There are some big promises in the Bible for those who seek God. Jesus even says you’ll receive “all things” you pray for if you believe (Matt. 21:22; Mark 11:24). “All things” seems quite a big promise. And at times, it seems like one God doesn’t live-up to. If He really meant we’d get “all things” we pray for, then why don’t I have the miracle cure, the new yacht, or the publishing deal I asked for?
“All things” must not cover whatever physical blessings we want, else there wouldn’t be so few wealthy Christians. It must not cover perfect health and physical safety, else there wouldn’t be so many Christians fighting illness or being killed for their faith. The problem isn’t just that we lack faith — even people in the faith chapter were sold into slavery, sawed in two, and wandered around homeless (see Hebrews 11).
Maybe “all things” means something different than we assume at first glance. And maybe it’s even better than we realized or expected.
Seeking the One Who Made All Things
God is not a vending machine that spits out blessings when you put in prayers. He wants to give us good things of course, but even more than that He wants to connect with our hearts.
This is the boldness which we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he listens to us. And if we know that he listens to us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15, WEB)
It’s okay to pray big prayers and expect results when we ask within God’s will. The part of these verses that really captures my attention, though, is that we know God listens to us when we pray. Have you ever thought about that? Listening is so important in relationships. You can’t get close to someone unless you’re both listening to each other. When we seek God, we can have confidence that He is a listener who wants to get to know us.
You shall call on me, and you shall go and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You shall seek me, and find me, when you search for me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:12-13, WEB)
When we seek God, our goal shouldn’t be to get things from Him. It should be to find Him. If you want “all things,” then seek a relationship with God the Father and with Jesus, “for whom are all things and through whom are all things” (Heb. 2:10, see also Col. 1:16-20).
God has invited us to become part of the greatest love story ever told. As Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man — a king — who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Matt. 22:2), LEB). That’s what God the Father is doing. He’s inviting us to be part of the marriage He’s planing for His son in the key role of the bride.
The people listening as Jesus spoke this parable would have known about all the wedding customs implied by this comparison. If you want to learn more about what was involved in a father planning his son’s marriage, I recommend “The Ancient Jewish Wedding” by Jamie Lash (click to read). There’s a lot of incredible things in these traditions that point to Jesus, but we’ll just focus on one for today.
A Jewish bridegroom would give his bride gifts as part of the betrothal process. He’d seal the betrothal agreement and then go away for a while to prepare their new home, leaving a gift along with his pledge to return. The gift(s) were meant to remind the bride of her groom. Think of it like an engagement ring. It’s no surprise, then, that our bridegroom Jesus Christ also “gave gifts to people” (Eph. 4:7-8, WEB).
in whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the Good News of your salvation—in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [which] is a pledge of our inheritance, to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:13-14, WEB with “who” corrected to “which.” See article, “What Is The Holy Spirit?”)
The holy spirit wasn’t given until after Jesus was glorified and had fulfilled the other parts of establishing the marriage covenant (John 7:39). Only then did He and His father give “the gift of the holy spirit” (Acts 2:38). Each time God gives the holy spirit to a new believer, He’s marking us as belonging to the Bridegroom and pledging that He will come back and fulfill all His promises. Read more →
In June, I’ll be giving my first seminar at a church-sponsored young adult retreat. The last time I spoke in front of an audience was in a college class five years ago, so I’m a bit nervous. On top of that, teaching the Lord’s people is a serious responsibility. But it’s also one I’m grateful to have an opportunity for here on this blog and soon in-person as well.
While the Bible does talk about female prophets, it’s a bit fuzzy on the subject of women teaching. On the one hand, we have examples of prophetesses advising and instructing and women like Priscilla going out and teaching God’s truth. On the other, we have Paul’s admonitions for women to keep silent in the churches. So if I am going to teach in writing or speech, I want to be particularly careful I go about it in the way God intends.
The New Testament contains several instructions, as well as warnings, for teachers. Many are aimed at people in ministry, but I think in most cases we can apply them to anyone teaching God’s way of life. And to a certain extent, that includes every one of us in the church. Even if we’re not a “teacher,” we’re still serving as examples of God’s way and have a responsibility to faithfully represent Him to others.
Teach Only Truth
The bulk of the instructions to teachers concerns what they teach. They’re given the responsibility to faithfully share God’s words without straying from His truth. Jesus told the religious leaders of His day that their worship was “in vain” because they taught human traditions instead of sound doctrine (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7). That’s a trap we mustn’t fall into.
Jesus’ parting command to His disciples, which we now call the Great Commission, tells them to teach the nations “to observe all things that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:20, WEB). The early disciples followed that command by teaching in Jesus’ name the same things He taught (Acts 4:18; 5:42; 15:35; 28:31).
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he spends quite a bit of time warning him not to get distracted from sound doctrine. There will be people people who teach other doctrines, who get distracted from God’s message, who pollute Christ’s teachings with their own ideas. But that’s not what a teacher of God does. They stick to the scriptures, use the law lawfully, and faithfully practice righteousness (1 Tim. 1:3-11; 4:1-12; 6:3-6). Read more →
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul discusses a variety of spiritual gifts. But there’s one in particular that he specifically tells them to “earnestly desire.” That gift is prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1, 39, WEB).
A basic definition for this word is to “speak forth by divine inspiration” (Thayer, G4395). Usually when we think of people prophesying, we think about the prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. We think of men God used to foretell future events, confront sinful Israel, and write books of the Bible. We probably don’t think about prophets in the modern age.
And yet, Paul wrote that the New Covenant church should earnestly desire the gift of prophecy. He said you should want it and if God gives it to you you should use it. But how do we recognize a gift of prophecy (in ourselves or others), and how should it be used? Read more →
There are 3,310 pairs of socks in the men’s homeless shelter.
This past weekend, I attended a young adult service and enrichment weekend. After a Friday evening and Saturday of discussion questions, seminars, Shabbat services, and good fellowship we spent Sunday on a service project. Nearly 100 of us descended on a homeless shelter to help tackle some of their needs, including wall painting, deep cleaning, window washing, and sorting the donations room.
I spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out what my gifts are and how to use them effectively. That interest in personal growth and development is, in part, why this blog exists. But somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least), this weekend’s focus on filling your role in the body of Christ barely touched on spiritual gifts and individual talents. Rather, the take-away was finding your identity as a servant of Christ and then following His example no matter what.
While I’m a staunch advocate for finding, developing, and using your gifts (that’s why you have them, after all), it doesn’t really take any particular gift to count socks. Perhaps someone with a gift for math could have worked more quickly, or a person with a gift for organization sorted them more efficiently. But really the only thing absolutely essential was showing up and doing the work.
In focusing on where we fit best, perhaps we sometimes close ourselves off to areas where anyone could serve. Maybe we think, “Anyone could do that, so I’ll focus on what I do best.” But that doesn’t mean “anyone” will actually step-up and do it.
During your quest to find the best way to use your gifts, don’t overlook the importance of being the “anyone” who will step in and fill needs. Move from theory to practice. Whether it’s in your family, your church, or your community, let’s look for opportunities to help and then actually take them.
I just got back yesterday from an incredible service-themed Young Adult weekend. It didn’t start out all that well for me, though. The day before I left I started feeling nervous (which is normal for me going into social events) but then by the time I left on Friday I had a shaking-crying-hyperventilating panic attack (which is becoming less and less normal/frequent for me).
I was really caught off-guard by this. I knew several people there — not just as acquaintances, but as friends — and I’d been eagerly looking forward to this event for weeks. I chalked it up to my too-active imagination combined with uncertainty about Friday evening’s schedule, breathed deep, prayed, turned Fallout Boy up, and started driving …
… and hit heavy traffic and rain (my two least favorite things to drive in). That left me running 20 late to met the people I was supposed to be car pooling with to the house I didn’t have an address for. Thankfully, one of the people I was meeting is also one of only 2 out of 100+ people at the weekend with my phone number, and he texted me the address. I proceeded to enter said address in my GPS and it took me to a house with no cars in the driveway.
It is either a testament to my stupidity or my faith that I walked up and rang the doorbell. Turns out, my friend accidentally sent me to another church member’s home (whose name I recognized, though I’d never met them) and they fed me cheese, gave me the correct address, and sent me on my way. Oddly, that’s when I felt a sense of peace for the first time all day. I was late, I was temporarily lost and yet God showed me that these worries coming true weren’t anything He couldn’t handle.
Saturday brought a great round of seminars and an excellent sermon on foot washing and Passover. Nothing to worry about, until game night happened. I’m sure I’m in the minority judging by how many people said they had a wonderful time, but any sort of game that involves doing something in front of other people or in a group or on a team makes me intensely uncomfortable, especially if you add competition. The first two games were mixers where you asked someone a question and their name. I literally remember nothing from meeting people this way (does it even count as a “meeting” then?). Next was that game where you tie a balloon to your ankle and try to keep it from getting popped while popping everyone else’s balloon. I could have kissed whoever it was that popped my balloon the moment the game started.
That’s the last game I “played” (I stepped on my own balloon when they started round two) and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my evening talking with two other people who saw no appeal in participating. Give me a deep conversation with someone over competitive and/or rambunctious games any day. Now that’s how to meet new people. (Side-track back to the topic of social anxiety: game night continued throughout my conversations and there was a Bag of Doom from which they were drawing names to participate in a novelty challenge which you had to do while standing in the center of a room surrounded by 80-something people watching you. Can anyone say “introvert’s worst nightmare”?)
I think one of the biggest lessons I learned this weekend was that my fears were either 1) groundless or 2) didn’t have the power to hold me back. The fact that I had a panic attack before leaving turned into a blessing because it gave me the choice between either canceling my plans or praying through it and trusting God. I chose the later, and I kept encountering situations that could make me feel nervous and which reminded me to stay in prayer all weekend. Every single one of the things I was worried about worked out for the best, and the only part of that I can take credit for is that I took the step to go to the weekend and start a few conversations. The rest was all God.
This brings us in a very round-about way back to the topic of the weekend — service. Specifically, “Unlocking Your Desire To Serve.” As many of you know, I consider this blog a sort of ministry and it’s been growing in ways that amaze me and make me want to do more. One of the big things that holds me back is my own fears, including my fear of panicking when it’s important that I talk with people about my faith. So for me, blending this weekend’s focus on service with a need to rely on God for help working through my anxiety was a powerful experience.
If you gave up reading that long rambling post and started scrolling, here’s the e-book announcement:
Something I haven’t shared with many people is that in my local Messianic congregation I’ve been receiving words, prayers, and hints from brethren for the last several months along the lines of “God’s going to do something big in/with your life soon.” I even finally have a hint as to what that might involve after I came back from services a few weeks ago with a title for an e-book in my head which I promptly sat down and outlined. I’ve barely worked on it since, but this weekend was exactly what I needed to reconfirm that God wants me to be sharing my gifts through writing and that He’s more than capable of overcoming deficiencies on my part.
My first step is officially announcing the project here on this blog. The working title is “Rise Up, My Love” and the focus will be on reigniting the church’s passion for God (so, basically this blog in book form). I’m not committing to a release-date quite yet (it would be lovely to have it out by Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles this fall, but I think a full year might be more realistic judging by how long it took to write The INFJ Handbook). I’ll keep you posted on details.