On What is Best

old empty church pewsOne of the near universal traits of human nature is that we rarely want what is actually best for us.

We know we should eat more vegetables but they don’t taste as good as onion rings. We know, intellectually, that some fresh cut fruit and a bottle of water would be a good start to our day but instead we grab a Pop-Tart and some chocolate milk as we rush to our car. We know we should devote some time each day to exercise but we really enjoy our leisure time. We know we should balance our checkbook, clean our house and maintenance our vehicle but we just don’t. Furthermore, we know that most of our frustrations in life are the result of our negligence in those areas and yet we still don’t change. We want the comfort of a clean house and the convenience of a good running vehicle but not the effort and expense that is required to have those same things.

We trade what we really want for what we want right now.

We know what is best for us but we often settle for the tyranny of what is convenient, easy and acceptable. As author Jim Collins has aptly put it, “The enemy of great is good enough.” So we counsel ourselves into apathy with platitudes like, “Everyones house is dirty”, and “no one is in perfect shape”, and “I don’t have the time” when what we really mean is, “that would take more effort and discipline than I’m willing to exert”. 

We know more truth than we’re living. Unfortunately, this basic principle of human nature doesn’t stop at oil changes and ice cream but it affects our relationship with Jesus Christ.

We know we should we pray but instead we sleep in. We know we should read the Bible but we’ve got errands to run. I haven’t fasted in weeks, haven’t given in the offering and haven’t volunteered to serve but I’ve made time for the game, the meal out with friends and the new toys. I want a strong faith and a spiritually healthy family but I trade what I really want for what I want right now.

God is offering us everything we really want but we’re not taking Him up on His offer. We don’t seem to actually want what is best for us. We allow the hustle of life to rob us of the treasures available in Jesus and HIs kingdom.

John Piper says it well in his book, A Hunger for God,

“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20).

The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.”

It takes discipline, courage, and strength to seek what is best. So then, what is the cure?

The cure is to create disciplines and routines in your life that put you in places and around people that will support and encourage your pursuit of the things of God. Go to church, avoid environments and individuals that compromise your faith and disregard the truth of God’s Word. Set a day every week to fast and a time every day to pray and read your Bible. These habits and the people you surround yourself with will serve to encourage you to faithfully pursue the kingdom of God first and to trust His promise that “all these other things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

The great truth we often overlook is that Jesus doesn’t deny us the things of life that we want. In fact, He promises to give us those things! He simply reorganizes when and how they are acquired. They are moved from being the object of our pursuit, to the neglect of God, to becoming the result of our pursuit of the presence of God.

In Psalm 16:11 David declares that he has found “the path of his life”, “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore”. Where? In the presence of the Lord.

Often the only thing that can pull us out of our apathy, and consequently birth an appetite for greatness in us, is a taste of what can be. Maybe this is why David challenged us to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). He is what’s best for us and once you’ve tried what He has to offer you’ll settle for nothing less.

Neglecting The Familar

emptychair I won. I’ve finally won something on e-bay!

I won a cd for $1.49.

The cd was released in 1991. It was around the time that cd players became more affordable and more artists released their music on cd’s. I was 10 and remember getting our first CD player. It was the size of a small coffee table but it was magic.

Digital audio was still a relatively new technology and so production companies often printed instructions for how to care for the cd on the cd case insert.

I was amazed at the instructions that were given.

Always hold the cd by the edges.

When not in the cd payer always return the cd to its case.

If a fingerprint should get on the underside of the disc only wipe it off with a soft, dust/lint free cloth and always wipe in a straight line away from the center of the disc.

The instructions for care were followed by the promise, “If you care for your compact disc in this manner it should provide you with a lifetime of listening pleasure.”

As I read those instructions I mentally balanced them with the way an average person actually handles a cd.

I’ve got about three just laying loose in the floor of my minivan at this moment!

When we are not using them as a coaster for our drink we throw them around, pile them on top of each other (not in their cases), and wipe the pizza sauce off the underside with the back of our shirt (well, at least I do).

As our familiarity grows our care lessens.

This seems to be true of most things.

Consider the first year of marriage versus the 10th. If she gets a cold in the 1st year you’re rushing to the emergency room. If she gets a cold in the 10th year you’re buying a box of Kleenex so she doesn’t get anything in the casserole.

When I bought my first new car I babied it. No fast food. Wipe your feet. Routine maintenance, wash and wax. No driving fast or hitting bumps. Park at the back of the parking lot so some junker won’t scratch the paint.

After about 3 months that all starts to fade.

Before 1 year is up there’s fries under the floormats, pop stains in the cup holder and cd’s lodged in the seats.

When I first got my laptop I kept a lint free cloth between the keyboard and screen whenever I closed it. I always set it on a laptop fan base to keep the internal hardware cool and prevent damage.

Not anymore.

As our familiarity grows our care and attention lessens.

We become so familiar with things that we cease to genuinely care for them and appreciate their value. We take them for granted and neglect the care they properly deserve.

I sure hope this hasn’t also become true of my walk with God.

We must pray that, as we learn more about Him and walk daily with Him, that we don’t begin to neglect the simple disciplines that led us to Him in the beginning. Prayer, fasting, the reading of Scripture, corporate worship and giving. Simple disciplines that not only create but maintain an appropriate reverence and appreciation for who He is and all He is worthy to receive of us.

What an ironic tragedy it would be for God to be so near to us for so long that He would become familiar and we neglect His presence.

When You Pray

park bench.jpgThe most comprehensive collection of Jesus teaching is contained in The Sermon on the Mount. In what is regarded as some of the most beautiful and challenging teaching in scripture, Jesus addresses the issues of the human condition.

He teaches about envy, lust, anger, murder, adultery, divorce, prayer, fasting, finances, anxiety, hypocrisy, promises, enemies, the poor, war, peace and a myriad other topics.

In Matthew 6 Jesus addresses three specific activities that should be present in the life of every committed disciple. He tackles When You Pray, When You Fast and When You Give.

Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:5-13, KJV)

Prayer is one of the most basic, fundamental activities of the faithful Christians life. Singers sing, writers write, teachers teach and Christians pray. Prayer is how we build a relationship with God. A relationship where there is no communication or worse, only communication when someone has a need or want is dysfunctional at best and essentially no relationship at all. When we only talk to God when we need something we rob ourselves of the depth available in relationship with God.

In Genesis 3 we learn that God had a relationship with Adam and Eve. He walked and talked with them in the Garden of Eden. However, after they sin, God comes looking for them and they try to hide themselves from God (Gen. 3:8-9). Sin has a way of keeping us from the presence of God in prayer.

Thats what prayer is; walking and talking with God. It’s the primary manner by which we build a relationship with Jesus Christ. The amazing truth is that prayer is a shadow of the relationship that God’s redemptive plan aims to restore. What Adam and Eve lost in Eden God wants to restore with you!

So Jesus teaching says, When You Pray. Not IF you pray, WHEN. The implied message is that His disciples will engage themselves in prayer. Believers are praying people. It should be expected and normative that the healthy Christian is a praying Christian. It’s the health of your soul.

Singers sing, writers write, teachers teach and Christians pray!

Jesus goes on to say, in verse 5 of Matthew 6, that, when you pray, be sure to talk to God, not men. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for praying in public places “to be seen of men”. He called that hypocrisy, it’s not genuine prayer. Prayer should be directed towards the ears of God, not the ears of your fellow man.

There is a very real temptation for Christians to only pray when we gather together. We have a strong sense of identity within the Christian community and it’s often important to look like a believer, to look pious and religious. Jesus steps into our hypocrisy and highlights our motive. We don’t really want God to hear us, we just want other people to know we pray.

Jesus said, when you pray, talk to God. Go somewhere private and pray to cultivate a relationship with God, not to procure a reputation with other men. I don’t know any serious Christians who believe the only Biblical location for prayer is in a closet. What Jesus meant was, go somewhere free from the distractions of the day and the ears of other men. Get alone with God and talk to Him.

Jesus then goes on to instruct His listeners to not only talk to God when they pray but to talk to God. Talk to God. Open your heart and mind and try to hear from His heart and mind.

Prayer does not have to be complicated, ritualized and performed in the King James English. The act of prayer itself is not redemptive. God is not interested in getting us to repeat cliches ad nauseam while on our knees. It’s less about the talking and more about what you’re saying. It’s about relationship with God.

The people who think prayer is about what you say and how you say it are missing the point. Jesus said they think they will be heard for their “much speaking” and “vain repetition”. They don’t understand that God’s interested in quality not quantity. Jesus said, “Don’t be like that.”

After all, prayer is not so much about what God needs to hear as it is what we need to say. The truth is, God knows what we have need of before we even ask (verse 8). So praying is not about keeping God up to speed or in the loop. We’re telling God all the things we’ve decided to turn over to His trust.

In the end, prayer is an act of faith. Faith that I can take everything in my life and trust it into His hands. Faith that even when I’m insufficient, He is more than enough. Faith that refuses to let natural evidences out weigh a supernatural promise. Prayer says, there are things that I believe about God that mean more to me than the things I see in my world. You build your relationship with your Heavenly Father and put your faith in Jesus Christ when you pray.

Prayer

old church crossWe know more truth than we’re living.

Most of us are not confused as to why certain things in our lives are the way they are neither are we confused as to how to change them. I am of necessity speaking in generalizations but we know more truth than we’re living. In those moments when we examine difficult and taxing situations we face, and we desperately want a solution, we usually know what the solution is. Unfortunately, we all too often trade what we need and really want for what we want right now.

We know we need to be more disciplined, we know we need to be more dedicated and we know we need to pray more. Not only more but properly. James 4 tells us that we “have not because we ask not” and that when we ask we often “ask amiss”, namely, that we may consume what we ask for upon our lusts and passions. In other words, God doesn’t answer prayers you don’t pray and God doesn’t answer carnal prayers.

Real power in prayer is found when we bring our will into agreement with God’s will. Pray in His will, pray His Word and you’ll find God attentive and active.

We need to not only learn to pray but to actually pray. If the Christian life is worth living it’s worth living poorly. Meaning, no matter how feeble your attempts may feel continue attempting. Soon enough your weak prayer life will become a strong prayer life through faithfulness and experience.

After all, prayer is not simply a monologue. It’s not me dictating a list of demands to God. Prayer is a dialogue whereby God and I draw closer together. Prayer is as much about me hearing from God as it is God hearing from me.

So pray. Pray for your family. Pray for your city. Pray for your nation. Pray for the church. Pray for renewal and for a revival of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.