Selective Hearing

Ninety years ago today, my grandparents were married in a small ceremony in Elkhart, Indiana. Thirty-one years later, my parents were married in another small ceremony in Cassopolis, Michigan. My grandparents were married almost 63 years before my grandmother passed away. My parents were married over 35 years before my dad passed. My mother, when I was preparing to marry, passed on some of the advice she had received from her grandparents (who were married over 50 years themselves!) . It involved what my great-grandmother called “selective hearing.”

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My great-grandmother, my grandfather, and my mother were all “fussers.” They tended to fret and stew over little things. They liked to “vent” their feelings in the moment when they felt them. Their spouses learned to listen without comment, or even walk away and let their partners “get it out of their system.” Later, they could have a calmer discussion if the situation warranted it. Similarly, if the “fretting” partner was impatient about something, the other would sometimes selectively “ignore” a summons or critical remark. It wasn’t that they were bad listeners– in fact they were excellent listeners–but they learned the wisdom of not immediately responding or reacting to things said in moments of emotion or frustration. They were listening beyond just the words that were being spoken– especially when the words were many and emotional!

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God is always listening to us. He hears our every cry for help, and also all of our complaints! In His wisdom, He also practices “selective hearing.” He may sometimes seem silent or even indifferent; but often He is letting us “talk it out of our system.” He remains with us, ready to give us the help we need, but not willing to indulge our emotional tirades or snits.

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One of the greatest examples of this can be found in the Psalms. David (and other psalmists) often poured out all their fears and frustrations– “where are you, God?,” “why do the wicked prosper?,” “when will you rescue me?” Amazingly, many of their complaints and questions are not answered with a specific action. Yet these same psalms end with hope and assurance–as the psalmist “talks it out,” he is reminded of God’s essential character and faithfulness through the years. God’s steady and gentle presence, though silent, communicates His commitment and Love.

I tend to be a “fretter,” and my loving husband has learned to have “selective hearing” around me. His faithful presence and willingness to let me “talk it out” without judgment and recrimination is very freeing. David very seldom “frets,” but when he does, I am learning to respond with wisdom and selectively hear what is in his heart, and not just what comes out of his mouth in a moment of frustration.

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I am so thankful for the wisdom of God (and the wisdom of my husband), that doesn’t immediately jump into my occasional emotional whirlpool, but waits to pull me out and set me on calmer, solid ground! I am grateful for God’s “selective hearing!”

It Is Well With My Soul

I’ve been reading through the book of Job this past week. Job’s story challenges us– especially if we trust in our circumstances to confirm God’s love for us. Job was a seeming pawn in a situation beyond his control or understanding. He lost nearly everything– his cattle, flocks, all his children, and even his health. The only thing he did not lose was his nagging wife, and his faithful, but very unhelpful friends.

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At first, Job’s friends seem very supportive. They stay with him, saying nothing, just offering their presence for a week! But then, they start spouting the kind of useless aphorisms and accusations that make Job’s bad situation infinitely worse. They “remind” him that good people don’t suffer–only the wicked experience pain and loss. This knowledge, they assure him, comes from their own experience, and the wisdom of the past. When Job protests that he is innocent, that his suffering is NOT because of his own wickedness, they become increasingly angry and irrational– making up accusations and heaping blame on Job for daring to “question” God.

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But Job’s friends, even though they speak with confidence and sound very much like many people we hear today, are wrong. Job’s experience is real–suffering comes to the innocent, while the wicked often “get away with” their sin, living lives of ease and comfort at the expense of others. We see it in the world around us– innocent people are the targets of mass shootings, or war, or famine, or disease. Meanwhile, criminals get “off” on a technicality; decorated war “heroes” destroy entire cities; powerful tyrants bend laws and oppress the helpless.

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Where is God in all this? WHO is God in all this? There are many different responses, but I want to look at three that are all present in the book of Job:

  • Mrs. Job: “Curse God and Die.” Some people look at evil and suffering, and they decide that God must be a fraud. Either He cannot or He will not destroy evil, or He would have done so before now. They declare with great defiance that either God does not even exist, or He must be malicious, capricious, petty, and weak.
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  • Job’s friends: “Everyone knows that God rewards good and punishes evil.” Doesn’t the Bible say this? Isn’t this what we learned in Sunday School? Surprisingly, most of us would say, “Yes, that is exactly what I learned as a child, and it is exactly what the Bible says!” But look closer. The Bible says that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) It goes on to say that “The Just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:17)–not their good works. God DOES reward goodness, and he DOES punish evil– but He also redeems the wicked and causes the good to go through times of trial and suffering. God is more than a two-dimensional dispenser of rewards and punishments. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), and there are times that He chooses not to explain His ways “in the moment” of our suffering, or in the moments when wickedness seems to be “winning.”
    Unfortunately, when bad times come; when we experience pain, or watch someone else going through inexplicable suffering, if our view of God is incomplete or two-dimensional, we are left repeating the little we KNOW (or think we know) about God, and defending, not God’s character, but OUR knowledge. This is especially true if we have not been tested ourselves.
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  • Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (Job 13:15) “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27 Even when Job struggled with his pain and suffering–even as he defended his character to his accusing friends, Job KNEW that God was GOD. He knew all that his friends were saying ABOUT God, but he also knew God–even when he didn’t understand His actions. And after all the arguments had been made and all the “easy” answers had been spilled out, GOD did not slay Job; he did not leave him in his agony. Neither did He provide Job with detailed answers or explanations. But He redeemed the situation– Job ended up with more blessings than before. More importantly, Job ended up with a greater understanding of who God is.
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When all is not well with our health, or our finances, or our safety, or our relationships, it can still be “well with (our) Soul.” God does not change, but He does ask us to trust Him, even when His ways are not our ways. God will reward good and punish evil– but it may not be in our lifetime or as we imagine. God may stay silent during times of great stress and pain, but He will not leave us! In every situation, we can trust Him.

Will we?

What Is It Worth?

My husband and I own a small shop. It’s actually a two-part shop, with used items, antiques and collectibles in the front, and amateur radio gear in the back. We have a few “new” radios, books, and other items, but most of our items are second-hand. This sometimes creates a problem in pricing.

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New items usually come with a manufacturer’s recommended price, based on what the item costs from the factory or warehouse. Sometimes, price is based on what we pay at a wholesaler. But used items aren’t coming from a wholesaler or a factory warehouse. Often, we pick up pieces from an estate sale or another shop like ours. Sometimes, we are selling items that were salvaged or even donated.

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So how do we determine a price on a used item? For that matter, how are prices determined for some of the new items that we sell? Of course there are a few guidelines:

  • Basic costs– what did it cost to produce the item (or procure the item)? How much for the materials? Labor? Shipping? Packaging? Also, what are the basic costs of running the store– will the sales of these items be enough to cover expenses like the light bill and rent and miscellaneous supplies as well as covering the cost to replace them?
  • Supply and Demand– how rare is this item? How easily can someone find a similar item at a similar price? How easily can we find more of this item (or something similar)? Do we have “too many” of the same item? Which items are selling “too fast” at a lower price?
  • Quality– some items involve more craftsmanship. Some contain sturdier or more expensive materials–real copper wiring, metal gears instead of plastic, silver v. silver-plate, hand-carved instead of mass-produced, etc.
  • “Aesthetics”–Antiques are often valued for their condition. But it varies from one piece or type of piece to another. Glass and ceramics are more valuable if they are unchipped. Old magazine ads carefully cut out and attractively framed can be more valuable than the entire magazine from which they came. Certain colors of glass are worth more than others. Wooden items that have been repainted, repaired, or refinished can actually lose value over those left in their original condition. Some items sell better with a “patina,” while others do better if they are polished and clean.
  • Ultimately, however, the items in our store are “worth” only what we decide, and what our customers are willing to pay for them. If we are “wrong” about the worth of an item, it may sit on the shelf collecting dust– either because we have priced it too high, or because the price is so low that a customer mistrusts our judgement about the quality of the product.
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Why am I writing about this on a blog about prayer?

We have a tendency to place values on people and situations, as well as items. Sometimes, we think it “isn’t worth it” to pray about a minor problem that we face, or someone we don’t know very well, or don’t think of very highly. Perhaps we think that our requests are too ordinary, or too small, or too chronic to bring before God. Lost keys; that lingering pain in the elbow; the barking dog that keeps us up at night; the sibling that hasn’t spoken to us in 15 years–we wonder if they are worth making the effort (or continuing to make the effort).

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But, in God’s economy, every person–and each moment in each person’s day–is of enormous value! God uses the small things of life to make a big impact. Every prayer that is lifted to God from a sincere heart and with even the tiniest grain of faith can have unbelievable consequences. There are hundreds of examples throughout the Bible, and hundreds of thousands of other testimonies to illustrate this truth The same is true for “big” prayers– the impossible situations– that plague us. War, famine, disease, corruption and injustice are NOT too big for God to handle. Just because they are too big for us to solve (or even understand) does not make them too big for us to pray about, or our prayers too little to make a difference.

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I was reading in 2 Samuel 16 the other day. King David faced betrayal– from his son, Absolem, and also from one of his counselors, Ahitophel. David prayed– almost as an afterthought– that Ahitophel would give Absolem bad advice. And he did! But God also prompted David to send another counselor, Hushai, as a secret agent. At first, Absolem followed the advice of Ahitophel without question, and it seemed to work in his favor. But at a crucial moment, Absolem hesitated and asked for a second opinion. Ahitophel’s advice, according to the writer of 2 Samuel, was actually the better advice. But Absolem chose to follow the clever but ineffective advice of Hushai instead! David’s prayer was answered, and even when it seemed that David’s prayer “wasn’t enough,” God protected David, frustrated Ahitophel, and brought judgment and punishment to Absolem, ending in his death. There is no record of either Absolem or Ahitophel praying at all during the rebellion.

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God won’t judge the quantity or quality of what we pray for, or who we pray for, or how we pray– He values it all. Prayer is truly “priceless!”

Be Careful What You Pray For…

When I was a young woman, I prayed for patience. Several well-meaning friends and family tried to tell me that this was a mistake. “Be careful what you pray for,” they said. It was their belief that, if I prayed for patience, God would send situations into my life that would force me to be patient. God doesn’t “give” patience, they warned–He merely teaches us to be patient.

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I wanted more patience, in preparation for marriage and children; I wanted to be a patient wife and mother. But I was unprepared for this reaction of others. DON’T ask God for something good? Isn’t patience (long-suffering) one of the attributes listed as the “Fruit of the Spirit?”(Galatians 5:23-24) Why should I hesitate, or fear to ask God for something that will help me serve Him better?

Looking back, I suppose some of those same friends and family might say, “I told you so!” I’m sure they wanted a happy and easy future for me– one that didn’t include some of the challenges that I have had to face. And in their eyes, I was “tempting fate” to draw attention to my lack of patience. On the surface, it probably looks like that’s exactly what happened. I never had any children; I didn’t marry until I was in my mid-40s, and I have learned patience in many areas through many challenges.

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But that’s just one perspective. What if I hadn’t prayed that prayer? Would God have let me drift through life without “needing” more patience? Would I have “avoided” the years of loneliness and lack of children? Would I have married and had a family and lived happily ever after without having to learn patience? Would my life have been totally different? Or would my circumstances have been the same, except that I never would have learned patience–never sought to become more patient during the same trials and challenges? What kind of life might I have had WITHOUT patience?

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During the years that I was single, I worked full-time in youth-oriented jobs– teaching and serving in the youth department at a library. I learned patience by disciplining teenagers, cleaning up after toddlers, answering the same questions twenty times a day, and dealing with obstinate parents! I suffered with my students when one of their classmates died; and when it happened again the next year. I agonized with my student who chose to keep her baby after those close to her wanted her to have an abortion. And I rejoiced with her when she brought her son to visit me a year later. I suffered the frustration of parents whose children were rebellious, or had learning issues, or had been diagnosed with autism or ADHD. But I also endured the long nights when I had no little ones to tuck in or talk to (and learned to be thankful for the nights I didn’t have to deal with fever and sickness, or arguing–again– about the rules of the house!) But in the course of my work, I connected with hundreds of children and teens. They were never “mine” to hold or scold or say, “I love you”, but they touched my life, and I hope that I touched theirs as well. I didn’t choose my career path knowing that I would never become a “mom.” But I needed (and learned) patience in the process. I learned patience in the years I spent single–and I learned to appreciate my husband in ways I wouldn’t have as a young woman.

Story hour at the library c. 2009.

There IS some truth to the phrase, “Be careful what you pray for.” When we pray, we should pray for things that align with His will– like wisdom, patience, courage, or peace. We should not pray for things that contradict His will– instant popularity, wealth without work, or relationships or circumstances that dishonor Him. We should also be prepared for God to answer in the way He deems best–which may not look or feel like what we desired. It was His best for me not to marry young or have children of my own. He has since blessed me with a wonderful husband and step-children and grandchildren. But He might have chosen not to. And I would still thank Him for the life I have led. It’s been fantastic. I’ve met amazing people, had amazing opportunities, and traveled to wonderful places. I don’t feel like God ever “punished” me for asking for patience– instead, I feel that He has more than answered my prayer. That doesn’t mean that I have learned to be perfectly patient in every situation (just ask my husband!) But God is eternally good and faithful to give us what is in our best interest– if we ask, AND if we trust His answer more than our expectation. (see Hebrews 11:6; John 17; 1 Peter 5:7)

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Don’t be too afraid or too proud to ask God for any good thing. God will not only give you what you need, He will be with you every step of the way as you learn and grow, and develop into the person He wants you to be!

Childlike Faith

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I got to spend the day with my granddaughter earlier this week.  She’s three, and has all the energy of a firecracker, and the curiosity of a kitten.  She is learning to discern what things and which people are trustworthy (or not).  Having worked with children from infants to teens over the years, I have seen this progression in others– sometimes with good results, and sometimes ending in disaster.

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We hear about “childlike” faith–Jesus spoke of it; even praised it.  Yet we see examples of people whose simple faith puts them in danger from predators, bullies, scam artists, and other perils.  Is this really what Christ wants from us?  No!  Jesus didn’t commend foolishness; he told dozens of parables warning of foolishness and simple-mindedness.  The Apostle Paul also talks of “babies” in the faith needing to grow wiser and stronger.  There is a difference between having the faith of a child, and having the brain of a child.  Jesus doesn’t want us to be ignorant, gullible, or bratty, but He loved the willingness of children to ask questions, seek out answers, and listen with open minds and hearts.

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Most people become cynical over the years– some far earlier than others.  They trust no one and nothing but themselves, thinking they know best, or frightened to find out what they don’t know.  In many ways, they are as vulnerable (or even more so) as those who trust everyone.

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My granddaughter is still at the stage where she trusts her parents and grandparents to watch out for her, give her good advice, and answer all her many questions.  As she learns new skills, she often “consults” with us; asking our approval, wanting our input–as she meets new people, she will also take many of her cues from us.  Should she be polite, informal, respectful, quiet, reserved, loud, assertive?  She is still learning, but she still trusts us more than, say, her brothers or peers.  There will come a time when she will develop the habit of either following the examples we have set for manners, traditions, habits, and such, or looking to other models.

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Watching her, I was reminded of two very important questions I need to ask myself?

  • What does she see and hear from me?  Am I trustworthy in the way I talk to (and about!) others?  About her?  Am I giving her solid advice and good examples that will help her develop good habits and relationships?  Am I “present”– not being distracted or half-hearted in responding to her needs?  Am I teaching her wisdom about the dangers she must face in this world?  Or do I pretend they don’t exist or won’t touch her?

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  • Who am I trusting?  The obvious “right” answer is Jesus Christ, but is that the reality?  Do I lean on my own understanding, or consult with “experts” without asking for God’s wisdom or seeking His approval?  Am I seeking to learn from Him how to navigate the dangers of this world, or pretending they won’t touch me?

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Having childlike faith is not the same as having a childish faith; it’s not the same as being foolish or ignoring facts.  Smart children ask questions– lots of them!  But they listen to the answers.  Foolish children (and foolish adults) claim to know all the answers, and refuse to listen to advice.

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Praying in Anger

Ephesians 4:25-32 English Standard Version (ESV)

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

I grew up hearing that anger is a sin.  Yet God experiences anger and wrath.  And the Apostle Paul says in this passage that we are to “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26a).

Anger is an emotion; feeding on anger, wallowing in it, stewing and screaming and acting out under the control of our anger– that is sin.  That is why Paul goes on to say that we should “not let the sun go down on your anger ” (4:26b).  Anger is not a “bad” emotion, but it is a bad master.  We need to take control over our anger to resolve it, and let it go.  In Genesis, God spoke to Cain about this very thing–Cain and his brother Abel had brought sacrifices to God; Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God, but Cain’s sacrifice did not find God’s favor.  The sacrifices were voluntary– Cain and Abel were not in competition to see who could bring the “best” sacrifice.  God had not ordered them to bring a sacrifice only to find fault with Cain’s efforts or the way he chose to present the sacrifice.  The scriptures don’t even say that God rebuked Cain or pointed out a flaw in his offering.   He simply found favor with Abel’s offering– Abel had brought the best he had; the firstborn of his flocks.  Cain had brought “some” of his crops.  The difference in the sacrifices had nothing to do with the content or the manner of offering, but in the intent to worship God halfheartedly, instead of wholeheartedly.  God saw that Cain was angry (as well as proud and envious of his brother).  Instead of rebuke, God offered grace and wisdom:

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Genesis 4:6-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

God doesn’t want us to deny our anger or pretend we are never angry.  But He does want us to acknowledge it, and deal with it.  Why am I angry?  What should I do about it?  Anger can motivate us to do the wrong things, but it can also spur us to change our course, and do something good.  Righteous anger can spur us to speak out about injustice, and seek to correct wrongs.  Anger can lead us to our knees, asking God for direction, strength, or His intervention and justice.  King David often prayed angry prayers asking God to strike down the people who were plotting against him, or those who were doing evil or mocking God’s people.

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I wish I could say that I had mastered this area, but I’m writing as much for my own instruction today as anything else.  Here are some wonderful steps we can and SHOULD take to deal with anger:

  • Pray!  Anger can strangle us, or it can sneak up and suffocate us, but the worst it can do is drive us away from our source of help and hope.  God WANTS us to come to him.  He reached out to Cain in his anger, wanting to draw him near and help him overcome it; He offers us the same help.  God can handle our anger– he can give us the power to let it go, and direct our feelings appropriately.
  • Own it–Angry people tend to deflect responsibility.  Yes, other people can say or do things that make you angry, but they can’t make you say or do sinful things in response to their actions.  You still bear the responsibility for what you do with your anger– even “righteous indignation.”
  • Question it!–This is something I have found helpful.  Just as God asked Cain, ask yourself, “Why am I angry?  Why am I downcast?”  And then, answer them honestly.  Many times, the root of my anger isn’t justified–instead it’s “just a lie”.  I have no right to be angry with someone else when I chose to waste time, cut corners, or neglect to do what was necessary.  I have no right to be angry or outraged because someone else feels differently or sees a different side of an issue.  In fact, if I keep listening instead of exploding, I might find compassion overriding the anger.  I might even learn something new!  Or I might better understand why I feel or think as I do, and be better able to explain it to others, instead of just yelling the same thing over again.

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  • Deal with it–This is a difficult one for me.  I don’t like confrontation.  If someone hurts me, I just want to walk away and lick my wounds.  And we shouldn’t confront others WITH our anger, striking out at them and seeking to hurt them.  But I have found that a lot of anger and hurt that I have harbored is not only unjustified, but is based on misunderstandings and pride.  It takes humility, but it also takes courage to seek out someone to offer an apology you don’t want to give, or to ask for clarification instead of harboring hurt.

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  • Don’t spread it!  “Don’t let the sun go down upon your wrath”  is not permission to “vent” to seven (or seven hundred) friends by spreading your hurt and outrage  until you feel calmer.  This is particularly true in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  In the short-term, this may seem right– “they need to know what is happening”– but it is just the opposite.  Anger often leads to rash judgments, and hasty actions that we can’t undo or call back.  If you are not talking with the object of resolving a misunderstanding, apologizing, or offering a positive solution, you are engaging in sin.  The old saying, “If you can’t say something nice about a person, say nothing at all” applies here.  And it applies about situations and circumstances, too.  I am angry about various practices and policies by governments, companies, even churches; what I need to spread is not my anger about them, but awareness of how God can change them, and why we should be seeking His justice, His righteousness, and His grace toward those who have been impacted by them.

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  • Repent of any anger-related sin.  Remember, anger itself is an emotion.  God experiences it; we are made in His image, so we experience it, too.  The only people who never experience anger are those who have lost their conscience.

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Ask…

Matthew 7:7-12 New International Version (NIV)

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

I’m really bad about asking for help.  I don’t mind asking for advice or opinions– I can listen and take the advice or ignore it; accept someone else’s opinion or not.  But asking for help puts a certain obligation to accept whatever help is given.  It also announces that you have a need; that you are struggling and can’t do “it” on your own.  This is especially true in situations where we are embarrassed to admit to shortcomings, inabilities, or perceived failures.

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Asking is difficult for most of us.  Not just because we must swallow our pride and admit to a need, but because we must hope that whoever we ask will be willing or able to meet that need.  Asking becomes more difficult when we don’t know who we can trust.  Admitting weakness to someone who is kind is a small risk–it may bruise our pride, or cause the other person to pity us.  Asking for help from someone who is deceitful, arrogant, incompetent, or abusive is a recipe for disaster.

Sometimes, we are afraid to ask for help because we sense that there is no help to be given.  We wallow in despair, thinking all is lost or hopeless.  But fear and despair are not wise counselors–they cannot help us out of our problems; they can’t even see beyond the current chaos or the next panic.  Sometimes, we are too proud to ask someone else to do what we feel we should be able to do– others can manage, others can triumph “on their own”– not realizing that they had help along the way, or that they need help in other areas where we are strong.

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And sometimes, we don’t want the kind of “help” that is offered.  We want help to stay in our comfort zone, even if it means bondage to addiction, or losing an opportunity that comes only with hard work or sacrifice.  We want someone to lie to us, keep us comfortable, or flatter us, when our greatest need is someone to challenge us, coach us, and give us the truth, even when it stings.  In fact, if we have grown lethargic, entitled, and arrogant, we won’t ask for help– we will demand a lesser form of help that enables us to stay as we are, and not help us become who we were meant to be.

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So consider this as you pray today– the God of the Universe– creator of galaxies and microcosms, ruler of eternity, the God who hears every sigh of every human on the face of the planet and knows who made it and why, the God who gave His only Son to fulfill the law and restore your soul–this God is waiting for you to ASK Him for help, for guidance, for wisdom, for your daily needs, for forgiveness that only He can give completely.  And He promises to give good gifts– joy, peace, hope, love.  He will not scorn us in our need– He already knows it,  Why are you waiting?

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