Tag Archives: faith

Everything Depends On What We Can’t See.

Coin Flip

“We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor. 5:7).

   At any given point in the decision-making process, we can only access one-quarter of the information needed to make a good decision. And it’s not merely a question of gathering more intel—the fact is that the necessary info is simply not available.

   And that, my friends, drives me crazy.

   As are many of you, I’m a data-driven kind of girl. In decision-making, I just want the facts: Tell me what the problem/choice/opportunity is; give me a realistic assessment of available resources; give me a list of pros and cons for each option; and give me both the best and worst case scenarios for each possible outcome. Once all of that analysis is on the table, a great decision is guaranteed.

   Or not.

   Even with all of those facts, statistics, possibilities and considerations taken into the mix, that’s still only a fraction of the information needed to make a wise decision. Here’s the other three-quarters of info needed.

   Thing I: What’s happening behind the scenes that you can’t see? Your son or daughter is acting out and you need to drop the hammer. After all, they know better. Right? But what if they’re being bullied or had a break up or are being pressured to do something they know is wrong? They may not be voluntarily forthcoming with that info so is a good, long time-out or chew-out going to help solve their crisis or their behavior? Maybe more information is needed…

   Job hunting? Which to take? The one with better money would certainly seem the obvious choice but what’s going on behind the scenes that you can’t research? For instance, you might not want to work for that boss or deal with those office politics or participate in the undercover climate of, shall we say, compromise that you’d be expected to comply with. Those are behind-the-scenes circumstances that—let’s face it—aren’t going to come out during the interview.

   Or what about that home or car you’re looking to buy? What if it has flaws that inspectors or mechanics simply miss? (Not that the seller is trying to unload on you…just sayin’.)

   That person you’re considering marrying? Is it possible that he or she might be on his/her best behavior until you’ve vowed never to part? We all have faults and flaws, no doubt, and granted, it might sound cynical even to ask that question. But can we really say that no husband or wife has ever been blindsided by their spouse’s hidden propensities toward (way) overspending or inability to keep employment or even more serious tendencies toward violence, addiction or cheating? Do we really think that any of those fault-lines were visible to multiple thousands of people before they walked down the aisle and they simply chose to ignore them? (Okay, some did.)

   Hidden things, by definition, are impossible to see. Walking by sight only lights up a fraction of them.

   Thing II: What’s on the horizon that you can’t see? Vacation in Orlando? Uh, oh—hurricane hits. What about Washington; that’s always fun. Unless there’s an accident on the Beltway and traffic is backed up to Maine—no fun. Or which college to choose? My son once picked one and two months in, they cancelled his major. Didn’t see that coming. 

   Thinking of buying a home, starting a biz or investing? Certainly you can and should do the research: What’s the housing market look like right now? Is it a buyers’ or sellers’ market? How’s the business economy—friendly or no? Business tax rates? And what’s happening with interest rates for 401K’s, CD’s, the stock market? Is Social Security secure for the future? Some research may give some answers but here’s what we can’t know: What will happen in the future? Sure, “experts” make predictions all the time, but if you’ve ever watched any financial analysis debates (which I try to avoid), their crystal balls never quite align. And unless you’re a psychic, you’re simply not going to know. Evidence? How many people were completely wiped out financially in the stock market crash of 1929? Or 1989? Or the housing crisis/market crash in 2007/2008? Millions. And we had the ensuing recessions and depressions to prove it.

   Again—thinking of getting married? What if one of you grows and matures and you’re simply “not compatible” anymore? Anyone see that coming?

   Walking by sight is blind to future circumstances. Why? Because those circumstances haven’t happened yet.

   Thing III: What’s happening in the spiritual realm that you can’t see? At any given moment, there’s more happening in the spiritual realm that affects your decisions than is occurring in the physical realm. The problem is, that activity is invisible; you can’t see it happening. And if you can see it, I guarantee that it’s because you are walking by faith, not by sight. But whether you have the gift of discernment, you’re a seer into the spiritual realm or the angel Gabriel regularly shows up with intel, somehow you’re being allowed that insight by God; it’s not info you can Google.

   One time my parents bought a house that we didn’t know was haunted. But we found out. And regardless of whether you believe spiritual entities (aka “demons”) can inhabit physical spaces or not, something was knocking pictures off walls, causing audible footsteps, and shattering glasses sitting untouched on the table—and it wasn’t us. Not to mention two or three memorable visitations in the dead of night. My mother even contracted brain cancer and died, and while I can’t prove that that was related, it does seem an odd coincidence that her home health aid was also diagnosed with brain cancer after three months of working in that house. What we found out much later is that the prior residents used to have séances in the house—always an open invitation to demonic activity. (But that’s another post entirely.)

   Bottom line: We saw the house, it looked good, and we bought it. We walked entirely by sight—and saw nothing.

   Many people who make decisions solely based on what they can see rather than faith in God either don’t understand the importance of waiting on God or simply hate to wait. However, the real truth is that living only by what we can see, hear, feel or research is a very miniscule part of the picture; there’s simply too much happening or about to happen that we simply cannot see. Basing decisions on only one-quarter of information is not just a huge risk, it can be downright deadly.

   Ask my mom.

 

 

 

 

What Keeps You Up at Night?

Man Can't Sleep (2)

   Pastor Nick runs a mid-sized, evangelical church in a fair-sized city where, every Sunday, he preaches for approximately twenty-five minutes (after working on the sermon for four days) for two services in front of four hundred people a service. Every other day of the week, Pastor Nick makes emergency house calls (mostly involving teenagers), counsels with people (usually the same people), and runs a food pantry on Mondays, a Bible study on Wednesdays, and a coffee house on Fridays.

   Meanwhile Katrina, a 27-year-old woman living in the suburbs of Peoria, spends her days (and nights) caring for two one-year-olds, one two-year-old, and an almost four-year-old. Since she is not able to work outside of the home because she can’t afford the daycare, she has become the daycare. Every morning, three other women drop off their children at her house: another two-year-old, a five-year-old (on the kindergarten bus at 12:30pm), and three six to eight year-olds (on the bus at 8:30am). Everybody is back to Katrina’s house by 3:30, and moms arrive between 4:37 and 6:10 – not that Katrina’s tracking.

   Emma is all about deadlines. Her deadline for the Spencer article is at 10am, the deadline for the book revision – the entire 286-page book revision – is due tomorrow (and she’s only 202 pages in), and the deadline to pitch the new book proposal at the writers’ conference is Thursday at 3pm sharp. (She wants to bring a thriller but romance is in – although not Amish – and definitely not a YA dystopian about a heroine with a sword, a bow or a slingshot – even if the boyfriend is to die for.) In the meantime, there are tweets to write, Facebook posts to edit, and Instagram pics to update. Oh – and there’s the blog. Always the blog…

   So – what do all of these fine folks have in common?

   Pastor Nick, Katrina and Emma all worry about whether, in the end, any of their hard work will be successful. All of their endless days and sleepless nights – is it worth it? Will they achieve what they’ve set out to accomplish – or will they fail? And even if they do succeed, will it even matter?

In the long run, when it’s all said and done, when they stand before the Lord and give an account, will it be an account worth giving?

   Late in the evening, after everyone else has gone home from work, Pastor Nick sits at his desk and wonders about Sunday’s sermon – did it really touch anyone? Will anyone go home differently than they came in? And what about Ed and Sue? Did he get through to them? Will they even try to forgive each other? And the coffeehouse – will it help keep kids off the streets?

   Katrina lays awake at night wondering how her children will turn out. Will they be good people – kind, compassionate, responsible? Or will they fall in with the wrong kids when they’re older and end up doing – she doesn’t even want to think about what they might be doing. Then when they’re older, will they still believe in God? Or will they reject God and leave the church as so many kids eventually do? Katrina tries to teach them right from wrong but she barely has enough time to cook, do laundry and run errands much less spend time with each of them.

   What if she fails her children??

   Emma would like to sleep but that’s a luxury she doesn’t have. Sometimes – okay, lots of times – she wonders why she does it: the revisions, the deadlines, the rewrites, more deadlines– and for what? What if the books are never published? Or what if they are – and then nothing happens? She tries to write books that will mean something – books that will make a difference to people – but how can she really ever know whether they will? Will all the long years of work have been just a waste of time? Or a whole life . . . ?

   The fact is that it’s not up to us whether or not our work succeeds – because it’s not our work. It’s God’s. Jesus said that he’d come to do the work of the Father, the implication being that it was not his own work. There’s great comfort in that truth because if it’s not our work, then it’s not our responsibility to make it succeed. It’s God’s.

   When we plant a seed, we’re not responsible to make it grow. We are responsible to water and weed the plant as it grows, but we can’t make the seed or the plant grow; only God can do that. In the same way, we can’t do anything other than our best with what we’re called to do and then we simply have to leave it up to God to make it work. We’re just stewards of the work; God is the master.

   Nevertheless, recognizing that fact does not give us a license to slack off; we have our part to play and it’s our destiny to fulfill that part. The problem we make is that because it’s “our destiny,” we think it’s even in our power to make that destiny succeed. It’s not. God gave us our assignments – and only he can bring them to fruition.

   Pastor Nick can’t make people listen to or obey the word – all he can do is to be faithful to bring it.

   Katrina can’t make her children do what’s right when they’re older nor can she make them have a relationship with God – all she can do is to teach them the right way and then pray that they follow it.

   Emma can’t make publishers choose her books nor can she make the books best-sellers – all she can do is to write them and promote them.

   It’s up to God to do the rest.

   In the end, all we’re required to do is the best we can with what we have and then to pray that the Lord will bring success to our work. Period. We simply cannot do more than that.

      Now – feel better?

 

 

 

Where There’s Grace, There’s Fire.

Candle Flower FREE

   There was a time in my life when I went to confession, having been told by the good nuns (and they were good), that I would receive “grace” for going and that the more I went to confession, the more grace I would get. That was all fine and good – except that I didn’t really have any idea what grace was.

   For the most part, I reasoned that grace was synonymous with mercy. Makes sense, right? I mean, you confess your sins and you have to receive mercy in order to be forgiven. The only problem was, I couldn’t understand how you could get “more” mercy; either you had it or you didn’t have it; either your sins were forgiven – or they weren’t. How could they be more forgiven or less forgiven?

   ???

   Now while I didn’t lose a lot of sleep over the issue, it was certainly a mystery. But I filed it away in the back of my mind and figured that some far off day when I finally got to heaven, some angel or saint would no doubt explain it to me. (It would, I thought, probably be Apostle Paul since he was always declaring “grace and peace” to someone or other.) However, that day came sooner than I thought – and not from Paul. One day as I was sitting in church mostly listening, I heard a woman begin to teach on the difference between grace and mercy. My ears perked up.

   Simply put, mercy is defined as not getting what we do deserve – for example, punishment for sin, while grace is defined as getting what we do not deserve –  in this case, the power and ability to accomplish whatever it is we need to do.

   I took a moment and thought about that. Suddenly it all began to make sense: Mercy and grace are not the same thing. Mercy is the forgiveness of sin, and grace is the power to overcome sin.

   Still, grace is so much more. Grace is the power of God to accomplish and achieve the extraordinary, the supernatural, even the impossible things we are called to do in order to fulfill our destinies.

Grace is not just some vague, wimpy, “nice” little Christian concept. Grace is the fire-power of God.

   Think about that.

   The fact is that grace, like faith, is an actual substance, a “thing” which we can receive from God in order to accomplish whatever it is He has called us to do. And although it’s probably an insufficient analogy, I like to think of grace as a tool without which we can’t get the job done. Can we split wood without an axe or saw? Can we drive without a vehicle? Can we communicate without language?      

   Can we fulfill our destinies without the fire of God’s grace empowering our lives?

   Possibly, but not well. But that’s all right because God says, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (Romans 12:9).

   Have you ever been so frustrated trying to achieve your calling, your destiny, that you just can’t seem to do what you feel you’ve been called to do? Have you even doubted that calling?

   Have you ever just wanted to quit?

   There’s fire for that.

 

 

 

Prayer Wreckers

Man in DespairWe all spend a lot of time and energy praying for all kinds of things – and some of those prayers are urgent, desperate prayers. But what if we’re sabotaging our own prayers? What if we’re doing something, even unconsciously, to negate them? Would we want to know that? Why wouldn’t we?

In my last post, “Ten Ways to Blow Up Your Destiny,” I introduced three things that will shipwreck our prayers. Today, I want to discuss the rest of the principles that we should know in order to not sideline our prayers.

Thing #1: Put God first. In other words, we cannot and should not put our dreams, visions or destinies before God. Jesus tells His followers, ‘”Your heavenly Father already knows all of your needs . . . Seek first his kingdom and righteousness, and all of these things will be given to you as well . . .’” (Matt. 6:33). Our “needs” are not just categorized as physical needs; we need all kinds of intervention for all kinds of things. No matter – same principle applies: the big “if-then” – if we put God first, then we get whatever we might need. Period.

Thing #2: Unconfessed sin. David proved that after he sinned with Bathsheba, lied about it, and then killed her husband, Uriah, to cover it up. Now, if anyone should have their prayers tuned out by God, it would be someone who’d done all of those things. But David repented of his sin (with a little persuasion from the prophet, Nathan). David pleaded to God: “’Don’t keep looking at my sin. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God, Renew a right spirit in me . . .’” (LB, Ps. 51:9-10). After David confessed his sin, God was able to interact with him again. Remember, Habakkuk says to God, “’Your eyes are too pure [even] to look on evil; you cannot tolerate sin’” (1:13). “Tolerate” is a little mild for the translation. The KJ version says, “’You cannot [even] look on sin’”.  And the word “cannot” in all translations means “cannot”. It doesn’t mean “might not” or “can-if-He-wants-to-but-just-doesn’t-want-to”. God is not able even to look at sin, much less have fellowship with someone in it (thus the reason Christ died – but that’s another post entirely). So – unconfessed sin = unanswered prayers.

Thing #3: Wrong response to authority. We see this principle in Paul’s warning to children to submit to and obey their parents and they’ll be blessed. Why? Because their parents are the authority over children. If they will submit to authority, then they will be blessed. But that warning about authority applies to all of us, not simply children.

And why does God feel so strongly about submission that He ties conditions to responses to authority? Because societies fall apart when people begin to blow off authorities.

(Watched the news lately?) So God has built into His principles the condition that if we submit to authority, then we will be blessed. And aren’t all answered prayers considered blessings? I know mine are.

Thing #4: Pride.  This is another no-no if we’d like our prayers answered. We all know pride is bad – no surprise there. For example, take Naaman who came to the prophet Elisha to petition (pray) for healing from leprosy. When Elisha told Naaman to go and dip in the Jordan River some times, Naaman thought that was ridiculous and refused. His pride got in the way. Consequently, he didn’t have his prayer for healing answered until he decided to humble himself and take a dip. Then his prayer was answered. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5-6).

Thing #5: “Evil speech.”  Our words can be another problem if you’d like your prayers answered. Gossip, slander, accusation, arguing, lying, complaining – all of these can hinder prayers. Now, thank God for his mercy because who hasn’t, at the very least, complained? But for those who continue in these things without repentance, their prayers won’t accomplish much. Isaiah warns, “’If you do away with the pointing finger [accusation] and malicious talk . . . then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday [revelation]. The Lord will guide you always [direction]; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land [provision] and will strengthen your frame [healing] . . .’” (58:9-11, interpretations mine). Peter says, “’If you want a happy life and good days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and keep your lips from telling lies’” (3:9).

Thing #6: Have faith in God, not in faith itself.  It’s not up to us to manufacture our faith and moreover, “having faith” is not about how much faith we have, it’s about whether or not we trust God. Why is this important? Two reasons: first, sometimes we treat faith like heaven’s money; if we just get enough of it, we can cash it in for whatever we want. Doesn’t work that way. Second, the essence of faith is the question: “Do I trust God – whether or not He answers my prayers the way I want Him to?” That’s vastly different than “Okay, God, here’s how much faith I have so here’s how I want You to answer my prayer.” Faith is not cash, and God is not a vending machine. If we think so, I think I can predict that our prayers won’t be very effective.

Next post I’ll finish this up; there are three more principles for praying effectively and, if disregarded, will negate our prayers. In the meantime, lest we become overwhelmed with all of the ways we can shipwreck our prayers, let’s simply remember to begin our prayers with a sincere, “Lord, I’m sorry for . . .”