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.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

When I was 18 . . .

I wrote the following to my youngest daughter when she turned 18 on October 8, 2005,

I turned 18 in 1972, in Elkhart, Indiana. I had only been away from Nigeria (where I was born and reared) for a year. My parents had returned to the mission field, leaving me behind to stay with a middle-aged couple from our church for my senior year of high school. I felt lonely, displaced, liked a fish out of water. I had made a few friends from church, but attending a school of 2000 students felt a little overwhelming to my raised-in-the-African-bush senses.

Bell bottoms, paisley ties, leisure suits, flower children, mini (and maxi) skirts, the peace sign, and open love and drugs were all the rage. Schools were frequently closed for race riots. It felt a far cry from my missionary upbringing where skirts were modest, profanity was unheard of, and everybody knew all the words in the hymnbook by heart. I’d never heard of Elvis, and Christians shunned the Beatles who were known as a rebellious band because of their long hair. When Jesus Christ, Superstar came out, I thought I was living in a pagan society. I longed to fit in, but I didn’t know how to bridge the gap. Staying active in my church group became my sanctuary of sanity, but even there, I was considered a different class.

I remember the joy of occasionally walking home after school a couple miles in the snow, but more often than not, I got a ride with a Jehovah’s Witness girl in our neighborhood. Besides baby-sitting, I started my very first job working in the office of an aerosol packaging plant. Most days I bicycled to work. I bought my own (secondhand) sewing machine that year and made my own clothes to save money.

I knew that when I graduated, I wanted to attend college to become a missionary medical doctor, but I had no idea how to begin the process. A lady in our church encouraged me to go to Word of Life Bible Institute to get one year of solid Bible teaching before entering the secular arena. Not knowing what else to do, I listened to her advice, packed up a trunk with all my earthly belongings, along with my marimba, and in the fall I took off for New York State. (I subsequently decided I was not interested in medicine after all and continued my education at another Bible college.)

Happy Birthday, Katie. Thank you for the trip down memory lane. I pray that when you reach my age, you will look back on your life with as much delight and satisfaction as I have had to see the hand of God in every move you make. Stay true to Him. He will never leave you or forsake you, and that’s the truth!

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!

Teaching Moments

From my 2013 Journal.

For five years I’ve taught a core group of girls in Sunday school, and yesterday we had a final send-off party for them as they head to junior high. Once again, I’m reminded of how important beginnings and endings are when time seems either to stand still or to stretch. All the in-between-time is far longer, but we seem to stop and take notice more at the bookends of an event.

Frankly, I was beginning to question whether or not I was an effective teacher, yet these girls showered me with love and accolades that made me cry. I doubt myself because I’m so horrible at learning new names and faces, and I just have to fake it sometimes and compensate for it. And it’s getting harder to remember the details of the Bible stories I tell.

I think what makes the difference for the girls is not my “great teaching” but the fact that I send them monthly, hand-written letters. What’s really interesting is to hear from the parents. Time warps in their minds too. One parent claimed I wrote her child every other week, and one even thanked me for weekly missives!

Megan said she bonded with me her very first day when I gave her a hug. She came into class scared and lost, and I made her feel safe. And I think that’s the key—making the girls feel good about themselves. In my letters I tried to point out their good qualities, compliment them, lift them up, cheer them on. I know I like that when others do it to me.

I’m a word person, but I also gave them a few gifts—I know that, at least for one girl, that’s her primary love language.

All year, I knew I wanted to give away some trinkets I’d collected over the years from international sources, including a little doll from Krakow with long, blond braids. I couldn’t figure out how to do it equitably during Sunday school since there were other children in the classroom besides the girls that routinely sat at my table. Besides, I wasn’t sure which girl would want what gift. So, when Madison invited me and our table girls to an end-of-the-year party at her house, I wrapped up those items and took them with me. They opted to play “Dirty Santa.” (Participants choose a gift in the order in which they pick a number out of a hat. The next girl in line may steal a gift that’s already been opened or choose a wrapped one.) Kata gasped when she opened her box and saw the doll. She’s the only girl with long, blond hair! Though all seemed enamored by the doll, none of the girls dared to steal it from her. It felt like a holy moment. The doll had found its home at last.

And so I signed up to teach . . . again.

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.

Random Thoughts on Prayer

From my 2013 Journal.

I need a fresh start with prayer. I’m beginning to do the grocery list thing again. I’m glad God can focus on more than one thing at a time. I can’t. My mind wanders. And God understands because He made my brain this way. But I know I have to do my part and have a little self-discipline. Journaling slows my brain down and helps me focus, but even while I’m writing out my prayer, my mind skitters off onto a tangent. Sigh. What if I quit using the word pray and start using talk instead? “God, I want to talk to You about . . . .”

. . .

My perspective on intercessory prayer has shifted from “ought to” or “spiritual discipline” to “ministry opportunity.” Prayer is as much kingdom work as teaching Sunday School or taking a meal to someone who’s sick. The key is the word ministry I think. I love “doing ministry.” It appeals to my task-oriented mind. Intercessory prayer is different from gratitude or praise or confession. I feel like I’m such a beginner in this.

. . .

Come into His presence, said King David. That was fine for him to say, because God’s presence was located in a place. There’s something missing in this statement for me. How can I “come into” when I’m always there?

I sat down to have my Quiet Time this morning and immediately began to intercede for someone—no preliminary formula of ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). I hear some preacher’s voice in my head admonishing me, and it occurs to me that God is not on a timetable of morning, noon, and night. Maybe I thanked him last night, confessed at noon two days ago, and now I’m ready to intercede. I understand the mindset of focusing my attention on Him and quieting my heart, and some days I have to do that. But if His presence is there for me at all times, there’s nothing wrong with galloping into requests on others’ behalf. I think God can handle that!

. . .

I heard on the Barna report that the average person prays only 8 minutes a day. They compared that person to someone who was living in a dangerous community who prays continually. Well . . . yes . . . that makes sense. But it felt like shame and condemnation for lack of prayer on the part of those who live in peaceful places. But how does one quantify prayer? If one is continually in God’s presence, one’s very breath is prayer. Am I more spiritual because I say 50 words in prayer instead of 5—and that takes longer? Strange that we should equate time (minutes) with relationship. But I suppose there is some truth to that in the earthly realm.

Prayer is also listening. How do you quantify that? I listen all day long. Why is it so hard to let go of the rules and focus on relationship? Peter struggled with it when he went to visit Paul in Antioch and quit eating with the Gentiles. Not all rules are bad. We need them. But they are bumper guards in a child’s bowling game—helpful at first, but unnecessary when you get the hang of living the Christian life. You get into the groove of right living and obedience and you find the sweet spot of love for the game. Of course there’re always adjustments and self-corrections to be made.

. . .

I find that my prayers are directly tied to my emotions. Words flow when I’m feeling sentimental. I pray most deeply and earnestly when my emotions run deep and more cerebral when feeling flat. But my emotions are not what create results. It’s not the words I say, but rather, I believe, God reads the heart and the motive. I can invoke His name in a loud cry or a soft whisper. The power is in His name, not in my poor attempts to get His attention.

Red Rover, Red Rover

From my 2013 Journal.

For 11 days I sat by Scott’s bedside at St. Thomas Hospital while he recovered from knee surgery. I watched a team of workers ministering to the patients. In one shift, a doctor, a PA, a nurse, a tech, a food deliverer, a cook, a housekeeper, a student nurse, a supervisor, and a case worker all contributed to the healing process. Only the surgeon or only the cook wouldn’t have been sufficient. Pain med management was no more important than the one who emptied the urinal. It was a well-oiled machine where everyone had to do his or her part, what he or she was skilled and trained for.

Somewhere I was taught that in God’s kingdom we should all exercise all the spiritual gifts (teaching, helps, hospitality), even if they aren’t my gifting or calling. I cut my baby teeth on “Bringing in the Sheaves” and the primacy of evangelism, but It has been a very long time since I’ve shared my faith openly with a nonbeliever. I have made a gradual yet complete shift away from evangelism to discipleship, from making converts to helping to heal the body of Christ. It has become my calling, and it’s intentional. But is it okay?

The housekeeper should never attempt surgery, and it would be a waste of his training if the surgeon gave up his job to do janitorial work. Acts 6 records the scenario where the apostles maintain their calling and giftedness—prayer and ministry of the Word. But the ones responsible for distribution of the widows’ food are no less godly or gifted. In fact, they’re specially chosen and commissioned by laying on of hands. It wasn’t the gift or the type of work that qualified them, but their character. We tend to put huge accolades on the public speaker, but every team member behind the scenes has a spotlight on him too.

What’s my point? I would never be able to stand in front of 50,000 people like Angus Buchan and proclaim the Gospel unless God called and equipped me for it. I have become more and more convinced that life is about celebrating our various roles in the kingdom . . . though I guess I’d like the fun sometime of reeling in the fish, not just putting worms on the hook.

The issue I’m wrestling with is the bold declaration in public that Jesus is the Christ. What inside me makes me shrink? I could speak to a believing crowd because we’re on the same side of the fence . . . teammates.

And there’s my visual. At first, I saw a tug-o-war, digging in my heels in total opposition to the other side. Instead, God showed me “Red Rover.” Evangelism is an invitation to join our side. My spirit relaxes with that.

So . . . I can tell someone on the opposing team, “Drop what you’re doing. Let go of the hand next to you. Come test our side. Experience the strength of the God side. Come join forces with us.” Our team breaks apart where there’s sin and idolatry and strongholds, and the enemy captures one of our members. But our team will prevail. Our God is stronger than your gods!

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.