The Problem With Both “He Will” And He “Won’t”

800px-Cloudy_sky_1_(Unsplash)I’ve had my share of unanswered prayers.

Let me rephrase. No prayer goes unanswered; there are answers we like, answers we don’t, and answers we’re still awaiting. It’s better to say, I’ve had my share of answers I’ve disliked.

Some I still dislike. We must carry some bitter answers for years before we glimpse the Romans 8:28 in them.

Fortunately, this didn’t drive me away from God, just turned me into a bookworm. I read much fine academia on why God doesn’t grant every prayer. I also absorbed my share of theological self-righteousness, because some of those writings are so steeped in nastiness towards spiritual error that their authors probably aren’t much closer to God than those they criticize. (As the man said in Ratatouille, negative criticism is fun to write.)

I emerged from that leg of my race with a solid theology of suffering and an expectation of nothing from God.

Especially when it comes to faith.

I know why God doesn’t grant every prayer, even if prayed in faith. It comes down to what he wants to do in a situation. He’s more qualified and better positioned to pick the best path for us. He is also running 7,399,999,999 other plans that have nothing to do with us (!).

But I can get too far into this.

If we’re bad at knowing what’s good, and if (to be honest) denial and disappointment have such spiritual value, why would he ever grant a prayer? Why bother asking for anything at all?

Veteran followers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve won prestigious awards from the International Overthinking Society, but this really is where my thoughts ended up. I’d approach every prayer with skepticism – without exception. I wasn’t making myself expect a “no”; it was just my gravitational pull.

To explicitly say “God never grants prayers” would have been ridiculous to my own ears. But, well, sometimes the lies we’re believing aren’t evident, showing up only at crunch time.

I knew something was off. But in my overly literal mind, surrender was the only honesty I knew.

So I felt stuck between two paradigms.

Between “he will, just have faith!” and “he won’t, grow up”.

Then I arrived at a revelation for which I can only credit the Holy Spirit.

Neither paradigm requires relationship with God.

You can go through your entire life “believing in faith” for any impermanent, worthless thing you desire, and never hear a word from God. Some do.

You can go through your life praying for very little, beating your desires down harshly, justifying it all with theology – and never hear a word from God. Some do.

But engaging him – seeking his will, listening for answers, accepting both possibilities, trusting that sometimes it glorifies God to fulfill a desire, sometimes to supply something better – is what requires relationship. 

So God makes that kind of prayer the most effective. It’s a brilliant setup. Otherwise we’d content ourselves with one of the two paradigms and walk away without relationship.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)

Not doubt…what?

Generously.”

Not doubt his character.

That’s the application of faith that can be trusted. No matter the answer, we can trust his character and must not doubt it.

 

 

A Teasing Sense of Humor and How to Crucify It

crucifyGrowing up and as a young man, I always had to be the guy in the room with the joke.

Always.

Whenever anyone said something, my malformed brain would immediately look for a way to turn it and tease the person a little.

Combined with not being very good at it, this resulted in years without a lot of friends. As I grew older, I got better at it. At the teasing part, that is, unfortunately, not the “just knock it off already” part that people were no doubt wishing I’d master. For many years into my adult life, it would often remain my reflex in a conversation.

And then…I would wonder why I wasn’t getting anywhere socially.

Clueless, I tell you.

Then, for some reason, one day I started asking myself, “What do my role models do to engender such trust with people?”

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Thinking It’s Up to You: Another Wave We Mustn’t Look At

christ_walking_on_the_waters2c_julius_sergius_von_kleverThe lesson of Matthew 14:22-33 should be rote for us by now. Peter sees Jesus walking on the water, gets out of the boat, and walks out to meet him – until he starts paying more attention to the waves instead of Jesus. That’s when he starts to sink.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, the lesson teaches us (echoed by Hebrews 12:1), and not on the wind and waves of your circumstances.

Great lesson.

Unfortunately, we’re all still rather bad at it.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s because we don’t realize all the many forms that “looking at the waves” can take.

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Do Even Harder Things

shovelThere’s a book called Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. I’ve heard it cited by a number of hopelessly inspired teenagers who have been drawn out of their comfort zones, I’m intrigued. But I haven’t gotten a chance to read it.

So perhaps it is redundantly that I ask –

Are we really doing hard things?

A young man from our youth group preached a sermon from Acts 10 last night. I hope I’m not simply regurgitating what he said (is that illegal?), for something fell together for me in my own words as I listened, and I’ve got to get it out.

It was not ten chapters into the era of the church, the era of salvation through Christ, that the gospel went from being “just for Jews” to open to all nations. You’d think this turn of events would have been obvious from “and Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth” (1:8). But to get his message across, God orchestrated an encounter between Peter and a Gentile – a centurion of the hated Italian Regiment, natch – and brought the Spirit upon him in full view of Jewish believers. After that, there could be no doubt that the gospel was for Jew and Gentile alike – anyone who would hear the Word and respond.

What’s crazy is that God had to send Peter three visions to get him into position.

Would Peter have gone with Cornelius’ messengers without the visions coming immediately beforehand?

That the visions were needed first – and evidence from his own life – implies that Peter was ready to take the Gospel to his own Jewish countrymen before the Gentiles.

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Pizza Lessons #2: You Never Know

pizza1One of the fun parts of my second job (pizza delivery) is that you never know where the good tips will come from.

Our dispatch system works on a rotating basis. The next driver up “clocks out” on the oldest run available once it’s ready, plus a second run (a “double”) if it’s in the same area and if it won’t be too long a wait for the second order’s items to be ready themselves.

Most of the time, we have no way of knowing how much a customer plans to tip when we clock out on that run. Even with the online credit card orders in which the customer has pre-loaded a tip when they first order, the dispatch system doesn’t show it, and digging deeper into our system to view the tip would be impractical given all the other stuff we’re scrambling to do. One could do it, but so far, the honor system has worked for us. Even when we recognize an address and know they tip poorly, we take the run for the sake of avoiding workplace drama.

In this way, pizza delivery is almost a form of morally acceptable gambling! It’s a lot of fun. You don’t know whether each “pull of the lever” will stiff you or bequeath a ten-dollar jackpot of a tip, but since you’re putting in work and earning a wage regardless, it’s hardly sinful. (I know – that’s because it’s technically not gambling at all. But you get the same slight rush.)

Nevertheless, occasionally we get a driver who tries to game the system.

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Godly is Sexy

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30

godlyA well-known verse. But would you be interested in a male paraphrasing, overheard from an old Air Force colleague of mine?

“For every sexy woman, there are five guys in her wake who got sick of her crap.”

Crude, perhaps. Highly generalized, certainly. And you have to wonder whether all five of those men were as crap-free as he made them sound. (You’ll notice I called the guy a colleague, not a buddy.)

But if you’re rolling your eyes at a male reading of Proverbs 31, you might be surprised to learn that the chapter was written to men. Women have grabbed it and run with it as a means of educating their youngers (praise God for it), but the audience of the entire book of Proverbs is actually men. Read the book sometime; notice all the invitations for sons to learn discernment, to avoid the adulteress and the dripping faucet, to live as a pillar of wisdom.

And those words are needed.

“Desiring a healthy and vibrant sex life in marriage is a good and even wise thing. But for the Christian it’s not ultimate. As a single Christian man, I desire a spiritually healthy marriage before a sexually healthy one, though I trust the former encourages the latter. Therefore, I’m willing to trust God and wait, not because I want to have the most euphoric wedding night with someone I’m perfectly sexually compatible with, but because I want a healthy, God-honoring marriage after the wedding night with the person to whom I’ve just committed my life.” – Hafeez Baoku

I love it when I stumble across an article that speaks to what I’m pondering. It’s a God thing. Got to be. To him be the glory.

We need to be thinking about the after. When real life and boredom assert themselves over a marriage, it needs to be about more than just tan lines and muscles and things that happen after 10pm, because there’s still a 7am to deal with. Get over their surface. Get under their surface; ask God to reveal who that person really is.

That’s going to require a revolution on our part. A renewing of our minds.

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The 3 Ways Jesus Sifts Our Desires

siftThis one might lose me a few followers.

Desires. Dreams. Prayers. Goals.

Whatever you want to call them, they are fire to Christians – powerful, vital, destructive when handled wrong. We must be careful with desires these days. There is such bad teaching out there about God and desires, so much energy mischanneled into pursuing your dreams without a thought as to God’s dreams, that we must handle the subject gingerly.

My testimony involves the sanctification of my desires. I found over the years that viewing God as annoyed, threatened, or dismissive of my desires did not bring me closer to him. Of course, nor did clinging to them ahead of his will and love. Neither view is flattering to God, nor entirely Biblical.

Jesus ran into a lot of deep desires in the course of his ministry. Healing, justice, provision, greatness, life. His responses to these pleadings contain surprises for everyone. He granted some, denied some, but most importantly there seemed to be a sifting. He didn’t always heal/feed/deliver immediately; he’d ask a question first, or deny a desire flat-out, in order to get at the heart of the person. Whatever the desire, Jesus was determined to sanctify it, to make it holy.

Interestingly, his denials seem to undergo three distinct tests: faith, paradox, or eternity.

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