A Fork in the Road – Part Three

Paul the apostle had a life-changing encounter with the Lord while on his way to persecute believers. It was such a dramatic encounter that his name changed from Saul to Paul. Paul served the Lord from that day forward with his whole heart. With passion. He recorded his new approach to life in Colossians, chapter three and we call it “The Passion Principle.” It reads, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (verses 23-24 ESV).

Paul serves as a pattern for this passion in at least three areas. 

1> He shows us what it means to be sold-out, no-holds-barred servant of Christ

2> He is a model of the character of a passionate servant of Christ

3> He is a model or example of the ultimate goal of life – sharing Christ with others

We looked at the first one yesterday … let’s continue our journey into the truth of these verses and the passion with which Paul lived and we, as believers, are called to live every aspect of our daily life.

On December 1, 1955, a plainspoken African-American woman named Rose Parks boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to ride home – or so she thought. She, too, came to the fork in her road and a life changing and totally life-altering encounter. In her book, Quiet Strength, she wrote: “When I sat down on the bus that day, I had no idea history was being made — I was only thinking of getting home. But I had made up my mind. … I felt the Lord would give me the strength to endure whatever I had to face. It was time for someone to stand up — or in my case, sit down. So I refused to move.”

Though ordered by the bus driver to give her seat to a white man, Rosa Parks remained in her place. One thing led to another in her town and across the nation, and the legal conflict led to a ruling by the United States Supreme Court that racial segregation is unconstitutional.

Rosa Parks didn’t seek — and never claimed — credit for launching the civil rights movement. She only wanted to do what was right. She was passionate about generations of African-Americans who had been denied their God-given and constitutional status as equals among other Americans. She did something about it. A passion for others suffering wrong triggered in Ms. Parks a passion to do her part to make it right. That’s godly character making a positive difference in the lives of others.

I believe Paul would have approved of the stand (or the seat) Rosa Park took ad the suffering she was willing to endure for it. He cared a great deal about integrity. He didn’t want his words to be devalued or rejected because he failed to practice what he preached. He lived at a high standard of character so that his actions would enhance, not detract from, his message.

For example, as an apostle, Paul had the right to be financially supported by the churches that he served. It was a common, accepted practice among first-century Christians just as it is today — the congregation pays the minister by some means. Paul built a strong case for this protocol in 1 Corinthians 9:1-11. But instead of taking what was due, Paul worked on the side as a tentmaker to earn his own support, and many of those with him took other jobs as well. He didn’t want to be burden to the those he served, and he didn’t want anyone to wrongly construe that he was in the ministry for the money, bringing reproach on the gospel he preached. Paul was passionate about maintaining godly character so that nothing would “hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12).

Like an athlete in training, Paul knew he had to be in world-class condition and play by the rules or he would be the laughingstock of his event. If he was not passionate about developing strong, godly characters those who heard him would have every right to discount him and his message. And Paul was not about to let that happen.

Living totally committed to the Lordship of Christ includes pursuing godly character with passion. And since godly character is really the character of God forming in us, we must rely on the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit to help is become a person of righteousness and integrity who reflect Christ. As Paul explained in Galatians 5, character building is the process of saying no to the flesh while allowing the Holy Spirit to cultivate His character – pictured as fruit – in our life: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). That fruit grows from a life of passionate devotion to Christ. It grows when we do “all things as unto the Lord.” 

When the world sees that fruit, it opens its heart, suspends its disbelief, and is ready to hear our story; to hear our testimony and the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14 and Revelation 12:11).

A Fork in the Road – Part Two

Paul the apostle had a life-changing encounter with the Lord while on his way to persecute believers. It was such a dramatic encounter that his name changed from Saul to Paul. Paul served the Lord from that day forward with his whole heart. With passion. He recorded his new approach to life in Colossians, chapter three and we call it “The Passion Principle.” It reads, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (verses 23-24 ESV).

Paul serves as a pattern for this passion in at least three areas. 

1> He shows us what it means to be sold-out, no-holds-barred servant of Christ

2> He is a model of the character of a passionate servant of Christ

3> He is a model or example of the ultimate goal of life – sharing Christ with others

Paul – or Saul, as he was called then – was galloping along with his fellow persecutors, salivating at the prospect of dragging more Christians off to jail and maybe even to their death. Then suddenly — bam! — he was on the ground, blinded by a powerful light. A heavenly voice asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4).

Saul answered the question with one of his own: “Who are you, Lord?” (Verse 5). I’ve always thought it amazing that Saul answered his own question: “Who are you? Lord.” Those from the Jewish rabbinic tradition — which was Saul’s background – understood any voice from heaven to be the voice of God Himself. I think Saul knew before he even hit the ground that his life was about to change dramatically.

Nothing reveals more about how Paul saw himself after his conversion than the way he frequently identified himself: “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:1). Not “Paul, the famous apostle to the Gentiles.” Not “Paul the author of most of the New Testament epistles.” Just “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ” — period. 

When Paul met Jesus, he didn’t merely assent to the Christian faith. He voluntarily became Jesus’s bondservant. He gave the Lord everything he was and everything he had – his life and breath; his past, present, and future; his hopes and dreams; his passion for living.

Paul’s voluntary servitude to his Lord is even more significant in light of the culture’s laws concerning slaves. In those times it was common for poor people to sell themselves to the wealthy as slaves. In exchange for their labour they received room and board, and, if the master was kind, others benefits. For these people, being enslaved and fed was more acceptable than being free and starving.

Before Paul was born, Roman law stated that no Roman citizen who had been born free could be enslaved. But some unscrupulous people were taking advantage of this law for their own profit. For example, a working-class Roman citizen (we’ll call him Marcus) sells himself as a slave into the employ of a wealthy, unwitting Roman landowner. Sometime after the deal has been done and the money exchanged, Marcus’s accomplish, Gaius, approaches the landowner with papers proving Marcus’s Roman citizenship. “Too bad, mister,” says Gaius, “but Marcus is a citizen and, by law, cannot be enslaved. If you don’t release him immediately, I’ll call the authorities.” Marcus and Gaius take the money and run, and there’s nothing the hapless landowner can do about it. The two men are free to con other wealthy Romans in some other area of the empire. 

Due to the adverse effect of this scam on the Roman economy, a new law was enacted just before Paul came on the scene. The law stated that any citizen that sold himself into slavery could no longer claim free status — not ever. This new law closed the loop-hole. Voluntary slaves became permanent, lifetime slaves with no recourse for freedom. It was with this backdrop that Paul, a Roman citizen, gave himself to Jesus as a servant for life. Paul was so passionate about serving Christ that he signed himself over once and for all. He lived what the hymn writer so eloquently declared: “The world behind me, the cross before me; no turning back, no turning back.”

Being a Jew, the apostle Paul was also keenly aware of Mosaic legislation concerning voluntary slavery. The Law allowed a slave who truly loved his master to declare upon being set free, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free” (Exodus 21:5). The Jewish slave who remained in voluntary submission to his master bore an identify mark: “His master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever (verse 6). Similarly, Paul, having suffered extensively in the passionate service of his master wrote, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Galatians 6:17)

The life of passion for the Christian begins with total surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, It is through presenting yourself to the Master voluntarily, unreservedly, and permanently that you unleash the power of the passionate life. This then becomes your fork in the road.

And, it is the ultimate fork in your road. You are a slave; you are a human sacrifice laid voluntarily upon the alter. You die to the old life so that you may be reborn to the new, wide-open life of Christ and all His power. You die in order to live, you become a slave in order to be free, and you give away the world in order to gain your soul.

More next time….

A Fork in the Road – Part One

General Lew Wallace was travelling by train when he came to his fork in the road. How can that happen when one is travelling on railroad tracks? It happens within. One moment can change more than your life; it can alter your eternity.

Wallace was casually chatting with a colonel named Ingersoll as the train steamed along. Neither of the two men counted himself as a Christian, but that day they were discussing the life of Jesus. Wallace said, “Myths and superstitions aside, I think His life would make a great novel.”

Ingersoll immediately said, “I should say so, and you’re just the man to write it. Once and for all, throw out all the hocus-pocus and show Him to be the plain, common man he undoubtedly was — a good man, but no more than that.”

General Wallace took the advice. But somewhere along the journey of writing, his book took a fork in the road. So did the tone of his life. The more he read, the more he studied, and the more he reflected on the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the more convinced he became that Jesus was no plain, common man at all. Truly this was the Son of God. Wallace began in cynicism and finished in worship. His book, Ben Hur, has become a classic. 

Frank Morrison was travelling in elite legal circles when he came to his fork in the road. He was a bright, articulate lawyer who started out with a passion to debunk the “resurrection myth” forever — and he completed his work with another passion entirely. He agreed with the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes that if the facts of a mystery are examined logically and every possible explanation is systematically eliminated, the one that remains must be the explanation, no matter how absurd or illogical it seems. Morison engaged in what his profession called “discovery of evidence” and came to the conclusion that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day, beyond any doubt. The book he wrote, Who Moved the Stone?, is still a classic defence of the Resurrection.

But there is a third writer more extraordinary than either of these two — and at least this one, when he came to his fork in the road, was actually on a road! His name is Saul, and passion coursed through his veins in a way the world has seldom seen. As a kind of ecclesiastical hit man for the Hebrew religious establishment, he sought out Christians and persecuted them with ruthless, uncompromising commitment. When he made the same discovery as Frank Morison and Lew Wallace — that the One he persecuted was, in fact, the Lord of life — he rose from the dust and travelled along a new road for the rest of his life.

It was Paul who gave us the passion principle in Colossians 3:23-24…

“Put your heart and soul into every activity you do, as though you are doing it for the Lord himself and not merely for others. For we know that we will receive a reward, an inheritance from the Lord, as we serve the Lord Yahweh, the Anointed One!” (TPT)

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (ESV)

For him, “whatever you do” was reaching the lost for Christ. Evangelism was at the core of every thought, word, and deed. Paul serves as a pattern for passion in at least three areas. First, he shows what it means to be sold-out, no-holds-barred servant of Christ. Second, he is a model of the character of a passionate servant of Christ. Third, he is a model of the ultimate goal in life — sharing Christ with others

Over the next few days, let’s soak up all we can from the remarkable story of the apostle known as Paul. Let’s look at the example he left us after reaching his life-changing fork in the road.

God Is Watching You! – Part Two

Yesterday we saw that we are to be doing all things as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24). When we do so we will do things with extreme passion as we know the Lord is watching everything we do. And, we looked at the parable of the sheep and goats and saw that we are to treat all people with dignity, respect, and lots of love. And to do it passionately because we are doing it “onto the Lord.”

This principle is, of course, fondly known as the golden rule, and we see Jesus mentioning this in Luke 6:31-38 in The Message version.

“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behaviour: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.

“I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind.

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”

It would be wonderful to live that way, but how is it done? The golden rule sounds simple but proves difficult to live by. What is the secret to handling people as Jesus says we must handle them? For Brother Lawrence (see blog for July 28, 2020), it was an all-day, every-hour, wide-open passionate and personal intimate relationship with God. He experienced more joy in the kitchen than anyone with a million-dollar allowance at the world’s finest luxury resort — because Brother Lawrence was with God, and that showed him to pots and pans, and fellow monks in the monastery, in a whole new light. It enabled him to live by the golden rule.

We are empowered to live a truly passionate life when serving God is the object behind everything we do. Our passion is diluted when we live only to gratify self or win the approval and acceptance of others. Peter and the other apostles of the early church made it clear who was at the center of their activities: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The passionate ministry of those dedicated leaders resulted in thousands of people turning to Christ and the establishment of the early church.

Paul wrote, “Do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). Remember, Paul had been a very successful Pharisee, a well-educated man, a Roman citizen with every privilege that status entailed. Yet he gave it all up to follow his passion for Jesus Christ. He was consumed with that passion, and it gave him joy in every circumstance — even while sitting in prison or waiting for slow legal appeals when he wanted to be travelling and preaching. “To live is Christ,” Paul said, “and to die is again” (Philippians 1:21). There is no reason that you and I cannot live with such an unsinkable view of reality. And, to live that reality with passion. Embracing every day, engaging every person, living life with enthusiasm and expectancy. 

This is how a Christian is to live. And we need to remember that God is truly watching everything that we do and hears everything that we say. So, let’s made a decision right now and choose to live life passionately and for an audience of one – God, our Heavenly Father. 

God Is Watching You! – Part One

David Seamands, author and professor, tells a story about his seminary’s cafteria, which shared facilities with a college campus. One day, as the students moved through the lunch line, they found a basket of bright red apples. A sign places by the staff read, “Take only one please — God is watching.” The students progressed through the line, selected their courses, and reached the other end, where they found a box of broken cookies. There was another sign, this one hastily scrawled on notebook paper, clearly left by a student. This one read, “Take as many as you want. God is watching the apples.”

We chuckle because we understand that God is watching indeed, but He has no blind spot. He is watching the apples, the cookies, and everything else. Most of all, God is watching us. How often do we consider that fact? How much of a difference would it make in the lives of you, your family, your friends, and your coworkers if you lived with that message in mind all the time: God is watching. Perhaps you would find that to be a crushing burden. But perhaps, if you knew who God really is and understood His love and His grace, you would instead live passionately and on purpose. 

If God is watching — and smiling upon you — then you would want to please Him every moment. If God is watching — and love that hurting person in the next cubicle at work — then you would want to minister to that person because you know that is what God wants you to do.

The apostle Paul knew that Gof is watching. He challenged us in Colossians 3:23-24 to do everything passionately, “as to the Lord and not to men.” We work as to the Lord at the office, but that’s only the beginning. We work to the Lord while grouting the bathroom tile. We work as to the Lord when we stand to sing in church and when we change a diaper in the church nursery. There is no task in this world you cannot perform with passion, as long as you remember who that task is really for and all that He has already done for you. How you do it will reflect how you feel about your Master.

Brother Lawrence is a well-known monk even thought he lived in seventeenth-century Paris, France. He lived with a group of Carmelite monks. He was no deep thinker or learned theologian. But he had a very special gift: an understanding that God was with him everywhere. That transformed everything about Brother Lawrence, and his writings on the subject have transformed countless others. 

This particular monk, you see, was assigned to the kitchen. He cooked and cleaned for his Carmelite bothers. Kitchen drudgery? Not to him. Scouring every pot and rinsing every dish were extensions of his worship and service to God, as important as any other task in the monastery. He would pray, “Lord of all pots and pans and things … make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates!” He would tell others, “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.” He called it practicing the presence of God, and we could all use a little practice of that kind.

In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus illustrated how our passionate good deeds go much further than the people for whom we do them. God, pictured in the story as a great king, says to his righteous servants: “… ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me’” Matthew 25:34-36 ESV)

The servants are puzzled. Their master has never suffered in any of these ways. They ask him to remind them when he, a king, was ever hungry, thirsty, lonely, or naked. And he replies,   

“‘Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:40 MSG.)

It’s interesting that Jesus uses down-and-outers to illustrate that passionate service to others is, in fact, ministry to Him. Perhaps because we find it difficult to serve people who are dirty, disrespectful, or potentially dangerous to us; it’s easier to be passionate about helping people who we consider deserving. But as Jesus explained in the Sermon on the Mount, it’s not up to us to make those kinds of evaluations. As long as the one who crosses our path is one who was created and loved by God, then we can be certain we must serve and love him too. And however we would wish to be treated, we can be certain were must treat that person the same way.  

More next time…

The Pursuit of Happiness

When I was growing up I loved to listen to the old 78 rpm records that my Mom and Dad had in their record collection. One in particular was my favourite: The Bluebird of Happiness by Jo Stafford (You Tube: https://youtu.be/af8oPFjzs2s).

It seems that today people are puzzled about where exactly the bluebird of happiness makes her nest, because all around us are passionless lives, lives idling in neutral, and lives out of focus. Deep down in our soul, we feel that there must be more to life than we are currently experiencing. It seems that life should be lived in fourth gear and we are still in first gear. Some live in reverse. From a distance they have caught sight of the exotic quality called passion, exhibited by certain characters from books or in the movies and, every so often, someone we meet in the real world. 

Years ago I made the decision to live each day fully. To grab hold of each day early in the morning and live every minute with passion. You know, get involved, be engaged, make life happen, don’t just let life happen to you. Be pro-active and not reactive. Live with enthusiasm. Grab the tiger by the tail and swing it for all it’s worth. Don’t settle for what is. Be excited. Anticipate, Live with enthusiasm, engaged fully.

It seems today that people don’t live life with a sense of excitement and anticipation. Not even the Christians who. you would think. would be passionate about life considering al that Jesus has done for them. 

So the question: How do we bring real, living excitement into this life? Not some cheap, store-bought, amusement park-simulated excitement — we want the genuine article. And, an excitement and enthusiasm that lasts, not a high gained through alcohol, sex, or drugs. What is there that could possibly make us eager to leap out of bed in the morning, filled with laser-intense purpose, exhilarated about the prospect of another twenty-four hours in earth?

We would like to know, because many of us are not living a life wide-open, full throttle. Not by a long stretch. We’re closed shut. We are passion-impaired, though we have surpluses of longing, yearning, hopelessness, loneliness, and purposelessness. Maybe we can remember the times when our blood was really pumping, when our heart was skipping beats, and when it seemed there was some purpose we were reaching toward with everything in us. But that was long ago, history. So, we long for a time, when we can live and experience the passion and purpose of a full life. 

As I read about the life and ministry of Jesus I see a life lived wide open. I see a man who embraced each day and lived each day to the fullest. I see Jesus engaged and interacting with the people He meets. I see that He is open, real, honest, connected, transparent, and even vulnerable. His teachings are meant to liberate us and free us to be totally ourselves. To no longer fear being the real you. The words spoken from His heart, when taken seriously and applied, totally transforms the way you see and live your existence and your purpose. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth held the key to ultimate power for living — more important, He is the key. 

As we walk with Him through the pages of Scripture we enter a passionate journey — a quest for all the riches of living in the presence of a God who absolutely, unconditionally, passionately, adores you and wants only the best and the most for you. As we watch Jesus live life. As we listen to His words which are life. As we apply His teachings to our every day life. As we allow Him to change us, transform us, fill us … we will no longer live a passionless life. We will, with Him, engage and embrace each day as a serious and wonderful gift from the Lord and follow Him as He leads and guides us through each day. When we do this we will no longer be passion-impaired. We will no longer wonder where happiness is found. We will live life with gusto and in fast-forward, excited about each and every opportunity and challenge that life brings our way. Jesus is the key. 

Why not pick up your Bible and study the life and ministry of Jesus (read the New Testament books called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Read with more than your mind – engage with the heart. Listen with the heart. See how He lived and listen to His words as He relates to others, as He teaches the multitudes, and as He shares more intimately with His twelve disciples. As you read, pause to feel what He is feeling; think about what He is saying; engage with the words, embracing the truths. If you will take the time to immerse yourself in the life and ministry of Jesus you will slowly be transformed and find yourself living with passion and purpose as never before. 

Forget the Bluebird of Happiness. Jesus is the key!

Monkeys Can Teach Us a Lot

Scientists once conducted a very illuminating experiment. In the middle of a room, they hung a bushel of fresh bananas half-way up a pole. They they let four moneys loose in the room. Immediately the hungry monkeys dashed toward the bright yellow bananas. As they climbed the pole, one of the scientists blasted the moneys with ice-cold water.

The moneys backed off, regrouped, then made a second attempt. As they started to climb the pole, once again they received the discouraging dousing. After several unsuccessful attempts, the monkeys became convinced that failure was inevitable and finally stopped trying.

The next day, the researchers removed one of the four monkeys and replaced him with a new monkey. What did the rookie do? He went straight for the bananas. But before he even reached the pole, the three veterans pulled him away. Undeterred the new monkey tried again. Again his compassionate roommates intervened. At last he gave up and adopted their fatalistic attitude.

Each day, the scientists replaced one of the original monkeys with a new one. By the fifth day, four moneys occupied the room, none of whom had ever been sprayed with cold water. From that day forward, whenever a new monkey was traded in, the others would prevent him from going for the bananas …without even knowing why. Four had failed, and then they conditioned the novices to not even try.

This happens a lot in life, doesn’t it? Someone gets hurt in a relationship and tells everyone else, “Don’t risk the pain. Stay single.” Someone wounded by a Christian spreads the word: “Christians are hypocrites. Don’t trust them.” A teenager makes some bad decisions, and his parents advise a younger couple, “Don’t have kids. They’ll wreck your lives.” To avoid potential failure and pain, people abort their dreams. They stop trying.

The lesson: Don’t let fear of failure make a monkey out of you. 

(Sorry about that. I couldn’t resist.) 

The lesson: Just because someone else had a certain experience, learn from it but don’t let it stop you from moving forward in your life.

The lesson: “God has not given to us a spirit of fear” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV).

The lesson: Sometimes the ones you hang out with will hold you back.

The lesson, There is not always wisdom in a group of peers.

The lesson: Be careful who you hang out with.

Truth Quest or Happiness Quest?

In life we often make fairly stupid decisions. They don’t appear stupid in the immediate but in the long-term they turn out to be rather stupid decisions that take us where we don’t want to go and never intended to be. 

Our problem rarely stems from a lack of information or insight. It’s something else. Something we don’t outgrow. Something that another academic degree won’t resolve. Our problem stems from the fact that we are not on a truth quest. That is, we don’t wake up every morning with a burning desire to know what’s true, what’s right, what’s honourable. We are on a happiness quest. We want to be – as in feel – happy. And our quest for happiness often trumps our appreciation for and pursuit of what’s true.

Now, I can understand why you may take exception to that. But stay with me for just a minute or two while I talk it through with you. 

Let’s start with the coffee drinkers – and I am one. What is that all about? My coffee of choice costs me about six dollars a cup. That’s ridiculous. Inexcusable in light of the needs in the world today. That’s $132.00 a month if you skip weekends. I could do a lot in the Kingdom with that amount of money invested monthly in a worthy cause. What’s wrong with me? Well, I’m on a happiness quest. And a Hot Mocha Venti coffee contributes to my happiness. 

If you have perfectly good clothes you never wear hanging in your closet but you plan to do a little shopping later this week, what’s that about? Why would you buy more clothes when you don’t wear the ones you have? Answer: Because when you wear something new and stylish, you feel better about yourself. Happy. When you put on last year’s model, you feel a bit last-yearish. Unhappy. And you don’t want to feel that way. So when you head to the mall, you aren’t simply shopping for clothes. You are in search of the happy feeling that comes with looking good.

Have you ever traded in (or accidentally dropped) a perfectly good cell phone for a newer model? Do you own an iPhone? Did you spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy trying to finagle your way out of your old contract so that you could get a specific phone your carrier didn’t provide? Have you carried two contracts for a while because you just couldn’t wait?

We could talk about a new car or truck. But, you get my point. As smart as we are and as aware as we are that life is connected and that decisions today shape the experiences of tomorrow’s we still don’t wake up in the morning in search of truth, insight, and enlightenment. We get up and do the things that make us feel happy. We are all on a happiness quest. And I don’t think that is necessarily wrong. Fortunately, there is a great deal of overlap between doing what’s right and wise and doing what makes us happy. 

You may love to exercise and exercising makes you happy. That is a good thing because exercise is good for you. But, on the other hand, chocolate makes you happy as well. Happier than exercise. Pursuing that happy-path every day would not be a good thing. It is these forks in the road that make thing complicated. It is these kinds of distinctions that make life a bit complicated. When happiness points in one direction while wisdom, truth, integrity, and common sense point in another, that’s when really smart people start doing really stupid things. That’s when the happiness quest becomes dangerous. 

This (the happiness quest) is the underlying reason we intentionally choose (make decisions) that will not take us where we ultimately want to go, regardless of our IQ. And, as believers and disciples of Jesus, you and I need to give serious thought to the decisions we make and the place that those decisions will take us. We need to determine which is more important in our life – truth or happiness. And, then make wise decisions taking us in the right direction to honouring God in all that we do and say, our entire lifestyle. Then we will embrace truth and actually find true happiness that can only be found in Jesus. 

Bold Prayers

Every time I read the Book of Acts and the history of the early church recorded there, I am amazed at the boldness of the believers. They lived boldly, prayed boldly, preached and shared boldly. 

Peter and John were preaching and teaching and healing, all in the Name of Jesus, and seeing unbelievable results. Peter preached boldly and called a group of people a corrupt generation, then told them to repent and be baptized in the Name of Jesus. And miraculously, three thousand people were born into the family of God. Then, Peter and John travelled along and, at a gate called Beautiful outside the temple in Jerusalem, came across a guy who had been lame for forty years. And they boldly said, “Pick up your mat, walk.” And he did.

The Jewish religious leaders, in a council called the Sanhedrin, were disturbed because these guys were outside the box of the religious merit system they controlled. Consequently, they arrested Peter and John, put them on trial, and asked, “Where did you get this kind of power and authority? By what name are you doing these things?”

In a move as bold as it gets, Peter and John said, “Let us state clearly, we are doing this in the Name of Jesus Christ, the man that your crucified, but whom God raised from the dead.”

The religious leaders would have loved to keep them in prison, or perhaps even kill them for what they were doing. But because the lame man had been healed, they couldn’t risk a public riot since so many had seen the miracle. Against their wishes, they had to release Peter and John.

This is where we pick up the point of praying bold prayers. “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them…Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness…. After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”  (Acts 4:23-24, 29, 31)

If they had been fearful, Peter and John could have returned to home base and reported, “Whew, that was a close one! They threatened us, so we can never speak in Jesus’ Name again.” No, instead, their response was like a high-octane, old-fashioned revival service.

“When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” Wow, I love this response! There’s something incredibly powerful when believers come together, especially in the face of adversity, and lift up their hearts in prayer to God. Under extraordinary persecution, they came together as one voice and prayed boldly to their Father.

They begin by addressing Him as “Sovereign Lord,” signalling their awareness of His power and authority not just over them but over the Sanhedrin, the city, the whole world, and beyond. It’s not as if God needed them to remind Him that He’s in charge. No, these believers were putting themselves in the right position of worship to a holy God. It’s almost like they were reminding themselves, “God, you are Supreme over all.”

Then they pray one of the boldest requests ever uttered: We’re going to pray for boldness. We are going to ask God to make us bolder. In their prayer they refer to threats, and we don’t know specifically which threats they were talking about. We can only assume it was the threats of being beaten, put in prison, and killed. But instead of praying for protection and safety and a strong defence against their persecutors, they guys prayed, “Lord, enable Your servants to speak Your Word with great boldness.”

Now, if I’m looking on as an objective bystander, I’m likely thinking, “Isn’t boldness what got you arrested the first time?” I mean, how much bolder can you be, right? If it were up to me, I’d advice them to lay low with the whole Jesus thing for a while. Let things cool down and then take it nice and easy and see who’s friendly and who’s not. 

Good thing it wasn’t up to me. 

Let me ask you: have you ever prayed for God to make you bolder? For most of us, myself included, this is a radical, other-centered prayer. Boldness typically doesn’t help me or make my life easier. It usually only requires more from me than I’m comfortable giving. Boldness is for the benefit of someone else, to help them know the love of God through Jesus Christ. When we’re used to praying mostly egocentric, self-focused prayers, it can be very unsettling to pray for boldness. And yet, if we are the live from our truest identity in Christ, then we must think of others and pray for the boldness to share with them the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Bold praying will automatically lead you to bold living. And, God desires that we live all of life boldly, expectant, anticipating what He is about to do because we prayed boldly and in great faith. 

Your Prayers Show Us Your God

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”

And, we need to take a look at our prayers as there is no better mirror for your theology than the content of your prayers. What you pray for reflects what you believe about God. What you pray for or what you don’t pray for, reflects what you believe about who God is, what His character is like, and His disposition towards us, His children. It’s as if the words we use in our prayers are like pieces of mirrored glass, each one reflecting our beliefs about the one we’re addressing. 

For example, if you don’t pray at all, you likely don’t believe in God or don’t believe He answers prayer. If you pray very small prayers all the time, you probably don’t believe in a God who answers big prayers. If almost all of your prayers are for yourself and your own well-being — “bless me, help me, comfort me, be with me” — then this reflects your belief that God is there to serve you. People who hold this belief, whether they admit it or not, often end up getting angry and disgruntled if God doesn’t give them what they asked for.

The specific language we use when we pray says a lot about what we believe about God as well. For example, when someone is facing a tough situation and they exhaust all possibilities of resolving the problem themselves, they say, “Well, now all we can do now is pray!” If prayer for you is a last resort, this reflects what you believe about God.

Can’t you just see God up in Heaven saying, “So you’re down to prayer now? You mean it’s all up to Me? Well, no pressure! Thanks a lot for waiting until the last minute, like I don’t have a trillion other prayers to answer before breakfast.” I’m not trying to be irreverent here, I’m only trying to illustrate that what you say when you pray clearly reflects what you believe about God. 

Take a moment right now and think back over what you prayed last week. If your first thought is, “Well, I don’t think I really prayed for anything last week,” then I think that speaks for itself. If you can’t really remember what you prayed for, what does that say about your belief in God? Is He just as forgettable?

Maybe you’re saying, “Oh yeah, I prayed last week. I prayed for this, and then for that, and then some more of this and some of that.” As you think through what and who you prayed for last week, I encourage you to jot down at least three or four of your requests. Now, as you look over your prayer list, ask yourself this question: if God answered yes to all of your prayers last week, if He just miraculously granted everything you prayed for, what would be different in the world today?

Think about it. If God answered everything that you prayed for last week, what would be different in the world today? Chances are pretty good that if you prayed like most people in our culture, the only things that would be different would be in your immediate surroundings. 

No matter what we prayed for last week, I’m convinced that if we really want to make a big difference in this life, we must learn to pray some very bold and big prayers. Prayers that will more adequately display who God really is and what we believe about Him. Remember, and this is my point, “What you pray for reflects what you believe about God.” There’s no better mirror for someone’s theology than the content of their prayers.