Tuesday, January 31, 2023

God Prepares

Very few things in this world "just happen" - they take time, preparation, development, growth. It takes energy and effort to put pieces into place. Things build more slowly than we'd really like, and the same is often true with God. We'd rather have a God who snaps His fingers and changes things, who speaks and the world is simply good again. 

But that's not usually what happens. Just as in this world, very few things with God "just happen." 

Rather, what happens is that God starts preparing things well before their time. God starts setting things in motion long before they will actually need to move. God turns our hearts long before our first step in a faithful direction. 

Take Joseph's story. Joseph is a young man in a secure place in a blessed family. There is plenty of food in the world, plenty of opportunity to go around. God's blessed family - the family of Jacob - has settled back into their homeland, the good and beautiful and fertile land where God has called them, even after Jacob's long exile. All seems well. 

Then Joseph is thrown into a cistern, sold into slavery, wrongly accused, and forgotten in Egypt. And if you're living this story, it's hard to understand it. We can easily imagine Joseph crying out to God, begging for understanding, begging for relief. We can easily imagine Joseph knowing that God could restore him in an instant, that God could open those prison doors and let Joseph walk back to Canaan right now. 

Except He doesn't. 

Because God is preparing. He's preparing early for what He knows is coming. He is putting Joseph into place years before He will use the young Hebrew to save an entire people. He is putting all of the pieces where He needs them to be to do a miraculous and glorious work. 

If you don't have a man in Egypt, how do you prepare Egypt for the famine, let alone prepare them to save your people? If you don't have a man who has control of some of the grain, how do you get it to where he can give something to his own family to eat? 

Sure, God could run this world by divine order, by just giving commands and making things happen when He desires them. But there's no developing glory in that, no unmasking of who He is. No opportunity to truly grow in love for Him. It's...complicated. 

Instead, He runs this world by divine organization, by setting things in motion and preparing for the things that are going to happen. He shows us His goodness not by just running things, but by working the way that things run. Far before we even realize what's happening or why. 

He's preparing for something. Even right now, He is preparing for something. And though it sometimes feels like we're stuck in Egypt, it serves us to remember the story of Joseph. He likely felt the same thing, but he wasn't stuck in Egypt; he was positioned there in preparation for the glorious goodness of God to be made manifest through him.  

Monday, January 30, 2023

God Provides

When Joseph's brothers first heard about his dreams, they balked. They were never going to bow down to him! What was God going to do for them if He put them under their younger brother? Absolutely not. Never. They would not give up whatever good thing God had for them just because the the little rascal had a dream. 

Then, everything starts to play out just the way God said it would. In the midst of a severe famine, the brothers travel to Egypt - the only place in the region that has any food left that might possibly let them buy a little - and come face-to-face with long-lost Joseph and do, in fact, bow down before him. 

But that's not the end of the story. 

Because you see, when Joseph's brothers left Egypt, they left not only with grain, but with all of their money, as well. Extra in their bags. Sacks overflowing. Cups filled-eth. (Is filled-eth a word?) 

They are scared. They don't know how it happened. They think something terrible must be going to happen to them now (they still don't know the man is their brother). They don't understand. 

It's not that hard. 

God is taking care of them. 

God is providing for them, with measures overflowing, at exactly the point in their story when they were least certain that He would. They thought that if they bowed down to Joseph, it was over. They lose everything. But that's not the case. God still sees them, God still loves them, God still cares. He gives them not only the grain that they need to feed their families, but the money they thought they spent for it. He provides in incredible abundance for them. 

Just like He does for us. 

I wonder how many times in my life I've struggled to trust that God will still care for me when the only vision I can see is the thing I least want to do, the thing that makes the least sense to me. I wonder if I could even count the number of sacks I have had overflowing at some of the lowest points of my life. 

I wonder how many you can count.  

Friday, January 27, 2023

God's Blessing

Everywhere Joseph went in Egypt, things flourished. He was sold as a slave to Potiphar, and Potiphar's entire household prospered. So much so that he put Joseph in charge of all of it. And later, when Joseph found himself in prison, the prison prospered and had none of the issues that you'd imagine would be fairly common in prison. So the warden put Joseph in charge of the whole prison. 

Here's what we have to notice: these Egyptian men who benefited from Joseph's faith were not impressed by how Joseph's life was prospering. They weren't impressed by how his life looked. Remember - from the outside looking in, Joseph's life was a train wreck: sold into slavery, carried off to a foreign land, a lowly servant in a household. Nobody looks at this life and is impressed by it. 

But the way that Joseph's presence impacted the rest of the household, or the rest of the prison, is worth noticing. It's this that got the attention of his Egyptian masters. 

Sometimes, we think that the way to demonstrate God in our world is to have lives that flourish. We have to live lives that ooze blessing out our front doors, so that anyone who walks by us knows how much God loves us. 

This story in Genesis, though, reminds us that God's mark on our lives isn't our own blessing; it's the way that we bless others. It's the way not that our lives flourish, but the way that the lives of those around us flourish. 

Judging just by Joseph's life, he never becomes second-in-command of all of Egypt. But watch the way that literally everyone and everything around him thrives because of God's blessing on him, and all of a sudden, a Hebrew slave is running the kingdom. 

It really is true - God has blessed you to be a blessing. So who are you blessing today?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

God of Dreams

Our God is a God of dreams. And He starts fairly early in His Word. 

Remember Joseph? He's the favored son of Jacob, the firstborn (and for awhile, only-born) son of beloved wife Rachel. Then, Joseph starts having dreams. He has dreams that his brothers and father will bow down to him. 

We all know that eventually, these dreams come true, as Jacob's other sons travel to Egypt to buy grain from the brother they sold into slavery decades ago but no longer even recognize. They come bearing gifts and money, and they bow down and beg for his mercy to save their - and their father's - life. They're hungry, and only Joseph can feed them. 

But notice what dreams Joseph isn't having. God doesn't give Joseph dreams of being thrown into a cistern in the middle of nowhere. He doesn't give Joseph dreams of being sold into slavery to a passing caravan. He doesn't give Joseph dreams of being carried off to Egypt. He doesn't give Joseph dreams of being falsely accused of rape. He doesn't give Joseph dreams of spending years in an Egyptian prison. 

None of those very true things, things that God knew were going to happen, were part of Joseph's dreams. 

Those would have been nightmares. 

Most of us aren't equipped to handle, even in faith, the full reality of the story God is writing for us. The truth is that most of our stories will have twists like Joseph's - bitterness, jealousy, betrayal, capture, foreignness, imprisonment (even if only in our own minds - we will be caught up in things we can't find our way out of). We want to think that the dream is just that, the dream, the whole picture. That the moment we get a glimpse of the world bowing down to us, that's just what happens. 

But most of the time, it's not. Most of the time, our stories take these twists and turns and have these moments that, had God shown them to us from the beginning, would not have been dreams, but nightmares. Maybe that's why He doesn't. 

Our God is a God of dreams. He loves showing us the wonderful, beautiful, glorious things that are going to happen in our story...or perhaps because of it. And the dreams are the things that we hold onto when the nightmares come. 

Joseph made it through those hard times because he knew the good times were coming. He knew God was going to do what He promised to do. He knew his dreams were not just figments of his imagination, but promises of God. 

What dream has God spoken over your life? 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

God is Your Witness

When Jacob takes his family and turns away from Laban and back toward home, he doesn't tell Laban that he is leaving. He can't - the man has already duped him several times and made him stay well beyond the seven years that he initially agreed to. At every turn, Laban has tricked him or outright lied to him; Jacob knows that if he declares his departure, Laban will find some way to make him stay...again. 

Sure enough, after Jacob has traveled a bit of a distance, here comes Laban in hot pursuit. How dare you take my daughters without even letting me say goodbye? How dare you take my grandchildren without a final hug from me? He turns the story against Jacob - what are you trying to do to me? Are you treating me unfairly? 

The two men exchange words, sharing their perspectives and their experiences of one another (Laban's is mostly manipulative, not authentic - but you could probably expect that), and after they have aired their hearts, they decide on a plan that is amenable to both: 

Let us erect an altar here that will stand as a witness between us. I won't cross it to come and hurt you, and you won't cross it to come and hurt me. The Lord will stand in this place and watch; He is our witness. 

So they build an altar. 

And this is one of the things that I think we have lost about how we can use God in our relationships. Too often, I think, we believe God is standing on our side of a disagreement. We believe that He has taken up our position with us. We believe that when we come into conversation, even simple conversation, with someone with whom we disagree or someone we think has wronged us, we come with God standing behind us as "the muscle." We are in the right, and our God will prove it. The mere fact that He stands with us is evidence enough. 

But what if God doesn't stand with us in conflict, but stands between us? What if God stands as a witness between two parties, between us and someone we think has wronged us? What if we erect an altar and make our disagreement a place for mutual worship, where we can both call on God and trust in His perspective? 

It would change the way we disagree with one another, that's what. At the very least.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

God Remembers

The story of Jacob's two wives is a poignant reminder of God's love for us. 

At the beginning of the story, Jacob sets his eyes on Rachel, the younger daughter of his relative, Laban. He works for seven years to marry her, and he loves her so much that the Bible tells us that those seven years went by quickly. They were like a day to him. But Laban pulls a bait-and-switch and marries off Leah, the older sister, to Jacob first. In exchange for another seven years of labor, Jacob gets Rachel, too. The man and the two sisters become one household. 

Jacob, of course, still loves Rachel. She's the one who has always had his eye. Leah knows this; she will always know this. But though Jacob loves her second-most, God loves her very much, and He has not forgotten her. God makes Leah fruitful and gives her many children so that she will feel a stronger bond between herself and her husband. 

Of course, when the less-loved wife starts having babies left and right and you're left barren, it can be easy to think that perhaps God has forgotten you. Perhaps God doesn't love you as much as Jacob does. Perhaps there's something wrong with you. So at a time when Rachel is starting to feel really low about herself because Jacob has all of these children, but none of them are hers, God remembers her and opens her womb and gives her a son, Joseph. 

Two women, both feeling unloved, both living what looks like a backseat life in their own home, both wondering about their place in their marriage, both with a deep ache in their heart...and God remembers them both in their own time...in the same story. God grants both children. God shows His love to both. 

God hasn't forgotten you, no matter how unloved you're feeling right now. When you feel like you're in the backseat, remember who is in the Driver's seat. Because He's constantly turning His head to look at you, to see you. He remembers you're there. 

God hasn't forgotten you. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

God's Vision

Times were tough in the land, and Isaac wasn't sure how his young life was going to survive. He wanted to make sure he had enough, that he could provide for all that God was giving him, and so he made a plan: he looked all around him at the desolation and what seemed to be a dying landscape, all but certain to ensure his death, too, and he decided that perhaps Egypt was the place to be. 

There weren't any news channels around back then to show Isaac that Egypt was better. There were no photographs, no video coverage advertising lush land and fertile crops in a land far away. He was really just looking around at what he could see and saw that he couldn't see anything that would give him the kind of life he was looking for. 

So...Egypt it was. 

But then, God stepped in and stopped him. God came to Isaac as he was packing his bags and planning his route and said, no. No, Isaac. Don't go to Egypt. Don't leave this place. There's nothing for you there, but I will make everything for you here. What you don't think you see right now, I already have a vision for - and I will not only show you, but I will make it your reality. 

God knew more than Isaac did. God saw more in that place than Isaac did. And at just the moment when Isaac was sure that all he could see around him was death, God stepped in to show him the promise He was already making true - the promise of abundant life in that place. Right there. Exactly where Isaac wasn't sure it was possible. 

If you're looking around at your life and thinking you don't see anything that's what you're really looking for, ask God to show you His vision for where you're at. If you're thinking Egypt looks pretty good right now, even though you've never even seen it, ask God what He sees where you already are. 

God's got His sights on something for you, whether you can see it yet or not. But the good news is that He is willing to share His vision with you if you're willing to look one more time.  

Friday, January 20, 2023

God Explains

Let's face it - there are things in this life that happen to us that we just don't understand. Illnesses, betrayals, brokennesses; they're all there. And it can be hard for us to wrap our minds around how it is that we have a good God who loves us and yet, this. Whatever "this" is. 

But one of the good things about our God is that when we don't understand what's happening, He is ready to explain it to us. He is ready to reveal what He's working on, how He's working in our lives, and what is going to come out of whatever this thing is that has us confused right now. Whatever we don't understand, God already intimately knows, and if we want to know more, we can simply ask. 

That's what Rebekah did when she became pregnant. 

She could feel something not-quite-right about what was going on in her womb, though she didn't know what that thing was or why it was happening. Genesis tells us that she felt the babies struggling inside of her (whether she knew it was two babies or thought it was just one). The struggle was real. So she cried out - Why is this happening to me?

Then, God answered her: because there are two babies inside of you, and they are struggling with each other, just as they will do once they are born. They will struggle with each other their whole lives and become two different nations, two different peoples. One will always be stronger; the other, weaker. This is who I, the Lord, have ordained them to be. 

Ah, makes sense. 

God's answer didn't change the struggle that was happening. It didn't change the truth about who Jacob and Esau were or would become. It didn't change the promise that they would divide one household into two nations. Nothing about the promise of God - which is always good - changed. But Rebekah's heart did. Her understanding deepened. Her question was answered. 

God was good to tell her what was going on, simply because she asked. 

When the struggle is real and you don't understand what's going on, ask God.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

God Sees You

After Isaac is born, Sarah cannot stand having her slave girl and illegitimate heir, Ishmael, around for a minute longer. Though he is flesh of his flesh, Abraham gives her permission to do "whatever you think is right," so Sarah sends Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness. After several days and a good number of miles, the provisions Abraham has provided are running out, and Hagar is certain they are both going to die - the boy first, simply due to his youth and relative frailness. 

She can't bear to watch, so she tucks the boy into as secure a place as she can to minimize the pain of his impending death, then journeys a little bit further on her own so that she doesn't have to listen to him cry...and doesn't have to hear the gut-wrenching silence when he finally stops. 

But God hears the boy crying. 

God sees him tucked away in as secure a place as his mother could find, and He sees the boy's mother a stone's throw away - trying to get away from the noise that not only pierces the wilderness, but her own heart, while at the same time, unable to go too far at all because she is, after all, a caring mother. 

So He comes to her. God comes to Hagar in the shade of the bushes where she sits, both looking and trying not to look. Hearing, trying not to hear, and yet, straining her ears to make sure the boy is still crying, that he's still alive. And God tells her what He has told - and will tell - so many others throughout His story: do not be afraid. 

Don't be afraid, Hagar. I see you. 

I see you in this forsaken place, this desert place, this wilderness where no one else could find you even if they were looking (and they aren't). I see you torn between what seem to be the realities of your situation, your desolate circumstances and your mother's heart. I see you loving your child but not knowing what else there is you can do for him. I see you wondering where it all goes from here. I see you just as lost in this wilderness as Sarah was hoping you'd be when she sent you away, and I see you feeling the bitter sting of it all. 

God sees you. No matter where you are, no matter how you got there, no matter what you're afraid of, no matter what comes next, no matter how desolate the place seems to be, God sees you there. You don't have to worry about getting lost, about finding your way, about losing it all, or about dying some obscure death - or living some obscure life - in a place where no one else could find you even if they were looking (they aren't) because God knows right where you are. He sees you there. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

God's Wise Protection

God makes some pretty wild promises to Abraham - to give him descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore or the stars in the sky, to give him a vast and expansive homeland that is currently occupied by other peoples. To bless the entire world through him. 

And Abraham, like so many of us, thinks that this is good, but that God might need a little help. 

When Abraham arrives in a foreign land, in a land that God has shown him and led him to, he tells his wife to tell everyone she's his sister. That way, when they see how beautiful she is, they won't kill him just so they can have her. After all, if these foreign peoples kill Abraham, then all of God's promises to him are null. Aren't they? Dying in a land that God has promised him is not part of the plan; Abraham's lie will make sure it doesn't accidentally happen. 

But the peoples of the land find out that Abraham has lied to them, and they have one question: why? Why, when we look at your incredibly blessed life, would you have any reason to lie to us? Why would you think, with all your riches and the goodness that surrounds you, would you do a wicked thing? Yes, Abraham - a wicked thing. 

Then Abraham discovers that the peoples of this foreign land are favorable to him, not adversarial. God has not only brought him here, but He has created a place for him here. God already put in motion the stirring of the hearts of these peoples to protect Abraham. God already constructed a hedge of protection around him. 

The lie...wasn't necessary. God's got this. 

Sometimes, we're tempted to think that God's plan is going to need a little help, that we're going to have to use our human wiles to manipulate our way through. After all, aren't we the ones who know how the world works? 

Maybe. But God is the One who knows how He works, and He's already got this. His hedge of protection is far better than anything we could plant ourselves. 

All we have to do is trust that the God who brought us here has already planned for what we might encounter, and as much as we trusted Him to get us this far, we must trust Him to settle us safely in this new place.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

God of All

God makes a lot of promises in the early chapters of Genesis. It's tempting for us to read the way that God comes personally to folks like Abraham, Hagar, Sarah, Isaac, and the like, and to wonder why God doesn't make such personal promises to us. We wonder why God is not making our lives as fruitful and multiplied as theirs. 

Why can't we be blessed as much as Abraham?

But what's really interesting - and really cool - about all of these promises that God is making, even as far back as Adam and Eve, is that these promises are not just for the faithful. The promise God made to Abraham was not just for Abraham. The promise God made to Ishmael was not just for Ishmael. The promise God made to Isaac was not just for Isaac. Despite the fact that our Bible goes on to take us on an amazing adventure through the descendants of Jacob (Israel), to whom God also made a promise, the promise of God is never just for that man or woman.

Read through some of these promises in early Genesis again, and you'll notice something: God keeps saying that the blessing on these men will be a blessing for the entire world. God multiplies Abraham's descendants so that the world might know the goodness of God. He keeps saying He's making a nation for the world's sake, not for one man's. Through you, God keeps saying, the whole world will come to know me. 

And the same is true in the promise of Jesus thousands of years later; it's why He spent so much of His time with Gentiles. 

The promise of God is never just about you. He's always got some greater plan in mind that involves a whole lot more persons, up to and including everyone

So who might God be trying to bless through you today?  

Monday, January 16, 2023

God Our Companion


It's a word we usually use when we're pointing away from ourselves, when we want someone or something to move in a direction away from us. Go, we say...over there. Or wherever you end up from here, just go

But when God says, "Go," He means something else entirely. And we see this very early in His Word.

As we are introduced to Abram, God is starting to make promises to the childless old man. God is starting to talk about descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore. God is starting to talk about a promised land. And God says to this man, in the place where he now stands, "Go..." 

But not just "go." "Go...to the place that I will show you." 

That last part of the phrase means something very important: it means God is going, too. It doesn't mean that God is pulling out some cosmic map and pointing to a place that Abram should go; that would have been bizarre in the ancient world. Neither does God tell Abram to go to the place that He will tell the man about. He's not just talking. He says plainly, "Go to where I will show you." And that means, God is going

It's easy for us to forget sometimes that God goes with us, but how could He not? This is the God who walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, who met Elijah on the mountain, who had to wash the dust and dirt of Galilee off His very own feet. Of course He goes with us. 

These words He spoke to Abram confirm it.  

Friday, January 13, 2023

God's Promises

After God flooded the world and redeemed creation, He set a sign in the skies as a reminder of His promise that He would never do that again - the rainbow. 

We are sometimes tempted to think that what God is doing is secret, that we aren't supposed to know. That, perhaps, we can't know. There are even some very popular teachings that espouse this; pastors preach it from the pulpit. God is so much bigger, so much greater, so much more powerful than we could possibly imagine, and we can't figure Him out if we try, and we aren't even supposed to try. After all, if we know, then what is faith? 

But faith isn't blind. Not true faith. Faith knows and trusts the one it believes in, and how can we know and trust unless we can see? This is one of the things that I love about God - He doesn't hide Himself. He doesn't do things and tell us to "just deal with it." He doesn't use his big-ness, His great-ness, His power to steamroll over His creation and do whatever He wants without letting us in on it. In fact, the Bible is the grand story of just how in on it we are. 

And this rainbow reminds us. It reminds us that God has promised He will never again destroy His creation like He did in the early chapters of Genesis, but it's more than that. This rainbow reminds us that God paints His promises into creation itself so that they aren't a secret, so that we're not left wondering what God is doing, what He's thinking, what He's planning. He's planning our redemption. He's thinking about His love for us. He's giving us His promise over and over again, every time the light dances on the water in the sky that was once formless and void. 

Thursday, January 12, 2023

God's Not Done With You

It doesn't seem like it takes very long for God to look at His "very good" creation and think perhaps it's not as good as it once looked. By the very early chapters of Genesis, we're hearing Him talk about how much He regrets the world as it is, and He starts making a plan to destroy everything. 

This is not-good news for sinners like us. In fact, it's stories like these that make us think we've messed up so badly that even God can't forgive us...or that He won't. 

But the flood is a really interesting study in redemption if you pay attention to what is happening.

We often focus on Noah, and we are told that his righteousness is what caused God to save him. But Noah wasn't the only one saved from that flood. Not by a long shot. God sent pairs of every living creature to the ark that Noah built to save all of creation from absolute destruction. 

He didn't have to. The God who already spoke the world into existence could very easily have spoken it into existence again. The God who already created the platypus knew how He did it; He could have simply created a new platypus after the world dried out. The God who knit together every creature in the beginning could have just picked back up His knitting needles and started the whole thing over. 

But He didn't. 

Because the truth about our God is that He would rather redeem what is than try to start over with what was. He would rather take a broken world and turn it back toward His glory than break the world to pieces and have to put it all back together.

And that is very good news for sinners like us.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

God and the Sinner

Have you ever messed up? 

I have. Big time. And I'm not alone. 

When we mess up, when we miss the mark, when we "sin," we're tempted to think that God must be done with us. He must not want anything else to do with us. And certainly, we couldn't possibly believe we would inherit His promises or that He would continue to be good to us. Why would He? We don't deserve it. 

But the beauty about grace is that we never deserved it. That's why it's called grace. And when we're tempted to think that perhaps God is done with us, perhaps He wants nothing else to do with us, perhaps we have lost His goodness forever, we need to look again at the way that God dealt with Cain.

Cain is the first murderer in the Bible. (Not the last, of course, but the first.) He killed his brother, Abel, out of nothing more than simple jealousy, and as a result of his crime, God casts him out into a land unknown and unworked. And Cain laments. How can he bear this? he asks. He will be far from the presence of God with nothing and no one to protect him from someone who might do the very same thing to him. 

Then God, in His grace, shows His goodness even to Cain. He tells the young man, no. No, there will be no vengeance on you. Because even though you have messed up, you still hold the dignity of a man created in My image. 

So God puts a mark on Cain that will serve as a sign to anyone who might come against him that this man - yes, this man; this sinner, this murderer - belongs to God. 

The New Testament tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not even our sin (for which He already died); this mark of grace on creation's first murderer proves it. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

God and Pain

While we're talking about a God who works with our human condition, as evidenced by the fact that He put Adam to sleep before taking his rib, let's talk about a God who cares about our pain from the same story. 

As you might imagine, losing a rib is very painful. Not that I have personally experienced it, but one can assume. Any even minor surgery requires some form of anesthetic to protect us from feeling the pain. Even when we have our teeth drilled down, a substance in our body which contains no actual nerves of its own, we have the dentist give us a shot of novacaine just in case we get a little too close to something that does have a nerve. 

The fact that God put Adam to sleep shows that He is a God who cares about pain. He didn't want Adam to hurt while He was growing him. He didn't want Adam to feel the sharp sting of having a piece of himself pulled out, even when that pain was the start of something amazing for the man. Something incredible. 

Sometimes, we get in the mindset that God doesn't mind us hurting for a little while if that pain is meant to grow us, but this story from Genesis 2 reminds us that God always cares about our pain. God never wants us to hurt. That's not part of the plan. 

No matter what's coming out of it. 

Monday, January 9, 2023

God and the Human Condition

Sometimes, we're afraid that our humanness gets in God's way. We look in the mirror, and we wonder how God could ever work in a life like ours. We wonder if we've made too many mistakes, taken too many wrong turns, burned too many bridges for God to do what He intended to do with our lives. We're afraid that we've ruined it. 

Whenever I'm tempted to think this way, I think about the creation of Eve in Genesis 2. 

God created Adam first, forming a man out of the dust of the ground and then breathing the spirit of life into him. Then, when no suitable helper was found for the man, God decided to create woman by taking the rib of the man and building off of it. Before God reached down to take Adam's rib, however, He put the man to sleep. 

He didn't have to. There are plenty of ways for God to divinely take your rib if He wants it. There are ways in which He can transcend the metaphysical realities of the universe that He just created and reach in with some kind of ghost arm and pull the rib out without Adam having felt a thing. 

But God isn't like that. God had just created this flesh, and He had just declared that this flesh was good. Very good. And from that moment on, when God decides to interact with human beings, He does so in full recognition of and respect for their humanness. He doesn't use His God-ness to pass through our flesh; He humbly stoops to our flesh and works with it. 

This reminds me that God understands my humanness. All of it. Even the parts that I haven't made sense of yet. And every time He wants to interact with me, every time He wants to use me, every time He wants to send me, He already knows that I'm human before He even starts to reach down for me. As a popular meme says, He's already accounted for it. 

So I'm not worried about messing up God's plans because I'm human. God has already shown that He works with the human condition.  

Friday, January 6, 2023

The Truth about Prayer

The truth is that I know all of these things that we've talked about this week. I read them in the Scriptures, and I feel them in my heart, and I'm coming to know them more every day as I reflect on what I'm thinking about this holy fire. 

But when I create a moment of prayer in my life, it's still too easy even for me to fall into the shallow things. Into the kinds of prayer that too many of us, including myself, have been praying for too long. 

What do you say to God besides, "Lord, I want/need You to..."? How do you even start a prayer that's not about the need that brought you to pray in the first place? 

Because most of us aren't praying without a need. Most of us aren't praying just because. Most of us aren't praying because God is good and we love Him. We might want to, but...it's just not how most of us were taught to pray. 

And that's the challenge. Even in mature churches, even in places where pastors are fervent for the Lord, most of us are not given a good example on how to pray. Even in the best of churches, a lot of the prayers that we hear are just recaps of whatever message we just heard or song we just sang, and they're meant more for human ears than holy ones. We are taught to pray for ourselves and not for God's glory, most of the time, and how do we change this? 

I think we change it by thinking of bigger things. Here's what I mean:

When you pray for whatever small thing you're thinking of, whatever selfish desire or personal need that you have, there's nothing wrong with that. Let's be clear about that up front - God wants you to bring your heart to Him, and if that's what's on your heart, there's nothing wrong with bringing it. There's nothing wrong with wanting God to heal you or strengthen you or redeem you. Not a thing. There's nothing wrong with a shallow prayer. This is better than no prayer at all. 

But as you pray that prayer, ask yourself what kind of God it is you're looking for. Who would God have to be to answer this prayer in the way that you've prayed it? Who would God have to be to satisfy your soul right now? 

For example, if you need healing, then the God that you need is a Healer. If you need strength, then that God that you need is Strong. If you need someone to fight for you, then the God that you need is Protector, maybe. If you need forgiven, the God you need is Gracious. Are you getting the point?

Once you've figured out who God has to be to answer you, start centering your prayer around that idea instead of your own. Start crying out to the God who is Healer/Strong/Protector/Gracious/Whatever instead of sitting there wallowing in your own demands. Start reflecting on the truths that let you know that the God you're praying to is the God you need. Start recounting all of the times He's already been who you're looking for - if Healer, then all of the blind men who have been given sight and lame men who are walking and lepers who are cleansed. Start shifting your focus from what you need to who God is. 

Start thinking about the kinds of holy fire He has already rained down on us. 

This will change the way you pray.

It takes time. I'm not pretending it doesn't. I'm still working on this myself. But it's worth working on. 

Because if the image in Revelation is true (and it is - God said so), then it has to change the way we pray. It just has to. 

Thursday, January 5, 2023

A Heartfelt Prayer

Something else happens when I consider this image from Revelation of holy fire being thrown down from heaven in my prayer: it makes me consider what, exactly, I'm praying. 

That is, it makes me really have to want it to pray it. 

It makes me think about what I'm asking for, why I'm asking for it, who it's going to affect, how it's going to affect them. It makes me think about what God must be thinking about it, about whether this is something that's worth holy fire or not. 

It makes me think about whether the God I'm praying to is big enough.

It's easy for us to get into the habit of praying small things. That seems weird because at the same time ,we don't pray most of our small things because we say something like, "I don't want to bother God with that." I don't want to bother God with my sick cat or my car troubles or my arthritic knee that's going to clear up on its own as soon as the weather changes. It seems "silly" to "bother" God with that kind of stuff, to "waste" our prayer on such things. 

But then, the prayer that we do pray betrays us. Because too often, we are simply praying to a God who is too small. 

We're praying the lowest common denominator. We're praying the smallest token of blessing we'll take from God. We're praying the tiniest little thing He can do for us. You don't have to heal me, Lord, but if I can stop coughing for just twenty minutes, I'd be most thankful. You don't have to take away my burden, Lord, but if I could just carry it for two more miles, that'd be awesome. 

Over and over, we reduce our prayer to whatever the smallest thing is that could happen that would show us that God is real, that He's listening, that He cares, and then, that's all we tell ourselves we want from Him. Then, we secretly harbor resentment, and often, doubt, because He doesn't do bigger things. 

But when I think about this image, about this censor of my prayer being filled with holy fire, it makes me stop. It makes me pause. It makes me ask myself if this is really the holy fire that I want the angel to pull off the altar. If this is what I want heaven to rain down on earth. 

No, really. Is this it? Is this what I want heaven to thunder down on me? On those I love? On those who are wondering right now if God is even real? 


More often than not, the answer is no. The answer is not really. The answer is, it can't be. It can't be just this. 

So this holy fire encourages me to pray bigger prayers, to pray for a bigger God, to invest myself in what it is that I'm seeking from heaven. To want better things. To really want them. 

Because if God has a heaping bowl of holy fire to rain down on earth, then I want all of it. Not just a few scattered sprinkles. Not just a few drops. 

So...what is it you really want? Or rather, Who is it you really want?  

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

A Personal Prayer

Be honest - is the prayer list the place where you get most of your gossip? 

It happens far too often; we read someone's name and a blip of their story on the prayer list, and that's how we figure out what we're supposed to talk about with everyone this week. "Did you hear about _____?" Oh, yes. Of course, I did! It's on the prayer list. 

If we're reasonable persons, we do, at least, pray for the person while we're talking about them, but in my experience, it seems most church folk are still doing a lot more talking than praying. 

But what if this image we've been talking about from Revelation was in the front of your mind when you read that prayer list? What if you were thinking not about what you could be talking about, but about the real difference a little holy fire might make in that person's life?

This is another way that this passage changes the way that I think about prayer. When I realize that my prayer is going to be carried around the heavens as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, then filled with holy fire and poured back out on the earth - poured back out on the life of the very person I am praying for - then it changes the way that I am praying for that person.

I can't pray mindlessly any more. I can't check their name off the list and move on. I can't pray without thinking about that person, without considering what it is that they're actually asking for, what they want or need from God, what their life would look like if they actually got it. I can't pray from a mere list; my prayer has to be personal. 

It has to take into account your actual life, the actual struggle you're having, the actual hope that you're holding onto. It has to think about what it must be like to be in your shoes, what it must be like to ache with the heart that you're aching with. 

And through all this, you become not just someone else that I am praying for, but someone that my soul is connecting with. Someone that my heart is tied to. Someone that I can't help but think about off and on during the day with real interest, with real curiosity. You become...a friend. 

That's the way that it's meant to be, by the way. Prayer is meant to be a thread that ties us together. Not a mere knot, but a strong braid - an interweaving of our lives, our stories, so that we are stronger together. 

It's too easy for us to forget this. It's too easy for us to neglect this. It's too easy for us to think that our prayer, even our prayer for one another, is still just something between us and God, something that doesn't involve you, even when you're the catalyst for it. 

But when we remember this image from Revelation, this truth that our prayer is filled with holy fire and poured back out, well, we can't help but remember one another, too. I can't help but remember you. Not the you who is just a name on the prayer list, but the you who lives and breathes and hopes and grieves and who has reached out and trusted me with the heavy things on your heart. 

And that changes the way that I pray for you.

I hope it changes the way that you pray for me. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

A Powerful Prayer

I don't know about you, but when I read things like the verse I cited in Revelation yesterday - things like, your prayer becomes the incense of heaven and is then filled with holy fire and thrown back onto the earth - it changes the way that I think about prayer. More specifically, it changes the way I think about what I'm praying. 

There's a little quip that makes its rounds in Christian circles every now and then, and it's hard to pin down who said it first or when or where, but it's some version of this: "if God gave you everything you prayed for today, would it change anyone's life but your own?" 

That's certainly part of it. Would I want the holy fire of heaven to be thrown down just for my own meager benefit, just for the things that I desire in this life? Just for my own comfort or prosperity or whatever? And so, I do wonder whether my prayer is too selfish, whether it's just for me. 

But even if it is, this image that we find in Revelation has to challenge us to push a little further. Let's say, okay, you pray a selfish prayer, a prayer that isn't going to change anyone's life but your own. Let's say that your prayer becomes the incense of heaven, is filled with holy fire, and comes down onto the earth, onto your very life in the very place where you're living it, and God answers your prayer resoundingly. Let's say you get exactly what you're praying for. 

Then what? 

For many of us, the answer is simple: we pray another prayer. We figure out what else it is that we want in our lives, what else we need God to do for us, and we start praying that prayer because, we figure, we might as well strike while the iron is hot. If God is answering our prayer, then let's get as many in before He hangs up the line as we possibly can. So we pray another selfish prayer. And another selfish prayer. And another selfish prayer. 

Fine. Sure. But...then what? 

The point is, what are you doing with the selfish prayers that God answers?

It's not wrong to want healing in your life. It's not wrong to want strength. It's not wrong to pray for yourself, for your own needs, for the life that you want to have and the opportunities you want to have and the doors that you want to be opened to you. None of that is wrong. But...what are you going to do with it?

Just make your life better? Just make your life bigger? Just make your life more comfortable?

Holy fire from heaven pours down on you for much more than this. 

And when I think about that image, about that bowl being poured out, about that holy fire coming down to answer my prayer, it makes me think about what I'm doing next. What am I going to do with the goodness God has just given me? How am I going to let this holy fire burn in such a way that the smoke is intoxicating to the world around me? How can I use the prayer that "only" made my life better...to make others' lives better? How can I use to further God's glory and God's mission in the world? 

What does this holy fire let me do that I couldn't do before? And...what am I going to do with it? 

Monday, January 2, 2023

A Matter of Prayer

Have you ever wondered what happens to the prayers that you pray? 

Most of us imagine that they are carried by the Spirit directly into the throne room of God, where our righteousness and true need and His plan are all weighed out until a decision is made about whether we are worthy of the prayer we have prayed and then, according to His goodness, He answers us - with a yes, a no, or a not now. Something like that. 

We might as well just confess that we don't know what happens when we pray. We know what happens on our end of the conversation, but whatever happens after that is a mystery. Ah, yes, a holy mystery, the kind that God loves so much. 

But what if it's not? 

Tucked inside the Scriptures themselves is a beautiful portrait of what really happens to our prayers, and when we read these words, they ought to change the way that we pray. 

Turn in your Bible to Revelation 8, and read: 

Then another angel with a gold censer came and stood at the altar, and he was given a great quantity of incense so that he might mingle it with the prayers of all the saints on the altar of gold that stood before the throne. So the smoke of the incense went up before God from the angel's hand for the prayers of his people. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar, and emptied it upon the earth, and there followed peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake (vv. 3-5).

Think about that for a second. Think about all that is happening with the prayers that you have prayed as a person of God. 

Your prayer is taken into heaven, where it is mixed with a holy incense. It is an incense that God tells us about in the Old Testament, when He is giving Moses the instructions for worship and for the Tabernacle. It was against the rules to make this particular incense for anything other than worship, for anything other than use in the Tabernacle (and later, in the Temple). This is sacred incense. 

So your prayer becomes mixed with sacred incense, and it becomes heavenly worship. It becomes the kind of worship that the angels carry around in their smokers to spread through the heavens, to season the very air that eternity breathes. Your prayer becomes what so many of the Old Testament sacrifices are described as - an aroma pleasing to the Lord - and it literally fills the heavens. 

Then, once your prayers have gone up in worship, have gone up in holy incense, the very same censer, the very same container, is filled up with holy fire from the altar, it is filled up with the holy presence of God Himself, and poured out onto the earth, where the power of God shakes the foundations of the temporal world. 

Want to know how your prayer is answered? This is it. With holy fire that shakes the foundations of this temporal world. 

It's an incredible image, absolutely breathtaking. And it raises a really important question: 

If you knew that God was going to fill your prayer with holy fire and pour it back out on the earth, on the very place you live, on all of those you love...would you be praying the same way that you have been?

Confession: I wouldn't.