God is not a Spiritual Santa Claus

presentsContinued from here.

Many years ago, a Youth Leader made a profound statement: he said that God is not a spiritual Santa Claus. This imagery helped me see how selfish I was being in my prayer life as I rattled off my “wish list” to God every morning, telling Him all of the things He needed to change in my life for me to be happy. I am happy in my life today, even though God’s answer to most of those wish list items was no. The more I mature spiritually, the less I experience God changing my circumstances and, instead, experience God changing ME. As I grow and change, the way I react to my circumstances changes.

One of the greatest misnomers I hear Christians say is that God never gives us more than we can handle. That’s simply not biblical. The cross was more than Jesus could handle. The lion’s den was more than Daniel could handle. The fiery furnace was more than the Hebrew boys could handle. Goliath was more than David could handle. The Mideonites were more than Gideon could handle. I could go on and on, and I’ll include myself in this list: being repeatedly raped as a child was more than I could handle, as was the grueling healing process from all of the childhood abuse.

In fact, every day, I face more than I can handle, but I am nevertheless joyful. God hasn’t made my life easy. Instead, He has taught me the secret to being content even as I’m facing more than I can handle:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

Why does God allow us to experience more than we can handle? Because it drives us into His arms. As long as I stay connected to God, I don’t have to worry about what happens – not that I’m comfortable in challenging circumstances, but I can be content. As I choose to be uncomfortable in doing whatever God says to do (humble myself in my marriage, obey laws I don’t like, forgive my enemies, etc.), God moves in my life by CHANGING ME. As I change, my circumstances change in response. This process takes effort and sacrifice, but it’s worth it … not only to bear fruit that bless others, but I get to experience intimacy with the Creator of the Universe!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace carrying lots of presents. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

What Role does Prayer Serve in the Naaman Principle?

prayerContinued from here.

Please don’t take from the last blog entry that I am anti-prayer. Just the opposite! I have a rich prayer life in which I “hear” from the Creator of the Universe every day (and often throughout the day). This is not an audible voice that booms out of the ceiling. Instead, it’s a still, small “voice” – or, more accurately, and “inner knowing” — that is very personal and intimate. Jesus said that his sheep know and listen to his voice, and this is something I experience every day. I achieved this level of intimacy with God largely through developing a rich prayer life, which includes bringing my concerns to Him, seeking His perspective on the situation, poring over the Scriptures for guidance on what my part is in the situation, and obeying whatever God leads me to do, even when it makes no sense and I, frankly, don’t want to do it. I do it, anyhow, because I love and trust God.

The role of prayer is to connect you with the Father. Prayer is how we remain or abide in God. It’s how we stay connected to God. Prayer is about relationship. It’s about getting to know God well enough to follow His direction so you know where He is going. As you follow Him, you put forth effort. In other words, I pray for God to show me where He is going. I follow Him, which requires effort and sacrifice as I lay down my own desires and replace them with a desire to follow God. And then God moves in my life, producing fruit that blesses the people around me. While I may enjoy the fruit, it’s not produced for me – it’s to bless other people. I have already received my blessing – a close, deep, personal, and intimate walk with God. I truly need nothing else – not that I wouldn’t like comfort, but I’m OK whether I’m comfortable or not because a close, deep, personal, and intimate walk with God is worth the effort and sacrifice.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying next to large praying hands. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Praying is Not Enough

prayer2Continued from here.

I know yesterday’s blog entry was harsh, but I’m trying to wake the Church up. As I said yesterday, while I probably stepped on your toes, God absolutely clobbered me with this truth. I know it’s a hard truth, but if you want that breakthrough you have been praying for, you need to WAKE UP. You need to pore over Scripture to find out what your part of the equation is and DO IT. God is waiting on you to do your part before He will supernaturally intervene with His part.

So, where does prayer come into all of this? I know Christians who use prayer as an excuse not to put forth effort, which is simply not Biblical but can sound spiritual. After all, the Bible does tell us to cast our cares on God and not to be anxious. The thinking is that simply praying for a breakthrough and then sitting around waiting for it to come about demonstrates faith while putting forth effort runs counter to faith. However, that’s simply not a biblical perspective, nor has it been my personal experience.

Let’s say you need a crop of pumpkins. You can pray for pumpkins over a field for years, but no pumpkins are going to grow if you don’t plant pumpkin seeds first, which takes effort (labor of planting the seeds) as well as sacrifice (parting with the seeds). This seems pretty basic in farming, but many Christians don’t seem to see that the same principle applies in the spiritual realm. The principle of sowing and reaping is prevalent in the Bible, with the most basic example being tithing. If you need money, plant seeds by giving some of your money away. Here are a few other examples:

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:37-38).

Whatever you need, you must first give, which requires effort and sacrifice. Prayer is not enough. You can pray for decades and never experience a breakthrough if you are unwilling to plant the seeds. If you have been “stuck” for a long period of time, pray for wisdom and discernment. Perhaps God is ready to act and bring a miracle, but He’s waiting on you to the plant the seeds before He will produce a harvest.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace praying. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritual Laziness

lazyContinued from here.

Let me forewarn you that I might step on your toes today. To quote a pastor I respect, before I step on your toes through something I write, God has already clobbered me with it!

Many Christians – myself included until 2013 – are spiritually lazy. Salvation is so easy – simply receive Jesus into your heart, and then you get to go to Heaven and avoid Hell. Perhaps because little effort is required on our part to receive salvation, spiritual laziness has become widespread throughout the American Church with people wanting to simply “pray away” their struggles rather than put forth effort to become a disciple of Christ.

And yet Jesus told us that there’s a cost to being his disciple. He encouraged us to decide in advance whether it’s a cost we are willing to pay. And that cost is our entire lives! We can only be Jesus’ disciples if we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Where does he lead us as we follow him? Into suffering. Pain. Humility. Rejection. After all, he was a man of suffering! He didn’t “pray away” his challenges. He walked right into them, carrying all of our pain to the cross to bring us victory. Considering the suffering he endured and the fact that all but one of his disciples were martyred, why do we believe that Christianity is supposed to be comfortable and require little effort beyond going to Church on Sunday or perhaps being spoon fed through a Bible study?

I am living proof that God still performs miracles, but they don’t generally happen by simply “praying away” the issue and then living your life however you feel like it. I have found that God waits for me to do my part before He will do His, and I generally find my part to be distasteful. I didn’t want to forgive my childhood abusers – I was much more comfortable with carrying around bitterness. I didn’t want to humble myself in my marriage – after all, I believed my husband was “the problem.” I didn’t want to obey the speed limit (obey laws I don’t like) … or apologize when someone else was in the wrong … or defer my preferences to people who are routinely selfish. And yet those are the very things the Bible calls us to do … and the very things that Jesus did. How can we call ourselves disciples of Christ when we are unwilling to do what God tells us to do?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying on a pillow over the words, “Lazy Day.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Naaman Principle

forgive_youLately, I have been pondering what I have dubbed the “Naaman Principle,” which is a concept I have blogged about before. You can read about Naaman in the Bible here. In a nutshell, Naaman had leprosy and wanted to be healed, but he didn’t want to do it God’s way (by bathing 7 times in the “dirty” Jordan River). His servant convinced him to do it God’s way. He did and was fully healed.

While most of us cannot relate the specific situation of having leprosy, all of us can relate to having something — some area in our lives – in which we really, really, really want God to move, but He isn’t moving. If this issue goes unresolved long enough, we can wind up questioning our faith and doubting whether God really loves us or cares about our situation.

Sadly, in many of these situations (but certainly not all), God isn’t moving because we are not moving. To quote Joyce Meyer,

God won’t do our part, and we can’t do His part.”

The example I wrote about previously was regarding forgiveness. I prayed for years for emotional healing from my childhood abuse, but it eluded me. Even enlisting numerous women to pray for my emotional healing yielded little fruit. The problem was that, like Naaman, I wanted healing, but not God’s way. God’s way to heal emotional wounds is through forgiveness. As I chose to let go of my bitterness and pray blessings over my childhood abusers, my spirit pulled in His healing power. God began healing my emotional pain (the part I could not do) as I did my part of praying for my enemies, and He completed the healing process after a little over a year. For all the years I was wanting on Him to act, He was waiting on me to obey.

Lately, I’m noticing this Naaman Principle all around me, which is why I’ve decided to blog about the topic this week. It applies to so much more than leprosy and emotional pain.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with an halo and angel’s wings, saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Trusting God with the Timing of the Miracle

whenContinued from here.

Of course, I wanted this miracle to happen right away. I’ve cried oceans of tears over this area of bondage over the past few decades. I’ve felt deep shame over my brokenness. I’ve cried out about how unfair it was for me to suffer in this area of my life as I have, and I cried double because of the effects my bondage had on the people I love.

If God had waved a magic wand and healed me instantly the first time I asked, I would only have received the healing. Because of His perfect timing, I not only have the healing, but I also have a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God! I have learned to trust Him – that He will carry me through, strengthening me where I’m weak and enabling me to go on when I have lost all strength or even desire to keep going.

In one of her Bible studies, Beth Moore noted that God is not concerned about our comfort. That rubbed me the wrong way when I first heard her say it, but I now better understand what she means. It’s not that God wants us to be uncomfortable – it’s that his primary purpose for us is fruitfulness, not comfort. Pruned vines bear more fruit than vines that have not been pruned, and pruning is uncomfortable! God allows us to endure uncomfortable – and even painful – experiences … sometimes for decades! … in order to make us more fruitful. Yes, I endured much pain in my life in this particular area, but I now have the testimony to bear much fruit for a particular segment of society who suffer in ways that I once suffered. I can look them in the eye and say, “God is GOOD and bigger than this pain,” and they will know I speak truth because I can show them my scars.

If you are in a difficult or impossible situation, don’t give up! Your Heavenly Father is much bigger than your problem. Your slow miracle may be in the works right now. Just because you cannot see the roots forming underground doesn’t mean the seed is not transforming into a beautiful tree.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up a pocket watch and asking, “When?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Believing that God is Able to Do Even This

believeContinued from here.

Some people do not believe that miracles happen … or if they did happen in the past, God no longer does them today. They point out that if God was still in the business of doing miracles, we would see evidence of them all around us. Some believe that what the people of Jesus’ time called “miracles” can be explained away through reason and science.

All I can tell you is that I have personally experienced God’s miraculous work in my life. He healed my post-traumatic stress disorder, my anxiety disorder, my eating disorder (all slow miracles), and now this – the one area of brokenness that I did not believe God would ever heal … and yet He did. I don’t think He did it just for me: I believe He is going to use this testimony as part of my ministry as He leads me to shine the light of hope and healing into the lives of people who lack both.

If you don’t believe that God will perform a miracle in your life, you could block yourself from receiving the miracle. Jesus would ask people whether they believed he could heal them, and they would be healed according to their faith. Don’t let your own lack of faith stand in the way of receiving a slow miracle. If you lack faith, follow the example of the father who asked Jesus to help him overcome his unbelief. God will provide even the faith, but you must be open to receiving it.

I know how disheartening it is to have faced the same problem day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, and even decade after decade. That was my story for most of my life, and yet I stand before you today HEALED! I don’t know how God did it, nor do I know why it took Him soooo long to do it. All I know is that I was once in such heavy bondage in this area of my life that I had no hope of it ever improving. I was simply grateful when this part of my life transformed from being less painful. Today, it’s a JOY! I marvel at how God can take something that was so ugly & broken and make it something beautiful that brings JOY!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up her hands and saying, “I believe!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]