Prayer Is Not the Means of Getting What You Want…

In our consumer based, success driven culture, we often are confused between what my will is and what’s God’s will.  Some prayers sound so religious and spiritual but at the end of the day, the focus is me and mine. 

I am going to lean on James, the brother of Jesus, to advise us today.  Remember, never go to James unless you want to hear the unvarnished truth.  He speaks bluntly so little effort is needed to interpret what he means.

James 4:1-4 gives us a picture of life based on the kingdom of me, myself and I.  “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passionsare at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  Ouch!  According to James, the reasons you don’t get along with others and live a life that you’re called to as Christ-Followers are:

  • because of “your passions at war within you”
  • “You desire and do not have, so you murder…”  If someone does not fit your agenda and feeds your desires, you despise them destroying relationships and children in the wake of your selfishness.
  • “You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”  You want the things of the world and when you don’t get what you want, you fight and quarrel.  Hey, James may have written this in the first century but his words nail us accurately as if they were written yesterday.
  • You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”  You set very little time aside for the Lord.  And, when you do (usually while you are on the run), your prayers are shallow, worldly and all about what “I” want…feed my passions dear god!   I did not capitalize god in this context!  Why?  Because this is the god of this world who is there to build my kingdom.
  •  “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  You are worshipping the god of this world which is the enemy of our Holy God and His Wonderful Son.  1 John 5:19 is eye-opening, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” 

In James 5:5, another blunt assessment is given, “You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence.” 

Honestly looking at yourself, are you entangled in the world and its passions?  Are your prayers seeking God or your prayers an attempt to persuade God to give you what you want?  Never-ever forget!  Prayer is not the means to get my will done on earth; faithful prayer is the means of getting God’s will done on earth.

Being Quarantined Did Not Stop St. Paul

I recently read a forceful comment from an unknown BSF’er (Bible Study Fellowship), “thinking about Paul the Apostle today, He spent much of his ministry ‘quarantined’ in prison or house arrest and yet his correspondence with sisters and brothers in Christ yielded nearly half the New Testament. The gospel is never bound.”  Let me assure you, Paul’s multiple imprisonments were in nasty environments with no lighting, no flooring, no plumbing meaning neither restrooms nor a place to perform proper hygiene.  And, most certainly, the prison guards had zero tolerance and often brutalized the prisoners including Paul.  Yet, the content of his letters written in these environments were truthful, positive, powerful, encouraging and enlightening.

Let’s take a look at verses written by Paul found in Philippines during one of his incarcerations:

  • 4:4, Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice.
  • 4:5, Let your gentlenessbe known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.
  • 4:6, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
  • 4:7, And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  In this verse, he used the metaphor of the prison guards surrounding him.  The Roman prison guards made sure the prison environment was secure.  Likewise, the blood of Jesus, the power of the resurrection and the Holy Spirit delivers to each Christ-Follower our eternally secure salvation and its peace.
  • 4:8, Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
  • 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
  • 4:19, My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
  • 4:20, To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul penned these verses knowing that his destiny would lead to decapitation from the hands of the Roman prison guards.  Nevertheless, he talks about rejoicing, gentleness, thanksgiving, peace, true, honor, honor, just, pure, lovely, praise and strength.

Let’s face it.  No doubt about it.  We are living in global turmoil.  Yet, in the midst of turmoil, Paul’s life gives testimony of the victorious life of Christ.  Jesus declares in John 14:27, I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Take heart brothers and sisters.  Let’s not get caught up in the tribulations of this world but live in the truths and triumph of our wonderful Lord and Savior.

You Need to Lift Some Weights

Physiologically, weightlifting (or resistant exercising) is really good for you.  The benefits are numerous.  The following are a few of the many positive results…increases strength of connective tissue, muscles and tendons; better physical capacity; leaner body mass; fewer injuries; controls loss of bone mass; boosts metabolism; reduces risks of diseases; better quality of life.  We all need to make sure that our training regularly includes weightlifting.  It helps make us healthier and stronger.

Spiritually, weightlifting is essential.  It strengthens our spiritual health and fitness.  Hebrews 12:1&2 explains, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  What the author of Hebrews describes in verse 1 is that each of us get bogged down daily by things that are heavy.  We are to lift or throw off the weighty things that thwart our growth. To be healthy spiritually, our daily spiritual exercises must include weightlifting.  What are the things that are holding us back and weighing us down?  What areas in our lives do we need to be stronger and healthier?

  1. It must include training that strengthens our relationships most importantly with our spouse and children and should include our work relationships and neighbors.  Relationships can weigh us down.  Develop an exercise program that helps you build up others.  It has to include exercises that strengthen our “listening” skills…most of us are weak in this area.  We have to get stronger.  Two quick verses challenge us to do this.  James 1:19 says for us to first of all “be quick to listen…”  Proverbs 18:13 punches us in the mouth when it states, “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.”  Then, we have to strengthen our ability to speak in a way that brings glory to Jesus.  James 1:19 says for us to practice the discipline to be “slow to speak.”  We have to be disciplined to do this.  Proverbs 18:2 declares, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.  We enjoy giving our opinions.  In the spiritual world, relationships usually take lifting heavy weights. 
  2. Our spiritual weight training program must help us throw off lusts; protect what we are watching and doing, and what we are eating, and most importantly what we are thinking.
  3. What other areas do you need to lift some weights?  Could it be an ungodly relationship that has you tied up?  Is it the need to control or manipulate others?  Has your body and appearance become your god?  Do you have an addiction?  Are you idolizing something or someone that has dragged you away from the Lord? God wants us to throw these off and cut through the knots that have us entangled.

How do you become stronger and healthier?  Hebrews 12:2, tell us how, Fix your eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our faith.”  It is all about getting to know Him more each day, learning and leaning totally on Him…your eyes fixed unwaveringly on Jesus.  He and He alone can lift the weights that have been holding you down.

When You Think You’re Really Something

We live in a society where being “really something” is relished.  We spend our days watching folks on television who are the “cat’s meow” whether it be a bigtime politician, a subject expert, super athlete, model, a “foodie” celebrity, movie/tv/screen stars and on and on we can go.  When we find ourselves in the presence of a high-profile person, we make fools of ourselves as we attempt to get close to these individuals.  If we can get a picture taken with them, our day, week, month and maybe forever is made.  “Oh, my gosh, an autograph would be heaven!” 

Please don’t get me wrong.  I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I idolize some athletes. My two favorite autograph pictures in my office are Nolan Ryan pounding Robin Ventura on the head with one arm as he had the other one wrapped around Ventura’s head, and Jason Witten autograph picture running down the field without his helmet fearlessly against the dreaded Philadelphia Eagles.  Both are cherished. Busted…I feel these guys are really something. 

Our society idolizes stars.

Paul the Apostles (called Saul by the Jews) started his career being idolized by the Hebrew nation.  There was an uprising in their country that had to be handled before it got out of control.  Saul was a brilliant man, a leader, a scholar, a rising star who had a powerful demeaner who could more-than-handle this problem for them.  Man, did he!  He went house to house throwing Christ-Followers in jail and had others murdered by his “hit men.”  One of these was recorded in Acts 7 when he had one of the popular leaders in the uprising church, Stephen, killed.  Here is how the Bible recorded Saul’s effort in Acts 8, On that day (day of Stephen’s martyr) a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.  Christ-Followers scattered to save their lives.  Saul was fixated on wiping Christ-Followers out and the activity of the church had been paralyzed.  The Hebrew leaders were ecstatic.  This guy, Saul, is an unbelievable enforcer getting rid of pest…good riddance.

H-O-W-E-V-E-R, something happened in Saul’s meteoric, hero worshipped career.  As he was receiving all kinds of kudos from his nation, he decided to move outside of Jerusalem (church was under wraps there) to Damascus where another uprising of these rogues must be squashed.  However, on the road to Damascus, Saul dramatically met Jesus Christ to the point that physically he was blinded by light.  The very first statements about this episode were recorded in Acts 9 Saul fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”  This powerful man was brought to his knees!  He recognized at that moment, Jesus, whose followers he persecuted, was Lord and verbally confessed that being saved.  Then, the voice of Jesus instructed him, “you will be told what you must do.”   This egomaniac Saul discovered that Jesus was now his Lord and Master.

After rejecting the Jewish law-based religion, Saul became known as Paul the Apostle and was no longer idolized by the Hebrew nation but despised and hated.  Many times incarcerated for long periods, he reached out to the world with the message of “Jesus saves by grace and mercy” and the world was turned right side up.  Here is how Paul explains it in Philippians 3 If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. Paul admitted that he was an up and coming star in the Hebrew world.  However, after meeting Jesus Christ, he recognized all of the notoriety, scholarship, profile, hero worship, fame, respect even reverence was “garbage, that I may gain Christ.”

As Paul stated in Galatians 6, If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.  When you think you’re really something, be careful! 

God’s Not Noisy but the Devil Is

The devil is a noisy dude!  1 Peter 5:8 explains his temperament, Be alert and self-controlled always. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  The lion roars to paralyze their prey isolating them from the herd.  Once isolated, the prey becomes an easy target.  The Apostle Peter experienced the devil’s noise firsthand when he was “paralyzed by fear” at the noisy trial of Jesus and denied Christ three times.  How broken and defeated he was after experiencing the loud viciousness of the devil!

H-O-W-E-V-E-R, the Bible states definitively that we stand victoriously together in Jesus.  John 16:33 declares, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  Let’s go back and chew on this verse a bit:

  1. in me (Jesus) you have peace
  2. In this world you will have trouble” (noise!)
  3. But take heart!” (don’t be scared, discouraged, fearful, worried, depressed, isolated…)
  4. “I have overcome the world.”  Jesus kicked the devil’s butt!  Excuse me for my blue-collar background but what I just said is the truth.

1 John 5:19 clearly states the position that we as Christ-Followers have been placed, “19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”  We live in a loud, noisy, confusing, selfish, self-centered, hurtful, lustful, tempting, viscous, boastful world under the control of the devil.  That is bad news…right?!  However, a couple of chapters in front of this verse, John gives perspective to the “children of God” in verse 3:8, The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”  Amen and Hallelujah!

So, what should we do?  Go back to the initial verse above in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be alert and self-controlled alwaysnot fearfully but confidently.  Enjoy the encouragement of this forceful verse, 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid(John 14:27).

Rest and be at peace as you reflect on Proverbs 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Our God’s not noisy.

Speak the Truth in Love

I am a recovering “people pleaser.”  For years, the gage for personal satisfaction was based on my relationship with others.  In most cases, I was considered an all-around nice guy.  It was important for me to be popular at home, at work, as a youth sports’ coach, at the grocery store and wherever else I went.  My reality of personal truth and subsequent speech passed through my pleasing-others filter.  For years, with a wife and two daughters (three strong women…😊), I felt my job was to keep peace.  So, my words were an attempt to console. Frequently, this led me to not support my wife’s stronger views of discipline.  Why?  I prioritized my daughter’s approval.  “Hey Rick, not exactly how God says a man should act,” you may be thinking.  And, you are right!  For years I based relationships and speech on fear rather than on God’s word.

God through Paul the Apostle describes how to speak to one another in Ephesians 4:15, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”  Let’s pull the pieces of this verse apart so that we can get to its full meaning.

  • Speak the truth.”  Truth is fundamental and all powerful in relationships and in the spiritual world.  Let’s make sure that we have a clear definition of what truth is not and what it is.  Truth is not based on your reality and what’s best for you.  In this scenario truth becomes relative and self-centered.  It is not that at all.  The bible speaks clearly on this in John 17:17, Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” Doesn’t get any clearer than that.  The truth is God’s word.  Speak the truth based on scripture to one another; then, your relationships become rock solid.  Never forget this.  The one word that terrifies the devil is “truth.”  Why? Because he has been selfish from the beginning and has propagated a “truth-based-on-me reality.”  He cannot handle truth founded on God’s Word.
  • In love.”  Speak the truth in the sphere of agape love, the love of Jesus.  There are 15 characteristics of agape love shown in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres).  I encourage you to commit these characteristics to memory recognizing that this will take some work.  What two of these are you the weakest?  Work with the Lord to make these a reality in your behavior.  Select a weekly accountability partner who will hold you to this.  Once these become a habit, your character will look more like Jesus.  Then, tackle two more!
  • We will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him.”  If you and the folks around you base your speech to one another on the 15 characteristics above, you will grow and mature looking like Jesus whether it is your marriage, your family, your Life Group, your recovery group or your fellow employees.  Will it all happen at once?  No, it may take time.  Looking back on your life you will be grateful. 

Speak the truth in love

A Slow Clap Not a Fast Clap

On Monday of this week I wrote a blog called “Push the Pause Button.”  It is an encouragement to learn to “listen.”  You discovered in James 1:19&20 that James the brother of Jesus challenges “everyone” to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.”  As believers in Jesus, listening before speaking is becoming a servant placing another’s needs before you own.  As you begin to practice “active” listening, you discover that you have to choose to “push the pause button.”  You want to speak quickly yet James tells us to be quiet and listen.  Developing this habit is a huge step in your relationships and ministry to others especially your spouse and kids.  And, by the way, it is tough to do!  Why?  Because listening makes you vulnerable and requires patience and kindness.  The purpose of true, sincere, compassionate listening is a genuine attempt to hear another’s viewpoint, feelings and hurts.  And, active listening is giving an ear even if you don’t agree.  Let me assure you, that’s tough!  You have to be courageous when you feel misunderstood by the speaker (sender).  However, another does not want to hear from you until they have been heard.  And, don’t forget, it may not be the right time for you to rebut their comments.  The sole purpose is to hear them out.  Be “quick to listen.”  When you choose to not speak your views, it will impact the sender.  This impact may be small because they may feel that this is an attempt to manipulate them.  However, you make it a habit and you will most likely fundamentally see a positive change in the relationship.  Be patient and kind…the 1st two characteristics of Jesus’ listed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

When it is time for you speak, don’t forget James says, “be slow to speak.”  It does not mean to come flying out the gate with strong even harsh words.  Your words should be a “slow clap” not a “loud clap.”  Think about the energy differential and the resulting reaction between a “slow clap” and a “loud clap.” 

One of the best verses regarding the manner that Christ-followers should speak to others is located in Ephesians 4:29 written by Paul the Apostle29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  Let’s do a quick analysis of this verse.

  • The words that come out of your mouth cannot be unwholesome.  Wholesome means as it sounds.  It challenges or encourages another person to be or to become whole.  The ESV uses the descriptive word, “corrosive.”  Do not let any corrosive words proceed from your mouth.
  • Then, this verse tells you do something that you can only do if you have carefully listened and paid attention to another person.  Paul builds upon the word, “wholesome”, by telling us our words must be “helpful for building others up according to their needs.” 
  • Furthermore, Paul tells us what the purpose of our speech must be… “that it may benefit those who listen.”  It is for the benefit of the receiver.

This is so different than our current worldly power talk.  Often, we feel that we know what’s best for another whether they agree or not, and, “by George, I am going to give them the ‘what’s for’!”  How’s that working for you?!  You genuinely may know what the other one needs.  But, until they know that your words are spoken from a compassionate, edifying heart, the words will not get through the listener’s wall of feelings and will most times end up in anger or “whatever” spoken or absorbed.  You may find that kids or a spouse or others mechanically hear to get you off their backs only to discover later that it had little to no impact on their behavior.

Never forget the old saying, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care!”  Slow claps not fast claps.