Entering a new decade with God

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Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)

It was early fall; I shared lunch with a fellow teacher about 15 years older than me. “How did you cope with turning 40?” I asked.

Her response startled me: “Have you ever heard of Bible Study Fellowship?”

Intrigued, I joined as soon as I could.  And God changed my life.

At 50 I switched schools. Summit Christian Academy in Yorktown, Va hired me, a French teacher, to teach civics, US history and LOGIC!  My qualifications?  An initial BA in Foreign Affairs from UVA.

I had to google ‘Logic’.  And God changed my life.

Sweet 60 is my soon-to-be demographic.  A new decade.  I ponder this significant celebration. It feels different. I know God so much better now.

Over the past 20 years, He has taught me to live by some fundamental facts. (Does that make me a ‘fundamentalist’?)

  • He does all things well (Mark 7:37)
  • He is good
  • He is sovereign
  • I belong to Him, for He has given me His Spirit. (Romans 8:9)

Those truths settle me.  His holy gift of peace permeates.  Being one of His sheep is enough.

No, I don’t know what my Father has in store for me as this new decade dawns. But one thing I do know: I trust Him.  And He promises a happy future for every son and daughter, liberated by Christ. (Matt 25:34)

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. Proverbs 4:18 (ESV)

What do you have faith in?

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“Just have faith!”

“I wish I had as much faith as you do!”

Julie andrews

“I have confidence in confidence alone
Besides which you see
I have confidence in me”

The above quotes are statements about the sufficiency, the quantity and the object of faith.  The concept of ‘faith’ is something as American as apple pie.  But just what does it mean?  Is faith something we originate or are born with?  Does it last or is it as mercurial and unpredictable as the weather?  And what kind of faith does the Bible talks about?

God has been shaping my understanding of Biblical faith slowly but surely. I first woke up to the idea of faith when I was about 16 and began actually to be needy. Bulimia had grabbed me by then and I could not control it.  So my interest in faith was piqued.  However, without any knowledge of the Bible and no good teaching in church, I initially picked up ONLY what was in the air, in our culture.  Faith was a nebulous, unattached GOOD-SOUNDING quality to develop if one were a Christian. Especially if one had problems.

Faith drew closer to me through my mom, although I didn’t understand it. From a neighbor down the street, Mom heard the Gospel and believed God when I was around 16.  The transformation in her was rapid. Her topic of every day conversation changed. But as a ‘sophisticated’ teenager, I could only scoff inwardly at her for all her exhortations to ‘just trust’.   Even though I WANTED to believe.  She unashamedly and routinely encouraged strangers, friends and me to ‘trust God and have faith’.

When I myself was spiritually born at the age of 23, it took me a while to develop a Biblical foundation for understanding faith – 17 more years, in fact.  At age 40, I enrolled in a Bible study called Bible Study Fellowship.  A few months later, another ‘uncontrollable circumstance’ occurred. God again used my weakness and neediness to teach me. Fighting fear and in a financial bind, my husband and I listed our rental house in a down market. The first month passed. We paid two mortgages (for both our residence and the empty rental house).  I panicked.  But God!  That Bible study He had placed me in was a year-long walk through Genesis. I can’t remember how I came to do so, but  I grabbed hold of God’s promise to Abraham almost as a talisman to fight my fear, “Do not fear, Abraham, I am your shield and very great reward.” (Gen 15:1b)

It seemed that at least 20 times a day as waves of ‘what ifs’ assailed me, I would replace the fear thought with my weapon, God’s promise. And God was faithful!

“In You I trust, O God, do not let me be disappointed….. Indeed, none who hope in you shall be disappointed” Psalm 25 2a, 3a

He graciously met me in our need. The house sold quickly and we only had to pay the double house payments a 2nd month.

That experience shaped my view on faith.  For a long time, I actually believed that by ‘my’ faith, I could insure/make certain that God would answer my request the way I set it before Him.

Mercifully, but to my shock, God disabused me of THAT notion.  Fast forward 10 years from the house experience.  Our youngest son Wes and I prayed fervently up until the June departure deadline for his friend Sam to be granted an asthma health waiver so he also could attend West Point. We affirmed Biblical promises and waited expectantly, unwavering in our faith. But God kept that door closed, despite our prayers AND the required nomination from Sam’s senator.

Hmm, I had to go back to the Bible to sort out my doctrine!  What I’ve been learning about faith is this: God is trustworthy AND He cannot be manipulated. The faith He gives is His faith, not mine.  And it comes on His terms.

First of all, faith or relying on God in the Bible is never meant to be a blind ‘banking on’ Him.  God provides ABUNDANT evidence of His trustworthiness and why we can trust Him.  Many verses in the Old Testament testify to both His character and His fulfillment of promises. Here is a sample:

The LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?” Numbers 14:11

Do you see what God is saying?  He has provided proof that what He says is as good as done.  Jesus, Himself, picks up the same theme when He exhorts His followers who doubt His words to look to His miraculous works:

“But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” John 10:38

So what we believe in, the object of our faith is what counts.  For faith to make sense, it needs to be placed in something trustworthy and reliable, or else ‘faith’ is just plain stupid!

But how much faith do we need?

Here’s the good news, it’s not a matter of quantity.  The only kind of faith that counts is saving faith.  And that is a gift from God.  This is what Paul teaches us in Romans 12:3

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

A person either has been given faith or he hasn’t.  It’s not up to us to muster it out of the blue.  Paul teaches that faith given by God comes from hearing the good news of what Christ has done for us. Either we trust this news or we don’t.

Here’s the picture of faith that helps me.  Picture yourself struggling to stay afloat in a swimming accident.  A lifeguard throws you a life preserver that tightens around you to hold you snuggly.  All you have to do is relax and rest and let yourself be drawn in by the initiator and completer of your rescue.

Life Preserver

This is what God does for us.  But first things first!   The drowning man has to know he is in dire straits and can’t help himself.  So too, we have to understand our peril and look for rescue outside of ourselves.  That is the new birth! God opens our eyes so we can see REALITY and despair of the false and dangerous notion of either

  • a) we are not in any danger
  • b) we can save ourselves

Then He directs our attention to the one secure way out – Jesus.

It doesn’t matter whether our faith in the life preserver is large or puny.  Jesus taught that a trusting disposition the size of a very petit seed was sufficient to be rescued.

And what about the 2nd lesson from the West Point prayer experience? I’ve come to see that God DOES know best and sovereignly uses our prayers to bring about His good will.   I’ve learned to pray, counting on Him to deal with issues I present to Him as He sees fit. Unpacking that aspect of God, which brings me untold comfort, will have to wait for another blog.

In the meanwhile,  the next time you hear someone toss around the idea of faith, press her gently to explain what she means.  And then point her to the good news of saving faith.

How do you know if God has answered your prayer?

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I heard a pastor explain James’ critique of believers’ envy and back-biting as symptoms

of PRAYER-LESS-NESS.

  • What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. James 4:1-2

Hmm, that caught my attention!  We fight because we want something someone else has?  Instead we could actually ask God?  Who’d a thunk!  Question is: why don’t we ask God?

Maybe because we are embarrassed by our requests?  They aren’t spiritual enough?

….or maybe it’s because we haven’t learned to form MEASURABLE requests.

Excuse the following humorous/non-spiritual cartoon that illustrates the idea of measurable:

The point is, it does little good to just say, “Dear Lord, please bless this situation.”  How do we know if He has blessed it?  How do we know if and when God answers that petition?

I learned in Bible Study Fellowship to formulate prayer requests in this specific way:

  • Dear Lord, please give me wisdom so I can make a decision about X by Tuesday.  May I not fret while I’m considering alternatives, but trust You.  Superintend the whole process and once I have come to a decision, remind me NOT to second guess my decision.  And if the decision I make is not what You would have for me, then shut the door definitively and guide my steps.  I am trusting You when You say that we plan our way, but You direct our steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
  • Dear Lord, please make Mike’s calls fruitful this week.  May his contacts with potential clients result in encouragement for him and a new next step he can take.
  • Dear Lord, may our son and his family make their connections tomorrow as they travel from Podunck to Big City. May the little ones be calm on the airplane and fall asleep.  Seat around them kind passengers who like little kids.  May their luggage arrive on the same plane. Give them a spirit of flexibility for any unplanned events.  May they retain their sense of humor.

This kind of concrete praying makes trusting God an adventure.  And once God answers, you can rejoice and praise Him and pass on to others how God came through.  I was at Ingles grocery store on Thursday doing my weekly shopping.  I only wanted to spend $190 to stretch my grocery dollars.  So I prayed for restraint and God’s intervention in my choices.  And when the cashier, a high school senior, rang up the total, it came to $191.  “Not bad!” I thought.  But then my Ingles shoppers’ card did its thing and the adjusted total dropped to $186!!  

I immediately shared with the teen how I had prayed and how faithful God was to answer! “Isn’t that cool,” I finished up, “We can ask God for specific, every-day needs!”  Who knows if she is a believer, but at least God gets the credit!

Finally, for other tips to praying concretely, here is a blog post about praying LITTLE bite-sized requests.  I like what the author says.

Faith-sized Requests

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