Bringing together two posts

One of the big emphases within the church right now is being what is called “missional,” meaning being active within the community meeting needs of the community.  It is the polar opposite of waiting for people to come to our buildings to connect with us, because we all know how much that occurs today, right?  And we need to be “missional.”

Last week, I wrote a post which I titled, “Being Intentional,” in which I talked about the fact that we need to be intentional about the kingdom of God because if we aren’t, we will default to a base position which is thinking about our own kingdom.

With this thought, the Spirit brought together some different thoughts I’ve had over the last 4 years or so, a journey through which I have come to realize different things and have gone to depths in my understanding of who God is and how He operates.

One of the initial thoughts at the start of this journey was this: “In a Midwest culture which emphasizes being a good neighbor, how do God’s people stand out?”  In no way am I saying that we should not be doing these types of things because scripturally we are called to do them.  But when we leave it up to the person on the receiving end to surmise our motivation in doing them, the church becomes nothing more than another community service club which many communities have when we have a mission to build God’s kingdom, not just do good things.

Now, I’m not saying that we preach at people.  Not at all, because that is counter-productive.  What I am saying is that we look for opportunities to connect God’s goodness to what we are doing in such a way that a person is drawn to our God.  We may not be drawn to do this every time, but if we never make the connection, then I would ask , for all practical intents and purposes, how we are anything more than a “glorified” service club?

I wrote about this very thing in my post titled, “Finally!,” in which I talked about an experience I had just recently, one in which I was able to connect God’s goodness with an actual situation in a person’s life.

I find the words of Jesus intriguing concerning the importance of having the connection made.  In John 14:11-12, Jesus said, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if not, believe because of the works themselves.  Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works which I do he shall also do, and greater than these he shall do because I am going to the Father.”  Jesus made sure numerous times, and many people understood, that the connection between what he did and the Father was made.

So, how about us?  As adopted sons and daughters of God and fellow heirs with Jesus, we are to be conduits for and of God’s goodness and kindness.  That means that we must remember that it is God’s kindness and goodness that leads people to repentance, not a threat of judgment (Romans 2:4).  That means that we need to be calling down God’s goodness upon people as well as being the practical expression of that goodness.  And it means that we need to make sure the connection between the goodness of God and what has happened is made.

We need to be not only intentional about being used to demonstrate God’s goodness here on earth, but also intentional about making that connection.  This connection is not normally made in a passive way.  It is when this connection is made that people are made aware that what occurred was an expression of God’s goodness and nature.

Our enemy, the one who is the prince of the air and of this world, would love to see us be passive in making this connection because it would be the rare person who would make the connection and be drawn to God, led to repentance, and believe.  Our enemy would love us to think that we are carrying out our God-given mission by doing “good stuff.”

But that would not be the case.

Let us carry out the full mission and be intentional about it.

Finally!

I am so pumped that I have now been released to share something I have been doing over the past 3 weeks!  It has been bursting inside of me to talk about this, but the Holy Spirit had not released me to do this until just a few minutes ago.  And now I’m doing a happy dance!

This story has to do with God’s goodness and kindness and favor being displayed to people in order to draw them into a relationship with Him.  And it has to do with me transferring the goodness and kindness and favor God has displayed and shown to me to a specific person in order to draw her and have her realize that He’s crazy about her.

Since this past March, we have had an organization leasing a classroom in our building as office space with two of their advocates (the title this organization uses for its employees) using it.  I have been building a relationship with these two ladies, but one more so.  By her own description, she has no faith background whatsoever, but she and I have had some wonderful conversations about faith and who God really is, among other topics.

Three weeks ago, in a conversation, she told me that she was trying to quit smoking.  She had been smoking for 20+ years and she and her fiance’ (also a smoker) decided that it was time to quit.  After this conversation, I was directed by the Spirit to do something, something that I really have never done before, and something which I was restricted to whom I was allowed to tell.

I was led to buy some olive oil and, every morning I was in the office (I’m usually in my office by 7:30AM), I was to anoint the door frame of the room being used as office space, asking God to demonstrate His incredible goodness, kindness, and favor to all who walk through that door, but especially upon this woman.  So, I have been doing this for 3 weeks.  I wasn’t exactly sure how long I was to be doing it, but I was willing to do it for months, if that was what the Spirit wanted me to do.

Well, this morning, I felt the urge to go up and see how the quitting smoking was going.  She told me it was going very well.  She was having no cravings for a cigarette.  I asked her if she had tried quitting before and, if so, how did that compare to her current experience.  She began to tell me that she had tried quitting before, but was never able to get beyond a few days.  She said that this time was much different.  She had used “the patch” for the first 4 days this time, but she’s not sure she even really needed it.  It has been that much easier this time.  

As soon as she told me about the vast difference of this time, I heard in my spirit that I was now released to tell her what I had been led by God to do.  To preface my telling her, I told her about how God works, using His goodness and kindness to draw people to Himself and into a relationship with Him.  Then I told her I had been doing something and I was now released to tell her about it.  So, I told her about the anointing of the door and praying God’s favor into and onto her life.  

She then told me that she was wondering if there might be something else affecting this attempt to quit smoking.  She said this because she has encountered different situations during the past 3 weeks which would have driven her to smoke, but this time, those situations had no effect upon her.  She considered that strange.  I told her that it was God displaying His goodness and kindness and favor to her.  She smiled at hearing that.

Before I left her, I told her that there was one other thing I was supposed to tell her, a message direct from God to her.  I looked at her and said, “God wants you to know that He’s crazy about you, and really wants a relationship with you.”  When I left her, she once again had a smile on her face.

So, I am so glad that I have been released to share this experience.  I’ve been bursting for the past few weeks.

Being Intentional

This coming Sunday, during the Memorial Day weekend, I have been asked to give some remarks (about 5-8 minutes in length) at a gathering at Veterans Memorial Park north of Fort Dodge, a gathering which will honor our veterans and their families.  As I have been considering what to say, there has been a constant theme running through my brain: the need to be intentional in remembering.  Unless something has a direct or strong indirect impact on us in some way, the normal behavior for humans is to, after a while, have something be forgotten.  

For example, August 29th will be the 9th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  How often in the days, weeks, and months following that storm did you think about those who were directly affected by that storm?  Most likely, many times, but that was assisted by the constant stream of information we received about the aftermath and those directly affected.  Now, how many times have you stopped to think about that whole situation within the last year?  Maybe there have been stories about the continued rebuilding, which is still ongoing even 9 years later, but I have not seen them.  It is safe to say, though, that the number of stories has diminished greatly.  Why?  Because people have moved on to other issues, circumstances, and events which have happened since then, having returned to their normal daily lives.

If humans are not intentional, they will default to a base level of living and just going through the motions of daily life.  That is a reality.

The reason I bring this all up this morning is that in my Facebook feed this morning, I came across this quote by Graham Cooke from his “Permission Granted” book: “I feel it strongly in my heart on days that God is taking our hearts to a totally different place of intention, purpose, and design. It’s time for us to stop being casual about the Kingdom and develop a lifestyle of utmost intentionality because there is acceleration with intention.”

To my fellow siblings, those who along with me are adopted sons and daughters of God because they have believed the message of Jesus, I would like to ask this question: how will you be intentional about the Kingdom of God today?  This is important for us to consider because, just like not thinking or actively remembering something that hasn’t impacted us directly if we are intentional about it, we will default to a base level of living which just deals with the daily occurrences of our normal, every-day lives, not really thinking about or remembering the Kingdom.

Jesus calls us to “seek first the Kingdom of God.”  I read “intentional” in that statement.  This seeking is active and it is intentional.  It is not passive.  And as Graham said, when we are intentional, acceleration occurs.  It occurs because God knows He can trust us because He knows our first active priority is His Kingdom.  Therefore, He will bring opportunity after opportunity after opportunity.  God is not in the business of building our kingdom; He’s in the business of building His kingdom.  And He wants to use us to do it and experience the incredible joy that entails.  

So, who is that person whom you can impact with Kingdom today?  What is that situation to which you can bring the qualities of the perfect Kingdom today?  Who is that person to whom you can introduce the King?  Who is that person upon whom God wants you to call down His goodness and kindness and then connect that with true nature of God?  If we are not intentional in actively seeking these opportunities, we will miss most, if not all, of them.  And we will miss the joy of seeing lives and situations impacted through an encounter with the extreme love, kindness, and goodness of God and His Kingdom. 

And I don’t want any of us to miss out on that.

The Accurate Perspectives of My Daughters

Sometime in the first half of last year, I blogged about this, but through a post on Facebook by my eldest child and a comment to it made by my second oldest, I feel the urge to make a few comments once again.  And that topic is prayer.  

The original post was this: “I have never liked being told ‘I’ll pray for you.’  Thanks, but no thanks. If you want to help me out, give me something useful, like money.”  The comment to this post was this: I mentally translate it as ‘I am thinking nice thoughts about you and hoping things go well.'”

Whether they realized it or not, they each hit on one of two things about prayer, both of which, honestly and unfortunately, are prevalent within the body of Christ.  

The first thing is that prayer can be seen as a way (maybe better termed a “cop out”) to not meet a need in a physical sense.  This is along the lines of James 2:15-17 when James says, “If a brother (or sister) is without clothing and lacks daily food, and any one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled, yet you do not give them the necessities of the body, what is the profit?  So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself.

I know that when a person doesn’t want to do what s/he is being urged by the Holy Spirit to do in physically meeting a need, but still wants to look caring and spiritual all at the same time, it is at that time that the phrase, “I’ll pray for you,” is tossed out.  In this way, prayer is used as a back door in order to get out of what the Spirit is urging.  There’s even a decent chance that the person won’t even really and truly pray.  The phrase, “I’ll pray for you,” is also used as an exit strategy, meaning when a person doesn’t want to hear anymore about whatever the other person is saying, that phrase is uttered and the exit is made, while still looking good and spiritual.

And I know it happens because I have also been guilty in the past of doing this.  And I don’t believe I’m unique.

I have always been struck by something that did not occur in Acts 3.  Peter and John were going up to the temple and happened by a guy who had been lame from birth and daily begged to maintain an existence.  As Peter and John approached, this guy did what he always did and asked for money.  Peter and John had none to give to him, but what they did have they gave to him freely.  Peter, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the name of Jesus, told the man to get up and walk home.  What’s missing here?  Peter and John didn’t stop to pray.  It wasn’t necessary.  It was apparent to them what to do.  They didn’t throw at the man, “We’ll pray for you,” and keep going, not giving the guy another thought.  Nope, they recognized through the Spirit what was to be done and they did it.  Praying wasn’t necessary.

The second thing has to do with the nature of prayer itself.  As my second oldest put it, I mentally translate it as ‘I am thinking nice thoughts about you and hoping things go well.'”   And in that, she has hit on the common approach to prayer.  In many ways, it has become nothing more than her description propped up with the phrases, “Prayer makes a difference” and “Prayer works,” which I think are often used in some poor attempt to prop up some semblance of confidence. 

Why do I say this?  Because I’d like to know what a person’s confidence level is in praying a certain prayer.  It has been my experience, both personally and those with whom I have discussed this very issue, that the common confidence level is actually quite low, or actually nonexistent, because there is no certainty that what is prayed will happen.

Passages of Scripture such as 1 John 5:14-15: “And this is the boldness which we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him”  and Matthew 21:22: “And all that you ask in prayer, if you believe, you will receive are spoken but consider what they are saying about confidence level.

In John’s words, the key to having confidence that God has heard us is whether or not what has been asked is of His will.  I once preached (and had someone disagree with my perspective and that’s okay) that the opposite of this passage is also true.  If we have boldness, meaning confident or sure, that He hears us when what we ask is according to His will, then we also have no boldness or confidence if we aren’t sure that what we are asking is according to His will.  And the way I also view this converse, God is only “required” to hear if something is according to His will.  If it isn’t, then we have no “right” to expect God to hear.  Now, God might decide to respond anyway, just like He did with Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9), but He is, according to this passage, under no obligation to do so.

See, the problem is this: people use prayer to FIND God’s will when prayer is about praying God’s will, not finding it.  People use prayer as “shots in the dark,” hoping to hit the target in a dark room, hoping that one of the different ways prayed might might actually hit the mark, be God’s will, and then He will hear.  

Where’s the confidence in that?  

Where’s the level of belief, according to Jesus’ words?

There truly and in reality isn’t any.  And unfortunately, this is the way too many Christians approach and use prayer.  There is, at best, a low level of confidence in praying, and at worst, actually zero confidence.  And that is why I say my daughter’s perspective on people’s true approach to prayer is sadly accurate.

Over the past 12 months, I have come to the realization that the common approach to prayer within the body of Christ doesn’t just need an overhaul; it needs to be blown up and replaced with the proper approach to prayer.  If prayer is for praying the will of God, then God’s will should first be determined and then that is what is prayed.  And imagine the confidence level when we KNOW we are praying God’s will.  The promise of John’s words becomes the reality, not just a shot in the dark.

How do we get there?  Graham Cooke deals with this in his booklet, “Crafted Prayer.”  And there are steps to this process.  The first is worshiping, real and genuine worship, not the type where I need to do this because it is like the proverbial “rubbing of the lamp” in order to get God to do something.  Second is becoming still and listening.  This stillness is in body, mind, emotions and spirit.  Once this stillness is achieved, listening is crucial.  To what do we listen?  We listen to what the Holy Spirit and Jesus are already praying (Romans 8) and then we write it down.  We write it down so that we continue to pray the same thing and not default to that shotgun approach, hoping in the varied possible outcomes being prayed, we might hit the mark of God’s will.  Then we actually pray; we join our voices to theirs.  And watch what happens, because I’m of the perspective that whatever the Spirit and Jesus are praying, that is what will actually, in God’s timing, happen.  And there’s the boldness and confidence!

All of this takes time and potentially a lot of it.  And that is a struggle for, out of concern and compassion, we pray quickly, but because we pray quickly, we have not sought to listen to what God wants to do, and the level of confidence plummets.  We must be willing to invest the time and forget the “microwave” approach to prayer.

Someone I recently met told me of her personal experience in the realm of what I have been saying here.  In late 2012, she listened and heard the Spirit and Jesus asking the Father to give her cancer.  Now, that would be a shock in and of itself, but what was shocking to others (it wasn’t to her) was that she added her voice to theirs and began praying for God to give her cancer.  At no previous checkup had cancer ever shown up, but for the first 3 months of 2013, she was certain she had breast cancer.  In April, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and it was in stage 3, so it was advanced.

The normal treatments began and at her follow up appointments, the cancer was still there, not affected much, until just recently.  She heard the Spirit and Jesus praying that she would be healed from the cancer.  At her next appointment, no trace of the cancer could be found.  It was totally gone.  The doctors couldn’t explain it.  

Throughout this whole experience, she has had opportunity to cross paths with people whom she would have never met had it not been for the cancer, people into whose lives she was able to speak something from God.

So, imagine if prayer was approached in this manner.  Imagine what would happen if word got out that whatever a person or church prayed is what eventually occurred?  No longer would it be “sending good thoughts and hoping things go well;”  it would be what it truly is.

How incredible would that be?