When God’s Voice is Clear

I’ve been stressed over work and a few personal things lately. It’s just been a stressful and busy couple months and likely to be more to come. When I stress over something, I tend to obsess on it. It becomes my sole thoughts 24/7. It’s the first thing I’m thinking about in the morning, the last thing I think about at night and my dreams tend to surround it in some way during the night.

Last night was no different. I woke up this morning, in that slight fog that I tend to arise in, when my thoughts are not usually coherent yet my mind tends to race, and my first thought was to put Jesus first in all things. Not to leave him out of the stressful situation, but to humble myself before him and let Him take charge.

When I finally got up and got around to looking at my phone, I see the notification from YouVersion verse of the day.

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. -Psalm 25:15

God was really trying to tell me something here. I was filling my thoughts and actions with my own problems, so much so that there was no room for Christ. But if I fill myself with Christ first, then there is no room for my own problems and he will take care of them, I will have effectively laid my problems at the foot of the cross.

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall. – Psalm 55:22

I love when God speaks clearly, this is not the case always, but as I’ve learned to listen, enhanced my prayer life, study more of God’s word, and humble myself before Him, His voice becomes easier to recognize.

Sharpening the Ax

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

This quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Whether he actually said this or not is immaterial, the concept is sound. If you are given a task, using the best tools you can to do the job helps you to perform the task more efficiently and effectively. A dull ax will take longer and require more strength.

Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed. — Ecclesiastes 10:10

Over the years, I’ve often questioned what my true mission is. I’ve received revelation from God over that time, yet I still question and wonder if I’m following the right path. Is my ax sharp enough to do the task that God has put before me?

Before heading out on mission from God, sharpen your own ax by getting yourself straight with God, praying and reading the Bible.

I find that often I’m looking for how to best serve God and I realize that I don’t take time to read the Bible. I find that I struggle to start the day with prayer and I’m too tired at night to end the day with prayer. Throughout the day, I’m way too busy with too many things on my mind, that taking the time for even a short prayer in the midst of my busy day is beyond my thoughts.

Martin Luther is rumored to have once commented, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend the three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.

Are we so busy that we can’t take the time to pray? How much time do we spend on needless things? Could we cut out an hour of television? God wants us to enjoy life,

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. -James 5:16

How can we be the most effective tool for God, if we don’t allow Him to sharpen us? God sharpens us through the reading of his word. We find out his mission for us through reading and prayer. God has given us the tools to do the job he set out for us wherever we are, whether on the mission field or at work.

God has given all of us the tools, but so many of us (myself included) don’t bother to pick the best tool for the job. We choose a dull ax to chop down the tree. We strain ourselves to do the job God has put before us. We work so hard at His mission for us, that we fail to sharpen our tools.

Prayer and reading of His word will sharpen us. If we spend the time sharpening our tools, we will be able to do His work so much more efficiently and effectively.

 

The Holy Spirit Knows the Way – Romans 8:26

holy-spiritIn the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. -Romans 8:26

God was telling me today to look at this verse. Last night I was just flipping through my social media and came across an old article that someone had linked to that gave a list of 10 things about prayer. I can’t remember anything about the list other than, number 7 was this verse from Romans 8. For some reason, it struck me as something I needed to stop and listen to.

I’ve wanted this year to be come my year of prayer. A year I learn more about it and become more diligent in it. One of my main prayers over the last few years has really been to see clearly what God’s will is for my life. What is his plan? I’m eager to find out and get moving. If you’ve been reading my blog for a couple years, you can see a large portion of my posts are seeking the answer to that prayer.

This morning, as is normal, I open my favorite Bible app on my phone and see the verse of the day…yes you’ve guessed it, Romans 8:26 is staring me right back in the face. To me that is about as clear of an indicator of God telling me something that I’ve ever received. But what is God trying to tell me with that verse. Well that required me to do a little study and further reading this morning.

Let’s look at the next verse;

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. -Romans 8:27

The Spirit knows what God’s will is for us. The Spirit knows where we are going. Even though we may be unsure of where we are going or what God’s will is for us, the Spirit is not. The Spirit will intercede on our behalf to ensure that we reach our destination. We can be assured of God’s protective guidance in spite of being unaware of where we are going or how we are getting there.

And that all leads to verse 28;

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

God is working for our good my friends. He has called us to his purpose, he has a plan for us…and it is good!

So I feel God threw this verse at me to let me know that I can stop focusing so much on the destination, God already knows where that is and the Spirit will ensure that I arrive. But along the way God has tasks for me, people to interact with, to tell the truth to, to pray for. Those opportunities laid before me each and every day, those things that cross my path are where my focus needs to be. The destination is important and I shouldn’t forget it, but the Spirit has got that covered.

We’ve been liberated from sin and death through Jesus, so we can take comfort in knowing the that Spirit will guide us, without fail, to the promised land that God has given to us. Just like the Israel of old, who were led by the pillar of cloud and fire through the wilderness, we too are being led by the Spirit into the promised land. We often don’t know how we are getting there or which direction to go tomorrow, but we don’t need to worry about that.

My prayer today is one of thanks. I’m thankful that God gave me the eyes to see this verse that he so clearly wanted to give to me today. It has truly opened up my eyes on my prayer life and given me a whole new freedom as I traverse through life. Thank you God for making this verse come alive in me today!

God’s Not Done – Wrestling with God – Part 3

jacob-wrestles-the-angelGod work in unexpected ways. He often surprises us with blessings we don’t understand at the time. Things that don’t quite seem like the blessing at the time. Things that we may feel are NOT the blessing that they turn out to be. Or things that we think are the blessing, and we think they are great and we praise him for them, but it turns out they are not the really the complete blessing we thought they were…in other words, God’s not done. This is where we look in part 3 of the series on wrestling with God.

So we started this series with a look at how God wrestles with us and how that conflict can have incredible changes in our lives. The second part to this story looks at how God wants to bless us and how he pursues us to do so. Using my adult life as an example of how I had conflict with God and how he pursued me, we pick up the story in 2011.

After falling to probably are deepest level financially, wrestling with God over what I need to do, I held on despite being wounded in spirit like Jacob was in the verses we’ve been looking at.

When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” – Genesis: 32:25-26

So bless me he did with a new job, one with a good friend of mine, making good money and I was second in command in the company. This was a true blessing to me. A steady paycheck, something I’d not had for years. Working with friends at a high level of influence in the company.

At this point, I could have said, “Thank you Lord” and just accepted the blessing and moved on with my life. Chances are, I may have let go of God in the process as we tend to do in good times. I may have thought that God had given me his blessing, put me where he wants me to be and has moved on to blessing others.

But I felt a restlessness in my spirit. I never felt like I was quite “there” yet, wherever “there” was. For five and a half years, I went through the motions. God had blessed us financially, gotten us back on our feet and nearly out of debt, but I discovered that spiritual he was not finished yet.

Look at this verse in Isaiah;

But God’s not finished. He’s waiting around to be gracious to you. He’s gathering strength to show mercy to you. God takes the time to do everything right — everything. Those who wait around for him are the lucky ones. -Isaiah 30:18

This is how I felt for those nearly six years I was in this sort of spiritual limbo. While I was being blessed beyond what I thought was possible, I still felt like something was missing; and it was. Those six years, I went through the motions to earn money, but I really never felt like I belonged there. As the stress of life and job built I became more unhappy and more restless. But through it all, I never let go of God. That was the big difference between then and my life before. Even during the good times, I never let go.

The years drug on and I felt stagnant and not going anywhere. God’s blessing were still very evident, but I was still in a low spot. Looking back now, I see that God was not finished yet. God is doing everything right and he takes his time, his perfect timing in doing so.

All this time, I continued to expand this blog and my writing. God used this not only to hopefully touch others, but also to strengthen and build me. Over these last few years, I’m feeling pulled to more leadership in Christ and the trials have only strengthened me to move into those positions.

About a year ago, our company let go a man that was filled with Christ. This dismissal never felt comfortable to me, it never settled in my head that we as a company did the right thing. But after that was done, I felt a strange peace come over me. Not that we had let him go, but I felt God telling me that it was time, time for me to move to the next phase of his blessings. God had put this man before me for a reason and with his leaving it was as if there was a pull for me to go to.

I waited around for God those six years and I do feel I’m one of the lucky ones. God put me in a new company that while the financial and benefits aspect are still blessing me even more than before, I’m in the company of many Christ followers. God has put me in a position to expand my personal ministry and growth through my writing and service in my local community. I feel that this is only the beginning of my journey so while the wrestling may seem to be over, I’m not without injury so I’m holding on tight to God and I’m not letting go.

Through his blessings to me I’ve been able to be a blessing to others and as I move into this next phase of my growth, I’ve set my eyes upon that, to bless those around me. God’s not done with us. I feel He is always moving in our lives to further complete us. I’m holding on tight, strong in faith, yet plenty of growth to go. God has renamed me, as he renamed Jacob. My name is still Jason in our world, but God has renamed me because I struggled with God and have overcome. I’ve struggled with my own fears and have overcome them. I’m holding on tight for more is to come… God is not done yet.

God Wants to Bless Us -Wrestling with God – Part 2

wrestling2So last time I left off in about 2006, but let me back up a bit.  From 2001 to 2004 or so, life had been a struggle, three young children, a home and wife. We didn’t have much and we were happy, but it was hard. We grew stronger in our faith during that time and this is when I was able to quit some bad habits. God was using these hard times to strengthen us and teach us to trust in Him.

Well in 2005, I landed that long-term contract and life was getting easier, at least financially. In February we were blessed with our fourth child, Ethan. Later that year we were able to purchase our first home. If you’re familiar with what happened between 2006 and 2008 or so, you may realize that this was probably not the best time to purchase a home, but needless to say, God had this in his timing. Things were going great, but I still had more lessons to learn.

From 2006 until 2009 or so, my business was really taking off, but I wasn’t quite ready for this level of success. We didn’t spend money on frivolous things, but our bills were high so the level of income needed was high. But hey, I was making a lot of money and we were doing fine. But in hindsight, I realize that we became self-reliant, meaning I had stopped leaning on God. Oh, we still went to church, I still prayed and believed, but I stopped trusting that his grace was enough. So as often happens during times like this, God pursued me!

God wants to bless us.

God wants to share his blessings with us. We look back at our story about Jacob wrestling with God. God forced Jacob to wrestle. He was the initiator of the match. But why make us wrestle? Does God wish to withhold his blessings from us until we “win” them from him? Not at all. But I believe that he shares even more blessings with us through the wrestling that without. So those hard times are important, to teach us, to sharpen us, to show us how great and merciful God truly is. These are things we wouldn’t receive if the gifts were just handed to us.

As many of you know, in 2008 the economy started to go into recline. Prices were rising, home values dropping, businesses were reluctant to spend money as their business slowed. Being a small consultant, I was easy to cut from the budgets of many of my clients. So work slowed down and the money stopped coming in. Remember, we had a high income need and it was slowly getting depleted.

Along with that our debt started to rack up. I had my best years ever in 2006 and 2007. Such great years that I wasn’t really prepared for it. And being a small business in the United States, we often bear the burden of high taxes. Taxes I wasn’t prepared for because of my own lack of preparation. So the tax man came and I owed a lot of money to the government. Well realize, they want their money. They don’t care about anything else but getting what is due. Being someone who feels obligated to pay what I owe, we set up payment plans with the IRS to pay it down. But combine that added expense, with a slowing economy and things got real tight.

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. -Genesis 32:24

See God came to Jacob. God wanted to bless Jacob and God came to him. Much the same, I feel God came to me during this down slide. During the downward spiral, I often turned inward, but God had a way of bringing me back. He would pull me out of my self-pity and forced me to wrestle with him, to see God face-to-face.

Also, notice that God wrestled Jacob the entire night. God could have very easily knocked Jacob out quickly, but He kept the struggle going all night. Much the same, our struggle lasted for a few years. The darkest of times, were from 2008 until early 2011. There were times in there that we weren’t sure where we were going to get money to feed ourselves, let alone pay the bills. But over and over, God came through in so many small ways during this period. Those small blessings that you may not even notice at first, but looking back you can see they could only come from God. This struggle was real and it was long.

When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” -Genesis 32:25-26

Near daybreak, God caused Jacob’s hip to be injured. Much the same, in 2010 I was injured both physically with a back issue and emotionally through the financial issues that we were facing. It was at this point that I had a choice to make. I could let go and perhaps lose the blessings that God in store for me or I could hold on until God blessed me. Luckily I made the wise choice. I held on. I could do nothing else. I had already proven, despite my best efforts, I could not “fix” things on my own. So I held on. I stood strong in my faith that God would see us through.

And God blessed me. He didn’t magically remove my debt, nor did I magically discover a treasure chest of money. But despite leaving me with my “injured hip”, he blessed me. And in reality, that “injured hip” of mine was a blessing itself.

2011 found me with a new job, steady paycheck and a way to bring my family from the brink of financial disaster. I held on to God, after he had brought me low, until he blessed me. And the blessings far exceeded my expectations and they came in unexpected ways.  This is not the end to this story, but that is a story for later.

Wrestling with God

wrestling2017 is becoming the year that I explore prayer and try to raise my game in that area. I’ve never been consistent in my prayers, often praying heavily when I need something and not so much when I don’t. I think we all can say we fall into those ruts from time to time when prayer is just not easy to do. But one thing that always helps is to look back at those prayers that I’ve had over the years and see how God has answered them. I often don’t realize that a prayer is answered until I perform this little exercise as often things become clear when looked at through the lens of time.

I’ve had many such experiences and have written about some on this blog before, but let me talk about a prayer that I think is still being answered, yet was begun long ago without my even realizing it.

At the beginning

Back in 2001 I took a job with a small consulting firm, leaving a job I was not happy at (no real reason of theirs, was just not loving it anymore.) At first the new place was great, I was able to work from home most of the time and while that required a level of discipline that I had was only beginning to acquire, it allowed me to spend time with my young family and gave me the flexibility that many jobs could not provide me, all the while making a salary that more than provided for my family.

Fast forward 6 months to the end of 2001, the day after Christmas to be exact. I received an email that would begin this journey of prayer and renewal that has continued to this day. The owner of the company (there were only 2 of us), emailed me to tell me he was laying me off. I no longer had a job. No insurance, no income, nothing. And right after Christmas where we had spoiled the kids more than we probably should have. We went from one of the happier times of our lives, to one of the worse, in just a few hours.

We had three of our four children then, one just 9 months old. This was just after the terrorist attack of 9/11 and there was still much uncertainty in the world and the economy. There was no guarantee of finding a job, especially not one making the kind of money I was making. Things were not looking good.

Up until this point, while I had a long history of knowing Christ, indeed all the way back to my childhood, I had only recently re-committed myself to following him. This was one of those turning points in my life. One I can look back to as a moment when I could have went one of two ways and in this case, I believe I chose wisely and followed God’s promptings without really understanding. See it was then, that I began to question my purpose in life, question what I was doing and why, not understanding completely why this was happening to us. I had so many questions.

Looking back, I see that I discovered something that about prayer that I think God likes. I was quite frank with God in my frustrations, my anger and my disappointments. I didn’t understand or like this moment and I let Him know how I felt. I struggled with God. I questioned His judgment as it really made no sense. All I wanted from God was comfort and to fix my situation, but I was getting neither.

I’m reminded of the story of Jacob in the book of Genesis. Jacob was headed back to see his estranged brother Esau, who was coming to greet him with 400 men. No welcome party. Jacob splits his party up to avoid complete destruction and decides to stay in camp alone, probably for some intensive prayer.

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” – Genesis 32:24-26

This response pleased God so he pronounced this blessing on him;

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome. – Genesis 32:28

So while he came out of the wrestling match wounded and with a weakened body, he comes out with a stronger faith.

Sometimes when we want God’s comfort, he sends it in unexpected or even unwanted packages. I didn’t want to be unemployed! I wanted to provide for my family. This lesson began with a simple email after we celebrated the birth of Jesus, but this is not how I wanted or expected this lesson to be delivered.

For two years I was essentially unemployed. Luckily we didn’t have a ton of debt, but living week to week became the norm. We made sure our children were fed and taken care of and then we worried about ourselves. I did side jobs, mostly software development work that I managed to pick up. I also spent quite a bit of time selling stuff on eBay which actually turned into somewhat of a nice little side business. But overall we were not in a financially good place and things really didn’t look to improve… but these two years did something great, it taught me a valuable lesson.

This time of trouble, forced me to rest my faith more fully on God and not myself. See before this time, I was doing making all the decisions, I made the choices. I had faith in God, but I kept all the “important” stuff for my own decision making. To take me to the next step in our relationship, God had to set me back a peg. He wounded me to increase my faith, just as he caused Jacob to limp to strengthen his.

After two years of struggle, I finally landed a long term contract that took my business to the next level. I was able to form my own business and once again was able to provide for my family. It took time to build that, but during the process God did something else to me.

Wrestling with God changed my identity. This time of trouble made me a different man. I grew up in the process. I became a responsible adult finally (only took me 30 years). I learned to be a better father, a better husband, a better business person. I learned to take responsibility for matters and probably most importantly, I learned to lean on my faith in God to get me through.

Jacob had gained his initial blessing from his father through deception, thus causing the rift that existed between him and his brother. But with is new identity, Israel, gained his blessing through faith in God. I did much the same. I initially gained all my blessings through my own effort and while God rewarded me and blessed me, I gave none of the credit or glory to him. After my 2+ years of wrestling with God, I was blessed in so many ways, but I now knew who those blessings came from.

This brings us to about 2006. While I thought the wrestling match was over and the lessons were learned, I soon learned that really this was only the beginning of the match. See I had worked on my timing (even though those 4 years were too long anyway), but God has his own timing that in hindsight was the correct timing. But I end here and will pick up the story later.

Prayer from 17th century House of Commons

Saint James the Greater, by RembrandtI found this prayer in my readings this morning that really stood out as it would be so foreign to hear something like this in our current political arena. But what if our leaders did pray like this? And truly meant it? How would it change our nation and how it was governed?

Almighty God, by whom alone Kings reign, and Princes decree justice; and from whom alone cometh all counsel, wisdom and understanding; We thine unworthy servants, here gathered together in thy Name, do most humbly beseech thee to send down thy heavenly wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations. And grant that we, having thy fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, the result of all our counsels, may be the glory of thy blessed name. – House of Commons prayer, circa 1661

I found this prayer in a book I’m reading on prayer and the author referenced this. It take a great leap of faith sometimes, especially for this persecuted for their faith, to realize that God is exalted amongst all nations. This prayer shows a few key points that jumped out at me.

Everything comes from God

“…by whom alone Kings reign, and Princes decree justice; and from whom alone cometh all counsel, wisdom and understanding”

We are put in our positions by the grace and desires of God and God alone. Whether we are heads of states, leading a company or simply heads of households, that “power” comes by the grace of God.

We are unworthy of this grace

“We thine unworthy servants…”

There is nothing we can do to earn this grace and favor from God. No amount of prayer, actions, charity or ‘being good’ can earn us grace from God.

We ask and through His grace, God provides

“…do most humbly beseech thee to send down thy heavenly wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations.”

We simply ask God to send us wisdom in any and all situations and God will provide graciously this wisdom. He loves us enough that the wisdom is always in our best interests, even if we don’t understand it. But we in a humble position, receive this wisdom from Him.

We set aside our own agenda

“And grant that we, having thy fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections…”

We all have our desired outcomes that we want to see occur. But do they align with God’s purpose? The willingness to set aside these personal interests, to achieve God’s purpose allows God’s grace be manifest in us.

All is for the glory of God

“…the result of all our counsels, may be the glory of thy blessed name.”

All that we do, when done with the consultation and wisdom from God, will work to glorify His name.

What an incredible prayer, especially for the political arena. But this is something I can incorporate into my own life as well.