripture, God Himself inspired them. Scripture is not man-made. It is not social hype. It is not a boring account of history. It is relevant to each and every one of us today. We can be assured that Scripture is the living, breathing word of God and we must spend time in the Word if we want to hear from Him.
Jesus is the living Word. As you read Scripture, ask God to speak to you. To speak life into your current circumstances. To bring His Word alive. God’s will never contradicts His Word.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. John 1:1-4
Although Scripture was penned over 2,000 years ago, it is still alive and active. It pertains to whatever you are facing today. At this very moment. It can shed light on your most difficult struggle. It can breath fresh life into your dry bones. It can cause you to rise up, and walk again. As you read, expect God to speak to you.
“All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” John 16:15
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1:21
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” 2 Timothy 3:16
In the creation account found in Genesis 1, we are told that God spoke the whole world into existence. He spoke and it was done. However, God wasn’t finished. He still speaks to us today in the here and now. In Hebrews 4:12 we are told, “the word of God is alive and active.” This means God’s Word exposes our doubt, unbelief, and hidden sin. God’s Word is personal and intimate and when we read it, we hear the voice of God. Authoritatively. Unmistakably. Cutting right to our core.
Have you ever stopped to consider how incredibly powerful the breath of God must be? Do you believe there is power in His Word? Ask God to speak to you right now. And then, start believing that He can. Ask God to raise up your dry bones.
May we be reminded that our Savior is risen. He is not dead! No grave could hold him in the ground. He reigns on high…and is worth living for.
You are loved by God Himself!
Prayer clearly is important! Prayer and praise are referenced 375 times and 377 times, respectively, in Scripture. As believers, we know we are supposed to pray. Yet, prayer remains such a mystery.
Not surprisingly, there are many misconceptions about prayer. Perhaps even without our acknowledgment, our prayers are wrongly motivated. However, one of the most detrimental mistakes we can make is to treat prayer as a “Honey Do” list for God. To erroneously view prayer as a means to get what we want. We focus on our request rather than on God, and in doing so, lose sight of Him. Our need becomes the center of attention, minimizing the greatness of our Almighty God.
As I reflect on my prayer life over the years, it is obvious that my mindset has often been giving God a list of orders and commands. I would tell God how I wanted things done, and then wait for Him to perform. Sometimes, God would answer my prayers according to my plan. Sometimes, He would say no. Naively, the context of my prayers was limited to a list for which I wanted answers. And over time, when my prayers were not answered according to my liking, I became disappointed and frustrated with God.
You see, unknowingly, I had put limitations on God. My prayers consisted of my list of needs, rather than seeing God might have a better answer. I presented my request and then would ask God to meet it. If He did not act quickly, I would jump in to lend a helping hand.
Like a pharmacy counter, I wanted my prescription filled exactly as I intended. Leaving God no wiggle room.
Prayer does encompass making our requests known to God, but not because He doesn’t already know it. “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8 God always knows what is best, and He has the power to do it! When feelings of helplessness overwhelm us, may we be reminded that we serve a great big God and we need Him! The real acid test of faith comes from leaving our hands out of a situation and allowing God to do as He pleases.
Prayer is bigger than a list.
God is capable of doing “far more abundantly than we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Why then, should we tell Him how? Maybe He has something much grander in mind. Maybe He has a greater purpose.
Think about your current prayer requests. How would you like to see your current needs answered? Do you have an unwarranted expectation of God?