4 Things to Stop Doing in Prayer

Transform your prayer life by eliminating these 4 types of problematic prayers.

15-minute Audio. 12-minute Read.

 

For every Christian, prayer is a vital ingredient to a robust faith and relationship with God. If you want to transform your faith, you can start by taking a look at your prayers. Prayer is both our starting battleground and our place of worship. With prayer, we contend for one another; we rally for the Kingdom, and we deepen our intimacy with Christ.

Our prayers also act as a mirror, reflecting what we believe about God, and ourselves. We can pray from a position of doubt and lack, or we can pray from a place of Truth and authority. Prayer is meant to be powerful enough to move mountains, but sadly, many of the prayers echoing through our church walls today are laced with lies and uncertainties.

Below are four things to stop doing in prayer, and ways to pray powerful prayers instead

#1 Petitioning for Proximity and Permanence (ie God be near me, God stay with me)

In popular culture, it’s not uncommon for relationships to exist somewhere on a sliding continuum of together and separate, creating enough sparks of uncertainty to fuel entire albums of musical expression. Just listen to pop radio for a few minutes, and your ears will be flooded with lyrical stories about the whole spectrum of proximity. For example, we have titles such as…

  • Closer” by the Chainsmokers and “Far Away” by Nickelback 
  • “Next to You” by Justin Bieber and “Without You” Avicii
  • “Contigo” by Enrique Iglesias and “Donde Estas Corazon?” Shakira  

 In addition to the desire for close proximity, the longing for relational permanence, is so universal, that there’s a particular one-word wish that Sam Smith, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Zedd, and Alessia Cara have each dropped an individual title about. And that word is…“STAY.”   

Despite the romantic sounding melodies, the hidden commonality across all these songs is an undeniable fear of loss. You wouldn’t sing your heart out asking for someone to stay unless there was also a possibility they might leave.

Thankfully, our relationship with God isn’t like that because we’re inseparable for eternity. But unfortunately, some of our prayers sound just as insecure as a top 40 pop song, and we pray from a place of spiritual separation anxiety. 

Perhaps you ask God to stay with you as you drive Tioga Pass in the icy conditions, or maybe you ask God to be near you when your significant other is as far away as a Nickelback song. Or maybe, you feel so distant from God, that you just sent out the official smoke signal prayer crying “God, where are you?”

We hear prayers like this so often that they almost sound normal, but asking for God’s close proximity or his presence forever, perpetuate two core lies about Him.

  • The first is that God exists separate from you.  
  • The second is that he could leave you at any time.
  • The Truth is that God lives IN you, and you are united with Him in spirit. (1st Corinthians 3).

His word says He will never leave you or forsake you and that nothing can separate you from his love. Internalizing these truths will radically transform the way you pray and live. Declare them, and know that you are never alone.

# 2 Asking for What You Already Have

Now that you’re fully aware of God living inside of you, it’s important to know what that entails. You have been given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, and everything pertaining to life and godliness. And yet, it’s possible, to live spiritually asleep and starve while sitting at a feast. Consider the refrigerator analogy.

You and your spouse just moved into your new mid-town apartment. After surviving off of delivery pizza for several weeks, you decide to surprise them one day by stocking the fridge with all of their random favorite foods during your lunch break. You fill the shelves with chocolate covered acai power-berries, sugar snap peas, and triple strength cold brew coffee. Then you write a detailed love note about what’s inside, tape it to the fridge, and drive back to work giddy with anticipation for their reaction. But several hours later, much to your dismay, your phone lights up with a discouraged, hangry, text message. 

“Spouse, I feel so weak. I just ask that you go to the grocery store. Get me power berries. Give me peas. I need triple strength cold brew.  If you are willing, please provide for me. xoxo”

How heartbreaking. You are willing to provide, but your spouse is either unaware of the food — because they haven’t read the note — or they have read it, but they refuse to eat, or they simply don’t know how to open containers and use utensils.

As ridiculous as that text message may seem, many of us pray in a similar manner. Our spiritual fridge, so to speak, is stuffed with blessings and fruits of the spirit, but if we don’t open it, our prayers will originate from a place of emptiness, as though these blessings exist somewhere outside of us far beyond our reach. For example, you might pray:

  • Give me patience when there is horrendous traffic outside Golden One Center.”
  • “Give me peace when the pedestrians are unruly”
  • “Give me the strength to obey the speed limit when it is as slow as the pedestrians.”

It turns out, you already have peace, patience, and strength. Before asking God for something you think you lack, take inventory of what you have. In Christ, you are fully equipped, complete and lacking in nothing. You have been given every spiritual blessing—including love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control, and yes, even patience, during Golden One Center traffic chaos.

Start from a foundation of gratitude, declaring His promises before sprinting to your complaints and requests. For example, instead of asking God for more power, thank God that the same power which rose Jesus from the dead lives in you, and ask Him to show you how to use it.

#3 Asking for Forgiveness…Over and Over

Asking God for forgiveness is not a sin, but the belief that we have unforgiven sins is. God calls us to trust Him, and our trust is revealed in the way we pray. We can pray in thanksgiving that He is faithful and just to forgive, or we can beg for forgiveness for the same sin, over and over, out of worry that we’re not covered by the blood of Jesus. Let’s take a look at the student debt analogy.

Angie, a freshman at a prestigious and pricey liberal arts college, takes out sixty thousand dollars in loans, to pay her tuition bill that year. Angie has angst. Drowning in debt, 20 units of coursework, and her on-campus job, she strives and struggles just to keep her head above water. But one day, she gets a call from the financial office announcing that a donor would like to pay off her current debt and fund the rest of her degree in full. Unlike most grants, this gift isn’t even merit-based.

You would guess Angie would feel ecstatic and walk around with a buoyancy in her step, just in knowing that she’s saved by the crushing weight of student debt and higher education inflation. But Angie still has angst and walks around campus with a weight of guilt as heavy as her 20 unit class load backpack. She can’t quite wrap her mind around the gift —she has to process it  and she doesn’t believe she deserves to go to school debt free. Thus, instead of accepting the generosity, she calls the financial office after every class to apologize for the cost of her education, the burden she is on the institution, and to triple check about whether her next semester is still covered. The administration office is kind, but Angie’s calls get old after a while because her debts have been deleted from the records. Whats the College/Cross connection?

When Jesus died on the cross, He forgave us our sins, past, present, and future. Yet many Christians, like angsty Angie, have trouble accepting His radical grace and thus ask for forgiveness over and over. In prayer, they sit glued to mental movies of their top ten sins of the week, making sure to replay the worst parts in slow motion for God — as though this is more honoring to Him. It’s not.

When we sin, the book of acts instructs us to “repent and turn to God, so our sins may be wiped out.” So the next time you catch yourself sinning, turn off the slow-mo sin jumbotron, and turn towards the God instead. Then remember, He will remember your sins no more.

# 4 Constantly Using the Word “JUST”  

The word just is used so often in prayer, these days, that it has become somewhat of the spiritual version of ‘um.’  It can be used with fine intent or as mere filler, but prayers peppered with “just” should serve as a warning light on the dashboard of your beliefs. And it’s more than just a grammar issue. Consider the following reasons we use just in everyday speech.

  1. To make an apologetic introduction “Sorry to bother you but, just wanted to check in. I’m just wondering when will you respond to my email.”
  2. To depreciate yourself: “There’s nothing special about me. I’m just a mom, who’s just a sinner saved by grace.”
  3. To minimize a request: Can you just edit all the slides for next week’s presentation? And then just tie up all the loose ends? 
  4. To downplay a situation: It’s not a big deal, I’m just sad. And I’m not sick, I just have mononucleosis.

Keeping that list in mind, take a look at the following prayer.

“God we just come before you now and just lift up Caroline. We just ask you just heal her fractured femurs. God, we just need you to just show up during her operation, and just give divine hand-eye coordination to the surgeons. We just love you. Amen.”

This prayer might fly under the radar at Sunday small group, but it sounds nothing like how Jesus prayed.  In the gospels when Jesus calmed the storm, he did not say “Umm, just settle down just a bit.” No, he prayed with a bold and direct command, saying, “Quiet! Be still.”

If you feel the need to downplay your situation or diminish the difficulty of your requests when talking to God,  you may need a reminder about who you are, and WHOSE you are. The Bible calls you a child of God, a friend of God, and a co-heir with Christ seated in Heavenly realms. As to how we should approach God, then, Hebrews 4:16 says “Let us approach the throne with confidence.”

It’s important that we pray with confidence, because faith is confidence in what we hope for, and assurance in what we cannot see. Just, is rarely a confident word. The stingy and vague nature of just-filled prayers insinuate the lies that we are a burden to God and that he can’t handle our requests.

The truth, however, is that nothing is impossible for Christ. He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. Don’t hold back. Cast your heaviest burdens on Him. Make your prayers specific, outrageous, and bold. And when it comes to just, just stop.

Action Plan Summary 

Instead of asking God to be near you or stay with you, declare that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit, and forever united with God.

Instead of asking for what you already have, pray in thanksgiving for the blessings He has given, and ask God to teach you how to use them.

Instead of repeatedly asking for forgiveness, repent, turn, and praise Jesus that His death on the cross was sufficient for ALL sins.

Finally, instead of praying timidly, using just as every other word, pray with confidence. Thank God for what is already done in Heaven, and declare His will to be done on earth.

Sources: Stop Praying Powerless Prayers” Sermon by Eric Knopf from Epic Life

 

 

 

The Do’s and Don’ts of Dating and Singleness

Six practical tips on how to honor God and run an excellent race during your single days.

Introduction

If there’s one Bible verse that Christian singles hear referenced more than any other, it’s Hebrews 12.

“Sad about being single?” says your well-intended married friend. “Don’t worry. Just run after God, and fix your eyes on Jesus!”

Now, it’s possible, the last time someone recommended taking a run after God as a panacea for your painful and unwanted season of singleness, the insight provided new clarity, and you said, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” But maybe, if you’re like me, you nodded politely and thought “Sounds nice. What does that mean, exactly?”

I used to think “fixing my eyes on Jesus” meant staring at my Bible Gateway app screen to the point of clinical eye strain. And likewise, that “running after God” looked like a more frenetic church schedule, with unblemished attendance to the kind of Bible studies that discussed the meaning of meek in Greek. After seeking more understanding, however, I discovered the Bible’s references to running and relationships, are far richer with wisdom.

Looking again at Hebrews in more detail, the verse says: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Regardless of relationship status, we are all running the race at this very moment. In the rest of the article, I’ll offer some thoughts specifically to those who are single or dating, on ways to run the race well.

Starting with what not to do.

# 1 DON’T MAKE MARRIAGE YOUR STARTING LINE

During college, I ran track and specialized in the 5k and 10k races. In the traditional order of events, the distance races don’t start until the end of the day, which makes each track meet a long day of waiting, and also begs the question: “What does a runner do with all that lead-up time?” And the honest answer is,

Absolutely nothing.

First of all, other than skip around the warmup meadow, you can’t really do anything physical, because you’re supposed to save your body for the race. But it turns out, you can’t do much mentally either since just thinking about the race messes with your brain and makes you lightheaded. So instead, you fill the hours with distracting time killers and participate in the following 8 activities.

  1. Sip coffee
  2. Do easy homework, just to make yourself busy.
  3. Apply waterproof mascara, and re-braid your hair 3 times.
  4. Analyze the competition and conclude that their new microfiber red spandex uniforms might help them win.
  5. Visualize the ideal race.
  6. Worry about injury, especially if you’ve been hurt on the track before.
  7. Eat a series of small snacks, like grapes and granola, which taste fine, but aren’t really satisfying, and just whet your appetite more.
  8. Cheer for friends in their earlier events and try not to feel jealous or annoyed as they saunter around taking pictures of their finisher’s medals.

Basically, the entire day is a big lead up to the moment when you march to the starting line, cast off your sweatpants, and gallop into the twilight.

  • A foolish runner expends so much anxious energy anticipating the race, that they have little reserves left over to put up a good fight during the race itself.
  • A wise runner accepts waiting is just a part of the sport.

The Problem with the Starting Line

As singles, if we make marriage the starting line, and believe the “real race” has not yet begun, then we grant ourselves permission to delay important work God has for us. We are already running, and there is too large of a gap between earth and heaven to disqualify ourselves from meeting the needs of the world.

That said, if God calls your name on the loudspeaker (or the still small voice speaker) and tells you to use your gifts and talents in a specific area—be it school systems, sustainable city gardens, or startup companies—it can’t wait on your event calendar, and you must go.

# 2 DON’T MAKE MARRIAGE YOUR FINISH LINE 

One of the lesser-known truths about runners is that they are a bimodal species of people, who oscillate between strenuous training, and shameless laziness. Take a cross country championship race day, for instance. At the smoke of the gun, you run relentlessly, over steep hills and through freezing rain, in a valiant pursuit of one goal: get to the finish line as fast as possible. Alas, you cross the line, and what happens next?

Well not much. You feel pretty useless, although you will manage to do the following 8 activities.

  1. Mingle around the finishing corral reception area
  2. Give celebration hugs
  3. Line up for team photos
  4. Eat a feast
  5. Go back to the hotel and take a nap
  6. Soak in the hot tub
  7. Feel relieved and satisfied that your most important work for the day is done
  8. Let yourself off the hook from all the usual disciplinary routines

Singles and Finish Lines

Finish lines are important for our vision. If runners were instructed to run as fast as possible, for an undefined distance, with no end in sight, they would get discouraged, and easily tire.

Likewise, if the not-yet-in-sight wedding day event is your finish line, the race is dangerously unsustainable. Your hope, in that case, lives only at the mercy of external factors like personal preferences, or variable life timelines. If your hope gets deferred for too long, an insidious weariness can creep into your soul and sicken your heart. On the contrary, when your hope flows from God, the only renewable energy source, you will soar on wings like eagles through all the ups, downs, and inevitable uncertainties of relationships.

Couples and Finish Lines

The second problem with making marriage a finish line is that when the wedding day finally does come to pass, all that motivation and sense of purpose driving you forward during the chase, evaporates at the altar.

How would you feel, if the first time you walked into your newlywed couple’s cottage, your spouse called out to the Amazon echo dot and said, “Alexa. Check “wedding” off the list. And block off our calendars for the next 60 years. Just AM brunch, and PM naps from here in out.” As dreamy as this might sound, that relationship rides a fast track train to implosion. To thrive both relationally, and spiritually, we need to be about something bigger than ourselves by sowing seeds in a field beyond our own backyard.

As singles, we get to choose whether we date people who work the field, or people who play the field. In the interest keeping your heart intact as you run the good race, pursue the former and flee from the latter.

# 3 DON’T SETTLE FOR ANYTHING LESS THAN THE HONEST PACE

There are many ways to run a race, but the simplest and purest strategy of them all is to run the “honest pace,” giving it everything you have, from start to finish. When the whole field runs honest, it’s beautiful performance, that makes records fall, and stadiums rise. But sometimes, even the most talented runners hold back from running their best. Front-running, you see, means wind resistance, a target on your back, and no guarantees as to who will go with you.

If nobody is willing to lead, then you just jog along, jostling elbows, stumbling on each other’s feet, and scanning the scene with your peripheral vision in case someone makes a move forward. The pace is laggard enough to snapchat selfies to the crowd — that is now upset, at watching their favorite athletes sell themselves short in mediocre efforts. Later, when the results are posted, and the times downright pedestrian, you tell your coach it was all the group’s fault.

What does it mean to “run honest?”

The way we carry ourselves in the various facets of our lives — the company we keep, the commitments we hold, the way we steward our time, money and attention — all come together to create the cadence of the pace we run. Our pace is “honest” to the degree that we are true to ourselves and obedient to who God has called us to be. But make no mistake, the honest pace, is neither nor common, nor easy, especially when single.

There’s an unspoken assumption, you see, that if you were to take off full speed ahead, at the pace of your true capability, that others will no longer be romantically interested in you.  As singles, if we believe this collectively, then we act like a coed jogging club of bobbleheads, looking around at what everyone is doing, and holding back from going anywhere forward, lest we miss out.

Here are a few examples I have witnessed

  • I know women who have been advised against diving into ideas that excited them, such as starting a small group at church, because it might “intimidate the single men.”
  • I know men who have resigned themselves doomed to dealing with relationship drama full time because, apparently, “that’s just how it is.”
  • As for myself, I’m not immune either. In fact, I once mentioned my friend, Mike that if I really wanted to get serious about dating, I should probably start by reinventing myself — maybe become more extroverted and edgy, and less innocent and whimsical. In slightly kinder terms, Mike said this was the worst idea he had ever heard because then I would betray myself, and nobody wins.

Now, it can be tempting to make compromises in hopes of winning the approval and affection of the common pack, but you don’t have to.

Instead, run at the pace, at which you wish to be caught. The lead pack always sets the precedent for the chase pack.  If you set yourself on fire for God, and whatever makes you come alive, you will not cease to be romantically attractive. In fact, front-running while on fire makes you certifiably organic, drama free, hard to get.

The right person will not be intimidated by your pace. Rather, if you are equally yoked, they will keep you even more honest. Dating discernment can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be a 50 step algorithm. Start by asking some simple questions. Such as, do we help each other run a more excellent race? Or are we signing up for a lifetime of a 3 legged race hobble?

Now, after 3 Don’ts in a row, you may be wondering “How then, shall I run?”  I have three suggestions.

# 1 DO RUN UNENCUMBERED BY SIN

The 1980’s film “Chariots of Fire,” has a classic opening scene, where a parade of Scottish young men, dressed in white jogging suits, trot barefoot on the shores of West Sands, St Andrews to the sound of triumphant orchestral music.  Even in slow motion, their light and free strides, capture the epitome of unencumbered running. Other runners, however, get a bit more tied up.

In basic running jargon, “speed goggles” refer to the rosy, and often deceptive, lenses that cause you to see the speediest runners of the opposite sex as significantly and more attractive and trustworthy.

In relationships, sexual intimacy gives you “oxytocin” goggles. The trust enhancement, heart bonding factors are ideal for a lifelong marriage commitment, although problematic if trying to see another person’s character clearly. The Bible says to flee from sexual immorality, but unfortunately, the world has no interest in protecting your purity or bolstering your sin fleeing energy. Sometimes, “playing dead” to sin is the more effective option. My personal recommendation is this:

Learn to be unimpressed, to the point of borderline apathy, by anyone or anything that slows you down from running an excellent race. For example, if I am in the middle of something meaningful—like writing this blog post, for instance — Enrique Iglesias could knock on my door, accompanied a team of well-built boy band backup dancers, ready to personally serenade me with the 2011 hit song, “Tonight I’m Lovin’ You,” and I would call out to my roommate with a sigh of annoyance and say “Aimee! Can you deal with that ruckus outside? It’s Enrique the encumbrance, and I have important work to do for the Kingdom of God.”

# 2 DO RUN FOR THE PRIZE

“Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14).

In April of 2017, Jordan Hasay, a 25-year-old from San Luis Obispo, CA blazed through the streets Boston, clocking the fastest Marathon debut time ever by an American woman.  Now, close your eyes for a moment and zoom back east to Boston.

Its mile 22. The fans line the streets of New England in a roaring tunnel of noise, as the lead pack comes barreling around the corner to the hydration station: their parched throats yearning for Gatorade. And all sudden Arie Luyendyk Jr, of the most recent Bachelor TV season, struts onto the course holding a rose in one and hand a bottle of wine in the other. “Jordan, will you accept this rose?” he asks. “You look tired. Why don’t you come take a break at my place? You can always jump back in the race later and get serious then.”

Hmm. There is a $50 prize purse waiting to be divvied up among the top finishers at the line. Not for a single second, would Jordan consider accepting a single petal. She has trained too hard to even entertain any compromises. Jordan wants to win. Her eyes are on the finish, and she will stay the course marked out for her–which most certainly, does not include a stopover at Arie Luyendyk Jr’s.

It’s easy enough for us to understand delayed gratification when its framed in the context of an earthly prize. And yet the Bible tells us, we store up riches in heaven, according to how we live on earth. “Goof off now, and get serious later” is a commonly accepted, but severely misguided belief among many singles. How we live now, and who we are becoming, matters not only for our marriage on earth, but also for our rewards in heaven. So just like Jordan, stay the course, and run for the prize.

# 3 DO RUN AGAINST THE CLOCK

Few people understand the value of a second as well an Olympic sprinter. In a 100 meter race, the difference between a crown of laurels and a last-place finish can be decided in one-tenth of a second. A sprinter knows that time is not on their side, and the race will over in a blink.

If you are single and desire to be married one day, the chances are, that you will eventually get there. But what you will not get back, are moments abandoned, or days wished away before marriage. Time is a precious God-given gift, equally valuable before and after your wedding day. Thus we need to grasp the unconditional urgency with which we are called to live our days.

Sometimes I have to remind myself, that death is not a question of if, but a matter of when. How many heartbeats, breaths, or laps are left?  I’m not sure. But I am sure, that when I lean into the heavenly finish line, I’ll be running honest.

The Bell Lap

Now, the next time you feel discouraged about your singleness and someone tells you to “run after God,” you can look them in the eye with sincerity and say, “Thanks! I know just what to do!”

So go, and run the race set before you.

  • Run with perseverance and an unshakeable hope
  • Run away from darkness, and sprint towards light
  • Run after truth, and stay the course.
  • Run past evil with doppler effect of a Ferrari
  • Run the honest pace and give it everything you have.
  • Run powered by the fire of the Holy Spirit and let your life leave a legacy like a streak of light in a dark night sky

Love, Fear, and College Hoops

A college basketball perspective on love, and fear of the Lord.

Today’s post is based (loosely) on parts of a sermon by Eric Knopf at Epic life about the fear of God. This blog/podcast has two parts. The analogy, and the Kingdom connection.

Part I- The AnalogyFear or Love?  Which team do you play for?

Fraidy Cats on the Court

The Fraidy Institute of Trepidation, also known as F.I.T college, takes great pride in school sports. They are represented in mascot by the timid and skittish domestic animal, the cat. When prospective student-athletes visit Fraidy for recruiting trips, the athletic department treats them like royalty. Showering recruits with attention and kindness, the coach projects a future picture of a college experience rich with belonging, expert mentorship from team captains, and erasing of student loan debt via scholarship money. After the student signs the contract, however, the mentality shifts and the coach begins using  fear as a behavior management technique to improve the team’s performance. And, in the short term, it’s quite effective.

The ever-lingering punishment of “suicide liners” drives the players to arrive at practice 15 minutes early, like clockwork. Echoes of slammed clipboards and humiliating midgame berates, keep team members practicing their free throws daily. The fear of losing educational enrolment—as it rides on the fragile foundation of merit-based scholarship money—lights a haunting fire in the eyes of every Cat on game day. On weekends, fear of coach’s wrath ensures a dutiful, albeit bitter, team-wide abstaining from intoxication and other campus party chaos. The athletic director deems the basketball the most polite in the whole school.

With the intense emotion of fear always on their heels, the cats never lack in performance motivation. Indeed, Fraidy qualifies for the playoffs every season and has earned a reputation for running a systematic and clean game with minimal on-court errors. And yet, just below the surface of the seemingly flawless tight ship, an infestation of problems eats away at the team like termites. By sophomore year, most players find themselves plagued with burnout and stress fracture injuries. On the emotional front, ongoing jealousy corrodes the team spirit. No one celebrates in another’s individual scoring victory as they believe coach can only shine the spotlight on so many players at once. Ultimately, for those who choose to play for Fraidy, fear rules over every aspect of their lives.

Agape Takes Possession

Standing beside Fraidy, in stark contrast, is Agape Pacific University. The athletic department at Agape meets prospective students with a genuine kindness, which only increases after the recruiting trip. The players at Apage Pacific still pursue excellence on the court, however, unlike the cats, their motivation is NOT fueled by the fear of the consequences of failure. Team discipline and exemplary attendance records serve as a mere bonus byproduct of their love of the game, respect for the coach, and commitment to each other.

While other conference teams attempt to get away with as much foul play as possible, Agape Pacific refuses to “play dirty.” Sure, they still make mistakes and chuck their mouth guards into technical foul territories from time to time, but they find no satisfaction in throwing sharp elbows or holding jerseys behind the ref’s back. Quite simply, that would take the joy out of the game; and in regards to Joy, Agape goes big.

     From the shrill whistle of tip off to the blare of the final Buzzer, Agape Pacific takes ownership of the court, electrifying the arena with passion. The team chemistry, love of the game and desire to honor their coach, cancels any fear of making mistakes. Ironically, some of the other teams are afraid of Agape, They say the bright intensity is “too much,” and they can’t take the heat. But Agape does fear such competitors. They press on, with a full court press, and continue bravely with alley-oops, high fives, half court shots, and slam dunks. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Agape wins, every time.

Part II: The Kingdom Connection

The “fear of the Lord” is a widely discussed and often misused phrase in today’s church. The book of Proverbs states that the “Fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom. And at the same time, Jesus frequently commands His disciples NOT to fear. When facing this apparent contradiction, we must first recognize the multiple definitions of the Greek noun phobos. According to the New Testament Greek Lexicon, phobos can mean either “fear, dread, and  terror,” or, “reverence for one’s husband.”

These definitions are not interchangeable, and they require a contextual distinction for accurate understanding. Since the majority of Christians have not studied Greek in depth, the word “fear” tends register far more readily with the dread definition. And sadly, while the church does focus on the Grace of God to bring people in, they often use the “Fear of the Lord—with an emphasis on the terror based definition—as a sin prevention and behavior grooming tool. In doing so, the church unintentionally disciples followers into a faith damaging, fear-based relationship with their loving Father. In the words of the original sermon, “it’s impossible to authentically love someone you also fear.”

To finish with a verse, I leave you with 1st John 4:18. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  

Greater Is He

Enjoy a musical morning devotional by way of the Sing-song memory method. Simply click on the bolded lyric line for the related scripture passage.

Greater is He, Blanca

I face a giant
In over my head
Help me to look up
I take a deep breath
And take the next step
Though I may be weak
I know who is with me
[Chorus:]
And greater is He living in me. Than he who is in the world

 Whatever may come, his strength is enough

My heart is at peace, for greater is He

I face an ocean
The waves are raging

You’ll do what I can’t

And I’ll walk on dry land
I’ll step out on the sea
[Chorus]
And in His name, giants will fall
And in His name, oceans will part
And in His name, there’s nothing we won’t overcome
This is our God, this is our God
This is our God, this is our God
[Chorus]

*All passages are from the NIV translation and are best read in context.

Crossing the Bridge

Thoughts on change, transitions, and the human fascination with bridges. 

Golden Gate. Brooklyn. Tower. London.

Historically, and presently, humans are positively fascinated by the architectural structure of “the bridge.” Not only do countries revere bridges as national status symbols, but bridges dominate the postcard section of bookstores, attract tourists from thousands of miles away, and cause locals to swoon on their daily commutes.

I like bridges too; and one evening, as I ran across the rainbow bridge in Folsom, I grew curious about my  own captivation with the grandeur of the crossing truss. My feet kept moving, but mentally I stopped in my tracks to ask myself: Why are we so enamored with these man-made concrete transportation enablers?  I began to think…that maybe, there’s more to the bridge than its architectural structure. Or that perhaps, we gawk at bridges because they represent an inate desire.

Buster and Steph

See, what bridges do, is close a once impossible gap between two separate places. Take the San Francisco bay, for example, a hundred years ago, over 23 thousand feet of choppy waters separated Oakland and San Francisco. Hypothetically Steph Curry would have had to leave Oracle and circumnavigate the bay, just to catch up with his baseball buddy Buster Posey at AT&T park. But thanks to the bay bridge, Steph can drive his Mercedes over a double-decker,earthquake safe, well-lit corridor—watch Buster hit a home run against the LA dodgers—and still make it back in time to sink threes with Draymond Green at practice.

While I don’t intend to make this a post about the bay bridge and the Golden State Warriors, I do believe all of us must cross bridges to become more warrior like at life. Bridges are inevitable. Anytime we have a vision, or see a gap between where we are, and where we want to go, there’s a call to cross. Transitioning  from student to career life is a bridge. Relocating from one town to another is a bridge. Building a relationship is a bridge. Leaving a relationship to be single is also a bridge. Breaking or starting a new habit is a bridge. The bridges we encounter every day can appear as big Brooklyn, or as small as H street, Sacramento, but regardless, the trusses of trials or changes await.

The Art of Bridge Crossing

There is no shortage of information about “how to live well” at a fixed point A, or a stable point B. But oft-neglected in schools and instruction manuals is the navigation part between the two. Even though bridges are beautiful and transformative, many times I don’t feel like crossing them. For starter’s there’s the toll and I am not guaranteed to have all the right cash or fast track passes at the ready. Then when I do enter the bridge, the fog might engulf me in, causing the other side to appear so distant that I can hardly make out a clear destination picture to satisfy my certainty cravings. But most dangerously, if I lose sight of my vision in the middle, or look down into the shark infested waters below, I risk doubting the journey entirely, and will contemplate turning back to more familiar territories.

Forging Forward

At one point in time, the seemingly enormous distance of my own “bridges of change,” would leave me discouraged. I felt behind at life. I wanted to cry a river,  build a bridge, and get over it already. But now I am learning to accept it’s the gap which will drive us to forge forward, and, significance exists in even the tiniest of steps in the right direction. I also remember that not only did the Golden Gate bridge take 4 years to build, but I’ve crossed that bridge on foot multiple times. Whether a tempo pace run or pedestrian touristy stroll, it happened by forward progression of one foot, followed by the forward progression of the other foot—a single step at a time—over and over.

 The Truest Trusses 

Sometimes we try to cross a bridge with our eyes closed, in denial of change. Or, we might attempt to drive at a rushed 100 miles an hour speed, clenching our teeth and simply hoping to make it to the other side alive. But in either of those bridge crossing strategies, we would miss out. In transition, the bridge serves as a special and refining location in and of itself. 

Whatever the circumstance, God builds bridges with us to overcome trials and bring us to new places. As Hillsong United sings it, “He calls us out upon the water… where our trust is without borders.” Bridges may initially look  like foggy corridors or fiery hoops to jump through. But more often, the life bridges are paths from the desert to the orchard; a bridge well crossed can bear much fruit.

 

“It’s a God Thing”  

 

An examination of the phrase “It’s a God thing” in reference to the Olympics, and cornflakes cereal.

Why Examine?
A couple months ago, when I started to proofread and revise my writing for this blog, I learned something unexpected. I became painfully aware of how many words and phrases I had been tossing around for years with very little understanding as to what they actually meant. It was inconceivable, so I downloaded a dictionary app and set a goal to strive towards improving my language precision. I realized that speaking words with weight, especially in the realm of one’s faith, is important. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to fill awkward spaces with comforting phrases and become fluent speakers of “Christianese.”

The Divine Dormitory?
A couple years ago, in a summer after college and before grad school, I faced the tough task of finding an affordable and safe apartment in the Eastbay: a combination often difficult to come by in Oakland, California.  After an oddly enthusiastic tour near Samuel Merritt University, one of the potential roommates pulled me aside with a serious look on her face and said,

“isn’t this crazy? I mean, we were praying for a roommate—a Christian female with an active lifestyle, who doesn’t party too much—and you literally emailed us right then! Do you think this is like…a God thing?”

I didn’t know what to say. The last two apartments seemed like equally good options, but I also didn’t want to disrupt the apparent divine dormitory dynamic. So I shrugged while nodding slightly, and said (in honesty) that I would pray about it. In hindsight, to answer her question more directly, sure. The situation offered potential Christian community and an answer to prayer for both of us. So yes, in roommate form, I suppose I could classify as “a God thing.” But along those lines, I believe I was also knit together in my mother’s womb, and born as “a God thing.”

Me things vs God things 
I have noticed, we typically use the God thing phrase, only in reference to an uncanny coincidence involving unlikely events falling together in accordance with a certain desire. Now, I don’t say this in any way to discount a divine encounter or answer to prayer. However, phrase in this context becomes problematic if it implies we can divide everything of God–his promises, provisions, and gifts–into two groups: ‘God things’ and ‘me things.’ The division mindset can erode our sense of gratitude for the ordinary, although no less astonishing, blessings such as a job, a friendship, a sunset, His peace, His wisdom, or His grace. The Bible reminds us that every good and perfect gift is from above, yet we won’t see it this way if we search for God only scenes of earthly grandeur.

Consider the Corn Flake
When I attended youth group camp in junior high and high school, I distinctly remember part of the tradition was to enjoy a disregard of social norms for the whole week. Kids would do anything from prank other cabins, eat copious amounts of dessert, share teary eyed testimonies, or belly flop from the diving boards above, all in the name of Jesus or friends and fellowship. But oddly, no one ever stood up at breakfast to announce a breakthrough after pouring themselves a miniature box of cornflakes cereal. Although I wonder why not.

Really, why didn’t anyone ever stand up to say, “I am blown away by this bowl of starchy substance! God provided a corn seed, which grew into a plant, that was harvested and dried into a cereal vessel conducive to holding milk—all so that I can enjoy the process of tasty ingestion and energy assimilation!?”  To my knowledge, corn flakes don’t bring teens to their knees in curiosity and prayer about whether each flake was a crunch of God. Granted, the popularity of the paleo diet might have something to do with the disregard for corn. But more likely, it’s because our eyes are peeled for “God things” only under the umbrella of what we consider culturally extraordinary.

The Olympic Sound Track
See, I am not advocating we eliminate this phrase from of our vocabulary. Actually, technically speaking, we could use it more often. Take the Olympic games for example. All the Olympians—specifically the ones toeing the line for the prestigious 10,000-meter track race—are undoubtedly, a living, breathing, herd of “God things.”

Pumping vast volumes of blood with each stroke of the heart, they are a stampede of  biomechanically beautiful machines composed of pulleys, levers, ambition, and spirit. As the bell lap signals the runners to fight for a medal, every leg will ache in acidity, and every chest will rise and fall in rapid gasps of air.

Each breath in their lungs is miraculousTo Breathe in God, and breathe out thing is not only the song of the Olympic soundtrack, but it’s the beat of our lives. All of us, olympian or otherwise, breathe as a collective choir to a continuous melody… God-thing-God-thing-God-thing-God-thing. And one day, when we exhale our last breath, and the things of this world fall away, we finally get the chance to say…GOD.

*If you stumbled upon this post, and it positively affected you in any way, or maybe you think it’s a God thing, feel free to leave a comment below, or share it to facebook  🙂

Red Flags: The Theological Edition

4 alerts that call for a change in course.

For anyone intending to enter into a committed and Christ-centered relationship one day, discernment over one’s spiritual character is important. You want someone who will put God first, and love you with their whole heart.

And, as you read that first paragraph , your brain most likely just shut off. You’ve heard it a million times, already. Right?

Well, I still bring it up, because, after a number of different conversations, I’m not convinced many of us have a clear idea of what we mean when using the phrase spiritual character. Responses have ranged from “I don’t care, as long as he goes to church with me,” to others, who more or less feel compelled to find a doctrinal twin.

To diffuse drama, I believe that developing a rough framework (while your head is clear and the only chemical buzz you get comes from your morning coffee) will make decisions much easier on yourself later on. Don’t get me wrong, romantic attraction is a wonderful thing, but it also has a tendency to skew one’s perception to the point that a wolf can appear dressed in sheep or lamb of God clothing. It might seem discouraging to evaluate red flags, but in order to recognize green lights, we have to be able to properly stop at the red lights too. Frameworks may vary, but below I have outlined my personal 4 theological red flags.

  1. The Cotton Candy Christian: Speaking in scripturally unsound platitudes, they treat Jesus like a vitamin C pill product who came to make life easy. On a road trip, if I asked about getting directions for a 1000 mile trek, he might reply, “God won’t give me more than I can handle, and He helps those who help themselves, so I got it.” Then later, as the road gets icy, he will lift up his hands and say “I’m letting go, and letting God! Jesus, take the wheel. Trust me, Chrissa, I feel peace about your safety.” The sweetness quickly dissolves under trials, and also, I can run home from there.
  2. The Pharisee Mindset:  More concerned about appearing right than about seeking Truth, they are easily offended by anything they do not agree with. Speaking in condescending tones, they might attempt to prove obscure points such as how the wine from Jesus’ first miracle was actually only 3% alcohol, and if I had read the Greek I would have known that, and this is actually a salvific principle. Yes, admitting our questions can feel awkward, but pretending to be perfect, or have all of the answers is more deceiving.
  3. The Martyr: To put it simply, they forget the news is good. Sporting bracelets that say, I have decreased to nothing or I am a wretch, the guilt of their sins overwhelms them into helplessness. When the time comes to pop the question, he’s likely kneel down on one knee and say something to the effect of “so…I’m going to be very careful not to word this in a way that makes you think I love you too much, because that would steal glory away from God, but would you like to spend the rest of our lives feeling sorry for ourselves, together?” Sorry I’m not sorry, but I believe we can do powerful things in the name of Jesus while on earth, so that’s just not going to work.
  4. The Timothy Tyrant: 1st Timothy mentions how women should neither wear braids nor pearls, and that they also should remain quiet. As a talkative woman–often in braids, and always in pearl earrings–those verses taken out of context frame me as a rebel. If this ever became an issue, I suppose we could read cross references together, but otherwise, maybe it’s just not a good fit.

All this being said, don’t ignore the good things and green flags out there– a positive growth trajectory, a dual dynamic of flourishing in God-given identities, and a shared vision for the Kingdom, to name a few! The green lights, however, will have to wait for a future blog post.

Stay tuned!

Click on the audio above for an in-depth discussion on the subject with my brother in law Jesse Newton.