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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Spiritual Labor

As we look ahead to this weekend and Labor Day here in the US, I thought we’d take a look at a few verses from the Bible about work and what God says about work.  A few of the results caught me by surprise, so as we head into the new month we may take time to dive deeper into a few of them.

Work:
“He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” Colossians 3:23

“The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do.” Deuteronomy 28:12

“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!” Proverbs 14:23

“I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned.” Ecclesiastes 2:18

“Whatever you do, do well.” Ecclesiastes 9:10a

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” Zechariah 4:10a

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9

“Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval.” 2 Timothy 2:15

“When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.” Romans 4:4

“Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.” Romans 12:11

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24

God and work:
“But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”” John 5:17

“On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.” Genesis 2:2

“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.” Psalm 127:1a

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” Psalm 8:3-4

“For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” Isaiah 64:4

“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.” Romans 1:16

“God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.” 1 Corinthians 12:6

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

What are your thoughts on (spiritual) work?

Choosing Compassion

I always find it interesting that the Bible is so full of topics that challenge us if we take any amount of time to really study them. From love and war to relationships and faith, the Bible is filled from cover to cover with unique situations, emotions and unique people who lived real lives and faced real challenges; many of those challenges, emotions and situations are things we face in our lives today. While most of us don’t have to walk to a well or river to get water and buy bread or flour at the food store, we still have to navigate relationships, governments, war, love, hate, jealousy, death and birth just like they did.

One of the things that comes through really clearly in the Bible is how people worked through the challenges in their lives. It’s something we study in history books as we look at historic presidents and leaders and famous inventors, but we read about more of the “normal” people in the Bible. We see how they navigate through potentially thorny relationships (think about Mary being pregnant with Jesus and Joseph initially planning to divorce her in the New Testament), we learn how they deal with bad news (Eli learned that his sons weren’t good and that God was going to judge them in 1 Samuel 3 and accepted it as God’s will), and we learn how they work hard because they love their families (Ruth worked hard in the fields to care for her mother-in-law Naomi).

The question is that we’ll all face challenges, but how will we choose to work through them? Will we work through them with frustration and anger, bashing things around, shoving others and pushing just because we’re unhappy with how things are going? Or will we choose to be compassionate to yourself and the people in your life? Because even if you’re facing a challenge and you didn’t ask for that challenge or put yourself in a position to receive that challenge you’ve still got a choice with how you’re going to deal with it. Will you choose compassion and patience like Jesus so often did or will you get angry at the world for what they’ve forced on you?

“The clearest and prevailing reason why Jesus did what he did and said what he said was because of his compassion for others, his tender loving mercy. Pray for the people whom you could be glad you are not like. Pray for them until you are ready to receive them knocking at the door of your heart.” Br. Curtis Almquist

The New Year Before Us

Today I thought the best way to start our year off was with some words of hope, wisdom and encouragement from the Bible and wise spiritual leaders.

“None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed.  Everything was fulfilled.”  Joshua 21:45

“Be still and know that I am God. Lord, may your Spirit guide me to seek your loving presence more and more. For it is there I find rest and refreshment from this busy world.”  Loyola Press

“He got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.”  Acts 9:18-19

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“Let’s live like we believe God is for us.”  Melinda Mattson

“Let them all praise the name of the Eternal! For His name stands alone above all others. His glory shines greater than anything above or below.”  Psalm 148:13

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.  I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

“When we take delight we gain the very thing that was our goal all along.”  Stephanie Bryant

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”  Genesis 18:14

As we start this new year and reflect on the one that has just ended I’m reminded by these words and thoughts that not every year is a great one, not every year is one of forward progress, and not every year is one that produces tangible results.   Some years are years of personal reflection, tearing down, and rebuilding.  These tend to be years that you feel really beat up by at the end and even though some really good things may have been started, you’re still a long way from seeing results yet.  But regardless of what type of year last year was or this year will be for you, we can depend on God to be there with us and guide us through it.

I encourage you to choose to look at the year ahead with a positive attitude and confidence that it will be a good year in one way or another.  Don’t let your doubts, failures or fears rule your life.  Instead trust that God will go with you through it and you will find reasons to celebrate in 2017.

Reality Reflection: Shine Like a Star

The adventure in Rio has begun.  Whether you enjoy watching events like the Olympics or others like the World Series or Oscars (as well as local events of the same types), or not, there’s something awesome about people coming together and showing what they’ve got.  These special or culminating events include people from a specific group or from around the world who are the best of the best at the time.  It’s a way of showing what they can do as well as an opportunity for the rest of us to celebrate what they can do.  I think these types of events are important because it’s important to celebrate the good, cool, and/or interesting things we can each do.  It’s a healthy way of pointing out and celebrating our differences and what makes each of us unique.

I believe that God has given each of us special gifts and talents, and that it hurts Him when we don’t use what He has given us.  You don’t go to the store and buy stuff you don’t like or use, you only buy what you want and need.  The same is true with the gifts and talents we have: we should use them.  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about purpose and what I’m doing with my life and what I want to do with my life.  It’s always good to take time to reflect on your life and what you’re doing because it means you can stop the derailments that may be happening and curb unhappiness before it becomes full blown depression or causes more problems than it needs to.

Take time to do a reality check on your life this week.  Are you unhappy?  If so, why?  Life is way too short to be stuck and unhappy.  Don’t be afraid of letting your gifts and talents shine.  Don’t worry too much about the criticisms you get for having and using your gifts and talents.  Don’t bury your gifts and talents because you don’t think you can make a living using them or that they’re not useful gifts.  Everyone has valuable gifts, it’s up to you to find out how best to use yours.

“I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 1:4

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  Matthew 5:14, 16

First and Last

In the US we’re really gearing up for the November elections.  Candidates are being finalized, sides are being chosen (or rechosen), and people are hoping that the person of their choice will look good to the rest of the country and be the person who ultimately wins.  It’s gotten me thinking a lot about winners and losers, and about first and last place.  I’m not big on competition.  I know it can be good for some things, but personally I prefer to work together rather than against people whenever possible.  I know that there isn’t one candidate that we can all agree on, that’s part of the reason it’s a democracy.  But I also know that what seems like a victory for one person or one “side” doesn’t have to mean a total loss for the other.

For example, just because your team loses the game, it doesn’t mean they’ll lose the season or that they couldn’t have a personal best number of points in that game.  Or just because you didn’t win the cook-off at the fair, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be picked up by a national brand or get great publicity anyway.  Or just because you lost this round, it doesn’t mean you can’t win the next.

And sometimes being first isn’t a good thing, especially if you are one of the first people to try something new it might have some major flaws and you’ll experience loss or frustration instead of the great experience you were expecting.

What I think the US needs, and the rest of the world as well, is more working together and less violence and fighting.  Competition is one thing, hatred and senseless killing is another.  Now is not the time to see who can come out on top of whatever war is being fought, now is the time to learn to work together and bring together all our differences.  Choose not to be first or last in the war but to help others make it through to another day alive and healthy.  As brothers and sisters of Christ we’re called to lead the way to a better tomorrow, and that tomorrow doesn’t start with more violence or hatred, but with more love.

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  Matthew 20:16

A Simple Message of Love

To close out our talk on love this month I have a simple message for you: love God, love your neighbor. I know, it sounds really simple but isn’t always so simple to follow through on, is it?  It’s a great concept but we don’t always let it get beyond that, maybe because we’re scared or not willing to put in the work necessary to make the concept into reality.

I think the first step is to not over-complicate it. I know we’re really good at that and put all kinds of unnecessary pressure on ourselves on a regular basis as a result. Love can be really complicated, but it’s also very simple. Which leads to the second step: do the best you can. God doesn’t expect perfection, he knows all about the Garden of Eden and how we’re going to be sinners during our earthly stay.  1 Corinthians 13 reminds that love is patient, hopeful and enduring, not that it’s perfect.

So what’s the answer? First, don’t let love end with February 14 or even February, choose that love is going to stay a priority in your life. Second, do something, however simple, each day to show love to someone else. Maybe it won’t be a romantic love action but rather a simple gesture of help for a coworker or someone you meet at the grocery store. Finally, do your best to not do more harm in a world that is already hurting. Take the time to think about your words and actions before doing or saying your knee-jerk reaction and make sure it won’t make someone’s day worse or add to the problems we have. Will you join me and do your part in spreading love?

“Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  Matthew 22:37-39