Quitting to the Glory of God

Sometimes saying “yes” to God’s will for our lives means saying “no” to good opportunities.

For the last two years my wife and I have served in a ministry to local high school students. I love being part of it—getting to know students, hearing their stories, and helping them process how Jesus relates to their lives.

And tonight I decided—I’m not going back.

Stepping Away from Ministry for the sake of Ministry

The early Church was booming. Day after day, their numbers grew (Acts 2:47). But as their numbers grew, so did their need for infrastructure. The open system of sharing had holes, and certain widows suffered.

Aware of their need, the twelve Apostles summoned the leaders of the early Church and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables” (Acts 6:2).

I fully expected the Apostles to say, “We have to work together to get this fixed!”

But they realized something I’m only now learning: Saying yes to good opportunities at the expense of God’s call is just as bad as saying no to God.

Like Jonah, God isn’t satisfied with, “I’ll take Your message anywhere except where You call me.”

The Apostles understood that diverting their attention to feed the hungry would solve one problem but create many more. They knew their purpose; God had called them “to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (6:4).

Knowing Good from Great

I’m terrible at saying no to good opportunities (just ask my wife). I need her to help me see what I can (and more often, can’t) handle. Without her help, I would commit to too many good things and burn out.

And herein lies the principle: Knowing what you could do for God and what you should do for God is the difference between good and great.

This isn’t only a principle for following Jesus but for all of life. Jim Collins writes in his book Good to Great, “Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great…. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.”

The Apostles’ concrete sense of calling (God’s great for their lives) directed them to say yes and no to many good opportunities. Without realizing it, they were living out Paul’s later words to the Romans: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function” (Romans 12:4).

In the same way, we need to learn to say no to good opportunities that impede God’s great for our lives.

Knowing what you could do for God and what you should do for God is the difference between good and great.

Time to Quit to the Glory of God

I’ll be honest: I’m still wrestling with my decision to step away from high school ministry so I can pursue writing.

“Lord, is this right? Is this really Your will for my life?”

I want to be honest about the questions because I’m sure if God calls you to something similar, you’ll feel the same.

Growing up in the Church, I heard about the importance of self-denial. But I didn’t think until tonight, perhaps God calls us to deny good things for the sake of great things.

But this seems to be what Paul is saying:

Ephesians 5:15-17
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Be intentional about your steps. Don’t waste time darting from thing to thing; understand what God has called you to do.

Or I think about Martha, preparing food for Jesus and twelve hungry men. We’re told Martha was “distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40), and I wonder how many of us are, too.

Maybe for you, there’s a direction God is leading you, but you haven’t been able to pursue it because you’re distracted by good things. Serving God isn’t the problem; being distracted with serving is.

What can you give up—even a good thing—so you can more fully pursue God’s gifts in your life?

For others who are doing faithful work, I don’t want this post to discourage you. It took me two years of serving at my church to even realize that maybe God was calling me to something else. Your time spent serving God is not wasted. But, “having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6).

Keep pursuing good until you get a sense of God’s great for your life. Seek wisdom from God and seek counsel from others. Then commit to quit to the glory of God.

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Read the Hard Parts of the Bible, Too

It’s funny how easy it is to forget the vegetables.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

I don’t hate vegetables; I’m just exceptional at forgetting them. More often than not, my wife and I sit down for dinner and then comment, “We really should have prepared a few vegetables with this.”

Why do we tend to forget vegetables? Perhaps because, of all the things we eat, vegetables are what we enjoy least.

I can honestly say I’ve had a hard time with Bible reading the last few weeks. I got stuck in Ezekiel, which felt like one more long book in the Bible about judgment and Israel’s corruption.

Not every part of the Bible is easy to understand. The people of Israel and Judah are being thrown into exile for their idolatry and pride, and I’m sitting at my desk in Minnesota thinking, “Why do I need to read this?”

Reading the Parts of the Bible we Don’t Enjoy

A while ago I wrote about how to read awkward Bible stories. However, when it comes to vegetables, we know we need them, we’re just hesitant to dish them up.

I believe part of the Bible’s design is to contain portions we don’t like reading. I’ve never met anyone who (at least at first) enjoys reading the prophetic warnings of the Bible.

And yet, 2 Timothy 3:16 says the Bible is good for “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.” In practice, I usually stop after “teaching.”

Let’s be honest: How many of us open our Bibles at any given time, looking to be reproved or corrected? Most if not all of the time, we’re looking to be encouraged. It’s like we have a plate filled with everything we need for a healthy life and we’re only eating the pasta.

The only people who read their Bible for the purpose of being reproved or corrected are those who are

  • humble enough to admit their weakness,
  • faithful enough to seek strength in God, and
  • courageous enough to move toward a place of greater vulnerability.

I believe part of the Bible’s design is to contain portions we don’t like reading.

By only paying attention to the parts of the Bible we want to hear, we might be overlooking exactly what God wants to speak into our lives through His Word. Plenty of Scripture doesn’t taste good, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it.

Finding a Place for Scriptural Reproof

I’m talking about personal Bible reading here, but this principle also applies on Sunday morning. I wish I heard more pastors reprove and correct in their teaching—not because I enjoy it, but because I know I need it.

We need to get over the mental hump of associating words like “reproof” and “correction” with meanness. These words were never meant to be motivated by hate but by love. If we truly desire for ourselves and others to spiritually thrive, then we will speak words of loving rebuke and correction, not out of personal superiority but out of Scriptural authority.

Honestly, ask yourself: Do you have a place in your spirituality for loving rebuke?

The Word of God is a fire. We excel at gathering and worshipping around the fire, but perhaps we’ve forgotten the fire is also meant to refine us.

We need Scripture we enjoy and Scripture we don’t in order to have a healthy spiritual diet. Sometimes the passages hardest to digest are the passages we need most. By approaching with humility to listen, faithfulness to examine ourselves, and courage to speak, we can turn the hard parts of the Bible into essential nutrients for our souls.

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What Intercession Really Means

“Lord, turn back the rain.”

What Intercession Really Means

Two weeks ago I wrote about an important moment in my prayer life on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Our outreach was starting, and a storm was rolling in. We hadn’t even reached the Gospel presentation when the event was stopped because of thunder.

I knelt in the grass as the rain became more consistent. I answered the important question, “Why” in my prayers. “God,” I prayed, “I want you to turn back the rain so that people who don’t know You can hear the Gospel and respond to Jesus.”

The rain didn’t stop. But then God performed the miracle.

Introducing: Intercession

I grew up going to Sunday school, so I had heard the word “intercession” before. I guess I thought it was an older word for “prayer” used by old and overly spiritual people. But I was wrong.

I’m so thankful for the work of Oswald Chambers. He was the first writer I read to introduce the concept of intercession in a new way.

“Intercession,” Chamber writes, “means that we rouse ourselves up to get the mind of Christ about the one for whom we pray.”

As I knelt on the grass in D.C. and prayed, God opened my heart.

Those who know me know I don’t cry. It’s not that I’m a tough, macho guy; I just have a very high emotional tolerance.

I started crying. And this wasn’t a polite, dignified cry. I knelt on the grass and sobbed, rain water and snot running down my fingers. And in my heart, I believe I felt what God felt for those gathered there.

Matthew 9:36
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

“True intercession,” Chambers continues, “involves bringing the person, or the circumstance that seems to be crashing in on you, before God, until you are changed by His attitude toward that person or circumstance.”

“Until YOU are changed by His attitude toward that person or circumstance.”

Intercession brings home a driving principle of prayer: God often answers our prayers by changing us before changing our circumstances.

4 Principles of Intercession

That experience on the National Mall deepened my prayer life in a new and significant way. Looking back, I’ve learned several lessons about intercession:

Intercession means seeking God’s will for someone, not your own.

It’s so easy when we come to prayer to already have determined how a person or circumstance needs prayer. Intercession is humbly acknowledging that maybe we don’t know everything, and asking God to show us how to pray—which leads to the second point.

Intercession is about listening.

If we want to pray God’s desires for others, then we need to listen to God’s desires for others. Listening to God doesn’t look the same for everyone but will always be grounded in God’s Word. I could write an entire post about this (and maybe I will next week!).

Intercession takes time.

Our culture values speed and efficiency; prayer is about neither. Prayer is a key way God desires to retrain our minds to slow down and bring our lives (and the lives of others through intercession) before Him.

Intercession is about knowing God.

This is my great passion, and I love how intercession makes it plain. Andrew Murray wrote, “Some people pray just to pray, and some people pray to know God.” Intercession isn’t just about knowing the needs of others, but ultimately it is about knowing God. If you really want to know God’s heart, intercede.

In case you were wondering how the story concludes, the rain did stop after about ten minutes or so. For some reason the change in weather drew people out, because when I returned to the outreach, about twice as many people had gathered as before!

The miracle that day wasn’t that God stopped the rain. Yes, He heard my prayer, but He also opened my eyes and my heart to see and feel deeper than I ever had before.

If you’re wondering what intercession looks like in your life, I suggest you start by humbly coming before God and asking Him to help you. Ask Him to help you listen well to His heart for people and circumstances in your life. Listen, then intercede.

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Update // A Note on Preparation

I get out of bed on 9AM on Saturday morning. I’ve been moving nonstop all week, so it’s nice to finally sleep a little longer. I from my new bedroom to the office with my Bible and journal. I sit down in one of those snazzy POÄNG chairs from IKEA.

Ah. This is the rest I’ve been waiting for. Also, what time was that youth retreat meeting today? I pull out my phone to look.

Answer: 9AM–Noon.

Preparation
Welcome to Hopkins, the city of Raspberries.

I all but flew out of the Scandinavian armchair.

Why is it that when life gets busy, time with God is the first thing to go? 

In the midst of all the busyness, I wanted to give a quick update on my life and offer a note on preparation:

  • A week ago my wife and I moved into a townhouse with another couple from our church. We’ve been unpacking and assembling snazzy IKEA chairs all week.
  • I’m beginning a more consistent role at my church, speaking twice a month in our young adult service.
  • I’m volunteering as the Spiritual Director for a youth conference at the end of the month.
  • This weekend I’ll attend the Northwestern Christian Writing Conference at University of Northwestern in St. Paul.
  • This Sunday I’ll speak to my home church youth group on the first night of their summer missions trip.

With all of this activity—and especially after the incident Saturday morning—I’ve realized the importance of preparation. If I’m going to be a good steward of the opportunities God has given me, I need to make the time to steward them well.

But preparation isn’t just for me. It’s for you, too.

In some ways, our entire lives are about preparation.

I don’t mean to be overly dramatic or spiritual. All I mean is this: God is always preparing us for something, whether we’re aware of it or not.

We’re all familiar with Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

God has already prepared the work for us, but “that we should walk in them” is conditional language. It’s our responsibility to walk in the works God has given us.

The problem is, there’s no way for us to know exactly what those good works are. I wish I could just open my Bible each morning and see a list of all the good works God intends for me that day, but that’s not how life works.

Instead, Paul tells Timothy in a later letter to “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). In other words, be prepared for whatever God brings, whether you’re expecting it or not.

God is always preparing us for something, whether we’re aware of it or not.

The way we walk in the good works God has for us is by being prepared for them before they come. If we wait until the opportunity comes, we’re already too late.

Preparation for God’s good works through your life begins now.

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If your prayer life needs new life, ask this question.

When the fire in prayer is lacking, one important question can reset and refocus your prayers.

Photo credit: reza shayestehpour

My prayer life was transformed at an event in Washington D.C. in 2015. The hot June sun beat down on us as we began an evangelistic event near the Washington Monument. Then the dark grey clouds rolled in.

I remember the scene distinctly. Kari Jobe was on stage when we got the notice we might have to shut down the event. A scattered storm was approaching, and at the first sound of thunder we would have to stop the event.

I walked over to the prayer tent away from most of the crowd. Stepping behind the tent, I knelt in the grass and began to pray.

“Lord, please turn back the rain.”

Two Depths in Prayer

We generally pray surface or “fix it” prayers. We ask God to address an immediate or felt need in the world around us at a visible level.

“God, please bless this food.”
“Jesus, I pray you would heal so-and-so.”
“Please keep us safe on our trip today.”

Nothing is wrong with these prayers. But if we stay at this depth, I’m afraid we’ll only scratch the surface of what God intended for our prayer lives.

Consider Paul. I love Paul’s prayers in the New Testament, although we have to admit they seem a little long and academic sometimes. Let’s look at an example of Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1.

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.

If you’re like the rest of us, you read that prayer and think, “I could never pray like that!” But the secret to Paul’s prayer gets down to answering one simple question.

“Why?”

Look at the beginning of Paul’s prayer again.

“We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.”

Stop. That’s Paul’s “fix it” prayer. If we stopped there, we would hit the depth most of us reach in our prayers. “I pray God would make His will clear to you,” Paul says. Simple enough.

But the key to Paul’s powerful, kingdom-minded prayer comes from him answering the question, “Why?”

Why should Paul want God to make His will clear to them?

This question is unlocked by the words “so that” in Colossians 1, which appear twice in Paul’s prayer.

“I’m praying God would make His will for you clear so that you can live a life worthy of God and please Him.”

For the rest of Paul’s prayer, he goes on and elaborates what this means—but it’s all tied back to the original, simple prayer, unlocked by the question, “Why?”

Transforming Your Prayer Life with Kingdom Prayers

When I knelt on the grass in D.C. during that storm, God challenged my motivations.

“Lord, turn back the rain.”

Why?

Kingdom prayers force us to deal with our motivations. So why did I want God to turn back the rain? Was it because I wanted our event to be successful? Is it because I wanted to see God show off?

“God, I want you to turn back the rain so that people who don’t know You can hear the Gospel and respond to Jesus.”

By asking why, my simple “fix-it” prayer became a powerful Kingdom prayer.

I’ll tell the rest of the story next week, but for now I want to challenge you to consciously think about how you pray. Even if it seems strange and mechanical at first, I challenge you next time you pray to ask “why?”

We can keep praying “fix it” prayers, but God wants so much more for us. He wants us to know Him and unlock the power of prayer, which in my experience is contained most simply in answering the question “Why?”

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