The Reason We Ask, Seek, and Knock

(Post from a youversion reading plan by Adam Stadtmiller)

God answers prayer, but asking prayer is not primarily about answers. Asking prayer, like all other forms of prayer, is about relationship. If you make asking prayer about answers, you’re moving into dangerous territory.

When prayer is primarily about answers, our relationship with God becomes results focused. When God says no or works outside of our time schedule, we desperately question why and are tempted to feel inadequate or unloved by God. Be assured that as you grow in the area of asking prayer, the Devil will seek to shift the focus of your prayers from relationship to results.

Christ was well aware of the relational purpose of asking prayer. In the seventh chapter of Matthew when Jesus dared His followers to ask for things – big things – like “elephants” in prayers. He immediately transferred the focus from the asking to the fatherly or paternal relationship that surrounds each request we make.

Jesus was saying that whenever you ask in prayer you open up the familial lines of communication and put yourself in a position to experience relationship with a loving and compassionate Father.

When God answers your prayers in dramatic fashion, you will grow in the knowledge of His power and care for you. When God works on His schedule instead of yours, you will come to know more about His sustaining power. And when God says no and your dreams die or perhaps you lose someone close to you, you will come to know the God of all comfort who weeps with you. If you want to know God as Father, begin to assault the throne of heaven in asking prayer.

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Leaving The Shield

He is a shield for those who live with integrity. Proverbs 2:7

Solomon says wisdom leads to living with integrity which in turn results in being shielded by God.

We all long to feel safe and protected. Reflecting on this verse recently, I made the connection between making wise choices and maintaining safety from God when the right choice is made. His safety and protection is not guaranteed and is put in jeopardy when I choose to disobey or disregard wisdom. Whatever the results are from an unwise choice is my fault; I chose to leave the protection behind God’s shield.

This isn’t necessarily a popular thought these days. Living life as you want without any fear of repercussions is what culture preaches. Then when life strikes back after someone makes a poor choice, suddenly God is questioned and possibly even denied. It’s his fault, not ours. I bet if we asked some guys from scripture they would testify differently about what happens when you leave the shield of God’s protection.

Ask David. When he left because of his lust, people died, including his infant son.

Ask Jonah. When he left because of his prejudice, he ended up on the beach, covered in fish guts.

Ask Achan. When he left because of his selfishness, he lost everything, and so did his family.

We’re just like these guys. We’ve left the shield at some point. Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be a permanent decision. 

Have you thanked God lately for his protection, for being your shield, for welcoming you back after you’ve left? Maybe the next time you talk with him, not only thank him but also commit to following him with integrity, to staying behind his shield of protection.

2AM Wrestling

“It’s important to remember to silence your phone before getting in bed.” 

That’s what I told myself at 2am this morning. A not important notification chirped me out of sleep. Before looking at the phone, I had guessed it might be about 5. What? And so my mind started. It was the final round in a wrestling match.

This match started two months ago. I can tell you when and why, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is to learn from the match. The match was a mental one involving my talking self, my listening self, and God. If that sounds confusing or you think I need help, stop and read my last blog post.

My listening self actually wanted to talk when I woke up. He started it. And my talking self wasn’t ready to listen. He demanded God to join in. It was exhausting. But guess what? When it was over, not only was this round over but the entire match was over. 

How did that happen? Because I told myself to stop listening to myself. And more importantly, I invited God onto the mat. The result was an answer that can only be explained by knowing God got involved. It was one of those, “How have I not seen this before? This could have saved me from years of wrestling.”

Takeaways from this scenario:

  • Keep wrestling. The winning is in staying in until the final round.
  • Be willing. Answers come to the persistent.
  • Invite God. He’s good for anytime, even 2am.

June’s Jordan Journey

Here is our final team member’s note about her journey to Jordan.

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On our trip I learned just how spoiled we are and how we take things for granted – so unappreciative and selfish.

I saw people with faith, love, and hope with a little of nothing that showed hospitality and welcomed us with open arms-thankful for what little they had and keeping their eyes on the Lord with hope.

When we think about faith like a mustard seed, I saw that firsthand in our home visits the church set up for the refugees where they could come together for the hope needed to carry on.

I worked with children that were far behind in learning and not allowed to attend public schools, and women with skills but could not go to work like we can.  I saw how important the church school and women’s center and in-home visits are to those hurting refugees.  It’s hard to put into words; just something you have to see to appreciate and understand the great need.

Something much needed that we all can do is pray!  Prayers for their families, health needs, visas to be able to go to another country and get settled-just to know they’re not forgotten.  The children need to be in school, women need a place to use their skills and feel self-worth, men need jobs to care for their families.

In all it was a very humbling, heartbreaking experience-an eye opener as I could see how we take things for granted but thankful for the opportunity to go, see, and do.  Praise God!

-June Hartlaub

3 Messages from Jordan

Back in Florida from a 13-day trip to Jordan. We had an outstanding time with the team (Latvians, Brazilians, Irish, Americans) pictured below.


When talking with those we went to support, I asked three of them this question: “When I have the opportunity to share with Americans a message from you, what would you like me to share?” Here are their responses:

Receive and love our people. They’ve suffered enough. Don’t add to their pain or cause them more hurt. -Iraqi refugee

When you pray for us, consider that you might be the answer to your own prayer. -Missionary

We believe the American church is our mother church. We pray for you. Please pray for us. -Pastor

The Gift of Balance: Ministry and Service (Part 2)

(This is part two of the final topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this entry are suggested resources.)

Tonya: The million dollar question is, “How do you distinguish God’s plan?” If we are making God first and really trying to follow the Holy Spirit, one thing is to pay attention to what’s in your heart, the passions of your heart. Pray that he will open and close doors. It doesn’t mean you won’t miss the mark sometimes, but then you have the chance to recalibrate. We don’t have to go forward fearfully; we can just go forward.

John: I thought about that question by comparing my plans to God’s plans, what characterizes them. So for instance, my plans tend to be my first choice and God’s plans tend to not be my first choice. The reason for that is my plans tend to not require a whole lot of risks, they are comfortable and fit naturally; God’s plans tend to require me to trust him more and to have courage. So for me, I have to say, “Just because it looks good and looks easy doesn’t means it is God’s plan.” God’s plans tend to require me to figure out new boundaries and to step out in courage. They mature and grow me. In that talent parable concept, I shouldn’t try to hide talents as much as allow them to be worked on and developed and let God take care of wherever they go and accomplish. That’s not easy, but the more I live in it the more fulfilled I am; his work is getting accomplished, not mine.

Tonya: He doesn’t always make it easy. He likes us to stretch.

Mark: Well, it’s at that point that we are really trusting and leaning on him, not what we can manage and control on our own.

Where I am at this point about this question about my plans versus God’s plans, first, there are times when God asks us to specifically do things, and as his follower, there really is just one choice. Even Jonah ultimately got to yes. Recognizing his voice and learning to listen over time makes it easier to hear those when they come. I also think there are lots of other opportunities where we just simply love others. There’s no law on how to do that. There are suggestions and guidelines throughout the New Testament of what that might look like, but really we have a lot of creativity and flexibility in being unique by how we were designed-like what you were saying, Tonya, following the passions of our heart. He’s already given us permission, wired us with gifts and passions to do that. Loving people inside of who he’s made us to be is part of being obedient to what he wants us to do.

Tonya: God gives us room and choices. When my husband first graduated from Bible college and we were trying to choose where we were go and sending out resumes, a couple of opportunities came that made it a tough decision. Everything about them was good. I remember asking, “How do you know which one?” A pastor friend once said, “God may be saying this is the direction I have for you, but which one you choose is your choice.” So I think there are those times.  I also believe there are times he is very specific about you needing to be at a certain place. I think he gives us freedom at times in some choices.

John: As you say that, I think that may go back to personality as well. I don’t live in the idea that I have to have 100% approval before I’ll step out. I know as I’ve moved from a church position to the next church position, there’s a moment of solid peace in that process that I know I’m supposed to be there next or I’m supposed to leave this place now even if I don’t know where the next place is. I’ve learned to wait for that moment or I’m not moving yet. That’s for me. Someone else could be willy nilly and be totally fine. I need to have that peace about those big ministry movements before I’m going to move in that direction.

Mark: I can relate to that, for sure. My thinking has also expanded into what Tonya was talking about. I often have this visual of a bowling alley. There may not be a whole lot of room in a lane, but there’s room to move left and right in the lane. I think of God sometimes as the bumper guards that keep us moving down the lane. Sometimes we drift right or left, but the guard rails keep us moving in a specific direction with freedom to move left and right in that lane.

John: I feel it’s important to add that we can’t always wait for the green light. We can’t always have every little jot and tittle clear before we’ll say yes. There are times we know enough, and it’s all we need to know. God will take care of step #29. If you know step #1 and #2, go on. You’re not going to get #29 because he’s not ready to give it to you. Those moments are trust tests on my part. “He’s given me the green light. Why am I not moving?” 

Tonya: That seems to flow us into our final question we wanted to discuss, which was “What one belief best fortifies your balance?” I asked my husband that and he said, “Do it Jesus’ way.” His example was he did what the Father asked him to do. That’s it. He came and did what the Father asked him to do. He discipled people, spent time with them one on one, and he took rest. That was his example. I always love pointing out that he was in ministry three years. He discipled twelve, and eleven of them then created the church which still exists. He walked side by side. He rested. That’s my fortification for balance. Do it Jesus’ way.

John: The scripture that came to my mind for this question was 1 Corinthians 6, “We are not our own. We are bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in what we do and in our bodies.” My best fortification is to be reminded that I am not my own. You could say Jesus’ modeled that also. He gave up everything for everybody. Another way to test myself when I’m not responding well to either current ministry or something new that I feel like God is pushing me to, “What is it I’m holding onto that’s not really mine or shouldn’t be mine?” That is a challenging statement to people in our culture. There’s this tension between “it’s not about you” but “of course it’s about me.” This presents the challenge to figure it out for myself, “How do I live in a surrendered place rather than a selfish place?”

Mark: I’m thinking, John, that takes a lifetime of practice to perfect. For me, the undergirding belief is twofold. Kingdom living is full-time, whether it’s called work or service. What works for me as someone wired to be drawn toward legalism, what helps me to stay grounded is just two laws that we’ve already referenced: Love God and Love Others. If I stay focused on that, I 100% agree with what you said, Tonya, things just work out the way God wants them to work out. They may not be my plans or expectations, but certainly better because it works out the way God wants it to work out.

Tonya: Yeah, it may not always be comfortable or feel good, but in the end it’s what he’s doing. Jesus always did what the Father wanted, but it certainly wasn’t always comfortable. He had to go through torture. It doesn’t mean it’s all going to be gravy, but it is all going to be good.

 

Suggested Resources:

Mark’s:

John’s:

 

Grace Equality

When we read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), we come across his teaching on prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer.  There is a lot to learn from that section of the sermon.

One of those subjects is forgiveness. When we pray “forgive us as we forgive,” I’m not sure we fully appreciate the level of forgiveness in that thought. And I’m pretty confident we fail to appreciate the amount of grace it requires.

One test we can administer to check our personal understanding of grace is found in this question: Do I give others the same amount of grace that I give myself?

For example, when we decide to give ourselves grace to eat whatever we want for the 96 hours of Thanksgiving, do we give that same grace to others we observe eating whatever they choose for one meal at the “all you can eat” special on a random day in August? Or when someone messes up on the job, do we give them the same amount of grace that we give ourselves when we mess up?

Taking this a step further in the direction of Jesus’ teaching, what if we practiced giving grace at the level we have received it?  He taught more about this in another passage recorded by Matthew, chapter 18. Verses 21-35 tell the story of a guy who was forgiven a $100,000 debt, yet he wouldn’t forgive a $10 debt showing he didn’t know how to give grace even though he had received it. ALERT: This guy had a grace equality problem!

Not sure about your grace equality? Try test number two. When’s the last time you had to work really hard to give grace to someone?  Compare that to the last time you gave yourself grace and that difficulty level. What’s the gap between the two and what’s it going to take to close it?

Here’s a suggested addition to your daily prayer: “Father, thank you for your endless grace. Deepen my understanding of it. Grow my grace equality.”

The Gift of Balance: Series Introduction (Part 2)

(This is part two of the first post in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter.)

Of the topics the rest of this series will cover, which one have you had to work on the most?

Mark: For me, it’s the work, career, job. I often use the analogy of a spectrum. At the tail end of my corporate career, I needed to change where I was on the spectrum. Too much work had become a detriment to my time, family, and even emotional health. So now I’ve shifted the pendulum to asking the question, “How much work should I be doing? Am I doing enough work?” My day looks so different. I’ve enjoyed a lot of personal time with family, but I have to balance the time to develop and grow a new business. Work is the area that most easily disrupts the other areas of my life. I’ve gone from placing balances on it, to trying to control, to asking what are my boundaries and what should I be doing. This one isn’t always a challenge, but it is the one that I need to pay the most attention to because it’s so influential to other components of my life.

John: Tonya, since you’ve counseled a lot of guys, would you say this is probably the case for most men?

Tonya: Yes, especially the “how much work do I put in” leading back to values. But this is my issue too. What I’ve had to learn, and learning to do all the time, is setting all my hours according to my values. My values have to be stated first. And then ask, “Do my hours reflect my values?” That helps me. If I don’t accomplish my tasks in the hours I’ve set, then I have to be okay with stopping. That was the biggest thing for me, being okay with not accomplishing everything that was on the list for that day.

John: I remember hearing Bill Hybels saying how he addressed that issue for himself. When the clock hit five, he gave himself an automatic stop. But before he left his desk, he’d pause and pray, “God, thank you for what I got done today.” Just a simple prayer that allowed him to leave and to leave stuff not done.

Tonya: That’s good. A professor once taught me that when I put my hand on the doorknob to leave to pause and say, Everything that happened in this office today rest with you, Lord, and now I go home to my family.” Disconnect my brain from work and be with my family. Again, it comes back to values. We can give lip service to our value system, but do we live out of it. When we do, it’s a whole different dynamic because then I can be sitting with my kids and playing a game and have peace because that is a value for me, a higher value than my work.

John: My input on this question is coming from the backside of what’s been said on the work topic. The topic that goes hand in hand on this one is the idea of sabbath/rest/play. It’s not so much that I struggled with finding my identity in work. It was finding the balance between the idea that as a single person I can give more time to the job and the need to find balance between work and play. When I started running it wasn’t just because I enjoy it, which I do, but it was for that purpose to give me structure and personal accountability about the need for this balance. But even then, I had to work on not letting my play feel like work. The competitive drive or need to get better would mess with the balance. Injury is actually a good thing for me. It makes me slow down and pause to evaluate am I pushing too hard. Finding balance in play time helps correct any issues that are on the work side of it.

Suggested Resources:

Mark’s

  • Essentialism, by Greg McKeown
  • Living Forward, by Michael Hyatt
  • Jesus’ message – “Store up treasures in heaven, rather than here on earth.”
  • Quote by martyred missionary Jim Elliot – “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Tonya’s

  • The Bible
  • Emotionally Healthy Leaderby Peter Scazzero
  • Leading on Empty, by Wayne Cordeiro
  • Dr. Leaf.com – 21 Day Brain Detox – podcasts, youtube channel
  • Sleep: It does a Family Good & Adrenaline and Stress, both by Dr. Archibald Hart

John’s

  • Integrity, by Dr. Henry Cloud
  • Awe, by Paul David Tripp

You: 2018 Edition

So I’m back. First full week in the office in a month. Besides the expected comments and questions, here are two observations that were most likely true: “You look like you’ve lost weight,” and “You are on fire.” Welcome to sabbatical residual. Ran more miles in a month than any other month in four years. And rest equals sharpness.

Around this time of the year we start reflecting. Did I accomplish what I wanted this year? Is it too late? So what about next year? What goals do I need to set?

What if you asked a different question? Rather than figuring out New Year’s resolutions, what about this different angle: What upgrade do I need? From a spiritual perspective, what God-designed updates should be installed in the 2018 edition of me?

Not everyone can take a month off and gain residual, download a personal upgrade. But with some devoted time and thought over the next seven weeks, anyone can identify and engage with God what bugs need to be addressed and improvements could be installed from you, edition 2017.

For instance, considered these ten possibilities:

  • In the 2018 edition of my marriage, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my job, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my parenting, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my walk with God, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my hobbies, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my health, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my finances, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my friendships, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my vacation time, I will…
  • In the 2018 edition of my future planning, I will…

Forget New Year’s resolutions. Work on the upgrade. Allow God to design and install the 2018 edition of you.

50 days to launch!

Praying for Your Pastors

We paid church staffers are often asked, “What can I do for you? How can I pray for you?” So, let me give you an example of how any pastor could use your prayers.

Sunday mornings are when they have the largest volume of interaction with churchgoers, visitors and members. And the range of conversations is quite broad. Just this morning after the service, in less than ten minutes I had five different brief interactions with people about the following subjects:

  1. Church member facing gall bladder surgery
  2. Church member grieving loss of adult son
  3. Church member preparing for professional exams
  4. Church member out of work and shelter
  5. Church member asking about the temperature in the Worship Center

This is common, normal Sunday intake for your pastors. Put yourself in that space for a moment. What prayer(s) come to mind for you to offer on behalf of your pastors?

The one that comes to mind right now is that your pastors would be an example of Galatians 5:16-26. Your pastors are human. They are prone to the same tendencies as anyone else. Paul writes here that we cannot operate well for God’s kingdom without being led by his Spirit. Pray that your pastors stay closer to God than to anyone else, that they remain ready to withstand their flesh and anyone else’s, and that they then will produce the fruit of the Spirit not becoming “conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

A last thought. Tell your pastors you pray for them. Tell them how you feel led to pray for them. Tell them you have a glimpse of their Sundays.