If God Knows Our Every Need, Why Does He Tell Us To Pray?

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Most of us don’t like to humble ourselves. At least I don’t like to. And prayer is an act of humility. Prayer is an act of weakness. When we pray we admit to God that we desperately need help. That we’re weak and needy and not in control of all things. That we are not self-sufficient.

But God is attracted to this act of humility. So in one Peter 5:6-7 he tells us:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

We humble ourselves “under the mighty hand of God.”  In other words prayer acknowledges that God is sovereign and controls all things. We bow before his sovereignty. We acknowledge that God rules but his mighty hand and we can’t control a single thing in and of ourselves.

Prayer waits for “the proper time” for God to lift us up.  Waiting for God is humbling for again, we acknowledge that we can’t change anything and must wait for God to.  We must patiently wait for the One who knows the end from the beginning, the infinitely wise one, who knows the absolute perfect time to come riding in to rescue us or supply our need.  He knows the perfect time to answer our prayers. Our affliction won’t last one second longer than he determines.

God tells us to cast all our anxieties on him. Why must we tell God our cares when he already knows them? Because asking is an act of humility, and since God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5), prayer puts us in the position to receive grace.  God so longs to pour out his grace on us he tells us the best way to receive it!

God tells us to cast or anxieties on him “because he cares for you.” When we pray it’s important to remind ourselves that God, the creator of the galaxies, the sustainer of heaven and earth, is deeply concerned for us – individually. I used to think God was so busy running the universe he didn’t have time for my “petty” needs. But I found out that God loves and cares deeply about his children individually.  He knows us by name.  He knows every hair on our heads.  So pray because God cares about you and your anxieties and needs.  If he feeds the sparrows of the field and the ravens that cry out, how much more will he hear the cries of his precious blood-bought children?

Don’t be proud. Don’t try to tough it out and get through life on your own. Humble under the hand of the Almighty who is tenderhearted, sympathetic and generous, and waiting to pour out grace. Cast your anxieties on him and he will lift you up at the proper time.

The Antidote To Selfish Ambition

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Our culture tends to be self-focused and self-absorbed.

We say things like “You have to look out for number one. Because if you don’t look out for number one, no one else will.” TV commercials constantly tell us what we need to make us happy. TV psychiatrists tell us we should love ourselves more and be sure to bolster our self-esteem. But when Jesus comes into our lives and rescues us from our sins, he begins to reorient our whole mindset about everything in life, including our tendency to be self-focused.  So he tells us in Php 2:3-4:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Selfish ambition and conceit (pride) tries to get more of this world for itself, tries to advance itself over others, always wants more. More admiration, more power, more possessions. But contrary to what the world says, selfish ambition won’t fulfill us, but is really the enemy of joy.

As believers in Jesus, we need to remember that we have all the riches of God in Christ. We have the encouragement, comfort, sympathy and affection of Jesus! We have the fellowship, comfort, guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit. We don’t need to get ahead of others or get more than them. We don’t need to be admired more than others; we have Christ to encourage us. We don’t need to be loved more than others; we have the comfort of Christ’s love.  So God says out of our fullness here’s what we should do:

in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

This doesn’t mean that everyone else is more significant than us, but that we should COUNT or CONSIDER them to be so. Think of them as more significant than ourselves.  When we go to church or our fellowship group, we should think, These brothers and sisters of mine are SIGNIFICANT – they are important to God. I’m not going just for myself but for THEM.  This mindset leads us to do what verse 4 says:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

This doesn’t say don’t look to your own interests or that your interests are unimportant.  It says “Let each of you look NOT ONLY to his own interests, BUT ALSO to the interests of others.” All of us have concerns. All of us go through tough times. All of us have prayer requests. So our mindset should be – I’m not just focused on me and my interests. I want to focus on others as well. I want to be concerned for them ALSO.

D.A. Carson says, “It is also very practical to make a habit of thinking and speaking of the interests of others rather than boring people by constantly dwelling on our own interests”

In other words TAKE AN INTEREST IN PEOPLE. Find out about them. When you first meet someone you don’t start with What’s your biggest struggle? You get to know them. You find out about where they work or what their major is. You might ask about their families or maybe about hobbies they enjoy. You may say, Mark I hate making small talk. But in church it’s not simply small talk. Eventually they may open up about a problem they’re having or a spiritual struggle that you can encourage them about.  Romans 12:15 says:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

Our Christian life is a shared life. We live this life with others. We’re not isolated individuals. We’re all part of Christ’s body. So what happens to you affects me. When you’re blessed, I’m blessed. When you suffer, I suffer. When I stub my toe, my whole body goes into action to comfort my toe. My arms send my hands down and my eyes direct them to the aching toe. My fingers grab my toe and massage it as my mouth cries, “Ow, ow, ow!”

You may say, Mark, I feel like no one cares for my soul. If that’s the case, I feel really bad for you. My advice would be – and I know this might be really challenging for some of you – but my advice would be for YOU to begin to try to care for the souls of others. Ask others how they are doing. Ask how you can pray for them. Because in MT 7:12 Jesus said:

Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Do you want others to take an interest in you? Then take an interest in them. Do you want others to be compassionate to you? Then be compassionate toward them.

We can all be tempted to think about our church or fellowship group at times, “What am I getting out of this?” But our gatherings are not ONLY for what we personally get out of it, but they are for what we can do for others.

So I encourage you today to meditate on and thank Jesus for the riches you’ve received in him and look for ways to take an interest in others.

The Fickle Pursuit of Fame

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Fame is a fickle thing. It comes to many who do not seek it and is an unwelcome guest. It avoids many who do seek it leaving them in vain pursuit. When it is found by those who seek it is unsatisfactory and often destructive. After being destructive for period it often abandons them, leaving them in a worse state than they were before it arrived.

And the oddest thing about fame is that the people who manage it best are those who act is if they don’t have it.

Fame creates a riddle that is unsolvable. When one doesn’t have any he wants some, but as soon as he has some he needs more. Once more is found he wants none, but neither can he bear the thought of giving up what he has.

It all makes one wonder why anyone would seek fame?

And yet we do. The desire to be famous burns hot. And if we can’t be famous we want to know famous. That’s why People Magazine  and E! TV are so popular (it’s certainly not because of the creative and artistic value). We brag about seeing actress X at the airport or athlete Y at the grocery store. It’s as if the knowledge of fame or proximity to it rubs a little magic fairy famous dust off onto us so we can feel famousy for a moment.

But what is about Fame that so captivates and nearly stupefies society? Once upon a time it was because of what athletes, actors, musicians, politicians, or authors accomplished, their actions. But now? The aim isn’t to do what they do. Fame is the goal itself. If you need proof just take a gander at so called “reality TV stars” on shows like or the Jackass movies. (As an aside, what does it mean to be a reality” star? You’re more real? You live a realer life?)

People want fame because people want to matter even what makes them famous matters nothing at all. The thought goes like this: “If someone knows who I am I gain significance, so the more people that know me the more significant I am.” Even if you’re known for a 72 day marriage, public drunkenness, stupid stunts, or a sex tape.

Even Christians fall into this trap, and in Christianity the fame bug bites with an even weirder kind of venom. People seek fame through doing good – preaching, writing, giving, serving. But when the fame becomes the motive and not the good that points to God, we know our Christianity is upside down.

Fame, at its best, is a bi-product of doing things that truly matter. It is something that is received, not sought after. We are not wise or good enough to rightly handle fame, and that’s why the best famous people are those who spurn it. For those of us who are not famous we should simply focus on the good and let God get the fame. And by all means, avoid all reality TV.

Always Apologize First

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On occasion a particularly young and/or naïve person asks me for advice about being a husband or a dad. (No one seasoned or wise bothers.) Since I got married young and had kids young I have “experience”, I guess. By “experience”, of course, I mean scars and bruises from stumbling into obstacles created by my own idiocy and arrogance.

When the question is put to me “what piece of advice would you give to a new husband/dad” I want to leave minds blown and mouths agape. I want to utter a witticism that would make Solomon jealous and Confucius plagiarize. Instead, all I have ever been able to come up with is this: “Always apologize first.”

Somewhere along the way I was given this piece of advice — or pieces of advice that added up to it. It’s so simple but time and again has proven itself to be the piece of advice I needed. It falls under the grand banner of “A soft answer turns away wrath” and enforces both humility and self-examination. Apologizing first is the bucket of water which douses the flames threatening to burn bridges between wife and husband or father and children.

To apologize first requires a person to genuinely reflect on his role in any conflict. I can’t remember many occasions when I was totally innocent in a conflict with my wife or children. Even if they’ve wronged me I nearly always contribute to the conflict with self-righteousness, pride, or just generally being a jerk in return. I always earn the right to apologize (and, be honest, so do you). If I am always intent on apologizing first I will dig through my heart to find that word or attitude that caused hurt or conflict. I will figure out what debt I owe to my wife or my daughters and go settle accounts with them

Apologizing first encourages the other person to apologize. By walking back their way you shortened the distance they have to come to make their own apology whenever they are ready. It’s much easier to say “I’m sorry too” than it is to simply say “I’m sorry.” Do the hard part so that it’s easier for others to follow in kind.

Apologizing is a beautiful example for your children (and spouse). I know too many people who can’t remember their parents ever admitting wrong doing or apologizing for anything. To apologize to my girls for losing my temper or being inattentive to them is a significant example for them and necessary deflater for me. It does much to create a culture of humility and forgiveness in our home so that when wrongs happen they don’t fester. It builds trust because they learns it’s safe to say  “I’m sorry” because forgiveness follows. Most importantly, apologizing first helps me explain how far from perfect I am and my own need to be forgiven by God for my sins.

I write this to share something that has helped me enormously. I hate being wrong, so apologizing is something loathsome to me. I’d rather explain, defend, and justify. Of course that just means apologies are something I need to offer all the more. It is a struggle every time to set aside my own ego and admit my fault and ask forgiveness. Maybe that’s why someone offered me this advice – they saw my own need. Maybe you are humbler than I am, but for those who aren’t give it a try. Apologize first. It will do wonders for your relationships and heart.

photo credit: butupa via photopin cc

The Thing That Will Bring You The Most Freedom Today

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What’s the most freeing thing you could possible do today?

That question could conjure up all sorts of associations in your mind. You might think of freedom from something: oppression, fear, anxiety, challenging relationships, or difficult circumstances. You might think of freedom to something: to do what you want, live as you want to live, go where you want to go. Since “freedom” is such a broad concept, I’ll narrow the question down even more:

What frees you to be who you’re meant to be – today?

The answer to that question might surprise you. It certainly flies in the face of most contemporary conversations about things like self-actualization or advice like “be true to yourself.” The single most freeing thing you can do today, or any day, is this: admit your dependence on God.

Dependence. Not a word we often associate with achieving our potential! But if God is who God proclaims himself to be, and if we are who he says we are, then dependence is a necessary concept. Listen to how the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck described this idea over a century ago:

What makes human beings religious beings and drives them toward religion is the realization that they are related to God in a way that specifically differs from all their other relationships. This relationship is so deep and tender, so rich and many-dimensional, that it can only with difficulty be expressed in a single concept. But certainly the concept of dependence deserves primary consideration and is best qualified for this purpose.

Pause. Does this sound like bad news to you – or, at the very least, not a “freeing” bit of advice? Keep listening. As Bavinck goes on to say,

We are absolutely dependent in such a manner that the denial of this dependence never makes us free, while the acknowledgement of it never reduces us to the status of a slave. On the contrary: in the conscious and voluntary acceptance of this dependence, we human beings arrive at our greatest freedom. We become human to the degree that we are children of God. (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, p.267; emphasis added.)

Did you catch that? Denying your dependency never makes you free. Acknowledging your dependency never makes you a slave. On the contrary, dependence is what it means to be human – because at heart, we were made to be God’s children.

So how does this work today? It boils down to this. You were not made to function like a wind-up toy. You and I were made to live in conscious and constant dependence on God. But living dependently doesn’t mean we give up our responsibilities, our hopes and aspirations, our ambition, our goals, or our daily job. It means we see all those as areas where God calls us to admit our need for him – and by so doing, to find our true freedom.

The most freeing thing you can do today is to admit your need for God, even in the minutiae of your daily routine. Pray for help to finish those emails before clocking out. Ask for strength to clean up snotty noses and spilled cereal. Consciously lean into God through Jesus Christ in whatever lies before. Because this is what you were made for.

Photo by Kalyan Chakravarthy