Hanging Up on God

This week I’m reading through Genesis. Familiar stories. Yet, always new things to see-like watching a movie several times and observing or piecing something together you missed before.

This happened when I read chapters 32-33. If you want, pause reading this and read those two chapters. See what you observe.

Here’s the main thing I got this time: Jacob didn’t know what he didn’t know. Hate it when that happens.

He responded two ways: terror and prayer. Not a bad combo. If balanced. Well, probably should lean more to the latter.

When he heard his brother was coming with 400 men, he was terrified. He immediately got his mind working. But he paused to pray. Good move.

That prayer is a mixed bag. Nothing wrong with the prayer. He expresses his emotions, recognizes his family’s history of following God, reminds God of his promises, and pleas for rescuing from what he’s afraid Esau plans to do. The end. Back to work.

I propose he hung up on God. We’ve all done it. Dialed up, checked in, checked out. A one-way conversation. “Hey God! Here’s my situation. Remember what you said? I’m counting on you. Gotta go.”

Suppose Jacob didn’t hang up. Suppose he paused and listened. Suppose he asked questions like, “What should I do? Will you calm my fears? Am I missing anything? Am I thinking straight?”

Is it not possible that given the opportunity God could have saved Jacob a lot of work and emotional stress? And maybe that whole night of wrestling could have been avoided. And think of the fear he placed on his family. Terror does that when you hang up on God.

Application: When you don’t know what you don’t know, ask God a bunch of questions before you do anything. And wait for the answers. Stay on the phone.

(Photo by Dewang Gupta on Unsplash)

“John, take a look at freedom!”

Occasionally God shows you what freedom looks like. If you’re paying attention, it’s more beautiful than a sunrise. It’s soul transformation beaming through human eyes.

Today, I was honored to witness God free his worried, fearful, lonely, grieving, scared, bound, coiled, anxious, tearful, exhausted, and insecure child. All I did was cheer. As the layers unpeeled, they brightened, eased, smiled, bounced, shined; years washed off their face. I don’t remember a transformation so obvious, so instant. 

What made it possible? Trust. Prayer. Safety. Courage. Honesty. Ownership. Confession. Awareness. Desire. Empathy. Calm.

We all wanted it. We all witnessed it. But none more so than the child freed to fly like a released bird from its lonely cage of fear.

Why do I believe in God? Only He could do what I witnessed today.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Yukari Harada

Thanks for the Exposure, COVID!

This past weekend over dinner and Rook, someone replied to a statement with a half-joke/half-serious, “Thanks, COVID!” If you have friends like mine, you’ve probably heard those two words also.

We decided we should actually make a list of things we are thankful for due to the pandemic. Before I go further, this post is not meant to make light of the trauma and loss of life many have and are experiencing. Rather, it’s an effort to “give thanks in all things.” Not always easy but can be beneficial. And if you’re reading this from outside the United States, this list may not be relatable.

The not-so, yet-somewhat serious list had these eight items:

  1. Less bad breath (masks)
  2. More solved jigsaw puzzles
  3. Less traffic
  4. More quality family time
  5. Less handshaking/hugging
  6. Greater appreciation for things we take for granted
  7. Spending less money
  8. Disney less crowded

On a run this week, I thought about this more seriously. And my thoughts landed on one word: Exposure. Let me expound on that with four statements of what has been exposed-and I find it good.

1) What we fear more than we should-Not long into the shutdown I heard a coach classify our fears being exposed into three categories: fear of the unknown, fear of death, and fear of not having control. These natural fears left unchecked can lead to dark personal times. When they are exposed, they can be addressed, better managed, possibly eliminated.

2) What we trust more than we should-We understand nothing’s perfect. That makes it hard to know what to trust. And left alone, we are challenged whether we can trust ourselves. This exposure is an excellent test for discerning where I’m leaning for my understanding and how much am I trusting God above all other trust options.

3) What we love more than we should-We Americans may have needed this exposure more than any other people group. We love excess, options, extra, more. That love leads us into loving whatever it takes to have it. We are in love with being busy. Extra and busyness are American idols. These idols also kill and needed to be exposed.

4) What we hate more than we should-Two hates that have been exposed are change and inconvenience. These hates have led to hate for one another. Why is this something to be thankful for? Because selfishness, superiority, and pride stay hidden in our normal superficiality. Now that it’s no longer hidden, we can look to God to forgive and heal it.

The pandemic has brought us more than physical exposure. May we work equally hard to address every exposure.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Courtney Anderson

“Self,…”

Fear is exhausting. Well, at least misplaced fear can be. Proper fear can actually provide joy and comfort.

Several people have commented how that in spite of being slowed down since March they still feel tired, maybe even more so. Perhaps fear is to blame.

I started a new book this afternoon, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn. His book contains 48 devotionals written as notes to “Self,” reminders of what you know based on Scripture. Note #3, entitled “Fear,” includes these thoughts:

Worldly fear will lead you to toe party lines, compel you to try to live a safe life, and lead you to so prize the good gifts of God that they mutate into idols.

Your possessions can go up in flames, but you have treasure in heaven and stand to inherit the kingdom. Your reputation may be sullied, but you are justified in Jesus. You may be rejected by those who you admire, but you are accepted by God. You may be hated, but your Father in heaven loves you with an undying love.

The fear you need to maintain and cultivate is a fear of God, for in it you will discover wisdom and develop strength that enables you to persevere in faith to the end.

Somewhere in those reminders may you find rest from fear, whether you’re fighting your own or burdened by other’s.

What if you wrote your own note to self? What reminders would it include?

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Melanie Wasser

What If I’m Goliath?

This morning our pastor spoke from I Samuel 17, the story of David and Goliath. Tonight, our Life Group discussed his notes and answered some discussion questions, one of which was “How do you speak to your giants?

In our discussion a thought came to me. It’s possible, when I get really honest with myself and God, that I’m my own giant. My willingness to be content in fear may be my giant. My need to control may be my giant. My lack of grace to see people how God sees them may be my giant. In pondering how to speak to my giant, it very well could be I have to answer, “How do I speak to myself?”

What if my fear is my Goliath?

What if my pride is my Goliath?

What if my self righteousness is my Goliath?

What if the flesh and blood I’ve made my giant is only a distraction from the real one?

What if I’m Goliath?

5 Ways to Combat Forced Fear

Yesterday I saw the CBS commercial featuring actors from their shows sending this message: “We’re in this together.” Yes, community is important, always but certainly now.

If you think about that message for a moment, you can be more descriptive by replacing “this” with a specific noun. Like…

  • …We’re in economic uncertainty together
  • …We’re in confusion together
  • …We’re in isolation together
  • …We’re in media overload together
  • …We’re in the drive through together
  • …We’re in the grocery line together
  • …We’re in fear fatigue together

I’ll stop there to chew on that one. This “this” is one of the major things we are in together. 

Some of us by nature, personality, or any number of reasons tend to live more fearfully. But this is different. This feels like we’re all in fear together whether we want to be or not. Feels forced, on many levels.

We all have natural tendencies in responding to fear. Generally, we are defined as fighters or flighters. I tend to be the former, which explains why I tend to believe much of the fear we are in together is forced.

Regardless of its origination or our response tendency to it, fear does not get an automatic win. It can be overcome when we choose to combat it. You probably are already trying to combat it, subconsciously or thoughtfully. In case you’d like more help, because we’re in this together, here are five ways I’m combating forced fear.

  1. Created a Playlist…just this morning I decided it was time to create a COVID-19 playlist. My list includes songs that address fear directly, bring God into the picture, and focus on the hope of eternity. Pretty sure I’ll be playing it daily.
  2. Exercising Early…many years ago I had to overcome not being a morning person in order to pursue better running training. I’m not in training mode right now. But I’ve put my mind in combat fear mode, meaning setting the alarm on most mornings to get up and exercise first thing. My guess is, if you don’t already do this, when you give it a try you’ll like it.
  3. Increasing Peace Intake…this “this” is to combat that media overload we’re in together. Here’s a challenge to consider: however much time you spend watching, reading, scrolling, engaging in media that produces fear in you, spend at least that same amount of time or more taking in peace. Whatever produces peace in your heart, mind, and spirit needs equal time. Personally I’m barely looking at Twitter, looking at Facebook less, and pretty much looking at headlines only.
  4. Making Others First…this one can be very simple. Something as simple as letting someone go ahead of you in the grocery line, greeting the cashier by name, thanking them for the extra work they are doing, being empathetic with those you’re together with in the grocery aisles (practiced these Wednesday). For something more impactful, ask God to bring to mind someone to bless and how to do it (doing this today).
  5. Reading>Meditating…in particular, biblical characters that endured forced fear. Examples: Joseph, Esther, Ruth, Daniel, Mary and Joseph, and certainly Jesus. Many of them were forced to face the fear of death. Read their stories. Meditate on how they combated fear. I’m taking a look at Genesis all this weekend.

How are you dealing with forced fear? Got something else to share? Please do. We’re in forced fear together.

3 Embraces for Healthy Fear

College Student: “I’m a little scared about this.”

Me: “Well, that probably means God is going to have a better chance to do what he wants.”

These two lines were from a conversation yesterday in my office. This student is stepping out to do something new, on her own. Admitting her fear but not reluctant to be obedient, she illustrated what healthy fear does. Healthy fear embraces rather than coils, hides, runs, or any other flight responses. If you’re facing a fear with unhealthy tendencies, see if any of these mindsets help:

  1. Embrace Being Uncomfortable…think Daniel in the lion’s den. Satan wants you to believe you’ve made the wrong choice, you can’t count on God, you’re not ready, and any number of other lies. Whatever den door your obedience to God has led you to enter, choose to embrace that discomfort and watch how God shuts lion’s mouths.
  2. Embrace Moving Forward without all the Answers…think Noah first day on the job. Doubt wants you to believe it’s not possible, you’ll never finish, you’re not smart enough, and any number of other unknowns. Whatever task your faith in God has led you to begin, choose to embrace what you know and watch how God completes an ark.
  3. Embrace Relying on God…think Esther walking up to the throne. Insecurity wants you to believe you are all alone, you lack courage, you will crumble, and any number of other nightmares. Whatever sacrifice your confidence in God has led you to offer, choose to embrace the vision of God’s best and watch how God honors the reliant.

How will you embrace fear in order for God to get what he wants?

Hope Restorer

You may have asked or been asked the question, “If you could have one super power, what would it be?” After today, I know a pretty good answer.

Within three hours, God gave me the opportunity to have four conversations-three with people I met for the first time. He apparently wanted to see if I would give them what he gave me (see July 1 post).  To summarize in one word what these conversations circled around, they were all about restoration:

  • Joy Restoration
  • Security Restoration
  • Connection Restoration
  • Faith, Love, and Value Restoration 

In the eyes of someone seeking restoration, you see many things: loss, fear, loneliness, anger, confusion, hurt-to name a few. But when they are given a different vision, a different lens that gives them a peek at an answer or a way out, something else flashes across their eyes. Their restoration has been birthed by a glimpse of hope.

What if we all pursued the super power of restoring hope? If you’re thinking you don’t have any hope to offer, then maybe it’s time for you to be a receiver (see yesterday’s post). Or maybe you’re thinking, I don’t know how to restore hope. Congratulations! You just made yourself available for the Holy Spirit to do his work through you rather than you doing it for him. One thing is for sure-we can’t give something that we don’t have.

So here’s the challenge: store up your own hope. Be ready to give it away to those who show you they need it. Be prepared to answer the super power question: “I already have one. I’m a Hope Restorer.”

Fearless

(Day 27 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

I’ve read about bold prayer and recently learned “bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less…The more specific your prayers are, the more glory God receives. Most of us don’t get what we want because we quit praying.” Do know how to properly pray to God?

Reading about bold praying helped me notice that I’m not being specific or really being bold during praying. I’ll say a little prayer just to make me feel good about praying for that moment. Then I read,

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16

This passage taught me a lot with only thirty something words. Then I noticed something again. I don’t put enough faith into bold praying, or just a simple prayer. Life is full of battles that would be impossible to conquer without God’s provision. When we talk to God, we need to pray boldly, be confident, courageous, forward, strong, and firm. We have to abide by that.

There is a difference between wanting to receive something from God and being determined to receive it. Have you ever boldly prayed to God? If you haven’t, you should start now, because he wants to listen to you. “Determination brings forth bold prayers of passionate conviction. Wishing leads to shallow and unspecific prayers that are timid, hesitant, and bashful – encompassing the complete opposite of boldness.” -John Bevere

Approaching God through prayer is much more than just words. You need to be resilient and bold when you come to God. We need to be bold for God even when we are not praying. We need to be bold in everything we do.

By Shanti M. Washington

Be Bold

(Day 23 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

I once heard a story about a man who, when he was a teenager, wanted to ask out a pretty girl he liked. However, he chickened out and did not ever ask her. Years later he found out that the girl’s mother had told her it takes a lot of courage for a young man to ask a girl out and that she should date anyone brave enough to ask at least once (within reason). So if this man had been bold enough to ask this girl on a date she would have said yes, but it was too late by the time he learned that.

Sometimes the idea of being bold scares us to the point of never trying something. And I think that can happen when we pray to God, too. Plus we are always told to “fear” God, to have a deep sense of awe and respect for God above anything else. That can make it easy to think that the God we fear should not be bothered with our little issues, and we should pray for only big things or things we feel safe praying.

The good news is God loves us! He showed His unending love for us when He sent Jesus to save us. When God became a man it also showed us that God is not bothered or inconvenienced by our small issues. He cares about every part of our lives, big and small.

To take it another step further Jesus was very bold, even in death. And we are to be like Jesus. When He died, the curtain to the temple was torn in two, symbolizing that we can come to God at anytime from anywhere. We do not need a priest or pastor to help us, and we do not have to pray only in a temple or a church building. Those things are great but not necessary in order for God to hear you.

The curtain tearing was like God telling us, “Come to me, I am ready to hear it all! So don’t hold back.” God is a big boy, and He can handle anything we can come up with. And all of this together should bring us hope and encourage us to be bold.

God is all-powerful, He loves us each more that we can imagine, and He invites us to talk to Him about anything because He cares about us so much. Whatever you want to pray about, you can pray about. Any struggle, or joy, or confusion, or anything else you want. You can even pray to God when you are mad, even if you are mad at Him for a while. The important thing is that you believe in Him, you are talking to Him, and being honest with Him. When you interact with God that way, great things happen. So go to God with anything you want or need. Be bold!

This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. Ephesians 3:11-12

So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever! Since this new way gives us such confidence,we can be very bold. 2 Corinthians 3:11-12

By Frank Welch