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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Exploring God

This month one of the things we’re talking about is the topic of exploring. I think it’s important for us to spend time exploring as part of our lives, I don’t think it’s healthy for us to stay in our little bubbles and not consider the other people and parts of the world that surround us. I don’t think that God wants us to stay in our little bubbles either, otherwise we won’t be able to share the Good News with the world. But the more I explore the world, the more I hear, the more people I meet, the more I learn that there are some things that don’t change and are universal around the world. These are things like family, enjoying sunshine, wanting to be loved, the power of love, the challenge and power of communication, and the joy of being a child are universal.

Something else that won’t change no matter where you go or what you do is God. That’s not something that I say because it sounds good or just something I believe, it’s something God has committed to. Malachi 3:6 says “I am the Lord, and I do not change…” With that verse in mind we can go through the whole Bible and explore who God is and get to know Him, knowing that what the Bible shares about Him is true and hasn’t changed. Yes, there are things that have changed from when the Bible was written to today with regard to culture/society, but that’s not the case with God. God has remained the same and that’s a good thing.

This week I would encourage you to explore the Bible on who God is and take time to explore your relationship with Him in a new way. Maybe it’s starting a lunch time devotional time or taking walks in the woods or parks to talk with God (without listening to something on your phone/audio device), maybe it’s memorizing a verse or delving into a particular aspect of who He is as the Bible shares, or maybe it’s joining a Facebook group or local group to do a devotional each week. What will you do to deepen and explore your relationship with God this week?

Healing and Assumptions

The past few weeks we’ve been hearing about many tragedies around the world, something that isn’t really new, but seems to have taken on another level of activity again recently. As humans we struggle to understand how people can be that violent and inconsiderate of human life. As spiritual people we struggle to understand how anyone could kill another person, or could live with the hate that’s being slung around at people regardless of whether they deserve it or not.

I know that until Jesus comes back we will continue to have wars and violence, that’s part of the sin experience. But I believe we can do a lot more to heal our country and world, and it starts with having faith that the people we share this planet with are worth working towards a better future for and are just as human as you or I.

It starts with not believing we’re just defined by our race, religion beliefs, political opinions or social status. Yes, those things do define us, but they should not be our bottom line. Using a very publicized example that means that just because you’re black not everyone is out to get you. You have to take the first step to see yourself as something other than what someone could define you as.

Why? Because many people are capable of treating each other as average/ordinary human beings without a specific label, but some people escalate and force them to profile them that way. For example if a police officer pulls you over and you get all angry and curse at them saying that they pulled you over because you’re black, when the reality is the police officer may have had no idea what race you were, but pulled you over because you had a taillight out or were on your cell phone or you were speeding. If you pull the stereotype card that’s how others will often treat you.

However, we’ve got a choice to begin our lives, our days, and our attitudes in a different way.  We can choose to make fewer assumptions, choose healing and love rather than hate and judgement, and choose to listen and learn before reacting. Unfortunately there will always be people who stereotype others and treat them based on some factor like race or religion that really may have very little to do with who that person is.  But for the many people who don’t see you and me specifically or only as our race or religion, working on treating them better and making fewer assumptions could really go a long way to healing many of the issues in our world.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave for the next generation? One of perpetuated hate or one of healing, growth and opportunities?

Do You Hear God?

Today I’ve been thinking about one of the earlier references to Samuel that we know of in the Bible. It’s when he’s bedded down for the night at the temple and he hears a voice (you can read the whole story in 1 Samuel 3). The voice calls to him, he thinks it’s the priest but it’s not. The third time this happens the priest realizes God is calling Samuel and tells him to say “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Of course what goes on to happen is God calls to Samuel again, tells him some important information and then continues to talk with Samuel for the rest of his life and ministry. I encourage you to explore the story for yourself, but I want to highlight a few things that stand out to me today.

First, God’s persistence. I find it interesting that God didn’t give up on the first or second try, He really wanted to speak with Samuel, and He was willing to be patient enough to make it happen. In some ways I think God was patient because of Samuel’s young age, but in other ways I think He would be equally patient for us if we showed active willingness to listen.

Second, the message. The message, given to this young boy (some research estimates he was about 12 at the time), wasn’t all roses and sunshine. I think what amazes me most is that God knew the plan He had for Samuel, knew he could handle a message like this and didn’t sugar coat it just because he was young. I know I’m more inclined to protect the young and not share the horrors and reality of the world with them, but at the same time I know it’s important that they don’t grow up with rose colored glasses and have a jarring reality check when they become adults.

Finally, Samuel was honest about the message. As we’ve discussed it wasn’t a fantastic message, but when he was asked about it by the priest, he was honest about it, even though there was some not great news for the priest in it. I don’t like delivering bad news as an adult, so I can’t imagine how difficult it was to deliver that news as a pre-teen. But again, God knew what He was doing and Samuel passed along the message.

As you go about your life this week I encourage you to be persistent and honest, work on trusting others, communicating with others and listening both for God and to what others have to say.

Faith in Planting Seeds

Summer is always an interesting time of year, it’s my favorite season, we get to enjoy late nights and early mornings, we take lots of time to be with friends and family, and unfortunately it goes by so fast! One of my other favorite things about summer is all of the readily available fresh fruits and vegetables, many that are available grown locally or within the US, which isn’t the case during the rest of the year. But summer’s break for all the kids and teachers and fresh fruits and vegetables is only a result of the work that’s done prior to summer arriving; summer and into early fall is the time that we see the results of the seeds that we’ve planted in spring, and the education that’s been going on for the past 8-9 months.

Summer seems like we get instant results, but the reality is that those results took a lot of work and time to get to. If you’ve done any gardening before you may be familiar with plants, especially in the fruit category, that take more than one year to really see results. For instance, you won’t see apples the first year you plant the tree, nor will you see raspberries the first year you plant the bush. Just like apples and raspberries, most of the great results in our lives take time and effort.

I think this is something God planned intentionally, knowing how immediate and light-speed our lives would be today. It’s an important lesson on taking time in our lives. Technology has shortened the distance between people which is amazing, it’s also made it easier and cheaper to connect with others than ever before, which means that we’re able to take the time we never could to really build relationships and have conversations. It’s easier than ever to touch base with someone who needs a friend or is having a bad day and just tell them that we love them. Since it’s that easy to do, we really have no excuse not to do it.

It’s also an important lesson on the value and concept of planting seeds. It’s easier than ever to get things done and make changes in our lives with all of the resources and technology available to us, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take time sometimes to really get things done the way they should be done or the way we want them done. Sometimes God will delay that timeline intentionally because we’re not ready or because the time isn’t right yet. God may have you working on something now that won’t show fruition for several years or seasons of our lives, and other times we may not even see the results of the seeds we plant because those seeds are planted in people who move away or live after we die.

So this week I encourage you to not only plant seeds, but to make sure you’re taking action when you’ve got the opportunity to do so, and enjoying the fruits of your labor when they do happen. And don’t forget to thank God for bringing you from seed to fruition too.

Faith and Imperfections

Last month we spent a lot of time talking about relationships and this month one of the things we’ll be talking about is freedom. As I was thinking about these two topics I read these words:

“We’re all broken in one way or another. So let’s be kind” Mary Carver

People of faith are often seen as perfect. Maybe we seem that way because we make people think that, or because we talk about being forgiven and freed all the time. But the fact is just because we’re people of faith, it doesn’t make us perfect. We still need other people, we still have faults and failures, we still screw up and hurt others. Even the people who are living a life of faith that God is proud of (the people who everyone looks up to because of how spiritual and well-behaved they are) aren’t perfect and struggle with the same human experience and emotions that the rest of us do.

People who are “good” are important because they show the rest of us how to live in a way that honors God and reminds us that it is possible and that it isn’t something reserved for people in the Bible or people with an official church title. For those of us who aren’t quite so perfect, it’s not easy to show both sides of this to the world, because we want to be a good reflection on God. But being truthful about the struggles we face on a daily basis or about the challenges God has brought us through not only help those who don’t share our faith better identify with us, it’s a reminder that we’re still people in need of God.

Over and over throughout the Bible there are examples of Jesus and other people of faith who choose to show love and compassion in the face of sin and suffering. Jesus made a point throughout His ministry to show love to those who were suffering or fallen and knew they needed help, but when faced with those who thought they were without reproach or had lost sight of what their faith was supposed to be all about, He didn’t show interest or have mercy (He even lost His temper a time or two).

No one really wants to admit how flawed they are or how badly they screw up, but it’s only in those moments that we can really take account of where our life is and what changes need to be made going forward. It’s also in those moments that we’re given the ability to reach out to others for their support and encouragement. Are you honest with yourself about how broken you are? If so what are you doing about it? And what happens when someone who feels broken comes to you for support?  Are you there for them to support them or just judge them?

This week I encourage you to choose kindness and support, both for others and yourself, when faced with failures and struggles.   Choose to be the person who loves and doesn’t condemn, and the person who’s honest about the help they need.

A Summer of Growth

Summer is one of my favorite seasons. It’s a season so full of life and living that it just makes me happy. As I was thinking about the summer growing season of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as Father’s Day this past Sunday in the USA, it got me thinking about how things grow. The term growth in and of itself implies that you start with something smaller than you end up with. If we’re talking about change it could be a transformation because of going from one thing to another, but that doesn’t mean that the size of something has to change. But with growth it is about size and starting with something smaller than you’re going to end up with.

People grow, plants grow, and animals grow, and the one thing that we all have in common is that we start small. No matter how big the tree gets, how big the dog is, or how tall the human is, each one of them started as a very small seed. If you think about companies like Amazon, Walmart and Verizon, they didn’t start as the giants they are, they started as little ideas with a person or group of people. Buildings don’t appear fully built, they start as boards, beams and pieces.

God doesn’t expect you and I to be the person we’re meant to be instantly, He knows there is a growing process we go through in our lives. The thing about growth is that even if it’s going very slowly it continues. Sometimes pruning is necessary to ensure that growth continues, but either you’re growing or you’re dying. I don’t know about you but I’m not ready to die yet.

But the reminder here today is that everyone starts somewhere. The smartest people in the world didn’t start off that way, they started off just like you and I. The people who become presidents and cure sicknesses started off just like you and I. You don’t have to be anyone but who you are at this moment. The important question is what you’re going to do with your next few moments and where you’re growing and going from here.  How will you grow this summer?