Co-Opted by Fear: Adventures in Overthinking Prayer, Part II

fear(This ended up becoming a series. Here’s Part 1 and Part 3.)

The Neurotic Self-Examination Department is still hard at work, somewhere back there in my brain, outperforming their quotas for the 131rd quarter straight. I’d love to know what productivity methods they’re using, because I could make millions sharing them – I just cannot stop thinking about stuff. For example…should I include the nine months before my birth in that quarter count? If so, it’d be 134.

Anyway…

My pastor belted out another terrific sermon last night. I could sum it up in one sentence of his: “Gratitude doesn’t just sit there. It accomplishes something in our hearts. Gratitude gives way to hope.” It was about reminding oneself of God’s previous works and displays of power in our lives to gather hope for the future – relying on his prior and proven faithfulness to reassure ourselves for tomorrow.

And  thought, that doesn’t work for me. Not for matters in this life.

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He Won’t Forget Your Obedience

roadYou’re confronted with a choice. The wrong choice is obvious, but it’s seemingly more gratifying in the short term; you can see the reward in your mind. The right choice is also obvious, but you don’t see any gain to it. All you can see down that road is losing out for the sake of being good. You have to be honest on your timecard when nobody would know either way; you have to break up with that person who’s shown themselves to be apathetic towards God; you have to clamp down on that growing beer habit when it feels like the only thing keeping you going.

I’ve written along these lines before, but…how the church would change if we remembered that God promises rewards for obedience?

I should say this right away: the greatest reward of obedience is God himself. Tim Keller recently said it well: “Don’t obey God to get stuff. Obey God to get God.” More of his peace, his power, his unfettered presence in our lives. That is the best reward of all. And the fact that a small part of us groans and rolls our eyes in impatience at that statement just shows how little of God’s love we have truly tasted. If only we had a wider palette than the world, if only we had experienced more of God, we would not hesitate to seek him above all else. We would be hooked.

I’m so totally stealing my pastor’s encouragement from our morning “fella-ship” at Chick-Fil-A last week that it’s not even funny, but it was a great point: God remembers our obedience. For a long time.

This week, we’ll turn to Numbers. It’s that book squeezed between those boring (but important) collections of genealogies and bodily-fluids-regulations we call Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and a lot of people just assume it’s more of the same. It’s not. Numbers is packed with potent, sobering stories of how Israel treated God after their dramatic exodus from Egypt. (Spoiler alert: not well.)

You’d think that the newly liberated Israelites would be thrilled to arrive at the border of the promised land they’d been hearing about for centuries. I imagine they waited with anticipation while Moses sent twelve scouts, one from each tribe, to get the lay of the land and report back in Numbers 13.

Of course, you and I know now that instead of rah-rah, ten of the scouts threw a wet blanket.

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Build Altars in Your Life

ringLadies reading this…I apologize. But I must talk about football for a moment.

Two years ago, my Seattle Seahawks marched into New York City and practically waltzed away with their first Super Bowl win. My football team. Sports snobs will never get this. For a Seahawks fan who endured the 90s, having your team be the champ isn’t just amazing. It’s therapeutic. The NFL’s highest honor at long last.

And five months later, what were most Seahawks fans doing?

Worrying.

Dissecting the draft, analyzing our new free agents, wringing our hands over which star players were leaving…and worrying.

Worrying over whether we would repeat.

Are you kidding me? We fight for almost forty years to get to the big dance, finally climb out of the kiddie pool and shut up the peanut gallery, and we can’t even stop to just bask in the moment? For nine months, we’re the undisputed top dogs…and we have no confidence that we’re the real deal. I walked up to a guy in church wearing a Broncos hat, pointedly adjusted and fiddled with my Seahawks hat in front of him, and he chuckled and went “Yeah, everyone gets lucky once in a while.” That’s what we fear. We don’t want a fluke, a one-off. We want a dynasty.

But part of it is…we just forget. The glow fades and it’s back to prove-it territory.

We do this with God, too.

That blessing was it for a while. I won’t be getting much more.

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The Role of Thanksgiving in Prayer

prayerWe interrupt your regularly scheduled tryptophan haze to bring you this important head-scratcher:

What do grass, a Seattle Seahawks championship, and the mercies of God all have in common?

The answer:

Nothing, thank God.

The first passes away on its own (Matthew 6:30). The second is dependent on human effort.

But the third “never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Of course, I rarely ever live as if that were true.

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