Request and Release

We have a hard time staying happy. This week, I am sharing insight from Philippians 4:4-7 on how to stay happy all day. Here are the treasures of the text thus far.

  1. Rejoice and Repeat – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice.” Repeated rejoicing deals with our negativity bias. We are wired to take more notice of negativity. Rejoicing in the Lord creates a mindset in which we seek God as our ultimate source of joy. In Him, joy is always available.
  2. Reasons Govern our Reactions – “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.” We are stressed, worried, and angry. How refreshing is it to see the unusual reaction of gentleness in our culture? You have great reasons to be happy. First and foremost, the Lord is at hand. Let that reason govern your reaction.
  3. Reject Anxiety – “Do not be anxious about anything.” You may have anxiety, but you don’t have to obey it. Create realistic expectations. One cause of anxiety is misplaced joy. 

All of this is helpful, but is there anything practical we can apply to a truly bad day? God provides for my happiness, but what is His plan to change the situation? The final two principles from the passage are practical applications for dealing with a bad day; request and release.

#4 – Request

“Let your reasonableness be made known to everyone.” Got it. In Christ, I have great reasons for more gentle reactions. Though my reactions are to be reasonably gentle, people are not. The chances of the “angry, stressed, worried” people I mentioned in Tuesday’s post praising me for a Christ-like reaction – ZERO! 

Let’s be honest. My reaction may be gentle, but apart from Christ, what I’m thinking in my mind is not reasonable. Well, at least it’s not Biblical. I have some things I’d like to say to the aforementioned “angry, stressed, worried” person. I have some things I’d like to do that do not fall into the “gentle” category in certain situations. But I read the Bible and Brian’s blog . . . (insert aggravated, angry, brain exploding emoji here). I need to be gentle, but I don’t want to be gentle because people are not reasonable! So what about them? How will God fix this and them?

I often say, “If you clam up, you blow up.” So who do I tell? Who can I tell how “non-gentle” this person or situation makes me feel? Who can I express my (or their) “unreasonableness” to? What gives? What changes? What fixes “this?” 

Notice a beautiful exchange in the passage. You let your reasonableness/gentleness be made known to everyone, but you, “Let your requests be made known to God.” 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Phillipians 4:4-7

Pray About It, or Not

Notice that passage doesn’t just say, “Pray about it.” That lady at church tells you to “pray about it.” Your pastor tells you to “pray about it.” You told someone, “I’ll pray for you.” But Paul doesn’t just say “pray about it,” he says, “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

So imagine sitting next to Paul in Sunday School this week. “Hey Paul, I need you to pray about something.” And Paul replies, “With prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, I’ll let your requests be made known to God.”

Ummmmmm. Thanks.

Sure it’s a little over the top for common, everyday language. Paul is not trying to wax Shakespearean, nor is he trying to overcomplicate prayer. Paul’s choice of words gives us great insight as to what prayer really is.

What is Prayer?

Prayer is communicating with God. It is the most general word used to describe the act of what we are about to do. It’s like saying, “I’m having surgery.” Surgery? In surgery, there’s a big difference in having a mole removed and a triple bypass. I need some specifics. 

Supplication. Supplication is a word that has varying degrees of meaning. It can mean simply “to ask” but it can become as intense as “to beg.” Supplication is one kind of praying. For instance, the Bible also mentions intercession (1 Tim. 2:1). Intercession is praying for someone. Supplication is praying about something. 

But he says to do it with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a word that is closely related to the word translated rejoice. It means that I am going to express gratitude. My day may be bad, but in prayer, my heart is glad – that God listens, He answers prayer, that I can bring this to Him. I am glad of what only He can do when everything else is so bad.

Finally, he mentions requests. Requests are the specifics. In its essence, prayer is asking. James 4:2-3 says that “you have not because you ask not.” I think one of the chief reasons we do not celebrate answered prayer is because we pray for nothing specific. We pray for a good day. OK. How do you measure that? “Today, I survived. That’s good enough. Thank you God!” I hear people often pray, “Lord, bless us.” Have you ever heard someone order food at Chick-Fil-A by saying, “Feed me. Just feed me. And may the feed be good.” That is probably the one time at Chick-Fil-A that the person behind the counter doesn’t say, “My pleasure.” They’ll probably say, “Are you OK?”

The problem with an order like that is it lacks any specific request. If you go to Chick-Fil-A you don’t say, “Feed me.” You say, “I’d like a #1 with no pickles and a half and half tea.” Both God and Chick-Fil-A need specifics. What is your request.

So let’s break it down like this.

  • Prayer is action, the general act of connecting and communicating with God.
  • Supplication is my passion in prayer. I am begging God.
  • Thanksgiving is my disposition in prayer. I have an attitude of gratitude. 
  • Requests are my organization in prayer. These are the specific, measurable things I am asking God for or to do. 

How Prayer Moves in Me

Personally, sometimes, my times of prayer (especially on a bad day) move from frustration to desperation to anticipation. I like to pray through Psalms. The Psalms often mention God as “my shield.” Recently I was really being attacked, and my prayer started in frustration. “God, your Word says you are my shield, but I don’t see it. Will you be my shield? I need you as my shield. If you are not my shield . . .” Praying in frustration is not great faith or great theology, but we have a great God. He listens. I then moved into desperation. “God, please be my shield.” And then it moved into anticipation/thanksgiving. “God, I thank you that you are my shield. I know that your promises are true and that you are faithful. God, I know that you are surrounding me . . .” You see this movement often in the Psalms as well. A Psalm will start in great darkness but end with an incredible affirmation of who God is. For instance, check out Psalm 42.

#5 – Release

The fifth way to stay happy all day from Philippians 4:4-7 is much like Elsa sings in Frozen, let it go! 

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:7

The translators of the English Bible also translate the word “guard” as “garrison.” The peace of God becomes like a garrison of soldiers surrounding the most critical elements of your being. The peace of God surrounds your heart (the way you feel) and your mind (the way you think). 

So explain this Mr. Christian, Pastor/Blogger.

I can’t.

It is the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. The Bible doesn’t even explain it. It simply says it exists.

The situation doesn’t warrant peace, but there is peace. There is no one in the situation that brings peace, but God brings peace. If it surpasses all understanding, there is no practical way to explain it, trigger it, or describe it. But God’s people experience it. And they can tell you, it just is. 

So you do what the Bible says. You are gentle to people and then you tell God what you would have done to them if it had not been for Him (amongst other things). Does that change the situation? It might. But most often, God changes you in the situation before he begins to change the situation. God may not fix a person as quickly as you want them fixed. But He can bring you peace – immediately. 

So How Do I Stay Happy All Day?

Ultimately the greatest way to stay happy all day is not to rest your happiness on people or situations. People cannot deliver God’s peace. Every day will not be good. Nor will every person. But every day can be a good day if we rejoice and repeat. If you govern your reactions with Biblical reasons, today will be different. Today may make me anxious, but I will reject anxiety and will not allow it to make decisions for me. I will react to you with gentleness. I will make my requests to God. Today is not going to be like yesterday. I am not the same.

There will be something different about this day as I release it to the Lord and He gives me only what He can give me. He gives me the peace of God the surpasses all understanding. His peace garrisons my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus. 

Bible Study

Read 1 Timothy 2:1-7.

  • List the commands that are to be obeyed (some commands may be mentioned, some may be implied).
  • List the promises to be believed (mentioned or implied).
  • List the principles to be applied.

Challenge

You may have to bite your tongue with someone today so you can demonstrate a reasonable, gentle reaction. But pray for them. You may have to “keep it together” today under stress for the sake of demonstrating a reasonable, gentle reaction. But pray for this. Write a prayer for someone or something today that has measurable, specific requests. Keep that prayer with you for 30 days and track how God answers that prayer.

How to Stay Happy All Day

If you are struggling to stay happy all day, you’re not alone. According to an analysis of 509 million tweets from 2.4 million users over a span of 3 years, we are our happiest early in the morning. Our mood begins to decline after 9 am and we are the least happy between 3 and 4 p.m.

Apparently life is ruining our day!

Unless you are retired or rich, the rest of us are supposed to be doing some pretty productive things between 9 am and 4 pm. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to hate my day. I want to be happy whether at work or school. So how can we make sure that what we have to do doesn’t make us unhappy?

This week I will be sharing 5 ways to stay happy all day. If you want to follow this series of posts, subscribe to my website. As an added bonus, I’ll send you a FREE copy of the first chapter of my most recent book, Pulse.

Way #1 – Rejoice and Repeat

Philippians 4:4-7 gives us the formula for a guaranteed good day.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

There is no Biblical guarantee that nothing bad will happen to you during the day. No matter how much faith you have or how well you feel like you are living, truth is, it rains on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). Jesus said that great faith and right living can actually make life more difficult (John 15:18-25). The world will not celebrate you. In fact, some people will make it the aim of their day make you Twitter cuss by 3 o’clock.

And this is why Philippians 4:4-7 is so practical and not just idealistic jargon. Paul wrote this passage while imprisoned. Despite his circumstances, Paul pens a short, 4 chapter letter that mentions joy 15 times. 9 times, from prison, he tells us to rejoice. 5 times he uses the word joy. And once the man in chains commands us to “be glad.”

In Philippians 4:4-7 Paul not only commands us to rejoice, but he commands us to repeat it. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I will say, rejoice.”

That repeat is important. If you say something out of necessity, it may lack sincerity. It’s like when someone tells you to apologize.

“Say you’re sorry.”

“I’m sorry.” But you say it as if you are sucking on a lemon. And then you know what comes next.

“Now, say it like you mean it.”

This time, you take the lemon out of your mouth, reconstitute yourself morally and actually muster a decently sincere apology.

Your Negativity Bias

Another reason we need to rejoice and repeat is because we are hard-wired with a negativity bias. According to Psychology Today, you naturally take greater notice of negative things. This explains why politicians run negative campaign ads. Rather than tell you all the great solutions they have to offer, campaign managers know that you will pay more attention to criticism of the opponent.

Understanding the negativity bias is pretty important for happiness. You exercise your negativity bias in every relationship you have. And according to the anylisis of Twitter, it is fully operational by 3 pm!

Let’s take one very important relationship and demonstrate the power of your negativity bias, marriage. You can get to such a place in your marriage that you only notice the annoying things about your spouse no matter how many good things they do. Your spouse may have worked today to provide for the family. He or she may have picked up the kids from school and taken them to practice. Your spouse may have cooked dinner. But at 8 pm you asked if the TV could be turned down and by 11 pm you were sleeping in separate rooms and thinking about divorce.

How in the world do you sour so quickly? The answer, negativity bias.

According to the science of the negativity bias, your negative perception of your spouse will not be changed by doing one big positive thing for each other. Instead, it will take you noticing 5 positives to every 1 negative. This is why you can have a “makeup” date on Friday night for the fight you had on Thursday, but hate each other again by lunch on Saturday. The makeup date helps, but you also need to appreciate this 1, and this 2, and this 3, and this 4, and this 5 . . . Taking repeated notice of the good things is the only way you can curb your negativity bias.

Paul was WAY ahead of the research of the negativity bias. From a first-century Roman prison, the Apostle Paul told you that you need to rejoice and repeat. Rejoice. Now, say it again, but this time like you mean it. “Again, I say, rejoice.”

The repetition of rejoicing will help you find the good, even on a bad day. Repeated rejoicing helps you to broaden your vision rather than keeping your singularly focused on the most aggravating things throughout your day. Most importantly, the command to rejoice and repeat it will drive you to Christ. You will find that you don’t have enough “in yourself” to do this. You will need the Lord’s help. Pray that He will help you take greater notice of the good things. This will drive you to take greater notice of Him. When the Lord is at the top of the list of your reasons to rejoice, you will always have a reason for joy.

Read the related post, 5 Places Joy is Always Availablehttps://brianbranam.com/sermon-manuscripts/5-places-joy-is-always-available/

Bible Study Questions:

Read Philippians 1:3-11. This is Paul’s first mention of joy in the Book of Philippians. In this passage is there:

  • A promise to be believed?
  • A command to be obeyed?
  • A principle to be applied?

Challenge: Pray Philippians 1:3-11 over the most annoying person in your life for 5 days in a row. How does doing so change your perceptions of that person?

Check out the next post in this series.
Freely photos neonbrand

“All of” Giving, Not a Donation, but an Act of Devotion

“All of” giving is not a donation. It is an act of devotion. With the “all of” giver, the heart and the head converge in a different place (see previous post). This person calculates life with a different equation than everyone else.

In Mark 12 we read of an amazing scene as an unlikely widow who gives all.

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those whoa re contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, ALL SHE HAD to live on.

Mark 12:41-44

If we watch the woman give we learn the following principles about “all of” giving. “All of” giving 1) has God as its focus. 2) Gratitude is the attitude. 3) The “all of” giver understands where he gets all he’s got.

“All of Giving” – God as the Focus

In a previous post, I stated that giving is emotional before it is financial. There are many things that can hijack the emotions of giving. You either reduce your amount or decide against giving simply because it doesn’t feel right.

  • Look at this place! They don’t need my money.
  • That guy looks like he’s better off than me. Why give to him?
  • That guy needs to get a job.
  • Those people can help themselves.
  • Where does all of this money people give go?

It is easy to get emotionally hijacked in giving.

The Cheerful Giver

God understands the emotional component of giving. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says that the Lord loves a cheerful giver.

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, ‘not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

2 Corinthians 9:7

There are two words in that verse that speak of an emotionally hijacked giver. He is reluctant. He is motivated by guilt, so he gives under compulsion. Does the Lord appreciate an emotionally hijacked giver? Maybe. I would think so. Does he hate him? I would think not. But that’s not the point of the verse. The verse is a worshipful, emotional collision between a cheerful giver and a God who loves him. It is like two friends who can’t wait to get together. It is a happy, joyous moment.

If you allow 2 Corinthians 9:7 to cast light on the scene in Mark 12, it will stop our often cold, emotionless reading of Scripture. She is the cheerful giver and the Creator of the Universe is absolutely loving the conversation he is having with his disciples about her.

Jesus Would Not Hi-jack This Woman in Worship

There is NO WAY her Savior and Creator would dare to hi-jack the emotion of this moment. He dares not to stop her as she gives all though he had logical reason in our minds and plenty of opportunity.

  • Why didn’t Jesus tell her, “Woman, this place has plenty of money, your small coins will make no difference? Keep them.”
  • Why didn’t Jesus say, “Mam, this place is corrupt. Give me 2 hours and I’ll have this place turned upside down. There will be coins spilled everywhere and you can have as many as you want.”
  • Why did he not just walk up and say, “Lady, I created the universe. Keep your money.”

Why didn’t he do any of these things? A loving God would never tell a cheerful giver to go away and He would not dare to hijack her worship of Him. To understand this scene and this woman you must understand.

She was not giving to the Temple.

She was not giving to a cause.

Her offering may have been handled by a priest but it was not given to a priest.

She was giving to God.

This was not a donation. This was an act of worship.

“All of” Giving – Gratitude is the Attitude

She is giving all she has. Ironically enough the Savior who will give Himself for the sake of His disciples is across the way discussing what she just did. In the end, she has given all for Him. He will give His all for her and them. They, his disciples, will give all for Him.

“All of” giving is a proclamation of the gospel. How can we not fail to give all when we consider that:

  • The Father has given the Son for us.
  • Jesus hung as a cursed man on a tree becoming sin for you and me.
  • He bore our sins, carried our sorrows and was pierced for our transgressions. By His stripes, we are healed.
  • Jesus rose victorious over death, Hell, and the grave.
  • He has given us His Spirit.
  • Jesus will give us a new heaven and a new earth in which we will dwell with Him forever.

“All” I will ever have is so little to give to a Savior who has done so much for me.

“All of” Giving – Understands Where You Get All You’ve Got

A person who gives “all of” does so because they realize all they have was never theirs to keep. All we have is His. The Bible teaches that we are entrusted stewards. We are managers, not creators. We are servants, not sovereigns.

The value of the two coins the woman gave was not determined by the mint in Rome. The way the woman calculated the value of the coins was in her understanding of how she got them, not in who minted them. Those two coins were not her coins. Those were God’s coins. She was merely returning them.

For the “all of” giver it is not about affordability as much as it is availability.

Again, “all of” giving is not a donation. It is an act of devotion. And it is only in “all of” giving that we can truly learn how to trust a good God and the meaning of His name, The Lord Will Provide (Gen. 22:14).

What Happened to the Woman?

I wonder what happened to the woman? The Bible never says. But the Bible does say:

Do not be anxious about anything saying ‘what shall we eat’ or ‘what shall we drink’ or ‘what shall we wear.” For the Gentiles seek after these things and your heavenly Father knows you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 6:31-33

My God will supply all of your needs according to His riches in glory.

Philippians 4:19

The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Psalm 34:10

Only in eternity will we meet the woman and know what became of her, but I do know that according to His Word, Jesus did not let her walk away empty handed. I imagine any one of the following possibilities:

  • Jesus walks over to the woman and says, “Mam, we just had a picnic on a nearby hillside and we had a bunch left over. Andrew! Could you please bring those baskets of leftover fish and bread. Mam, you can have all you want.
  • Maybe Jesus directed her to a great place to stay outside of the city. “I know a great family we stay with quite a bit. It is a man named Lazarus and his two sisters. They are extremely hospitable. Lazarus was pretty sick recently, but he’s fine now. Why don’t we go have a meal with them?”
  • Maybe Jesus gave her an invitation. “Mam, we are going to have Passover together in a couple of weeks. I would love for you to come.”

The Bible indicates that there were several women who travelled around with the company of the disciples. I wonder if on the Day of Pentecost, this woman was part of band of disciples in Jerusalem who were the first to experience God’s outpouring of His Holy Spirit.

I can only imagine!

Conclusion:

With such a Savior, when we ask the question of how can we afford to give all? I think the answer is how can we afford not to give all?

I think there are 3 essential questions that help us recalculate all.

  1. How did I get it? The problem with the rich, young ruler that went away sorrowful was that he had great possessions and his great possessions had him. He could not release them because they defined him. Understanding our life as a steward is an extremely worship, liberating way of life. If I never had it, it is no problem if I lose it.
  2. How can God use it? Giving all doesn’t mean that you have to go to church this Sunday and empty out your bank account. But “all of” means that it is all available. As a steward of God’s stuff, you are always looking for how God can use it. How can you leverage all you have and all you are for the sake of the gospel?
  3. How can I give it? I know some will accuse me of being partial as a pastor when I say this, but I believe in and practice storehouse tithing. I believe that the first 10% of my income is to be given to my local church as an offering to God. I’m not here to argue with you, I’m just telling you what I do and what I will continue to do. The rest of it is always on the table. All giving is not financial. There is giving that is hospitable. There is giving that is helpful. Ultimately, I am the one that has to be in the offering plate!

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blog post by Brian Branam

Divine Intervention Through Bad Things, God’s Good Reason part 3

In my previous post, I stated that God’s good reason for bad things offers us an explanation for why we are as we are. Unfortunately, we are subjected to futility (Rom. 8:20). But this is not all bad as the Bible says that God has subjected us futility in hope. What is that hope? 1) It is that we would come to terms with the reality of our fallen nature. Something is wrong. And 2) it is the hope that we would realize that the solution is beyond ourselves.

The great news is that God has not left us alone to flounder in futility. In God’s good reason he offers us DIVINE INTERVENTION through bad things.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:26-28

This is a magnificent statement both in its sympathy for us and in the solution offered us.

Sypathy

God gets who we are and where we are. He knows we have “weakness.” Being flawed from our fall in sin, being subjected to futility is no easy thing.

Because of our weaknesses, God also sympathizes with something that happens to us often. We don’t know what to pray for as we ought. Prayer is a basic practice of our faith. If we get it wrong in our weaknesses, it makes our situation doubly hard to navigate. So you have to love this, God has offered us the help we need even in our prayer life because more often than not, we just don’t get it right.

Why is it that we don’t know how to pray as we ought? Perhaps it is because of our emotional state. Maybe we are misguided. At times we do not know what to pray for as we ought simply because we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t have all of the information that we need to pray for as we ought. Admittedly, I don’t have the spiritual maturity I need to pray for things as I ought. There are times I want something that God doesn’t want. I OUGHT not to ask for that! I’m stubborn!

However you want to quantify it, we all understand that sometimes when you pray, you just don’t know what to say.

Solution

So God gives us a solution. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.”

The Bible teaches that when a person repents of sin and turns to Jesus for salvation, that part of God’s work in this is to give us His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit regenerates an otherwise spiritually dead person and gives them new life. The Spirit seals us for the day of redemption. The Spirit of God equips us for service. The Holy Spirit is a marvelous but often ignored gift of God to us. If you want to know more, check out some recent messages I shared at Liberty on the Holy Spirit.

How does the Spirit help us in prayer? Romans 8:26 says that he intercedes, which means he steps in between. The Spirit gets involved. He becomes our advocate.

The passage also says that He does it with “groanings too deep for words.”

The beauty of this passage is that the creation groans with us but the Spirit of God groans for us.

Here comes another marvelous truth. Even though we don’t quite know what to say when we pray, the Spirit intercedes for us with “groanings too deep for words.”

There are no Words . . .

If you come to a place that you don’t know what to say when you pray; the Spirit of God prays perfectly for you in a way that cannot be described by words. There is no vocabulary sufficient to describe how the Holy Spirit prays for you. Because of this you and I can have comfort and confidence!

Our comfort:

And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Romans 8:27

Our confidence:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28

We are comforted by the interest God takes in us and the intercession the Spirit provides for us. Our confidence then is that even when life is bad, God is working it, according to His will and His purpose, for good. Left to articulate a plan and a prayer to God that takes a bad situation and brings it to a good end – we are not spiritually, emotionally, or intellectually capable of doing so. But the Holy Spirit gets it right for our good and for God’s glory.

When you have no words to pray, remember that there are no words to describe how the Holy Spirit perfectly prays for you.

Finding God’s Good Reason in Our Bad Things

So let’s try to do what we just said we cannot do – articulate the plan and path God is taking in our lives to bring the bad to good. The Bible just said that the Spirit’s prayer for us in these things has no sufficient vocabulary with which to explain it, so what I am about to say is in the total scheme of it all, baby talk at best. My aim here is to encourage you, but as a disclaimer here, again, there is no language sufficient to do so.

So let’s go back to some of the scenarios I offered in the first post of this series.

Addiction was not God’s will for your life. That was the work of the enemy provoking your own desires, luring you away in temptation to steal, kill, and destroy you. But through that addiction, you reached the end of futility. You came to the end of yourself and you reached out for hope. You came to salvation in Jesus Christ. What the enemy meant for evil to destroy you, God used it for good so that you – and all who hear your story may be saved alive (see Gen. 50:20).

Take every loss and trauma, quantify that incredible pain and realize that it wasn’t good. God agrees with you in this. But despite what the enemy has taken, the Holy Spirit of God has been praying for you in a way that cannot be put into words. In answer to those prayers, God our Father has been working to accomplish His will in your life – and THAT will be good and will bring glory to Jesus.

The Flip

If you still don’t see it, let’s flip it around.

Let’s say none of the negatives ever happened in your life. Let’s imagine that you get the world the way you want it. You have plenty of insurance and you are proficient at avoidance. If you get it all the way you want it, never coming to the end of yourself, never turning to God – THAT would be the ultimate tragedy!

A Decision to Make

God’s good reason for bad things hinges on a decision. The creation looks beyond itself for rescue from futility – how about you?

Romans 8:17 says that we are children of God. It says we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ; PROVIDED we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

We have no choice about suffering. The world is as it is, subjected to futility. You and I do have a choice in who we follow in our suffering. Will you turn to Jesus? Will you suffer WITH and FOR Him? If so, you coming to Christ in faith IS yet another of God’s good reasons for bad things.

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Death by Devotional

I am about to sell you something that will kill you. I stand at the head of the line of a long list of professionals that should also admit the same. Alongside of me should come Mr. Mayfield ice cream man, the guy who sold you your car, the cashier at your favorite sporting goods store, and a vast number of servers, cooks, and clerks at your favorite restaurants and leisure spots; each of us a testament to the adage “too much of a good thing.”

Ice cream, good. A gallon a day, bad.

Your car, good. Your car going too fast, bad.

All the stuff you can buy and do at the sporting goods store, fun. Any of it crashing upside your head, concussion.

Food and fun, always good. Living only for food and fun, always bad.

So what is it that I am selling you to death? A devotional!  

A devotional?  

On my website, I have listed the Grace, Hope, and Love Daily Devotional. I think it is a fantastic collection of Scripture and applicable stories that would be a blessing to anyone who reads it, but I am warning you not to misuse it. Too many people misunderstand the intent of a devotional book. For them, something that was written to help their spiritual walk has become spiritually crippling.  

So that your devotional reading can be a blessing and not a curse, here is a list of cautions and encouragements when it comes to using devotionals.

A devotional book is not a devoted life.

The word devotion in Scripture is a powerful one. In the New Testament it is often translated from a word that entails three concepts; to beware, to believe, and to apply. This should be a daily expectation of the disciple seeking counsel from God’s Word. We need God’s Word to reveal, redeem, and repair areas of life of which we need to beware and/or be aware. We need our faith informed so we may more strongly believe. We need God’s Word applied so we may obey.  

A devotional book is purposed to help you with this endeavor in a daily, structured way. But devotional reading is not a devoted life. The word devotion in its strictest sense speaks of what you give yourself to. Devotion is not a something you read, it is something you do. We do not need a Bible reading plan as much as we need a Bible doing plan. Just because you are reading a devotional book does not mean you are giving yourself to the Lord in a devotional life.

A devotional book is a start not a stop.

Many great pastors and Christian thinkers have written devotional material to help shepherd and feed God’s people. There are many notable ones in churchdom, but one of classics is Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. The title reflects a constant theme in Scripture. In the creation week, there was evening and morning.  David called for those who were truly devoted to God’s Word to meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1). Morning and evening, evening and morning is the rhythm of creation set in motion by God.

Many people purchase devotional books that they use either first thing in the morning to get them going, or perhaps they use them at night as they seek to still the busy mind. I find no fault with either.  Yet the concept of morning and evening as devotional reading is not meant as a discipline of consideration – as in to make sure you do it daily, but as a discipline of meditation to make sure it guides your thoughts throughout the ENTIRE day; as in starting with the morning and keeping you throughout the evening.

Devotional books are quick reads to get you going, but the deeper call of God is for Bible intake, memorization, and study. I like to use material written by Warren Wiersbe as part of my devotional reading. He is about as meat and potatoes of a Christian author as they come. But he is not my stop, as in, I read it and now I have fulfilled the discipline. Rather, a Wiersbe’s book alongside God’s Word is my start, as in I will ingest it in a way so that I DO NOT stop thinking about it throughout the day – morning and evening!

A devotional book is text, not context.

Devotional books will often give you a verse or a chapter of Scripture to read and give you an immediate application of that passage to life. Awesome idea! In that sense, a devotional provides you a text. Where a devotional fails is that it does not provide you the context.

Use a devotional, but read the Bible. Find out where those verses are IN Scripture. A devotional may tell you that this verse came from Ephesians, but what in the world is an Ephesians? Where is it? What is it about? 

Ephesians 2:10 is wonderful. Ephesians 2:10 in context is a masterpiece. 

I am a big advocate for having a paper copy of the Bible. Learn where the books of the Bible are located in the canon of Scripture. These books form the collective story of God.  

A devotional book is a bloom in a garden. Its intent is to pluck something sweet and fragrant that will inspire you, but the greater glory is the garden from which it came. Sure, the blooms are beautiful, but if you never walk the garden you really won’t smell the roses.  

The Christian life is not meant to be lived verse by verse. We are sovereignly immersed in the story of God. Each text/verse of the Bible exists within the larger context of God’s story. Use your devotional to point you to curious places. Use your Bible to walk the garden paths.

A devotional is application, not exposition.

One of the reasons people enjoy devotionals is because they quickly get to the point. Many people find it challenging to read the Bible, understand it, and know what to do with it. Yep, me too.

Devotionals cut out the legwork. Don’t bog me down with long, arduous explanations of what passages say, just tell me what they mean.

I recently had a conversation with a doctor about feeding tubes. Odd topic, I know, but sometimes a necessary one.  

As many doctors tend to be, he is an eclectic fellow, a highly intelligent man who walks to the beat of a different drum. In demonstrating to me the ease of use of a feeding tube, he demonstrated to me how one can conveniently uncork the tube, pour in a bottle of nutrients, re-cork the tube, chunk the now empty can of nutrients into the trash and go about the day. He said, “It would save me a whole lot of time having to eat.” I assure you, he was laughing when he said it, but I also think he was somewhat serious about the prospects of installing one on himself.

Devotional books are spiritual feeding tubes. They will give you what you need, but wow, what a joy it is to chew!  Feeding tubes may be faster, but there is a flavor in food you will soon miss if you do not have to break it down in your mouth.  

Sometimes a tube is necessary, but insane if we want one merely out of convenience. God gave you a tongue, not a tube!

While it is true that what we need from God’s Word is application, there is a flavor that emerges from the hard work of exposition that helps us taste and see that the Lord is good. The Bible is not a ‘How To’ guide for life.  It is a story.  It is a poem.  It is a command. It is a revelation. It is a multi-course meal robust with the flavor of God. Don’t forget to chew!

A devotional is personal insight, not personal investment.

One of the things I like most about the Faith, Hope, and Love Devotional is that it gives you insight into God’s Word from 52 pastors, teachers, authors, and evangelists. It is an indispensable resource full of wisdom. These people have a journey with God that is curious to me and I love hearing from them.

But wouldn’t you like to hear the voice of God for yourself?

One of the great truths of Scripture is that we have a God who desires to be with His people. The Bible is filled with image-rich words that communicate the opportunity we have to be close to God. One of the words we translate as “prayer” in Scripture speaks of intimacy, not merely request.  

Prayer is not shouting aimlessly into the heavens, prayer is communing with God. Prayer is not an announcement over a megaphone, it is a conversation at the table.  

The only way to have a personal experience with God is to make a personal investment in His Word. Use a devotional book, but devote yourself to Bible study.

It is a worn-out metaphor for many things, but the Christian life is not a microwave, it is a crock-pot way of living. We would like to think that a few convenient seconds is all we need to be like Christ. Devotional books ARE NOT intended to be the Bible nuked for you!

There is NO devotional author worth their salt who would ever advocate his or her book as a replacement for the Bible. Their intent, my intent, is not to replace Biblical reading or meditation. Our intent is to inspire you to start somewhere and to help keep you there daily.  

At some point, the devotional book should be a gateway into something greater, not an end in itself. We have to simmer on Scripture if we are ever to truly appreciate the flavors of God that are there. There is no shortcut to the good stuff! 

So let me ask? What is your routine? Do you read the Bible in the morning or at night? Do you use a devotional to help you in devotion? Do you read other Christian books or commentaries? Which ones? Please share with the rest of us.