The God That Runs To You

I’m sure you’ve experienced what I’ve experienced. My nice, orderly world came crashing down all around me. It totally blindsided me! I got on my knees to do some serious soul searching and I prayed, “God I know you called me here. I know I’ve done what You’ve asked me to do. What’s happening? Why am I being attacked? Where are You, God?

I’m sure you’ve been there too. “Where’s God?” has been the cry of countless people from the oldest book of the Old Testament until this very day. In dark times our world seems to shrink, and the weight of the entire world seems to rest on our shoulders. We begin to at first sigh and say, “Why me?” and then those sighs become sobs of “God, where are You?!” 

“Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like.…” —A.W. Tozer 

Here’s the truth: We are always in a spiritual battle. It’s just hard to see it in the “good ol’ days.” But in the “bad ol’ days” we realize we don’t have it all figured out! The dark days are simply the reality of spiritual warfare revealed. 

Answers don’t come easily because there are no easy answers!

One of Job’s friends named Zophar thought he had God all figured out. He concluded his easy answer that the wicked have a bad life and the righteous have a good life. So if things were going badly for Job, he must have messed up somewhere. Except Zophar was wrong! God Himself pronounced Job righteous (see Job 20:1-8; 1:8). Zophar’s easy answer now doesn’t seem so easy, does it? 

I’ll say it again: In the hard times, answers don’t come easily because there are no easy answers. 

In fact, Jesus told us, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). 

How did Jesus overcome the world of hurt and pain? He did it by taking a hands-on approach—Since the children have flesh and blood, [Jesus] too shared in their humanity…. For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way…. Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:14, 17-18). 

The phrase “He is able to help” literally means that He runs to the cry! 

In order to be able to run to our cry, Jesus has to know what our cries sound like and what our pain feels like. He had to taste all our pain for Himself. He had to feel all of them in a human body. The Limitless God was incarnated in limited flesh to experience everything we would ever feel. 

Now that Jesus has died and been resurrected, our cries bring Him running to us with ALL of His LIMITLESS love and power and empathy! 

In the good ol’ days we may not recognize just how close God is to us. But when the bad days come and we cry out to Him, He comes running. Jesus may be closer when you say, “I don’t know where You are!” than He’s ever been before. 

Go ahead and cry out. Jesus knows those cries. He hears you, He knows your pain, He runs to your cries, He comes close to help.

Join me next week as we continue this series asking “Where’s God?” in the specific difficulties that we face. We’ll ask questions like, “Where’s God in my depression?” and “Where’s God in my divorce?” and “Where’s God in this national calamity?” Please don’t miss these encouraging messages! 

Fasting Power

We are always engaged in an intense spiritual battle. Sometimes we feel the intensity of the battle, sometimes we don’t. But it’s always happening. 

This is why we need to make prayer an ongoing discipline. If we do, we will be much more likely to turn to prayer when we feel the intense moments, and our faith in those intense moments will be strengthened and ready to respond. 

Every day we are either preparing or repairing. Prayer is either helping us prepare for the challenges we will be facing, or it’s helping us recover from the battle we just fought. Believe me: it’s much better to be preparing than it is to be repairing!

One time the disciples of Jesus got stymied in a spiritual battle. A father brought his demon-possessed son to them, asking that they cast out the demon. But this distraught father then had to report to Jesus, “They couldn’t do it” (see Matthew 17:14-21). 

Why couldn’t they? These men had been taught how to pray by Jesus Himself, and they already had experienced ministry success (Matthew 6:9-13; Mark 6:13). So were they stumped now? 

Jesus told them, “It’s because you have so little faith.” He went on to tell them that these intense spiritual battles require an ongoing lifestyle of prayer. Jesus wasn’t suggesting that they should have said to that father, “Come back in a few days after we have prayed and fasted.” 

But what Jesus was really saying was that all of us need to stay connected to the Source of our spiritual power at every single moment (John 15:5, 7). Sometimes this requires taking our eyes off ourselves and our own appetites. 

In a word: we need to fast. 

The word fasting means “to cover the mouth” or “to close the mouth.” 

  • often fasting is in response to calamity or as a sign of mourning 
  • sometimes it’s alongside an intense prayer 
  • ideally it should be a regular discipline in our lives. In Matthew 6:16-18, notice the phrase “when you fast.” Not “if you fast,” but when. Jesus assumed that we would do this, and since this teaching appears right after Jesus teaches us how to pray, it makes sense that prayer and fasting go well together.  

Fasting is not…

Fasting intensifies our focus on God in the quiet times so that we can keep our eyes on Him in the crashing storms. 

Fasting helps us tune in to the unmistakable Voice of the Holy Spirit in the peaceful moments so that we can still recognize His Voice in the tumult of battle. 

Is there a comfort food you tend to run to? Is there a coping activity that you typically use to de-stress? Is there someone or something other than God that is your go-to in times of trouble? Perhaps we should start there and fast from those things for a short period of time. 

Fasting in the quiet times will strengthen us for the intense battle times. 

Let’s prepare daily for victory, instead of having to repair after a failure.

4 + 4 Strategies To Eliminate Distractions To Your Prayer Time

There’s a quote that has been the theme for this series on prayer: “Prayer pursues joy in fruitful fellowship with Jesus, knowing that God is glorified when we bear fruit in answer to prayer. Why do God’s children so often fail to have consistent habits of happy, fruitful prayer? Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the reasons is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to.” —John Piper 

And unless I’m badly mistaken, the most obvious thing we need to plan to eliminate is distractions. 

Some people say they can juggle a lot of things at once. “I’m a really good multitasker,” they say. But science says differently. MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller concluded that our brains are “not wired to multitask well…. When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.” What is that cognitive cost? “Multitasking can drop IQ as much as 15 points, essentially turning you into the cognitive equivalent of an 8-year-old” (Inc. Magazine). 

If the devil can make you think you can multitask prayer with other things, he has seriously inhibited the effectiveness of your prayers. 

Jesus was not a multitasker—but He was singularly focused on His Father’s plan. And yet He accomplished more in His three years of public ministry than anyone else in history! 

Here are 4 strategies to help you get ready to pray:

  1. Try to have your prayer time in the same place and at the same time. Your brain likes routine and it will help you zero-in during your scheduled prayer times. 
  2. Silence your cell phone or other noisy distractions. 
  3. Keep a notepad handy for random thoughts that pop into your head. Writing them down will keep your brain from switching back-and-forth to them.
  4. Focus on listening, not on talking—Eugene Peterson said, “Prayer is first of all a means of listening. Prayer is an act of attention.” 

When we get right down to it, prayer is spiritual warfare (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:10-18). In the context of warfare, the word strategy means the maneuvering that takes place prior to the battle. The devil is a masterful tactician, and he will do everything he can to keep you distracted. 

That’s why three times Peter tells us to be clear-minded and singularly-focused in our thoughts SO THAT we can pray without the hindrances of distractions (1 Peter 1:13-14; 4:7; 5:8-9). And Paul tells us to take all our thoughts captive, so that no un-Christlike thoughts are inhibiting our prayer time (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). 

Here are 4 strategies to help you stay focused in prayer:

  1. A—adoration. Enter into God’s presence with a Psalm or worship music. 
  2. C—confession. Deal with unconfessed sin, unforgiveness, or relationship strife as quickly as possible (Psalm 66:18; Matthew 5:21-24). 
  3. T—thanksgiving. Paul counseled us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition WITH thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  
  4. S—supplication. Intercede for your brothers and sisters in the battles they are facing (James 5:16; Job 42:10; Ephesians 6:18).  

Remember—

Prayer isn’t preparation for the battle; prayer IS the battle! Let’s not be distracted from that!

Prayer Expectations

Many of our prayers could be much bolder and much more specific than they are. Why is that? Because how we view God is going to determine what we pray and what we expect after we pray.

When we pray, we approach an All-Loving Father, and we approach an All-Powerful God. I have found that typically people get warmed by the idea of Father and get scared by the idea of God. They say things like: “What if my prayers don’t hallow God’s name? What if He’s mad at me? What if I pray an improper prayer?” 

God wants us to come to Him in prayer, so He makes Himself very accessible! The Father is both Father and God; the Son is both Friend and King; the Spirit is both Comforter and Convictor. We get ALL of this in One God. 

Charles Spurgeon had this word of encouragement: “If You are my Father, then You love me. If I am Your child, then You will regard me, and poor though my language is, You will not despise it.” Jesus came to earth fully God and fully man, making Him our perfect intermediary (see Job 9:32-35; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25). And the Holy Spirit helps interpret our groaning prayers (Romans 8:26-27). 

Have you ever noticed that neither the prophets of the Old Testament, nor Jesus in the Gospels, nor the apostles in the New Testament ever prayed, “God, if this is Your will please do such-and-such”? They simply prayed. Or more accurately, they prayed so boldly and specifically it almost sounded like a command: “Stand up” or “Be clean” or “Go, your prayer has been answered.” 

When you and I are praying to an All-Loving and All-Powerful Father, with Jesus interceding for us, and the Spirit helping us, we too can pray these bold and highly specific prayers. 

After all, if you don’t pray specifically and expectantly, how will you know when your prayer is answered? 

I find John Piper’s acrostic very helpful in praying these bold and expectant prayers. He calls it APTAT: 

  • A—Admit I can’t do anything without Christ. This hallows His Name. 
  • P—Pray for help to do it. 
  • T—Trust a specific promise of God to help me (two general promises are found in Isaiah 41:10 and Romans 8:32). 
  • A—Act. Do the things I need to do: apply for the job, ask forgiveness, schedule a meeting. 
  • T—Thank Him when I’m done. 

Two final thoughts—

  1. Make prayer more of a listening relationship than a talking relationship. 
  2. Give yourself some grace as you are maturing; don’t expect immediate perfection. Start praying and then let the Father, the Son, and the Spirit help you mature in your prayer life. 

I hope you can join me this Sunday as we continue to work on our plans to pray.

Why Should Christians Sing?

Some things are fascinating by what isn’t said. For instance, in the Christmas carol It Came Upon A Midnight Clear there is something conspicuously missing. 

One thing that isn’t missing is singing. Every one of the stanzas ends with a phrase about the angels singing. But can you spot what IS missing? I didn’t see it at first until I read this quote from respected music professor Dr. C. Michael Hawn: “This may be the only commonly sung Christmas carol in our hymnals that does not mention the birth of Christ! 

This carol just sort of assumes that we know why the angels are singing. But do we know? 

The Bible tells us that the angels were singing at Creation and that they are still singing in Heaven for all of eternity (Job 38:4-7; Revelation 5:9-13; 7:9-12; 15:2-4). Then we have this glimpse of the angels singing when Jesus was incarnated as a human baby in Bethlehem (Luke 2:14). Where did they get their song and their inspiration to sing it?

Their song comes from the Choir Leader who is the King of kings. Jesus is singing in Heaven, before the throne of His Father, about the salvation that He brought to mankind through His incarnation, sinless life, death on Calvary, and resurrection from the grave (see Hebrews 2:9-12). 

The song that Jesus sings tells the story of how He came to earth just like us—made a little lower than the angels—so that He might taste sin and death and conquer them for us. Now as our victorious Savior, He is not ashamed to call those who put their faith in Him His brothers and sisters.

Now perhaps you see why angels are also singing all the time! 

Even today there is a lot of singing around the Christmas season, but there is something missing in most of the songs: a focus on what Christmas really means. The world’s songs are about trees, and gifts, and Santa, and falling in love, but it’s a song that is out of tune with the angelic song. 

As Christians, we have a choice we can look around at this out-of-tune singing and lament what’s happening in our world, we can join in these meaningless songs, or we can look up at our Savior and sing the song He is singing. 

Christian, will you join with the angelic choir to let the world hear the unmistakable love song that Jesus is still singing today? 

Join me on Sunday as we continue our look at the fascinating messages in the old familiar Christmas carols. 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—Rejoicing In God’s Unchangeableness

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Rejoicing In God’s Unchangeableness

But He is unchangeable, and who can turn Him? And what He wants to do, that He does” (Job 23:13 AMP).

     Some shallow thinkers dream that the great plan and design of God was thrown out of order by the fall of man. The fall they consider all accidental circumstances, not intended in the divine plan, and thus God, being placed in a delicate predicament of requiring to sacrifice His justice or His mercy, used the plan of the atonement of Christ as a divine expedient. … I am persuaded that the very fall of man was a part of the divine purpose: that even the sin of Adam, though he did it freely, was nevertheless contemplated in the divine scheme and was by no means such a thing as to involve a digression from His primary plan. …  

     And when later the gospel was sent to the Jews, and they resisted it and Paul and Peter turned to the Gentiles, do not suppose that God had to take down His book and make an eraser or an amendment. No, the whole was written there from the beginning. He knew everything of it. He has never altered a single sentence nor changed a single line of the divine purpose. … 

     It is a sweet consolation to the mind of one who muses much upon these deep matters that God never has changed in any degree from His purpose.

From The Infallibility Of God’s Purpose 

God has a plan for all of His creation. ALL of His creation—that includes you! 

You were made on purpose and for a purpose. God’s original plan of sending Jesus for your salvation still stands. God’s original plan for your particular life—with all of your talents, gifts, personality, and uniqueness—is unaltered by any circumstance. 

YOU have immeasurable value and worth because God created YOU. 

Thursdays With Spurgeon—God’s Purpose Prevails

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

God’s Purpose Prevails

But He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth (Job 23:13 KJV). But He is unchangeable, and who can turn Him? And what He wants to do, that He does (AMP). 

     Now the fact taught here is that in all the acts of God in providence, He has a fixed and a settled purpose. ‘He is in one mind.’ It is eminently consolatory to us, who are God’s creatures, to know that He did not make us without a purpose and that now, in all His dealings with us, He has the same wise and gracious end to be served. … 

     O believer, ever look, then, on all your sufferings as being parts of the divine plan and say, as wave upon wave rolls over you, ‘He is in one mind!’ He is carrying out still His one great purpose. None of these comes by chance; none of these happens to me out of order; but everything comes to me according to the purpose of His own will and answers the purpose of His own great mind. … 

     We sweat, we toil, and we fail. How often do we come back weeping because we have toiled, as we think, without success! Yet, Christian man, you have not been without success, for ‘He is still in one mind.’ All this was necessary to the fulfillment of His one purpose. You are not lost; your labor has not rotted under the clod. All, though you see it not, has been working together toward the desired end. … 

     From every evil, good has come. And the more the evil has accumulated, the more has God glorified Himself in bringing out at last His grand, His everlasting design. This, I take it, is the first general lesson of the text—in every event of providence, God has a purpose. ‘He is in one mind.’ 

     Mark, not only a purpose, but only one purpose—for all history is but one. There are many scenes, but it is one drama. There are many pages, but it is one book. There are many leaves, but it is one tree. There are many provinces, yes, and there are many lords and rulers, yet there is but one empire and God the one Potentate.

From The Infallibility Of God’s Purpose

All of history is His storyand your life is a part of that Grand Story as well. God doesn’t miss a thing. He is working all things out to accomplish His purpose (see Romans 8:28). Even when it seems nothing is happening, turn your thoughts back to God Whose plans never fail, Whose purposes are never frustrated, Who is always working out His grand plan.

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