Faith, Anticipation and Expectation – When you don’t know how to pray or what to believe

anticipation, faith, expectation

We are a “Faith” generation. Many of us who surfed the wave of “Word-Faith” teaching that swept explosively through the Church in the 1980s and ’90s have since found our balance point in life. As with any fresh movement of the Spirit, there were excesses, misunderstandings, and actions out of spiritual immaturity unchecked by the wisdom and experience of older saints. But millions of believers around the world found a new vitality with God that had been absent so long in their traditional church upbringing. I was one of them.

Life teaches you — if you let it. If you have “eyes to see and ears to hear”. We grow; we learn. Part of my journey was learning a comfortable “fit” for faith in my life. I discovered over time that I couldn’t simply express a desire to God, flip the switch of faith on in my heart, speak the word, claim the promise, and watch the results roll in. It didn’t always work for me. And for someone who takes the Bible very seriously, that was a problem.

What do you do when you stand on a verse that reads “if you ask anything in my name, I will do it”, or “whatever you desire when you pray, believe that you have received it and you will have it” — and then it doesn’t occur? Any wise saint will tell you that you can’t pull verses out of context at will and make them work for you. Every verse has its place in the entirety of Scripture, and unless you’re reading it in that whole spectrum of light, you’re bound to go astray. Jesus said “if you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask what you will …” (John 15:7). And that about sums it up. Your prayers, your wishes, have to come from a position of being one with Jesus. They have to line up with his will. Isn’t that what “in Jesus’ name” really means? You can’t ask for something in his name if it’s not something he wants or approves of. Like when Peter healed the paralytic who had been bedridden for 8 years: “Jesus Christ heals you. Now, get up and make your bed” (Act 9:34). As a believer, you are entitled to use his name, but it’s Jesus’ power, his authority, so you gotta have his permission first.

With that nugget of truth in hand, it is difficult for me to ask for a specific thing in faith unless I know specifically that it is God’s will for me at that moment. Even with things that I know in general are his will. I know, for example, that it is God’s will that we be well, healed, strong and healthy. I can cite you a handful of Scripture passages to back up that assertion. But how many times on his way into the temple had Jesus passed by and not healed the same crippled man later healed by Peter and John in his name (Acts 3)? How many times have I prayed for healing (for myself and for others) and the healing did not manifest? There is a right time and place, a right state of heart and position in life — even for those things that line up with God’s general will. So, in my experience, I learned that simply “claiming a promise” was not always sufficient. I needed a direct word from God on the matter before that “claim” carried any weight.

Otherwise, expectation can get you in trouble sometimes.

That was the problem with my faith. I could define what I wanted — you know, go to God with a specific request for a specific outcome. Like going through that period of my life when I switched career paths and had to reinvent myself. I’d apply for jobs I wanted, and because I was confident of God’s blessing, I expected to get them. But many of them fell through, and I was left to deal with the bitter disappointment and the shaking of my faith.

Too specific an expectation without a direct leading can really mess you up.

But when I stopped trying to force specific outcomes, when I did the leg work but left the results in God’s hands, that allowed God to move me in directions he wanted me to go, and I would be excited and surprised by the unexpected places he took me. That slight difference in perspective made all the difference. When I did not have a definite word from Heaven, I switched from expectation to anticipation.

We used to sing this little ditty in church years ago, and I love it to this day. “I anticipate the inevitable, supernatural intervention of God, I expect a miracle. I expect a miracle. I expect a mir-a-cle.” (Yeah, it comes across better with music. 🙂 ) It always summons up images for me of the Israelites as they’re leaving Egypt, chased by the Egyptian army, and blocked by the Red Sea. They didn’t know what God was going to do; they didn’t know how he was going to save them. In fact, most of them were sure they were going to die. But a handful of brave souls had faith in the promises of God. They did not have faith for a specific result, but they waited eagerly (sweating profusely, I’m sure), anticipating SOMETHING supernatural.

And that’s the key. Without a definite leading from God, we shouldn’t “expect” definite things — but we should “anticipate” his inevitable intervention. We may not know what it is, but we know he’ll do something. “Holy Anticipation” is putting your faith in GOD, trusting in his love and faithfulness — not trying to dictate a desired outcome.

A “Facebook friend” of mine who pastors a large church in Washington, DC wrote today that the theaters they’ve been holding services in for 13 years are now being closed down. He wrote of his mixed emotions as one chapter of the church’s life closes and another is about to begin, not knowing yet what God is up to. He says, “Despite the sadness and craziness, I have a holy anticipation about what’s next. I’m [only] sure of two things. I’ll grow as a leader through this — and I embrace that challenge. And we’ll grow as a congregation. It’s not the way I would have written the script, but it’s good for us. We’re gonna follow the cloud and the cloud is moving!” As much as my limited spiritual experience tells me, he’s on the right track. He isn’t projecting the next step. He isn’t claiming a specific new site for his church — at least not yet. All he knows right now is that God is doing something — the cloud is moving — and he is anticipating a miracle.

Our faith can be expressed in both these ways. Expectation is appropriate when God has instructed us what his intentions are for us in a situation. But when we don’t know, when we are in a bind and just looking to God for a solution — like the Israelites, trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea — that’s the time for faithful anticipation.

For most of us, those are the moments we most often live in: uncertainty about the specifics yet. But those are perhaps the moments of our greatest faith, and we need to just hang in there, waiting with excitement and open eyes, so we can see the amazing thing God is about to do!

… And now, just because I’m feeling a bit musical this morning, here’s a bit that kinda sums it up …


photo credit: Joris Louwes via Flickr, cc

This piece originally appeared in Cafe Inspirado.
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STEVE SCHMIDT is the Teaching Pastor at Expressions in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He is editor of IMPACT Magazine, and blogs here on the Cafe Inspirado column. Plus you can find him making random comments about life on Facebook.

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Tying God’s Hands with Our Expectations

expectationOne of the things I love about my “new spirituality” friends is that they’ve helped increase my faith in God.  They walk around with an expectation that good things are going to happen to them.  They speak positive things “into the Universe,” and they believe that good things will “manifest” to them.  By any other name, that’s faith.

Of course, some of them think of “the Universe” as just some cosmic force, as creative power that can be tapped into and manipulated to achieve what one wants in life.  Others take a more personal approach.  They see a “the Universe” as alive, full of love, as a personality, more along the lines of how traditional Christians view God.  In other words, a person.  And they interact with It/Him in real time. It is a real spiritual dynamic in their life.  And as a Christian, sometimes I really envy that.

The difficulty I have is when they treat this divine source/God as just some sort of cosmic power source that can be drawn from indiscriminately, or as a piggy bank of creative energy that can be tapped into at will for sometimes selfish gains.  In that sense, they are no different from most of us who pray and present our lengthy shopping lists to God.  Sometimes all we want of God is what we can get out of him.  And when I see this in other people, just how inappropriate that approach is becomes more striking to me.  God is not a bank account to be withdrawn from at will, he is a person who desires interaction.   “New spirituality” usually views “the Universe” as intellect, even perfect love, but without will, without personality.  And I can’t understand that. Raw intelligence, raw source of creative power, without will or personality?  Surely, Divine Intelligence would resist petty human manipulation, would insist on recognition and even a relationship of love.

When we interact with God, when we pray, when we seek things from God, we need to do so as though we’re interacting with a living being, a Person.  We’re told all through the New Testament that we should have faith, but that faith is in God, not just in some impersonal force that creates the results we are seeking.  We have faith in the fact that God loves us and wants the best for us.  We have faith that when we ask for things, he knows the best way to get them to us if they’re good for us.  And sometimes that means he will say no — like any loving parent.  We have to be willing, we have to be open, to the idea that he may say no, or that he may do things for us in ways that we do not expect.

Expectation, frustration & leprosy

There is a story in the bible that highlights this point.  Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram.  He was a great man, a valiant soldier, and he was highly regarded by the king.  But he also had leprosy.  He hears that there is a prophet of God in Israel who may be able to heal him, and he gets permission from his king to go see the Prophet Elisha (2 Kings 5).  When Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, with all his horses and chariots and his hundreds of pounds of gold and silver, Elisha doesn’t even bother to answer the door.  He sends his servant instead.  And the servant tells him, “go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” But Naaman storms away angry.  “I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and I thought he would wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy…”

Elisha didn’t do things the way Naaman expected, and Naaman walked away.  But the story doesn’t end there.  Naaman’s servants whisper some words of wisdom in his ear (isn’t that what friends are for?).  “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?  How much more, then, when he tells you ‘wash and be cleansed!’” Naaman sees the logic in this, and then goes and does what the prophet had told to do: he dips himself in the tiny, muddy, insignificant Jordan River seven times.  And, wonder of wonders, he’s healed.  His flesh is restored and was clean like that of a young boy.

hands-tiedHere’s the point.  Naaman expected the prophet to do things in a certain way.  He expected the prophet to come to see him personally.  He expected the prophet to utter the name of his God.  And he expected the prophet to wave his hand over his wounds in some kind of magical gesture.  That’s how he envisioned he would be healed.  And because Elisha didn’t do any of those things, Naaman almost missed a blessing.  He walked away without his healing.  And if his servant hadn’t been wise enough and gracious enough to point out his stubbornness, Naaman probably would have died from leprosy.

Sometimes we miss God because we’re looking for something else.

Sometimes we miss the blessing because it doesn’t come in a way that we expect.

We all have shopping lists, we all have checklists of things we would like from God, and sometimes we even foolishly tell God how we would like him to accomplish them.  We usually don’t think of it this way, but we are actually trying to tell God how to do his business.  Naaman had faith, but he also had expectations.  And his expectations nearly nullified his faith.  When we go to God with our requests, with our special needs, when we want a new lover in our life, a new job, a raise, a better social situation, better health, or any number of good things we may have on our list, it’s best for us just to go to God trusting that he is a loving father, and that he wants to provide for us.  When we step over into telling him how to do it, that’s when we risk losing it all.

Let’s bring things down to earth a bit.  Say you’re single.  You’ve been looking for a spouse, a partner, a new boyfriend or girlfriend.  And you’ve probably been taught in well-meaning churches trying to encourage your faith that you should be very specific in your requests to God.  You should know exactly what you want.  You should create a “blueprint for your faith.” So, you may have said, “I want him to be tall, dark, and handsome.  I want him to have brown eyes, dark hair, to be a certain height and weight.  I want him to have the heart of a Romeo, the gallantry of a Lancelot, to be self-supporting and financially independent, to be masculine, ….”   None of those is a bad thing.  But we can become blinded by our checklists, by our too-specific expectations, so that if God were to drop our dream man right in front of us, we might not even recognize him.

The same with a job.  Say you have specific desires for your next job.  You’d like more flexible hours, better salary, better working conditions.  You would actually like to enjoy the people you work with, doing a job that suits your talents and your interests.  And you know exactly what it is you want to do, you know exactly what it looks like.  So you pray that, and you tell God exactly what you want.  So now you’re scanning the internet, looking at all the job sites, looking for your dream job.  And most likely, you’re not finding it.  But there are several that are close candidates.  So you apply to those.  And some of them even respond to you and invite you to interviews.  One of them even offers you the position.  But you have to pray about it, searching your heart, probing the heavens, seeking the will of God to know if you should take this job or not.  Your friends may be telling you not to take it because it’s not what you were praying for.  Or they may be telling you to be practical and take what you can get.

You have to go with your guts. God is spirit, and you are a spiritual being.  Most of the time, he will try to communicate with you spiritually, through your spirit. And that normally translates as gut feelings, instincts, intuition. So, what is your gut saying to you?

And even though this wasn’t your dream job, it didn’t fit all your checklist items, all your expectations, you decide to take it.

And now you’ve given God the opportunity to do what only God can do.
To do some of that “God stuff.”

I’ve been in both these situations I just described:  I dictated my wish list to God for a new life partner and for a new job.  And at least in my case, neither of these situations worked out exactly as I was expecting, what I had set my “faith” upon.  But in each case, God did some pretty wonderful stuff.  When I let go of my detailed spec list, my dating life took on a whole new dimension I wouldn’t have imagined. And that job turned into a career path that’s paid my bills comfortably for years. Because, like Naaman, I was persuaded not to stubbornly walk away angry because my specific details were not being met line by line, I untied God’s hands, and he was free to move in my life in ways that he saw fit, not as I dictated to him.  And I’m a better man in a better situation now because of it.  I’ve learned more, grown more, become richer not only financially but also emotionally, psychologically, spiritually — because of these prayer requests that were answered not exactly the way I wanted.

If I’d been stubborn, if I’d said “no, this is not what I’m looking for,” then I would have missed out on both those blessings.

It’s good to have faith.  And it’s good to make checklists.  It’s good to identify what we want and what we don’t want.  But we also have to realize that God is not a coke machine or a juke box.  We can’t just push some buttons and expect to get exactly the product we want.  This is where I part with my new spirituality friends.  We can’t just “speak it out to the Universe” and expect it to “manifest” exactly as we describe.  We’re dealing with a Person who is more powerful and has more options available than we do. He sees things we can’t even imagine yet. And it’s best if we give him as much flexibility and leeway as possible to accomplish those goals for us.

Naaman almost missed it.  He knew exactly what he wanted and how he want it to happen.  But reality didn’t work out quite the way he imagined.  And his expectations nearly robbed him of the blessing.  But because he listened to the wisdom of his friends, and stopped being so stubborn, he let God do it the way God wanted to.  And he walked away a healed man.

We are children of an amazing, powerful, and loving God.  When we speak, he listens.  And Jesus said in the gospels, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32).  He wants to give us the desires of our hearts (Ps 37:4).  But the key to receiving the desires of our hearts is to not tie God’s hands with our too-specific expectations.  Our faith must be in God, as a loving father, not in the specific ways and means we expect him to do things.

We have a relationship with a Person, a personality, someone who walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day.  There’s a degree of trust in that relationship, a trust that he knows us personally, and loves us personally.  And if we give him the flexibility of our trust without tying him down with our detailed expectations, we might actually be surprised at what good things he will do for us.

 

 

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STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
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The God Who Says “No”

bread_12167742114I was watching an episode of West Wing the other day, and Toby, the sulky, dark, idealistic character, quotes an Italian proverb to C.J, the Press Secretary:

Quando dio vuole castigarci ci manda quello che desideriamo — “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”

Interesting quote. But it got me thinking: Thank God, my God is not like that.

It reminds me of something we hear all the time in pious circles: don’t ask God for patience. Patience comes through suffering — and you sure don’t want that.

You know, I suppose there is some biblical basis for that statement. Doesn’t James tell us, “the testing of your faith develops perseverance”? Sure, we can learn patience through suffering and difficulty, but isn’t it also one of the fruits of the Spirit? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22). It’s a characteristic that is developed in us by God’s Spirit as we mature. Maybe it doesn’t always have to come as the result of long suffering. Maybe God isn’t always that harsh: “I want you to grow up, so I’m gonna throw a bunch of hardship your way …”

I’d rather think of God in the terms Jesus described him. “Who among you who, when your son asks for a loaf of bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Mt 7:9-11).

What kind of parent would say, “Ah, son, Ah daughter. You ask for a good thing, like patience, so I must torture you now”? The same goes for other things in our lives. If we ask for something that might harm us, do we think God would punish us by actually giving it to us? What kind of Father is that?

What if we take the flipside of Jesus’ saying? “If your hungry son asks for stone, won’t you give him bread instead? If he ignorantly asks for a serpent, will you give it to him? If he mistakenly asks for a scorpion, won’t you give him an egg for breakfast instead? If you, as messed up as you are, wouldn’t give something harmful or dangerous to your children even when they ask, how much more would your Father in heaven also not do such a thing?”

We gotta stop thinking of God as some kind of impersonal machine, dolling out trouble when we ask for a virtue because that’s the formula: trouble leads to patience. This God, who loves us so much he actually came down to physically walk and talk with us in the flesh, we gotta stop seeing as a ruthless, heartless Cosmic Force.

If I ask for something that might harm me, if I’m desperately praying for an answer that might actually be dangerous for me, or cause me greater pain, I’m comforted to know that my Father — a wise and loving parent — cares enough to say “No”. He has no problem saying, “you don’t need that now” or “no, that’s not good for you — you can’t have that.”

I wanna turn that Italian proverb upside down. This is the truth I embrace. “When God wishes to bless us, he doesn’t always answer our prayers.” I’m happy God sometimes says “no.”

Just something to chew on …

 

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photo credit: GWP Photography (will be away…ty!) via photopin cc

What You’re Looking for May be Right Under Your Nose — You Just Don’t Recognize It Yet

search

“Among you stands one you do not recognize…”
– John 1:26

Sometimes we think too much. There’s a phrase I’ve heard a lot (often aimed at me) that describes how many of us handle particular situations: “paralysis by analysis.” We want something, we’ve been looking forward to something, we’ve sought God and pressed the Heavens with our prayers to get something, but we actually get in the way of receiving it because we’ve already decided what it looks like. We’ve planned out how it is supposed to happen. We’ve worked out all the details, and our expectations are focused like lasers on that particular answer.

And, sometimes that’s fine. There is a place for being specific in our prayers and in exercising our faith. But if we’re not careful, we can be blinded by our own expectations. We can become so set in our perspective of how things are supposed to work out, that we miss the answer right under our noses.

Are You the One?

In John’s Gospel, that’s the scenario we see when the Jewish leaders came to John the Baptist asking if he were “the one” (John 1:19). Was he the Messiah? Was he Elijah? Was he the Prophet foretold by Moses whom they were to obey? John gives them another answer. No, he’s the messenger preparing the way, he’s the voice calling in the wilderness. And the one they’re looking for, the one their hearts are desiring after, is already among them in the crowd. They just don’t recognize him.

We have the benefit of historical perspective now — “hindsight is 20/20.” But back then, God’s people weren’t sure what the Messiah was supposed to look like. Scripture was filled with images and phrases describing him, but from so many different angles that a clear understanding just wasn’t possible. Like trying to see clearly through a multifaceted crystal, no one knew exactly how to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Was he a mighty warrior-king along the lines of King David? Was he a priestly leader who would purify the faith and restore proper Temple worship? Was he that Suffering-Servant who took upon himself the divine punishment of the people? Wasn’t he supposed to come from the heavens with angels in his wake, and restore Israel to its rightful place among the nations? In fact, at that point in history, many believed that there would be two, perhaps even three, different messiahs, different leaders who would accomplish those different tasks. With all these images, all these details, all these preconceived ideas of what the Messiah would do, it was understandably too easy to overlook that rough, calloused carpenter from Galilee.

Don’t we do exactly the same thing when we’re seeking something from God? Don’t we block ourselves from accepting the gift he’s offering us simply because we’ve clamped down the inner openness necessary to recognize it? We’re looking, our hearts are aching from desire for that miracle only God can supply, that thing we’ve been hounding him for day after day. And it could be that we’re stumbling right over it.

Ignorance is not necessarily an obstacle. Everyone starts there. Even John the Baptist didn’t know who the Coming One was until he saw the Spirit descend on Jesus. The difference between John and those religious leaders who questioned him was in their attitudes. They already “knew” what they wanted, what they were seeking, and exactly what it was supposed to look like. John, on the other hand, remained open to let God do things HIS way. John stayed receptive to the Spirit’s role in identifying the fulfillment of the promise: “THIS is the one.” Instead of being blinded by predefined expectations, he allowed God to reveal the answer. So he saw. They didn’t.

What Do You Want?

Later in the story, John’s disciples see Jesus and start following him around (Jn 1:37). Jesus turns around and asks them the question we all need to answer for ourselves: “What do you want?” Wanting is not a bad thing. Seeking after a heart’s desire is not a sign of selfishness. Since God loves to give us the desires of our heart, it helps if we have some idea of what we actually want. Telling God how to do it, though, is another matter. And these two men demonstrate the right attitude: “Rabbi, where are you staying?” They are respectful and show their willingness to stay close. Jesus’ response is the same he offers us today when we come to him with our urgent longings: “Come, and you will see.” It’s an open invitation to relationship. “Come, spend time with me, and you’ll find that thing you’ve been looking for.” Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t answer their question. Sometimes, the timing isn’t right, sometimes we’re not ready for the answer, and sometimes he wants us to readjust our priorities. But he doesn’t turn them down, he doesn’t reject them or turn them away. The answer is always found in relationship with him.

That’s our key today. We want things. We need things. Our hearts longs for satisfaction in some area. And we can either play the role of religious people, so blinded by our own expectations that we miss the answer right under our noses. Or we can follow the example of John and his disciples who waited for God’s Spirit to reveal the answer in his own time, in his own way.

When we’re eagerly searching for that heart’s desire, looking here and there, constantly questioning “are you the one, is this it?”, we need to relax a bit and let God do his thing. He asks us, “What do you want?” He WANTS to give it to us. But we’ll only see it if we stay in touch with him. “Come with me, and you’ll see.” Without that openness, without that receptivity to the Spirit’s pointing, we can miss the very thing we’re looking for, even if it’s right under our nose.

Dogs that Hang Around Get the Snack

dog_nose3rightI just finished eating a late breakfast while watching episodes of West Wing on DVD, and as I started clearing up my plates, I looked down at my feet to see which dog was hanging around.

Usually, whenever they hear any kind of activity in the kitchen, they come running.  Some snack or little bits of left-overs, even just some pre-dishwasher plate-licking is always sure to be found. And if not found, then coerced with that longing look they’ve mastered so well that pulls on my heart-strings.  There are times when, after they’ve watched me eat for a while, they come to the realization that nothing is coming their way, and they wander off, going about their own doggie-business. But sometimes one of them will linger anyway, laying quietly, staring hopefully, expectantly, perhaps honing in with their doggie-intuition that “something good is going to happen”.

Today, oddly, not one of them was around.  They’d already abandoned hope and were busy watching birds or chasing squirrels in the backyard.  Too bad.  I was actually in the mood to sneak one of them a treat.  Ah well, “Good things come to those who wait …”

And that struck me.  How true, in a spiritual sense.  And images from various scattered bible passages flooded into mind. The unjust judge giving in to the widow’s requests for justice because of her simple nagging.  The neighbor who dragged himself out of bed in the middle of the night because of the persistent pounding on his door by his friend.  That whole, “ask, seek, knock” thing, teaching us to be persistent in our prayers to God.  If even these rascally fellows give in due to persistence, wouldn’t God who delights giving good things to his children give us our requests more gladly?

But too often we act like my dogs today.  They were there while I was eating, but they disappeared just when the “giving” was ready to be dished out. And I was actually disappointed that I was deprived of the opportunity to sneak a treat to one of them.  Their lack of patience today robbed them of their earlier expectations.

How many times do we so earnestly desire a thing — a new job, a raise, a spouse, some urgently needed answer — but we don’t hang around long enough to get it? If we’d just spent a little more time hanging around God, a little more time simply waiting, or like my dogs, laying quietly at my feet, paws crossed, but with eyes following my every movement in anticipation….  Who knows how many answers, how many treats, we’ve missed because we got bored or distracted, and went about our business, chasing our squirrels or watching our elusive birds. And all the while, God was on the verge of providing us the very thing we’re seeking — even WANTING to give us that tasty morsel.

Zack, Clarice and Rascal* all came wandering back in a little later, curious to see what they might have missed. But by then, the plates were already rinsed and in the dishwasher, the stove and counters were wiped down, and the kitchen lights were out.  “Sorry, babies, not this time.”

They were so eager a few minutes ago.  But because of their impatience, their lack of persistence, we all left the kitchen disappointed this time.

——-

* Dog names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Faith, Anticipation and Expectation

anticipationWe are the “Faith” generation. Many of us who surfed the wave of “Word-Faith” teaching that swept explosively through the Church in the 1980s and ’90s have since found our balance point in life. As with any fresh movement of the Spirit, there were excesses, misunderstandings, and actions out of spiritual immaturity unchecked by the wisdom and experience of older saints. But millions of believers around the world found a new vitality with God that had been absent so long in their traditional church upbringing. I was one of them.

Life teaches you — if you let it. If you have “eyes to see and ears to hear”. We grow; we learn. Part of my journey was learning a comfortable “fit” for faith in my life. I discovered over time that I couldn’t simply express a desire to God, flip the switch of faith on in my heart, speak the word, claim the promise, and watch the results roll in. It didn’t always work for me. And for someone who takes the Bible very seriously, that was a problem. What do you do when you stand on a verse that reads “if you ask anything in my name, I will do it”, or “whatever you desire when you pray, believe that you have received it and you will have it” — and then it doesn’t occur? Any wise saint will tell you that you can’t pull verses out of context at will and make them work for you. Every verse has its place in the entirety of Scripture, and unless you’re reading it in that whole spectrum of light, you’re bound to go astray. Jesus said “if you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask what you will …” (John 15:7). And that about sums it up. Your prayers, your wishes, have to come from a position of being one with Jesus. They have to line up with his will. Isn’t that what “in Jesus’ name” really means? You can’t ask for something in his name if it’s not something he wants or approves of. Like when Peter healed the paralytic who had been bedridden for 8 years: “Jesus Christ heals you. Now, get up and make your bed” (Act 9:34). As a believer, you are entitled to use his name, but it’s Jesus’ power, his authority, so you gotta have his permission first.

With that nugget of truth in hand, it is difficult for me to ask for a specific thing in faith unless I know specifically that it is God’s will for me at that moment. Even with things I know in general are his will. I know, for example, that it is God’s will that we be well, healed, strong and healthy. I can cite you a handful of Scripture passages to back up that assertion. But how many times on his way into the temple had Jesus passed by and not healed the same crippled man later healed by Peter and John in his name (Acts 3)? How many times have I prayed for healing (for myself and for others) and the healing did not manifest? There is a right time and place, a right state of heart and position in life, even for those things that line up with God’s general will. So, in my experience, I learned that simply “claiming a promise” was not always sufficient. I needed a direct word from God on the matter before that claim carried any weight.

Otherwise, expectation can get you in trouble sometimes. That was the problem with my faith. I could define what I wanted — you know, go to God with a specific request for a specific outcome. Like going through that period of my life when I switched career paths and had to reinvent myself. I’d apply for jobs I wanted, and because I was confident of God’s blessing, I expected to get them. But many of them fell through, and I was left to deal with the bitter disappointment and the shaking of my faith. Too specific an expectation without a direct leading can really mess you up. But when I stopped trying to force specific outcomes, when I did the leg work but left the results in God’s hands, that allowed God to move me in directions he wanted me to go, and I would be excited and surprised by the unexpected places he took me. That slight difference in perspective made all the difference. When I did not have a definite word from Heaven, I switched from expectation to anticipation.

We used to sing this little ditty in church years ago, and I love it to this day. “I anticipate the inevitable, supernatural intervention of God, I expect a miracle. I expect a miracle. I expect a mir-a-cle.” (Yeah, it comes across better with music. 🙂 ) It always summons up images for me of the Israelites as they’re leaving Egypt, chased by the Egyptian army, and blocked by the Red Sea. They didn’t know what God was going to do; they didn’t know how he was going to save them. In fact, most of them were sure they were going to die. But a handful of brave souls had faith in the promises of God. They did not have faith for a specific result, but they waited eagerly (sweating profusely, I’m sure), anticipating SOMETHING supernatural. And that’s the key. Without a definite leading from God, we shouldn’t “expect” definite things — but we SHOULD “anticipate” his inevitable intervention. We may not know what it is, but we know he’ll do something. “Holy Anticipation” is putting your faith in GOD, trusting in his love and faithfulness — not trying to dictate a desired outcome.

A “Facebook friend” of mine who pastors a large church in Washington, DC wrote today that the theaters they’ve been holding services in for 13 years now are being closed down. He wrote of his mixed emotions as one chapter of the church’s life closes and another is about to begin, not knowing yet what God is up to. He says, “Despite the sadness and craziness, I have a holy anticipation about what’s next. I’m [only] sure of two things. I’ll grow as a leader through this — and I embrace that challenge. And we’ll grow as a congregation. It’s not the way I would have written the script, but it’s good for us. We’re gonna follow the cloud and the cloud is moving!” As much as my limited spiritual experience tells me, he’s on the right track. He isn’t projecting the next step. He isn’t claiming a specific new site for his church — at least not yet. All he knows right now is that God is doing something — the cloud is moving — and he is anticipating a miracle.

Our faith can be expressed in both these ways. Expectation is appropriate when God has instructed us what his intentions are for us in a situation. But when we don’t know, when we are in a bind and just looking to God for a solution — like the Israelites, trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea — that’s the time for faithful anticipation.

For most of us, those are the moments we most often live in: uncertainty about the specifics yet. But those are perhaps the moments of our greatest faith, and we need to just hang in there, waiting with excitement and open eyes, so we can see the amazing thing God is about to do!

Shut Up and Roll Over

dog_bellyrub_croppedMy dog, Zack*, and I are a lot alike.

I was going about my regular routine this morning, getting ready for work, and Zack jumps up on the bed to get cozy while he watches me. Somewhere in the middle of what I was doing, I stop and look at him, so devotedly following me with his eyes. I sit down next to him to pet him, and he rolls over onto his back so I can rub his belly.

Some dogs will just plop down, roll over onto their backs, and wiggle around enthusiastically, reveling in the pleasure. My colleague Jerry tells me about his dogs, golden retrievers, who roll over so excitedly just when he approaches them, that sometimes they’ll lose control and even wet themselves. And he can’t even get them to sit up; they just go limp like rag dolls. They’ve completely given in to the joy of it. But not Zack. He has his head cocked so he can watch me. And I can see in his eyes that he is being cautious, a bit reluctant, not totally comfortable, as if he doesn’t entirely trust me. We’ve had Zack since he was a puppy, and he’s never been abused, never had his trust violated. I don’t even rough-house with him too much since he’s such a sensitive soul (with me, anyway). Of course with two other dogs in the house, he always has to be a little wary. Clarice will bulldoze him around; she’s a klutz and often temperamental. Rascal is always wanting to play, and is not above just pouncing on him for sport. And when they’re tired or hungry, they can get on each others’ nerves and snip at each other. So perhaps Zack’s wariness is justified. But with him being a little uptight, I could tell he wasn’t enjoying the experience as much as he could be.

As I pet his stomach, I was struck by the inconsistency in his behavior: partly open, partly vulnerable, partly submissive, wanting affection — but only partly. Never fully surrendering to it totally. And as I look in his eyes, I can almost catch a glimmer of his thoughts: he’s worried over appearing undignified.

“Isn’t this exactly how I behave with God?” The question popped into my mind. We’re supposed to come boldly before his throne, we’re supposed to bare our hearts to him, to come spiritually naked, open and vulnerable, expecting only a warm welcome, trusting in his loving embrace. But instead, we — I — often come to him still wearing armor, surrendering to his powerful presence only partially, still holding back, perhaps anticipating some hostility or unexpected roughness. And is there a hint of pride, too? Somewhere in the back of my head, do I feel that joyfully bounding into his throne room like a beloved child is a bit undignified? Will I look or feel foolish?

Worse, though, how is my guardedness preventing me from just enjoying God’s presence? How is it hindering me walking away feeling refreshed or receiving the answers I need for the day? I know many times I end my quiet time with God feeling just as frustrated or cranky as when I began it.

Zack loves me. He derives a great deal of security from being around me, and I really enjoy having him around. And despite any minor misgivings he might have, he’s safe with me, and I’ll always be receptive to his wants and needs. Is God any less devoted to me than I am to my dog? Has he ever rebuffed me or rebuked me harshly to warrant my cautious approach? Or am I still carrying defensive shields from the friction of coarse treatment inflicted by other people who intersect my life?

I need to change my behavior, my attitude. I need to deliberately lower my guard when I greet God in the morning and invite him into my day. And not just because that’s what trusting children (and dogs) do. But because I NEED the benefit of his presence. I NEED to have my mind and heart restored by his peace, re-energized by his joy. I NEED to walk away from my time in prayer with the strength and confidence to face the chaos that awaits me today. And, if I ever expect to grow, I need to uncover every corner of my heart before him, so he’ll have free access to change the things he wants changed. I just can’t afford to have my connection with God hindered in any way.

So when I approach God tomorrow to spend some uninterrupted, quality time with him, I gonna try to deliberately throw down my guard, and recklessly throw myself into his presence, stripped of any caution, reluctance, or concern for dignity. I want to let go of my uptightness, silence those ungrounded fears and worries in my head, and expose my vulnerability to God’s loving hands. I think only then will I be in a position to receive his affection unimpeded and to fully derive a sense of security from his love. Only then will I fully enjoy the experience.  I just need to shut up and roll over.  And who knows how that will affect the rest of my day?

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* Dogs’ names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The Most Powerful Words to Pray

Seems like I always wake up in the mornings with a million things racing through my mind. As soon as my eyes open, thoughts and images of things that need to be done today fill my head. I’ll get up, pour my first cup of coffee, and begin my morning stroll around the house, slowly trying to impose some order on my chaotic thoughts. And like many people these days, much of those thoughts relate to financial pressures. And I have to make the conscious effort to stop the worry. God knows all about it.

There are some things we can do about all that’s on our minds — and we should do them. But some things are completely outside our control. We can turn the rudder of our boat and have some influence over the direction of our lives, but we are mostly subject to the winds and waves of the world around us. Being in control is mostly an illusion.

As people of faith, we bring God into the mix. We don’t try to handle everything ourselves, and we don’t believe the outcome of every situation is completely up to us. On the other hand, neither should be just throw up our hands in total surrender, and just say with heavy sigh, “Oh well, God’s will be done.” No. We must do our part, what is in our hand to do, and rely upon God’s strength to do it. Then we can trust God to work things out to suit his plan. God is responsible for the results, but not the effort.

With all the stressful thoughts on my mind when I woke up, I did the mental checklist. Yes, I’ve done as much as I can or know how to do. I’ve done my part. Now I can get a little peace. I can put the burden of responsibility for the outcome in God’s hands. And those powerful words from the Lord’s Prayer rushed across my mind and out of my mouth: Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done!

Those are not words of surrender to the world. They are not passive. They are not whiney or wimpy. They are an assertion, full of power. They are a command, an issuance of authority, invoking God’s presense, his power, his will, and his rule over our situations.

Those words taught by Jesus are not words of weakness or surrender. In the Greek texts, they are in the imperative: “Come, Kindgom! Be done, thy Will!” And the original Hebrew words which Jesus most likely spoke would have carried the same sense. Not a begging “may your kingdome come; may your will be done, if it please you.” They were — and are — words of affirmation that we declare and impose God’s authority over the situation. We assert his rule, his reign, in our lives. And not as a sort of “once for all” event. In Hebrew, the words indicate continuing action. And because they are spoken in daily prayer, they are an on-going assertion. Like the other words in the Lord’s Prayer where we ask for our daily bread, or for forgiveness as we are forgiving others, we assert God’s authority in our lives daily. And we proclaim our roles as agents in that kingdom; we are continually actively involved.

We don’t always know how things will work out. And we certainly can’t always control the results. But when we have done our part, we can relax, knowing that the outcome is in the hands of the supreme God of the universe who voluntarily granted us his royal bloodline and calls us his sons and daughters. He made himself our Father, and he took on that loving, caring role. He already knows how it all plays out, and his hand is already involved. So, even when we don’t know what or how to pray, we can make that simple assertion Jesus taught us. They are words that cover any situation, words that allow us to continue participating in the circumstances, even after we’ve done everything in the natural we know how to do. And they are words which actively invite his participation and invoke his powerful involvement.

As believers, we never quit. Far from giving up, or lamely using God as a crutch for our own laziness, we continue to live, to be involved. With our hand on the sometimes ineffective rudder, we can still shout at the wind and the waves, commanding them to submit to God’s plan. But we don’t have to stress about it. We don’t need to worry, even when we don’t know what that ultimate plan may be. There should be peace even in the storm. We do what we can, and then invoke God’s rule and reign over the results. Speak those words — “Kingdom, come! God’s will, be done! Here, now!” — and rest.