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.

Are You Agitated and Anxious?

It’s sunny, very windy and 80 degrees in Fayetteville, Arkansas today. But 7 years 8 months and 3 weeks ago, it was a different story. A severe ice storm had just hit. Trees were down and power was out all across Northwest Arkansas. Lots of trees were lost in that storm. Trees that did survive lost branches.

This morning, as I sat on our patio, I heard a loud rustling sound and then a tree branch fell on the driveway about fifteen feet from where I was sitting.

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It’s not uncommon to find branches like this after thunderstorms or just a strong wind like we have today. These branches are the result of the ice storm in January of 2009 when they broke off from the trunk and died. It’s inevitable they’ll crash to the ground. It’s just a matter of a time. All it takes is some agitation from the wind. And yet the same wind that agitates the dead branches has no effect on the healthy ones.

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In the moments leading up to His arrest, the gospel writers tell us Jesus was “troubled” and “overwhelmed with sorrow.” The same Greek word is used in both instances, it literally means:

to agitate, trouble a thing by the movement of its parts to and fro, to cause one inward commotion, take away calmness of mind, to disquiet, make restless, to strike one’s spirit with fear and dread, to render anxious or distressed

Do you ever feel that way?

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Just Answer the Question

In John 5, Jesus asks a man who’s been lame for 38 years, “Would you like to get well?”

It’s a “yes” or “no” question. Either the man wants to be well or he doesn’t. But that’s not how he answers. He begins to explain to Jesus “why” he can’t be healed. That wasn’t the question though.

This had nothing to do with what the man could or couldn’t do. It had everything to do with what Jesus could do.

Your situation may feel as impossible as the man’s who’d been paralyzed for 38 years. Your finances may be a mess. Your marriage might be in even worse shape. Your health isn’t good. Things aren’t going well at work.

Could it be that Jesus is asking you the same question? “Would you like to get well?”

I wish I could say that would always result in immediate healing of whatever you’re facing. That might be the way Jesus will work, but what I’ve seen more often is God working slowly. As we trust Him and cooperate with Him by walking in His ways, we see things begin to change little by little.

Make no mistake about it though, it is God working in us, through us and for us to bring about the change.

In John 6, Jesus asks another very simple question. A large crowd of people has been following Him and so He turns to Philip and says, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?”

Remember taking essay tests in school? Those could be trickier than multiple choice, true-false or fill-in-the-blank questions. There was just a question and a blank page staring back at you. If you happened to study the information asked for in the question, then it wasn’t too bad. But sometimes you read the question and realized you had absolutely no idea how to answer it.

I think that’s where Philip was at. He was staring at a question and a blank page and knew he had nothing. Maybe the best thing Philip could have said was, “Good question, Jesus, I have no idea. What do you think we should do?”

But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he answers like the paralyzed man. Just like you and I would have.

“Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money.”

Jesus didn’t ask if they had enough money. He asked where they could buy bread. Philip, like the lame man, was answering the wrong question. Jesus asked, “Where?” Philip jumped to their lack of resources.

What about you? Where do you jump to?

Could it be that God wants to make us well, but we’re still focused on what we can or can’t do?

Could it be that God has a way to meet our needs, but we’re still focused on what we’re not able to do?

We answer incorrectly when we have our eyes fixed on our circumstances. The paralyzed man said he couldn’t be healed because no one would help him into the water. Philip explained how they didn’t have enough money.

To answer correctly, we have to fix our eyes on Jesus. We have to listen well to the question…and realize the One asking the question is also the answer.

Abba, Father

What do you do when you hit bottom? When your best efforts aren’t working?

It wasn’t long ago I found myself in a season like that. I was stuck. I was out of options. I didn’t know what to do next. I was down on myself and had lots of doubts. Not about God, but about me.

Then one morning, my wife, Robyn, said I’d been talking in my sleep the night before. My first reaction was a little bit of panic. I had no idea what I might have said.

She said it was only one word. It was loud and clear. And it didn’t sound like me.

Sounds a little freaky, huh?

She said I called out, “Abba!”

It’s an Aramaic word that means, “father.” Jesus used it in the garden right before He was arrested and crucified. Paul uses it in Galatians 4 where he says we’re God’s children and how the Holy Spirit prompts us to call out, “Abba, Father.”

Paul uses it again in Romans 8 where he says:

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Later in that chapter, Paul says:

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.

I believe the Holy Spirit was crying out to the Father on my behalf and the Father listened and answered, because soon after that night, things began to change. I went from feeling hopeless to hopeful. Instead of feeling stuck, God was bringing new opportunities. He worked in some really cool ways.

I think it’s significant that along with two of the three uses of, “Abba”, suffering is involved. If you’re suffering today, then know that the same Spirit who was crying out for me is crying out for you. The Father is listening to the Spirit’s cries and to yours.

Don’t quit. Keep seeking Him. Keep crying out to Him. I know the waiting is painful, but it will be worth it.

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9)