Prayer is supposed to be a user-friendly activity. When done, I should know something good has happened. However, sometimes I find it difficult to feel positive. The issue is with me—not God.
I realize I can pray anytime…anywhere…about anything; but when I really want to focus, I have discovered I need a quiet time. A time in the day when the statistical chance for an interruption is reduced. For me, the best time is in the morning before anyone in my family wakes up.
I have also learned I need a comfortable place. A place I have designated for the purpose of praying. My favorite spot is on the couch in our game room.
Last, I need a designated amount of time. There is nothing wrong with praying on the move, I do it all the time; but for me to feel spiritually healthy I need some days within each week when I have a designated time to pray. I’ve learned the optimum amount of time for me is 30-45 minutes.
Even if I get my personalized-focused-prayer-time-checklist checked, I still encounter some problems that make my prayers seem…well…like a waste of time. Here are my 3 most common obstacles:
Part of the activity of prayer is to mentally stay focused and communicate with God. I can’t make Him speak to me, but surely I can be disciplined enough to speak to Him. These obstacles mess with me and I need a plan when I run into them.
While reading the Bible, I had a thought that turned into plan of action. Here are the verses I read:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.1
This was my thought: I will study this prayer and use it when my mind will not focus. In other words, when my mind is busy, wandering or blank; I will by default use this prayer and let it be the focus of my prayer time.
As I began to study this prayer, I learned the meaning of some key words:
– “love may abound” – I need God’s love in me to grow. I need more unconditional love for others.
– “knowledge” – Random love for others is not enough. I need to know how to love others the best way.
– “discern” – I need to know what is best to love in others. It is not a choice between good and bad, but between good and best.
– “pure” love – I need a sincere love for others with selfish motives filtered out.
– “blameless” love – I need a love that will not cause others to stumble.
So…when I’ve marked off my personalized-focused-prayer-time-checklist and my mind won’t cooperate, this is an example of what I discipline myself to pray:
Lord, I need Your unconditional love to grow inside of me. Who do you want me to love on Your behalf? [He generally brings someone to mind. I focus on them and continue to pray] Lord, how can I love them the best way? Show me what to do so that they might be attracted to You. [I let God guide my thoughts and give me creative ideas or subtle nudges…I continue to pray] What do you love about them Lord? Show me how to love them so that the best You put in them is developed. [Again, I listen and let Him guide my ideas between what is good and what is best] Teach me to love this person with no selfish motives. [It is here God points out what needs to change in me.] Please don’t allow my actions to cause them to stumble. [Here I am counting on God to let my love be received in a way that accomplishes His purposes].
If you are struggling to stay focused during prayer, I encourage you to try this. It works for me.
958 Word – Approx. Reading Time 3.5 Minutes
Life is not fair. It never has been. It is a challenge to stay positive when life is working against us. We can play by the rules, follow God, eat right, pray, exercise and treat others with respect; and still encounter problems that bring us to our knees. When it happens to me a voice deep within whines, “This is not fair.”
I’m learning a skill to get over the pity party I’m tempted to throw. I’m learning to lean into partnerships God has provided for these unfair events. Let me define what I mean by partnerships.
First, not all friends are partners. However, a true partner is always a friend. Second, partnerships exist for different reasons, but they don’t exist for me to dump my feelings of entitlement. And third, partners have different levels of involvement to support me through the God-given task that is rubbing me the wrong way.
A true partner shares in the risks of life. Each risk comes with a struggle and the possibility of two outcomes: failure and success. Partners stick around in the struggle and stay no matter the outcome. They do not just share the same values and believe the same doctrines. It is much deeper than that. They bleed, laugh, cry, pray and rejoice with me to overcome darkness and make the world a better place. Friends do not always do this, but partners do.
The Bible uses a word that colors in and fills up the relationship I call partner. The word is koinōnia and one translation of this word is partnership. The Apostle Paul, filled with emotion, used this word to describe his relationship with a group of people:
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…1
When Paul penned these words, life had not been treating him fairly (in fact, I bet there are some who would make the argument God had not treated him fairly). He was in prison, charged with acts of terrorism against the emperor of Rome. His crime was preaching, “Jesus is Lord.”
He could have written words fueled by self-pity promoting himself as a victim. He could have shared bitter words calling for justice. He could have whined about life not being fair, but he didn’t. Instead, he thought of the partners God had given him. He recalled the names and faces of those who risked following Christ with him. He remembered their shared experiences of being mistreated when they partnered with him to live for Christ.2 Detained and confined, his mind went to the partners God had placed in his life. Instead of feeling alone, mistreated and defeated, he experienced joy and prayed for them.
Almost three years ago, Cherry and I adopted two brothers. We chose them. We loved them. We brought them home. One of them has become part of the family; the other has not (at least not yet). I can’t tell you how many times my heart has cried, “This is not fair.” It’s not fair that we chose him, but he has not chosen us. It’s not fair that we love him, but he does not love us. It’s not fair that we care for him and he cares not for us. His rejection is not fair.
It’s easy to think…Poor me. Look at how I’m being mistreated…and let my victim mentality become the filter for my mood. It is just as easy to rant…“God, why are You letting this happen?” Here my inner entitlement issues reveal that I believe I should be exempt from challenges because I did a good thing. Both ways of thinking are wrong and do nothing but rob me of joy.
However, when I focus on the partners God has provided for this season of life, the individuals who are standing by me and with me, my inner victim voice and my claims to a more fair life are silenced. Another voice begins to rise. It is the voice of joy. It reminds me God has called me to do something and I am not alone. Joy brings to my mind the names and faces of those praying and helping. I am reminded that my feelings of self-pity are useless to accomplish God’s plan for my son.
Joy reminds me that God is not finished. The relationship (the one between me and my son) is not complete. God started something and He is not done. It will require many people to accomplish this God-given task, but have no doubts…He is on it. How do I know this? Look at the end of Paul’s sentence:
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.3
When the task is completed these partners who surround me will rejoice with me and move on to other God ordained projects. The partners are proof that God is actively involved in what I am calling unfair; and that is cause for joy. I’m learning this as I walk through the complexities of adoption. Signing the papers was easy. Living out what was signed is requiring partners and God is faithfully providing.
He is doing the same for you. I’m not special. Stop listening to your victim voice. Stop feeling entitled to a better life. Look for the partners He has provided. Experience joy and enjoy a better mood.
1- Philippians 1:4-5, 2- Acts 16:11-40, 3- Philippians 1:4-6
944 words / Approx. Reading Time 3.5 minutes
Those two words don’t mean much if you’re not hungry. However, if you are hungry, they are AWESOME!
Our cities and towns have homeless shelters, food banks and soup kitchens. Hundreds of organizations peppered across America are dedicated to getting good food to those who are less fortunate, but in 1st Century Palestine, it was a novel idea.
Israel was a subjugated people under Roman rule. Rome was the wealthiest empire of its time, but social safety nets were not a priority. It was a dog-eat-dog world where the strong not only survived but were also given permission to take advantage of the poor and step on the weak.
It is because of this reality that Jesus’ kindness was such a big deal. He was kind and powerful. He healed the sick, calmed storms, gave sight to the blind and stood up to leaders who abused their power. He was a rock star and rightly so. His kindness made him a hero to the masses and a villain to the authorities.
Jesus’ kindness toward the less fortunate, the vulnerable and the over looked is largely misunderstood. Mormons, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians all agree that Jesus was kind. We all like his acts of kindness, but few understand why he was kind. Don’t get too perplexed by this. The critics that argued with Jesus, the crowds that followed him and even the disciples who lived with him all struggled with this same issue. The day Jesus fed over 5,000 people is a case in point.
To provide a little context for this day, you need to know Jesus was trying to spend some quality time with his closest friends. He even suggested they get away to an isolated place, away from the crowds, so they could get some rest.1
The crowds were too savvy for this move. Jesus was their local hero and they were not going to allow him to just walk away. They pursued him and the disciples into a deserted place. The masses of people were so caught up in not losing sight of Jesus that they failed to notice there was no food.
The disciples were perturbed by the mob. Yet, when Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion. Kindness welled up in his heart. He welcomed them and taught them…all day! Finally, someone noticed it was getting late. There were families with children. The crowd needed to go home.2
Jesus knew they could not make the journey without food. He asked the disciples to feed them, but they did not have the resources. The best they could come up with was some fish and bread a boy had brought with him.3
If you are familiar with this miracle, you know what happened next. Jesus took the boy’s Happy Meal, prayed over it and turned it into a feast that fed over 5,000 people. Everyone was astonished. Not only had Jesus done an amazing miracle, but he had also filled everyone’s belly…at not cost (except for the boy who lost his Happy Meal).
They loved Jesus before he did this, but now they had plans for him. Jesus’ act of kindness fueled a political hope. At first the crowd was satisfied being a part of the road crew, now they wanted to make him their king.
Jesus did manage to pull away from the crowd, but the damage had been done. They would not forget his ability to provide free food and the thought of him being their political messiah had taken root. After all, who would object to a President, Prime Minister or dictator if he could feed everyone at no cost?
The next day the crowd began to search for Jesus. When they found him, Jesus quickly exposed their spiritual ignorance. Notice his words:
“I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.”4
The people had totally misunderstood the miraculous act of kindness. Jesus wasn’t being kind just for the sake of being kind. He was trying to show them he was the way to eternal life. They could not see the spiritual impact of the meal because they were overwhelmed with idea of free food for life. They wanted the comfort Jesus could provide to make life easier and were energized by the hope of being set free from Roman rule, but missed the display of power that proved Jesus could give eternal life.
The same thing happens today. We all want Jesus’ kindness to take some of the discomfort out of life, but Jesus isn’t kind so that we can be comfortable. Jesus is kind because he wants us to see his power. If we can see his power, then we can believe in him and have eternal life.
The Bible asks this question: Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?5
God’s kind interruptions are for a reason and it is far more important than personal comfort. His kindness is intended to show us the ugliness of our sins and attract us to the love of God. If we do not understand this, we become like the crowd that hunted Jesus down. They fell in love with his kindness—not him.
Someone recently asked my wife, “Why do bad things happen?” She responded, “Have you ever wondered why good things happen?”
1-Mark 6:31, 2-Mark 6:34-35, 3-Mark 6:37 & John 6:9, 4-John 6:26-27, 5-Romans 2:4
Sheep are not dumb. Forget the urban myths. They may lack swagger but they more than make up for it in social skills, emotional intelligence and loyalty.
Keith Kendrick is a professor at the University of Electronic Science and Technology in China. He studies sheep. He discovered sheep have impressive memory skills. They can recognize and remember at least 50 individual faces for more than 2 years.1
He also found out sheep are emotionally intelligent. Kendrick says, “The way a sheep’s brain is organized suggests they have an emotional response to what they see in the world.”2 In other words, sheep experience powerful emotions. They have facial expressions that match their emotions and sheep prefer to smile instead of frown. There is no doubt this furry animal experiences happiness, just watch this video of Winter the Jumping Lamb.
Sheep are also loyal. They are one of the few animals in the world that develops friendships and practices monogamy. That’s right…sheep don’t mess around on their partners. According to a 2009 study, sheep develop relationships because they feel fear, anger, despair, boredom and happiness.3 They need relationships to cope with baaahhhhd feelings, but they also share positive emotions with each other.
A sense of belonging is important to sheep. Sheep will problem solve and find their way out of a maze if they can hear their friends bleating at the exit.4 Remove their friends and the sheep becomes despondent and bored.
As impressive as this information may be, sheep do have their faults. First, they are destructive. Herds of sheep can decimate a pasture.5 If left to follow their own desires, sheep will eat vegetation down to the nub, destroying plants’ ability to grow back. They do not possess foresight. They give no consideration to how their consumption of resources impacts other animals. Worms, birds, cows, horses and other parts of the eco system all suffer because of the selfishness of sheep. Without a shepherd to move them on, sheep will use up all the resources and every other animal suffers.
Another fault of sheep comes from one of their strengths. If sheep are left without a shepherd, they will follow one another. They follow each other because of their desire to belong. The problem is that sheep are directionless. They don’t know where they should go.
A sheep tragedy happened in Turkey in 2005. Turkish shepherds temporarily stopped leading their sheep. In horror they watched as hundreds of their sheep followed each other over a cliff. A Turkish newspaper reported,
“First one sheep went over…only to be followed by the whole flock. More than 400 sheep died in the 15 meter fall…the bodies cushioning the fall of the 1,100 others who followed.”6
Sheep have one last weakness. They are defenseless. Most animals have at least one of the two major defense techniques: speed to run away or strength to fight back. Sheep have neither. They are slow and do not possess an overwhelming strength to kick or bite. Again, this is another reason why sheep need a shepherd.
Why all this sheep information? In the Gospels, Jesus refers to people as being like sheep. It happened one day when Jesus was trying to get away from the masses to spend some quality time with his disciples. The crowd would have no part of it. They followed Jesus like the paparazzi into a deserted place. The disciples were miffed, but when Jesus saw the people, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”7
If sheep are dumb, senseless animals then Jesus does not have a high opinion of us. Fortunately this is not the case. We might not like the comparison, but if we look at the strengths and weaknesses of sheep it easier to understand what Jesus meant.
Humans thrive off of relationships. We love to belong…to feel like we are sharing life with others who value us. We go to great lengths to laugh together and we rally around each other when tragedy strikes. We feel life. We don’t just live life.
At the same time we are directionless. We are fickle with our priorities. Just start asking people, “What is the most important thing in your life?” You will discover there are as many different answers as there are noses. Plus, the answer changes with context. Americans have consistently said economic security is the most important thing, but I’ve been in Kenyan villages where the answer is clean water.
Honestly, the question is above our pay grade because we don’t possess the foresight to know. We, like sheep, can only see what is in front of us. Our selfishness keeps us from pulling back to see the whole picture.
We are even defenseless. We have contingency plans, social safety nets, insurance policies, police departments, the 2nd Amendment and the United States Army; but these things really only provide a perception of safety. Evil always finds a way to break through our defenses.
We are the crowd that looks like sheep without a shepherd. The disciples were bothered by the neediness of the people. Jesus was filled with compassion. He saw the people…us…and said, “They need a shepherd.”
Because of his compassion, Jesus interrupted the crowd with one of the greatest acts of kindness ever recorded. We’ll look at more closely…next time.
God is not ticked off. He doesn’t rant to angels because of people’s sins. He is also not scorned. He is not silently scheming to take revenge on people because they chose to love themselves more than they love Him. He is not apathetic. He still cares as much about us today as He did when He put Adam and Eve in the Garden.
Sure, we might think God feels this way about us. After all, humanity has made some awful choices that prove our selfishness has no limits. But our selfishness does not hurt him; it only hurt us. As a result, our view of Him, and how he feels about us, has been tainted. We have become suspicious of Him when in reality He should be leery of us.
In 2015 my family moved into a new neighborhood. We bought a house at the end of a cul-de-sac that butts up to a horse pen. Six beautiful rescued horses live on the other side of the white fence that borders our property.
The previous owners of these horses lost interest in them when they could no longer perform at a high level. Each horse used to be fast at the racetrack or a high stepping show animal. Their value was based on their ability to win, and when they no longer had a shot at being the best, they were neglected.
My neighbor rescued them. She cares for them and uses the magnificent creatures to teach people how to ride. They are beautiful animals and I enjoy seeing them each day as come and go from home.
My neighbor told me I could feed them treats. They like carrots and apples, but their favorite are peppermints. On several occasions I have loaded my pockets with mints, stood at the fence and called out to the horses. I want to run my hand down the side of their face, tell them how beautiful and strong they are, and give them a treat. I want them to know they are valued because they exist. But truthfully, I haven’t had much success.
I go to the fence and call out to them. I know they hear me because they look at me, but they will not come to me. I whistle. I hold out the treat hoping it will entice them over, but they just stand there—looking at me—chewing on hay.
I don’t know why they don’t come. At first I thought it was because I didn’t know their names. So I learned their names. It made no difference. Sometimes I feel they look at me think, “How do you know my name?” But they still will not come to me.
Maybe they don’t come because they don’t know me. Maybe it’s because I remind them of someone who hurt them. Maybe it’s because they just don’t trust my intentions. Who knows? All I know is that if they would meet me at the fence, I would be kind to them. I would give them something they like.
One day, while trying to be kind to the horses, I had a thought, “I wonder if this is how God feels when He calls out to people.”
God is in the business of interrupting people. An interruption stops us in the midst of feeling, thinking, saying or doing something. It breaks our normal routine and gives us an option to do something different. As I’ve shared in previous blogs, one way God interrupts us is by hiding in the boundaries He has placed in our lives, but that is not the only way He interrupts our world. At times, He calls to us and gives us the choice to come to Him.
We can be like the horses. We hear Him calling. We see where He is, but we are not going to move. Maybe we don’t understand His interruption. Maybe we don’t trust His intentions. So, we stand there settling to eat hay when we could have something sweet. We prefer to stand-alone when we could have Someone gently touch us and speak kind words to us.
I think the reason the horses will not come to me is because they are not sure I will be kind to them. They are either afraid or don’t trust me. Maybe it’s both. Funny, but I think that is the problem we have when God calls out to us. Will He be kind to me? Can I really trust Him?
I am a fair weather horse caller. If it’s cold outside or raining, I don’t call for the horses. God is not like that. He lovingly and patiently interrupts us—rain or shine. Why does He do that? Because He is kind and He desires to show His kindness to us.
The Bible says, “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”1
His kindness interrupts and gives us another option. Let’s look at why God interrupts us with kindness…next time.
No one likes being told they can’t do something. The 2-year-old who hears “No!” feels the same as a teenager who is given a curfew or an adult who is harnessed by a boss. We pride ourselves with the ability to do what we want and it frustrates us when we reach the end of our rope. When it happens, we have reached a boundary. A boundary is the place that marks the spot where we are forced to stop.
The Bible tells us God created boundaries for each person. He did not create them to limit us. He created them so we could find Him. He is located in the boundaries. They are one of His most effective interruptions.
Boundaries are frustrating because they stop us in our tracks. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are temporary, and unfortunately, others are permanent. There are health boundaries, financial boundaries, emotional boundaries, age boundaries, educational boundaries, career boundaries and even spiritual boundaries. We can grow and move in all of these areas, but they each have their limits.
I have a dear friend who is talented, wise and productive. She is a contributor to society. Her family, the church she attends and her co-workers all benefit from her presence. She was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Doctors say she has a year. She has bumped into a boundary.
My mom recently broke her foot. She is healthy and active. She was doing laundry. She just stepped the wrong way and pop—her foot broke. She found a boundary.
I know a man who feels stuck in his career. He has held the same title at his company for 12 years. He has done continuing education. He has received annual high performance ratings. Yet, he has been passed over 5 times for a promotion. He has run into a boundary.
I know a student athlete who desperately wants to be a starter on his team. He works out. He runs. He has skills, but there is always someone who seems to be stronger, faster and a little more skilled. He is rubbing up against a boundary.
You know you have found a boundary when what you want is just beyond your reach; and no matter what you do, you can’t change it. God uses boundaries to interrupt our lives. He is not being cruel. God did this so that you would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, because he is not far from any one of us.1
When we reach a boundary, it feels like God is nowhere near. We feel pain, sorrow, frustration, disappointment and fear. Yet, it is in the boundaries God has lovingly hidden Himself. If we look for Him we will find Him and the grace of God will become practical.
God can interrupt us before we hit a boundary (there will be more about that in some upcoming blogs), but sometimes we need to be reminded of our limits. Without boundaries, we would build our lives and leave God out.
Gary was one of four sons. His first religious memories are of his mother taking him to church as a child. His parents argued often and his dad did not see any value in turning to God for help. To have one less thing to fight about Gary’s mom gave up attending church. Gary stopped too.
As a teen, Gary’s home life was tense. He felt disconnected from his parents and lacked moral guidance. For thrills he started stealing bikes and selling them. This activity laid the foundation for more poor decisions. He eventually started breaking into homes.
After graduating from high school, he realized he could make good money selling drugs and fencing stolen property. After some trouble with the law, he determined his life needed a new direction so he joined the National Guard and became mechanic. He says of himself at that time, “I looked good, but I was living on thin ice.”
After his time in the guard ended, he found a job at the water department with the City of Akron. In spite of a stable job, He took up his old habits selling drugs and stolen property. His life was in a downward spiral. He was at the end of his rope. It is here that God sent an interruption named Steve. Steve worked in the same department with Gary.
At the end of a workday Steve would catch Gary and walk with him to his car. He would share Scripture and talk of his relationship with Jesus. His persistence and patience was irritating. Finally, Gary told Steve, “I have no need for your Jesus.” Steve backed off, but Gary said, “I started missing those conversations.”
Two weeks later, Gary was involved in a severe car crash. When his truck finally stopped moving and the noise of wreckage went silent, he heard Someone say, “Gary, have you had enough.” It is here that Gary found God in his boundary.
He walked away from the crash, but he walked back to Steve. All he could think about were the Scriptures Steve had shared with him. He was ready to listen and learn. The next day Gary received God’s grace and became a follower of Christ.
Eighteen months later, Gary married, started a family and became the father of three children. Looking back on his life Gary says, “God has blessed me. My life hasn’t always been easy, but God has been faithful. I’ve learned to look for God when I hit a boundary.”
Before you try to break through your next boundary, pause and look for God. His presence and grace are close at hand.
Hide and Seek…it is one of the oldest games in history. Historians have evidence of children playing the game in the 2nd Century, but it is believed it was played earlier. Not only is it an old game, it is also a worldwide game.1 Children in Asia, Australia and Africa play this game as well as the kids in Russia, Brazil and Ohio. Everyone understands the concept of the game. One person closes his or her eyes and counts while everyone else hides. The purpose of the game is for the person who is “it” to find those hiding. The goal of those hiding—don’t be found.
If you read the Bible it might be easy to get the idea that God is playing a cosmic Hide-and-Seek game with us. Notice the word “seek” in these verses.
Seeking the Lord is a common theme in Scripture. “Seek the Lord” or “seek him” are mentioned 33 times. Even Jesus got in on the whole “seeking” theme when he said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…”.5 It would be easy to think God created us and then said, “Come find me!” Thirty-three times we are told to seek God, but it is not until the 32nd time we discover God is not playing Hide-and-Seek.
The 32nd time happens in Acts when Paul was speaking in Athens. The people there had never heard of the relational God Paul talked about. To them God was a mystery, a Being they were constantly seeking. They had fully bought into the idea that to find God one must look for him like a child looks for her friends hiding behind a tree or under the bed, but Paul informed them, and us, that God is not playing Hide-and-Seek. Notice Paul’s words:
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.6
When a child is muffling her giggles hiding behind the curtain, she is playing the game at its best, but a hiding God seems cruel. Paul clarifies; God is not hiding so He can’t be found. He is hiding so we can find Him. The two most common ways people seek God Paul debunks.
1) People build structures for God and then go there to find Him. The Creator cannot be contained in a building, monument or sanctuary. We can’t build something to find God.
2) People make sacrifices to find God. The Creator is not disabled and in need of our services. He doesn’t need anything we have to offer. Therefore, we can’t find God by being pious, generous or volunteering.
Finally, Paul gets to the point. God created all the different ethnic groups that make up the nations. He determined when people would live, where they would live and what boundaries they would have to rub up against. All of this is still in play today.
We were created by God to live in this time and in the places we find ourselves. We too have boundaries. The key to seeking God is seeing the boundaries as God’s interruptions. They are His reminders that He is relevant and close.
Do you remember Easter Egg Hunts? In my family the adults would hide colorful eggs all over the yard for the children to find. They thoughtfully and purposefully “hid” them so the kids could find them. Eggs would be hidden in easy and challenging places, but the goal was for the eggs to be found not lost forever. No one has fun when Easter Eggs can’t be found.
God, like an adult hiding and Easter Egg, has carefully hidden Himself in the boundaries of your life. Boundaries look like limitations, feel like frustrations and are untimely interruptions, but it is also where God hides Himself for you. Remember what Paul said, “He [God] marked out their [your] appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands [your life]. God did this so that they [you] would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”
God is not hiding from you. He is hiding for you. He does not play Hide-and-Seek. Instead, he has planned an elaborate Easter Egg Hunt. Whenever you bump into a boundary, you just rubbed up against God. He is hiding there for you. Seek Him there. Reach out for Him there. He is close and can be found.
Let me give you some examples…next time.
Maybe God is out of touch with what is going on in the world? It is a popular thought. People are being bombarded with one crisis after another. The tragedies unfold in all shapes and sizes from human inflicted pain to natural disasters. It is easy to wonder if God is paying attention. Sixty-three percent of Americans still believe in God, but a growing number of individuals are joining Stephen Hawkins’ conclusion: “There is no God.”1
For most people the role of God in their life is not as black and white as “I believe in God” and “There is no God.” Most think He exists, but they struggle with understanding His ability to relate to them. They believe He knows more, sees more and cares more than the average human. They think He wants to help, but the world has become too complex…too far-gone…too advanced. He is like an endeared politician, who at one time was a political juggernaut, but now appears to have lost a step.
In 2008, during the prime of his political career, Martin Wisckol of the Orange County Register interviewed Senator John McCain. In an odd exchange of questions Senator McCain was asked, “When was the last time you pumped your own gas and how much did it cost?” The question obviously caught the senator off guard. Here was his response:
“Oh, I don’t remember. Now there’s Secret Service protection. But I’ve done it for many, many years. I don’t recall and frankly, I don’t see how it matters. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of town hall meetings, many as short a time ago as yesterday. I communicate with the people and they communicate with me very effectively.”2
I am not picking on or disrespecting the senator. I consider him an American hero who has dedicated his life to civil service, but his answer clearly showed just how out of touch he was with the common American in 2008. At that time he was an above-average political leader (a six-term U.S. Senator and Representative from Arizona and presidential candidate), an honored war hero and a political maverick. He had earned the reputation of challenging the status quo in American politics, yet he could not remember the last time he pumped his own gas. Instead, he rattled the Secret Service did that for him. How nice. Caught off guard by the question, he inadvertently revealed just how privileged his life was, and apparently had been for a long time. He flippantly excused the menial task of pumping and paying for gas as irrelevant to his ability to know and connect with the average American.
In spite of his popularity and achievements, he exposed just how far removed he was from the people he was trying to help. This is the convoluted view many people have about God. They respect Him and remember His great reputation, but doubt He really understands where they live?
In spite of our 4G, 4k, Alexa world, spiritually we have not advanced much past the 1st Century citizen of Athens, Greece. They too were confused about God. Peering into their social, political and philosophical world we discover their city contained a forest of idols; statues that represented the different gods accepted by their society. They, like us, valued being religiously inclusive. No one had the right to tell someone else their god didn’t exist or the morals their god represented were wrong. There were many truths—not one. Does that sound familiar? The only difference between them and us; we don’t make statues. Our idol is our right to believe whatever we want.
In their efforts to leave no one out, they even erected a statue to “The Unknown God.”3 They did not want to overlook a deity or offend its followers. They were open to new ideas and truth could not be absolute. This created another issue that closely relates to our current times. They were addicted to information.
They did not have Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Fox News, CNN and NPR did not exist. Instead, they had the Areopagus. Imagine a gathering of intellectual elites who had the authority to form public opinion. That was the Areopagus. We are told people gathered there to spend “their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.”4 Sounds like surfing the Internet or watching national news. They were addicted to hearing something new and then adding their 2 cents. Even if the process was futile, they did not stop. They could not stop, because they were so unsatisfied and frustrated with what they already knew. Again, sounds like us.
It was in this environment that God sent an interruption. His name was Paul. We are told Paul walked among their statues and started talking to people about Jesus. He spiked their curiosity because they had never heard of this God. They wanted to hear more so they scheduled him to speak at the Areopagus. Some were sincere in their quest to understand Paul’s God. Others were just looking for a good debate. Either way, God interrupted their world.
The reason this episode recorded in Acts is so important is because God reveals His relevancy. He proves He knows what it is like to stand at the pump, but reveals the pump could be the interruption we need to find God. Through Paul, God reminded everyone He is intricately involved in every human’s life. We will dig into it in the next time.
920 Words – Approximate Reading Time 4 minutes
I think God likes interrupting us. Interruptions are a part of life so it should not surprise us that God would use them to get our attention. Interruptions happen at a frantic pace. Because of this, we know what they are but we may have forgotten what they actually do. Interruptions stop us in the midst of feeling, thinking, saying or doing something. They break our normal routine and create a reaction either by force or coincidence.
An interruption can infuriate us or recalibrate our thinking. It all depends on how we interpret the interruption. A well-timed and well-received interruption can stop us from making a mistake, rescue us from faulty ideas, and spare us from embarrassment. It can even set us on a new course with a new perspective. But, if we are in a hurry…or cocky…or totally self-centered…an interruption can set us off. It can feel like an emotional traffic jam at the worst possible time.
The way we handle an interruption can be an indicator to the spiritual well-being of our heart, and our heart is the most important piece of equipment when it comes to recognizing God’s voice. If our heart is alive to God and practicing trust, a divine interruption can be a lifesaver. If our heart is cold toward God and skeptical of His intervention, then the same interruption becomes a nuisance. There are many examples of this in the Bible.
Early in his ministry before becoming a national celebrity, Jesus was a traveling teacher. The bible tells us he went from one town to another speaking in synagogues all through Galilee.1 On the Sabbath he would arrive at the local gathering. It was the custom to let a traveling teacher speak, but by our standards he was an interruption. No one had invited him. His presence stopped them in the midst of what they were going to say or do and they would allow him to speak.
These synagogue interruptions had mixed reviews. When he taught at Capernaum, the people were pleasantly shocked by his teaching.2 The group received the interruption as a blessing and were introduced to the One who came to save them. God got their attention and they gained a new perspective.
When Jesus spoke in Nazareth, his hometown, the mood got ugly quickly.3 Again, he showed up unannounced interrupting their Sabbath routine. We are told his teaching at first amazed the people, but the excitement quickly faded. He claimed to be their Messiah and that was just too much. After all, they had seen him running through their neighborhoods as a boy. They hauled Jesus out-of-town intent on killing him. His words offended them because of their pride. They simply were not receptive to God’s interruption.
Think about it: Jesus interrupted both synagogues, but we find two very different reactions. The people at Capernaum welcomed the interruption and experienced joy. The people at Nazareth were offended by the interruption and tried to kill Jesus.
Here’s another example: Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection and return to heaven, the disciples were overcome with the Holy Spirit. We are told they left the upper room they were huddled in and went to the streets of Jerusalem interrupting the religious celebration called Pentecost. Language groups from all over the world where in Jerusalem that day. Due to the power of God’s Spirit in them, the disciples were able to give a powerful explanation of the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ in each person’s native tongue. These Galilean men were speaking languages they had never learned. What an amazing interruption that must have been?
Yet, there was a mixed response. Three thousand people were amazed and believed in Christ. Others saw and heard the same interruption and claimed the disciples were drunk.4
Not all of God’s interruptions involve large crowds. Once, Paul and one of his missionary partners were put in chains and placed in a maximum-security cell. At midnight God sent an earthquake. Their chains fell off and every cell door to the prison was opened. The jailer woke to see the cell doors open and his first thought was to kill himself. Before he could impale himself with a sword, Paul interrupted him. This interruption spared the jailer’s life and influenced him and his family to become followers of Christ.5
I could share more (and I will), but here is the point: God uses situations and people in our world as an interruption to get our attention. Remember, an interruption is anything that stops us in the midst of feeling, thinking, saying or doing something. God can use a spat with your spouse as an interruption. He can use a disappointment, a failure and even a disaster in an attempt to get our attention. Not all interruptions are negative. He can use the comments of a friend, the kindness of a stranger or the birth of child to interrupt our world in hopes that we might recognize Him.
Is it possible for us to recognize His interruptions when they happen? I think it is, but it all begins with the condition of our hearts. If our hearts are unconvinced about God speaking, then recognizing His interruptions will be a challenge. If our hearts are struggling to trust God, then seeing an interruption as God’s intervention is almost impossible.
I bet God has been interrupting you. If you haven’t recognized it, it is because something is cattywampus in your heart. Let’s go there…next time.
How does God get our attention? We live in a world flooded with information. How do we know when an event, a conversation, a news story or a Facebook thread is more than just an interesting fact or tidbit of information? How do we know when God is trying to get us to notice Him? I believe God uses interruptions to get our attention, but how do we know when something is a divine interruption or just normal noise?
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama right in the middle of what is known as the Bible Belt. In case you don’t know, the Bible Belt runs from Texas to Georgia and roughly from Florida to Virginia. This region of the United States was given this strange title in the 1920’s because Christian church attendance in these states was higher than the national average. The statistic is still true and as a result conservative evangelical Protestantism plays a strong role in the South in both culture and politics. Let me give an example. In 1987 the social activity of horse racing was completely acceptable in New York and California, but in Alabama it was frowned upon, and it was creating cultural clash in Birmingham.
I was seventeen years old and Birmingham had just opened its first and only horse track. Gambling was the hot topic in social and religious circles. Churches from all over the city began sending its members to the racetrack…not to gamble, but to evangelize. The poor souls at the racetrack—either employed there or just gambling—needed to be saved. The churches of Birmingham saw it as mission field. My church was no different. I signed up to go “witness” to people at the racetrack. For some reason I thought I was on high moral ground and I needed to do my part to scourge the city of this evil. I didn’t go with love. I went with contempt.
I prepared myself by studying a curriculum called CWT: Christian Witness Training (don’t waste your time Googling it…no one uses this or remembers it). The reason I remember CWT is because it encouraged me to start a conversation about God by asking this question: “If God were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?”
The material provided different responses someone might give to answer the question and armed me with Biblical comebacks. The purpose of this: To encourage someone to think about a relationship with Christ, and hopefully influence them to accept Jesus as their personal savior. I went to the racetrack ready to talk to someone about God, but little did I know God would interrupt me.
When I arrived at the track, I was given permission to go to the stables. I spoke with a jockey. It was the only conversation I had and I’ve never forgotten it.
He was a small man, at least six inches shorter than me, and really thin. He was rugged. His face looked experienced and tired, but he was friendly. I don’t know if he knew why I was there, but he stopped tending his horse and began to speak with me. I went through the pleasantries of introducing myself and getting his name (although I don’t remember it). Finally, I asked him the question I had come prepared to ask. Let me recall for you word for word what I remember.
Me: If God were to ask you “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say?Jockey: If God were to speak to me, I’d shit in my pants.
Needless to say, CWT had not considered this a possible response to the question.
I was unprepared for his comment, but I noticed something. He looked sincere. I’ll never forget it. He wasn’t trying to shock me. He wasn’t trying to trip me up. He wasn’t mocking me. He was sincere. And because honesty was in his eyes something moved in me, I began to care about him. BOOM! God interrupted me.
I internally cried, “God, help!” I then departed from the CWT script and said the next thing that came to my mind. “Why would you do that if God spoke to you?” I then got an education on how some people view God.
I learned three things as I talked with him:
1) He felt his life was tiny and unimportant. In the grand scheme of the universe, why would God even want to speak to him? He did believe in God, but he believed God had more important things to do.
2) He felt his life was far from God…so different from God’s expectations…that even if God did speak to him would it be relevant? He believed God was out of touch with his life. What could God say to a jockey that would remotely help him?
3) He felt God personally speaking to him would not be pleasant. In fact, the thought terrified him. Hence, his bowel moving comments. He was not being crass or irreverent. He was being honest. If God were going to speak to him, it certainly must not be good and it would absolutely be terrible.
As we talked, God interrupted this man’s life. He was just tending his horse, like he had done hundreds of times before, but this time God sent a humbled, foolish 17-year-old to question his thoughts about God. Using the same moment and conversation, God interrupted both of us for different reasons.
I realize what I’m calling an interruption others might call fate or chance, but God does not work that way. He is intentional with his interruptions. He says, “I know the plans I have for you.”1 God is the Master Interrupter, but how do we know when He is interrupting us? That’s the next blog.
We are all broken, therefore, it is hard to hear God’s voice sometimes. There are two kinds of broken. If we can determine which type of broken we are, we can better diagnose our situation.
My family follows college football (Roll Tide!). While living in Sacramento, we returned home from a Christmas vacation spent with family in Alabama. The Crimson Tide was playing in a New Year’s Day bowl game and we intentionally came home on New Year’s Eve Day so we could watch the game the next day. I vividly remember getting home, bringing in luggage and finally settling down in front of the TV. I pressed the power button and an Error page popped up on my screen. It said something like “Error ####: No signal.” At the time we were using a satellite dish provider.
Try to imagine the angst this moment created. We had just flown over 2000 miles on a holiday so we could be home TO WATCH THE GAME! On top of that, what were the chances a repairman would be available ON NEW YEAR’S EVE DAY? All I wanted to do for the next 48 hours was binge on college football and end it by watching my favorite team, but all I was receiving was an error message.
Hearing God’s voice can be like this. All we want is a little guidance…a little hope…some encouragement…some reassurance that we are not monumentally messing up our lives. At times it would be nice to hear from Him and know He is there.
Like coming home and grabbing the remote, we do what we know to do to receive a signal from far away. We might fold our hands, bow our head or close our eyes before we start talking. We might recall a prayer we learned as a child or got off a bumper sticker. Those who call themselves Christians might recite the Lord’s Prayer or open their Bible searching for words that will satisfy as God’s voice. They may even pull out the big guns and close their prayer by saying, “In Jesus’ name I pray.” But for many, both the novice and the expert, what they feel in that moment is what I saw on my TV screen: “Error ####: No signal.”
To my surprise, I did get a satellite repairman to my house that day. When he arrived, I hustled him into my living room so he could see the error message. As he began his diagnoses I learned something; satellite dishes have two kinds of broken.
The first kind of broken is an equipment issue. The satellite dish receives an encrypted signal from an orbiting satellite. The signal moves through a cable to the box near the TV called a receiver. The receiver decodes the signal and sends it through another cable that is connected to the back of the TV. The TV then displays the signal allowing us to see images and hear sounds that are being transmitted from space. If the satellite dish, the receiver, or any of the cables and their connection points has failed, then the TV receives an error message. Finding and replacing the failed equipment is the only way to repair this kind of broken.
The second kind of broken creates the same error message, but it has nothing to do with faulty equipment. It has to do with the environment. The error message could be the result of a misaligned satellite dish, bad weather or an object blocking the reception of the signal. The repairman explained there might be nothing wrong with my equipment. A tree limb could be blocking the field of reception. Kids throwing a Frisbee could have hit my satellite dish and misaligned it. The weather was fine that day, but if it had been storming I would have gotten the same error message.
When all we feel is an error message from God, it is usually either an equipment issue or an environment issue. The most important piece of equipment to hear God’s voice is the heart. It both receives and decodes God’s voice. I’m not talking about the muscle that pumps blood. I’m talking about your mind, soul, and spirit, your inner-self that is uniquely you. If our heart is broken, it is extremely difficult to hear God’s voice. The heart cannot be repaired. It can only be replaced. God speaking on this matter said it this way:
I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord.1
We will discover how to get a new heart in some other blogs, but when our heart is broken the only message we can receive is an error message…but THAT is God’s voice.
If your heart is working and you still can’t hear God’s voice, it is an environment problem. Multiple things can block your reception or misalign your heart (not forgiving someone, willful disobedience to God, disappointment, failure, temptation…just to name a few). Only one thing removes obstacles and realigns the heart: trust. When our trust fails, we will get an error message. Trust is a heart issue. The wisest man who ever lived said this of trusting the Lord:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.2
When we are committed to trusting the Lord then our heart is in the right place and we will hear from God (however, we can’t make God speak to us nor do we know when He will speak…more on that later).
The satellite repairman ran his tests and determined my receiver was broken. He replaced it with a new one and the error message went away.
If you are not hearing God’s voice, which type of broken are you?
Does God still speak to people? If so, how does He do it? And if He is speaking, how do we know it is His voice we are hearing? After all, we all hear multiple voices. Some voices are audible. Others are just in our heads. But…I’m getting ahead of myself. For the sake of argument, let’s just assume one of the voices we hear, whether audible or just in our head, is actually coming from God.
I heard and recognized God’s voice for the first time when I was twelve. It was humbling, scary and exciting all at the same time. It was also addictive. Because of his voice, I became a follower of Jesus and I began a journey that has been both frustrating and delightful. Because of his voice, I became a pastor and entered into Biblical studies. I earned a Masters of Divinity with an emphasis in Pastoral Studies. I then earned a Doctorate of Ministry with an emphasis in Spiritual Disciplines. I have been a pastor for over 25 years. For all of my adult life I have been dedicated to hearing God’s voice, trying to obey it and attempting to share with others what I’ve heard from Him. I know a little bit about this topic, but at the same time I feel as though I really know nothing. That’s what makes this journey frustrating sometimes.
Due to my training and years of experience, I can give a solid theological answer to the question: “Does God speak?” I can also provide a Biblically grounded answer to the question: “How does God speak?” In fact, let me just go ahead and answer those two questions right now. But I warn you, even though they are correct and fully accurate, they will leave you unsatisfied, especially if you are currently struggling with hearing God’s voice.
Does God speak? Yes. See, I told you the answer would leave you feeling empty. Right now I could share with you a dozen Bible verses that all point to God’s ability to speak to people. One of my favorites is Isaiah 30:21.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Isn’t that a cool verse? But this is not the experience of many people. More than a few people who believe in God have told me they just can’t hear his voice. They pray earnestly. They go to church. They strive to be moral, good, kind people; but God seems silent. If the people who love God get frustrated with this phenomenon, imagine what the skeptical person who doubts God speaks must be thinking?
How does God speak? The answer to this question is a little more complicated, but my years of training and experience have prepared me for the task. Here we go. God primarily speaks to people through four different venues or some combination of them:
Wow! Don’t you feel better? Now you know how God speaks. I’m guessing angel’s voices are ringing in your ears since the great secrets of hearing God’s voice have been revealed to you. But again, I’ve sat with hundreds of people who already knew this information. I’ve listened to them share their struggles with hearing God’s voice even though they know how He speaks. The knowledge of how God speaks does not guarantee we will actually hear Him when He speaks. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Imagine how disillusioned or disheartened the person is who doesn’t read the Bible or listen to people who teach what it says. What about the person who has a hard time swallowing the idea of a Holy Spirit on earth or the individual who might believe Jesus was a real person, but can’t accept he was raised from the dead? Think of that individual who is awed by nature, but can’t yet accept there is a Creator. Is God trying to speak to them? And if so, how? They have internally disqualified all or some of the venues He uses.
Does God only speak to us if we are willing to meet Him on His terms? Or, is God speaking all the time and we just aren’t recognizing it as Him? Does God only speak to people who think favorably of Him? Or, is God speaking to everyone, even those who don’t think He exists?
For the next several weeks I’m going to be blogging about God speaking to us. I hope you will join me. The blogs are for those who want to hear God’s voice and for those who are skeptical of God speaking at all. Please follow my blog and let’s hear God’s voice together. And, if you think it is worth someone’s time, share my blog with someone and encourage him or her to follow along.