Faith & Prayer

What is faith?  Is it being confident that God will do whatever we ask?  Is it doing the right things so God will be happy with us and bless us in the way we want? Is it hoping enough until God responds?  Is it any of these things?  These questions come, not out of academic curiosity, but rather out of a desire to understand what it means to truly follow Christ.

I daresay that our view of faith in the western world has been affected by our individualistic culture which thrives on the attainment of our goals and the fulfilling of our desires.  We’ve all heard that If we work hard enough, we can become whatever we want.  And so, it’s easy to approach God with the idea that if I do the right things, pray hard enough, believe long enough, that He will do what I ask Him to do.  Most of us would avoid associating with the idea of health, wealth and prosperity, yet that has probably tainted our view of Christ in some form or fashion.

So when when real life hits and we realize that God has not answered our prayers and that He has, in fact, taken us in the opposite direction we asked Him to take us into, how do we reconcile that?  What does that do to our theology?  Some feel let down, maybe cheated, and they walk away.  But for others, it causes us to dig deeper frees us to really see God for who He is.  He’s God.  I Am.  Alpha & Omega.  The Lion of Judah.  The sovereign God of all creation who does as He has determined and is not counseled by any man.  That’s who He is.  He’s not a slot machine.  He’s not ebay.  He is the Lord of all creation who has determined our very days and who has, for some reason beyond logic, has extended grace to us through Christ, that we who respond in faith, might be called His children.  He has opened the door that we might come into His presence with confidence.  Not so we can get what we want, but so we can know Him.  We express our desires, concerns, frustrations, praises, petitions, thanksgiving in prayer because He has asked us to and so that we might see Him respond by doing what He has determined is best.  He has directed us to pray according to His word (John 15) and that He will answer the prayer given in faith.  However, His answer may not be what we have asked.  Paul tells us in Eph 3 that God does more than we can ask or imagine, not less.  So when God doesn’t answer our prayer the way we want, do we recognize that He’s answering out of a character that is perfect and that does what is best.  He works all things for good, even when we don’t understand how that is.

Ok.  Maybe I’m the only one (but I doubt it)…I still get frustrated when God doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want Him to.  I get disappointed and then I go through the process of reconciling my expectations to who He is, and come back to seeing that, even when I don’t understand it, He is doing what’s best.  I take comfort in knowing that the Christian life was a process even for guys like Paul.  Even he had to learn to be content.  I suspect it will be a lifelong lesson.

*This blog came in part, from a conversation over coffee with a friend named Tim Holler.  You should check out his blog when you get a chance.  Smart guy.

a God equation

I was running earlier and listening to a Steve Brown podcast on prayer.  I was reminded that God is not bound to do things the way I want Him to do it.  He’s not bound to answer my prayers the way I want or to do things my way.  He’s faithful to His promises and won’t deviate from that which is in His word, but He will not be confined to my formulas and equations of faith (e.g., 30 minutes of prayer + 30 verses read = 5 answered prayers).  I can do all the “right things” and God may still say no.  After all, He is God and He will do what is best and what will bring Him the greatest glory.

When I look at how and what God did throughout Scripture, I see Him doing crazy things  (burning bush, Jericho’s walls, talking donkey, Jonah in the fish, the Son of God dying a sinner’s death…you get the picture).  Point is, God is God and He will do what He wants, not what I want.   So I shouldn’t be surprised that His activity in my life isn’t as I would have planned it.  If I could direct my life, it would look more like a straight shot from point A to point B.  However, the picture of God’s direction in my life has been anything but a straight shot.  It has involved things that I would not have chosen on my own.  I would opt for the easier road given the choice.

God takes us to places we wouldn’t choose to go, yet in all these things, He is working out something far bigger than what we see.  He is working out eternal purposes through finite beings who have a finite understand and who, ironically, try to give direction to an infinite God (see Is. 55).   I often wonder what God is doing in my life.  My plans have pretty much been decimated.  But strangely enough, there’s a freedom in that.  As my expectations have been consumed like dry brush in a fire, I’m finding myself more open to whatever God has in store.  Much of the story has yet to be written.  So I eagerly await the next chapter, whatever that may be.  Thanks for sharing the journey with me.

Faith?

I struggle sometimes with where the line is.  Which side am I on today?  Heck, where is the line?  The line I’m talking about is the one between faith and effort.  On one side is our effort in whatever we’re pursuing and on the other side is faith in God’s provision.   One extreme excludes God’s intervention and relies solely on our own efforts & intelligence while the other extreme assumes God will do it all with no input from us.  I think the balance, like many things, is somewhere in the middle.  There are some things that only God can do, yet there are others that don’t develop until we do something.  Lately I’ve been trying to find that middle point where I’m trusting God’s provision while doing what I’m responsible for.  I don’t want to be presumptuous and do nothing and I don’t want to be lazy and do nothing.  A friend told me that if I figured out where that balance point is, then I will have figured out the essence of the Christian journey.  I suspect I’m not the only one who has wrestled with this.

The older I get, the more I realize the Christian life is not easily figured out.  There are truths that can be fully grapsed by a child, yet there are depths that all of eternity will not give enough time to fully explore and understand.  So we wrestle.  We dig deeper to see what God has intended.  I guess if following Christ were always easy, the path would be wide and many would follow.  However, narrow is the way…

Paul tells us in Philippians 2 to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  The essence of this is that there are hidden treasures to be discovered with great effort and persistence.  After all, it is the greatest treasures that often require searching and digging for.  So in the meantime, I will go on wrestling and stumbling in pursuit of that to which I have been called.

When it isn’t easy or fun

Running is one of my favorite things to do. I’m not fast, so I don’t expect to win many races (although  I do plan to focus more on speed this year).  Some of my best times w/ God have come during my runs when I can get away from everything and just think and pray.

There are days like today when the Christian life feels very much like a long run that doesn’t feel good, when it becomes an issue of simply putting one foot in front of the other in the same direction until I reach the end.  There are days on the spiritual journey when it doesn’t “feel” great or fun or enjoyable.  These are the days when my faith can’t be based on “feeling” God’s presence but in trusting that He knows and does what’s best.

Sometimes (ok, a lot of times) I wonder what God is doing in my life.  Very few things have gone according to how I thought or planned.  I know this has everything to do w/ trusting in God’s sovereignty, however, I still struggle when things aren’t as I expected.  I know God is working out His perfect plan and that all is for His glory and for our good, but I still find myself wrestling with what I want and with what God wants.  I really look forward to when my faith is made sight.  Until then, it’s one foot in front of the other.

Faith

I’m learning a little something about faith in my journey. I’m learning that my idea of faith (as a Western culture Christian) isn’t the same as the Bible teaches. My version tends to be more along the lines of asking God for something, doing the right things and then expecting God to give me the outcome I want. Experience is teaching me that it doesn’t work that way.

God makes it very clear that His ways and thoughts are above mine and that He is the One who determines the end from the beginning. Faith is accepting (not necessarily understanding, mind you) that God is in charge and that what He wants and does is what’s best, even when it something entirely different that what I wanted to begin with. I either follow because I believe He is God, the Savior of all creation, or I go my own way because I think I know what’s best. Not much of a choice after all, is it?

Still haven’t found what I’m looking for

Ok, I know I’m plagiarizing a great song, but it makes a great intro into some thoughts.  I had coffee with a good friend today & we had a great conversation, in part about God’s will, which is something most of us have thought about, asked about, wondered about at some point.

I’ve asked God His will about my job, about my wife, about most major decisions I’ve made. After many years of ups & downs, moments of clarity and moments of thick fog, I’m starting to realize that it’s the pursuit of God that is His will for us. If God told me up front the specific things He wanted me to do, I’d probably try to go out and do it on my own (think Abraham, Hagar & Ishmael). What I’m realizing is that as I seek after God, I learn more about who He is, so that when He does reveal specific things about His will, I’ve been prepared for what He’s doing.

James talks about our maturity being brought about through perseverance which is brought about by difficulties and testing. I suspect that it can be God’s seeming delays in answering our questions that actually develop the maturity we need to do what God has prepared for us to do. At the end of the day, it is God Himself who is our pursuit and is the fulfillment of our hearts greatest desires (Ps 37:4, Matt 22:37, Matt 6:33). It is in pursuing God Himself that we discover His will for our lives, it isn’t something He shows us so we can go off on our own and report back on occasion.

Ironically, the closer I get to Christ, the less I’m concerned about the specifics of His will (the what, where, when…) for the closer I get, the more I am overwhelmed by who He is and how much I have in Him.

Pot roast life

One of my favorite meals is my wife’s pot roast. She cooks it in the crockpot for four hours. It’s not a meal you can cook fast. Put it in the microwave for 30 minutes and you’ve got something that doesn’t resemble edible food. It’s a process that can’t be sped up. Shift to a different scenario – the wilderness, watching sheep for 40 years. Sounds like a great time doesn’t it? I’m sure that’s what Moses thought, too. Years chasing after wandering animals. A long way from the palace and a long way from his people. Sometimes God’s way of getting us where we need to be is much like being in a crockpot. There’s no shortcut, no easy way to do it. Any shortcuts and we end up like Abraham, dealing with the consequences of trying to speed up God’s time line. While I personally think waiting months for something is a long time, I’m learning that God’s timetable can span years. His concern is developing my heart and shaping my character to reflect His own. And while 40 years (or whatever the timeframe in our own lives may be) seems a ridiculously long time to us, that’s nothing in the scope of eternity. Four hours in the crockpot is a meal well worth the wait. I suspect that anything we endure, even if it’s forty years of waiting, will be more than worth the wait. As Paul said, though we waste away outwardly, inwardly we’re renewed daily. For in Christ we have the hope of life, both for now and eternity.