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The Stumbling Block Prayer

“Give us today our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11

Image result for plate of moneyAgain, Jesus reaches back into the Old Testament and produces a heavenly gem for His hearers to reconsider. They would’ve know the Proverbs, studied the wisdom sayings to apply in their everyday life as was their practical purpose. But did they really think about the heart-level meaning of them?

Maybe some did, but Jesus knew what these listening hearts needed. He spoke to the gap in their understanding.

And He quoted from a man named Agur, who was, like Job, a wise man though probably not an Israelite. The full context of the phrase, Give us today our daily bread, is worthy of consideration. Agur prayed:

“Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:7-9

When Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread, it is so that we will learn to depend on God once again. In the Garden of Eden, God provided for everything that Adam and Eve needed [1:29]. When sin–the decision to be their own gods–entered the world, they had to begin to provide for themselves, and the ground didn’t cooperate because humans do not have the power of God to control the earth as He does [Genesis 3:17-19].

But He didn’t leave them without sustenance [Genesis 8:22]. God desired to reconcile them to Himself and to be their provider–if only they would trust in Him. And He desires the same for us.

Ironically, so fallen is the sinful nature that even God’s provision can become a stumbling block to the life of faith. As Agur notes, when times are tough we might turn to God or we might turn to self-as-god and steal our needs for ourselves. Yet, when times are plentiful and God provides in abundance, again we get cocky and pat ourselves on the back–Look how good I’ve done for myself. God warned the Israelites that they would face the self-same temptation when they entered the Promised Land [Deuteronomy 6:10-12] and assumed the homes, vineyards and riches of the people they drove out.

Both extremes, poverty and riches, turn our hearts from God. Instead, Agur prayed that God would keep him on the straight and narrow path that leads to life [Matthew 7:13-14].

In the scheme of temptations, Satan doesn’t care which extreme he lures you to accept. So long as he keeps you off the path that leads to life. His only desire is to steal from you, kill you and destroy your eternal life [John 10:10].

Are your prayers filled with requests for abundance or provision of wants rather than basic needs? Ask the Holy Spirit to tune your heart to God’s. Trust Him to provide exactly what you need at exactly the time you need it. In all things, seek the advancement of His kingdom first, then trust God to provide the rest [Matthew 6:33].

KCS

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Using God

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10

water warm dog animal pet human drink arm heat thirsty wrist watch leash fountain thirst break sch fer dog stroke on leash love for animals cool down water break dog like mammalOnce we get our prayer word count in check so that we’re talking respectfully to God–not just whining and nagging–and we have our hearts reverenced to recognize Him as the One True Living God, then we should will the coming of His kingdom–the restoration of His Creation to the way He intended it–to this earth [Matthew 3:2].

This piece of the struggle with prayer is huge!

Think about what most prayer times consist of. I want. I want. I need. I need. Give me. Bless me. My friends/family want and need. The world wants and needs. Get’er done God. Amen.

But do we ever take the time to stop and consider whether what we want and think we need are in anyway connected to what God is trying to do on the planet through human history? Not usually.

It’s normal sinful human nature to pray like this, but then it is also completely understandable that we don’t get the responses that we’re hoping for. Remember, Satan lied to us and told us that we could be our own god. Sometimes Christians try to let God be God as long as He does what they want. In essence, we recognize there is a true God, but we’re just trying to use His divine power and authority to fulfill of our self-as-god desires.

Not how it works. We’ve got it completely backwards. Because our faith doesn’t exist to move God. Our faith exists so that God can move us.

Just because we believe He exists. Just because we believe He has the power to heal and the means to provide. Just because we say that we love Him, doesn’t mean we get to use Him like our own personal servant. We need to stop praying like He’s a God-on-a-leash, here to do what we say, and start praying out of our genuine relationship with Him.

Loving Him. Understanding His plan and purpose on this planet and how we fit into it. Seeking His will and wisdom in all things [Matthew 26:39]. Leaning on Him to provide as He sees best for us instead of telling Him what we think is best for us [Proverbs 30:8]. And trusting Him.

If you’ve ever struggled with praying and unbelief in prayer, maybe you need to check out whether you’re trying to use God to get what you want–even in well meaning things like the healing of a loved one or protection in a natural disaster. Remember, that when we pray according to God’s will, it will be done [1 John 5:14-15]. But when we pray according to our self-as-god will, we shouldn’t be surprised when the heavens respond with cricket chirps.

Do you pray for God’s will or your own to be done?

KCS

Struggling with Prayer

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This then is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,'”Matthew 6:7-9

Image result for struggling with prayerQuite often, Jesus references the Old Testament in His New Testament discourse. This should, in our minds, solidify His statement that He came to fulfill the Law and not to abolish even the smallest portion of it [Matthew 5:17-18].

The mention of pagans here, hearkens back to the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal [1 Kings 18:26-29] and an exhortation of King Solomon about speaking thoughtfully and purposefully with God [Ecclesiastes 5:2]. Both contrast the verbose tendencies of idol worshipers.

Their gods are no god at all but rather precious metal, stone, wood and the like–statues and images made by human hands [Psalm 115:4 & 135:15; Isaiah 2:8; Jeremiah 16:20-21]. They cannot hear or respond. Because of this, idol worshipers tend to talk and talk and talk their nonliving god into the ground, like beating a dead horse they can never penetrate the idol’s ears, let alone its heart, with their many words.

As Christians, we serve the one true living God [Jeremiah 10:10]. We don’t need to drone on with repetitive incantations or nagging requests. God hears us just fine [1 Samuel 1:17-20; 1 John 5:14]. And He knows what we need before we even ask Him [Matthew 6:8]. So we shouldn’t treat Him like a deaf stone statue. It’s irreverent. And it shows that we don’t have a right understanding of Him. That we need to grow in our relationship with Him.

When we pray, we know that God hears us and that, in His wisdom, He will do what is right in response to our request. Which–contrary to human opinion–is not always to give us what we ask for.

So then, how should we pray?

Recognize God for who He is. Our heavenly Father, whose very name is hallowed–meaning holy. We don’t use God’s name emptily or profanely. We don’t treat it like a magic genie’s lamp to get whatever we want. Instead, we call on the Lord as our friend who sticks closer than a brother and as our loving Father [Proverbs 18:24; 1 John 3:1].

It’s like walking into a king’s palace or any U.S. president’s Oval Office and saying, Yo bub, give me whatever I want because I’m asking you by name and you’re my government servant and you have to do whatever I want. We wouldn’t dream of trying to get things like this from earthly authorities. So why is it that when we pray we treat God with no more respect than a fictitious genie in a lamp?

If you struggle with prayer and the faith to believe that God will answer, maybe try putting your requests on ice for a time, and start seeking God to show you who He really is. Get to know Him as God. Begin to reverence Him in your heart and life. Then, when your relationship is right, bring your requests to Him as your Holy Heavenly Father.

How do you talk to God when you pray?

KCS

Mile 2: Settling Scores with Love

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Five to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42

Image result for 2 mile markerRemember that Jesus came not to abolish the Law of Moses, which did in fact contain the phrase, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. In each instance, the prescribed punishment is to be equal to the crime or the injury visited on another person. A punishment should fit the crime, not exceed it.

In other words, the phrase was meant to deter people from hurting others to begin with, so that they wouldn’t suffer the same pain they inflicted. Instead, common cultural practice perverted the phrase to justify revenge, excusing private vengeance outside the court of law.

A slap on the cheek wasn’t about personal injury, it was an insult. A punch in the pride.

In the Old Testament, it was illegal to keep someone’s cloak from them overnight, because it was commonly used as a person’s only blanket. A knee to the need for self-preservation.

And under Roman law, Roman soldiers were allowed to force someone to carry the soldier’s belongings for them, but only for the distance of one mile. An attack on time.

But Jesus pushes this command to its heart intent.

1) Leave vengeance to God [Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19].

And,

2) Love our fellow human beings, even when–maybe especially when–they aren’t loving us in return.

After all, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth [Matthew 5:5]. In his pride the wicked man does not seek [God], so we Christians should not be like the wicked [Psalm 10:4]. We should not let our pride well up and keep us from seeking God’s will in any and every instance.

God alone is our protector and provider [Philippians 4:19]. When others wrong us, we look to Him for our safety and well-being, not to ourselves.

And we should be leaving time in our daily lives for divine appointments such as these opportunities to show the love of Christ to the lost and dying, to the wayward and wicked.

Our choice to love in these humbling circumstances is just like Jesus’ meekness and silence as He was led before His executioners [Isaiah 53:7; Acts 8:32]. And our selfless attitude is a light, that possibly, may be the very thing to win the wicked person to Christ.

Do you settle your own scores? Or do you respect God’s equality system and act in loving self-discipline?

KCS

Recognizing Sin

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth” Matthew 5:4-5

Eye, Sick, Blue, Red, PainJesus isn’t being tragically poetic here. He’s not being emo or self-deprecating.

So then what does He mean that those who are sad enough to grieve will find comfort? Or that those who are quiet and gentle will be the ones who gain the whole world?

When our hearts are in accord with God our Father, then the only thing that should cause us grief is sin and its effects all around us. Granted, that encompasses a lot of what truly does make people sad. But how many people are aware that we have disease and death because of sin? That we have robbers and rapists and murderers because of sin? That government corruption and the inability to be satisfied with food, clothing, houses, money, etc is because of sin? That even just not getting along with other people is because of sin?

When we recognize what sin is and does in us. When we understand that we are sinners and mourn for our fallen state and our fallen world. Then we can be truly blessed.

Because that is the point at which we come to Christ. We repent–or rethink–our own sinfulness. We stop trying to justify it and start seeking His righteousness in our lives.

When we recognize that true authority is not about being verbose or forceful. That we can’t assert control or command respect by imposing ourselves on others. Then we can be truly joyful.

Because that is the point at which we, again, come to Christ. We repent of our self-as-usurping-sovereign ways. We stop coveting the throne of self-importance and start seeking Christ as Lord of our lives.

To find joy, we must first mourn our sins and take comfort in the redemption of Christ. To find joy, we must first humble our control-hungry hearts and trust in our shared inheritance with Christ [Romans 8:17].

Are you searching for genuine blessings? There is no formula or incantation, nothing you can do in your own power, just a contrite and humble heart before God.

KCS

Free to Follow

“As Jesus was walking along beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” Matthew 4:18-22

Image result for net fishingJesus begins His ministry in Galilee by calling disciples to Himself. This was not customary. In fact, usually it was the disciple who chose the teacher or rabbi. Prospective students would begin by sitting at the back of the room, listening to their would-be rabbi. If they liked the teaching and wanted to study under the rabbi then they worked their way to sitting in the front and following the rabbi wherever he taught.

But that was an earthly tradition. God isn’t content to wait around while we stray further and further from His truth, hoping that we might show up in the back of His class our of curiosity. He passionately pursues all people.

Jesus found His first four disciples working as fishermen in the Sea of Galilee. So they were probably of mixed Gentile and Jewish origin. They probably had a recognizable accent to the “purer” Jews of the south. And they probably would have been despised–or looked down on–by the religiously devout just as much as Jesus was.

They were perfect for the job in every way!

Simon Peter is hard at work with his brother Andrew when Jesus promised to make them fishers of men. James and John responded too.

I have to wonder if they had any idea what Jesus meant by this turn of phrase. Were they well versed in the prophecies of the Messiah? Or were they from Galilean families who practiced watered-down worship?

Regardless of what their understanding, what we do know about these men is the most important thing that could be said of anyone. They followed Jesus. Without hesitation. Without concern about their livelihood or their parents. They literally laid it all down and committed their lives to Him.

So often we let the love of the world consume us–the desires of our physical bodies, the desires of our eyes and the pride for what we have and do–bind us up [1 John 2:16]. When Jesus knocks on our hearts and calls our name, we hesitate. But what about my college plans? My job path? My friends? My house? My family? My healthcare? My retirement?

We have so much that we, like the rich young ruler, sadly turn away from following Jesus’ lead [Mark 10:21-22].

Is your life free to follow Christ? Or are you weighted down by the world?

KCS

Darkest Before the Dawn

“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” Matthew 4:11

landscape outdoor ocean horizon silhouette person mountain sky sunrise sunset sunlight morning hill dawn dark dusk standing evening shadow human darkness publicdomain atmospheric phenomenon mountainous landformsHow many of us give in at the first temptation that appeals to our appetites? Or at least the second which appeals to our sense of righteousness and holiness? But certainly, many of us fall to the temptation to increase our current advantage, our current position and status, even if just by a little bit. It’s the American Dream. A comfort that we’ve earned.

Our temptations are always darkest before the dawn. Right before the sunlight breaks, we do.

But Jesus kept His eyes on the prize of our hearts for eternity. And everything in this world paled to the nothingness that it truly is in light of His one goal. Redemption.

Having stood the test, Satan left Jesus. Most of us would be thankful just to have made it that far and to finally find some peace. Incredibly though, the angels–the heavenly host–came to attend Jesus. Did they attend Him on earth as they did in heaven? Worshiping Him as the Son of God He is. Perhaps they came to lift Him up in His physical weakness, though not because of a foot-flop contrived by the father of lies. Maybe they even delivered daily bread or manna from heaven.

We don’t know exactly, just that the angels of heaven tended to Jesus in His time of need.

God may or may not send angels to attend us in our times of need and triumph. But He has promised us His Holy Spirit. He never leaves us or forsakes us no matter how appetizing the worldly offer, no matter how murky the temptation shadow that drowns our thoughts.

And if we keep our eyes fixed on the Eternal, through the Holy Spirit we can overcome the darkness before sunrise, the steepest, craggiest mountain and the wolf-infested valley. If we are faithful to the end, we will receive the victor’s rewards in heaven [Revelation 2:10 & 3:4-5].

Are you struggling through something right now? Hold fast to your faith. Fix your eyes on God Almighty. He can bring you through if you trust Him. Does all of life seem darker than it’s ever been before? Hold on just a little while longer. The dawn is near.

KCS