Out of Control, Into His Hands

As I sit here writing this it is Monday morning—the graphic on the news is calling it “Winter Weather Watch 2011” or some other important sounding title.  Last night I watched on the news as people slipped and slid in their cars on snow-coated streets. In every sense of the phrase they were out of control. 

It made me think of the sermon series Unexplainable.  I believe that one of the first things necessary for God to do an unexplainable work in our life is for us to let go and allow ourselves to be out of control.  Of course, for most of us this is difficult to do. We like to have everything precisely under our control.  This explains our dependence of schedules, calendars, and routines. 

The problem is when we have everything under control; we have squeezed God out of the picture.  In essence, when we are in control of our lives, He can’t be.  God is not going to come in like an over-bearing relative and wrench the wheel from our hands.  He is going to let us drive and let us go where we want to go.  When we get there we shouldn’t be surprised that nothing unexplainable happened.  After all, how could it?  We effectively stunted the possibility when we retained control. 

My Pastor, Ronnie, made the statement that we want the unexplainable, but don’t put ourselves in the place to allow God to make unexplainable things happen.  We have such an opportunity before us over the next 11 days.  

Fasting is an opportunity to relinquish control and let God move in our lives.  It is a time when every pang of hunger can push us to the Lord in prayer.  It is a way to allow ourselves to be nourished on the Word of the Lord and to be sustained by the presence of the Spirit.  When we fast we are giving up control of something we often turn to for comfort. 

Remember this: as we presumably give up control for the next 11 days in reality we are merely handing over control to the One that should have it all along.  We are giving Him the opportunity to right our course, steer us through the slippery and treacherous parts of life and to guide us safely to the destination that He has prepared for us.  Keep that in mind through the days ahead and allow God to work the Unexplainable in you.

Stronger On My Knees

Stronger on My Knees

God brings us things sometimes that drive us to our knees.

It’s tough being the type of Christian that God wants me to be.  I don’t know why I am surprised at this.  Jesus said that the way to follow Him was narrow and that many would not be able to make it.  He said that I would have to deny myself and take up my cross to follow Him.  Being a disciple of Christ is so much more than being baptized or being a church member or simply saying the sinner’s prayer.  Being a disciple of Christ is hard work. 

I am convinced that there are two types of Christians:  the ones who know just enough to be saved and the ones who have an earnest desire to be remade into the image of Christ.  The first group has accepted Jesus and then goes forward with their life trying to do the best they can to live like it.  The second group realizes that they can’t be like Christ without some radical remaking taking place. 

Therein lies the difficulty.  When Jimmy said that God brings us things sometimes that drive us to our knees, it resonated with me this week.  I once heard a preacher say that you are either in a storm, coming out of a storm or heading into a storm.  Right now I am in the midst of a storm that has put holes in my jeans and calluses on my knees.  This time, however, I am not despairing.

This time, there is a change in me.  I know that my present storm is necessary, even good for me.  This storm is there because God is using it to reshape me, yet again.  This storm is driving me to my knees because I have exhausted every option in my feeble mind.  I know that all I can do is fall down before my Creator and raise my hands and wait for His voice. 

Would I rather be standing on my own two feet?  Absolutely!  But I also know that I am most able to be shaped by God’s hand when I kneel and submit at His feet.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you to allow God to shape you into the image of Jesus.  Allow the circumstances that drive you to your knees to be the catalyst that drives you closer to God.  Allow His gentle and to smooth away anything that is of you and replace it with all of Him.  Be willing to be remade and be ready for where He leads you.  When your time of struggle is finished and He picks you up from your knees, know that you will be a little bit closer to where He wants you to be.

Father, help me to recognize that you should be the first place I should turn to, not the last.  Help me to rely on you for my strength and my peace.  Give me direction through the storms that life throws at me and help me to be obedient to you when the rain blows away.  In Jesus Name, Amen. 




Leaving it All to the Lord

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7

So how exactly do you go about “leaving it all to the Lord?”  The verse above gives us a three-step process in delivering your cares and worries to God.

The first step is to change your attitude.  I call this “giving up your anxious ways.”  When Paul tells us in verse 6 to “be anxious for nothing,” you have to look closely at the four words that precede this command in verse 5.  They say, “The Lord is near.”  Paul almost seems to throw those words in there so subtly that if you aren’t paying attention you will probably miss it.  You see, those four words are key to the rest of the passage.  The reason that we can be anxious for nothing is because our God is near.  He is not far off, on His throne, looking down to see if we can fend for ourselves. 

That is not my God!  My God is right beside me.  He’s got my back.  His nearness should be the end of my anxiousness.  Did you catch that?  Because He is near we don’t have to worry or be afraid.

Think for a minute about a bully.  Maybe he is the biggest kid on the playground that always gets what he wants.  A bully gets away with bullying because there is usually no one around who can or will stand up to him.  On the playground, no bully is going to pound on the smaller kid when the teacher is right there.  This world and all of the worries and cares that it brings on us is like that bully sometimes.  It pushes us around and knocks us down and on our own, we are anxious and worried and fearful and alone.  But the Bible says, “THE LORD IS NEAR!”  All of a sudden we aren’t so easy to bully.  We have Almighty God in our corner.  So the first step is to recognize that the Lord is near and change your attitude accordingly.

The second step is to change your action.  I call this “abandoning your prayer-less ways.”  The second step is to change your action and in order to do this, you need to learn how to pray the way Paul describes in verse 6.  Notice the four key words found here:  prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, and requests.  Prayer is simply quiet, personal communication with God.  A good definition for supplication is “a humble request for help from someone in authority” or more simply “to beg.”  I find it ironic that many of the prayers God hears from us are impersonal cries for help when you have gotten yourself into a bind and need His help to get you out of the jam.  Although Paul commands supplication here, we will see that that is not exactly what he had in mind.  The next word that is important is thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is just what is implied, to give thanks to someone.  We don’t usually give thanks unless someone has done something to deserve it.  In this case we get back to verse 5: the Lord is near.  There are many reasons to give thanks to God, but I believe in this context it is because we realize that God is near and it is His presence that causes us to be thankful.  The fourth key word is requests.  Requests are the desires we present to God when we ask for help.  They are generally heartfelt because we are burdened in some way.  We bring someone a request when we have done everything we can and there is still no resolution.

Here is the point.  As long as we are in good standing with Him (that is, free from sin,) God will hear us when we pray.  But what Paul is instructing the Phillipian church and what I am conveying to you goes deeper than that.  Here is the vital truth to walking in peace:  A Christian who maintains a constant attitude of prayer is able to bring his humble requests for help before the God that he is thankful to know personally with full assurance that God IS near and WILL hear your prayers and DOES ACT in accordance to His good and perfect will.

The person in constant communication with God that I just described is like a person who picks up a cell phone, dials a number, presses send and the phone call goes through.  This is contrasted with the person who gets the cell phone out of a drawer, turns it on but the battery is dead, plugs it into the charger and sees that she has no signal, gets in her car, drives until she has signal, dials the number, presses send, and finally the call goes through.  Now both were able to make the call but the one that stayed connected had much better results.  Which one do you feel like?

So am I saying that if you pray a lot that God will make everything turn out exactly how you want it to?  Absolutely not!  It is not so much about the quantity of your prayers but rather the content and quality of them.  Let me repeat that. Paul says, “In everything” we are to pray.  In Ephesians Paul says to pray, “without ceasing.”  What he means is, God didn’t create us to fly solo.  He wants to hear from us with what we consider to be big things and small things and then to speak back to us.  Perhaps one thing to consider is whether the things that stress us out actually drive us to Him. When we pray, we grow in our relationship with Him.  

Finally, the third step is to change your approach.  I call it “basking in God’s peaceful ways.”  When we have a change in attitude (by giving up our anxious ways) and we add to that a change in action (by abandoning our prayer-less days) we begin to have a change in our approach (as we bask in God’s peaceful ways.)  Do you remember the song you sang as a kid?  “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding way down in the depths of my heart!  As a kid it was fun to sing, but until you become an adult and are desperately searching for peace, you don’t realize the truth of that song.  You see, when we are constantly communicating with the “Lord who is near” it is only natural to give our worries and cares to God and because he knows we are fully relying on Him, He is all too happy to give us His peace.  This is like a bulletproof vest for your hearts and minds, and these are the two places you are most vulnerable for attack.  Paul says this peace “surpasses all comprehension” and when you feel it come over you, you will know exactly what the apostle was talking about.

So in order to deliver all our worries and cares to God, we must change our attitude, change our action and change our approach.  The next post is going to explore that “Rejoicing is a Command.”




What Things Are You Clinging To?

“God cannot pour his riches into hands already full.” 

I heard this little nugget of wisdom as I drove down the road the other night.  I was listening to the last part of a Chuck Swindoll sermon titled “When God Says No.”  Something about it resonated within me, so I grabbed a pen and scribbled it on a file folder sitting on the seat next to me.

When I think of the words “hands already full” I get a visual in my head of my son.  He is three years old and his favorite toys are his trucks.  “Trucks” is an all-encompassing term for trucks, cars, motorcycles, planes, and anything else big or small with wheels.  We don’t go anywhere without at least a few trucks, more likely we have a backpack full of them.  You can never have too many trucks; at least that’s what Joel thinks.  The image I have comes from my son’s two small hands.  Even though they are small, he still manages to somehow carry as many as ten trucks at a time.  Wheels in the palm, bumpers perched on trunks, big ones and little ones, he keeps stacking in his hands until no more can fit.  Then he begins the precarious move from his room to the den to the hall to the garage to the car.  It is something to see.  One wrong move and they all come tumbling down.  Sometimes I need Joel to grab a hat or something to bring with us, but there is no more room in his little hands. 

I wonder if God feels like that with me?

What are the things that you latch on to with both hands and are unwilling to let go?  I know I can think of a few.  Perhaps it is a job that brings you comfort.  Maybe it is a dream that you have held forever. Or maybe it is a relationship you keep coming back to.  Whatever it is, your hands are aching from the strain of holding on to it.  Have you ever gripped something so tightly and for so long that when you finally let go your knuckles ache and your hands are tired.  That is how we get sometimes with our wants and desires and even our things.  We stubbornly hang on tight, refusing to let go.  Just like a child who won’t share a toy, we will not be denied.

But what if that keeps us from something better?   What if in seeking what we want, we miss out on what God wants for us?  This is what I got to thinking about when I heard the statement, “God cannot pour his riches into hands already full.” I almost looked down to see what my hands were clinging tightly to.  In my mind, I know that I cling to financial security even though I have never found it.  I cling to my relationships with others, even though they don’t provide for all my needs the way God can.  Sometimes, I cling to my pride and the desire to be recognized for what I do.  For all the ones I can think of there must be countless others that I am unwilling or unable to recognize.

My question then becomes this, do I want to hang on tightly to what I think is important (and will most likely slip away or at the very least not make it through to eternity) or do I want God’s riches, the ones that last forever.  Matthew 6:20 says, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy…  These are the riches I want.  Riches that last. 

I think there is a more important lesson to be learned here, however.  I think the bigger picture here is that God desires a relationship with us where we rely on Him first and foremost. He desires that we come to Him, not just to be blessed, but because we recognize the futility of going it alone.  This is the story of the Bible—God calling out to His people, patiently desiring a real relationship with each of us.  I wonder how many of us would be honest and admit that we cling to things out of fear.  We fear what will happen if we let go.  Like a life preserver to a man adrift in the ocean we hang on.  But what invariably happens is that the rope on the end of the life preserver is not attached to anything firmly.  So we drift and we float and we are never pulled to safety.  We anxiously wait for the next financial crisis, or the next relationship to end or the next business deal to fall through and we are shaken when it happens, but don’t let go.  Here is a thought.  Maybe each thing that we cling to and lose is merely God removing it so He can replace it with something better.  Perhaps instead of scrambling to recover what was lost, we should pause and see what comes next.  Even better, maybe we should ask God to fill us with the blessings and riches that He thinks we need.  This may sound hard to do, but one way or another, He is going to get your attention. 

I’ve tried it my own way and held on to things that were not right for me.  I have also lost things that I held dear.  But that is just it: they are only THINGS.  They are nothing compared to the relationship I have with my Lord and my Savior.  They will not last forever.  The riches of God will.  So I am raising my now empty hands to Him.  Asking for His blessings in whatever form He sees fit.  I am waiting for my hands to be filled with the treasures of Heaven.  I think I am going to like this…