Ask and You’ll Receive

Journal 2010. Charlie was a proud and bitter man. When he was a little boy, his big brother told him God always answers prayer. So one night, Charlie knelt by his bed and asked for some candy—but none appeared. That was the day he lost all faith in a god who would withhold good things from him.

As I studied John 16 this week, I thought about Charlie.

Jesus is explaining to his disciples what is about to happen. He’ll be going away for a while, and then they’ll see Him again after the resurrection. When Jesus senses that they want to ask Him [questions] about this, He explains a little more plainly. And then He says, “In that day [after the resurrection and when the Comforter comes] you will no longer ask Me anything.” (He did not say, “ask Me for anything.” He meant ask Me any questions you have.)

“And besides,” He says, “I won’t be here anymore. Instead, you’ll ask [questions] in My name and the Father will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for [about?] anything in My name.” (Before Jesus ascended, the disciples could ask Him any question face to face, but after His ascension, they could speak directly to the Father, through Jesus.)

“Ask and you’ll receive [answers] and your joy will be complete,” He says. “I’m not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father Himself loves you” (vv. 25-28).

The disciples respond: “Now we see that You know all things and that You do not need to have anyone ask You [questions]. (The rabbinic method of teaching was to ask questions, and Jesus’ teacher was the Father.) This makes us believe that You came from God.”

Jesus says, “You believe at last!”

Instead of “ask Jesus for anything” (as I’ve always been taught), this passage (context, context) is all about asking Jesus questions. Jesus said, “Ask what you will. . . .” He didn’t say ask for things or prayer requests.

If I’m reading this passage right, it would change a lot of theology, misunderstandings, and disillusionment when we ask Him to do something, and He doesn’t do it. Perhaps Charlie would have grown up a different man had he understood this concept.

Sharp Disagreement

Journal 2010. I assume Paul and Barnabas’s “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:36-41) included sharp words. This story leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Did they not bother to seek God’s face on this? How could they preach unity of the brethren under these circumstances? Both needed to kneel in humility and look upward. Yet they (Paul especially) had some pretty strong words to say with others. He was all about standing firm in the faith, and Barnabas was all about encouragement. They were Holy Spirit-filled men who had feet of clay. In the end, they left for their respective mission fields “committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.”

Who was right? It would be interesting to interview 100 Christians and see which side they’d pick and then see if there is a corollary with personality or temperament. (I tend to side with Barnabas.)

So did this disagreement hinder the Holy Spirit’s work . . . or help? Or did He simply use it to bring about His glory, plan, and purpose? In the end, there was a win-win as four missionaries went out instead of just two.

A 2021 update. For the past year and a half, I’ve watched in dismay as believers wrangle over opinions over COVID and politics. Anger, hurt, and fear drive our discussions, and I wonder how God will sort this all out for His glory. All I can do is guard my own heart and emotions and kindly love those who disagree with me.

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Jealousy

Journal 2010. My third grade Sunday school lesson for this week was on David and Saul. I began by asking the children to look at each other’s eyes and tell me their color. We had five children with brown eyes, and three who had blue. Next, I told them that I had a special gift for each of the blue-eyed children:  a one-dollar gift certificate to McDonalds. I instructed the brown eyes to clap and applaud for them. And then I paused, observing their response. I asked the brown-eyes how they felt. One said she felt “left out.” Another said, “sad,” and another “unfair.” They all admitted to feeling jealous.

And then it happened. Little blue-eyed Ethan stood up and walked over to brown-eyed Holly (who had made a decision just this week to follow Jesus) and gave her his gift certificate. I praised him and then immediately handed him a replacement.

I then launched into the story of David (handsome shepherd boy, beautiful-eyed, strong, courageous, musically gifted) being anointed king (not because of his outward appearance, but because of his heart for God), his brothers’ jealousy, his slaying of Goliath, and Saul’s subsequent love and admiration for him. And then how the women sang, “Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands” and how Saul’s admiration turned to jealousy, to hatred, and then to attempted murder.

We discussed what things made 3rd graders jealous (toys, talents, privileges), and how jealousy can lead to bad things. We talked about how God gives each of us gifts—not for the purpose of self-glory, but to be used for Him and given away.

In conclusion, I instructed the blue-eyes to hand their gifts to the brown-eyes. Not fair? Oh no! Because when we give our gifts away to minister to others, God blesses us in return. And I handed each of the brown eyes a replacement. Now everyone had a gift certificate.

I told the children the gift was theirs to use as they wished. They could spend it on themselves, or they could give it away to bless someone else. It was their choice.

Brown-eyed Chandler said he was going to give his to his brother. Blue-eyed Ethan said, “I wish I could rip mine in half so both my brother and I could use it!” Melina observed that he’d given his away twice, and she tried to hand her coupon to him, but he declined. “It’s okay. You keep it,” he said. And then: “I know! I’ll spend it on ice cream, and I can share it with my brother that way!”

I think the children taught me as much as I tried to teach them that day!

How Would I respond?

From my 2016 Journal.

As I read Acts 5:16-6:15, I note a progression of violence, stemming from the Pharisees’ sin of unbelief, jealousy, and hard hearts. And the apostles’ responses are astonishing.

  • The apostles are imprisoned.
    • An angel frees them, and they return to preaching.
  • Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin, beaten and let go.
    • They continue preaching.
  • Stephen is arrested, preaches to his audience, and is stoned.
    • His last words are, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Obviously, I wasn’t in their shoes, driven by God’s command and with the Holy Spirit propelling me forward, but . . . if I were in their situation, my first response would most likely have been fear, hiding, and kowtowing to the Pharisees’ bullying to avoid further pain. Flogging can be rather incapacitating, don’t you think! I wonder if God healed them instantly? Or did they go through a month of recovery with no antibiotics and their wounds miraculously not becoming infected?

In the flesh, I would have struggled for being unjustly treated. I would have cried unfair and prayed for justice, a staying of the abusers’ hands, a change to my circumstances . . .

Instead, they rejoiced! Extremely counter-intuitive!

I could claim I, too, would have responded in a godly way, but I’ve never been put to the test like this. God prepared the Apostles for this hour. I can trust God to prepare me as well for anything I must endure.

P.S. In Acts 7, Stephen boldly told the Sanhedrin to their faces that they were stiff-necked, stubborn murderers. When is it appropriate to call someone out for their sin? Obviously, the Holy Spirit guided his words, but I cannot even begin to imagine talking that way—to anyone! It’s not my temperament or personality. I’d be asking them all, “What are you feeling? How does it feel to hear me preaching? Why are you jealous?” I guess that’s why God didn’t call me to be a prophet!

Musing on Judas

From my 2016 Journal.

Jesus sent out the twelve disciples and gave them power to drive out demons, to cure diseases, to heal the sick, and to preach the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:1; Mark 6:7)

The twelve? That means that He gave those powers and gifts to Judas as well—the one He chose by the will of the Father, knowing he would betray Him. The one whose love of money was never cured though he spent three years at the Master’s feet.

Jesus sent them out two by two. Who got stuck with Judas? Was he so wicked at this time? Perhaps not. Perhaps he only had a “little sin” in his heart. All the disciples struggled with unbelief and fear and pride. What was so different about Judas?

They were to take no food (what if they had a blood sugar problem?), no money (or credit cards for that matter), no change of clothes (ewww . . . would you invite two sweaty, smelly men in your home?), and they were to preach repentance. Apparently, Judas failed to heed his own preaching.

Whom do we trust with our money? The person we think will do a good job, who’ll keep good accounts. But it’s a man of great strength of character who can be trusted with money—especially other people’s. It’s our own choice if we want to squander our own money. But it’s unconscionable to steal and squander and hoard that which belongs to someone else. We are all weak men—thus we need accountability.

Judas, on the outside, looked so squeaky clean that his closest friends never suspected. (Makes me think of the perpetrator at boarding school—so deceptive that his co-workers to this day are astonished when they find out.) Satan is the master deceiver.

But then, I’m the one I fool the most—denying what’s in my own heart—until I’m confronted.

Seek God, not an experience.

From my 2016 Journal.

After struggling with this issue for years, I lay to rest the notion/teaching that I’m missing something because I don’t have certain spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, raising people from the dead, healing sickness and disease by a touch, or handling snakes without getting poisoned.

Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits [to Peter], and all of them were healed (Acts 5: 12-16, NIV).

After Jesus’ ascension, Peter, the man who denied Jesus three times, begins to perform miracles of healing and casting out demons. Peter didn’t ask for this gift. It was conferred upon him—according to God’s design and purpose. I don’t have the gift of healing, but I have seen clients delivered of evil cosmic beings because, and only because, the person willed it to be so and because Christ’s death defeated demonic forces. I have no power in myself to do diddly-squat! It’s by God’s very will and choice that I draw breath and move and have my being.

I’ve been standing around with my palms up, asking and ready to receive whatever God has for me. Instead, He says, “Just get to work! Quit standing around waiting. When and if I hand you something, open your hand or reach for it in obedience.” If I refuse a gift, then I’m being rude or disobedient. It’s not so polite to extend my hand to demand that someone give me a gift!

The next verse says, Then the high priest and all his associates who were members of the party of the Sadducees were filled with jealousy.

“And don’t be jealous,” God says, “if I give one gift to someone else that you think you want or deserve. I know exactly what gift(s) you need—best for you and best for Me. Now get to work and enjoy what I’ve given you!”

Seek God, not an experience.

Bagfuls of Prayers

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26 NIV).

From my 2013 Journal. As I pray a bullet list of requests for God to grant, He hands me a fistful of bags, heavy as gold but light as fairy dust, in which to carry the requests. First, I hand one to Alan for his trip. He accepts it and thanks me for it.

Next, I hand a bag to Betty. She shows me the needy children she cares for. I don’t have to drum up compassion. I have to walk the path God put me on and follow His leading in humble obedience. He will show me who I am to care for, and Betty will care for the ones in her care.

After that, I give one to Cherie. She drops it in her pocket, but I urge her to carry it next to her heart where the holes are.

Deidre comes next, but she wrinkles her nose, holds it at arms’ length and drops it. God instructs me to empty the contents over her head. Pretty sparkles of light and flower petals rain down.

I hand one to Edith, who cries with gratitude and eats it for strength, absorbing the nutrition for her mind, soul, and body.

Fran asks for one, too, but she’s too weak to hold the container. I empty the contents onto her reclining body and gently massage it into her skin—a healing balm. The prayer covers her like a mud bath to remove all the impurities and draw out the shame and inadequacies and fears. Next, she must choose to dip into the Salt Sea. My prayers cannot force her to do it. But in the spirit of adventure, I know she will leap in and be cleansed. Just don’t wait too long, dear one, or the mud will dry, and you’ll feel itchy and ugly. Go wash and be clean!

Gina begs for a double-triple portion—afraid that only one bag won’t be enough. I laugh and assure her that God’s power is immeasurable and His grace sufficient. Like Peter, she begs to be washed all over. But I’m instructed to squeeze only one drop from her bag onto her index finger. I don’t understand why, but I obey. She’s curious too. What to do with it? Jesus tells her to rub the ointment into her eyes so she can see clearly!

These bags of prayers (all alike I thought) from my lips change into different forms and substances, according to the needs of the receiver. How amazing is that!

Who’s next? I have so many bags left. I want to distribute them all, but they seem to be multiplying like the loaves and the fishes. I hurry over to offer one to Helen. She thanks me, smiles, and says good for me for handing them out and then carefully places it on her shelf, next to her idols. Sigh. Maybe her idols will topple over in the presence of the Holy One like the Philistine god Dagon.

One for Ira, who gladly accepts it and carries it around with him wherever he travels. He’s grateful for it and recognizes its power—ready for use at a moment’s notice.

Next I offer one to Janine. She thanks me, declares it smells good, and tosses it into the back of her car. I decide that’s not good enough, so I secretly toss a bagful, like fairy dust, over top of her house. Curiously, the particles dry up and dissipate before they touch her roof. I try a second time, and it happens again. What gives? There seems to be an impenetrable shield over her house that deflects my prayers. And now I know why. Instead of a believer’s bag, I need to hand her the red one—the one that contains the blood of Jesus. Sprinkle that one . . . no . . . use a hose! Cover, saturate, flood that home! It’ll force her to exit and look up. I happily spray her with it as well. She laughs. She tastes it on her lips. She wants more. She wants to drink it, dance in it, twirl like a little girl before she first got hurt. Jesus says, “Just hold the hose, Karen, just hold the hose.” Then she grabs it from me and sprays her neighbors who have come out to see what the commotion is all about. More laughter.

I box up two bags with extra padding and send them off to China. Though I don’t know their addresses, God safely delivers them to the doors of Kang-Chun and Liang-Lee, two persecuted pastors. There’s healing ointment in the one, I see, along with some bandages. I can’t tell what’s in the other box. The pastor isn’t home. Oh, there’s bread and wine and cheese and rice (of course!) for the starving wife and children. Like the widow’s oil, it keeps replenishing itself. Splendid!

I set down the rest of the bags. M through Z will have to wait for another day.

And now, Lord, I need one for myself. It’s in pill form, easy to swallow. I don’t need to know what’s in it. God’s work/word is unseen as it nourishes my body, gives life to my brain, feeds my arms and my legs, my liver and my heart. Nothing gets wasted or eliminated. “Drink,” He instructs me. “Drink deeply of Me, of My presence, My Spirit, My love. Let it cleanse your every pore. Let it wash through you and make you clean . . . strength for today and always. Breathe deeply. I’ve given you the breath of life itself. It’s My breath. I breathed into you to make you a living soul. Your very being is a testament to My power and creativity.”

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Sabbath Rest

From my 2016 Journal. Every Sunday, my missionary parents practiced Sabbath rules according to their own definition. We did not enter a restaurant or store, travel, cook, play table games, or indulge in handwork on that day. I began to question this logic when I discovered that Jewish Sabbath occurred from sundown to sundown Friday to Saturday, and never mind that we didn’t keep the rest of the Levitical laws.

Mosaic Law gave general rules for Sabbath (Shabbat) observance: no lighting fires in your house or cooking (Exodus 35:3) and limited traveling (Joshua 3:4-5). The ancient Pharisees interpreted and refined Sabbath rules according to their own parameters, and today their legalism extends to not pushing elevator buttons, turning on electric lights, or using any device-driven means of transportation.*

Jewish law prohibits work on Shabbat, but while resting is implied, the word Shabbat literally means “to cease” or “to sit.” God didn’t need rest after creating for six days. He simply ceased.

Reform Judaism says, “One should avoid one’s normal occupation or profession on Shabbat whenever possible and engage only in those types of activities that enhance the joy, rest, and holiness of the day.”

With this in mind, if I were trying to “keep the Sabbath” I would avoid housework, computer work, and the business end of my ministry. It would not preclude ministry itself according to Jesus’ example. He preached and healed all week long. You’d think He’d refrain on the seventh day and take this day off, but apparently His work wasn’t classified as labor.

I may not be Jewish, and yes, Jesus is my Sabbath rest, but I do need to “cease.” I need the change of pace, the chance to recoup, refresh, and recharge my body, mind, and soul.

So . . . once a week, I often turn off my computer, refrain from cleaning house, and occupy myself with things I enjoy doing—guilt-free, such as reading, doing a puzzle, or golfing with my husband (after church of course!)

What does your Shabbat look like?

*How far am I allowed to walk on Shabbat? – Shabbat (chabad.org)

*Laws of Shabbat for Beginners (aish.com)

How Can I Help You?

What’s in your hand?

From my 2013 Journal.

When someone shares a problem with me, Miss Fix-it here tends to jump in with a solution. I’ve learned, however, it’s better to find out what the person wants or expects first, or I may get a rebuttal. Sometimes people don’t want a solution; they just want a listening ear.

The prophet Elisha asked the prophet’s widow, How can I help you? What do you have in your house?

God asked Moses, What do you have in your hand?

And Jesus asked the disciples, How much bread do you have?

We need to start with what we have and work from there. This is a principle I learned from the book When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert regarding poverty—start where a person is, using the resources they already have. Don’t just jump in to fix it. Let them be part of their own solution.

A 2021 Update. I’m reading The Power of Moments by Chip Heath. In section II, the author suggests a better question for a health professional to ask than “What’s the matter with you?” is “What matters to you?”

Sometimes the solution lies in asking the right question.

Need help?

Unbalanced

From my 2015 Journal.

I have been working at breakneck speed for too long. I neglected to rest after an Intensive Retreat with a client, and when I finally found half a day to myself, instead of relaxing, I trudged right up to bedtime. Drowning in over-commitment and pulled in too many directions, my stressed body and chaotic mind won’t shut down. I keep writing lists and the lists keep growing. My mind’s hard drive is full and, with no margin, I’m afraid it will crash. Meanwhile, any quality time with family and God suffers.

Currently, I’m planning two reunions, five trips, editing a magazine, teaching Sunday school, and preparing for two Bible study groups. And in the midst of these commitments, the floodgates for ministry opportunities opened wide. I crave peace and quiet, but drama reigns. I must cease striving and be still, put down my calendar and to-do list, set aside my goals (for now) and return to my priorities.

Visual: I see a picture of me as a teacher with her pupils (i.e. my to-do list). I delight in seeing a room full of wiggly children, but I have tolerated an unruly, chaotic classroom for too long. I place each child in her own cubicle—a cylindrical tube with a lid. I can keep the lids latched, but that takes away the fun away of watching little fingers waving in the air for attention. I instruct them to raise their hands for permission to stand and be recognized before speaking. The others must sit still and wait their turn. Okay . . . which child wants to go first?

Oh! Now I see Jesus behind me, directing their order. I don’t even have to worry about choosing.

Suddenly, a curtain descends in front of the group, the noise in my head stops, and I am alone with Jesus. Whew! I needed this. Refresh, refocus, return.

Be still before the Lord (Zechariah 2:13).