Gift 57 – The World (As We Knew It)

So…where exactly are we?

I love exploring how human beings have answered this question for the last few thousand years or so.

Ancient people groups had all kinds of ideas about the world and just precisely how it all worked. Some folks imagined the sky was some kind of celestial canvas separating humans from the gods, and the stars were merely holes poked into the tarp-like divider that revealed the glory of the heavens beyond. Others (including the ancient Hebrews and their neighbors) pictured the world like a massive snow globe supported by view of worldgreat pillars below and covered by a vault that kept out the waters above (except when the floodgates of heaven were opened and the waters came down…we say, “hey it’s raining!” today).

The oldest discovered maps show how our human ancestors imagined the world to be flat.  That is until those clever Greeks figured out that we’ve been living on a ball all this time (Mind. Blown.). Even so, their very best maps looked something like this:

posidonius map

Eventually, this dude named Pomponius divided the earth into five separate sectors (only 2 were habitable, he thought) and discovered an invisible belt that separated northern and southern hemispheres. Now we’re getting somewhere…

Pomponius map

Jump forward about 1500 years (and a whole bunch of crazy looking maps) later and we have southern Germany’s own Martin Waldseemüller (it took me forever to figure out how to make the u do that) who compiled Waldseemuller map 2information for years and years in order to develop a clearer vision of the earth.  First ever shout out to “America” on a map. Looking familiar yet?

 

The progression went something like this: “There’s way more land than we thought” and then, “There’s way more water than we thought” and then, “So apparently this thing is round?!?” and then, “Believe it or not, there’s more land on the other side of all that water!” and on and on, all the way to the pictures of the earth we have today.

And then, of course, our perception of earth’s place in the universe has radically (like radically radically radically) transformed as we started dabbling with high-powered telescopes (uh oh, here we go again…). Come to find out, there’s a whole lot of universe out there.

Watch this video if you want your head to explode:

 

When I think about our ever developing understanding of the world—how we’ve gone from thinking the earth is a snow globe in the very center of the universe (which isn’t very big anyway), to the realization that our puny planet is smaller than a single punctuation in the vast realm of the Internet—I can’t help but think about our ever growing understanding of God.

In one way, God has made himself known through what we call “revelation”: The Scriptures, and the natural world, and most importantly, Jesus. But in another way, I believe with all my heart that we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of just who God is.

In the Bible, after talking about how incredible and overwhelming God is, Job concludes with this: “And these are but the outer fringes of his works; how faint a whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

And earlier in the Bible, when Manoah asked an angel for its name, the angel replied, “Why do you ask my name? For it is too wonderful for you to endure.” AHH!  And that’s just an angel! Imagine what God’s Name sounds like! Actually no, don’t even try.

And through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let them proclaim it!” Yep, God is being sarcastic there at the end.

My point is this…just like how our concept of the world is ever unfolding like an always-budding flower, so too our understanding of God blooms and blossoms as we make new scientific discoveries, explore new places, uncover new species, and even tell new stories. This is why learning can be a thrilling form of worship!

Maybe heaven will be a sort of exploration into the never-ending glory and goodness of God, and we’ll have to constantly make new maps as He shows himself to be even more and even better than we thought the day before.

The Eastern Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware said, “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a Mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”

My prayer for you, Rea, is that you begin this God-discovering process at a young age and continue to your last day when the journey will begin in earnest. I love you.

– Dad

 

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Gift 56 – Committing to Disciplined Spiritual Growth is Not the Same Thing as Working to Earn Your Salvation

Quite the title, huh?

A while back I heard a friend comment that his daughter needs less of the gospel in her life. I asked what he meant. He said that the constant reiteration of the grace of the cross at school and at church had made her lazy in her “spiritual life” and even with homework. Grace, grace, grace resulted in lethargy.

But this is a misunderstanding of the gospel—or at least a disfigurement of the intended fruit of the gospel in a person’s life. Our post Reformation Christian culture is often prepared to call out legalism in its many forms, but sometimes not so well equipped to encourage a growing spiritual devotion, especially in young people, for fear they will believe that doing good deeds or becoming a good person is how to earn God’s favor. But maybe this neglect of discipleship is one of the factors in the spiritual laziness my friend was noticing.

But the gospel, believe it or not, is more than just forgiveness. It’s the promise of a new heart.

If God is a gardener, then the gospel is the soil in which we’re meant to increase, not in order to earn God’s affection, but fueled and fed by it. This means growth, and fruit, and flourishing.plant

If a person’s reception of the gospel results in their loving God and others less, then it probably wasn’t the gospel, rather what Dietrich Bonheoffer called “cheap grace.”

Personally, I have found that spiritual intentionality actually increases my capacity to receive God’s love and grace—not that he loves me any more as I put forth effort, but that my life is in a better posture to receive. Just as a hollowed out cup can hold more water, an eager, obedient, disciplined life is able to understand and embrace God’s mercies more readily.

God’s grace is a new soil in which to grow more than it is a declaration that the plant doesn’t matter. My prayer for you, Rea, is that your roots go down deep into the love and grace of our God. And, firmly rooted, you will grow to the fullness of all that God is calling you to be as His beloved child.

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”  – Titus 2:11-12

Gift 55 – Kingdom Come

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

“What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them.

Dear Rea,

Right now there is an extremist Islamic militant group called ISIS that has been wreaking havoc on innocent civilians around the world. Just last week they attacked Paris, killing 129 people and wounding even more.

This particular terrorist group is motivated by establishing a kingdom on ISISearth. In simple terms, the aim of these people is to bring the world under the authority of Islam, and to eliminate those who won’t submit. This means fighting, taking, killing.

In the middle of all this death and destruction, I’m reminded that Jesus came to bring a kingdom, too, and as his followers we’re called to be agents of this kingdom. But what is his kingdom like?

In the story above, the mother of James and John approaches Jesus with a request: “Can my boys rule with you in your coming kingdom? Can they be your number 2 and number 3 guys? Can they be at your right and at your left?”

Underneath this mother’s request is an assumption about Jesus’ kingdom—that it will be like other kingdoms of the day, established through power and might, secured by “making your enemies a footstool under your feet.” Jesus’ kingdom is about influence and control and strength and dominance. It’s about winning. It’s about thrones.

…right?

I don’t think it’s by accident, then, that a few chapters later Matthew mentions Mary, the mother of James and John, being present at the crucifixion (Matt. 27:56). She sees the King, but instead of thrones on his right and on his left, she sees crosses.

This is the way Jesus is leading? This is how his Kingdom comes?

While we are assured that thrones will someday be the reality, that Jesus will rule as King and his brothers and sisters will rule with him, we can’t forget that losing comes before winning, that death precedes resurrection, that the cross is the way to the throne.

Many Christians today seem preoccupied with winning. Winning debates, arguments, elections, culture wars. I understand this, and who am I to say whether these things are good or bad? What I do know is the path that Jesus set for his disciples:

Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the least, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

In many ways, Jesus’ Kingdom was surprising because it was an upside down kingdom. This wasn’t what the people were expecting. We use this picture in class to contrast Kingdom expectations with the way Jesus’ shocking behavior…

Upside Down Pic

This is still how Jesus’ Kingdom comes today. To be citizens of this Kingdom means service, sacrifice, humility, death to self in response to the love of God—in sharp contrast to ISIS’ kingdom of violence. Peter learned this after drawing his sword to attack those coming to arrest his master.

And though this might appear like weakness to the world, in truth it is a supernatural strength that conquers even death in the end. I am convinced that what makes Christianity so powerful and unique, is also what makes it so challenging—that those who would accept the call must deny themselves, take up a cross and follow a crucified King.

This is an Upside Down Kingdom. May it come in your life today in the things you think, the things you say, the way you treat other people; your attitude, your work, your play, your everything.

Gift 42 – Confession

Daughter,

Confession is a gift, a way of setting yourself before God’s holiness for untangling.  John the Baptist calls us to “keep with repentance.” In part, I believe this means inviting the posture of confession into every act and attitude so that the seed of God’s Word may send its roots down deep into well-tilled soil.

I scribbled a short confession last night after spending a few hours learning from an Anglican priest.  He spoke a lot about “the rule of life” and demonstrated a powerful focused-ness on Christ, as though he was just a spoke revolving around a center.  Being exposed to this kind of life stung like salt water in an open cut.  The prayer below was the result of the healthy stinging.

I pray that you would learn to love confession as a way of opening your little hands to the grace of God.

God,

I confess my idolatrous pace,
my resistance to Your rhythms,
my tangled heart and mind.
 
You want to speak; I say You’ll have to yell over the crowd.
You want to move; I am not good at this dancing.
You want to heal; I desperately cover the wound.
 
I fear You have become a footnote in my day, and therefore my days, and therefore my life.
I fear You have become a heartless habit before meals, a line before bed.
I fear You are one of many tabs.
 
You say to take off my shoes, but I know nothing of Sacred.
You say to receive, but I am too production-oriented for Your Sabbath gifts.
You say to speak, but I still microwave my prayers.
 
But I have seen You in Your sanctuary
and beheld Your power and Your glory.
Because Your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify You.

Gift 40 – Homeschool Watch (1)

In preparation for parenthood I’ve been trying to “tune in” to the homeschooling happening around me.   I don’t mean “homeschooling” as we often think of the word, rather, the underneath lessons parents are teaching their children everyday through their words, habits, actions, attitudes, etc.   Research continually points to inescapable fact that parents are the biggest shapers of their child’s identity—in short, they’re the most important teachers.   So if this easily missed homeschool curriculum is unfolding in every car ride, conflict and conversation, what exactly is being taught? I will be retelling the stories of the very best homeschooling examples as I see them…

As I drove to school one morning I saw that someone had rearranged the letters on the church sign right across from the Holland Christian parking lot. Some neighborhood kids must have thought it would be funny to write something inappropriate and unashamedly offensive. Two cars in front of me, a sliver minivan slowed before pulling into the church parking lot. I watched as a woman and her middle school son got out of the vehicle, walked over to the sign, and together changed the words back to the original message.

Talk about a powerful homeschool lesson. Maybe this mom was intentionally teaching her son in this moment, but more likely she was just doing a small act that needed to be done and invited her son to join along. Either way, what I was seeing went far beyond changing the words on a church sign.   This mom was showing her son that when you see something wrong, something that hurts others, you don’t just drive by. We don’t merely shake our heads and talk about how wrong or upsetting something is, but we get out of the car. What an attitude to have towards injustices both locally and globally, worldwide and close to home.  Though probably unaware of the significance, this young man was receiving an incredible education before the school day even started.

Stay tuned for more homeschool lessons coming soon!

Gift 30 – Picture Perfect

A few days ago Amanda and I decided to take our Christmas card picture at the park (actually, Amanda decided and I went along with it, but never mind).

That meant a ten-minute drive with not one but two psychopathic canines crammed into the back of our Chevy equinox. They yelped, they romped, they stormed the front seat nearly nocking the shift stick and bringing us to an untimely doom—you know, the usual. We arrived at the park scratched, slobbered upon, and overall a little flustered, but the fun didn’t end there. The leashed doggies hadn’t yet been for a walk that day and so tried desperately to break free of their bonds with the ferocity of two salivating criminals resisting arrest. Eventually Amanda and I had to practically tackle our little friends and hold them in headlocks while trying to persuade in a singsong voice, “Look at the camera! Come on, boy, look at the camera! Be a good dog and look at the camera! JUST LOOK AT THE DANG CAMERA BEFORE I LOSE IT!” Or something like that.

At this point I was getting a little annoyed at pretty much everything in creation and said something snarky like, “Why are we even taking a stupid Christmas card?” To my wife’s credit she held back a retort, but I could tell she was getting frustrated, too.

Fast forward to a few minutes ago. I received an email notification, Amanda Russ has tagged you in a photo on Facebook, and so opened a new tab to see. This is what I saw…

family

My first thought was, Who is this family, and why was I tagged in their picture?   This lucky clan had two perfectly trained dogs and had probably just finished a pleasant picnic in the park when the photo was taken. Then a looked a little closer. Wait a minute…is that us?!

 My point is this, while I have been so very blessed with a wonderful wife and two playful pups, our real lives and the picture don’t exactly match up. Real life is way messier and more complicated. This got me thinking about all the times I have become subtly jealous of what someone else has, or does, or is while scanning social media. It’s so easy to compare oneself with others while scrolling through photos—Look how perfect their lives are. They never argue. They have the perfect family. It must be nice being them. These thoughts are always accompanied by contrasting self-assessment. I wish I had __________. Why can’t my family be more _________? My life is nowhere near as good as   ___________’s.

This is called comparison, and it’s a killer.

While I’ve always known comparison is harmful, I’m beginning to see that our comparative thoughts aren’t even true. Just like the picture above isn’t even close to being an accurate representation of our day at the park, other people’s photos don’t really capture their lives either. The truth is, everyone struggles, everyone fails, and no one is as perfect as their pictures (after all, who posts pictures of arguing, paying bills, etc.?). Comparing oneself with social media pictures is as misleading and as damaging as a young girl comparing her body with photoshopped women in magazines.  The images aren’t real.

Teddy Roosevelt said it best, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” One of the great secrets of life is in contentment, in silencing comparative lies and looking instead to all you have to be grateful for. And next time you’re skimming social media and begin feeling like you would rather be someone else, just remember that the lives you’re seeing probably don’t exist.

Gift 27 – Now Go

When you love someone, you start to care about the things they care about. As I grow in love for my wife I learn to see from her perspective, value the things she values, and even love the things she loves.

The same is true for those who love God. As our love grows, our hearts are shaped to be like His as we see Him revealed in Scripture. In time we begin to celebrate good things like victory over addiction, unity in the Church family, and the healing of damaged relationships. We also begin to grieve injustice on a personal (addiction, bitterness, jealousy), communal (gossip, bullying, exclusion), and societal (homelessness, sex-trafficking, extreme poverty) level. And as our love grows we are called to act on these things that break God’s heart.

Do you remember the story of Moses and the burning bush? God reveals His plan to rescue Hebrew slaves, and I imagine Moses is ecstatic…at first.

God: I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out and I am concerned for their suffering…

Moses: Yes!

God: So I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land…

Moses: Alright! That’s great!

God: I will bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land flowing with milk and honey…

Moses: This is terrific news!

God: So now, go. I am sending you.

Moses: Wait…what? You’re joking, right? I thought you were going to do it?!

God: I am going to do it. Now go, I am sending you.

moses 2

See, when our hearts break for the things that break God’s heart, we’re not just meant to cry, or even just to pray, but to go—because God is going to act, and He is sending us. True purpose begins when we ask the question, “What do you care about, God?” and then act.

God said of the shepherd boy David, “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” I wonder how long it took God to find a person, just one person, who cared so deeply about God’s heart that he was willing to do?

Daughter, my prayer for you, for us, is that we would join with Samuel in asking, “speak LORD, your servant is listening,” Isaiah in offering, “Here am I! Send me!” and most of all, with Jesus as he offered himself lovingly and submissively to the Father, “Not my will, but Your’s be done.”

There is much to be done. In our homes, our communities, our world. Our God is looking for men and women willing to join Him in caring and acting on His heart.

Jesus tells a story about a landowner looking for workers for his vineyard. He goes into the marketplace and finds people standing around twiddling their thumbs. “Why are you standing around not doing anything?” he asks. “Sir, no one has hired us,” they respond. The landowner replies, “Well then come work for me!”

In a culture starving for purpose and significance, people standing around not doing anything, hear the invitation of our dangerous Friend and Lord who calls us to follow him into the dead places of the world where he will bring life. He still has a plan to free slaves. Now go, he is sending you.

Gift 26 – There is a River

river

In one of the most underrated Biblical texts, the prophet Ezekiel sees a vision of water coming from the temple in Jerusalem, the place where God lives. The small stream flows east, and as it travels becomes wider and wider, deeper and deeper. Ezekiel walks in the current until it becomes too deep, when “the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross.” As the river continues to flow east, fruit bearing trees spring up on either side because of the fresh, life-giving properties of the water.

Ezekiel watches in amazement as the torrent floods into the most unlikely of places: the Dead Sea. Because of its high salt content, the Dead Sea is notoriously barren (I mean it’s called the Dead Sea after all). No fish. No life. Not even seaweed.

But something extraordinary happens when the river from the temple crashes into the lifeless seawater. “When it empties into the sea, the salty water becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live” (Ezk. 47:8-9).

What does this all mean? It’s important to know that visions, like poems from high school English class, can have multiple layers of meaning and often use pictures and places as symbols. And while I do not want to be disingenuous to the original context and meaning of Ezekiel’s vision—a message of hope and life for a captive Israel—this particular revelation is a testament not just to what God would do with his captive people, but what he has been doing all along: bringing life to dead places. This is God’s specialty.

In the very beginning God burst into the chaotic emptiness with a declaration of life—“Let there be light!” he said to the void, and there was light. All throughout the Hebrew Scriptures God rushes into dead places—the barrenness of Abraham and Sarah, the brokenness of Jacob and his family, the suffering enslavement of thousands in Egypt, the hopelessness of a people carried off to Babylon, the frustration of rebuilding a city that has been destroyed—and every time He brings life into a seemingly hopeless situation. And of course, in the gospels God plunges once more into the depths of the grave, the ultimate “dead place”, only to arise victorious over death itself.

But guess what—God’s not done. He is still charging into the dead places of the world: places of despair and deprivation; injustice and pain; dead cities and nations, dead communities and relationships, dead homes and dead hearts. And he is still bringing life. This is the mission of God.

To restore,

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/ to revive,

\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/ to refresh,

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/ to renew.

The only thing left to uncover from Ezekiel’s vision is what exactly does the water represent? Some have argued that the river is a picture of God’s people, called to join in mission of the Lord. Others suggest that the life-giving tide represents God’s own Spirit overflowing the temple walls and going out into the world. But which is it?

The answer—Yes.

You are invited to join the people of God, filled with the spirit of God, to carry out the mission of God in bringing life to dead places. There is no higher calling than to join this rumble and flow of the thundering river of life.

More to come on what this looks like…

Gift 24 – Second Chances

Son,

A few weeks ago your mom and I had several couples over for dinner.  We got talking about proposal stories and ended up going around the table, each couple sharing the story of their engagement.

I was hoping the conversation would change before it got to us because my proposal to Amanda wasn’t anything special.  To be honest, it was completely lame.  I’m not saying that proposals need to be grandiose complete with hot air balloon rides to Paris or anything, but I really didn’t do anything to make her special or even appreciated.

When the conversation came to me I said, “Um, well, I pretty much just asked.”

“You didn’t do anything?  Like did you even take Amanda out for dinner, or give her flowers or something?” a friend questioned.  “Nope.  Just asked,” I said a little bit embarrassed.  The awkwardness passed, though as the evening went on an idea began growing in my mind: who says you can’t propose a second time?

Last week we celebrated our second anniversary, and I’m pleased to say I had the chance to re-propose to the woman I love (I’m also pleased to say that she said yes :)).  This time I made sure to show her how thankful I am to have her in my life.

proposal

Here’s the point, son.  It is all too easy to become comfortable and complacent in the relationships that matter most in life.  I’m talking about one-word responses, thoughtless gifts given only because of a holiday, and even just monotone conversations that become the norm.  If you’re not careful, your relationship with family and friends will become crusty like food forgotten in the back of the refrigerator.

To quote the great philosopher Taylor Swift, “Life makes love work hard.”   Though I hate to say it, Taylor’s right.  Life happens, and loved ones can get pushed to the backseat pretty quickly.  A little thoughtfulness, creativity, and surprise can go a long way in keeping relationships healthy.  When I become robotic as a husband, son, or friend, I’ll often be gently shaken back to attentiveness by one of many kindhearted friends in my life who live what I’m talking about.  One friend and colleague writes an encouraging note to someone just about every single day.  He’s been doing this for over 8 years!

Right now is a good time to do something out of the ordinary to show appreciation for someone in your life.  So think, then do.  Right now.  Go out of your way to make a friend’s day, or take a second chance to repair something you should have done right the first time.  Just remember, son, you only get one opportunity to re-propose, so make it special.

Gift 23 – Prayer (III)

“Is there any chance I could direct an orchestra piece for the Fall Concert?” “Do you think I might be able to get my picture taken in the front seat of your police car, officer?”   “Would it be okay if I marched with the band for a parade?” “Can I ride on the Zamboni between periods of the hockey game?”

“Is there any chance I could direct an orchestra piece for the Fall Concert?”
“Do you think I might be able to get my picture taken in the front seat of your police car, officer?”
“Would it be okay if I marched with the band for a parade?”
“Can I ride on the Zamboni between periods of the hockey game?”

Son,

You might be wondering how I got to do the things shown in the pictures above.  Well, believe it or not, all I did was ask.  Yep…that was it.

If you look up everything that Jesus says about prayer in the Bible, you might be surprised to find (like I was) that he so often focuses on asking from God.

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  Which of you fathers, if your son asks fora fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

 Or what about the second half of the famous prayer that Jesus taught his disciples:

Give us today our daily bread /  Forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors  /  Lead us not into temptation  /  Deliver us from the evil one.

 So much asking!

At first, all this asking might make a person a little uncomfortable.  We’ve all been told that God isn’t some divine Santa Claus who exists to satisfy our desires, so what’s going on?  A few things to notice…

  • First of all, if you are someone who loves and follows Jesus, your desires will be increasingly shaped by God’s heart.  Put bluntly: a maturing Christian isn’t asking God for a pony.  James writes, “You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”   A good question to ask is, “Is my life about God’s kingdom or my own?”  That will help determine whether your prayers are about God’s kingdom or your own.  The more you are shaped by the revelation of God’s Heart in your life (through God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, the Church), the more you will care like God’s heart cares.   As this happens, God says ask away!  Asking becomes powerful when the heart of Christ is alive in the body of Christ.
  • Prayer changes the pray-er.  Praying can actually wake up our desires and can be a catalyst for action.  Those who don’t care don’t ask.  And those who care, ask, and care more with each asking.  Perhaps Jesus’ consistent invitations to ask are his pleadings with us to care and to act!  Pray for your enemy and you may start caring about reconciliation.  Pray for the hungry and you may start caring that they have food to eat.  Pray for your wife and you may be moved to be a source of joy and encouragement for her.   In this mysterious way God often answers our prayers through the praying, because prayer is not only a reflection of your heart but also a directing of it.  As Eugene Peterson says, “We become what we are called to be by praying.”
  • Maybe the most important thing to realize is that the asking kind of prayer is an act of trust, dependence, and worship.  No one who is self-sufficient or self-reliant asks for anything, but the person who knows the good character of God relies on him like the branches of a fruit tree depend upon the trunk—and so they ask.  Making requests in prayer is acknowledging God’s generosity, God’s unlimited abundance, God’s ability to provide, and God’s loving heart towards his children.  The heart that does not ask does not yet know God as He wants to be known.

Son, I am convinced that God actually wants his people to ask more than we do, not less.  Though it was uncomfortable at first, I’ve gotten in the habit of making requests to God on a regular basis.  Just as I was surprised by what came of asking a police officer to sit in his car, or asking to march with the marching band, I’ve also been astonished by all that comes from making requests in prayer.

So ask already!

Here are some suggestions:

–       For eyes to see and ears to hear.

–       For opportunities to serve (the funny thing is, asking this will makes you aware of all the opportunities to serve that have always been around you).

–       For joy and compassion.

–       For wisdom and wonder.

–       That God’s Word would become a delight, like the author of Psalm 119.

–        For encouragement and strength for struggling friends and family.

–       Good things for your enemies.

–       Hope for young people wrestling depression.

–       For a tight reign on your tongue (words are powerful!).