How God Sees Me

Remember that Gideon fellow and the fleece? (Judges 6:12) When we first meet him, he is sitting under an oak tree where there is a wine press and a rock when an angel of the Lord visits him and declares: The Lord is with you, you mighty man of courage.

Warrior

What a joke! Gideon was petrified! He responds with: If? Why? Where? Didn’t?

But God saw Gideon differently than Gideon saw himself. When the Lord declares it so, it is so!

How does God see me? What name has He given me that I cannot see or agree with? (Beautiful? Precious? Loved? Pure? Forgiven? Gifted? Full of worth?)

Gideon protests: But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hands of Midian.

It’s true that God had given the Israelites into the hands of the Midianites, but Gideon’s doubts and questions led him to a false conclusion. It FELT like God had forsaken them, but the truth was God had not forsaken Israel. He was disciplining them for the purpose of training and turning their hearts toward Him.

When we feel emotions that are not fruits of the Spirit, we are prone to believe lies.

Show me, Lord, how You see me, and give me courage to believe You with the eyes of faith. I want to cooperate with the Spirit of the Living God. Reveal to me, Lord, where my faith is weak and my doubts are strong. I want to be a mighty warrior for your kingdom.

Do I Really Need a Grocery List?

Grocery store

I’ve been a life-long student of the subject of intercessory prayer. I’ve read all the books I can find on the subject, tried all the methods suggested, and read biographies of great prayer warriors. But like the majority of us, I still struggle with my inner prayer life. Here’s a journal entry from 2009.

I have a list of people I pray for—but it’s just that—a list, for the purpose of jogging my memory. It serves the same purpose as a grocery list—it’s a reminder so I don’t forget the items at the store. The list doesn’t do much good though until it becomes fulfilled—that is, the item is taken off the shelf, paid for, taken home, and consumed.

There’s no spiritual magic for listing names of people or organizations on a piece of paper. But when I take those names with me to “the store” (the throne room of grace), I can hand the list to God and ask Him to fill the request for me, and then my soul is satisfied. In the process, I give Him permission to make substitutes—perhaps what I put on the list isn’t good for me (or for the person I’m praying for). Maybe there’s a better selection. I ask for generic and He wants to give me the brand name. Sometimes I specify a brand name, and He gives me generic because it’s a better value for my money. And then I need to ask Him to help me remember the people or things I forgot to put on my list. He’s good at that!

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed (Mark 1:35 NIV).

In his book A Journey into Victorious Praying, Bill Thrasher states: “The word for ‘praying’ in Mark 1:35 does not primarily refer to intercession for others but to the outpouring of His own soul to the Father for renewal and refreshment.”

Thrasher also said, “God is capable of taking my feeble prayer and interpreting my desires and deep longings and motivations. The Holy Spirit knows. . . .” He related the story of Augustine, a leader in the early church, who lived a sensual lifestyle in his early years. When he planned to go to Rome, his mother prayed, “O Lord, do not let him go to Rome because he will only get into further debauchery.” God did let him go to Rome. But it was there that he was converted. “The Spirit of God pled the deeper desire of the mother for his spiritual well-being, and God answered her heart.”

Maybe next time I go to the grocery store, it’s okay if I forget my list. Maybe I should just take time to chat with the “Grocer”!

Do you use a prayer list? Why or why not?

The Right/Wrong Game

When our girls were little, we used to do a little exercise we called the Right/Wrong Game. For each of the four deeds and motives below, we tried to come up with examples.

  1. Right deed [Give to the poor], wrong motive [makes me look good]
  2. Wrong deed [Steal from the rich], right motive [to give to the poor]
  3. Wrong deed [Steal from the rich], wrong motive [spend on my pleasure]
  4. Right deed [Give to the poor], right motive [meet a need]

I thought of this little game when I read II Chronicles 25:2.

He [Amaziah] did right in the Lord’s sight, but not with a perfect or blameless heart.

I think Amaziah fell into Category #1.  I want to live in Category #4.

Anyone care to share some other examples for this game?

Ho-Hum, another miracle

When he learned of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Have your hearts been hardened? (Matt. 8:17 NET)

heart blanket

I’ve been mulling over the comment about the disciples having hard hearts after participating in Jesus’ miracle feeding of the 5000. I don’t know why their hearts became hardened, but I wonder if it has to do with their becoming complacent about seeing Jesus’ miracles? Or . . . were they mad that they had to play waiters and busboys when they were already exhausted? Or . . . were they prideful that they were in the inner circle with the Miracle Man? Whatever they were feeling, a hard heart is not receptive to understanding truth.

I feel conviction when I think of the first suggestion: complacency after experiencing God work miracles in people’s lives. When I first began praying with people in M&K Ministry, and watched God reveal truth to people’s hearts, it was fun, exhilarating, liberating, exciting—an emotional rush. People were getting set free of addictions, finding freedom from fear and anger and pain, and discovering that their childhood abuse memories no longer had power over them.

Your first experience with something leaves the greatest emotional impact because of its novelty. When the disciples witnessed Jesus performing miracles for the first time, I bet their eyes bugged out. But after many months of trudging around the countryside, foregoing the comforts of home, being mobbed by the crowds, sometimes too busy to eat or rest, I suspect they became weary of the journey, no longer surprised when the lame walked and the blind saw and the deaf were made able to hear. Ho-hum, another miracle.

It troubles me to think I might start to view God’s miracles taking place in people’s hearts as commonplace. In one sense, I should expect it of course—it should be a commonplace occurrence (why are we so surprised when God answers our prayers?) But what I don’t want to happen is to get a “ho-hum” attitude toward it.

Staying in ministry requires keeping your heart soft and open to learning new truths. 

I Have a Question

Last week I talked about Gideon’s “Ifs.” Here’s another one, but with a twist.

Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, IF the LORD is with us, WHY then has all this happened to us? And WHERE are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’” (Judges 6:13 NASB, emphasis added).

Question mark

My clients often get stuck on the questions “Why?” and “Where?” Why did God allow the abuse? Why didn’t He rescue me? Why doesn’t He care about me? Where was He when it happened? Why didn’t He stop it?

And God seems to remain silent. He knows that answering the why and where questions won’t satisfy the heart because He knows what emotion or pain lies behind them.

When Gideon asks the why question, God does not answer him. Instead God replies: Go in this your might and you shall save Israel . . . Have I not sent you? (14)

In the next verse, Gideon responds with another question: HOW can I deliver Israel when I’m the least of the least?

Again, God doesn’t directly respond to this reasoning.

The problem is, when we ask the wrong questions, we often come to wrong conclusions and make false assumptions and accusations.

Gideon concludes: But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian (13).

When I’m attacked, falsely accused, demanded an answer of, my tendency is to go on the defense, attack back, or try to justify my actions. A better choice is to sidestep and find out what the other person is feeling. God knew that Gideon was feeling fear. Answering his questions wouldn’t satisfy his heart, because those weren’t the right questions. Twice, God sidesteps the questions and answers, “I am the solution, your answer, your source of power and strength” (14, 16).

Next time you’re tempted to ask God why or where, try asking instead: How do I feel that  . . . God allowed the abuse, didn’t answer my prayer, it seemed He wasn’t there, etc.? And then be willing to listen for God’s satisfying answer to your pain.

On a side note, after the pain is gone, sometimes God does indeed answer the client’s WHY questions. I’ve heard answers from Him such as, “Are you willing to let Me use this pain to minister to others?” and “I gave all men choices, and I won’t violate their will; neither will I violate yours.” And the WHERE? He always answers, “I was there with you, feeling your pain.”

What questions do you ask when you’re in pain?

Be Careful What You “If”!

From my 2009 Journal. Around 1895 Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem entitled “If.” (It’s well worth the read if you haven’t heard of it.) That word if is an awfully small word that can pack an awfully large punch. I hear it all the time in conversations: If you’re free . . . If you love me  . . . If I’ve offended you  . . . If there is a God. . . .

I got to noticing that little word if in the book of Judges, and recorded a few of my observations.

Remember the story of Gideon and the fleece (Judges 6)? The Israelites are distraught because the Midianites have overpowered them, and God shows up one day to tell Gideon that he’s been chosen to deliver his people from the oppressor. But Gideon is skeptical:

IF I have found favor in your sight, then give me a sign that it’s You who talks to me. (v. 17 NASB)

It’s not a bad request. We are indeed admonished to test the spirits (I John 4:1). God granted his request and confirmed His authority by lighting Gideon’s sacrifice and then disappearing. God is willing to respond to a genuine request for confirmation that it’s His voice we’re hearing.

Later, in obedience to God’s instructions, Gideon pulls down his father’s altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it. Using this wood, he offers a burnt offering on a new altar that he’s to build on top of the Baal one. When the irate town’s people show up at his dad’s house, his dad stands up for his son and says:

Will you contend for Baal? IF Baal is a god, let him contend for himself! (v. 31)

Sounds rather reasonable to me!

SheepskinSo now it comes time to face the Midianites, and Gideon gets cold feet. Here’s where the two famous dry/wet fleece tests occur. (If you need a story refresher, click here)

Fleece test #1. IF you will deliver Israel by my hand as you have said . . . (v. 36)

Fleece test #2. The if is not repeated, but it’s implied. (v. 39)

So I begin to ponder: how is Gideon’s response to God’s command different from Moses’ response to the burning bush command or Jonah’s response to the command to go to Nineveh?

Moses said:  I can’t!

Jonah said:  I won’t!

Gideon asked:  Can I?

Moses appears to be resistant, stubborn, willful, maybe even whiny. And Jonah is downright rebellious. Gideon, on the other hand, seems timid and fearful: Am I sure I heard You right, Lord? Later on when God tells Gideon to go down to the enemy’s camp, He anticipates Gideon’s response and says, But IF you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp (7:9-10).

In all three stories, God’s will is accomplished and His mission fulfilled, but He responds differently to each character. With Gideon, God honors his need for courage and does what Gideon requests. This gives me hope when I am feeling less than courageous at God’s calling on my life. The true seeker of God will find Him faithful.

Following God’s words of assurance, the final antidote for Gideon’s fear is personal experience (when he goes down to the camp and overhears the Midianite’s dream). Gideon’s response? He worships. Fear is gone at last; he’s ready for battle. There are no more “ifs.”

After the rousing victory with only 300 soldiers, the Ephraimite tribe gets mad at Gideon for not asking them to join the battle. There is no fear response from Gideon at their accusations. Instead, humility has taken its place (Judges 8-1-3). Matthew Henry says, “Humility is the surest method of ending strife.”

God prepares His servants for His service. (I wish the story ended here, but it doesn’t. Gideon has other character flaws that need to be worked on.) I know I’m human and have fears and doubts, but I pray that every time God speaks, I’ll have faith to believe and leave my “ifs” behind!

Do you have time to read one more “IF”? This one is truly bizarre.

 Jephtha’s story (Judges 11) intrigues me. His dad is from Gilead, and his mom is a harlot. His half-brothers kick him out of the tribe saying he can have no inheritance with them. He flees to the town of Tob where worthless men gather around him and they go on raids together and he becomes a mighty warrior. When his half-brothers are attacked by the Ammonites, surprisingly they go to Jephtha to beg him to be their leader! Even more shocking, he agrees to do so.

But now it gets even more interesting. Jephtha makes a foolish vow. IF You [God] will indeed give the Ammonites into my hand, I will offer up for a burnt offering whatever comes out from my house to meet me (30-31). And we know the outcome . . . his only child, his daughter, comes out the door.

So what does Jephtha do? Incredibly, he shifts the blame! YOU [daughter] are the cause of great trouble to me; YOU have brought me very low (11:35, emphasis added).

Are vows retractable? I think so. Why could he not have suffered the consequences and taken the debt in her place? Why couldn’t he have gone to God, confessed his foolishness, and let God give him a creative alternative?

But his daughter is more righteous than he. She accepts the vow as binding. We don’t know if Jephtha actually sacrifices her on an altar or if she’s simply banished for the rest of her life and disallowed marriage. In any case, as often happens, our sin, ignorance, and foolishness impact others, whether intentional or not.

Be careful what you IF!

Why do we ask how?

From my 2007 Journal. Why do I question God? When He declares something is true, why do I doubt it? Why do I fret so and try to figure things out for myself? I may think I have the solution for an issue I’m struggling with—but it is very limited. My imagination isn’t big enough to figure out His solutions.

God said to Moses: I will provide meat for the Israelites. Moses asked: HOW? Shall flocks and herds be killed? Collect all the fish in the sea? God said, Is the LORD’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you (Numbers 11:23 NIV). You’d think that Moses, who had witnessed spectacular miracles before his very eyes, would not question God’s ability, power, and creativity. But he wants to know HOW God will provide.

Jesus said to his disciples: Feed the multitudes. The disciples asked: HOW can we do that? We don’t have enough money to go into town and get enough food for this many people. Jesus said, How many loaves do you have?

God says: I will supply all your need according to My riches. I ask: HOW?

DollarI’ve asked for resources for my daughters’ education and for their potential weddings, and then I fret when I think He may not come through, and I brainstorm ways I can get the money to make it happen. Instead, can I not sit back, relax, and watch Him work?

And so, dear Lord, I release to you my worry over where the money is going to come from. I will quit fretting, quit scheming, and simply ask. I ask for faith that will move mountains. I ask for willingness to be obedient when You speak and ask me to do something. I will trust You to guide our paths. I want to unleash Your creativity through faith instead of doubt. Lord, help my unbelief. I am releasing to Your care our checking account, our savings, our retirement funds, the college needs. I will allow You to direct how and when I need to work and how and when I need to be involved in ministry. Guide my footsteps today, Lord Jesus. I don’t know what Your plan is for me today, but I’m open to follow Your lead. Amen.

A 2018 Update. As I reminisce, I’m in awe at how God provided our financial needs. All three girls graduated from college debt-free. And two of our daughters, now married, managed to pull off their weddings within our budget. Now I can say that I, too, have witnessed miracles before my very eyes, and my faith has grown as a result.

Do you think asking HOW is a lack of faith? Why or why not?

Public Tears

From my 2009 Journal. Grief is a very private affair that sometimes turns public. In America we watch mourners at funerals, and if they don’t cry, we say that they are holding up well. I think Middle Easterners and my African friends have a better perspective. They set aside a time to wail and to mourn—publicly. Their cultural norm is to let the emotions out when a loved one passes away. There’s something healthy about this practice. So why do we keep back tears when we are in public? 

Sometimes when you hurt, you want space to cry alone, away from prying eyes. I remember while at boarding school, crying alone or privately was nearly impossible. Someone invariably would insist on asking why you were crying and then try to fix it for you with platitudes: It’ll be all right. God knows best. Romans 8:28, etc. Or worse yet: Don’t cry! Sometimes you just didn’t feel like sharing your hurt with them, but it felt rude to say it was none of their business. All you really needed was for someone to hold you or cry with you.

FireMy Visual: When I am grieving, I have a secret place in my heart where fire is burning and glowing and I need to release that pain. But if someone opens the door of my heart without my permission and snatches that fire, and I don’t know if I can trust him or her or not with my heart,  it feels like a violation.

It is okay to protect your heart. You don’t have to respond rudely if you don’t care to share. Just be honest: I don’t feel like talking about it right now. If they care about you, they’ll respect your space. If they’re pushy, just walk away. But that fire will consume you if you don’t open the door at some point. Grief needs to be released in order to heal a broken heart.

Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord . . . (Lamentations 2:19).

How do you handle grief when you are in public and why?

How Do You Draw Faith?

Bible

The history of the Mission under which I grew up includes a little story about Roland Bingham, one of the founders of the Mission, arriving at the train station with no money in hand, but with faith that God would supply his need. And God did just that. (You can watch a 1968 reenactment of his life here.) So when I heard that story as a child, I began to berate myself that I did not seem to have enough faith. I wasn’t sure I could ever pack my bags and blindly go off somewhere and expect God to meet my needs.

How does one define the word faith? First a little grammar lesson. By definition, a NOUN is a person (man, Mr. Jones), place (home, Iowa), thing (desk, lamp) or idea (love, courage). Concrete nouns like man or desk are easy to visualize or to draw on a piece of paper. Ideas not so much. We do have symbols for some ideas, like a Valentine heart for love or a dove for peace, but how do you draw faith?

Faith became a rather nebulous concept to me. I didn’t know how to visualize it . . . until I read this lovely story in the Bible about Caleb, one of only two spies who believed that the Israelite army could defeat the giants in the land of Canaan.

We pick up the story when the 40 years of wandering in the desert are over, and the leader Joshua is over 100 years old when Caleb approaches him with this request:

Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said (Joshua 14:10-14 NIV, emphasis added).

My conclusion is that faith is not blindly believing something without evidence or deciding to do something based on what I want to see happen. Faith is believing and acting on what God has already said.

So back to the story of the missionary at the train station.  God had clearly told Mr. Bingham to go to Africa, and so he packed his trunk and headed to the train station to begin his journey. It wasn’t until he took this step of faith that he was handed cash for the ticket. (If you want to read more of the story, click here.)

What does faith look like to you? Can you draw a picture of it on a piece of paper?

Keep Your Mouth Shut!

I’ve said some pretty stupid and hurtful things when I’ve been emotionally triggered. And once words were spoken, they were awfully hard to put back in the box. I wonder what set off Miriam, Moses’ sister?

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.  “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Numbers 12:1-2a NIV).

We only meet Moses’ first wife Zipporah a couple times in the Scriptures and then nothing during the wilderness march. Does Moses take a second wife or is Zipporah now dead? We don’t know.

Do you suppose the Cushite wife made a comment over dinner preparations one day to her in-laws about how privileged and great her husband was? And Miriam and Aaron got jealous or defensive? After all, had God not used them (especially Aaron) in a mighty way in Egypt as the front-man speaker to Pharaoh? And hadn’t Miriam felt some ownership in caring for her baby brother when he was placed in the Nile? By association, she was the privileged one, in the inner circle. Who was this Cushite woman who was horning her way into the family business? Why can’t I speak against my own brother? she thinks. Who does he think he is? I’m a part of this team, aren’t I? Did Miriam feel left out?

In any case, this interesting phrase follows: And the LORD heard this. As a parent, I could listen to my children squabbling in another room and not say or do anything. But when the altercation brought one of them to tears or one was teased or hurt or put down, I tried to intervene and mete out justice or punishment to the offender and comfort to the wounded.

Whatever was going on in this family, it got God’s attention, and He came to Moses’ defense. “Suddenly” (without warning, in the midst of their conversation), says the Scripture,  God speaks to the three of them: Come to the tent of meeting.

Uh-oh. Someone’s in trouble. The parent steps in to take control. Only there’s no questioning here about who said what or who’s to blame. He knows! The cloud pillar comes down to the door, and there’s no escaping this confrontation.

“Aaron and Miriam—step forward,” God commands. It’s a lineup of guilty parties. “Step out of the lineup, you two.”

Hear My words. (Words had been spoken by the created. Now words are to be spoken by the Creator.) When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?

And instantly Miriam becomes leprous. But why only her? Why not Aaron as well? Had God “spoken by Aaron”? Well yes, He had. But He had never (at least in the recorded word) spoken by Miriam. So perhaps Aaron’s part in the guilt was in not defending his brother?

I’m intrigued with Moses’ reaction. Instead of revengeful thoughts (Ha! Miriam deserved it! She’s getting what she asked for—she had no right to say what she did), he flies to her aid. He pleads with God to restore her. Why?

And Aaron who had just reviled his brother cries out: O, my lord, I plead with you; lay not the sin upon us. (Us? He’s not the one being punished, but he was in the lineup. He drove the getaway car—a co-conspirator.)  We have done foolishly. (He recognizes his/their guilt. The God of the Universe has exposed his heart.)

And God listens to Moses and agrees to remove Miriam’s leprosy—after seven days outside the camp. 

We live with the consequences of our indiscretions.

But Miriam’s response? Nothing. Nada. Silence. Don’t you know Miriam never made that mistake again? What a painful life lesson to learn:

Keep your mouth shut when you’re triggered!

Mouth