God Is Not a Magic 8-Ball (And How to Know If You’re Treating Him Like One)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do— He reveals to you who He is.” – Oswald Chambers

So I’m sitting at my desk years ago, slowly eroding a mountain of math papers and waiting for God to do something. You know the feeling. I have to change jobs in the next month; I’ve got applications out in the wind. A dark knot has taken up residence in my stomach. I know God’s moving. I sense the electricity in the air – the “God space” I sometimes call it with my students, those junctures where he likes to step in. But I don’t know where or when he’ll appear. And with the end of school year closing in, I’d really, really like those details.

Finally, a call comes in. My applications have been seen. “Are you available to interview next week?”

Sweetest words ever.

Immediately the pit of anxiety lifts. Someone once said, “All happiness is the release of internal pressure”, and right now such quotes seem sage. It occurs to me that I’m happy just to have prospects; they offer a few days’ vacation from anxiety, a few days of effortless peace.

But the interviews go nowhere. The gnawing pit returns.

I’ve known couples who must bear the question of “Will our baby be healthy?” for an unavoidable season. While the couple waits, the knot feels like an unavoidable companion.

Or there’s the myriad of singles who repeatedly drag a parent, mentor, or friend to coffee over the honest question tugging at their heart: “Will God ever bring me anyone?” After talking their latte cold, they walk away with renewed hope. It feels so good. But after a few more months pass and nobody shows up, the pit returns. And they arrange another chat.

“How is this ministry going to work out?”

“Do you plan to heal my father?”

“Are you going to come through in the way I’m hoping?”

“Will everything be okay?”

After years of this all-too-familiar cycle, the Holy Spirit popped his own question to me. Through conversations over many years, it ultimately came down to this:

Why do you need to know the outcome to get rid of the knot?

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Praying St. Patrick’s Breastplate

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Religious holidays tend to get so buried by superficialities that we forget their meaning. We have to fight for the meaning of Christmas. But there is a rich history and tradition behind almost every holiday, one which can breathe new life into our reach towards God.

Take March 17, or St. Patrick’s Day. It’s not about luck, beer, the color green, or mischievous small legendary para-humans.

You know the handful of pioneering saints who carried the name of Jesus on such vast scale that we sit envious in church hearing about them? St. Patrick was one of them. Enslaved for six years by Irish pirates, Patrick returned years later to Ireland as a missionary. Through him, God transmitted his gospel throughout that island nation, making Patrick one of the pivotal figures in the Christianity’s spread to Europe.

There is a prayer that’s attributed to this fifth-century saint. Though this prayer is often recited by those who follow the Catholic faith, there is little in it to which Christian need not adhere.

The second to last verse, in particular, is an expression of such profound union with God, proclaiming the speaker so utterly surrounded by Christ, that I am left speechless at its holiness:

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

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Why We Can’t Choose to Walk Away from Politics

Prolife

I know. You don’t want to hear about it anymore.

It fills the airwaves. It dominates every newspaper and evening broadcast you watch. It’s creeping around every corner in the form of conversations amongst your co-workers. Your response is usually a weird, contradictory blend of “What could I do?” and “Don’t get me started”, and you keep quiet because you’re not sure which of those aftertastes you’ll walk away from an argument with.

Presidential politics.

Ugh.

Especially this election cycle. What a buzzkill.

It makes you wish desperately for the arrival of mid-November, so we can be done with it all for four years. Well, three. Like Christmas, the season seems to start earlier each time.

We each have a vote. But being one vote amongst three hundred million doesn’t exactly imbue us with a feeling of real power. Add the fact that our actual influence in Washington has been slowly sapped, and it’s understandable to feel not just helpless, but mad. An emotion that has either dominated the minds of some and frozen others out entirely.

Am I the only one who thinks we need a reorientation? Like, yesterday?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-38)

Ah. Of course. You couldn’t ask for a better reorientation than the fact that God is our anchor. Nothing can separate us from his love – or from his hand.

But…now what? What do we do with that holy strength that has been made ours?

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Can You Handle the Answer to Your Prayer?

handleI knew this would happen.

After a two-month period bringing vital answers to prayer, I’m basking in the relief and renewed hope. You’d think I would be spurred on to a season of thanksgiving and even greater prayer.

But no…the reverse happens. Instead, I’m tempted to “take five” from prayer. Well, that was great, Lord. I’ll stop for a while now. After all, he’s good. He knows I’m grateful. Surely my “stockpile” of previous prayers will bounce around heaven and do some good for a while. Or something like that.

It’s really nothing more than Thanks God See You Next Crisis Syndrome, and I’m a case study. God help me.

Love of ease, spiritual indolence, religious slothfulness, all operate against this type of petitioning. Our praying, however, needs to be pressed and pursued with an energy that never tires, a persistence which will not be denied, and a courage which never fails.” – E.M. Bounds

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“It’s a Wonderful Life” and Why I’m Frustrated with Prayer

Do we live in George Bailey's alternate reality, or God's kingdom?It’s a Wonderful Life has power like few other films to restore my faith in mankind.

Or at least that’s what I was going to write.

I saw a screening of the film at a friend’s house and drove home in my usual condition: more full of thoughts than I’d like. My Facebook feed awaited me with news of yet another couple grieving over their newborn’s passing. A friend sharing the effects of a years-long depression. More development on the San Bernardino shootings, over which the unbelieving world (voiced by the New York Daily News) finally threw off the last vestiges of their polite silence and hollered “God isn’t fixing this!“.

A cold blast of reality, like the one George Bailey got when his angel announced he’d gotten his wish, and no longer existed.

Sometimes George’s alternate reality, its eeriness anticipating the Twilight Zone a decade in advance, feels more like ours than George’s real one.

Maybe that’s why I was tempted to paint It’s a Wonderful Life as a faith-in-mankind movie. It’s the safer portrait. It was the original intention of the director. It sticks to viewing the movie as a feel-good experience, instead of looking a chaotic world straight in the eye to make the audacious, incredible, ridiculous claim that God is the powerful one.

But perhaps I’m not supposed to be playing it safe.

Perhaps I – we – should be walking straight into the audacity and planting our flag.

Yes. God does respond to prayer. He does choose to operate that way. He does answer our requests.

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Three Quotes on Prayer

With many things on my prayer docket this week, it’s left me content to share three particular and immensely encouraging quotes from older saints of the faith, on the subject of prayer.prayer

Presented without comment (for I have much to learn myself):

 

Charles Spurgeon –

…it is the habit of faith, when she is praying, to use pleas. Mere prayer sayers, who do not pray at all, forget to argue with God; but those who would prevail bring forth their reasons and their strong arguments and they debate the question with the Lord. … Oh brethren, let us learn thus to plead the precepts, the promises, and whatever else may serve our turn; but let us always have something to plead. Do not reckon you have prayed unless you have pleaded, for pleading is the very marrow of prayer.

 

E.M. Bounds –

Importunate praying is the earnest, inward movement of the heart toward God. It is the throwing of the entire force of the spiritual man into the exercise of prayer. Isaiah lamented that no one stirred himself, to take hold of God. Much praying was done in Isaiah’s time, but it was too easy, indifferent and complacent. There were no mighty movements of souls toward God. There was no array of sanctified energies bent on reaching and grappling with God, to draw from him the treasures of his grace. Forceless prayers have no power to overcome difficulties, no power to win marked results, or to gain complete victories. 

 

J. Hudson Taylor –

The prayer power has never been tried to its full capacity…if we want to see might wonders of divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness, failure and disappointment, let us answer God’s standing challenge, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and might things which thou knowest not.

 

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. – Matthew 7:7

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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