Why Our Faith Doesn’t Work

My youngest daughter and son-in-law moved to South Korea a couple weeks ago. He serves as an Air Force officer and she will serve with Young Life on the base.

While on a temporary assignment, their vehicle had been in storage for six months before being shipped to Korea. They picked it up a few days ago and immediately discovered problems. It was smoking and squealing and getting bad gas mileage.

What they discovered was that for it to be shipped, the brakes needed to be tightened. Apparently, they were tightened a little too much. They were essentially driving with the brakes on.

Many of us, myself included, are trying to live by faith with the brakes on. That happens when we focus on what we see rather than on what God says. When we do that, our walk with God starts smoking and squealing and getting bad gas mileage. Then we get frustrated, angry and discouraged. We’re tempted to give up. And some of us do.

But what if the answer isn’t to give up, but to get our foot off the brake and press hard on the accelerator?

Living by faith means we believe God, not our circumstances, not our feelings and not the opinions of others. It means believing something is true even though we can’t yet see it. It means choosing to see things from God’s perspective, where nothing is impossible.

In Mark 3, Jesus has begun His ministry and already has a large crowed following Him. Verse 14 says, Jesus “appointed twelve that they might be with Him…” Jesus hand picks the guys He wants to stay close to Him, so they can learn to do life like He does.

Later, Jesus enters a house and there are so many people around that His disciples can’t even get a meal. Verse 21 says, “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind.’”

In other words, Jesus’ family thinks He’s crazy. He’s gone too far. Things have gotten out of hand. It’s time to bring Him home and talk some sense into Him. But Jesus has His foot off the brake and is pressing down on the accelerator. He is living right in the center of the Father’s will, doing and saying what pleases Him.

Jesus then goes down to the lake. He is followed by a large crowd and in Mark 4 tells the parable about the four types of soils. We’ll just look at the seed that falls on the rocky places and among the thorns.

The seed that falls on rocky places is when people receive God’s word, but “when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”

Don’t miss two very key words there: “because of.” Choosing to walk by faith will bring trouble. Our enemy and the world system do not want us to walk by faith, to fully trust God and experience the life He has for us. So we will experience trouble that we would not have experienced were we not trying to walk by faith.

I don’t know what trouble will look like for you. It could be car trouble, conflict in a relationship, a health issue, a problem at work, a leaky roof or any number of things. Once you decide to truly walk by faith, trouble will come. Don’t be surprised by it.

Then we have the seed that falls among the thorns. This is when the word takes root in us and begins to grow, but our hearts are more concerned with other things. “The worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” When other things consume our thoughts and desires, we have our foot on the brake.

After Jesus has finished teaching, He says to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Mark 4:36 says, “Leaving the crowd behind, they took Him along, just as He was, in the boat.”

Now Jesus is the one who called the twelve disciples. And it’s His idea to go to the other side of the lake. But it says, “they took Him along.” Some of the disciples were experienced fishermen. They knew their way around a boat. They made their living on that lake. So maybe they thought they were taking Jesus along with them. But that’s not how it works.

We don’t take Jesus along. He’s not an add-on to our activities. He’s not interested in being just a part of our life. He’s taking us with Him. Just like He called the twelve to “be with Him,” He calls us to be with Him to learn how to do life His way. Walking by faith is a radically different way of living. To learn it, it requires being with Jesus.

Once they get out on the lake, “a furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” The disciples freak out and have to wake Jesus up from a nap. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Jesus calms the storm, then says, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

The disciples had the brakes on. Their faith was smoking and squealing. Trouble had come and they weren’t ready, because their eyes were fixed on what they could see, not on Jesus. The truth was that they were never in any danger, because Jesus had said, “Let us go over to the other side.” When Jesus says it, we can believe it. That’s what it means to walk by faith.

What might Jesus be saying to you?

Is there somewhere He wants to take you?

How might He want to use you? Or bless you?

Are you spending enough time with Him to find out?

If you have other priorities or your eyes on your troubles and circumstances, then your faith is smoking and squealing. You might even be ready to give up. It’s time to take your foot off the brake and stomp on the gas. Go all in. Spend time with Jesus to find out what He wants to do in your life, then choose to believe Him, not the impossibility of your circumstances.

Maybe it’s time for us to start believing God so completely that people would think we’re crazy. We’d be in pretty good company if they did.

The Dangerous Wrong Voices

If you took an inventory of your thoughts today…how many do you think would be negative and how many would be positive? How many are causing fear and how many are causing your faith to grow stronger?

I rarely watch the news or visit news websites. I also find myself spending a lot less time on social media. And I’ve “unfollowed” a number of people on Facebook.

I just don’t need the negativity. Life is tough enough without being reminded of it day after day.

Thoughts are powerful. I need to decide carefully which voices are bringing them to me.

Hebrews 11:6 says that, “And without faith it is impossible to please God…”

God wants to be believed. It pleases Him.

It’s not easy though. Especially when we get our eyes focused on our circumstances and listen to the wrong voices.

God had miraculously led the nation of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt. He brought them to Mt. Sinai where He gave them His laws. About a year later, they are camped just outside the land God had promised to give them.

He instructs Moses to send 12 men into the land to explore it. They return 40 days later. Ten of them are afraid of what they’ve seen…the fortified cities and how strong they think the people are. “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” These men begin to spread a bad report about the land among the people.

Two of the men, Joshua and Caleb, do their best to convince the people they should go in and take the land because God is with them:

“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

It’s too late though. The people have listened to the wrong voices. They’re convinced God wants to kill them. They talk of stoning Moses and Aaron. They want to appoint a new leader and go back to Egypt where they lived as slaves.

These people experienced miracles. They saw God do things no one had ever seen before. God was providing food for them daily. And yet, ten wrong voices swayed 2 million people away from believing God.

And it cost them.

The adults were not permitted to enter the good land God was giving them. Only their children would inherit it. And even they would have to wait 40 years.

Notice that Joshua and Caleb equate a lack of faith with rebellion against God. That’s what happens when we focus on our circumstances and listen to the wrong voices. Fear is the opposite of faith. And it causes us to rebel.

Who are you listening to?

The media? Even “your” station will fill you with fear.

Friends on Facebook? Even your “friends” will fill you with fear.

How about that negative, condemning voice in your head? The voice that reminds you of your failures and endlessly rehearses worst possible outcomes.

Listening to the wrong voices is dangerous. It fills us with fear and dread. It keeps us from experiencing God’s love and faithfulness.

The nation of Israel missed out on the Promised Land for 40 years. What might the wrong voices we’re listening to be keeping us from experiencing?

Today is the first day of Lent, a season of reflection and preparation for the celebration of Easter. What if you were to be intentional about believing God and rejecting the negative voices?

Tomorrow and Friday (March 2-3, 2017), I’m offering the eBook version of my 40-day devotional, “I Believe God,” for free on Amazon. What if you and and your spouse or a friend were to go through it together? Believing God is a team sport. It’s really tough to go it alone. You will need each other for prayer and encouragement.

Grab a partner and start believing.

CLICK HERE to get the book. Feel free to share the link with others.

 

Whose Reward Do You Want?

Whose opinion matters most to you? Your spouse? A parent? Your children? Your boss? A coach? Friends?

As I was growing up, I learned how to garner the approval and praise of others whether in the classroom or on the football field. And like a drug, I discovered how good it felt to be thought well of by others.

Approval and praise from others became addictive. And it came with a price.

Being vulnerable is out of the question. Telling someone you’re not doing well or discouraged or you feel like a failure tarnishes the image. And that just won’t do. The image is everything. You can’t always speak the truth. It’s too risky to tell someone what you really think or to challenge the boss. It might cause tension in the relationship and that doesn’t achieve the goal of being liked.

But living to attract the praise and approval of others means forfeiting the greater reward from God. In Matthew 6, Jesus talks about several practices the “hypocrites” used to look good to others. He said the praise they got for their righteous acts was all the reward they would get.

Whose reward do we want…the one from people we can see or the one from the God who’s unseen?

We get to choose.

Next, Jesus talked about forgiving others when they sin against us. He said if we forgive them, then we’ll experience God’s forgiveness. If we don’t forgive them, then we won’t be forgiven either. Will we forgive or hold a grudge?

We get to choose.

Jesus goes on to talk about storing up treasure on earth versus storing up treasure in heaven. Treasures on earth can be destroyed or stolen. Treasures heaven can’t be destroyed or stolen. Jesus says plainly, “You cannot serve both God and money.”

We get to choose.

In the last part of the chapter, Jesus goes into a discussion about the material necessities of life, things like food, drink and clothing. He says those who don’t know God naturally run after and worry about all these things.

But for the second time in the chapter, Jesus reminds us that our Father already knows what we need. And so we don’t have to seek hard after material things. Instead, we can live life as it was intended, seeking hard after God. Jesus says it this way:

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

We can seek material things or we can seek God. When we seek material things, we miss out on God. When we seek God, He promises to also provide “all these things.”

We get to choose.

We can focus on the physical realm and pick up a few rewards along the way. Of course, it means giving up the rewards God gives. Or we can choose to fix our eyes on the unseen and desire God’s greater reward.

We get to choose.

Dreams, Desires and Divine Delays

Eight years at this time, I was asking God for something very specific. When it didn’t happen, I gave up praying about it. In the last eight years, I’ve rarely even thought about what I was so fervently praying for.

And then this morning, I asked again.

It didn’t take long to begin talking myself out of it though. After all, God just doesn’t work like that, I reminded myself.

But what if the desire I have really is from God? And what if it’s not my job to decide how or when God might choose to answer?

I started reading through the Bible chronologically a few weeks ago, so I’ve been in Genesis and Job. So far, no one gets what they desire right away. There’s always a delay. Sometimes, a very long one. Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 when she finally gave birth to the son God had promised them 25 years earlier.

Yeah, I don’t like delays any more than you do. When I want something, I mean really want something, I want it now. Not next year. Not in eight years. Certainly not in 25 years.

I don’t know what delayed dream or desire you have. Maybe it’s to get married. Or for your spouse to finally wake up.

Maybe you’ve been longing for a baby.

You might be looking for a job or a better job or a job that feels meaningful. Maybe your current job is fine, but you need a raise or more responsibility or some encouragement from your boss.

Maybe you’ve dreamed of seeing your family whole again, but your child continues in rebellion.

Or healing. You’ve endured 40 rounds of chemo or multiple surgeries or have seen more doctors than you can count…and yet there’s no end in sight.

I wish I knew when or if the answer to my prayer will come. I wish I could tell you that your answer is right around the corner. God usually doesn’t let us in on those things though.

So what are we to do? How do we keep believing? How do we keep pursuing our dreams and desires in the face of divine delays?

Let me suggest three things.

First, choose to believe God is good. Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.

Because our circumstances, our feelings and a thousand negative voices scream out that God is not good or loving, let me encourage you to meditate on that verse. Read it over and over and over. Think about it. Talk to God about it. Consider all the ways it’s true. And actually do it. Thank Him. Give thanks to Him for what you already have. Give thanks to Him for His goodness and love toward you.

Write that verse on a note card. Stick it on your mirror. Put a note in your phone and set a reminder to look at it. Do whatever you have to do to let it sink deep into your heart and mind. When difficult or confusing circumstances come, and they will, go back to that verse. It’s more true than anything you will experience or feel.

Second, during this season of divine delay, choose to delight yourself in the Lord. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

To delight in someone is to find your pleasure and enjoyment in that person. I delight in Robyn and my children and grandchildren. God wants me to delight in Him even more.

It won’t be easy, but try to focus on your relationship with Him, not the thing you’re desiring. A wife would naturally feel hurt if her husband only found enjoyment in sex, but not in the relationship with her. A father would be hurt if his children only wanted money from him and never cared about his feelings.

God is a person. He has feelings. He has desires. And His greatest desire is you and your relationship with Him.

Finally, trust God’s timing is best. Psalm 37:7a says, Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…”

Being still. Imagine your mind being still. No anxious thoughts running around getting you worked up into an emotional frenzy. No freaking out when bad news comes…or another disappointing delay.

Imagine your soul being still. Feeling content. Knowing you have no power to make this thing happen on your own…and being okay with it.

We might not think so, but God’s timing is always perfect. We may be desiring one thing, but God has a better thing in mind He’s bringing about. Maybe God needs to work on our character before the fulfillment of our desire. Or maybe we’re ready, but others involved in the answer to our prayer aren’t. We cannot possibly imagine all the factors that go into God’s good plans for us.

Of course, there is an alternative to believing He is good, delighting in Him and trusting His timing. We can get angry, disillusioned and bitter.

But since I’ve already tried that, learn from me and don’t make that mistake.

What God Wants

When life gets full or complicated or I’m not sure what to do or what decision to make, it always helps me to pull back to the big picture…to ask some fundamental questions. And for me, the biggest one is simply…what does God want?

Of course, inherent in the question is the presupposition that there is a God, that He has actually revealed what it is that He wants and that I’m accountable to Him for whatever it is. So if you’re with me on those points, let’s keep going…

I’ve been thinking a lot about several verses from the Bible that all point to one inescapable conclusion…

God wants to be wanted.

He wants to be pursued.

He wants to matter to us.

Now wanting something is very different than needing something. God doesn’t need anything. He certainly doesn’t need me. But amazingly, He does want me. And He wants me to want Him.

One of the best things that can happen to me in the course of my day is for my phone to buzz and then see a text message from my wife. I love seeing her name show up. I especially love the texts that communicate she’s been thinking about me and wants to be with me.

I want to be wanted. So does Robyn. And you do too. We all do. We want to know that we matter, that someone values us.

God wants that too.

Here are a few of the verses I’ve been considering lately…

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

If we delight in the Lord, He gives to us.

If we trust Him and seek Him, He rewards us.

If we make His Kingdom and living according to His ways our priority, He provides for us.

Now all of this might sound selfish or self-centered to you, but God is the one who has set it up this way. When we pursue Him, He delights in rewarding us.

Maybe you’ve already stumbled a time or two on your New Year’s resolutions. Maybe you’ve already become discouraged and given up. What if the answer is to first align yourself with what God wants? And then worry about all the lesser goals after Him.

Make your #1 priority this year to delight in and seek God. Spend time with Him each day reading His word. Talk to Him throughout the day. Invite Him into your conversations. “Take Him along” when you run errands. Thank Him for your family, for your life, for a place to live.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking of God as an impersonal, far-away force. He’s not. He’s a person. And He wants you.

And He wants you to want Him.

 

If you need a guide to help you get started, you might want to check out my 40-day devotional, “I Believe God.” CLICK HERE to get the Kindle version or paperback on Amazon.