TAKING DELIGHT

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. [Psalm 37:4 (NLT)]

jump for joyGreedy creatures that we are, when reading today’s verse, we tend to focus on the promise that God will give us our heart’s desires rather than the qualification: taking delight in the Lord. I usually think of a parent delighting in a child rather than a child of God delighting in his or her Heavenly Father. What does it mean to delight in God and how do we find our delight in Him?

When pondering delight, I thought of a recent weekend when six of the family met New York City (where my eldest grand attends university) to celebrate my son’s birthday. While I enjoyed the city sights, the high point wasn’t the Statue of Liberty or strolling through Central Park. My delight was in my family’s company. It wouldn’t have mattered where we’d met; that we had gathered together was all that counted! Every moment spent with them was precious and our joy in one another was unmistakable; we genuinely delighted in one another. When we delight in people, we’re no longer preoccupied with ourselves and our desires; instead, we concentrate on them and how to please them. We treasure them and their company and, because we value their presence, we make room in our busy lives to maintain our relationship. In short, we find joy in being with them.

Taking delight in the Lord is much the same thing: finding joy in His presence. We delight in Him: in His great love for us and in His power, goodness, wisdom, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, faithfulness, and grace. When the Psalmist tells us to delight in the Lord, He’s telling us to find our joy in God and to guard our time so that we spend it with Him.

Today’s verse isn’t about gratifying our desires. Although true delight brings contentment, it’s not in things; it’s contentment in the object of delight. This verse isn’t about getting what we want from God in return for lip service in prayers or praise. It’s about delighting in God so much that He becomes our greatest desire. Instead of expecting God to please us, we want to please Him and truly pleasing God means that our desires will conform to His will. When that happens, we will, indeed, get our heart’s desire!

The desires of God, and the desires of the righteous, agree in one; they are of one mind in their desires. [John Bunyan]

The one thing I ask of the Lord— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. [Psalm 27:4 (NLT)]

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. [Matthew 6:33 (NLT)]

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ASK

And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. [Matthew 6:7-8 (RSV)]

Our Father, whose predominant residence pattern is widely perceived as being in an exo-atmospheric environment, your name shall be treated, as a matter of course, in a reverential demeanor appropriate to existing protocol guidelines. It is to be hoped that, as an optimal result of the ongoing situational development, your form of governmental institution may be, in accordance with the appropriate procedures, finalized within the foreseeable future, in forms applicable to both bilateral and multilateral fora. [Anonymous]

climbing asterThese are the first lines of the Lord’s Prayer as if they were written by a lawyer and, having recently met with our attorney to update some documents, I don’t think they’re much of an exaggeration. With all of their circumlocution, it’s difficult to know what lawyers actually mean. They use vague abstract nouns rather than concrete ones and seem to go around a subject rather than straight through it. Why can’t they use straightforward language and directly say what they mean?

While our prayers probably are not as convoluted as the above version of the Lord’s Prayer, they frequently are as indirect and vague. Of course, the lawyer uses all of that language out of caution. He’s writing so that his words can’t be misconstrued: so that anyone seeking another meaning to his words can’t find it. God, however, is not an adversary who is trying to trap us into saying something we don’t mean or attempting to find a loophole in our prayers. In fact, He already knows what we need before we say it. Nevertheless, He’s waiting to hear it from us.

When Jesus was leaving Jericho, two blind beggars called out to Him with a rather ambiguous request: “Have mercy on us!” Did they want forgiveness, food, clothing,  or money? Any of those would have been acts of mercy. Surely Jesus knew what they really wanted but He responded by asking them, “What do you want me to do for you?” Only then were they direct and asked for what they really wanted: to see! It was not until they clearly asked that Jesus acted and they received sight.

We have been told to ask before we receive. Could it be that God answers our prayers based on our requests? Jesus promised that, if we ask for bread, we won’t get a stone and, if we ask for a fish, we won’t get a serpent. Unsaid, but certainly implied, is that, if we fail to ask for that bread or fish, we won’t get either one! Could receiving depend upon asking? Could there be blessings He has for us that we haven’t received simply because we never asked?

Like lawyers, perhaps we err on the side of caution: the less specific our prayers, the less likely it is that we’ll be disappointed. Vague prayers, however, don’t exhibit faith. If someone listened to our prayers, would they know what we mean or are our prayers filled with cautious language and ambiguous requests? I think of a child’s prayers and the long list of “God blesses” usually found at their end. Are our prayers as vague? How do we want God to bless those on our prayer list? What are their specific needs? What are ours? We don’t need a lot of words to be direct and specific with God. If Jesus were passing by right now, what would we call out to Him? What would we ask?

And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith. [Matthew 21:22 (RSV)]

Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? [Matthew 7:7-9 (RSV)]

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COINCIDENCE OR PRAYER?

We are confident that God listens to us if we ask for anything that has his approval. We know that he listens to our requests. So we know that we already have what we ask him for. [1 John 5:14-15 (GW)]

great egretRecently, the Sinner’s Shack Gentlemen’s Club wanted to open an establishment in our small Midwest community. It’s a rather conservative town and, since there’s nothing gentlemanly about the goings on in such an establishment, everyone was up in arms about it. When the Holier Than Thou Evangelical Church started a campaign to halt the tawdry business from locating in town, prayer sessions were held three times a day and the City Council was inundated with letters and calls of protests. Unfortunately, in spite of the prayers and complaints, proper zoning was attained and construction on the Sinner’s Shack began. Just a day before its grand opening, however, lightning struck the new building and it burned completely to the ground!

The Holier Than Thous were rather smug and self-righteous about the fire until Honey Bunn, the owner of the strip club, filed suit again the church, its pastor, and the entire congregation on the grounds that they were “ultimately responsible for the demise of the building and business, either through direct or indirect divine actions or means.” The Holier Than Thous replied to the court by vociferously denying any and all responsibility for the lightning and the building’s loss.

As the judge read through the plaintiff’s complaint and the church’s reply, he commented, “I have no idea how I will be able to decide this case. I have a staunch sinner who appears to believe in the power of prayer and an entire congregation of Christians who don’t!”

Of course, this is just a bit silly fiction, but it poses some interesting questions about our belief in the power of prayer. Would we have joined in those prayer sessions or would we have considered the issue a lost cause? If we’d attended those prayer sessions, would we have gone out of a sense of duty or because we truly believed our prayers could make a difference? Do we ever pray without the confidence that our prayers are heard? Do we pray without believing in the power of our prayers? When our prayers are answered, as they were in the story, are we surprised? Instead of crediting it to prayer, do we chalk it up to coincidence or good luck?

When we pray; we’d better believe that prayer works, or it won’t. Effective prayers require trusting in a God who is faithful in His promises to us. We need confidence that God is both willing and able to act on our behalf to advance His kingdom. I know it’s difficult at times not to attribute God’s answers to coincidence but, as for me, I’m going to chalk one up for God!

Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. [Albert Einstein]

When you ask for something, don’t have any doubts. A person who has doubts is like a wave that is blown by the wind and tossed by the sea. A person who has doubts shouldn’t expect to receive anything from the Lord. A person who has doubts is thinking about two different things at the same time and can’t make up his mind about anything. [James 1:6-8 (GW)]

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PRAY NOW

Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. [James 5:13 (NLT)]

I’m continually amazed that, for someone who claims to believe in the power of prayer, I so rarely exhibit my belief! Our distressed friend had come over for advice and encouragement. The three of us brain-stormed various ways to meet her many challenges. When she departed several hours later, my husband and I promised to keep her family in our prayers. As she walked down the driveway, I realized that, while we pray daily for her, her family and their difficulties, we hadn’t bothered to pray with her! During our long discussion, we’d never paused to pray together and ask God for His guidance. Yes, my husband and I are a good source of information and encouragement, but it was God’s direction and His gift of courage that our friend needed far more than ours. We should have started the conversation with a prayer for God’s guidance rather than ending it with a promise to pray!

How often do we tell someone we’ll keep them in our prayers rather than pray with them right away? Worse, how often do we tell someone we’ll pray for them and then we don’t? Sadly, more often than not, our promise to pray becomes an empty promise but, if we pray right then and there, we’re sure to make good on that promise. Perhaps, if all the promised prayers actually were prayed, the world would be a far better place!

Communal prayer isn’t just for church, Bible study groups, or table blessings; it’s for everyday situations. Nevertheless, most of us are hesitant to pray with others; we’re uncertain of how the offer will be received, think we don’t have the right words, or are unsure about what it is for which we should pray. People are free to decline the offer of prayer but, whenever I’ve made the offer, it always has been accepted and appreciated. A heartfelt “Lord, please help!” is all we really need to say; our omniscient God doesn’t need us to tell Him what’s wrong or how to fix it! The time to pray, to invite Jesus into a situation, is now, not later!

Those who do not believe do not pray. This is a good functional definition of faith. Faith prays, unbelief does not. (John A. Hardon)

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. [Ephesians 6:18 (NLT)]

With God’s power working in us, God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine. [Ephesians 3:20 (NCV)]

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NO LOST CAUSES

And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. [Luke 15:20 (NLT)]

lambI was re-writing and updating my prayer list when I came to the names of several prodigals. Some of their names have been on that list for nearly two decades; during that time, they’ve been in and out trouble, jail, and rehab. Having wasted most of their lives, each one of them one would qualify as the poster child for lost causes. I thought of not adding their names to my new list. “After all, what’s the point?” I wondered.

I then thought of the parable of the prodigal son—a young man with plenty of opportunities who squandered his money and broke his father’s heart. When life got really tough and the pigs were living better than he, the boy finally repented and returned home to the welcoming and forgiving arms of his father. Like the prodigal son, when they were in financial or legal difficulties, the prodigals on my prayer list often returned home for a warm bed, financial and legal assistance, and even another trip to rehab. Unlike the prodigal son, however, they never managed to truly repent and always returned to their old friends and way of life.

What if there was another chapter to Jesus’s story of the prodigal son? What if, after cleaning up, getting some good meals in his belly, and obtaining a few coins in his pocket, the boy had returned to his life as a wastrel? How would his father have reacted? What would his father have done if his son, after wasting everything again, had returned home a second time? Would his father have rejoiced and thrown his arms around the boy? What if it happened again and again? Would his father eventually have stopped looking for his lost son? In anger, would he eventually have barred the gates and turned his back on his child?

I think not. Jesus’s parable was about forgiveness and hope, God’s grace and mercy, and His lavish love for his children. I think the father would have continued to run to his child and welcome him back every time he returned. Although God won’t enable His prodigals in their sinful ways, I believe He will receive them every time they come home, forgive them when they repent, and shed tears if they relapse and return to their old ways.

Our Heavenly Father will continue to forgive and welcome them (and us) back again and again until they (and we) finally get it right. With God there are no lost causes, only lost children. If God hasn’t given up hope, neither will I. For all of His lost sheep, I will continue to pray that they eventually find their way home and into the arms of their loving Father.

I’ve wandered far away from God, Now I’m coming home;
The paths of sin too long I’ve trod, Lord, I’m coming home.
I’ve wasted many precious years, Now I’m coming home;
I now repent with bitter tears, Lord, I’m coming home.
I’m tired of sin and straying, Lord, Now I’m coming home;
I’ll trust Thy love, believe Thy Word, Lord, I’m coming home.
Coming home, coming home, Nevermore to roam,
Open wide Thine arms of love, Lord, I’m coming home.
[“Lord, I’m Coming Home” by William J Kirkpatrick]

He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The Lord is like a father to his children,    tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust. [Psalm 103:10-14 (NLT)]

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TRUSTING THE OUTCOME

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.” [Jeremiah 17:5-6 (NLT)]

Our pod is missing! Well, not exactly missing but no one can tell us where it is! We only know that the large box holding our precious possessions is no longer sitting in our driveway back in Illinois nor is it sitting in our driveway here in Florida. While the company promises us that it will arrive by September 29, their responses to our inquiries don’t inspire much confidence. How can they know when it will arrive if they don’t know where it is? Moreover, no one can tell us why it will take four weeks to travel 1,378 miles! Although I keep reminding myself that it’s just stuff, it is our stuff—the stuff we cared about enough to keep and move.

My impatience and frustration at not knowing where the pod is, what condition it is in, and how close it is to arriving make me think of my impatience in prayer, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Not only do we want to dictate the manner, timing, and outcome of our prayers but also we’d like God to provide us with regular updates as to His progress on our requests. While God is far more trustworthy than any moving company, He usually is as silent about the particulars of our prayers’ outcomes.

It really comes down to trust. Do I trust the movers? Well, I trusted them enough to fill their box with things that were important to me and have them haul it away. At this point, I can trust them to keep their delivery promise or worry about it. Since worry isn’t going to get it here any faster (if at all), I have no choice but to surrender the outcome to them (while praying for its safe and speedy arrival).

It comes down to trust in our prayers, as well—trust in God (and He has a far better track record than any moving company!) Trust has to fill the gap between our heartfelt request and His response. It’s found in that space between our telling God the what, how, where and when of what we want and our ceding the outcome and all of its details to Him. Not everything we ask for will be received; we’re not the customer and God isn’t our celestial vending machine. We don’t get to dictate the terms of our agreement or the end result. We can’t threaten to take our business elsewhere and, unlike the proverbial customer, we are not the ones who are always right. There is only one God and, as the One in charge, He is not at our mercy; we are at His!

When Jeremiah spoke his words of condemnation to the people of Judah, the people had trusted in false gods and military alliances instead of God. In effect, they’d trusted in their own wisdom rather than God’s promises. We may not be erecting Asherah poles, sacrificing to Baal, or making alliances with pagan nations but, when we dictate the outcome of our prayers, we’re little different; we’re trusting in our wisdom and strength rather than God’s.

“The great act of faith is when man decides that he is not God,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes. Indeed, it is. When we turn our concerns Godward, we must trust that our Heavenly Father, the omnipotent creator of the universe, actually knows what He’s doing. Recognizing that God is God (and we are not), we must surrender the outcome and all of the particulars (including the timing) to Him. He is our hope and confidence, our strength and our shield!

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” [Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT)]

The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. [Psalm 28:7 (NLT)]

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