I have trouble listening during prayer.  Sometimes I get busy.  Other times I get distracted.  But most of the time I am just too concerned with talking.  And even when I do listen, I often feel like I have trouble hearing God. 

Sometimes I get confused on whether I am hearing Him or just hearing myself.  And there are other times when I have a hard time hearing anything.  Recently, God told me very directly what my problem was.

Several weeks ago, I came upon some scripture that convicted me about a particular ministry venture.  It is a pretty big deal and I had trouble thinking about how my family could pull it off.  I have been praying very hard over that issue ever since.  I have gone back on forth several times on what I thought God was telling me to do. 

The other day, as I was praying for clarity on the issue, God spoke to be very clearly.  He said, “I have already told you what to do.  You read it in my Word.  Now stop asking me and do it.”  Talk about an epic stomach punch.

I was actually walking down the sidewalk when this happened, and I literally had to slow down and collect myself.  It was one of the most powerful revelations that I have ever experienced.

Even moreso than what He said about that particular issue, I learned a great deal about hearing from God.  Many times, we try to hear from Him on our own terms.  We convince ourselves that He is limited in His communication with us.

However, God speaks to us in so many ways.  He speaks to us through His Word, through fellow Christians, through our circumstances, through the Holy Spirit, through sermons, through worship, and through us learning more about His character and understanding what He wants.  He is literally everywhere, trying to get us to listen, but we tend to only listen to one channel.

So the next time you are seeking an answer from God, try to take a step back from the situation.  What might you have missed?  What important messages has He sent your way that you may have ignored? 

He is constantly speaking to us.  We all just need to become better listeners.

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  (1 Kings 19:11-13 NLT)

 
Well, that’s it.  The final presidential debate of the year is over.  Thank goodness I don’t have to hear about this election anymore…except for the signs, the television commercials, the radio ads, and of course, the election itself.

I really have a pretty low tolerance for politics, and often even politicians.  I am sure most of them are good, well-intentioned people.  But the things they have to do to be successful (lie, manipulate, spend tons of money on campaigning instead of using it to actually help people) make it hard for me to support their work.  And the way people seem to worship them does not help the matter.

Many voters spend most of their time trying to figure out which candidate’s values and opinions match more closely with theirs.  Some try to figure out which one is telling a higher percentage of the truth.  All people are trying to figure out which side to take so we can make our country a better place.

A friend of mine put a simple, yet brilliant perspective on his Facebook page last night, and it got me thinking about how backward this entire process is.  If we want what is best for our country, is it really prudent to take sides and lash out at the opposition?  Does it make sense to build one person up and cut the other down?

I challenge every one tonight to instead of getting caught up in the presidential debate jargon tonight, to instead honestly pray that the best thing happens for the country and that God would give the wisdom to both candidates to lead our nation. This seems like a much better use of time than trashing either party or candidate. –Jared C.

One of these guys is going to be the leader of the United States of America for the next four years.  It may be your guy, it may not.  Either way, in order to remain focused on spreading the gospel in America, we need to start praying for these guys now and prepare ourselves for how their views and policies may impact our mission.

After we cast our votes, we have no more say in the matter.  At that point, we are at the mercy of the system and our new leader.  So let’s spend time in prayer now so that God will guide our leaders, but also so our hearts will be prepared for ministry in whichever regime we find ourselves. 

I agree with Jared.  Pray now.  Pray later.  That is the best possible use of our time if we want to improve the political climate of our country.

 
While I don’t work directly in the field of mathematics, my course work in pursuit of my math degree has had a lasting impact on my everyday life.  I try to break my tasks down into logical steps, and to create formulaic processes whenever possible.  These processes put my mind at ease as I am assured that my future projects will be completed more efficiently.

Oh, how I wish my faith could be so simple.  Yes, I know that I have commandments to obey and obligations to take care of.  However, there is nothing about my daily spiritual growth that is cut and dry.  There is no basic step by step process that guarantees that I will get closer to God. 

However, a piece of scripture came up at church this week that provides a good starting point for how I should approach my growth.  It is one of those passages that I am sure I have glazed over dozens of times when digging into the depth of my favorite book of the Bible, the book of Acts.

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. (Acts 2:42 NLT)

When the Church was first getting started based on the teachings, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we find the apostles sharing the good news with anyone and everyone that will listen.  As these people accept Christ as their Lord and are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are given a breakdown of how the new believers spend their time.  This is how they approached their day to day spiritual growth.

First of all, they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles.  They listened intently.  They asked questions.  They shared the stories of those who had walked with Christ.  They sought as much information as they could get about this Savior that they were dedicating their lives to. 

They spent time in fellowship with one another.  They got to know each other.  They shared their interpretations of Jesus’ teachings and how it had changed their lives.  They became friends and ultimately a family of believers that readily supported each other, loved each other, and held each other accountable to the teachings of Christ.

They ate meals together.  This is by far my favorite item on the list, because I love food.  But not only did they sit at the same table and eat food, but they observed the Lord’s supper and spent time together remembering and reflecting upon His sacrifice and His love for all of them.

They prayed.  They prayed to communicate with God, to learn about God, and for guidance from the Holy Spirit.  For the first time, they were encouraged to pray directly to God without going through a priest.  They wanted to know God.  They wanted to talk to Him.  So they made it a priority.

None of this is ground breaking.  We know that we need to be doing these things.  Yet, they seem so simple that we often take them for granted. 

The millions of Christians on our planet started out as a few hundred people following these simple principles:  1.  Get to know God.  2.  Spend time with and love one another.  3.  Seek unity as a community based on who Jesus is.  4.  Pray without ceasing.

Start there, and let the Holy Spirit lead you.  There is a good chance that you will be led to continue practicing these things, but then to expand the community with which you share your life.  I am very thankful that the early Christians did just that, or else I may not know the Truth.

 
Omission - The action of excluding or leaving out someone or something.

Omission can be a tricky concept.  There are definitely times when we should leave things out of our conversations, interactions, habits, and our lives.  But there are so many gray areas.  What is the line between confidentiality and lying by omission?  When does telling the truth become gossip?  And when is moderation appropriate?

These are all difficult questions that we must all figure out for ourselves.  There are things that we should leave out completely, some things that are situational omissions, and some things that must never be left out.  One of the most important things that many Christians seem to put in the “situational” category but unequivocally belongs in the “never omit” category is prayer.

I hear people talk all the time about the power of prayer.  They share stories of healing, peace, and revelation.  Christians are always offering to pray for folks and situations, and we include prayer in many aspects of our worship services and Bible studies.  Our ability to talk about prayer and pray situationally is off the charts.  The power of prayer is obvious.  However, we rarely talk about how powerful it can be when we don’t pray.

Many people only pray when they want to see God move in a powerful way.  However, what they don’t realize is that their lack of prayer in the other times can have just as powerful of an impact on their lives.  Not praying can change your life just as quickly as an answered prayer can.

Prayer is communication with God.  It’s a time for us to praise him, confess our sins, acknowledge His glory, and ask for provision according to His will.  It is also a time for listening.  Prayer allows us to completely focus on God and open our hearts for the leading of the Holy Spirit.  During those times, we get a better understanding of His will for our lives and our plan comes more in line with His.  Yes, that is powerful.

When we choose not to pray, we are obviously not spending as much time in the presence with God.  We are missing out on a great worship experience, missing an opportunity to confess our sins, and refusing to ask God for things even though He clearly wants us to

And just like all relationships, if we are not spending time with God and growing closer to Him, we are more than likely growing further away from Him.  And when we create distance between us and God, it is much more difficult to understand His plan for us. 

We start to misinterpret and even ignore the Holy Spirit.  We spend more of our time doing unholy things.  We produce less fruit.  It becomes so easy for us to lose touch with who God wants us to be, and we are much more likely to give in to temptation.

“Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” (Matthew 26:41 NLT)

By leaving prayer out of our daily lives, we give the devil a foothold and create a significant barrier that prevents us from growing closer to God.  Yes, prayer is powerful and miracles come from it every day.  But if we fail to pray, we make it nearly impossible to be who God wants us to be.  We damage our relationship with God, and ultimately sabotage what He wants for our lives.

Prayer is one of the only things that you can do anywhere and in any situation.  There is absolutely no excuse for any of us not to have an active and vibrant prayer life.  Isn’t it awesome that we can talk to our Creator anywhere and anytime we want?  Let’s all take advantage of that today.

 
I have recently taken up running.  I hate running.  I have never enjoyed it.  While I understand the need for the skill if you are a professional athlete, being chased by a rabid wolverine, or trying to catch the ice cream truck, I have never been able to force myself to do it.

Lately, however, I have found a trick that helps.  By listening to music when I run, it somehow becomes slightly more tolerable.  If I can focus on the music, I forget about the pain and boredom that comes with running. 

Yet, I am finding out that I am not a huge fan of having my ears plugged-up.  I like to be aware of my surroundings.  I like to be alert and conscious of what is going on.  I somehow feel vulnerable when my headphones are on (or ear buds are in, depending on your particular ear preferences).

That’s why I don’t understand why every student I run into around my office has something plugging-up their ears.  It seems like they are all listening to that new-fangled rap music or using a hands-free talking device so that their walk to class will never approach the boredom that comes with just going for a walk.  But I am starting to catch on.  I believe I have figured out the real reason that they put on headphones as soon as each class has ended.

They don’t want to talk to anybody.

I could go on and on about why that is, about how technologies have made face-to-face conversations archaic and uncomfortable.  However, I would feel like a hypocrite.  No, I don’t walk around with my Beats by Dre headset on.  But there are times when I put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign.  And while it is healthy for me to have time to myself, that’s probably not a sign I should ever put between me and God.

That seems to be what many of us do, though.  We put on proverbial “headphones” to send the message that we don’t want to talk to God.  We would never say it like that, of course.  We say that we are busy, or that it's a bad time, or that something came up, or that we are focusing on other areas of ministry.  While we don’t always do it on purpose (sometimes, we do), Christians have gotten pretty good at keeping God at a distance.

How do we communicate with God? 

We read the Bible.  But many of us do not spend time in it every day, and sometimes not even every week.  We get busy or behind at work and convince ourselves that it can wait.  We essentially put God on hold.  Not cool.

We pray.  This may be the easiest way to communicate with Him, but many of us still don’t do it regularly.  And when we do, we go through the motions, cover our bases, and get back to the things that we think are important enough to focus on.  And the vast majority of us are quick to forget that listening is often the most important part of prayer.  We say our part and move on to the next task.  That's not a conversation.  It is a monologue. 

We worship.  Like prayer, going through the motions is a big problem for worship.  We also tend to put worship in a box and assume it can only take place during the music portion of our church services.  Worship can and does happen anywhere and everywhere in a very genuine way.  We just need to get out of our own way.

We serve.  What?  You don’t communicate with God through service?  I beg to differ.  When we serve as we are called, God not only speaks to us but through us to others.  It is an amazing way to experience Him.  However, we often use service as an excuse not to communicate with God.  We bury ourselves in ministry in such a way that we never take the time to experience God for ourselves.  And accountability is difficult in these settings because, since you are serving with great dedication, it seems as though everything is okay.  That’s why we need to get back to ripping our robes

Fellowship.  One of the most powerful ways to experience God and communicate with Him is through our Christian brothers and sisters.  We learn about God, we see God work, and we experience His love.  We are created to spend time with one another, and when we choose to exclude ourselves we end up growing further away from God because we are unable to feel His love through that part of His purpose for creation.

There are so many ways that we rebel against or completely ignore these methods for communicating with God.  By not fully engaging in these practices, we are essentially putting up a “Do Not Disturb” sign between us and God.  Please, take down that sign and have a conversation with God.  And for goodness sake, take off those headphones and have a conversation with another human being.

 
As I’ve mentioned before, my son is obsessed with superheroes.  We spend about 10 hours per day watching them on TV, playing with action figures, or role playing and pretending to catch bad guys.  We have even gotten to the point that the 1960’s Batman series is a regular recording on our DVR.  While I really enjoy making fun of how corny and ridiculous the show is, I am often caught off guard by the unintentional wisdom.

On a recent episode, Commissioner Gordon picked up the red Batphone and called Batman up due to an emergency in Gotham.  While this is a regular occurrence in almost every episode, it is kind of a big deal.  Batman is often the last resort for the police.  He is the big gun that only comes out to battle super villains.  In many ways, Batman is the savior of Gotham City.

Because the Caped Crusader is so important to the city, I was pretty surprised by Commissioner Gordon’s reaction when Alfred answered the phone and said, “I’ll get him, sir.”  (Note:  Why does Alfred answer the phone?  Is it not weird to Commissioner Gordon that Batman has a butler?)  Gordon’s response is full of surprise and excitement as he announces to the officer in the room, “Oh good, he’s home.”

Really?!  Batman is so vital to the survival of Gotham’s citizens, he is the Dark Knight that always comes to save the day, and Gordon is surprised that he is available?  When he said his line, I literally laughed out loud.  I thought about how comical the entire scenario was, especially Robin’s tights.

Then I started to think about how we communicate with our Savior.  I recently wrote about how we should not be disappointed by unanswered prayers.  Yet, I also believe that we often go too far the other way.  We try to avoid disappointment by setting our expectations low, then we can’t get upset if God says, “No” because we never really expected Him to say, ”Yes.” 

It’s like when He does answer, we are surprised.  Like Commissioner Gordon, we excitedly say, “Oh good, He is there after all.”  And sadly, I often find myself to be guilty of this. 

Early this week, I went to visit my grandmother in the hospital.  She had been there for almost a week struggling with a kidney stone that was so big there was no way she could pass it.  The doctors were exploring other options, and taking their time doing so, while she sat there in pain.

Toward the end of my visit, I prayed with her.  I asked God for healing and comfort, that He would remedy the situation and allow her to feel better.  I left the hospital, drove home, and went about my routine waiting for my mother to call with the doctors’ decision about what to do.

The next day, I found out that she had passed the kidney stone that seemed impossible to pass.  She went through a great deal of pain, but the process was much better for her than any procedure they may have been planning.  Apparently, she started to feel the pain as soon as I walked out of her room.  Hours later, she passed the stone and has felt much better ever since. 

When I called on God that day, I’m not sure I really expected Him to answer.  When I heard the good news the next day, I was thrilled and immediately praised His name.  Then I felt ashamed because I was so surprised by the outcome.

While I am sure I am not the only person this has ever happened to, I feel it is important to share my story in hopes that maybe you will not make the same mistake.  If you pick up that red phone and dial up your Savior, expect Him to answer and expect Him to act quickly.  He is awesome, and we should never be surprised by His love.

 
Do you like country music?  Of course you do, or else we wouldn’t be friends.  I don’t even know why I asked.  Part of the reason I like country music is that there is often an element of faith in the songs.  Brad Paisley usually puts at least one hymn on each album.  Even the most edgy of country artists usually record songs about God, church, or their dog that is named after an apostle.

One faith-based country song that I often hear debated is “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks.  A lot of people say, “That song is wrong because He answers every prayer.  It’s just that sometimes He says no.”  (Note:  Please re-read that is the most mockingly sarcastic tone possible.) 

To those people, I say, “Don’t try to out-think the song, dude.  Quit with your semantic jibber jabber.  You know that is what it means.”

If you haven’t heard the song, it is about a guy, with his wife, that runs into an old girlfriend.  Once upon a time, he had prayed that he would be with the ex forever.  But now he is very thankful that God said no because he is so happy with his wife.  It’s classic country.

I think we all have stories similar to that, though, right?  It may have been a relationship, a job, or even a “thing” that you wanted really badly.  God said, “No.”  And now, looking back, it was all for the best.

However, I think we tend to dwell on the unanswered prayers that didn’t seem to turn out so well from our point of view.  We think about those that weren’t healed, the jobs we didn’t get, the things that didn’t change, and the love we didn’t find.

Why did God say no?  It is easy (and 100% accurate) to just assume He knows better than us and we can’t comprehend His plan.  But do we really believe that?  I often see people start to place blame elsewhere then they get a no from God.  They wonder if they have not had enough faith, or maybe they doubt where they once thought God was leading them, or perhaps they question the character of or even their relationships with God.

When times are really tough, it is hard to keep your mind from going there.  What did I do wrong?  Why is God not listening to me?  Is my faith not strong enough?

Several of the letters in the New Testament give us examples of faithful people that did not get their prayers answered.  From Paul’s thorn to Timothy’s stomach problems, we see some pretty saintly fellows not receiving the blessings that they prayed for.  Does that make you feel any better?

Well, if that doesn’t, this might.

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:39 NIV)

Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, prayed that God would find another way for His mission to be accomplished.  He knew the suffering that was to come, and Jesus asked the Father to allow Him to avoid His fate on the cross. 

* Spoiler Alert *

Just in case you haven’t heard the rest of the story, Jesus was ultimately crucified.  You heard me right.  Jesus was given a no in response to a prayer request.  His prayer was not answered in the way that He wanted.

So would you question His faith?  Would you try to assign blame to anyone because He received a no from God?  Absolutely not.  If anybody was in-tune with the Master’s plan, it was Jesus.  Yet, the greater good prevailed as it pertained to God’s plan.

So the next time God answers your prayer with a no, count yourself lucky.  That exact same thing happened to Jesus Christ.
 
I have felt led to do this for a while, but I have been afraid of what people may think.  However, in living up to my promise, I want you to encourage you to take the time you would normally spend reading my blog and spend it in silence, listening to what God has to say to you.

 
No matter how often it happens, I am always amazed when God speaks to me during prayer.  On the rare occasion when I shut up and listen, I feel like He always comes through and drops some truth on me.  Recently, during a meeting at my church, a group that I am a part of was challenged to do a simple prayer walk through our facility.  I was blown away as God seemed to speak to me in a number of ways.  I would like to share one of those truths with you today.

When I pray, I try really hard not to be repetitious like the pagans.  But I have some common phrases that I use when praying about certain topics because I feel like they accurately represent what I am trying to say.  One of those common phrases is that I ask God to “use me as a funnel” to share the love and blessings He has given me with everyone around me. 

I really want to bless others as I have been blessed, and I have always felt like the funnel illustration was a pretty good picture of what I wanted to do.  But as I used that phrase in praying for the preschool wing of our church during that prayer walk, God stopped me and said that a funnel was not enough.

You see, a funnel is wide at the “receiving” end and narrow at the “sharing” end.  When I was asking God to use me as a funnel, I was asking for Him to help me take the seemingly endless amount of love that He shows me and share it a little bit at a time.  And since God’s blessings are truly endless, my funnel would certainly overflow since I am only looking to pass small amounts of blessings on to others.

I realize this illustration may seem kind of cheesy, but God was very clear in telling me that being a funnel was not enough.  I need to be willing to freely give His love away as quickly as I receive it.  I should be ready to exhaust myself by blessing everyone around me.

I have yet to come up with an illustration as convenient as the funnel.  But I know that God wants me to change my mentality.  He wants me to be more selfless.  He wants me to be less like a funnel, and more like Him.  How do I do that?  I think I will start with another prayer walk.  God is awesome.

 
Personally, I love Facebook.  It is a great way to stay in constant communication with people and at least get a glimpse of what everyone is doing without having to actually talk with them.  It’s a beautiful thing, especially for our introverted friends.

Whether you admit it or not, you like Facebook, too.  It may be for the games, it may be catching up with old friends, or maybe you are just nosy and you want to stay in everybody’s business like I do.  For one reason or another, you like Facebook, or else you wouldn’t go on there and complain about it so much.

Why do we complain?  Sure, some of it has to do with the Facebook program and the fact that nothing can be created to satisfy everyone.  However, I believe most of us complain because Facebook is the perfect place for people to violate each others’ pet peeves over and over again. 

Sometimes, when things are going super well for me, I’ll go sign-in on Facebook and read a few statuses and comments to make sure I can keep my happiness in check.  I honestly end up saying, “Why would you say that?!” at least twice a day when reading the things that people say to one another.  Most of the time it seems that their motives are pure, but people often forget that we should be very intentional when we speak.

One particular pet peeve of mine on Facebook, and in life, is when people make everything about themselves.  You’ve seen it.  You've probably done it at one time or another.  But it seems like every time I read a status that says, “Happy Anniversary to my wonderful husband,” there is a 93% chance there will be a comment that says, “How cool, my anniversary is next month.”  Or somebody will say, “Man, this was a rough week at work” and two or three of their “friends” will respond by sharing why their week was worse.  “I think I broke my toe” is often met with a variety of broken bone stories.

Most of these comments are relatively harmless, and like I said, usually well intentioned.  However, why do we have to make everything about us?  There is a time when sharing in an effort to empathize can help someone, but do you really think people would tell a story in hopes that people would try to top it?  How do you feel when people take something that means a lot to you and turn it into their issue?

The one that gets to me the most, and the only time when sharing your story in response to somebody’s status is always the wrong thing to do, is when someone is requesting prayer.  They may be asking for prayer for the healing of a loved one, or for guidance about a life change, or for personal spiritual struggles, and people still feel the need to respond with their personal agendas. 

They are requesting that their Christian brothers and sisters intercede on their behalf in their conversations with the Creator of the universe, and you believe your barely comparable story will help the situation?  These people are obviously vulnerable and seeking comfort, and you think you trying to “one-up” them will help them feel better?

While this may feel like a tirade about one of my pet peeves, let’s think of it as more of a rant about something that bugs me.  Is that cool?

Seriously, let’s encourage each other.  There is a time and place for empathetic self-disclosure, but that only comes after a large amount of time spent listening and focusing on the needs of the person that is sharing.  Let’s take some time and love on them.  You’ll have your time another day.