“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” – Luke 6:45
A business man once told me that people make decisions based on emotions, not reasoning. If they want something badly enough, they will find a way to justify the decision and will think they are acting rationally. So I began to watch in the business world as people made choices that seemed to be because the numbers added up, but as I listened to what they said, it often became obvious that the decision was made mostly because they wanted to. Some even acknowledged that to be the case.
If we understand that our wants are going to steer our decision making, we realize we can’t reason our way into being better people. Emotions are stronger than logic almost every time. So what do we do if we know we need to change our behavior? We acknowledge that, since we will do what we want, what we want must change. And, as spiritual mentors have long taught, we change what we want by consistently practicing some simple, do-able things.
Liturgical readings and prayers, Scripture passages, creeds, or hymns sincerely repeated become powerful forces to mold our desires. Consistent, repetitive acts of worship, even using someone else’s words, invite God to reach into our hearts and tune them to loving the best things. Add Bible reading, prayer, and communion with other believers, and we find that, over time, these holy habits change us. God’s desires become our desires. We will do what we want to do and it will be good!
“A mistaken thought may be corrected easily, but an errant affection is nearly unmanageable.” – Watchman Nee
Jesus taught what it means to follow him. It means saying “no” to our own ideas and walking with him. Not second guessing his plan. Not explaining why we prefer our way to his. It means yielding decisions and desires to him. Why? Because he knows what we need better than we do:
We want sunshine every day. God knows the earth needs rain, snow, and even a good lightning storm once in awhile.
We want trouble-free lives for our children. God uses troubles to mold them and draw them to him, just as he does with us.
We want everyone to like us. God wants obedience, boldness, and holiness over acclaim.
We want good health. God wants us to realize our frailty, our dependence on him. Maybe he allows failure in our bodies to help us share in his sufferings.
We want everyone to live at peace. He reminds us that he knew his coming to earth would create division, but he came anyway.
Yielding to God is not fatalistic. It’s following as his disciples did: walking with him wherever he led, stopping when he stopped, listening when he taught, and doing what he asked. It’s trusting his understanding and his intentions. Leaning in. Living confidently. Listening for his whispers. Following with anticipation. His way is better than my way every time!
“In all his acts God orders all things, whether good or evil, for the good of those who know him and seek him and who strive to bring their own freedom under obedience to his divine purpose. “ – Thomas Merton
It’s Christmas morning. The gifts are wrapped and under the tree. Soon everyone will gather, the paper will be ripped and balled and the gifts unveiled. Exciting. Fun. We like to give gifts to each other. We like to receive them, too!
But, when it’s all over at the end of Christmas Day, will you get what you wanted? Will your deepest needs be satisfied? Or have you discovered, as many of us have, that the things we need most will never be found under the tree?
Do you know that Jesus wants us to tell him what we want? Once when he was walking to Jericho, a blind beggar called out to him. Jesus stopped and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man could have asked for anything, but he asked for what we all might agree was the most logical thing: “Restore my sight”. Jesus gave him exactly what he said he wanted. But, if he had asked, Jesus would have given him far more: eternal life, forgiveness, joy, peace, relationships, unconditional love, and his ongoing presence.
Maybe this Christmas Day, Jesus is asking each of us, What do you really want for Christmas? What will you ask him for? It’s an important question. Ask big. Only he can give you the things you long for most – things you will never find under the tree.
“Come close. My heart is ready. Come close. My heart is here. Show me I’m longing for you. Draw near. All I ever wanted is found in you. Come close.”
God speaks often about persistence in prayer, asking until we receive, and trusting he hears and will respond. But, apparently, there are times when we need to stop storming the gates of heaven for an answer we want desperately. Sometimes God simply says “no”.
If that’s happened to you, you’re in good company. Moses had that experience when he pleaded with God to let him go over with the people into the promised land and God said: “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:26b). In other words, “Stop asking me, Moses. I already told you ‘no'”.
Paul had something similar happen when he prayed three times for his physical problem to be taken away. God didn’t answer the prayer the way Paul had hoped, but he did promise that his grace would see Paul through the difficulty.
If Moses and Paul, amazing saints, didn’t always get “yesses” to their prayers, we realize that sometimes we, too, have to accept “no” as an answer! When that happens, what do we do?
We stop repeating a prayer we know God has already said “no” to.
We don’t protest.
We persevere, asking for faith to rely on him to be with us in the difficult circumstance.
We acknowledge, as Paul did, that human weakness can be an avenue through which God displays his power – in ways we couldn’t even think to pray about.
We keep on loving, trusting, and worshiping God.
And then, at some point, we’ll find that God’s “no” was a great blessing!
“God’s refusals are always merciful – ‘severe mercies’ at times – but mercies all the same. God never denies us our heart’s desire except to give us something better.” – Elisabeth Elliot
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.” – Isaiah 30:21
Are you a plodder?
We want to soar like eagles, not trudge along like mules. We want our ideas to go viral. We want to influence thousands. We want our posts to be liked and shared, our opinions welcomed. We want to see that we matter.
C. S. Lewis put it this way in talking about his grief after his wife’s death: “We want to prove to ourselves that we are lovers on a grand scale, tragic heroes; not just ordinary privates in the huge army of the bereaved, slogging along and making the best of a bad job.” We all hate to think we are ordinary. We have aspirations to greatness.
But, for most of us, instead of soaring, we plod. We try to do the next right thing and the next and the next. All small things, all building something that we hope will matter, even though we can’t even imagine what it will be. Instead we find ourselves on a path just putting one foot in front of the other.
Maybe that needs to be OK with us. Maybe that’s exactly where God wants us: Following the path He opens in front of us and trusting Him to make our journey significant. I think He calls it faithfulness.
So, if we find ourselves plodding along, let’s not give up. Let’s keep going, listening for His direction, and anticipating what He will do with our small steps today.
“I can plod. That is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.” – William Carey (1761-1844), missionary to India