What do you expect from God?

What do you expect

When was the last time you prayed and expected God to respond?  When was the last time you attended a church service or small group gathering and really expected God to show up in an incredible way?

There was a time in my life when I might have thought it was arrogant to expect anything of God.  Many times I tagged “thy will be done” onto the end of my prayers not out of a healthy reverence for God, but out of a fear that he wouldn’t answer at all (I thought it would save me some embarrassment if he stayed silent or chose not to act the way I had asked him to).  I was praying, but not in faith.

“Faith” in the dictionary is defined as belief in a person or thing.  “Expectation” can be defined as belief that a person will act in a certain way.  I think that in the church, just as in the dictionary, we’ve divorced these two words from each other, even though they’re really nuances of the same idea.

See, those of us who know God can expect some things from God, not because he owes us anything, but because we understand his character.  We understand he is good, loving, just, generous, faithful, and more, so why not expect him to answer our prayers in accordance with his character?

I’m currently reading through the Psalms, and I recently came across this little morsel from King David:

“Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
    Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.”

(Psalm 5:3, emphasis added)

I want to live a life of expectation, one where I’m constantly excited about what God could do in any situation.  I want to pray “thy will be done,” but out of honor and reverence rather than fear.  I want to trust that my Father wants what’s best for me, because he’s told me that he does.

 

Pace yourself or push yourself?

Pace yourself

My mom is a marathon runner, and I’m a martial artist.  She’s used to running for hours at a time, whereas I’m used to short explosions of hand-to-hand combat.

Long-distance runners like my mom have to learn to pace themselves during their runs, to spread their energy evenly over a distance of several miles and a time of several hours.  Martial artists have to learn to push themselves, to expend their energy in bursts that last just a few minutes at a time.

But if you think about it for a moment, you’ll realize both kinds of athletes need to learn how to both pace and push themselves in order to be truly successful.  Marathon runners have to pace themselves, but in training they must gradually push themselves, otherwise they will never achieve faster times.  Martial artists must push themselves, but if they expend all of their energy at the start of a fight and fail to defeat their opponent quickly, they’re going to be in big trouble.

So you see, neither of these approaches is bad, unless you completely exclude the other.

There are some people who use “pace yourself” as an excuse to never rise above the challenges they face, to never test the limits of their potential.  Just when they’re about to break a metaphorical sweat over the work they’re doing in their lives, they quit in the name of not doing too much too fast.

Then there are those who push themselves not simply because they are hard workers, but because they don’t believe in the value of consistency.  They work really hard at achieving their goals for a short while, expecting progress to come quickly, but they burn themselves out and yo-yo between grueling effort and extensive, unproductive rest.

So find the balance in your life.  As a believer, I think that balance comes when we really start trusting God and the plan he has for our lives.  Trusting God means I don’t have to push myself past my breaking point, because I believe God is working even when I’m not.  It also means I’m motivated by the purpose for which he has created me, and I’m ready to push the limits of what people perceive to be possible because all things are possible with God!

 

 

 

Can God trust you with more?

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A few years ago my wife and I took our dog, Bear, to a local dog park to play and swim.  Despite being an intimidating 85 pounds at the time (he’s a Newfoundland mix), he was a big-ol’ lover who wouldn’t even bark at a fly, let alone hurt one.

But something changed that day.  At the park there was one dog who towered over him, a Great Dane puppy that was young and eager to assert his dominance.  The Great Dane wasn’t growling or biting, but he incessantly tried to mount Bear, and on several occasions did so in the water, pushing Bear under, leaving him gasping for air.

Each time this happened we tried to  put an end to it as quickly as possible, but the damage was done.  From that day on Bear had the equivalent of puppy PTSD.  We tried taking him on walks in public places, but every time he passed another canine, no matter how big or small, the hair on the back of his neck stood on end and he growled and snarled and tugged on his leash.

It was heartbreaking.  During this time Bear never showed any aggression toward humans, but because of his size and his behavior toward all other dogs, we decided for a long time to not walk him in public.  We couldn’t trust him.

That is, until recently.

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Bear and I

Recently I started taking Bear on walks up and down our road, a quiet “no outlet” street in the country.  I thought it would be a good idea, because he really needs the exercise and companionship, and I rarely see anyone walking another dog down the road.

We had almost made one full lap down and back, when suddenly a little terrier came sprinting off of my neighbor’s front porch, aggressively growling and barking at Bear.  It all happened so fast I didn’t even react.  I felt a paralyzing pang of fear, and I just held my breath.

The little dog came nose-to-nose with my monstrous beast, but Bear didn’t bite or growl or anything like that.  He simply wagged his tail.

I seized the moment, tugging gently on the leash and saying, “Come on, Bear,” and my dog trotted up beside me as the terrier returned to its stoop.  I was as proud as a father watching his 6th grader graduate from elementary school.

The next day, during another walk, the same thing occurred.  A dog (this time a larger one) ran aggressively toward Bear, and again Bear passed the test.

I don’t know what changed in Bear’s mind.  I don’t know if time caused him to simply forget what happened with the Great Dane, or if he simply has more courage now, but what I do know is this: I can trust him again.  Why?  Because he’s passed the test (twice).

I believe that God wants to trust us with more, too, but he won’t do so until we show we can be trusted with what he’s already given us.  We have to pass the test we’re currently taking before he’ll give us a harder one.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable in which a man is going away on a long trip.  Before he leaves, the man gives his three servants some money, trusting that they will invest it wisely and earn more for him while he’s away.

When he returns from his trip the master finds that the first two servants generated more money for him, prompting him to declare about each of them, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities.”

The third servant, however, failed to use well what he had been given, prompting the master to take the seed money away from him and give it to the first servant.

“To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance,” the master says.  “But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.”

See, my dog passed the test.  And because he passed the test, because he could be trusted with little, I now know I can trust him with more.  I can trust him in public places again, which means he’ll get to enjoy the experience of public parks and paths again soon.

But can you be trusted with what God has already given you?  Are you passing the test?  Even if you feel like he hasn’t given you much, are you using whatever time, talent, and treasures he’s provided in a way that honors him?  If not, can you really be upset if he doesn’t eventually (whether on this earth or in the Kingdom to come) give you more?

 

You can stay stagnant, or you can get agitated

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There’s a part in many washing machines called the agitator.  It’s job is to…well…agitate.  It does so by swishing back and forth, stirring up the water and detergent and clothes.

If it weren’t for this particular part, the clothes would never truly get clean.  Filling up a tub with laundry, soap, and water, then letting the whole concoction sit still for an hour, won’t make them as spotless as you’d like.  You have to shake things up–literally.  It’s in this chaotic swirling that things are made right again, and your clothes come out as fresh as a spring rain.

Isn’t the same often true of our lives?  We don’t like to be agitated, but it’s for our own good, because the opposite of agitation is stagnation.  So many of us get bogged down in the same-old-same-old of everyday life that we feel like we’re standing still while the world around us is pressing forward.

Here’s the thing: The situations we lament as inconvenient obstacles are often God-given opportunities in disguise.

I was recently speaking to the students at my church, and I told them that good friends always tell the truth.  Sometimes truth is painful to receive, but in the long run it makes us better.  I used Jesus as an example, showing them how he constantly shared truths that, even to this day, pierce the hearts of men and women, revealing their sin and their need for a Savior.

Jesus’ words are agitating, because if they weren’t they wouldn’t benefit us.  If he didn’t challenge our way of life, we wouldn’t have known there was a better way at all.  He made us uncomfortable for a moment so we could experience eternal comfort with him later on.

So don’t just endure the agitations in your life, identify and embrace them!  Ask God, “What do you want me to learn from all this?”  Discomfort is a friend of progress, so if you want stop being stagnant you’ll have to start getting a little agitated.

A letter to me

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What are you waiting for?  What is holding you back from doing what you need to do to get to where you want to be?  You have to stop waiting for the planets to align.  It’s just not going to happen.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 says, “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant.  If they watch every cloud, they never harvest.”  We root our excuses in reason, but at some point you have to step out in faith.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t plan and prepare for whatever your dream is, because you should.  Proverbs says, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty” (21:5).

But I suspect most people get stuck in the planning stages of their dreams and never get to the execution part.  Why?  Because they’re waiting for everything to be perfect.

Listen: The road to your dreams is not paved and perfect. It’s muddy and messy and, at times, miserable–but it’s worth it.

Don’t delay.  Seize the day.  Live without regrets.  Execute well.  Trust God.  Remember what matters.  Keep a good perspective.  Breathe…now go get it.

Your good work (never) goes unnoticed

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Once upon a time, I worked at a small, family-owned car dealership that was run by a father and son.  Both the father and son were my bosses, and often they had different ideas about how I should be spending my time.

The son would call me and say something like, “I need you to wash the cars at the front of the lot ASAP.”  A few minutes later the father would say something like, “I need you to go to the title bureau right now.”  When I explained to him that the son told me washing cars was the top priority, the father told me to ignore the son’s commands.  Often, the son would tell me to do the same with the father’s.

This tug-of-war between the father and son created a constant state of stress within me.  I was eager to show that I was a hardworking, reliable employee, but I felt like my own bosses weren’t giving me a fair chance.  I was worried about being judged negatively by the son for obeying the father, and vice versa.

Here’s the truth I’m getting at: No matter how hard you work you can’t please everybody, which is why it’s so important to focus our attention on pleasing God in our work.  Here’s what Paul writes to slaves in Ephesians:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.” (Ephesians 6:5-8).

Notice he doesn’t say slaves (or employees, in my case) shouldn’t care at all about what their masters (or bosses) think.  He says we should “try to please them all the time,” serving them with sincerity and enthusiasm, as if we were serving Christ himself!  When we serve Christ well we serve others well too.

But we all know that even when we do good work, human bosses don’t always recognize it.  While some recognition would be nice every once in a while, just know that none of your work goes unnoticed, because not only does God recognize good work, he rewards it!

“Finishing is better than starting”

horse-racing

In between my sophomore and junior years of high school I quit playing soccer so I could focus exclusively on becoming a better wrestler.  I decided it is better to be great at one thing than to be average at two, so I threw all my energies into wrestling training that summer, and it really paid off.

As the first big tournament of the season approached in the winter of that year, I was confident I was going to make a splash despite entering the tournament unranked and generally unknown.  I knew how much hard work I had put in leading up to that season, and I was ready to roll.

I won my first match easily, if I remember correctly, but in my second match the tournament organizers paired me up with the number one seed, the guy who was supposed to become the tournament champion.  I was nervous, but I knew I was going to put up a fight.

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Photo credit: washer_dreier on Flickr (No, that’s not me in the picture.  It’s just a generic wrestling photo for flavor.)

I went out on the mat, faced off with my opponent, and boom!  He started kicking my butt all over the place.

By the end of the second period I was losing by a score of 8-1, and when I went over to get advice from my coaches between periods I don’t think they had much to say.  The kid was just too good.

The third and final period started out much like the other two, with my opponent grinding my face into the mat.  All seemed lost, until for a split second I looked up and saw that he had made a mistake.  He had put himself in a bad position to where I could put him on his back, and a moment later I had him pinned — I won!  Despite the fact that he had gotten off to such a great start, he made a big mistake and failed to finish well.

Recently God has been teaching me a lesson from Ecclesiastes 7:8, which says,

“Finishing is better than starting.  Patience is better than pride.”

Starting off strong is great, and important.  The momentum from a strong start to anything can carry us far.  But so many people don’t finish well because they aren’t patient enough to see their work through!

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Photo credit: Jeff Weese on Flickr

Christmas is coming up in just a few days, and Christmas is all about fast starts and big-time beginnings.  It’s about the beginning of Jesus’ life here on earth, and the beginning of our greatest hope.  It’s truly a spectacular story, filled with prophecies, miracles, angels, and grown men and women praising God for the newborn Savior of the world.

But if the only spectacular thing about Jesus’ life was his birth, we’d all still be screwed.  He was welcomed into the world with great anticipation, yet the real success of his story is that he stayed faithful to God and to his mission all the way through the cross, where he died for the sins of the whole world.

If Jesus doesn’t stay sinless, if he doesn’t make it to the cross, we have no hope for eternity.  Because of sin we are all born into a place of spiritual disadvantage, but thank God for Jesus whose death opened the door for our victory!  He didn’t just have a spectacular beginning.  He finished well too.

Don’t give up.  Even if you feel like you’re down 8-1 in the final period of your life, Christ has opened an opportunity for you to be victorious.  No matter how you started, I encourage you to finish strong, because “Finishing is better than starting.  Patience is better than pride.”