So did a blind man called Bartimaeus, whose story appears in the Bible. One day, while he was hanging out by the side of the road begging, a noisy crowd came his way. When he found out the Rabbi Jesus was in the crowd, he began to shout out to him. Long story short—Jesus stopped and asked him what he wanted.
Most people desire a satisfying religious faith. However, most of us have been immunized–if you will–against taking God and faith very seriously. For example, there is a concept out there that only lazy or incompetent people rely on God very often.
Considering boats–motorboats and rowboats–gives me a different picture of God-dependent people.
Let me liken rowboats to totally self-reliant individuals who propel themselves through life by their own energetic rowing. Motorboats, then, are like people who spend their time in a boat fishing–or whatever–and allow the motor to get them where they want to go.
This brings us to a question: What is the purpose of a boat? To wear you out? Or to get you somewhere?
Some boat owners may opt for a motorboat because they’re lazy, but most people own them because they can do more with them. Have you ever seen a rowboat pulling a water skier? Have you ever seen a commercial fishing vessel powered by several dozen rowing men?
I can achieve a lot with my natural abilities and hard work, but “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ” (Philippians 4:13).
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)
When Jesus came to Earth as a babe in a manger, he brought with him a kingdom.
During his public ministry, Jesus taught more about his kingdom than he did anything else. Yes, he came to make it possible for us to be forgiven and go to heaven, instead of hell, when we die. But that was just the beginning of his purpose for mankind. The forgiveness and reconciliation he won for us is the doorway into his kingdom.
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13).
What is this kingdom Christians ask for every time they recite the Lord’s Prayer? It is a heavenly realm that now exists on Earth–a realm people enter when they believe on Christ–a realm in which God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
That raises another question: what is his will? Jesus demonstrated the will of God everywhere he went. He healed all the sick who were brought to him. He stopped storms from terrifying his disciples or keeping them from arriving at their destination. He reversed untimely deaths.
His every action showed that it was his will that people live long, healthy lives in a world that is safe for humans. If, as some say, it is not always God’s will to heal people, then Jesus went around opposing God’s will in a big way–because he healed all who came to him.
So if it is God’s will for us to live thoroughly blessed lives, why is there still so much evil and oppression in the world–even for believers?
In one of his parables, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to yeast which is mixed into dough. It causes the dough to expand–and expand and expand. Likewise, the blessed realities of life under Jesus’ benevolent rule gradually take over in those who pray, “Your kingdom come.” That is, if they understand and mean what they’re saying. And if they love and cooperate with the King.
If they do, then the will of God–for everything to be healthy and good–will be done in their corner of the earth, as it is in heaven.
My life used to be based on will power. Holding things together by the force of my will. Keeping things under control by forethought, planning, and skill. But I was in a fairly regular pattern of anxiety and burnt out.
Jesus’ invitation is to a different kind of will power: ”I will” power. Saying “I will” in response to His leadership.
I still think ahead. I still plan. I still acquire and use skill. But now I know to take the time upfront to worship and catch His vision. And I am learning to stay tuned all along the way for His guidance and enablement.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths (Prov. 3:5-6 NIV).
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG).
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9 NIV).
Why do you think it is that many Christians say that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, but then they think and live as if they know more than God. I mean, when they read something in the Bible that doesn’t make sense to them, they ignore it or explain it away.
If they really believed that God’s thoughts are higher than theirs, wouldn’t they say, “Well, of course this passage doesn’t make sense to me. My mind isn’t on the same wavelength as God’s–not yet! But I’m going to ponder God’s words until my mind is renewed to think like His”?
In the previous post, “Let It Begin with Me,” I mention the disheartening segment in the movie Lawrence of Arabia in which a larger-than-life British officer and his unlikely coalition of Arab sheiks achieve a brilliant military victory but could not successfully rule over the city they had captured. Their weak characters could not sustain their victory.
But not to worry–it doesn’t have to be that way.
Simon Peter is great example of a person whose character became able to sustain–everything. Triumphantly.
When he signed on as a disciple of Christ, his character left something to be desired. He was eager and loyal but impulsive and unreliable.
Jesus saw unusual potential in Simon because He singled him out, along with James and John, for closer mentoring. However, from Day One, Jesus hinted about a change that needed to happen in him, by nicknaming him Cephas. In the Greek-speaking world of the day, that translated to Petros, which means “rock.” It was a promise of what Simon would become.
Centuries earlier, the Lord had appeared to a timid man named Gideon and called him a mighty man of valor. Well, Simon, Jesus’ disciple, might have considered himself a mighty man of valor, but the Master’s nickname told him what else he needed to become—a rock of strength and stability.
And it happened—somewhere between the Last Supper and the Day of Pentecost. At the Last Supper, Peter boldly proclaimed he would defend Jesus to the death. But when Jesus was arrested, Peter denied he even knew Him.
Fast-forward fifty days to the Day of Pentecost. That afternoon, the disciples came out of hiding. Peter stepped forward and announced to all Jerusalem, “Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36 NIV).
Who, Peter? The wannabe hero who behaved like a coward? Yes, his unstable character was now rock-steady.
One sign of his new stability was that he was able to focus on others. Jesus had asked him to “feed my sheep.” In 1 Peter and 2 Peter, his letters to the churches, he encourages those fearful of persecution, explains God’s ways to the immature, and even instructs believers to treat the heathen around them with concern and respect.
Was he all mellowed out? No! Read his epistles. Intertwined with the fatherly counsel and instruction are glad passages of power and glory.
The passion that Peter had always possessed continued to break out, wherever he went. But it was no longer the random, destructive erupting of a volcano. Instead, it sprang up, at the right times, like a geyser of life-giving water.
It fit in with my thoughts. I had wanted for this week’s blog to relate to Independence Day, so was seriously considering interrupting my series on The Good Life. But then I saw that the events of July 4, 1776, were a perfect illustration of what was on my heart to say next about “the good life.”
In 1776, many Americans were ready to be done with English rule. They desired “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Does that sound like “the good life”?) But the 57 men who signed the Declaration of Independence didn’t just wish for the freedom to pursue these things, they did something about it. Over ninety declarations of independence were circulating around the colonies at that time. But these 57 men sent their declaration directly to the king of England. In so doing, they laid on the line their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor (as the last line of the Declaration says).
They are examples of what the previous blog said about The Good Life: they desired something passionately, and that desire motivated them to achieve something that made their lives worth living.
They also show that desiring things is a necessary beginning, but it’s only the beginning. As the old nursery rhyme says, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.”
Wishing, alone, will get a person nowhere. Some people wish for something with all their hearts and feel robbed because what they desire never happens. But things do not become ours just because we want them. It doesn’t work that way when we go shopping, does it?
“Well,” some people might object, “I’m not just wishing for something to happen. I have faith that God will do it.” That’s an excellent statement in the sense that only God can guarantee good outcomes. But it implies that God fulfills His promises all by Himself.
One of the events that says otherwise is the story of the Israelite’s possession of the Promised Land. God had promised it to them. But the first generation of Israelites didn’t receive their promise. They didn’t think right–they believed the giants in the land were more powerful than God. They had no faith in Him.
The second generation did have faith in God, but their faith was not passive. They didn’t camp on the east side of the Jordan and wait for God to give them the “all clear” signal. No, they understood that God had guaranteed them the land, but He required them to play a part in taking possession of it–a part that required faith and courage. It took faith and courage to show up for battle. It took faith to follow God’s unusual battle plans. Then, after He performed a miracle (like causing the walls of Jericho to fall), they needed faith and courage to follow up on that and complete the conquest.
As James 2:20 says, “Faith without works is dead.” In other words, faith that does not do its part, is not really faith. It’s wishful thinking.
When Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites, the Lord said to him,
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Joshua 1:8 NKJV).
Hmm! There’s a part for us to play if we want to experience the success God has promised.
There’s a reason why our memory of the Fourth of July, 1776, is emblazoned on the skies every year with multi-colored bursts of fire. On that day, a group of men rose above mere wishful thinking. They placed “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” then courageously played their part in birthing the great nation known as the United States of America.
What kind of “good life” do you desire? If it is, indeed, a good desire; that is, a healthy, God-inspired one, don’t say it couldn’t happen. Don’t doubt your ability to partner with God in reaching such a goal. You will no doubt need new attitudes and behavior in order to be successful, but God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). If you let Him, He will make you a person of faith and courage who can lay hold of The Good Life of your desires.
In a democracy like the United States, we understand the concept of choosing who will be in charge. We don’t have a choice about whether to have a government, or whether to obey the laws, but we do have a voice in choosing which individuals will make and enforce the laws.
That is very much the case, also, in the spiritual context of life. We can choose whether to put ourselves under the authority and protection of God and his angels or under the domination of satan and his demons.
This is where you might be saying, “I really did not need to hear this. It freaks me out.”
The good news is: with spiritual “government” you don’t have to wait up until midnight to find out who won the election. You can choose who will be in charge over you at any time, regardless of how anyone else is “voting.”
How do you do that? Let’s look at an example from the ancient history of Israel.
God had rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and was returning them to Canaan–the land he had promised them 400 years previously. The native Canaanites had become so corrupt that they sacrificed their own children in fiery furnaces to their god, Moloch. God is merciful, as he showed in the case of Nineveh. He will forgive those who repent. The Canaanites must have shown themselves unredeemable, because the Lord sent the Israelites to destroy that civilization and claim the land for themselves.
So here they were at the border of Canaan. The Lord told Joshua to send twelve spies into the land to familiarize themselves with it before sending in their troops. The men came back with a glowing report about the land. But then ten of them gave the opinion that they could not conquer this land because some of its inhabitants were giants. Most of the Israelites allowed themselves to be caught up in fear. They spent the night weeping and complaining. By morning they were ready to choose a new leader and return to Egypt.
5 Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. 6 Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8 If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, . Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. ” (Numbers 14:5-9 NIV).
Who was right–the ten fearful spies or Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb? The answer is obvious in the story of the first battle (which took place 40 years later–after the doubting generation had been replaced by their children). This battle did not involve giants, but it did require the Israelites to enter the walled city of Jericho. You no doubt know the story: The army walked around the city multiple times. On cue, the priests blew their rams’ horns. The soldiers shouted. And the walls of Jericho crumbled.
Clearly, Joshua and Caleb had known what they were talking about–“Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us” and “Do not be afraid of them because we will devour them.”
The second generation, led by Joshua, cast their vote for God and won big. The first generation cast their vote in the opposite direction and died in the wilderness. In what way did they “vote”? It all boiled down to whom or what they chose to fear.
The second generation–the winners–“feared the Lord.” (Whenever this terminology is used in the Bible it means they had awe and respect for God.) In spite of the unknowns ahead of them, this generation chose to trust the Lord and follow his directions. They put God in charge, and they gained everything He had promised them.
The first generation feared everything but God. By default, the “other entity” took charge of this situation in their lives, and they were big-time losers. They were still God’s people. He had set them free from slavery and continued to care for them miraculously for 40 years. Their clothing and shoes did not wear out and they had manna to eat every day. BUT they missed out on all the blessings He was ready to give them–because they gave into fear of things God was easily able to overcome.
When you find a promise in the Bible that relates to you, expect the enemy of your soul to behave the way he did toward the Israelites camped on the border of Canaan. Expect him to plant a fearful thought or intimidating circumstance in your path to hinder you from believing God and receiving His blessing.
When that happens, what will you do? Will you give in to the fear and let the enemy take charge of that situation? Will you let him do what he does best–“rob, kill, and destroy” the destiny God has for you?
Or will you fear the Lord? Will you purposely remind yourself that God can easily overcome any obstacle? Will you tell yourself that God means what He says? If so, He will remain in charge of that situation in your life, and you will receive “immeasurably more than all” you could “ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
P.S. This post can be subtitled “What’s the Hold-Up, Part 3.” We don’t have to be in the dark about why some of our prayers are not answered. God does keep his promises! The Bible shows us how to cooperate with Him to receive them. 🙂
One of my earliest experiences with magnetism was a toy–two small Scottish Terrier dogs, each mounted on a magnet. When we slid one dog close enough to the other, they would suddenly unite with a click–that is, if they were facing each other. If we brought one of them up behind the other, the second dog would move away. No matter how frequently or how rapidly the dog in our hand pursued the other, it could not connect. It only succeeded in chasing it away.
In a recent message to my bible study group, Pastor Elizabeth Smither likened our belief systems to a magnet. She said that our thought patterns and beliefs can create a “magnetic field” of faith that attracts (receives) God’s blessings–or they will create a “magnetic field” of anxiety and doubt that repel (cannot receive) His help. The problem, she pointed out, is that we have mixed beliefs. One day, we believe the promises in his Word and are confident he will help us. The next day (or week)–because we have not yet received what we are expecting–our minds are a tumult of thoughts like: “Well, maybe it’s not God’s will after all.”
This yo-yo effect is a serious impediment to receiving God’s blessings. It’s as if the answer was being pulled in, closer and closer, by our faith, but then (when doubt turned our magnet around), we chased the answer away. This is the situation James describes:
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (James 1:5-8 NIV).
Yikes! How in the world can we help having contradictory thoughts? Is it possible to make sure our magnetic field is always one of faith, which can receive God’s blessings? It must be! God doesn’t tease us with impossibilities. If He requires us to believe in order to receive, then there’s a way to become confident believers.
Building unwavering faith happens when we “look” at the Lord and meditate on his Word. This involves not only reading the Bible but speaking it and thinking about it–day and night! When the truth saturates our minds and the wrong thinking is gone, we can hear the Good News and believe it! And “anything is possible if a person believes.”
P.S. This post could be subtitled “What’s the Hold-Up, Part 2.” You might find it helpful to scroll down to the original blog on this topic and read it. Some more thoughts along these lines can be found in a devotional I wrote for cbn.com.
I can’t remember too many traffic slow-downs in the small town of 16,000 where I used to live. Now that I live in a city of 300,000, traffic patterns are a daily consideration. Rush hour. All the traffic lights on Nicholasville Road. A 5-mile detour because of an accident.
My siblings who live in the Denver area, Dallas area, and Chicago area would probably laugh that I consider this to be a big city, but they can surely identify with my point, which is: when I am traveling around this town, I often wonder, What’s the hold-up?
I met someone this week who was wondering the same thing–about what was happening to his prayers. Had God heard? Had he asked something that wasn’t God’s will? Did God expect him to do something in order to receive his answer? What’s the hold-up?
It would be impossible to give a simple answer that would fit the situation of anyone who has not received an answer to prayer. But an important general answer is this: When there’s a hold-up to receiving something from God, there’s probably a blockage in that person’s faith-pipeline. Because faith is the pipeline through which God sends the things we’ve asked for.
A story in Mark 9 shows how this works. A man had brought his son to Jesus.
But when the evil spirit saw Jesus, it threw the child into a violent convulsion, and he fell to the ground, writhing and foaming at the mouth.
21 “How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.
He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked.“Anything is possible if a person believes” (New Living Translation).
Did you catch that? The father said, “If you can do anything . . .” and Jesus said [allow me to paraphrase], “The question isn’t whether I can do anything. I can do anything. The question is whether you believe I can. If you believe [in Me] everything is possible.”
Well, how are you supposed to believe, if you don’t already?
First of all, believing isn’t mental or spiritual gymnastics. When we try to conjure it up, it’s not real. True belief (or faith) is based on solid information and experience. To have faith in God, we need to know what he is like, what he has promised to do for us, and what he wants of us. God gave us the Bible so that we don’t have to guess, but we can know, everything we need to know about him and how he relates to us.
The problem is, we can read the Bible but not believe what it says. Our ability to believe God is blocked by ideas such as, “If God intended to answer my prayer, he would’ve done it by now. Since nothing has happened, it must not be his will.” Or, “God answers other people’s prayers but not mine.” Or, “The promises in the Bible must have been for people long ago, not for now.” Or, “I’m not surprised God didn’t answer my prayer. He’s probably angry with me for [whatever].”
If our minds are saturated with a life-long accumulation of doubts and fears, it will take deliberate exposure to the truth in the Word to cleanse our minds.* The Bible describes this process in such passages as these:
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night (Joshua 1:8 NIV, emphasis added)
Blessed is the one . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers (Psa. 1:1-3 NIV, emphasis added).
Notice that the process of getting truth into our minds includes not only reading the Word but speaking it and thinking about it–day and night! When the truth saturates our minds and the wrong thinking is gone, we can hear Good News and believe it! And “anything is possible if a person believes.”
*Also, in order to believe the Bible, we need to make up our minds to turn loose of any idea we have that is different from what God says is true.