What Do You Want?


What Do You Want?

Genesis 24:58-67

And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“May you, our sister, become

thousands of myriads;

may your offspring gain possession

of the gates of their foes.”

Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.

Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

Matthew 11:16-19

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

we wailed, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

I think most people are fairly reasonable. Those who have never learned to stand in line and wait their turn can quickly observe others and learn to do so. Those who cannot have often learned through terrible experiences that if they do not reach out themselves they will never get what they want or need. Hunger makes thieves of us all. But those who are not hungry can usually be reasonable.

If that is true, than I suspect most of our conflicts, big or small, come not from a clash of wills, but a traffic jam of unspoken, unreflected desires. It is an unfortunate condition, not unlike hunger, that if I do not know what I want, I will not find satisfaction. Most of us in the west take the buffet approach to life: I’ll try a little of this and a little of that until I find something I like. It sounds reasonable and it keeps us from overinvesting ourselves in something we don’t really want. It works ok for food, but it does not work in other areas of life.

Take marriage for instance. Either within or outside of marriage, the majority of people have bought into the buffet approach. Either it is the “try before you buy” concept or sampling off of other plates after you have made a commitment to one. Affairs lead to divorce and pornography encourages the whole mindset even further. Often times, the affair ends faster than the original relationships and the more remarriages we have the less likely they are to last. Some people just end up with the conclusion that they are just not the “marrying type”, which might be true, but the original problem usually still persists: We are not satisfied. 4 marriages, 18 different sexual partners, and hours of pornography and we still haven’t found what we’re looking for… (cue U2). The buffet approach simply doesn’t work.

The mathematical term for this kind of approach is called the infinite limit. It is the technique of closing the distance between two points (us and our desire) by half, one step at a time. So if I want a cheeseburger and it is 1 mile away, my first attempt gets me half a mile away, the second attempt a quarter mile off, the next 1/8th, 1/16th, and so on and so forth until I am within inches of my goal. The problem is, you can divide that distance infinitely, and while it will eventually get us close enough to drop the whole charade and take the cheeseburger that is right under our nose, we often give up before then and go after something else (which is not what we want). The buffet approach too often teaches us to change what we want or to settle for being unsatisfied. It’s a mess.

Now multiply that times two, or three, or ten, or ten thousand – because every one of us has that going on inside of us, and we are trying to relate to each other. God looks at us, knowing exactly what He wants, and must shake His head and sigh at our misguided endeavors. How do we sort this all out? Jesus saw it among the people when He explained that God sent all kinds of messengers, and they were never satisfied with them, always changing their mind after the prophet showed up with a message that made them uncomfortable. They claimed they wanted God in their lives, but when it came to actually having God there, suddenly they didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t realize that it would mean I would have to change! Yes, part of being satisfied is allowing yourself to be, even when we live in a world that teaches us to never be satisfied.

But the first step is reflecting on your own desires. Do you take the time to actually think about what you want, or are you too busy thinking about what everyone else wants? There are days when I find myself making decisions in life and work based on the ideas of what people I have never met might want. And I tell myself that this is a reasonable way to plan my life. You have to take time to actually reflect and discover and name and claim that desire as your own – even in your relationship with God, because God all too often does not satisfy our desires until we are willing to ask for them. Rebekah took time to consider (and thankfully they even asked her opinion) her marriage to Isaac. Then she committed and stuck with her decision.

Commitment is the second step. If I take a bite out of the cheeseburger I want, but a TV ad is encouraging me to try something else, I may leave and never finish that meal, filling myself up on things I didn’t want and leaving the one that I did. We have to claim those desires and perseverance in them.

The wisest among us learn to seek God’s help in discerning those real desires within us, because desire is not wrong, but our perspective of it can be deceptive. We may think we want fast food when our body is simply craving protein and we can find what we want in a peanut butter sandwich without the bloating of overeating. There is a shorter way to find satisfaction, but it is costly and involves suffering. It is learning to be content. Paul writes about it to the Philippians:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Paul reflected, discerned, named, and claimed that God was his one and only true desire, and expected everything else in life to leave him feeling unsatisfied. It is a humble way to live, but it is reasonable, and it allows us to move just a bit out of the mess of the traffic jam of desires, and perhaps to bring a little healing and redemption into it ourselves, sharing what satisfaction we have found in God.

What do you desire today?

Where do you find your satisfaction?


Undeserved Blessing


Undeserved Blessing

Genesis 27:18-29

So he went in to his father, and said, “My father”; and he said, “Here I am; who are you, my son?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him. He said, “Are you really my son Esau?” He answered, “I am.” Then he said, “Bring it to me, that I may eat of my son’s game and bless you.” So he brought it to him, and he ate; and he brought him wine, and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.” So he came near and kissed him; and he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said,
“Ah, the smell of my son

is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.

May God give you of the dew of heaven,

and of the fatness of the earth,

and plenty of grain and wine.

Let peoples serve you,

and nations bow down to you.

Be lord over your brothers,

and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.

Cursed be everyone who curses you,

and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”

Luke 10:21-24

Jesus Rejoices1

At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

It is one thing to experience God taking our mistakes and blessing others through them. It is quite another when we are the ones who receive that blessing. Jacob, at the request of his mother Rebekah, tricked his father into giving him the first blessing. In those days, they did not use wills. I suspect the majority of people could not read or write, so written documents were not very useful. Instead, they had ritual ceremonies where land and possessions were bequeathed to others by spoken word. That is why this blessing was so important.

In our culture, we may not be quick to line up to hear kind words spoken about us from our parents or grandparents, but most will not miss out on a reading of the will if they think they may get something out of it. I think the ancient Hebrews had a more balanced approach to this subject. They understood that life was more than property and that spoken words carried the power of creation itself. So this “blessing” was a sacred moment… which means that what Jacob did here was not just deceptive, it was sacrilegious! This was like robbing the offering plate as it was passed to you. So the question is, what is God, who sees everything, going to do about this? The answer: He blessed Jacob. He gave Jacob exactly what he was after.

Later, God would give Jacob what he truly needed, but it would be after he had squandered half of his life in and out of deceptions. Through it all though Jacob would live a life recognizing that, although He had some major struggles, He always ended up getting blessed more than he deserved. His life would come to a culmination point, wrestling with the angel of the LORD Himself. When the angel of the LORD asked to be let go, Jacob said: “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” Even with God Himself, Jacob seeks after undeserved blessing, and even here God gives it to him.

Why is this the “culmination” of Jacob’s life? Because here, for the first time, Jacob is finally asking the right person for the blessing. Instead of wheeling and dealing it from those around him, he finally goes straight to God. God unlike you and I, delights in giving out undeserved blessing. He calls it grace. It’s His specialty. Jesus celebrated with his disciples, that they should receive the blessing of heavenly sight and understanding, when the Jewish rulers and temple leaders of the day were denied it. They, and we, receive that blessing from God, that grace, not because we are more worthy than others, but precisely because we are unworthy, but we are willing to ask anyway.

That is one of the hard things to understand about God, because it runs so contrary to our own self-perception and pride. God sometimes gives out blessing as a surprise, to those who do not seek it out. Most of the time though, God gives out blessing to those who do not deserve it, but are brave enough, ambitious enough, or humble enough, to ask anyway. Humility does not keep us from asking God. It merely keeps us asking for blessing that we will actually put to good use rather than let go to waste. Yet even this is not the primary concern of the God who can create simply by speaking and who holds all the wealth of creation at His disposal. No, what God really wants from his blessed, undeserving children, is simply gratitude.

What undeserved blessing has God given you today?

How are you showing gratitude for that blessing?

  1. (Mt 11:25–27)

Making Mistakes


Making Mistakes

Genesis 27:1-17

Isaac Blesses Jacob

When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” He said, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me. Then prepare for me savory food, such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may bless you before I die.”

Now Rebekah was listening when Isaac spoke to his son Esau. So when Esau went to the field to hunt for game and bring it, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “I heard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game, and prepare for me savory food to eat, that I may bless you before the Lord before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my word as I command you. Go to the flock, and get me two choice kids, so that I may prepare from them savory food for your father, such as he likes; and you shall take it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.” But Jacob said to his mother Rebekah, “Look, my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a man of smooth skin. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him, and bring a curse on myself and not a blessing.” His mother said to him, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only obey my word, and go, get them for me.” So he went and got them and brought them to his mother; and his mother prepared savory food, such as his father loved. Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob.

Romans 7:7-20

The Law and Sin

What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.

Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. >

The Inner Conflict

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Paul’s conclusion to Roman’s chapter 7 is one of those passages that can haunt us as we struggle to live good and faithful lives today. Church and political leaders struggle under the pressure of being watched by others for strength, support, and hope for good and decency in the world. Addicts struggle with the way it speaks to their expectation that their sin will indeed lead to their own death – through illness or as a more direct consequence of their actions. Those who suffer from other mental and emotional illnesses often see this pointing to a true hopelessness of their situation. Others, who have committed a horrible deed hear this as fuel to their guilt, shame, and irredeemability.

We use this passage as an excuse for sin. Our own sin. The sin of others. We point to it with the attitude that speaks without words saying, “If someone as great as Paul could not escape his own demons, then there is no hope for me.” Those who struggle to accept Christ at all may find a potential conflict between this passage and something like Matthew 5:48, where Jesus commands us to “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” While there is no direct conflict of teaching there, it makes one wonder how Jesus could command His followers to do something that Paul admits he cannot seem to do himself.

There is a tension here. Imagine what our world would be like without this passage from Paul. How many generations would believe that Christianity and perfectionism were one and the same, pushing themselves beyond their breaking point? How many would secretly harbor doubts that Paul (or any of the disciples) were as good as they claimed to be, perhaps believing that the entire gospel is a hoax? Or, on the other hand, what if there was no expectation of living rightly? What if Paul’s words here in Romans 7 had the last word? Where then would the broken, oppressed, addicted, and otherwise sin-bent find hope or relief?

Yet God in His wisdom has given us both the revelation of the darkness within us and the call into the light. We stand in the tension of both, unable to move on our own. You see, denying the call to living a holy life is not a humble way of painting ourselves darker so God can shine brighter. It is actually a denial of God’s love and power in our lives. Martin Luther, who could have written Paul’s words himself, struggled mightily with sinful human nature, claiming it an impossibility to achieve – yet still worth striving after. So we stay parked in the tension, trying to be all that we cannot be.

Luther compared humanity to the prophet Jonah, a disobedient prophet in the Old Testament, but here is where we find the beginning of grace working in the midst of our mess. Jonah’s disobedience was redeemed, not by his own actions, but by God’s. His act of running away showed a ship full of pagans the power of God over the storms and seas. He led one of the greatest revivals in a foreign nation and enemy of Israel, not out of his skill, but out of his weakness. Jonah’s story was summed up in Paul’s own words “His strength is made perfect in our weakness.”

For the best response to finding grace in this tension, simply continue on to Paul’s own conclusions in Romans chapter 8.

Where do you feel the tension today?

Divided Loyalties


Divided Loyalties

Psalm 45

Ode for a Royal Wedding

To the leader: according to Lilies. Of the Korahites. A Maskil. A love song.

My heart overflows with a goodly theme;

I address my verses to the king;

my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

You are the most handsome of men;

grace is poured upon your lips;

therefore God has blessed you forever.

Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,

in your glory and majesty.

In your majesty ride on victoriously

for the cause of truth and to defend the right;

let your right hand teach you dread deeds.

Your arrows are sharp

in the heart of the king’s enemies;

the peoples fall under you.

Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever.

Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;

you love righteousness and hate wickedness.

Therefore God, your God, has anointed you

with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;

your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.

From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;

daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;

at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear;

forget your people and your father’s house,

and the king will desire your beauty.

Since he is your lord, bow to him;

the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts,

the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth.

The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes;

in many-colored robes she is led to the king;

behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.

With joy and gladness they are led along

as they enter the palace of the king.

In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons;

you will make them princes in all the earth.

I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations;

therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.

Romans 7:1-6

An Analogy from Marriage

Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only during that person’s lifetime? Thus a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.

In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

Our relationships are sacred. Indeed, they may be the only thing that we take with us from this world into eternity. Most of the time, these relationships are a joy and a source of strength and encouragement to us. However, our relationships are not equal in value or type. Some are more sacred and more dear than others. When we are pulled between different relationships, each testing our loyalty, we encounter a conflict that may be second to none other in our lives. These divided loyalties prompt some of our most difficult decisions and often create the deepest scars we carry with us through life.

There are several Christian models of how to prioritize your relationships into a hierarchy. The models are usually neat and clean, all beginning with God at the top, and a big category at the bottom labeled “Everyone else” as a catch-all category. In between these two are a small group of categories, often including spouse, family, friends, church, and work relationships. These get shifted around a little between models, but marriage is almost always under God, and work is typically placed near the bottom. The differences in the models highlights the conflict we all face in an anything-but-ideal world. Life does not always fit into neat packages. Sometime (oftentimes) work provides for family and needs to be prioritized to ensure that family can continue to exist. Some work relationships take on the roles of family – particularly with people who serve in the military or on regularly traveling teams. It is hard to prioritize relationships that you spend little time with over those you spend almost all your time with, and the lifestyles of Christians cannot always match the work and family ethic of farmers in the mid-20th century.1

The bigger struggles we get into are over where “church” relationships fit into this picture. The American experience places family above church – including children, parents, and sometimes further extended family as well. If conflict arises between family (who may not be Christians) and the church, the American thing to do is typically side with family and find a new church. This conflict can get ugly, particularly when those church relationships have become spiritual family for some, and in some ways deeper and more intimate that family related by blood. Guilt abounds in these conflicts and there are rarely resolutions that suit everyone.

The worst kind of conflicts occur when we perceive that those church relationships (or family, friends or anyone else really) are pulling our loyalty away from God. The “live and let live” mentality, that can sometimes work on a temporary basis when families or friends have significant differences in values, does not work well in the Church… although it has been and continues to be tested through the ages. Usually that impression is a silent acknowledgement of the end of the relationship and often begins a grieving process before the actual break. It is like family of a person suffering under Alzheimer’s disease, who cannot remember who they are. Although they may continue to care for them, the grieving process starts before the body dies, and then surges again during the actual funeral. “Live and let live” more like “disconnect, build a fence, and let die.”

Almost all of the Christian reformers of the Church ended up choosing this as their resolution in their struggles with their church relationships. Some of them tried to stay together more than others. Some of them had been together with their church longer than others. In every case though, it was like a marriage – people trying to be faithful to God and to each other, and sadly, some of these could not find reconcilliation. I want you to hear this clearly: in my perspective, marriage vows are sacred, and although (as Jesus says Himself) God allows for divorce, it is never the ideal plan, so then when we separate in those conditions of conflict and irreconcilable differences, we can be pretty confident that we are not functioning in an ideal of God’s grace. At the end of the day, breaking ties with a church is giving up on a relationship.

There is good news though in the midst of all of our mess. God does not give up on us. Nor does He give up on our relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ. He who brought us together, holds us together, nurtures, and sustains us through all the challenges we face. He gives His grace to us freely, in order that we might share it with each other. No matter what the situation, if we can catch sight of God’s grace in our situation, we can find a way to grow in a way that blesses everyone in and all around the situation.

  1. Interestingly enough, much of the 21st century New Monastic Movement has promoted lifestyle changes that embrace the work and family ethics of earlier farming life, while maintaining a more liberal (or at least broader) theological spectrum.

Seeing the Blessing


Seeing the Blessing

Isaiah 51:1-3

Blessings in Store for God’s People1

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,

you that seek the Lord.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,

and to the quarry from which you were dug.

Look to Abraham your father

and to Sarah who bore you;

for he was but one when I called him,

but I blessed him and made him many.

For the Lord will comfort Zion;

he will comfort all her waste places,

and will make her wilderness like Eden,

her desert like the garden of the Lord;

joy and gladness will be found in her,

thanksgiving and the voice of song.

Matthew 11:20-24

Woes to Unrepentant Cities2

Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum,

will you be exalted to heaven?

No, you will be brought down to Hades.

For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.” “

Those who do not face doubts of God’s existence still often face the challenge of seeing and believing in God’s blessing on their lives. Unlike some proponents of the Prosperity Gospel, which encourages us to look to the future, and occasionally the present for blesssing, the Bible encourages us to start in our past. That sometimes does not seem typical of the way our practices usually encourage us to leave our past behind and press forward into the present and future. However, God does not want us to neglect the blessings He has already given us.

This again, is connected to John Wesley’s Prevenient Grace that draws us into an ever-growing relationship with God. God’s grace reaches out to us before we take any steps toward Him. Rather than waiting for, or even actively looking for something in the present that is substantial enough to move us beyond our own doubt, it is often helpful to remember the ways God has already shaped out lives for the better, and realistically, we all have quite a bit to choose from in that regard. Our very creation was a gift from God we continue to enjoy. The salvation we receive because He sent Jesus to live, serve, suffer, and die for our sins is another. The redemption we experience in the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit is yet a third, and each one of these touch us in unique ways.

We receive blessing indirectly as well. Isaiah encouraged the Israelites to remember the touch of God in Abraham’s life that they were still enjoying in his day. That blessing challenged their unfaithfulness, and even more, their lack of thanksgiving to God. This was magnified 500 years later when Jesus was preaching in Nazareth. The townsfolk though to run him out of town, and possible kill Him then and there… all because Jesus would not perform miracles on command. Instead, He pointed to their past and exhorted them to begin to be grateful for those great blessings they already had, or else they could expect no more from a God who could not even get a thank you.

Gratitude really is the key to this. A heart that cannot be grateful now, for what it has already received, is not likely to be grateful later on down the road. One of the best historical examples of this is the Jesuit priest, St. Ignatius. He developed a series of exercises that were designed to draw us closer to God. Part of that initial work was taking time daily to recognize where we have experienced God’s love. In a reflective, yet subtly behavioral approach, Ingatius sought to re-orient ourselves around the habit of thanksgiving daily. The more often we seek out God’s blessing, especially in our past, the more we will be able to see there, as well as in our present.

Where have you experienced the blessing of God in your past?

What part of that affects your life today?

  1. (Cp Gen 12:1–3)
  2. (Gen 19:12–14; Lk 10:13–15)

How do I know if it is really God?


How do I know if it is really God?

1 Kings 18:36-39

At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.”

1 John 4:1-6

Testing the Spirits

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

The Bible has a handful (probably less than you would imagine) of stories depicting people looking for a sign of God’s will. Gideon] is one of the more famous examples of this. He tested God twice to see if God was going to help him win the battle he was being sent into. Elijah also was involved in testing God, as were several other prophets, but Elijah did not test God for his own benefit. He used those tests to show nonbelievers the power of God and the faith he already had.

Generally, it is not a good thing to test God. Yet, we often find ourselves unsure if we are truly following God or if we have been deceived. That is why John encouraged the early Christians to “test the spirits”, or make sure the spiritual direction you are following is truly from God. For these Christians though, it probably had less to do with miraculous firework shows from heaven and more to do with seeing how well the guidance or teaching lined up with the teaching they had inherited from the Apostles and from the Old Testament (since the New Testament had not been put together yet). John’s concern comes back again and again to the idea that God will not lead us into sin, but rather into love. A sprint that tempts us to lie, cheat, steal, or betray someone – particularly if it is motivated by fear, is not from God, and that advice stands with us today.

So we can avoid the bad in life, but how can we choose between different good options and be sure we are following God? For this, I find it helpful to turn to one of our struggling saints, John Wesley. One of the ways he came to understand God’s grace was that it goes before us, preparing our way. Unlike one of his revolutionary predecessors, John Calvin, Wesley did not take that as an understanding that God controls our actions. It was something more akin to the belief that God gives us the best possible scenario to make the right decision.

This belief, which he called prevenient grace was the love and action of God that brings us into relationship with Him, even before we have ever heard of Him. It’s the grace that sends the missionaries to our door, before we are sent out ourselves. However, this concept of God going ahead of us, preparing our way, matured with Wesley later in life. It did not stop at conversion. Later in life, he looked back through his journals, through times of great spiritual struggles with doubt – particularly doubt that he was truly following God and not his own self-deceptive ambitions. In those journals he had initially questioned whether he was even a Christian or not. However, the more mature Wesley, saw God at work back in those days in retrospect, in ways his younger self was unable to see. Like many of those stories about time travel, the future self always seem to have a greater perspective looking back than the younger self looking forward. John Wesley was no time traveler (that I’m aware of). But he grew closer and more intimate with a God who looks upon us and speaks to us, who touches us from eternity. There is no greater perspective than that.

The profound and yet simple solution that Wesley found as his assurance did not come down to a special test. It came down to trusting God. Not just trusting God to be there for us when we are following His will, but to trust Him to help us to make those right decisions. My personal experience has been that God is quick to let me know when a decision is wrong, or at least to help me be aware of my own selfish motives in wanting to choose them. God often works through brothers and sisters in the faith to help me recognize when I am being led astray by other people – part of why I value having a diverse group of friends. It all essentially comes down to trusting that God will cut through my own haze and speak to me. Either I believe He is powerful enough to do just that, or I do not.

How do you recognize God’s will in your life?

Never Enough


Never Enough

Psalm 47

God’s Rule over the Nations

To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.

Clap your hands, all you peoples;

shout to God with loud songs of joy.

For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome,

a great king over all the earth.

He subdued peoples under us,

and nations under our feet.

He chose our heritage for us,

the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah

God has gone up with a shout,

the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.

Sing praises to God, sing praises;

sing praises to our King, sing praises.

For God is the king of all the earth;

sing praises with a psalm.

God is king over the nations;

God sits on his holy throne.

The princes of the peoples gather

as the people of the God of Abraham.

For the shields of the earth belong to God;

he is highly exalted.

Genesis 22:15-18

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.

It is challenge enough to try to be a good and decent human being for some of us most days. When you add to that a spirituality that pushes you to perfection, that challenge grows exponentially. Those who leave the faith tend to be those who go through terrible experiences and blame a God who doesn’t measure up to their ideas of Him, and those who feel they can never be enough for God. Christian leaders fall into these categories as well, and the number goes up significantly when we add idea of the Church to idea of God, as some of us, out of a concept of spiritual maturity or devotion, shift the blame from God to the Church. It sounds holier that way, as we rationalize that the Church is made of human beings and human beings are imperfect broken people, just like us.

The result is the same though. Burnout makes our already weakened bodies, minds, hearts, and souls harden to fragility and crack under the pressure we face. The level of performance that was not enough becomes unattainable in this new, further broken condition. Performance enhancers and means of escape become addictions we use to push or distract ourselves into a frenzy, when all we want to do is forget ourselves. We crash. We burn. Sometimes we die here in these places. All because we are never enough. It is a truth we refuse to admit, because it seems to undermine the very faith that we are trying to uphold and share.

Abraham, David, and Paul all faced this same pressure to live up to God’s standards, all struggled, and all failed from time to time. None of them would have claimed to be good enough. But they also all discovered God’s grace… a grace that goes beyond simply forgiving them for their mistakes. It is a grace that went ahead, protecting and providing for them, a grace that gave them enough to give back just exactly what God desired from them, and a grace that continued strengthening them when their own strength ran out. Grace is not like a performance enhancer like caffeine or steroids. It is an essential part of life, like water or air. We run out of each on our own, but if we continually come to God to be refilled, we can live, and move, and work, and love, the way He intended for us.

This week, we will examine a few of those church leaders who struggled with never being enough and how grace helped saved them from leaving the church and leaving God.

Where do you struggle with being “never enough”?