Good, Good Father #BreadNotStones

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV)


I’ve had what I’d call a “recurring theme” in my heart over these past few months. I’ve been thinking about all the ways that it can be difficult sometimes for us as Christians to trust that the will of God for us is better than our own will for ourselves. I don’t think we do it consciously or for lack of faith, nor do I think that it necessarily has to do with rebellion or wanting our own way. Nonetheless, it’s something that I think can be pretty common if we’re not careful.

As I’ve been going over this recurring theme and as it’s been taking shape in my heart, I’ve realized how I, in some ways, have this underlying and oftentimes disguised distrust of the will of God for certain areas of my life. This sounds weird, but hear me out, I think it’s more common than we realize. In fact, I can think of two recent conversations that can be traced back to this fear, albeit on opposite ends of the spectrum. A couple of months ago, at Evening College, someone asked about knowing how to discern that what we pray for isn’t going against the will of God. Just a few weeks ago, a wonderful friend of mine asked me if I believe in the Law of Attraction or speaking the things we desire into existence. Both these questions are valid, but I think that the underlying common denominator that may not be so obvious, is fear of praying: “not my will, but yours be done.” In the first, we pray and hope that our prayers don’t somehow fly past the mark of what God is willing for us and in the second, we skip the prayer/surrender and asking part altogether and depend on a sort of forceful, cosmic, wishful thinking to propel our dreams into reality.

Not long ago, I woke up with this verse in mind about the child asking his father for bread and I thought about how so often we are afraid to ask not our will but God’s will be done because somewhere deep down in our minds and in our hearts we fear that our Heavenly Father may just be the kind of father who when asked for bread gives a stone. We know he loves us and we’ve experienced him come through for us in ways we never could have even imagined, but somehow this fear creeps up in us that his will for us is in some way less than our wills for ourselves; that somehow in the great exchange of our will for his, we’ll get the short end of the stick. We get scared of surrendering our will or saying, “Here’s what’s in my heart, Father, but do as you will.” We fear losing out–afraid that trusting or surrendering the desires of our heart to God will leave us empty-handed or disappointed. We fear that his will may just cost us too much.

Afraid to let go

I’m reminded of the rich man in Mark 10:17-31 who comes to Jesus and asks what he needs to do to be saved. Jesus tells him to obey the commandments and afterwards he also tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor and to come follow Jesus. The man, unable to fathom giving up what he had in exchange for what Jesus said, went away dejected. This passage teaches us about the things that have a grip on our hearts and we usually look at it in the context of the love of money, but I’ve found that there are other things that we have in our hearts and in our hands that we are just as afraid to give up as this man was with his possessions and money. What the man unfortunately didn’t understand was that what Jesus was telling him to give up paled in comparison (by far) to what Jesus was actually offering him. What he didn’t understand, and what we all can miss sometimes, is that a trade with Jesus is never a downgrade…ever! With him we always get more than we bargained for. How much more? Let’s look at Ephesians 3:20-21:

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or think. Exceedingly. Abundantly. Above. All. That sounds like a pretty good deal when we think about it, hey?! We have to remember when it comes to Jesus, our trade-in is always a trade-up. And who doesn’t like an upgrade?! He wants us to ask, he wants us to aim high and dream big, because he’s ready and able to exceed our biggest ask and our greatest dream!

I love this verse and I find myself clinging to it very often, but I think it’s worth mentioning that the verse says something else besides the part we frequently emphasize…it says he is “able to do”. Are you wondering to yourself, What are you getting at, Karen? I’ll tell you. God is able to do more than we ask or think, but I think that sometimes we get stuck on what we want and how we want it. We pray our prayers and hope that Father gives us exactly the bread we ask for, exactly as we want it and hope to  not get a stone. But here’s the thing: we focus so much on what to us may seem good (and is good) that we don’t always get to the place where we trust enough to release it to God to do the “exceedingly, abundantly above” part. The part that he’s actually wanting to do and able to do! Guess what? His bread is better than what we ask for! He can blow our minds–it’s what he does! It’s what he’s always done! But somehow, we can forget how good he is, how kind he is, how generous and gracious he is and desires to be towards us, his children. His is always the better thing and he can always do more with our lives than we could even think up on our own.

Afraid to lose out

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:13

Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the LORD will lack no good thing. Psalm 34:10

I am a firm believer that as Christ-followers, God gives us the desires of our hearts in more ways than one. I believe he gives us the desires of our hearts when we delight in him (i.e. he grants them to us), but I also believe that he places those God-desires in us. Not our tainted, selfish ambitions or vain desires to chase after fleeting things, but those things in our heart that stem from a place of pure desire to honor and please him. Those God-dreams that you just can’t shake. The passion that burns in our heart. The ideas and flow of creativity that is so much greater than us. Those things in us that point to our creative, compassionate and wise Father in whose image we were made. Oftentimes, though, we treat those things like they are ours and like they must be protected like a coveted toy on the playground—fearing that God, like the big playground bully, will take it from us leaving us empty-handed. We may think that giving him what’s in our hand will leave us losing out, but just the opposite is true: trusting in God and not in our own strength never leaves us with less, it makes room for more. Our surrender and our trust in him makes room for the supernatural, because what he’s wanted all along is for us to be lacking no good thing.

He wants to do amazing things in and through our lives; he’s put those desires in us and he wants us to trust him with them. He wants us to delight in him as he outworks his will in our lives in ways we couldn’t even imagine and in ways we couldn’t do ourselves, but that comes with surrendering our will to him and trusting him with our most intimate and precious dreams. That comes with trusting that everything we have, we’ve been given by him and for him and there’s no greater place for our will and desires to be than surrendered to the hands of the one who grants them to us. It comes with seeking first the kingdom of God, seeking his righteousness, his ways and knowing he’ll grant and add on the rest.

James 1:16-17 says:

Do not be deceived my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

We’re not going to lose out and he’s not going to disappoint us. Every good and perfect gift comes from him. His thoughts towards us are good. His plans for us are good. His will is perfect. We don’t have to be afraid that we’ll lose out–with him we lack nothing!

I’d be remiss to say this is all some easy exchange. Living a “not my will, but your will be done”  life never comes without a cost. We see it best in our greatest example: Jesus. On the night of his betrayal before his arrest, through tears and sweat, he prayed those words. His cost was suffering, pain, death, but the reward he saw (Hebrews 12:2) was greater: the power of sin and death defeated once and for all, humanity reconciled to the Father, the future of the world changed forever. The process from our will to his costs us to stretch, it costs us obedience, it costs our pride, it costs our faith. The good news is there is no cost that he hasn’t graced us for. There’s no stretch he won’t see us through. We have the empowerment of God within us, pushing us forward into what he’s already actually prepared for us. Things that are greater than anything we could plan for ourselves.

So, friends, my questions for us to think on this week are these: What have we been afraid to ask for? Not realizing that we’re never going to lose out. What things in our hearts and in our hands have we been afraid to release to God? Not realizing that surrender is the best position to be in for God to do something great. Are there any areas of our lives that we have been afraid that God just won’t show up in–areas that perhaps we’ve been fearful of receiving stones instead of bread? Friends, can I just encourage you that whether or not our plans for us look like his plan for us, we can rest assured that whatever he’s got for us will always be the better thing. There is nothing we can’t trust our Father with. There’s no area we can out-dream him in. His dreams are bigger, fuller and more far reaching. There’s nothing we can out-plan him in. His plans are more perfect, more wise, more creative, more impactful. We can ask and we can surrender, because he’s ready to do exceedingly, abundantly above our wildest dreams. So, surrender that dream. Ask for that thing. Don’t be afraid. Our Father never gives out stones for bread.

 

 

Grab Growth by The Horns: Part 1

This month we’re talking about building healthy foundations for growth and leadership.

“Healthy things grow!” Wise words from one of my pastors that has stuck with me throughout the years. It seems obvious when you think about it, but it’s something that we can easily take for granted. I know I have, especially in those in-between seasons where I’m not quite where I want to be yet and it feels like I can hardly see any progress. It’s easy to lose sight of the purpose in our present when we’re overly focused on the potential up ahead, but there’s something to be said about growing as we travel along from Point A to Point B. We want the big, full, exciting future, but being prepared for it often means growing deep strong roots in our present. In other words, being well equipped for what’s ahead means building a healthy foundation now.

As leaders, we want to be the type of people who are constantly stretching our capacity and are leading others in growing at a healthy pace, as well. You may be saying to yourself, “I’m not a leader,” but whether it’s a team, a family, an organization or just yourself, you are a leader.

As Christians, everything we do should in some way point people to Jesus; it should be making a way for others and producing fruit that isn’t just good for ourselves, but beneficial to others. In other words, leadership.

So, how can we make sure that we are growing and making the most of the process? I’d like to share three characteristics that, like roots, set a strong foundation for healthy growth. While these principles are general enough to be applied to anyone, as a Christian, I want to look at them through the lens of faith.

1. Patience: for yourself and for others. Have you ever heard of the term growing pains? I’m sure you have and even if you haven’t, I’m pretty sure you’ve experienced it in some way or another. Growing isn’t easy and most times its not fun. It can look a lot like standing over a pot of water and waiting for it to boil. Its laborious and it takes long. As un-fun as it can be, patience is essential to healthy growth. Why? Because nothing healthy grows overnight. Healthy growth takes time and it requires us to be well rooted. Whether its growing in a skill, growing in a relationship or growing in a role of leadership–growing takes time and it takes staying power. We need to learn to give the Holy Spirit time to do the work in ourselves and in others. Sure, God can do a miracle and turn things around in one day, but he probably won’t, because he’s more concerned with growing our character and stretching our faith. Growing in character and capacity takes time and time requires patience, so that means sticking through the oftentimes difficult “waiting” period. The Bible puts it this way in Romans 5:3-5:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

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2. Humility: One of the best ways to stay humble is to constantly remind ourselves of the BIG PICTURE. When our view of the big picture (i.e. God’s plan–the gospel) is healthy, it’s hard to not be humble. The grandness of God’s plan and the fact that he has chosen us and allows us to take a part in it in any way completely baffles me!

Stay humble by remembering these three things: BY God, FOR God, THROUGH God. We’re saved and chosen BY God, not by our own merits, but by the finished work of Jesus Christ (i.e. it’s not about me). We’re called to serve FOR God, not to bring glory to ourselves, but to make Him known to all (i.e. it’s not about me). We’re empowered THROUGH God’s Holy Spirit in our lives to do what he’s called us to, we can do nothing apart from him or in our own strength (i.e. it’s not about me). See the pattern here? Do you want to grow your capacity and expand in your personal growth? James 4:10 says:

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

3. Submission: a ten-letter word that often reads like a four-letter word, if you know what I mean. It’s the control freak’s kryptonite and the insecure leader’s Achilles heel, but true and Godly submission is an essential ingredient to healthy growth. You’re only required to submit when what someone else thinks or decides conflicts with what you think or want–otherwise, there’s nothing to submit to. Submission, then, is a practice of both humility and faith. Humility to follow the lead of someone even if we don’t necessarily fully understand, and faith that in practicing obedience, we’ll be doing what is correct (submitting to someone in authority over ourselves).

A healthy person knows that it isn’t always about having the last word or being right. We may not fully understand what God is doing or what a leader is doing, but having the humility to follow (and lead) is key to healthy growth.

Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. Psalms 143:10

Healthy growth doesn’t just happen; growth has to be tended to. It requires intentionality, time and deep, solid roots. Let’s grab growth by the horns today by building ourselves up with patience and humility as we submit to the process!