Ask, Seek, Knock: Success Steps

In thinking about one of our topics for the month, success, today I want to talk about a passage you’re probably familiar with, Matthew 7:7-8: “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” This passage about asking, seeking and knocking establishes a great guideline for us to consider throughout our days and what goes on in our lives.

Ask:
“‘No one has ever seen, no one has ever heard, no one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.’ But God has shown us these things through the Spirit.” I Corinthians 2:9-10
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” James 1:5
“Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” Proverbs 12:15

First, asking is important because it means we’re willing to admit that we don’t know everything and are willing to learn. However we’re not always great at asking questions. Too often we ask the wrong questions, questions that don’t give us the answers we need because they’re not the right questions. We can get too busy asking things like “why me” and “how could you” instead of asking questions that will help us get the necessary answers and find solutions and help for our questions. Second, James 1 makes a point of letting us know it’s good to ask questions. God doesn’t criticize us for asking questions, only for thinking we know more than He does.

Seek
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Romans 8:35
“Your laws please me; they give me wise advice.” Psalm 119:24
“The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace.” Psalm 29:11

Asking questions is important because they give us directions to learn and move in. If we don’t ask questions we’ll never be able to figure out what we don’t know and what God wants us to do with our lives. Once we’ve asked the questions we hopefully receive some wisdom and knowledge to use. We start our search with the knowledge that God will not be separated from us by the challenges we face and will give us the strength and peace to learn what we must.

Knock
“May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed.” Psalm 20:4
My father taught me, “Take my words to heart. Follow my commands, and you will live” Proverbs 4:4
“It is very sad that people leave the world just as they came. So what does a person gain from ‘trying to catch the wind’? They only get days that are filled with sadness and sorrow. In the end, they are troubled, sick, and angry.” Ecclesiastes 5:16-17

In the very action of knocking we’re going from learning to doing. You can’t knock without taking action. There’s not much good to asking the right questions and getting advice unless you do something with it. Throughout the Bible God encourages us to be wise and live lives that reflect the wisdom we’re given or find. Don’t waste your life, your lessons and your abilities, choose to make something of it all if not for you but because your lessons and your willingness to knock may be the difference between life and death for someone.

What questions will you ask, learning will you do and actions will you take this week?

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Counting it Joy

We’re less than a week away from the new year and I’m ready.  2016 had lots of new starts for me and taught me lots of lessons. I’m looking forward to a 2017 that in many ways is better than 2016 and contains opportunities to implement what I learned in 2016.  As we finish out the month and the year this week I want to take one last spiritual look at our topic of the month: joy.  It’s a great month to talk about this topic because we’ve celebrated Christmas and are in the midst of celebrating Hanukkah as well if that’s your holiday.  We take this month to celebrate the year we’re putting behind us and the people in our lives, no matter how often we see them, or whether or not we tell them what they mean to us.

As we head towards the finish line of this year, let’s consider James 1:2-4: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” 

If you’ve been tested this year I encourage you to not give up.  Faith isn’t a guarantee of a stress-and-problem-free life, it’s a guarantee that you’ve got Someone going with you through everything, and the promise of something great at the end for those who believe and are saved.  Second, look for the joy. Sometimes it’s obvious that there’s joy happening around you and there are things to celebrate.  Other times you have to look a little harder to find it or make the joy yourself.

If you’re looking for some joy, we do have the new year just a few days away with 365 new days to find joy, but in all honesty each and every day is a new opportunity for you to find, create and share some joy.  So if you’re facing trouble or you meet someone who is facing trouble, I encourage you to not get dragged down by the challenges but instead to look for or share joy.  Even just choosing to share joy with someone in need can help you through your challenge as well.

How Do you Talk with Strangers?

Would you consider yourself an angry person?  How about someone who has lots of friends (real friends, those you actually know personally)?  Would those who know you say that you’re a generous person?  These are important things to know because like it or not we all deal with other people every day.  Sometimes we interact with those we know and other times we interact with strangers.  But whether the person is a stranger or a friend shouldn’t impact how you generally act towards them; for example, just because they’re a stranger doesn’t mean you should disrespect or ignore them. No, you may not give them a hug when you meet them like you might a friend, but you’ll still be civil to them.

But there are those who are overly suspicious of everything and everyone else, those who see the world as a half-empty glass, and those who believe that there aren’t many good people in the world.  We all have our bad days and misunderstandings or miscommunications, but that’s no reason to assume that the rest of the world is all bad and treat them as such.

You may not fall into the category of those who believe most of the world is bad, but you may have fallen into the habit of being snarky or treating friends in a certain (less than polite) way and it spills over to how you interact with everyone else you meet.  You may not even realize you’re doing it.

But James 1:19b reminds us to: “…be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”  I’m going to pay more attention to how I interact with others this week.  You know why? Because it’s not just about those we personally and currently know, it’s about those we meet and the role they may play in our lives in our future too.  You don’t know what role a stranger you meet today may have in your life several weeks or months down the road, but if it’s a negative interaction they have with you now that may ruin the opportunities you could have with them in the future.  How do you treat others?

Gentle Yet Strong

Being gentle, like many other things, starts with a conscious choice.  Maybe it comes naturally to you now, after years of caring for your kids or family, or pets, but for many people being gentle is a rather foreign concept.  Which can be understandable.  We’ve all been hurt before and it can be much easier to be standoffish, distant, cold or harsh rather than feeling vulnerable if we put ourselves out there being kind and caring.  But this month I’ve been learning that gentle doesn’t mean being a pushover or not able to take care of yourself.

If we think about the example of parents of a newborn baby, you know that they are very careful with the new and precious life while still making sure that despite all protests that little life is cared for, fed, bathed and protected.  Parents who truly love their baby don’t leave it alone, don’t ignore needs and don’t get rough around the baby.

Another example is God.  It may not have always seemed that way to you, but God manages to be caring, strong, decisive and loving all when necessary. Throughout the Bible there are lots of examples of God standing up for His chosen people during various battles, loving and caring for people in the most amazing ways (crossing the Red SeaNebuchadnezzar and the fiery furnace), and forgiving countless people when He could have washed His hands of us or chosen to be an absentee God.

So don’t be deceived when it comes to gentleness. As much as it’s about light touches and love, those things are only there because we care.

“But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” James 3:17

Spring Starts

“Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen.  You, too, must be patient.” James 5:7b-8a

Spring is one of my favorite seasons!  I love the excitement, the feeling of fresh starts and all of the new life that appears.  Spring in nature is much like seasons of spring in our lives.  With spring we don’t immediately see the results of the showers, the clearing of snow and warming of temperatures.  We have to wait for the cherry blossoms, long sunny days and baby animals.

For farmers and other growers they go through this change of seasons and waiting every year with more anticipation than most of us.  For them if the season doesn’t go well they have a poor harvest that year.  You’ve probably seen the effects of the crazy weather we’ve had at your local grocery store.

The thing about spring that we haven’t learned yet is that its better to be patient and wait for the seasons to develop themselves than to force things to happen.  When we try to rush through things or rush people or plants, we can get in the way of the natural order of things.  I like being able to pick freshly grown vegetables and fruits at the store rather than waiting for mine to grow, but all of the modifications and chemicals we use to make things grow bigger and faster aren’t the best for our bodies.

We’ve tried to rush our lives and learning too.  But what I’m learning is that some things can’t be rushed.  Sometimes we have to try things out and wait for things to develop.  While we’re waiting we’re not supposed to do nothing however.  Like farmers who weed while the plants grow, we’re supposed to keep learning and working and making step-by-step progress.

What is God trying to teach you in this spring season of your life?  Are you open to the lessons He’s trying to show you or pushing as hard as you can to get through?

Joy and Trials

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3

This verse catches many people off guard.  Who can be joyful when trials are going on?  Who actually enjoys going through life’s difficulties?  I know life is much more pleasant when you’re not struggling to make ends meet, work with a tough coworker, go through a divorce or death, or deal with a difficult kid.  Yet our lives are full of experiences just like these.  Most of us have a trial of some kind, big or small, every day (sometimes more).

I don’t think any trial is really meant to evoke feelings of joy when we’re dealt them.  I don’t think God’s up there smiling that we have a trial to go through, and I don’t think He really expects us to jump with excitement when we’re faced with trials.  But the joy James is referring to in this verse has much more to do with something we talk about quite a bit, your attitude.

If you’ve been hanging out on this blog for a while, you know that I believe that attitude is one of the most important things for each of us to work on.  Our attitude can make our break our careers, relationships and health even.  When we have a positive, upbeat attitude we can, like James suggests, view our troubles with joy (or at least with peace that we will get through with God’s help).  I’m not talking about the positive-all-the-time, drive-you-crazy positivity where nothing can go wrong and nothing can ever get you down.

People with positive attitudes like James mentions aren’t deluded into thinking nothing can hurt them.  Instead, they accept the reality of the situation and pray and seek counsil as to what to do about the situation.  And above all else, they don’t get permanently beaten down by the trial, they have the strength, one day, to get up and go on with life.

What about you?  Would a change in attitude help the situations in your life?  Maybe seeing things through different eyes would give you the solution you’ve been seeking.

Complete Faith

“You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete.”  James 2:22

What I’ve really learned over the last year of my life and through this month’s study on faith is that faith and hope are important, but they’re only completed through action.  I can have all the hope in the world that my business will work, but if I don’t take some actions, it will definitely fail.  I can have hope that my car will start each day, but unless I put the key in, I won’t know.  I can have faith that I’ve got the right friendships but unless I’m making an effort in those relationships I won’t have them for very long.

It’s not that I don’t have faith that things can happen all by themselves, it’s that I’ve learned that faith is supported and made complete by my actions.  In some cases hope or faith is realized because I took action.

It’s not enough for us to have hope or faith that the economy or climate will improve, it’s up to us to start taking actions that will help things change.

What actions have you been neglecting waiting for your hope or faith to work?  What could you do today to put action behind your faith?