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“You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong” – James 4:2-3 NLT
There it was, in black and white – the reason I had been making much slower progress in certain areas of my life than I should have (or none at all). After some thought, it became clear that I had some reservations with prayer which stopped me from connecting with God. It seems that other people share some of these reservations about praying, so let’s tackle a couple.
1) When you don’t feel ‘good enough’ to talk to God
Sometimes it feels like you shouldn't/can't pray because you've been away from God or you’ve done something ‘bad’. This couldn’t be further from the truth. While we sometimes have to ‘earn’ our position with people around us, our relationship with Jesus is not based on performance, it is based on His love. He doesn’t keep score of what we’ve done wrong. If God wanted us to be perfect before we could even speak to him, then Jesus’ entire life, death and resurrection would have been pointless.
An example of this is the story of Cain, who had just killed his own brother, Abel out of jealousy. Naturally, there was a consequence for Cain’s actions: being exiled from his home country. But even in his punishment, Cain asked God to go slightly easier on Him, and not only did God hear, He listened:
Cain said to God, “My punishment is too much. I can’t take it! You’ve thrown me off the land and I can never again face you. I’m a homeless wanderer on Earth and whoever finds me will kill me.”
God told him, “No. Anyone who kills Cain will pay for it seven times over.” God put a mark on Cain to protect him so that no one who met him would kill him.
– Genesis 4:13-15 (MSG)
If God can do this for Cain, He is more than willing to listen to you as well. No matter what you’ve done. Simple as that.
In another part of the Bible, God says:
I looked for someone to […] take a stand for me and stand in the gap to protect this land so I wouldn’t have to destroy it. I couldn’t find anyone. Not one. – Ezekiel 22:30 (MSG)
Two things jump out here: 1) God looked simply for ‘someone’, not a good or perfect person, just a person. 2) While God doesn’t necessarily need us to make decisions, He actively invites and seeks people who are bold enough to put up their hand, open their mouths and join Him on this journey of life. We can either play an active or passive part – it’s our choice.
It’s that clear that our behaviour doesn't push God away from us, but sometimes we feel more distant, maybe because of guilt or condemnation from ourselves and others. But remember that there’s no condemnation in Jesus, so whenever you’re ready, He will be there listening.
To be clear, this doesn't mean that we should live a reckless life. But our primary focus shouldn’t be ‘being good’, but knowing Jesus. From this relationship our lives, and as a result our behaviour, changes. Our relationship with God is not earned, it is a free gift, whether we choose to accept it our not. The first way to build this relationship is by chatting to God, and getting to know Him through is Word, the Bible.
2) When you feel like you can’t find the right things to say
You are free to try (and maybe, get it wrong sometimes).
Sometimes I am focused on getting things 100% right, so much that it prevents me from even trying in the first place. This perfectionist tendency can sometimes show itself in our prayer lives (or lack thereof). It’s easy to be worried about getting prayer wrong ‘because your motives [desires] are all wrong’.
While that is a risk and reality, we have just learned that God isn’t looking for perfection, He is looking for you. So if your motives are off, He can easily guide you back on track, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Think about it like this: when drafting an essay, or a report, it’s rare to get to the final version without sharing a ‘draft’ with someone, and getting some feedback. It's similar with God, everything is a process.
I’ve put this into practice by being very intentional with prayer. I've written down things I want to talk to God about, and asked Him to refine my motives and show me what I should really focusing on. Then I've prayed by talking and asking questions out loud about the things I've written down (speaking out loud is so important, just try it you've got nothing to lose).
If you’re looking for a bit more structure than that – it’s always good to start with what Jesus recommends in Luke 11. You can also try what UCB recommends. Also, look at what Paul tells the Philippians:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition [asking, requesting], with thanksgiving [thankfulness], present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus – Philippians 4:6-7
So, feel free to ask, feel free to experiment and grow in this area which is so fundamental to your walk with God. You’ll get there. Finally, all of this is contingent upon the fact that we are speaking to God in faith. Faith is:
“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd” – Hebrews 11:1-2 (MSG)
In this week’s subscriber email, we’ll be learning more about the importance of faith. Thanks for reading again everyone, speak to you next week :)
“If it seems slow in coming, wait. It's on its way. It will come right on time.” – Habakkuk 2:3
Sometimes it feels like things are just taking too long. 'Things' could be getting the right job, starting a new project, finding a life partner... and the list goes on. We can feel rushed, like time is running out and we are slowly falling behind our peers. It’s all too easy to become frustrated, anxious or desperate seize any opportunity that emerges. After all, life is a ‘hustle’ and we all compete in the rat race. Right?
Maybe not. Psalm 37 says;
“Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. .
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this.
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn” Psalm 37:3-6
Throughout this Psalm we're encouraged to “wait on”, “trust”, “commit to” and “be still before” God, even when it seems like everyone else is progressing by any means necessary. Why would the Bible, which is supposed to be the ultimate guide to life, encourage us to stand still in a world where everything moves so fast?
“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes [in Me] will not be in haste.’” - Isaiah 28:16
Like many people going through life, I have been confused and unsure about the pace of specific things, for example, my career. But these sayings gave me a lot of peace; because if I believe in and lean on Jesus there should be no need to rush and race others, because he has made ‘everything beautiful in it’s time’. And yes, while God can accelerate processes, most of the time we will find our patience being stretched. Learning to wait gives us space to mature, strengthen our faith and fully rely on God by trusting that He is working it all out for our benefit (as the Bible says). Waiting isn’t always easy, but with God it’s always worth it.
An example of this is in the life Jesus himself. After feeding 5,000 people with very little food, everyone was amazed at what he had done. “Knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, [Jesus] withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” – John 6:15 (emphasis added)
The prospect of being crowned king isn’t such a bad idea. If I was there with Jesus, I probably would have said something along the lines of 'definitely go for it, isn’t this why you said you were coming in the first place? The crowd loves you and being King is definitely an upgrade on your current job as a carpenter/roaming preacher. Seize the opportunity to develop your career’. It would have been strange to see Jesus withdraw from the crowds of people to be by himself – where was his ambition? His tenacity? Some things I learned from this were:
1) 'Good opportunities' may not be right for you at this point in your life. But it’s very difficult to tell in the midst of all the general busyness of our daily lives. Most times, true clarity comes when it’s just God and us. When we take a breather. Taking the time to stop and think brings clarity to situations, as even the most attractive opportunity may lead us down the wrong path (Proverbs 14:12). This is what it means to distinguish between a 'good thing' and something which is from God (more on 'Good or God' at the end of this post). We should never feel pressured to go at the pace society expects us to
2) Waiting on and trusting God is a habit. It's interesting to see that Jesus withdrew “again” to a mountain. On various occasions we see him separate himself from the hustle and bustle of life as to get clarity (Mark 1, Luke 6). Patience and waiting, like most important things in life, needs to be practiced regularly to have an impact in our lives
This is what will keep us focused on our own personal journey, the Right Path. Taking time with God reminds us of the specific promises and plans he has for each of us, both individually and collectively. He always finishes what he starts (Isaiah 55:11), you can trust that without obsessing over the pace.
Some questions that came up while I was writing this post:
Q: How do I hear from God while I’m waiting?
A: Primarily through God's spoken Word – the Bible. Also, by praying and ‘doing life’ with other people who are on their own journey with Jesus. I’ve found these three things, in that order, bring clarity and direction to life when things get a bit frantic. God also speaks in a number of other ways to different people, for example some people have a strong feeling while others might have dreams. You’ll discover the way(s) in which God speaks to you as you grow in your relationship with Jesus. Like all things on this journey, none of us are 100% there yet, so don’t be daunted, just start somewhere
Q: Does this mean I should be passive or take a back seat in the things I’m passionate about?
A: Definitely not. Waiting on God helps find the healthy balance between living a passive, inactive life and frantically running from opportunity to opportunity trying to fill our lives with meaning. God expects us to step up and make the most of God-given opportunities and dreams. But if you're feeling rushed and desperate to progress your life prematurely, it's worth pausing for a moment...
Q: I think I’ve acted a bit too quickly in a certain area of my life and now I don’t know what to do…
A: In short, with God it's never too late to reroute. He will make up for lost time, nothing is wasted with Him
Sidenote: I’m currently doing a YouVersion reading plan on distinguishing between whether an opportunity is a “Good or God” opportunity. It’s also based on this book by John Bevere, which is on my reading list. Enjoy!
For more posts, resources and thoughts for your journey, subscribe by clicking the box below:© Copyright Noterie, 2015
Hi guys!Just a quick one to say that Noterie is back up and running. Over the coming months expect to see more frequent posts in various formats. In addition to the detailed posts that we all know and love, also expect event/book reviews and other resources to help you on your journey. Our newest post is about the importance of taking a breather in an otherwise fast-paced world, have a read here.
Thanks for your support and patience during this hiatus, please don’t forget to subscribe and get updates directly to your inbox! If you have any questions or would like to get involved, feel free to contact me – looking forward to hearing from you.
Seun Awolowo - May 2015
"God, give me sign"
We've all had those moments. Those moments of confusion, desperation and pure longing, wanting to know which job to take, which uni to go to, which person to date and the list goes on. Sometimes it would be easier if God just sent as clear sign. Surely, if we have a relationship with Him this should come as part of the package, so why doesn't it feel that way?
How confident are we in the decisions that we make, are we sure that God is guiding us? In this post, we will explore what happens when we go looking for signs even though, deep down, our intuition (the Holy Spirit) has already convicted us about what we should do in certain situations. In Part II we will discover that God has already given us everything we need to make all decisions in life - both major and minor ones. Maybe right now, you're at a crossroads, unsure of which way to go. This post will encourage and challenge you to think more deeply about what might be holding you back.
Let's start with Matthew 16:1-12;
The Pharisees (religious law keepers in Biblical times) where challenging Jesus yet again, pressing Him to prove Himself to them through 'sign from heaven' (v.1). He told them:
“You have a saying that goes, ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.’ You find it easy enough to forecast the weather—why can’t you read the signs of the times? An evil and wanton generation is always wanting signs and wonders. The only sign you’ll get is the Jonah sign.” Then he turned on his heel and walked away. (Matthew 16:1-4 MSG)
To summarise, Jesus is telling the religious teachers that with all their consciousness of signs, for example, to predict the weather, how is it that they have missed The One True Sign walking among them? (More of this will be discussed in Part II). It might sound a bit harsh, but at this point, Jesus had grown tired of people around him missing the most important sign of their lives. When we are not conscious of His presence, and we go looking for more signs to make decisions, the only kind of sign we are left with is the sign of Jonah.
Most of us heard the story of Jonah as children, the story of a man who gets swallowed by a whale because he didn't go to Nineveh, as God has asked him. In this session I learned that this story is significantly more applicable to my life than I would have ever expected.
The Sign(s) of Jonah
Please read Jonah chapter 1 and chapter 3 verses 1:10 for context of the entire story. You can read it online here
The original Hebrew word for 'sign' means 'a miracle or a supernatural happening'. Identifying the original Hebrew meaning will help us to develop a deeper and broader understanding of the intent of the writer (who is God, as all of the Bible is 'God-breathed', 2 Timothy 3:16-17). Let's examine the story of Jonah in further detail to identify some key signs that he experienced, many of which we experience today in a more spiritual sense. (This is because a lot of what happens in the Bible predicts what we will experience spiritually in our walk with Jesus.)
SIGN #1: "The Word of the LORD came to Jonah" (verse 1)
The original Hebrew meaning for 'word' in this case, 'divine expression of glory' or 'instruction', suggesting that Jonah received a clear instruction from God himself. How many times have you had a strong feeling that you should (or should not) do something? Sometimes we also call it intuition, the deep inexplicable knowledge that helps us distinguish between right and wrong. As we become closer to God this will be the Holy Spirit, relating to your spirit (Romans 8:16) and guiding you in every single thing you do.
A lot of the time, we draw back from this voice, we try to ignore it or shrug it off because it doesn't seem logical or 'normal'. But God doesn't work on human logic or design our lives based on what is normal (1 Corinthians 2:9); He wouldn't be God if He did. What have you had a strong, but unexplainable feeling about that you've tried to ignore that won't go away?
Face the thought head on and explore whether it could be an instruction that God has given to you, specially. You may think that God doesn't speak to you directly, but let me tell you that He speaks to all of us, regardless of who we are. It may not be the way we expect or have seen it happen to others, but He wants to have a personal relationship with you, if you let Him (Revelation 3:20). The ball is in your court.
SIGN #2: "A violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up" (verse 4)
As Jonah tried to ignore God's instruction, he boarded a ship that got caught in a vicious storm at sea. When we are running away from the voice of the Spirit, we sometimes find ourselves in more trouble than we would have found ourselves in if we had just listened in the first place. For Jonah, while everyone else on the boat was panicking, he was sleeping amidst the storm, because he knew why it was happening.
On many occasions we say we don't know what to do, but deep down in our heart & soul we know exactly what we should be doing, but we try and ignore it. We are metaphorically asleep to what we should be doing and suddenly things get challenging. Another way we try to ignore or avoid the voice of the Holy Spirit, our intuition is by being 'productive'. After Jonah received his instruction, he travelled to a completely different town (on foot, remember, it's Biblical times), found a ship and paid a fare to board. ALL of this, just to avoid what he had originally been asked to do. Nevertheless, the storm was on its way to take him back to where he needed to be. In short, God will sometimes try to reroute you by bringing a 'storm' into your life (Seun).
Note the fact that while the storm was violent and caused great fear on the boat, it didn't actually break up - it only 'threatened' to. This is an example of how even when we ignore God's instructions, the storms of life may shake us, but never actually break us, because God is "gracious and compassionate... slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity" (Jonah 4:2).
Even in Jonah's disobedience (or his "wanton" behaviour, to reference Matthew 16), God ensured that he was never harmed, and through Jonah's presence on the boat all the sailors came to believe God (Jonah 1:16).
SIGN #3: Jonah in the belly of the huge fish (chapter 2)
As the storm came to its climax, Jonah asked the sailors to throw him into the sea (verse 11); at the point of escalation, God will bring further instruction (Seun). The only way that Jonah knew what to do was through God's instruction - we see that despite Jonah's disobedience, God didn't excommunicate him. Never think that because you made a mistake or ignored God that He will leave you, He won't because nothing can ever separate you from God's love (Romans 8:31-39). He is always there for us, we just need to stay in contact with him, through prayer, reading the Bible and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit within us.
When Jonah is thrown into the sea and swallowed by a large fish, or a whale - the first surprise is that he didn't die. It sounds impossible, but God rarely operates within the bounds of what our minds can conceive. Again, God spared his life, while the whale (or the mess we have gotten ourselves in, through disobedience) could potentially swallow us whole, it never does.
Inside the fish, Jonah prays, and what is really interesting here, is that while Jonah is still trapped inside the whale, all his prayers about being freed in past tense:
"but you, Lord my God brought my life up from the pit" (chapter 2:6)
This is a good example of faith-filled prayer - if we really believe that God is who He says He is, then we can pray as if what we are hoping for has already happened. When we prophesy and confess things that were not as they were. Ultimately, being swallowed by the fish was his saving grace.
SIGN #4: "The Word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time" (chapter 3, verse 1)
God's word never changes (Matthew 24:35), so when we ignore Him, after we've experienced a few storms, the Holy Spirit continues to speak - telling us to do (or not do) what we had heard/felt at the very beginning. But still, we spend time seeking miraculous signs or advice from other people. What we should really be looking for is confirmation of God's voice, especially when it is repeated. Seun likened this to helpful teachers who continuously drop hints in class before an exam about what we will be tested on. God doesn't waste his Words, and His repetition should be taken as confirmed guidance.
This doesn't mean we should never seek advice from others, after all, "plans fail for lack of counsel but with many advisers they succeed" (Proverbs 15:22), but how often do we try to hear from God first? Instead we debate, discuss and philosophise with others, leaving God as an afterthought, or a magician who will a sign to us through a crazy dream, for example. While sometimes God does speak to us that way, let's adopt a different approach: when we prioritise hearing from God first, our decision-making and confidence will improve. This is summarised in:
More revelation [supernatural disclosures from God], less advice - Seun Awolowo
Finally, Jonah listens to God and goes to Nineveh (Chapter 3)
Nineveh was one of the largest cities around, and took 3 days to go through. Jonah expected that it would take 40 days to complete his task (verses 3,4). However by verse 5 all the people believed God, including the King, and the city was saved. It's clear that God's Word achieves its aim speedily (Seun) regardless of who is there to help, God's Word will always accomplish his desires (Isaiah 55:11). As His children, we are invited to join the journey of fulfilling his plans for the earth, during which we usually learn a personal lesson, and in this case Jonah learned the value of;
Obedience. He learned to listen to the voice the first time round, instead of being swayed by his own personal beliefs (which he talks about in Jonah 4).As we close Part I of the Signs of Jonah, we have learned that the Sign of Jonah that Jesus was talking about in Matthew 16, has come full circle:
1) We hear an instruction from God, usually in a quiet 'inner voice' (the Holy Spirit)
2) For one reason or another we ignore it, and find ourselves caught in a violent storm, which won't break us
3) In the deep mess of our situations, God still protects us just as He protected Jonah in the belly of the fish
4) God repeats his message to us, just as He did to Jonah, giving us another opportunity to do the right thing
So now, let's ask ourselves some questions:
What has the Holy Spirit been telling you through your intuition?
Why are you still holding back when deep down you know what to do?
I dare you to take the risk and follow the Holy Spirit by listening intently to God's voice the first time around.
© Noterie, 2015