Monday, April 2, 2012

The Doubter's Prayer

I've often heard people quote the verse in James that says to not doubt when you pray, "when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, .... That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord" (1:6, 7). I've been taught that this means that when you pray for something and don't get it, it's because you're doubting.
I've got a problem with that interpretation because I don't think it takes into account: "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24) That's what the man whose son was possessed by a demon said after the disciples couldn't help him. He told Jesus what the problem was then begged, "Help him if you can." Jesus said, "'If you can'? Everything is possible for one who believes' (v. 23). That's when the man made the above statement.
Did Jesus say, "Hey, dude, if you're going to be doubting, you can't expect to receive anything from me! Forget it. Come back when you're not double-minded"? No! He healed the man's son without further ado.
So what was Jesus' problem? Didn't he know that the man wasn't supposed to expect something of the Lord if he was doubting? Was that a secret from him? Did it take James to discover it?
No, not at all! The "secret" has been withheld from those who preach James that way. The problem is in taking things out of context.
When James said don't doubt when you pray, he had a specific prayer in mind! Yes he did. He wasn't talking about prayer in general. Instead he said "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you" (1:5). That's the prayer that you must not doubt!
When you think about it, James' statement is only logical, isn't it? Can God respond favorably to: "Uh, I wanna get wisdom God, if ya think ya don' mind givin' it ta me? Maybe. If ya think I kin use it right-like"?
Truthfully, "Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do" (James 1:8). God can't give that person wisdom because they don't have the state of mind to receive it!
James uses the "double-minded" kind of idea a lot - hearing and not doing, faith without deeds, blessings and curses coming out of the same mouth, lacking good things because you want them for selfish reasons.
He also tells us what this wisdom is that we need to ask for without doubting that we'll get it: "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness" (3:17-18).
If you want that kind of wisdom, ask for it without doubting. For all other prayer requests, feel free to ask with a "Lord I believe, help my unbelief!"

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Frustrated Christian

Do you ever get frustrated by life? Silly question, isn't it? Of course you do! We all do. We get frustrated by our spouses, our kids, our jobs, even by our own behavior.
Now don't try to tell me that you don't sometimes step back and wonder, "Why did I do that?" If you do, you're in good company. The Apostle Paul said he found himself doing the things he didn't want to do (Romans 7:15). Sometimes I catch myself telling myself things like, "You should know better!"
It isn't a matter of knowing better, is it? Only a sociopath doesn't "know" better. As Paul tells us in Romans, it isn't a matter of knowing and wanting to do better. The problem is that sin lives in us. We are slaves to it. But Christ sets us free! There is no condemnation for those who are in him (Romans 8:1).
That's a nice thought, but how do we get to the place where we're living victoriously?
First, in this life it's a process, a journey that will not end until death gives us the final victory over our behavior. But what's very interesting is that Paul tells us that the way we go down the road is through our suffering!
Yes, our suffering brings us closer to God. When we suffer, we share in Christ's sufferings (unless we're suffering for our own sins - see 1 Peter 2:20; 3:17; 4:15). Sharing Christ's sufferings gives us a share of his glory too! "We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (Romans 8:17). Furthermore, Romans 5:3-4 tells us that "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."
It's a rather sobering thought to realize that the quickest way to have victory over sin is through suffering. Sometimes I think "Have I not suffered enough?" But really, it's not the amount of suffering I go through that matters. It's what I do with it. Do I allow God to teach me? Shape me? Or do I rail against him?
Maybe what I need to do is revisit some of my places of suffering, see where God really was during them. If I allow God to use my past suffering to give me perseverance, character and hope, I'll be more successful in the Christian walk today. And maybe I'll eliminate some future suffering!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Christian Suffering

Do you ever wonder about the state of American Christianity? I do, almost every time I look at Christian-slanted news. I often wonder how many American Christians have ever read the Bible. They respond to attacks against Christians and Christian emblems with anger, bitterness, sarcasm and counterattacks. The Bible gives us a different picture.
In Acts 5:17-42, Luke reports a story of persecution. Peter and John were flogged, beaten, for their faith. Their response? They were joyful! They didn't stop preaching the gospel. Knowing that gives more impact to Peter's words in his epistle: "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you" (1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV).
One of the things we need to stop saying is that "Christianity" is being attacked because someone wants crosses taken down, Ten Commandments removed, prayer taken out of school or taxpayer's dollar to pay for abortions. None of those things define Christianity which is a world-wide body of believers who have received the salvation given to them through Jesus Christ and are now following him. Christianity is not about anything outward. It is about an inward state of being redeemed. And the Bible promised that those who take up the Way would be persecuted. The biblical response to persecution? Rejoice!
When (if?) we defend the symbols of Christianity, we must be very, very careful that we do not dishonor God. Never, never, never use hatred, bitterness and sarcasm against the enemies of Christianity. Instead, use love, grace and mercy. Sometimes that will mean that you won't defend Christianity and the American people might be in danger of losing a "right." So be it. No right is worth having if defending it brings dishonor to our Lord!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What's Rude?

Have you ever had someone scold you about pointing at something? Have you ever had someone interrupt you to tell you that pointing is rude?
I don't know about you, but when I was growing up, pointing wasn't emphasized as something rude (in fact, everyone did it, even people who complained about it being rude) but interrupting was very rude (but the complainers still did it). So who determines what's rude?
Consider slapping. In my book, slapping someone is very rude, but I've been told that some places in Europe slapping is a form of greeting. Belching. That seems pretty rude but in some cultures it's actually a complement to the cook to let out a good, healthy belch at the end of the meal.
The reality is that rudeness doesn't have an ultimate standard. It's not an issue of morality which is defined biblically. Sure, God gives us a moral standard, but he doesn't give us a rudeness standard. If defending against rudeness violates God's morality, it is obviously immoral!
I recently heard about a father who thought that elbows on the table was rude. He stabbed his children with a fork whenever he caught them with their elbows on the table! Sure, he taught his children that elbows on the table was rude, but at what cost?
We all need to learn to have a Philippians 2:3 kind of attitude - "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves." (See also Romans 12:10, 16; Ephesians 4:2, 32.) We need to see others' actions from their point of view rather than trying to force them to accept our point of view. Are we really right and they are wrong? Instead, unless they clearly violate God's moral standard, let's be humble about the situation. (Even as parents, we need to practice humility. When Peter quoted "God opposes the proud" (1 Peter 5:5), he had just specifically addressed the elders and young men, but he was talking to the whole church.)
If someone is "rude" around you, first, take it to God and ask him if he wants you to deal with it or let it go. If he wants you to confront the rudeness, do it with compassion. Don't exasperate your children (Ephesians 6:4), or others for that matter! Sarcasm, insults and violence have no place in loving correction.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Back Again

When January came to a close I was thinking about posting again on a more regular basis since we got all settled in to our new home, but I didn't want it to look like I'd made a New Year's Resolution, so I decided to wait until February. (That's the procrastinator's excuse for few posts in November and December and none in January.) But now February has passed and still no posts.
During the last couple months, I wanted to post something and even thought about doing it a time or two, but I couldn't think of anything to say when I was on the computer and had time to post. I had an idea back in February and I started this post, couldn't finish it at that time and never got back to it. Now I don't know what I wanted to say!
So now it's March. I've returned from my working vacation in Hawaii and I really need to start getting a good routine going here in Missouri. But will I? I don't know. I do know that I'm trying to learn to follow God's leading in my life, not just in the big things but on a day to day, even hour to hour basis. I don't know how often I'll post a blog, but I do know that I'm going to post whatever God lays on my heart to share.
Right now my husband and I are getting ready to go get the two oldest grandsons who will be staying with us for a short time. Will they be great fodder for blogs (they're 7 and 8) or will they be a distraction from blogging? I don't know. I guess we'll see. (But I strongly suspect that they'll be both, fodder and a distraction.)