You Will Pass The Baton Someday—So Do It Well!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When a man or woman of God dies, or departs, nothing of God dies or departs—it carries on. When the work of a great and godly person is finished, we need to realize that the beginning of another great man or woman will start—and hopefully carry on in even greater power and with even greater impact because of how their predecessor set them up. Instead of ending, God desires ministries to transition; to enter new phases of development and effectiveness. That’s God’s way, and Christians would do well to learn that truth. Ministers, moms and dads, and leaders of all kinds would do well to adopt the certainty of baton passing as one of their chief aims in life, and when the time comes, to passing that baton well.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 2:9-14

When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.” And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.” Elijah replied, “You have asked a difficult thing. If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.” As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress. Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

As from the beginning of our experience with Elijah in 1 Kings 17, to now at the end of his life, the ministry of this prophet of fire has cast an impressive spiritual shadow over Israel. We have been with him through a variety of dramatic experiences, particularly in 1 Kings 18-19. We have been with him on the heights of Mt. Carmel, both literally and spiritually, to the depths of his despair beneath the broom tree in its aftermath. We have stood with him when he courageously confronted evil King Ahab then fled in fear when the king’s wicked wife, Jezebel, threatened to end his life in the same manner he had ended her false prophets’ lives. We sat with him in the silence of the Cherith Brook and saw the miraculous provision of God as ravens fed him breakfast, lunch and dinner, then felt his despair and disappointment with God when the Almighty dried up the very brook he had given him. We have seen him call down fire from heaven on sacrifices and soldiers, yet we have seen him depend on a widow just to stay alive.

And in every place, under every circumstance, God has proven himself faithful, consistent, and encour-aging to Elijah. Now, appropriately, the end of his life and ministry will be just as dramatic as the rest of it was as God will again prove himself faithful to his prophet. Elijah will be taken up to heaven in a blaze of glory, something most prophets and preachers dream of but never experience. That glorious swan song belongs to one, and one alone. Elijah.

Now as we have come to know Elijah, we have also found him to be a bit temperamental. He is testy, he is fearsome most of the time, and he is radically devoted to speaking the word of the Lord to people, prophets, priests and potentates. But what we have never found him to be is warm and fuzzy. Prophets of his cut of cloth never are—and probably they shouldn’t be, given what they are called to carry out.

Yet at the end of his life, we get a glimpse at Elijah’s softer side, spending his final days on earth, knowing the Lord is bringing his chapter to a dramatic close, caring for the school of protégés he is leaving behind. (2 Kings 2:5-9) But not only is the prophet caring for his young men, he is caring for the work that God gave him to do. He wants to pass it on in the best way possible. He wants it to live on, stronger than before. He knows the work of God is not done, not by far, so he sets up his successors in the best way possible.

You see, when a man or woman of God dies or departs, nothing of God dies or departs—it carries on. When the work of a great and godly person is finished, we need to realize that the beginning of another great man or woman will start—and hopefully carry on in even greater power and with even greater impact because of how their predecessor set them up. Instead of ending, God desires ministries to transition; to enter new phases of development and effectiveness. That’s God’s way, and Christians would do well to embrace that truth. Ministers, moms and dads, and leaders of all kinds would do a God-honoring thing to adopt the certainty of baton passing as one of their chief aims in life, and when the time comes, to pass that baton well.

Now what is true in the realm of spiritual leadership is true in the realm of all leadership—parenting, mentoring, business ownership, etc. The truth is, we will all pass the baton someday, and it will likely come sooner than we were expecting. So think through how you will pass it so that those who follow in your shoes can take a double portion of your leadership.

A double portion—now that is a mysterious request Elisha asks of his mentor, Elijah. What was that all about? In reality, Elisha was asking to be the heir of Elijah’s ministry. Literally, that phrase referred to the designation as rightful heir. It is the same phrase that is used in Deuteronomy 27:17 when Moses instructs that a father must “acknowledge the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has.”

But notice how Elijah responded to the request: “You have asked a difficult thing, yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not.” What is Elijah saying? In effect, he is saying, “I cannot grant you that, only God can. But if God permits you to see his power and his presence when I am taken, it will be a sign that he has granted your request.”

Obviously, Elijah thought Elisha was special and would make a great successor, but he knew that only God could choose the heir to his ministry. Likewise, when new leaders are chosen to replace a pastor, a chairman of the board, a teacher, or a boss, we need to be careful to allow God to designate that person. While we need to do the best baton pass we can, remember that it is God’s role to chose who takes the role, and it will then be up to that new leader to run worthy of what you have passed on, and worthy of their new calling before God.

Yes, you will pass the baton. The time for that will get here sooner than you can imagine. So start anticipating it now, then do your best when the time comes for whomever takes it from you, the race will be theirs to win or lose.

Going Deeper With God: What are you doing to prepare someone to take your spot—as a mom or dad, a business owner, the leader of a ministry, or in whatever arena over which God has given you influence? Give that some thought today, and revisit it regularly. When the times comes, I hope you will do it well.

Good Advice for Great Leadership

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

This is the essence of the kind of leadership that God blesses: If you will position yourself to be a servant of the people, the people you serve will always serve you. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t grasp the brilliance of God’s logic. Humanistic thinking leads them to see the people as their servants, and once they attain power, their overriding effort is to retain it—on the backs of the people. Ultimately, that philosophy of leadership always fails—either in a shortened shelf life of that leader’s administration, or in the negative consequences of future administrations. Rare is the leader who understands that his or her divine mandate is public servant. When a leader truly understands that at an organic level, there you have the making of a leader for the ages.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Kings 12:6-11

Then King Rehoboam discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father, Solomon. “What is your advice?” he asked. “How should I answer these people?” The older counselors replied, “If you are willing to be a servant to these people today and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your loyal subjects.” Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisors. “What is your advice?” he asked them. “How should I answer these people who want me to lighten the burdens imposed by my father?” The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’”

What a contrast we find in this account between really good and really bad advice. Especially if you are a leader, or aspire to leadership, you ought to listen up on this one! What you will get here in just a few lines is better than anything you will get through years of education in the world’s best business schools—and a lot cheaper.

The story revolves around the transition of leadership from King Solomon to his son, Rehoboam. We don’t know for sure, but we can surmise that growing up in the luxurious living of his father’s kingdom had led to a sense of entitlement. His sense of reality was askew from all Solomon’s well-known kingly excesses—all the women and all the wealth. As the new king, Rehoboam wanted what his father had amassed, and them some, without doing any of the hard work to get it. But his father had gained much of his wealth on the backs of the Israelites; the people had paid heavy taxes, endured the conscription of their sons for the king’s army and the confiscation of their property for royal use. And now that Israel had reached an unprecedented level of security and success, the people rightly asked for a little relief from governmental demands as administrations changed hands.

When the request for relief was presented to the new king, he wisely asked for advice, first from his father’s experienced counselors, then from his untested friends. But he unwisely rejected the former and heeded the latter. In essence, his posses of spoiled friends advised him to double down on the demands his father had made of the people, and it turned out to be a mistake of epic proportions. Of course, the spiritual forces for a national rebellion had been seeded during Solomon’s backsliding, but Rehoboam didn’t help himself by following the bad advice of his tin-eared buddies. As a result, the nation split apart—the north broke from the south, and Israel never again existed as a unified nation.

So what is the leadership lesson we learn from Rehoboam? It comes from the rejected advice of the older counselors: “If you are willing to be a servant to these people today and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your loyal subjects.” (1 Kings 12:7). Don’t miss that—it is the essence of leadership that God blesses:

If you will position yourself to be a servant of the people, the people you serve will always serve you.

Unfortunately, most leaders don’t grasp the brilliance of God’s logic. Humanistic thinking leads them to see the people as their servants, and once they attain power, the overriding effort of their administration is to retain it—on the backs of the people. Ultimately, that philosophy of leadership always fails—either in a shortened shelf-life of that leader’s tenure, or in the negative consequences of future administrations. Rare is the leader who understands that his or her divine mandate is public servant. When a leader truly understands that at an organic level, there you have the making of a leader for the ages.

Are you a leader, or do you aspire to leadership? Serve your people, and your people will always serve you.

Going Deeper With God: Memorize the words of Jesus found in Mark 10:42-45, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Let Cooler Heads Prevail

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God created us with a high capacity for passion, and that’s a wonderful thing. Much of the good that has been accomplished in the world began in passion. But while passion is a powerful spring, it’s a horrible regulator, and when it’s untempered, can do much harm. So how do you temper your passion? Internal and external controls—develop the fruit of self-control, but also give cool-headed friends access to the kill switch of your passion for those moments when your self-control get wobbly.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 25:10-13

“Who is this fellow David?” Nabal sneered to the young men. “Who does this son of Jesse think he is? There are lots of servants these days who run away from their masters. Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I’ve slaughtered for my shearers and give it to a band of outlaws who come from who knows where?” So David’s young men returned and told him what Nabal had said. “Get your swords!” was David’s reply as he strapped on his own. Then 400 men started off with David to kill Nabal.

David heart was on fire with passion for God—he was characteristically a man after God’s own heart. But at times, David’s heart was on fire with passion for other things, too. That got David into trouble on more than one occasion. 1 Samuel 25 is one of those occasions.

Nabal, a man whose name meant “fool,” foolishly refused to share provision with David and his men. David had politely requested it, and it would have been customary for Nabal to graciously grant such a request since David’s small army had afforded Nabal and his ranching operation protection from thieves and marauders that harassed the locals. Not only did Nabal refuse, he insulted David to the men who had made the request. When they reported back to David what this fool had said, David’s knee-jerk response was, “strap ‘em on boys, we going to make Nabal pay up—with his life.”

Now it just so happened that this brutish man, Nabal, had a lovely and wise wife, Abigail. Sensing the looming disaster, she skillfully intervenes—intercedes really—with David and averts the death of her husband and destruction of all that he owned. However, when Nabal found out what his wife had done, rather than react with gratitude, he went into such a rage that he had a stroke or a heart attack, or something really bad, and died!

Among the many streams of life application from which we might drink in this story, the one I want to call to you attention is David’s unregulated passion. Let it stand as a warning to us that when we let anger rule our emotions, we are in danger of allowing it to ruin our lives. Anger almost ruined David’s life on this occasion—had he followed through on it, he would have been guilty of murder.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that passion is a powerful spring, but a bad regulator. It will get you motivated, but don’t depend on it to manage you. David’s passion got away from him—he let it regulate his emotions—and it led him to the brink of doing something really dumb.

Which, by the way, I think, is why we love David so much—he was so thoroughly human. In David, we don’t get the polished ideal to which we aspire but never attain, we get a rough-edged reality in a meandering journey of spiritual transformation. And we can relate to a guy like that. You’ve got to love a guy who’s capable of unmitigated dumbness. But you certainly don’t want to follow his dumb ways. In this moment, David was full of passion but empty of God—in an instant, he’s become a fool. He was on the verge of becoming Saul.

And that is where Abigail comes in. She steps in and puts David in touch again with the beauty of God as David had done for Saul in the cave (1 Samuel 24:16-21). Through Abigail, David realized who he was, he recognized what he was about to do, and he remembered what his life was destined for. Thankfully, on that day, cooler heads prevailed.

God created us with a high capacity for passion, and that is a wonderful thing. Much of the good that has been accomplished in the world began in passion. But, as Emerson noted, while passion is a powerful spring, it is a horrible regulator, and when it is untempered, can do much harm. How do we temper our passion? Internal and external controls—we must develop the fruit of self-control internally then empower cool-headed friends externally and give them access to the kill switch of passion.

Make sure to cultivate a cool head. But on the occasion when emotions get the best of you and you shift into hothead, make sure you check in with your Abigail.
Without exception and at all times, let cooler heads prevail.

Going Deeper With God: Who is your “Abigail?” Believe, you need one, and so do I!

Recipe For Revival

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Much is said in the spiritual community about revival—a longing to return to a sustained space of divine favor and uncommon blessing—yet little of revival is ever experienced. Why is that, and is it even possible in our day to have revival? The reasons we don’t and the reasons we still can are the same. There are conditions that must be met to live in the revival zone. Over and again in scripture we are told that it is nothing less than wholehearted devotion, authentic repentance and an organic pursuit of holiness that releases the mighty hand of God.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Samuel 7:1-4

So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the Lord. They brought it to Abinadab’s house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the Lord. The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all. Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.

Finally! We traveled through a nearly 400 year cycle of backsliding, subjugation, repentance and rival during the period of the Judges, and it has been a consistently depressing journey with only brief sunbreaks of spiritual awakening for the most part. Now, however, the prophet Samuel bursts onto the scene and catches Israel at a time of willingness to once again turn their hearts to the Lord.

Samuel will lead Israel as its last and greatest judge for at least a decade. His righteous administration wouldn’t be the longest of the judges, by far, but he would usher in a period of deep and abiding righteousness that he would faithfully pass on to Israel’s first king, a promising young man named Saul. When Saul’s leadership eventually went off the rails, Samuel was still there to steer the brightest star in Israel’s history to the throne, David, the man after God’s own heart. Samuel’s righteous influence cast a large and indelible shadow in Israel’s history.

This chapter is most instructive as Samuel laid out the conditions for national revival. Israel suffered under their pesky bully of a neighbor, the Philistines, until they finally came to their good senses and humbly returned to the Lord. And the Lord welcomed them back—and he would bless them with freedom, joy and prosperity over the course of the next century. 1 Samuel 7:10-12 highlights just one of the many victories that Israel would experience during this golden period—a stunning win over the Philistines where the Lord himself actually took up their fight:

But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

“Thus far the Lord has helped us.” That was a prophetic description of life for Israel under godly leadership like Samuel’s. It likewise prophetically described what the nation would experience through the kingly reigns of Saul, David and Solomon—this would be a time of military, economic and spiritual expansion for Israel. Moreover, it is a prophetic description of what will be true for God’s people of any time and place when they, too, return to the Lord and live in the revival zone.

The revival zone—what in the world is that? Samuel was very clear to explain what it would take to get into and stay in that blessable space:

  • Wholeheartedness: “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts…” Samuel was not referring to just a sense of remorse, but deep repentance and godly sorrow that God’s people needed to offer if they wanted to come back under his sustained favor.
  • Sanctification: “then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths…” Repentance meant a change of mind and heart—a 180 degree turn from evil to pursue what was righteous. It required them to cast off their ungodly practices and dependencies to follow hard after holiness.
  • Service: “commit yourselves to the Lord…” It was not just about what they were no longer to do (worship idols), but what they were now going to do (actively serve God’s purposes).
  • Devotion: “and serve him only.” This was not to be just a partial return, but a full surrender to the rule of God over their lives individually and collectively.

Then Samuel adds that when those conditions of revival are met, God’s favor will ensue: “He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” We are told that the Israelites did just that, “they repented and served the Lord only.” And the Lord did what he had promised:

So the Philistines were subdued and didn’t invade Israel again for some time. And throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the Lord’s powerful hand was raised against the Philistines. (1 Samuel 7:13)

This marked a turning point for Israel. During the time of the judges, God had also delivered Israel, but they always turned back to their sinful ways once the thrill of the victory had faded. And each time, God would again allow their enemies to subdue them. Not this time; there would be no backsliding. That is why Samuel set up a stone between Mizpah and Jeshanah and called the stone, “Ebenezer”- the stone of help. (1 Samuel 7:12) Each time the Israelites passed this marker, they would remember the joy and freedom of God’s favor. As they passed their Ebenzer, it would be a visual reminder that the conditions of living under God’s mighty hand of blessing required of them wholeheartedness, sanctification, service and devotion.

God still longs for his people to live in the revival zone—that space of uncommon blessing and divine favor. Maybe we need to set up Ebenezer of our own, because those same conditions that Samuel gave will invite God’s uncommon favor into our lives, too!

Going Deeper With God: Do you have an Ebenezer stone that reminds you of the spiritual conditions that invite revival in your personal life or in your church? Think through what would help you to daily remember how you are to live before God.

Can God Trust Me?

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

The most important benchmark for spiritual leaders is that they have gained God’s trust. If you aspire to influence with God, and by that, influence with people, then you must make it your prayer that God will find you trustworthy. And not only in your praying, you must make it your conscious and continual effort to be a man or woman of unquestionable trust. Nothing matters more.

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 12:7-8

Of all my house, my servant Moses is the one I trust. I speak to him face to face, clearly, and not in riddles! He sees the Lord as he is. So why were you not afraid to criticize my servant Moses?

Time and again, Moses, hands down the greatest leader the world has ever known, faced challenges to his leadership. Even from within his inner circle there were people, who for a variety of reasons—all of them wrong—tried to take him down. Particularly disappointing was the uprising of his own brothers and sister against his God-given authority.

Miriam, with her brother Aaron’s support, became jealous of Moses and criticized him. God had been doing marvelous things among the Israelites, revealing his presence in ways not seen nor heard before. Most satisfying to the nation of Israel was that God was revealing himself to them as a very personal and powerful Deity. Of course, up to this point, Moses had been God’s point man. God spoke through him to the people in unheard of ways. But Moses was just one man, and the nation was exceedingly large, so God instructed Moses to expand the base of spokesmen so the word of the Lord could be spread more effectively among the two million Israelites. In Numbers 11, seventy elders of Israel were selected for that role. And even these men had gotten into the act and were prophesying as the Spirit of God came upon them. God was showing up, revealing his presence, revealing his word, revealing his power and revealing his provision.

Something else was showing us, too. Pride! Miriam and Aaron, too, had tremendous encounters with the Lord, and had been used in outstanding ways, but they wanted more. But when they saw Moses getting so much recognition from God and from the people, they were critical because, as his sister and brother, they knew he was flawed. And the perfect opportunity to bring him down a notch or two came in the form of his wife. They focused their criticism on the fact that he had married a non-Israelite woman, and used that as their justification to diminish him while seizing more recognition for themselves.

Amazingly, God stepped in to defend Moses: “Listen carefully to what I’m telling you. If there is a prophet of God among you, I make myself known to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But I don’t do it that way with my servant Moses; he has the run of my entire house; I speak to him intimately, in person, in plain talk without riddles: He ponders the very form of GodSo why did you show no reverence or respect in speaking against my servant, against Moses?” (Numbers 12:6-8, MSG)

If you are a spiritual leader, how awesome would it be that God would literally come to your defense? Would to God that he would do that today when his human leaders are under unfair criticism and flesh-inspired attack!

But what is even more powerful is God’s evaluation of Moses as he sets Miriam and Aaron straight. God acknowledges that he speaks through others prophetically, but Moses is on an altogether higher plain—God trusts him, so he speaks to him face to face; Moses received the Lord’s direct communication; Moses sees the Lord as he is.

What a testimony! And as a spiritual leader, that should be the benchmark I set for both my life and ministry—that God trusts me.

That is my prayer, that God will find me trustworthy! How about you? In whatever role of influence God has given you, whether great or small, whether others respect your leadership or you are facing challenges, make it your aim to humbly, submissively offer yourself to the One you represent, and allow him to put his divine affirmation upon your leadership.

Going Deeper With God: Do you desire to be like Moses? Try offering this prayer: “Father god, make me Moses-like in my attitude, in my service to you, and in my influence with people. Thank you for hearing my prayer and answering me when I call out to you. What a gracious, merciful and loving Father you are.”

Romanticizing The Past

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

In a very real sense, sin is an attempt to fill the emptiness in our lives with the things that God will ultimately provide, but doing so apart from waiting and trusting through faith for him to give them in his way and in his time. The scary thing is, when we stubbornly persist in our fleshly attempts to satisfy the empty part of our soul, God may actually give us what we crave—but allow an even deeper emptiness within. We must be careful what we ask for, and rather learn to seek only what he desires to give.

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 11:4-6

The foreign rabble within the Israelite community began to crave other food, and again the children of Israel started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

The children of Israel were a couple of years into their wilderness experience, and God was developing their faith by testing their trust. And on several occasions, the people failed the test. This was just such an occasion. The “rabble” among them—likely a non-Israelite group that followed them out of Egypt, for whatever reason—were a constant source of trouble. In this case, they influenced God’s people to complain about his provision by romanticizing “all the wonderful provisions” they so enjoyed back in Egypt. Of course, they wouldn’t have left Egypt if those were truly the good old days. But undisciplined desires began to taint their memories, and they started longing for a return to the “pleasures” of Egypt, which of course, were sinful pleasures.

Is sin pleasurable? You bet it is—that’s why it works so well. Hebrews 11 refers to this very thing: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Hebrews 11:24-26)

To be sure, sin is attractive. There is a certain “value in its treasures”, as we see in the case of Moses’ rejection of sin’s seasonal satisfaction. There is an enjoyment of the “pleasures of sin for a season”: the buzz from that alcoholic drink, the high from that illicit drug, the thrill of crossing that sexual boundary, the emotional release of that angry, hurtful tirade, the general freedom of that life controlled by sinful desires rather than by the Holy Spirit. Yes, there is pleasure in sin—for a season.

But seasons end and sinful pleasures are fleeting: they are short-lived, and they are progressively destructive to everything that God intends for us: a healthy body, harmonious relationships, and a holy life. And sinful pleasures dull our sense of reality—we begin to romanticize what we once had. In that sense, when we long for the good old days where sin reigned in our lives, we need to snap ourselves back into reality and admit that the good old days weren’t actually that good; in truth, they were the bad old days. Listen to how author Larry Osborn talks about this very thing:

Almost every generation looks back and wonders what happened to the “good old days.” It’s human nature. The evils of the past tend to fade from memory, while the injustices and evils of the present stand out in bold relief. Perhaps that is why Solomon wrote, “Do not say ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

Whenever we are tempted to ask, “why were the old days better than these?”, that should be a red alert that we need to do as Moses did and compare the short-lived benefits of sin with the long-term reward of trusting God. When we fail to trust in God’s promise to fully meet our needs and satisfy our desires, we will end up romanticizing the past’s sketchy track record of fully pleasuring our heart’s desire. The things we once depended on for satisfaction and security, the pleasurable sensations that money or power or attention or relationships or possessions or food or sex produces, apart from God, are what C.S. Lewis referred to as the “sweet poison of the false infinite.” These are what we might call substitute sacreds—the surrogates we desperately use to fill the emptiness of our dissatisfied lives.

In reality, however, no substitute sacred ever fulfills what it so brazenly promises. Only the one true Sacred can do that! St. Augustine said, “Sin comes when we take a perfectly natural desire or longing or ambition and try desperately to fulfill it without God…All these good things, and all our security, are rightly found only and completely in him.” God longs for us to come trustingly to him with our needy souls so he can graciously and abundantly and unendingly satisfy our deepest longings and most powerful passions—in his way and in his time. As Augustine said, God has created us for himself, and we will only find satisfaction when we find our satisfaction in him.

In a very real sense, sin is an attempt to fill the emptiness in our lives with the things that God will ultimately provide, but doing so apart from waiting and trusting through faith for him to give them in his way and in his time. The scary thing is, when we stubbornly persist in our self-centered attempts to satisfy the empty part of our soul, God may actually give us what we crave—but allow an even deeper emptiness within. Psalm 106:13-15 offers this sad and sobering commentary on our undisciplined desires:

The children of Israel soon forgot God’s works;
They did not wait for His counsel,
But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness,
And tested God in the desert.
So He gave them their request,
But sent leanness into their soul.

To get what we want, yet end up with leanness in our souls—what a sad possibility. Let the Israelites in Numbers 11 be a continual cautionary tale that we must be careful what we ask for. Rather, we must learn to seek only what God desires to give and be grateful for what he has already graciously provided.

Going Deeper With God: Read and reflect on Psalm 106, then do two things: First repent of your fleshly desires and cry out to God to lead you not into temptation. Second, practice gratitude for what you’ve got. Doing that will cause you to focus on the rewards of following God and reject the false infinites of what you left behind in your life of sin.

Pray Bigly!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Why not pray audacious prayers for victory! Why not shout—yes shout, that’s what Moses did—shout out your prayer as you open the front door: “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” It might freak your neighbors out a bit, but if it came down to it, I would rather have God’s favor going ahead of me into my day that than my neighbors’ approval.

Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 10:33-36

The Israelites marched for three days after leaving the mountain of the Lord, with the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant moving ahead of them to show them where to stop and rest. As they moved on each day, the cloud of the Lord hovered over them. And whenever the Ark set out, Moses would shout, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” And when the Ark was set down, he would say, “Return, O Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel!”

Should we pray each day for protection and victory? Do we need to daily ask God to watch over our children, our work, our homes? Should we be bothering him to give us success in what is out in front of us as we leave the house? Doesn’t God already know what we need; doesn’t he already have us covered?

My response to that is, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Besides, Jesus taught us to pray, “keep us from the evil one.” It seems that the Lord’s Prayer Jesus urged us to pray had a sense of dailyness to it: “Give us today our daily bread.”

These kinds of prayers for protection and victory aren’t so much to remind a God who may have forgotten about us. He never forgets. How could he? We are his own special people. Isaiah captured the Lord’s tender watchfulness over our lives when he said, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne. Though she may forget, I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palm of my hand.” (Isaiah 49:15) No, these kinds of prayer are not to shake God out of his lapse of memory, it is to remind us that he has us continually covered. They are to bring us back to a daily acknowledgement of our utter but joyful dependence on him for provision, protection and victory.

So I say why not pray these audacious prayers for victory! Why not shout—yes shout, that’s what Moses did—shout out your prayer as you open the front door: “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” It might freak your neighbors out a bit, but if it came down to it, I would rather have God’s favor going ahead of me into my day than my neighbors’ approval. And at day’s end, why not offer a prayer before your family wraps up and heads to sleep, “Return, O Lord, to the people in this house!”

Some think these kinds of prayers are pointless, even showing a lack of trust in a God who already knows. Others say when we pray prayers like this, we are using prayer like a magic charm to gain the favor of the gods. I disagree. Scripture would lean less toward those opinions than the one expressed by author and pastor Mark Batterson. Let me offer some insights from his book, The Circle Maker,

Each prayer is like a seed that gets planted in the ground. It disappears for a season, but it eventually bears fruit that blesses future generations. In fact, our prayers bear fruit forever.

God won’t answer 100 percent of the prayers we don’t pray.

Why do we mistakenly think that God is offended by our prayers for the impossible? The truth is that God is offended by anything less! God is offended when we ask Him to do things we can do ourselves. It’s the impossible prayers that honor God because they reveal our faith and allow God to reveal His glory.

God won’t answer 100 percent of the prayers you don’t pray. If that is true, I say why not ask, and ask bigly! Ask him daily, and nightly, for protection and victory and anything else you have in mind. God can handle even the prayers that are kind of ridiculous. He doesn’t get offended by your praying. In fact, my guess is, since he is your Father, that he likes it when you as his child believe enough in his generosity that you are willing to ask early and often for anything that is on your heart.

Going Deeper With God: Pray about everything—big, small, medium. Take it to God. Be audacious in praying. It both honors God and pleases his heart because it reveals your trust in his goodness and generosity.