Mike in a Box

I have an aversion to religious rituals in my life. This aversion is so strong I even call it ritualism. Anytime I think something might become a ritual I avoid it at all cost. I struggle with a consistent morning devotional because I am afraid I might just start going through the motions. I am afraid of losing the spiritual connection to the action so often times I avoid beginning it in the first place. I think to myself instead: Michael you have the Holy Spirit, you can pray and fellowship with God anytime. This is true I can pray and fellowship with God anytime I like, but do I?

Before I continue I want to let you know that I plan on using a few analogies and to remind you that analogies eventually break down. Some analogies are better than others and some hold up longer than others but that is their nature. An analogy can only go so far because they only have partial similarities and so it is with the ones I will use.

My aversion to rituals is, by and large, only affected by spiritual things. I brush my teeth every morning, I go to the gym most mornings, I wash my beard two times a week, and so on. Now you might be thinking that these things are not rituals but routines and you would be right they are routines. A routine as defined by Google – a sequence of actions regularly followed; a fixed program. Every morning I have the same routine: I wake up, get my robe, drink my coffee, read my emails, check the verse of the day, check Facebook, re-read the verse of the day because I forgot already, and so on. Same thing every morning. There are slight variations depending on the day but you get the picture. If I was the star of a TV show my morning routine could be the opening credits because it does not change.

Another routine I have is I go to the gym four days a week. I do different exercises each day but there is still a routine in there. I have thoughts about not going to the gym because I don’t feel like it, especially on Fridays, but I know it is good for me so I go. I am usually glad I did. So why if I can see the value of routines in my daily physical life am I so hesitant to put spiritual routines in place? Why do I call routines rituals in my my spiritual life? The answer is…I have no idea.

That is the point I hit about three weeks ago. I was dumbfounded at why one was seen as good and the other as bad. Yes setting aside specific prayer times could become dull and robotic but the same could happen at the gym. True my reading could turn into a “must” instead of a “want” but that can happen in any area. The reason it doesn’t is because of self-control and desire. I desire to get stronger or to learn an instrument. The desire trumps the problem of dullness. Then at times when the desire is not as strong self-control takes over and keeps me on track. Things do not become ritualistic because you choose to not allow that to happen. So I made a choice.

Three weeks ago I set three timers on my phone that simply say prayer time. When these timers go off I stop what I am doing (if I can) and take a couple of minutes to read something and pray. I am happy to say that most days I hit all three times. There are days when due to my schedule I simply cannot do it and that is OK. I still do my bigger readings and bigger prayer times but these three times are about stopping to refocus my attention on Christ. It is not about doing a Bible study or getting a breakthrough in an area of my life. It is simply about stopping to spend a few minutes with Jesus.

I was so afraid of putting God in a box that I did not realize something very important. While God does not belong in a box but I might. We are always told to think outside of the box, to be free with our worship, to live in the moment, and to listen to the Spirit. That is great and I try to be like that but what about self-control. What if you find yourself wanting to be like that but not having the time every day to do that. Am I always spontaneous with my wife? What about with my kids? No, because there are times when you need to make time for them. Times when you are busy. You want to spend time with your loved ones but your schedule does not allow for you to do something in the moment. In those times you have to be intentional about it. Our walk with Jesus is similar, we need to be intentional about it. Sometimes we need to put ourselves in a box so that we can do the thing we want to do.

So I have put myself in a box and I have to say it is more comfortable in here than I thought.

Just a thought,

Mike

Problems and Prayer (2 Cor 1:10-11 )

He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and He will deliver us. We have put our hope in Him that He will deliver us again while you join in helping us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gift that came to us through the prayers of many.
In 2 Cor 1:10-11 Paul gives us a biblical flow for how to handle a situation. First, acknowledge the situation. A lot of times we want to be super Christians about it and ignore the situation but truth be told ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Ignoring it does not make you a super Christian, it makes you a dummy. Don’t be a dummy. There is nothing wrong with admitting you are not strong enough on your own to tackle everything that comes your way. God does not expect us to handle it all that is why Jesus is always making intercession for us.
Second, we ask for prayer. Whether because of pride, fear, thinking no one will, or any other reason, sometimes we have a problem asking for prayer. I know I struggle here and, to be honest, I think my issue is a mix of pride and not sure if anyone will pray but to resolve this I have started to take my prayer life for others, that is committing to praying for others, much more seriously and have been more aggressive with my follow through. We need to ask others for prayer and we need to follow through and pray for people when they ask us. Your prayers go straight to God. You might not know what to say. If you don’t then simply say what you do know. It is not a competition. You cannot earn a gold medal in praying so just pray from your heart.
Finally, rejoice when God comes through. A major part of sharing needs and praying for others is that we all get to be in on the rejoicing. There is something amazing about knowing that God came through for someone regarding something you have been praying about. It also strengthens your own personal faith. We are a family and when the family gathers the family gets to rejoice.
So in short, share your needs, pray for others, and rejoice when God comes through.
Just a thought,
Mike

Prayer

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In Mark 11:24 Jesus says “Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them” and to be honest I struggle with this. It is not that I struggle to believe that God will hear my prayers, although sometimes this is the case, it is more of do I believe this is my prayer? Do I actually believe that this is the request I want to make to the God of heaven and earth?

I am approaching the God who sustains the universe, took on human flesh, died and rose again to save my soul, sits in glory surrounded by the praises of His angels, and I am asking for this. I am stunned by my selfishness, aware of my pride, and confused by my own self-interest. When I come before the King of glory I sometimes find myself understanding Isaiah who said: “woe is me for I am undone.” How can I ask for things, because as I stand in His presence all I can do is think “holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

The amazing thing to me is I stand there before Him in awe of His beauty and majesty He asks what I request. The only answer I can find is that I desire to sit at your feet and worship you. Oh, how I wish this to be my daily encounter. Instead, I often allow my fears, confusions, and selfishness dictates prayers that I do not even believe.

I get knocked down

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Some things are so big, so overwhelming, so much more than we can handle that they drive us to our knees and that is OK. If something is so big that it drives you to your knees then stay there a bit. Don’t rush to jump back up and starting fighting. You need to take some time on your knees with the King before you can get back up and get back to it. You need to spend time with the One who can strengthen you properly. There is nothing wrong with taking some time before you get back up. Some things should drive us to our knees. Some things should knock us down.

When we get knocked down we are in a good place because we are right where we should be before God. We are low, we are humble, and we are in a place to receive from the One who can give what is needed. Here Nehemiah goes into prayer and confesses that he has not done what he should. He first admits his own shortcomings and then goes into the promises of God. This is not some false humility to gain God’s good graces. No this is a man who has been knocked down and realizes that he needs the One who is greater. It is a beautiful picture of surrender.

When we humble ourselves before God we give Him permission to pick us up instead of picking ourselves up and asking Him to bless our own strength. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” If you want God to strengthen you then you can’t do it. It is either His strength in you or your strength but you can’t have both.

So next time life knocks you to you knees stay there a minute and let God pick you back up. You’ll find you are fighting from a different place after that.

Just a thought,

Mike

Prayer – Storm the gates or Walk on in

As a Christian I am familiar with verses like Hebrews 4:16 that says we should boldly approach the throne of God or Matthew 17:20 that says if we have faith the size of a mustard seed we can move mountains. I also know that Romans 4 tells me I have peace with God and access to Him. I know these things and believe them. I believe that I have been grafted in and that God is pleased with me through Christ. The problem I struggle with is not that I do not believe these things it is I get confused when I pray and seek Him only to find that something did not come about. That was until the other day.

Right now I am going for something and it is big maybe even huge. Probably one of the biggest things I have tried for and if I told you then your own comfort zone might get shaken and you would tell me to stop. It is something that would be an amazing opportunity and I quite possibly have no right (according to some) to try for it. Because it is so big, and because it is so beyond me I feel this constant pull to not go for it. I am reminded of all the other big things that I have tried for and some that have failed. Maybe I should just stop and realize that it is too big for me. I should look back at other similar things and simmer down. If I ask God for something big and it does not come about then either God failed (which cannot happen) or my faith was weak. Right?

Well, the other day I felt like God reminded me of something I knew but forgot. The results are not for me to determine. It is for God to decide and it is for me to petition. Philippians 4:6 says I am to bring all my needs and request to God and be thankful. So I do not rest in the results but in God. I am thankful that I have access to God Almighty. Maker of Heaven and Earth. The One who spoke the world into existence hears me and that is amazing. It is for God to determine what is best and for me to ask.

Two people in the Bible helped me with this. Hannah prayed for a child in 1 Sam 1:10. The Lord heard her prayer and gave her a child. Now I am sure she prayed many other times and it was not granted but in this instance, she prayed from her innermost parts a God-honoring prayer, and a prayer that was heartfelt. God answered. From that prayer we get the Samuel books, we get Samuel who heard God and anointed David to be king. We get so many things because God answered Hannah’s prayer. The other person I thought about was David. David prayed that his son would not die in 2 Sam 12:16 but in the end, the child died. After the child died David got up and moved on in His relationship with God. He knew it was his job to petition and God’s job to decide. Now I know you could say that is because God said the child would die but there instances in the Old Testament where God did not execute the punishment He said He would. So my point stands. I am also aware that most would say only use positive stories but the truth of the matter is sometimes God gives us our desires and sometimes He does not. Our job is to petition.

I have heard people say that they are storming the gates of Heaven with prayer. That they will go and pound on the walls until they are heard, but I think that is a bit absurd. I am a child of God. I have been adopted by the King and don’t need to storm any gates I have permission to come right inside. So I am going to do just that. I am going to go in and ask my Father for this thing that is big and beyond me because I know it is not beyond Him. What will you do with your problems?

Just a thought,

Mike

 

We don’t even know what we don’t know

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Jeremiah 33:3 Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’

I sometimes fancy myself pretty smart. I can tell you the overarching story from Genesis to Revelation making sure I hit all the high points along the way. I know the individual stories from Moses, Samson, David, Peter, Paul, and of course Jesus. I know about about how the Law is a representation of God’s love to a people. I can give a bunch of facts and so on that will make me think I am pretty smart. But when I sit down to pray and read the Bible I am left in total awe in the truest sense of the word.

I read the Bible and find myself thinking I am nothing but dust. I am just a speck of dust on a larger piece of dust floating around other dust particles. I am like the a person in the town from Horton Hears a Who. Who am I God that you are mindful of me? I cannot shake this idea that I am wholly unworthy to approach this Holy God. That the God of all the universe hears my prayers and that is the first thing to take notice of in this verse. God wants us to talk to Him. Although we are but dust God wants us to talk to and seek Him. He desires very much for you to pray. This should go without saying but that usually means it must be said. You would think that after reading the Bible we would understand that God desires a relationship with us. Verses like John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:10 spell it out in great detail that He wants us and has done everything He can to make a relationship. Yet somehow we still forget that. Somewhere between salvation and now we forget He desires relationship with us and that a relationship requires conversation.

He says in the next part of this verse “and I will answer you.” He not only hears but is attentive to our prayers, and there is a big difference between the two. I work from home and my daughter is homeschooled so I hear her a lot but I am not attentive to what she is saying it is just background noise. When it comes to God you are not background noise. They are not bothersome to Him and when you pray He does not need to stop what He is doing and give you His attention. His attention is already on you waiting for you to pray to Him.

That should make a big impact on us when we pray. When we pray we should have great confidence that God will answer but we don’t always have that confidence. I believe one of the reasons we lose heart is that we have incorrectly linked answering us with giving us what we want but these are two different things. We should not assume that every answer is a yes or even a no for that matter. Sometime the answer is later, sometimes the answer is ask again, and sometimes the answer is ask again but let me tell you something.

God says that He has great and mighty (or inaccessible) things to show us. He says that He knows things we don’t and more importantly that He knows things we don’t even know we don’t know. We have to remember that His ways are far beyond our ways. That’s tricky so let’s break that down a little.

There was a little girl who went to her dad one day and said “dad I realized I am a genius. Yeah he says how’s that? Well I can’t think of anything I don’t know.” Is that not you and I? Do we not falsely assume that because we can’t think of things we don’t know we must know it all? We even have that attitude when we admit that there are things we don’t know about. We assume some vast knowledge because we at least know we don’t know, but God is saying I know things you don’t even know you don’t know. He is saying there is so much you don’t even have access to not know about. That blows me away. I love to study so when I find out there are things I don’t know to know I want to know.

This goes right back into God telling us to ask again but He adds in some new information. All the sudden we don’t even want to ask for the thing we were asking for. In the light of this new information our old prayer seems childish and silly. Even at that we are still looking at a portion of the big picture maybe even a shadow of a portion.

It’s just like when we read the Bible. We read once and get one thing, then we re-read and all the sudden there is more, then more and so on. That is because the Word of God is living and alive. It is active and God hides things so you can grasp something else. It is not Gnosticism where there are hidden truths oohhh aaaahhh smoke and mirrors. No it is a loving and gentle Father who does not want to overwhelm His children. I don’t tell kids everything it would break them. I am working on a project for church that is going to donate needed items to BeLoved Atlanta which is a house for women who have left prostitution and sex trafficking. My daughter asked me what they did and why they needed stuff (she’s 11) so I told her these women were homeless and need things we take for granted. It’s the truth but there is more she is not ready to receive. So as a good dad I only give her what she can handle. Shouldn’t we assume God is a better dad than I and He protects us from so much more?  

Sometimes I find myself reading something in the Scriptures or praying and can’t believe I missed it all these years. Had I known this years ago I would have not been ready to walk in that truth. I would have had a hard time faithfully doing it. I was too immature to receive so God in His goodness and mercy let me gloss over it. Not that I was sinning but He wasn’t pressing it because there were more important things He was dealing with me on at the time.

So let us wrap this up nice and neat. God wants us to read His word and pray to Him, He wants to answer, and He has things to teach us. As we mature in our faith we should not take silence from God as punishment or even as a no. We should not be looking for yeses and no’s. Instead we should be looking to communicate and fellowship with Him. Prayer should not always be a gimmie list. Nothing wrong with asking but should we ask all the time? Should all our prayers be about asking for material things? Should we also pray that we can better know Him, understand His Word, understand ourselves better, help others, give more of ourselves to Him, and more? When we come to pray should we take some time to listen and not just talk? If we truly want to hear from Him maybe we need to speak less and listen?

Just a thought,

Mike

A more excellent ministry

Sometimes I read the Old Testament and think “wow look how cool it was” or “people were hearing from God left and right.” But that’s just not true and in fact hearing from God was not common like we think. What’s more is that for a period when they did hear from God it was about judgement (see the prophets). We just have this idea of that is what was happening because we read the Bible like it took place in a short time period when actually the story of Abraham to Jesus is thousands of years. Moreover we think of Abraham and God sitting down and chatting all the time but really it was only a handful of times that God spoke directly to Abraham. A lot of times when we read the Bible we read what we want it to say or what we would like it to say or even what we think it says but not always what it says.

The reason I bring that up is I am re-reading Hebrews after a pretty quick read through the OT and came across Hebrews ch 8 which is fantastic. Specifically verses  6 & 7 (the rest of the chapter is pretty much a quote from Jeremiah 31) and it talks about how much better we have it.

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.

We know that we have forgiveness of sins through Christ but we also have other things that come in that covenant. We have direct access to the throne of grace (Heb 4:6) which we can go to whenever we want. We do not have to wait for a specific time or season but when you need help you can go there all on your own because you have the Mediator. But still there is more.

You now have gifts from God like wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, other languages (tongues), and interpretation. All these things are given to us by God and yes it says “to some” but I see that as meaning more to the point of not everyone has all. The point is God gave gifts. Ephesians 4:8 says Christ gave gifts to men. But there is more.

On of the best things we have under the new covenant is knowledge of God. Specifically laid out in the new covenant is that we will be taught by God. You become a Christian and you get indwelt with that Holy Spirit (that means He takes up residence in you) and in that you get one on one teaching about God by God. Now that is awesome! God says I want to teach you about me. That is like having Bill Gates says he wants to show you how MS Office works. You cannot get a better instructor than the one who made it all.

Now as a side note to that there are a few things to keep in mind. If you want the instruction you need to read the Bible. You cannot get directions and avoid the manual. You need to pray and listen. If you want to talk to God then you actually need to talk to Him, and if you want to hear from God you need to actually listen. I know it sounds redundant but I have spoken with people who want to talk to God and hear from Him but do not want to pray or listen. Another thing you need is to spend time with other Christians. I know I said God will teach you but you need to spend time with other believers to be encouraged, and to help equip you for the work of ministry. Christianity is not a sit down and do nothing religion. You become a Christian and you get a new job title. You are now ambassador to the King of Kings. And in that some people have the ability and gifting to help encourage and equip you to do that job.

So just remember you have the better covenant, and you are now in the good o’le days. You can sit down and chat with God anytime you want so maybe you should take Him up on that offer.

Just a thought,

Mike