Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Category: Faith (Page 1 of 2)

Just Ask

“What do you want me to do for you?” 

And he said, “Lord, I want to regain my sight!”

Luke 18.41

Sometimes, the most obvious questions are the ones we never ask. Perhaps we think the questions are too obvious, the issues too mundane, or ourselves too unworthy of an answer. So the questions go unasked.

It’s not wrong for us to ask things, even of God. James said sometimes our problems come when we want something but never ask (James 4.2). When anxious we must bring our requests to God (Philippians 4.6). We’re assured that He hears our requests (John 16.23-24; 1 John 4.21-22).

The text from which the quotation is taken (Luke 18.18-43) gives a third account of Jesus healing the blind at Jericho (cf. Matthew 20.29-34; Mark 10.46-52). Comparing the three accounts shows that there were two blind beggars at the edge of town. They spoke with Jesus as he was leaving town, though Luke’s account mentions only the one beggar.

There’s a certain humor in the exchange. The beggar was visually impaired, but not vocally impaired (v. 38-39), and persistently called to Jesus. When he summoned the beggar, Jesus asked, “What do you want?” He had to ask?

The beggar gave a direct reply, “I want to see.” His request was as obvious as his condition.

In his comments on Mark’s parallel account, William Barclay notes: “He knew precisely what he wanted – his sight. Too often our admiration for Jesus is a vague attraction… When we go to the dentist we do not ask him to extract any tooth, but the one that is diseased. It should be so with us and Jesus. And that involves the one thing that so few people wish to face – self-examination.”

The problem is never that God doesn’t know what we want or need. Very often, we don’t know.

What is it that you want? Have you asked God specifically for that? 

Just ask.

Look Up!

Have you ever noticed that we humans hang our heads when we’re sad, guilty, or when we feel defeated? I’m not sure why we do it. It’s such a universal response that it’s likely innate and reflexive. When children are punished or shamed, they hang their heads. When adults are humiliated or when the burden of the world is on their shoulders, they hang their heads. Job equated it with misery and disgrace: “If I am wicked, woe to me! And if I am righteous, I dare not lift up my head. I am sated with disgrace and conscious of my misery” (Job 10.15). 

Sometimes we probably SHOULD hang our heads. We sometimes do things that are less than noble or from less than noble motives. If we’ve treated others with dishonor; if we ourselves have acted ignobly; if we’re in the wrong — then bobble-heads we should be!

But thankfully, God can restore our dignity and worth. In Psalm 3.3, David declares, “But You, O LORD, are a shield about me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head.” 

According to the inscription at the beginning of this psalm, David wrote this while fleeing from his son Absalom. Absalom rebelled against David and temporarily drove him from the throne and Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15-19). The psalm begins with a declaration by David that his adversaries abound. But despite their threats, he has the assurance of God’s past deliverances and the promise of future security. It’s in this context that David makes the declaration of trust in verse three. Lifting the head symbolized victory over one’s enemies (Psalm 27.6), and here, the restoration of dignity and place. 

If you’re hanging your head because of mistakes you’ve made, lift up your head, for there is forgiveness. If you’re hanging your head because your circumstances weigh heavily upon you, lift up your head, for there is hope. If you’re hanging your head because you’re not sure of your worth to God, lift up your head, for there is assurance.

No matter where you are in your life, no matter what your circumstances, look up!

Facing Goliath

The human capacity for worry is staggering. We worry about money. We worry about relationships. We worry about our health. We worry about our city and country. We worry about crime, inflation, politics, racism, ageism, and gender discrimination. We worry about children, our spouses, our parents, and our pets. We worry about pretty much everything. 

More specifically, much of our anxiety is about the unknown. We worry because we don’t know the outcome. We worry about what will happen to our money and health and marriages and children and country. And we wonder if the struggle is worth it.

I have a simple solution.

Recall the story of David and Goliath. In 1 Samuel 17, the Israelites and Philistines are in a stalemate. The Philistines have challenged Israel to a winner-takes-all contest between their champion warrior Goliath, and whomever the Israelites could send. Nobody from Israel is willing to fight. That is, until David shows up.

Imagine if this were a modern basketball game. It’s late in the second half. The score is tied, but momentum has shifted to the visiting team. All the home team starters have fouled out, and their superstar center is dominating the game. Only one player is left, the shortest man on the team with the least experience. Who thinks it’s a good idea to send him in? 

But remember David’s words as he faced the giant from Gath – “The battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17.47). He wasn’t worried about the specifics; he wasn’t worried about the struggle. He knew up front that God would determine the outcome. That gave him the assurance he needed to enter the fray, to fight the battle, to persevere in conflict, and to remain true to his calling. 

Oh, and he also won the battle.

Rather than being afraid of what might happen, rather than expecting the worst possible outcome, we should adopt David’s strategy. Do what we can and let God decide the outcome. 

For today and every day remember that “the battle is the Lord’s”.


I took out a small trash bag early this morning and was pleasantly surprised at the temperature. It was significantly cooler and less humid than it’s been for some time. My wife’s word was “refreshing.”

“Refreshing” means “serving to refresh or reinvigorate someone” (Oxford). “Making you feel less hot or tired, or pleasantly different and interesting” (Cambridge). “Agreeably stimulating because of freshness or newness” (Merriam-Webster). 

I’m not a hot weather fan, so this morning’s conditions were invigorating, pleasantly different, and agreeably stimulating. I was refreshed.

There’s a pair of words in the New Testament which carries the same connotation. Literally, the words meant cooling or to cool. The adjective (anapsuxis) means refreshing or providing rest and repose. Metaphorically, it means to provide breathing room, relaxation, or relief. The verb (anapsucho) means to refresh. Metaphorically, it means to revive or provide breathing room. Each word is used only once in the New Testament.

The adjective is used in Acts 3.19, where Peter said, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” He was speaking about faith in Jesus of Nazareth, who was raised from the dead by God. Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament promise and prophecy who brought these refreshing times. Peter was talking about finding rest, repose, and breathing room in Christ. From a lifetime of carrying the burden of sin to a new life of refreshment in Jesus.

The verb is used in 2 Timothy 1.16, where Paul said, “The Lord grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me.” Paul commends his friend and fellow-Christian to Timothy for refreshing him while he was imprisoned in Rome. We don’t know the details, but likely Onesiphorus provided food and presence when the apostle was isolated and forsaken by others. 

Apart from Christ there is no refreshment, no rest, no repose, no breathing room. Sin has a way of smothering us and amplifying our misery. As Peter said, there is refreshment available if we’ll just repent and return. 

For those who are in Christ, we must remember what that refreshment felt like when we first experienced it, then make every effort to refresh others. We should want others to experience the breathing room, the rest, and the comfort we have known.

May God help us to find refreshment in his Son and extend it others in the name of his Son.

Your Happy Place

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. 
Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute 
with love, grace and gratitude.”

Denis Waitley

Waitley is a popular, long-time motivational speaker and writer. I remember attending a “Seeds of Greatness” seminar in college sponsored by his organization. If memory serves me correctly, I think his Seeds of Greatness was the first motivational book I ever bought.

His quotation is a good starting point for thinking about happiness. First, happiness isn’t a thing. It’s not something apart from us that we go and get. It’s not something to be purchased or acquired or traded. 

Second, as Waitley says, it’s a “spiritual experience”. Happiness is the melding of our experiences and our beliefs. Whatever we experience: good things or bad, success or failure, sickness or health, wealth or poverty, good relationships or bad, all of these are shaped by our belief system. Happiness is looking at our experiences in a biblical and constructive way.

Third, Waitley notes that happiness requires “love, grace and gratitude.” Biblically speaking, we are recipients of the first two, and cultivators of the last one. Regarding love and grace, the apostle Paul said, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13.14). If we receive love and grace, we must learn to extend love and grace if we want to find this thing called happiness.

Regarding gratitude, Paul also said, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18). In other words, gratitude is a choice, and an action, and a frame of mind that’s cultivated by means of our relationship to God in Christ. 

We often speak of our “happy place.” Happiness isn’t so much a place as it is a way of thinking. With the right frame of mind, you can be in your “happy place” no matter where you are.

Not What But Whom

You’ve probably heard the old business adage that when it comes to finding a good job, it’s not what you know but whom. You’ve probably known talented, motivated, and honest workers who didn’t have especially good jobs, largely because they weren’t well-connected. On the other hand, you’ve probably known workers who weren’t talented, motivated, or honest, but who had great jobs because Uncle Bob owned the business, or because Daddy knew the CEO.

Before we decry this as being unfair, let’s apply this to our spiritual lives. Is our salvation because of our talents, hard work, motivation, and skillset? Or is it because of something else? Is it because we know Someone?

Near the end of his life, the apostle Paul wrote, “for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1.12). He doesn’t say “I know WHAT I have believed”, but “WHOM I have believed”. 

Paul wasn’t discounting WHAT he believed, he wasn’t discounting doctrine. In fact, in the letters to Timothy and Titus, he repeatedly emphasizes teaching and believing “sound” (healthy) words and doctrine (cf. 1 Timothy 1.10; 6.3; 2 Timothy 1.13; 4.3; Titus 1.9, 13; 2.1). WHAT we believe is vitally important.

But as Paul approached death, he wasn’t thinking about SOMETHING, but SOMEONE. Someone who knew Paul better than he knew himself. Someone who had never deserted Paul. Someone whose promises and plans would ultimately prevail. 

Paul had entrusted his work, his plans, and his life to God. He says in this text that God would guard whatever Paul had given him for safekeeping. It would be safe until the day that Christ returned to reward his people. For Paul, knowing his redeemer was the ultimate reality (Philippians 3.7-11). Nor was it simply knowing facts about God but knowing him relationally and intimately. 

For Christians, it’s not about what you know but whom you know. Do you know Christ?

I Am With You

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

Corrie ten Boom

Fear of the unknown haunts so many of us. We’re afraid of what lurks in the future. We’re afraid of sickness. Of financial ruin. Of exposure for some misdeed in our past. Of divorce. Of loneliness. Of government intervention and overreach. Of dementia. Of crime. Of ridicule. Of persecution. Of being forgotten. Of dying. Of dying alone. 

The reality is that I don’t know anything the future holds, and neither do you. I don’t know what’s happening five minutes from now, five days from now, five weeks, five months, or five years. That’s probably a good thing. If we knew what was coming, do we really think we’d be prepared for it? Do we think we could emotionally handle the knowledge of future events? 

I don’t know anything the future holds, but I do know who holds the future. 

In over three dozen places in Scripture, God assured people with the words, “Do not fear [or, do not be afraid] … I am with you.” In virtually every case, he was speaking to people who were concerned with an unknown factor in their future. 

  • When Isaac, son of Abraham, had doubts about his legacy, God appeared to him in a dream and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you” (Genesis 26.23).
  • When David was preparing for his son Solomon to assume the throne, he said, “Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you…” (1 Chronicles 28.20).
  • When the prophet Jeremiah was called as a teenager to prophesy against his own nation, God said, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1.8). 
  • When the apostle Paul was struggling in the city of Corinth, God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you…” (Acts 18.9-10).

In each instance, God didn’t promise them an easy road. He didn’t say there would be no problems. He didn’t give them any illusions about the future. 

Instead, God promised he would be there with them. 

When I was a child, I hated going to the doctor. I still had to go to the doctor. What got me through was knowing that Mom or Dad was there with me. It didn’t change the diagnosis or prescription. But it let me know that someone was always with me. May God give us that same assurance.

Unanswered Prayer

Can you be thankful when God says “No” to your prayers?

We often lament when our prayers go unanswered. Maybe God hasn’t said “Yes” or “No” but simply hasn’t answered at all. Perhaps God’s answer is a clear and unmistakable “No.” Then, we wonder what’s wrong. Is something wrong with us? We wonder and we lament.

Psalm 44 is a lament by the nation of Israel when they were defeated in battle. The first half of the psalm reflects upon God’s past victories and affirms Israel’s faithfulness. Verse 6 says, “I will not trust in my bow, nor will my sword save me.” Verse 8 says, “In God we have boasted all day long, and we will give thanks to your name forever.”

Yet God allowed them to be defeated. Verse 9 says, “Yet you have rejected us and brought us to dishonor, and do not go out with our armies.” The text provides no explanation and emphasizes Israel’s bewilderment at their situation. They ask, “Why do you hide your face” (v. 23a).

Perhaps the answer is that God’s “No” is really intended to help us, even if we don’t understand.

  • What if God said “No” to your dream job because he knew it would take you away from your family?
  • What if God said “No” to healing a loved one because that person’s doctors might learn something that would help future patients with the same condition?
  • What if God said “No” to that special house because he knew that it would put you in a financial bind?
  • What if God said “No” to finding a spouse because it might mean less devotion to and dependence upon him?

Too often our responses to unanswered prayer reveal a lack of thoughtfulness about God and his ways, and they reveal a short-sightedness about his providence toward us. When we whole-heartedly trust him, he always does what is best for us. Even when he tells us “No”.

That’s how Psalm 44 resolves itself. It accepts the answer, even though there’s no explanation. The nation determines to continue seeking God, even though they don’t understand. Verses 17-18 say, “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten you, and we have not dealt falsely with your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, and our steps have not deviated from your way.” It ends with a final appeal: “Rise up, be our help, and redeem us for the sake of your righteousness” (v. 26).

Thank God that sometimes he says “No.” Thank him, pray to him, and hope in him.

The End of the Rope

We’ve all been there: at the end of the rope, without hope, and unable to cope. 

I recently read a blog suggesting that Christians should never be at the end of their ropes, and if they are it’s only because they’re selfish and stubborn, and they only use God as a last resort. 

My problem with that approach is women and men of faith in the Bible who were at the end of their ropes. Please note that when I say that they were at the end of their ropes, what I mean is that they were in hard places, struggling emotionally and perhaps even spiritually. They weren’t sure what options were available. They weren’t selfish and certainly didn’t look at God as a last resort. In that moment, they just weren’t sure what to do.

In 1 Kings 17 we read about two people who were at the ends of their respective ropes. First, we’re introduced to the prophet Elijah who cursed the land of Israel with a drought because of King Ahab’s sinfulness (v. 1). God sent him to the brook Cherith in the Jordan River valley. There the Lord fed him with a daily provision of bread, meat, and water (v. 2-6). Then the brook ran dry because of the drought (v 7). Foodwise, he was at the end of his rope. 

Meanwhile, 100 miles away in Zarephath, a Phoenician city on the Mediterranean coast, there was a widow with a young son (v. 10-12). They were also affected by the drought and had just enough flour and oil for one last meal. She was at the end of her rope. 

Two people at the end of their ropes. What happens next is that God brings them together. Imagine that: two people struggling, and God uses them to help one another. 

God sends Elijah to the widow so she can provide for him (v. 8-9). Think about it. He sends a hungry man to the home of a widow with no food. But the Lord, through Elijah, miraculously provides her with flour and oil that wouldn’t run out until the drought ended. (v. 13-16).

Two people at the end of their ropes, provided for by the God of grace and mercy. 

When we get to the end of the rope, there’s a knot that we can grab. That knot is the promise of God. God never deserts his people. “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Joshua 1.5; Deuteronomy 31.6). This allows us to say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?” (Psalm 118.6; Hebrews 13.6).

How God works it out is his business. He may directly intervene and solve the problem. He may send us a friend to help. He may delay so that we’ll develop trust. God’s business is deliverance. Our business is to trust, pray, and obey. 

When you’re at the end of the rope, with God there’s always hope. 

The No-Option Prayer

2 Chronicles 20.12

Have you ever found yourself trying to solve a problem when you had absolutely no options? You used up all your money, all your credit, and called in all your favors, only to find that it wasn’t enough. You used all your talent, all your tricks, and all your experience, but the problem was still there. Have you ever realized that you’re not smart enough, clever enough, or connected enough to deal with some of life’s problems?

All of us occasionally face the impossible and impassible. There are times when our health or our finances or our friends or our marriages or our jobs are such that our weaknesses, inadequacies, puniness, and foolishness are on full display for the whole world to see. There are times we can’t do anything and don’t know where to start. What then do we do?

In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, was facing a formidable attack on the city of Jerusalem. By this point in his career, his army was depleted, and his wealth was gone. He had no resources. The enemy wanted to take advantage of this. We’re told in verses 3-4 that “Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to seek help from the LORD; they even came from all the cities of Judah to seek the LORD.” He gathered the nation together to pray for God’s help, and ended his prayer by saying, “…we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You” (verse 12).

As I’ve gotten older, my daily prayers resemble this prayer. Often, I simply say, “God help me!” Like Jehoshaphat I’m afraid and don’t know what to do, but I know that God does. 

God is sometimes glorified when we take the abilities and resources he’s given us and use them to his glory. But God is also glorified – perhaps even more glorified – when we haven’t got the resources and simply turn it over to him. He’s most glorified when we fully trust in his help. 

So, when you’re surrounded and cut off; when you’re drowning in despair; when you’re fighting temptation and loneliness and isolation; when you’re numb and exhausted; when your friends lose their minds; when your heart is broken and you have no more tears to shed, that’s when you pray like Jehoshaphat did: “Lord, I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you!”

This story from the reign of Jehoshaphat ends in a good way. His enemies turned on each other and destroyed themselves. The army of Jehoshaphat didn’t have to do anything. God answered the king’s prayer by saying, “Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s” (verse 15).

When you have no options, you always have the Lord. My prayer for you is that you turn it over to God, and that he answers you the way he did Jehoshaphat.

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