Never, Never, Never Give Up!

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On May 10, 1940, at age 65, the age most Americans are thinking about retiring, Winston Churchhill took the job of Prime Minister of the UK when there appeared to be little hope for Great Britain.

Two weeks later France would be crushed by the Germans and they would have complete control over all of Europe. There seemed to be little hope that Britain would not fall before their onslaught as well.

In one of his first speeches as Prime Minister Churchhill said, “. . . we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

On October 29,1941 to the boys at Harrow School, Churchill said, “Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Great Britain faced a powerful, evil earthly enemy. Believers in Jesus face much more formidable spiritual powers, as well as living in a fallen world. And we are promised we will encounter trials of various kinds and warned to not be surprised when we suffer. Yet we are exhorted again and again to endure, as in Hebrews 10:36:

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.

Great Britain had no guarantee their endurance would pay off. But believers are guaranteed a great reward for their perseverance. We will be welcomed into heaven by our Master with “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We will be rewarded with the vision of the face of Jesus Christ and comforted as Jesus himself wipes away every tear from our eyes. We will sit down at the wedding feast of the Lamb and enjoy fellowship with our God and our family forever. We will be completely conformed to the likeness of Christ, and we’ll hear and join the heavenly multitudes in the song of the Lamb forever.

So don’t give up. Don’t give in. If you have fallen, confess your sin and Jesus will forgive and cleanse you of all unrighteousness. Then ask him for grace to get back up again and keep plowing ahead.

Imitate the endurance of Jesus, who endured the hostility of men and the agonly of cross by looking to the joy set before him (Heb 12:1-3).

Never give up. Never give in. Take up the full armor of God and stand. Don’t stop praying. Don’t quit serving. Don’t stop hoping. Our God is greater than any circumstance and any enemy and any failure. Nothing is too hard for our God. His arm is not too short to save. And the reward for endurance is greater than we can imagine.

What I’ll Tell My Daughters About Modesty

Photo by Violette79

Photo by Violette79

I have three daughters, the oldest of whom is seven, so we haven’t had to spend a whole lot of time talking about modesty. Yet. But I know without a doubt that the time is coming when we will be having many, many discussions about modesty. How do I know this time is coming? Because our culture is becoming increasingly comfortable with a highly sexualized version of womanhood. The pornification of society is showing up everywhere, from Miley Cyrus performing in front a national audience, to the magazines that show up in grocery stores. As my daughters grow older, they will be increasingly encouraged to use their bodies in ways which don’t please the Lord.

So what will I say to my daughters when I talk to them about modesty? Instead of presenting them with a lengthy list of rules and checklists, I hope to keep things pretty straightforward. I’ll tell them that modesty is a way of life in which they seek to honor God and serve others with their bodies.

MODESTY IS A WAY OF LIFE

When it comes to modesty, it’s easy to gravitate toward one of two extremes. One one end are those who say that modesty doesn’t matter at all (see Miley, Beyonce, et all). On the other end are those who try to codify modesty into a set of very precise directives (skirts must be at least one inch below the knee, tank tops are strictly forbidden, etc.). I would venture to say that those of us in the church tend to gravitate toward the precise directives end of the scale. In an effort to keep our daughters from immodesty, we are tempted to prescribe all sorts of laws about what clothes can and cannot look like.

While I certainly want to help my daughters think through their wardrobe choices, I want them to understand that modesty is, most importantly, a way of life. True modesty is a heart disposition before it is a particular wardrobe choice. A woman with a modest heart is first and foremost concerned about serving the Lord and serving others. She will certainly make particular wardrobe choices, but those choices will flow out of a heart attitude rather than a set of arbitrary rules.

The reality is, my daughters could follow all my rules for modesty and yet still behave in a way that is both sexually alluring and sexually immoral. This is why Peter writes:

Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3-5)

Peter understands that modesty is, above all else, something that is internal rather than external. If my instruction regarding modesty focuses primarily on creating rules or checklists for my daughters, than I’ve failed as a dad. I want them to understand that modesty is a way of living before God. Modesty is about God before it is about them.

MODESTY IS ABOUT SERVING GOD

In the midst of all the confusion about what articles of clothing are too short, or too tight, or too revealing, it’s easy to forget that modesty is primarily about serving God.

God created each of my daughters, and he gave each of them a wonderful, female body. Because God created my daughters, they belong to him. Their bodies belong to Him, and their bodies are to be used in ways which honor and please him. Lord willing, each of my daughters will grow up and marry a godly man (I don’t want to think of that day!). When one my daughters gets married, she will give herself fully (including her body) to her husband (and vice versa). She will present herself to her husband in ways that are sexually delightful to him. God is so very pleased when a man and wife present themselves to each other in sexually alluring ways. With all our emphasis on concealing the body, we can inadvertently make it sound like sex is a bad thing. It’s not! Sex is a God thing when it takes place in the context of marriage.

As my daughters get older, I want to help them understand that they are only to present themselves as sexually alluring to their husbands. Any other attempts to be sexually alluring are not honoring to God.

So does this mean that I will only let my daughters wear frumpy sweaters and ratty jeans until they get married? Absolutely not! Beauty is a gift from God, and I want my daughters to highlight that gift without flaunting the gift. I want them to present themselves to the world as beautiful, feminine, smart, and attractive, without being intentionally sexually alluring. How will we achieve such a balance? I don’t know yet! Achieving such a delicate balance obviously requires some serious, Proverbs-like wisdom, which can only be obtained through large doses of Scripture and a whole lot of prayer.

MODESTY IS ABOUT SERVING OTHERS

I don’t care what people say – the reality is that if a woman dresses in a way that reveals significant portions of her body, it will tempt most men to lust after her. To quote Bruce Hornsby, “That’s just the way it is, some things will never change.” I’m not commenting on whether this reality is good or evil, I’m simply stating the facts. Anyone who argues those facts doesn’t know men very well.

With this reality in mind, modesty becomes a way of serving others. Modesty is a way of treating others as we desire to be treated. Modesty is a way of demonstrating Christ-like love, which puts the interests of others above our own interests. All of which matters very much to Jesus.

Before I talk to my daughters about necklines or the length of shorts, I want to help them cultivate a desire to serve their fellow brothers in Christ. Yes, I realize that last sentence sounds totally sexist and misogynistic, but I don’t know any other way to put it. As Christians, we live in community with each other, and our actions directly effect those around us. The way my daughters dress really will effect those around them. Causing someone else to be tempted is serious business to Jesus. In Matthew 18:6 he says:

…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Before anything else, modesty is about serving others. It is about sacrificing our own personal preferences for the sake of those around us.

CONCLUSION

Will I talk to my daughters about specific items in their wardrobe? Sure. It’s inevitable. But I want my daughters to see that individual wardrobe choices are part of a much bigger picture. I want them to understand that the clothes they wear in this life echo into eternity. I want them to understand that modesty isn’t just dad flipping out over a shirt that is too tight, but rather, is about using their bodies to bring maximum honor and glory to God. Will I get this right every time? Of course not! I desperately need God’s grace and wisdom to navigate this issue.

I’m confident he will supply me with all I need.

The Worst Advice You Could Ever Give Someone

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In “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot” Sting sings:

Let your soul be your pilot
Let your soul guide you
He’ll guide you well

Some of you may remember “The Land Before Time” (1988). In it Littlefoot’s mother says: “Let your heart guide you. It whispers, so listen closely.”

And Steve Jobs said: “Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Follow your heart.

That’s the worst advice you could ever give anyone. That assumes that our heart is the ultimate authority in our lives. That our heart won’t mislead us. That our heart knows what is best and right and true. But for believers in Jesus, we know, or eventually come to know, that our hearts are flawed and deceptive, and that lots of bad stuff can come out of them. That’s why God gives us his Word. Kevin DeYoung says:

“On every matter in which the Bible means to speak, the last word goes to Scripture, not to councils or to catechisms or to science or to human experience, but to the word of God.”

Psalm 138:2 says:

You have exalted above all things
your name and your word. PS 138:2

God’s word is above all other authorities. It gets “the last word.” So…

If Science tells us the universe came into being by a Big Bang and was not created by God speaking it into existence, then Science is wrong (and many scientists believe in creationism)

If Science tells us that man evolved from monkeys and not created by God out of dust then breathing life into man, Science is wrong (again, many scientists believe God created man).

If culture tells us that it’s ok for men and women to have sexual relations outside of marriage, then our culture is wrong.

If our culture tells us we’re all born basically good and our main problem isn’t that we sin and incur God’s wrath, but we just need more self-esteem, then our culture is wrong.

And even if the church tells you that you must be a conservative or a liberal or you must home school or send to Christian school or you must or must not vaccinate, then that church is wrong.

When I was a young Christian I heard someone say the following and it has helped me immeasurably over the years:

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

First of all if God said it, it’s true, whether I believe it or not. But for Christians, we must believe God’s word. We must accept it by faith, whether we feel it or not. That settles it. End of story. We don’t let our hearts guide us, but God’s word. Our circumstances may scream that God has forsaken us. But Jesus said he’d never leave us nor forsake us. So I believe it. That settles it.

Don’t let your soul guide you. Don’t let your heart or intuition be your final authority. Let the Word of God, be the final word in your life.

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

NOTE: I preached a message on this topic yesterday. It’s called “Breathed Out by God.” If you would like to listen to it you can hear it here.

Making The Bible Come Alive In Your Own Devotional Times

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I should read my Bible more.

I don’t have very consistent quiet-times.

The Bible seems (can I say it?) dull. Unrelated to my life. Reading Scripture is like starting a fire with wet kindling: no matter how much I try, the match seems to go out.

Have you ever thought anything like that? Does the word of God, which claims to be “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), seem dead and inactive when you read it? If so, here’s good news: you’re not alone! Every Christian has, and will, struggle to give consistent attention to God’s word. Sin, Satan, and a God-ignoring world around us all do their best to keep us away from the Bible, or at least unsatisfied with the Bible’s impact.

But apart from what we might call the “hostile opposition” to our Scripture reading, we face another challenge: the Bible isn’t about us! A resume, a birthday card from your kids – those are about your life directly. But the Bible is filled with stories about other people, distant places, difficult names, battles and birth narratives. How do all those stories and sayings actually impact real life in your world, amid bills, screaming children, chronic pain, sleepless nights, or constant loneliness – all the stuff that fills up our moments?

Here’s one way to get at that question. What Scripture has had a significant impact on your life? We can probably all point to one particular passage, verse, even phrase that has been a milestone in our Christian lives. Maybe it’s the passage that God used to save you. Maybe it was something that got you through a significant struggle in marriage or parenting, a job crisis, or a health emergency. Take a moment and think about that significant Scripture. What stands out about it? What made it leap off the page?

Here’s how David Powlison, a writer and biblical counselor, summarizes the way Scripture comes to life for us. Consider your significant Scripture, and see if you find a mix of these three elements. Scripture comes to life when three things intersect: our situation, the living God, and our response in light of who God is and what he does. Situation, God, response. Let’s unpack each of these.

The situation – Scripture is about the real lives of real people. It has dirt under its fingernails. It portrays life as it really is: messy, painful, joyous, glorious, all at once. It portrays people as we really are. Made in God’s image, yet fallen. Sinful and sinned against. Corrupt and corrupting. The point of all this is to intersect with your life. You live in the same world, a good world made by God but now under his curse because of sin. Scripture accurately portrays life in that kind of world.

God – but Scripture does more than catalogue the joys and woes of humanity. Scripture reveals God. It is fundamentally about the triune God: who he is, what he is like, what he does. Or we could put it this way: Scripture is about God revealing himself in Christ in the power of the Spirit. But note: God doesn’t reveal himself in abstracts. It’s easy as Christians to only have vague, fuzzy notions about God. Fuzziness never changes anyone. Scripture reveals God in specifics, not in vague abstractions.

Response – God reveals himself so that we can respond. And that response (again summarizing Powlison) happens in two-dimensions: vertically, towards God; and horizontally, towards other people. In other words, faith and love.

When you put these three together – the triune, living God, situation, response – Scripture comes to life. Think back to your significant Scripture. Can you see these elements? Now imagine this: what if all of Scripture began to open up to you in these ways? That’s God’s intention. Scripture is about life: your life, and mine. It is living and active (Heb. 4:12). It is able to make us wise for salvation, and useful for godliness (2 Tim. 3:15-17). It brings life, wisdom, joy, and purity (Ps. 19:7-8). And it brings all those good gifts in the midst of the real world, the world we live in as sinners, sufferers, and saints. Life and Scripture aren’t strangers. They share the same zip code. And as we bring our life to the Bible, we’ll find that the Bible comes to life in ways we’ve never expected.

Photo by Chris Yarzab.

Can Everyone Be A Leader?

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“Each of you is a leader!”

Recently this has become a theme, practically a mantra, whether it is in businesses, schools, or churches. Entrepreneurial efforts have become popularized as people seek to lead their own business or ministry. Hundreds and thousands of books have been written on the subject, seminars are held, and tests are given. Leadership is the thing.

But as the old adage goes, you can’t lead if nobody is following.

Obviously, not everyone is a leader. In fact, not even most people would qualify as leaders. But the mindset of “I am a leader” prevails, which has a striking effect. Numerous people are leading nobody in spite of their desire to lead, and they are following nobody precisely because of their desire to lead.

Leadership, as defined by all realities, is limited. Only a few can lead in any given circumstance. It can be positional or it can organic, but it is always a small number of people. Do the math. It rules out most of us in most circumstances. Constantly aspiring to leadership can lead to conflict, egotism, and frustration as we all try to cram ourselves through a bottleneck and into a leadership role. Simply put, not everyone is a leader nor should everyone be a leader.

But everyone is an influencer. The fewest number of people in the tiniest of roles in the smallest of moments can influence. It can be had without words and without a position of authority. It can be had on those in authority over us or in positions reporting to us. Influence is what every person should emphasize.

Leadership is a gift, a set of abilities given by God and developed through circumstances brought about by God to make a person uniquely prepared to, well, lead. Influence is simply faithfulness at work. It is the work of the Holy Spirit through a person on others. It can be subtle or bold, spoken or acted.

One of the main reasons people aspire to leadership is to make a difference, so they scramble and grapple and hustle and rush in order to get to the top. This pursuit often starts for a good reason-to make positive change-but usually ends in a pitched battle or political sniping. But influence is not a competition; it is faithfulness at work. And influence can occasionally end up as leadership, but the best influencer doesn’t set out to do so.

So seek to influence by faithfully working. Influence up and influence down, and influence our fellow followers. The influence we have can be one the main tools God uses to do His work, and to make a difference.

This column originally appeared at WORLD News Group’s website (wng.org). Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2012 WORLD News Group. All rights reserved.

8 Questions To Help Guard Your Heart

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When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us he changes our hearts and minds. He gives us the mind of Christ (Php 2:5). And we are to cooperate with him by actively transforming our minds and thinking by the word of God:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…RO 12:2

As we take in God’s word, the Spirit of God renews our minds, causing us to think Christ’s thoughts, to see life as Christ sees it, and to know God more and more. Yet it’s important that we guard our hearts diligently:

Keep your heart with all vigilance,for from it flow the springs of life. PR 4.23

In other words, we must pay attention to what is going into and coming out of our hearts. We must watch what we’re thinking. This doesn’t mean we should become self-absorbed or become overly introspective or constantly be thinking about ourselves. But we should be aware of our thoughts because our mindset affects our life. Here are seven questions we can ask ourselves to see how we are keeping our hearts:

What am I believing about God?

Do I believe what his Word says about him? Do I believe he is faithful? Do I believe he is sovereign, good and loving? Am I trusting his promises? Or do I believe he has forsaken me or doesn’t care about me?

Am I constantly giving thanks?

Gratefulness produces joy. Noting and recalling our blessings turns us to God. Do I regularly thank Jesus for saving me? Do I have “the joy of my salvation?” Am I thanking God in everything? If we believe that God works all things for good, then we can thank him in any and every situation. If grumbling and complaining is coming out of our hearts, something is amiss with our view of God.

Am I giving into any condemnation?

Am I consistently living in the good of the gospel? Am I forgetting the good news that Jesus paid for all my sins, failures, mistakes, omissions? Do I fall into self-pity at my failures or weaknesses? Am I constantly dwelling on my regrets? Am I living in the good of the gospel? Am I pressing ahead in faith?

Am I casting my cares on God?

Do I believe God answers prayer? Do I believe he has the power to help me and change any situation? Am I asking for his help or am I trying to solve all my problems on my own? A lack of prayer reveals a lack of humility and a lack of faith.

How am I interpreting my life?

Am I interpreting it from a Biblical framework? Is God in the equation? Or am I thinking in wordly ways? Again, do I believe God is in control and working for my good? Or do I believe that life is out of control or that God is distant and uninterested?

Am I being attracted to any sin or the world?

Am I thinking like the world thinks? Am I craving the things of the world – success, possessions, personal fulfillment? Am I flirting with any sin? Am I thinking thoughts like “A little bit won’t hurt” or “I’ll just do this one time then I’ll quit” or “No one will know if I do this”? Am I envious of what others have? Am I jealous of others’ success or gifts or possessions? Am I depressed about not having certain things?

Do I fear God?

Do I believe he knows my every thought word and deed? Do I believe I’ll have to answer for everything I do in life? Do I want to do everything for the glory of God? Do I believe God sees everything I do and nothing is hidden from his eyes?

Am I humble?

Am I doing anything from selfish ambition?  When I correct someone do I look for the log in my own eye first?  Do I listen to others?  Am I easy to correct?  Am I able to admit I’m wrong?  Do I think I’m something great?  Do I remember that all I have is a gift from God and anything good I’ve accomplished has really been the Lord?

I’m sure there are many other good questions we can ask ourselves to guard our hearts with all vigilance.  May the constant outflow from our hearts be thankfulness, praise, faith, encouragement to others, mercy and kindness.

The Reformed World’s Obssession With Tobacco, Heaven Tourism Books, and Other Happy Rant Topics

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It’s time for another episode of The Happy Rant! In this episode, Ted, Barnabas, and I cheerfully rant about:

  • The Reformed world’s strange obssession with craft beer and tobacco products. We also have a really good recommendation for Matt Chandler.
  • The pros and cons of keeping your young children in church during the sermon.
  • Heaven tourism books, including the groundbreaking book Rufus Goes To Heaven. The book is about a dog. Yep.

You know what to do:

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.

Don’t Be So Quick To Quote Scripture At Your Friends

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Is there ever a time not to quote Scripture? Imagine this scenario. Sunday after church your friend approaches you asking to talk. He’s having struggles in his marriage. At the office a project is requiring extra hours and at home the kids are in a high-octane phase that’s driving his wife nuts. The result is a household full of tension and irritability, with a number of petty, smoldering conflicts gradually merging into one ongoing conflagration.

“I know these arguments don’t please the Lord, and I know I’m partly to blame,” your friend says. “What do you think?” It’s your opening. Time for Scripture, right? “Bro, you just need to love your wife as Christ loves the church. I’ll pray for you!”

It’s biblical (Eph. 5:25). It’s true. It applies to his situation. But is it what he needs to hear? Surprising as it may seem, the answer is no. Not yet. Why? Here’s the principle: don’t quote Scripture until you can personalize the truth. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church,” is true – gloriously and challengingly so. It’s also generic, one-size-fits-all. Husbands from Papua New Guinea to Pennsylvania can apply it. But your friend isn’t a symbolic representative of all husbands everywhere. He’s one person walking out his life before the Lord, loving a specific woman and specific children in a succession of unrepeatable, never-to-be-duplicated moments. God’s ultimate goal is for Ephesians 5:25 to be embodied in concrete, particular ways in real time, at 5:47pm on Friday the 29th and 9:30 on Saturday morning after breakfast.

What does that mean for you? Simply this: ask more questions. Don’t use a Bible verse to end a conversation before it requires too much of you. Find out how your friend is struggling, in specifics: when did it happen last? Where? Why? When you can help your friend see what loving his wife, in this season, this week looks like – then you can remind him that planning to take the kids Saturday afternoon or pick up pizza for dinner Wednesday night so she doesn’t have to cook is his personalized expression of Ephesians 5:29.

Sometimes, even with good question, you may not know how to help someone particularize truth. You know a verse applies, but you’re not sure how because the situation is complex. That’s okay. In that case you’re honest with your friend, and Scripture doesn’t become a conversation stopper. You talk about the verse. You pray together. You commit to helping walk with your friend while you both grow in wisdom. But the goal is to make truth personal – even when it takes time.

Why is this so important? The ultimate answer is because God is personal. He is not a general truth about life, but a person. And he relates not to abstract humanity, but to real people. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The living Redeemer writes down names, whole chapters of them (see Romans 16, for instance).

So yes, your friend needs Scripture. So do you – but Scripture that’s personalized, melded to real life. Don’t be content with abstractions. Ask questions. Pray for wisdom. And then speak.

Photo by Brett Jordan

Why Doesn’t God Answer Prayer The Way I Want?

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Kids have a way of making us consider life and God in a way we’ve often forgotten. It’s so easy to “out grow” the simple but profound questions of childhood. Not long ago I was putting my daughters to bed and we had just such a conversation. (Of course it was at bedtime; they always happen at bedtime.) She’d been working hard at learning math without the ease she wanted, and it caused a theological dilemma.

“Dad, what’s it called when God just does something, like make someone better when they’re sick?”

“A miracle.”

“Yeah! Why isn’t it always like that? Why can’t I pray and then just know math? Sometimes I pray and nothing happens.”

Well then. My eight-year-old put her little finger on a question that will likely stick with her for all of life. It’s the kind of question that can’t be ignored and about which we can’t be apathetic. It’s a question I ask all the time, and it drives people to God or away from Him. Why isn’t God answering my prayer the way I want?

I used to work in retail, and just about every day I would see parents with out of control kids. The child would be running around, yelling, generally acting the fool, and what would the parents do? “If you don’t stop that we’re not getting this toy!” “If you keep that up there will be no French fries for lunch!” What would happen next? The child would, of course, not stop. The parent would, inevitably, buy the toy or the French fries anyhow. They simply couldn’t say “no” to their kids.

In fact, that’s why their kids were out of control. They got whatever they wanted. They could manipulate, strong arm, and generally dominate their parents. One strategic temper tantrum and that Barbie doll was theirs. The kids were in charge.

And that’s what we would be like if God gave us everything we wanted. We would be the spoiled brats kicking and screaming and demanding that God make our lives easy. (A lot of times we act like this even though He doesn’t give us all we want.) And like the spoiled kids we would be worse off for it. We’d be unhealthy. We’d be ungrateful. Just as children don’t know what’s best for them and need parents to provide, so we don’t know what’s best for us and need God. We only know what feels good right now, not what is healthiest, happiest, and most beneficial for all of life.

If we got what we wanted when we wanted it every time we would never learn faith. We would never learn patience. We would never learn diligence and hard work. We would never learn obedience of any kind. It’s easy to think life would be better if we got all we wanted. What that perspective fails to recognize is that it makes us God. To make a demand of God and have it fulfilled is to be in charge of Him. Do we really want a God we can be Lord over? I don’t. I’d screw that up so badly. And so would you.