Monday, February 26, 2018

Which Voices? 1 John 4: 1-6

I used to think of discernment as being about big things. But it is really more about little things. It’s about those small decisions that make the big ones.  We need to be able to listen to the voice of God specifically speaking to us. The daily decisions of life need to be guided by the Spirit of God.   

All day long there are thoughts, feelings, and impressions coming into our mind. We need to listen to the right voices and ignore the wrong ones.

We’ve all seen the cartoon version of discernment--a man with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. In one sense, this is really what’s going on. We really do have voices whispering in our heads, but it’s not a very accurate depiction.

It’s not an angel whispering in your ear—it’s the Holy Spirit. He isn’t on your shoulder—He’s in your heart. Whenever a person accepts Christ the Holy Spirit lives inside, transforming us into Christ’s image over time and helping us think, act, and feel like Jesus. John 16: 12-13 says,  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” Not only is He telling us what we should do, but he’s also working inside us to reform us, so that we will want to do it. The Holy Spirit remakes us into people who happily and willingly follow His voice. He changes our emotions and thoughts, so that we will think and act like Jesus. He forms the personality of Jesus inside us.

The bad voice isn’t some imp on our shoulder.  There are three bad voices in our head, not one.  They are the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Please notice that there are three bad voices on one side, and one good voice on the other. The volume level is weighted towards the bad side.

 The world is the voice that tells us to blindly conform to what other people say and do. In our world, that voice tells us that violence, profanity,  sexual immorality,  bigotry, consumerism, and materialism are acceptable lifestyles, but godliness,  frugality, chastity,  and self-control are not. The voice of the world is powerful to all people. 

Christians should be careful not to assume it’s only the world’s bad messages that are the problem.   If we blindly conform even to good things it will eventually lead us away from Jesus. The world agrees with God sometimes, but don’t follow it.  Make Christ your guide—not your parents, your family or even good church people. In the end, following the world will always lead us away from trusting God.

The flesh is our old ingrained habits, traditions, and perspectives that we’ve had for so long that they have become part of our nature. My grandparents were good people, but they grew up in a world with some very different notions than we have now. They assumed that racial prejudice was normal, women didn’t work outside the home, and cigarettes were good for weight control. This was all normal to them. These ideas were part of their “flesh.” 

My family also had some quirks. They tended towards anxiety, depression, and suspicion of strangers. I picked up at least some of their bad habits and attitudes and they come out in me sometimes. I easily confuse the programming of my childhood with the voice of the Spirit. I also forget that I can change, and so can you.   

God has not revealed to me all my personality flaws at once, or else I couldn’t stand it!  But He is continuing to reveal the things in my flesh that need changing, giving me both the power to overcome and forgiveness when I don’t. But the temptations of the flesh are still there, and constantly speak within. 

The devil is there too! He isn’t just one, but many devils; and he is not just literal demons, but human voices of broke people who try to deceive for their own selfish purposes. When advertisers and con men try to deceive us for their own selfish purposes, they are doing the work of the devil.

So, there’s more than one voice in us. It should be our lifelong occupation to learn how not to be deceived and to listen to the voice of the Spirit. 

Sometimes, we hear people say, “Just listen to your feelings.” This is some of the worst advice anyone can give!  Jeremiah 17: 9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” We can’t just trust our feelings.

In 1 John 4: 1-6, John gives us important tools to help us discern between the voices in our head. In verses 1-2 He says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of (the) antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”

Here’s John’s first rule. True voices confess Christ has come in the flesh. 

This statement has been taken two ways. The first way is doctrinally. In John’s day, there were two great heresies that had just begun to appear in the church. One believed that Jesus was not a real person, and that he did not have real flesh. The other believed that Jesus wasn’t really God. This is a test against both of them. Jesus was really God who came in a real human body.  

But in 1 John, the apostle isn’t mainly interested in telling us dry doctrine. He is interested the things we do and feel in daily life. It’s not just a matter of believing God came in some flesh—do you believe He is entering into your flesh? Do you believe that Jesus wants to live in you? Jesus not just two thousand years ago, but he is coming into our lives right now. Jesus is alive and working in us. He is transforming our flesh into His flesh. 

What does that look like? See what Paul says in Galatians 5:16-22:

Paul tells us in verses 20-21 what listening to the voice of the flesh will produce--: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy,[d] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

But He tells us in verses 22-23 what listening to the voice of the Spirit will produce— “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control.”

Fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, self-control, are a pattern of Christ like feelings and behavior that the Spirit wants to produce inside us.  If these things are present within us, then the Spirit is in control. If they are not, then the flesh is in control. 

John calls this false spirit of the flesh “anti-Christ” Anti” in Greek doesn’t mean against Christ, but false Christ or something in place of Christ. It’s like a false diamond. It looks good, but it isn’t. It’s the flesh imitating Christ. It all sounds good, but soon you are realizing it’s producing the works of the flesh, not the fruit of the Spirit. 
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
Here’s the second rule--God is stronger than other voices.

If verse 3 was God’s answer to the flesh, then verse 4 is God’s answer to the world. Conformity is a crushing power which seeks to overcome us by making our feelings, thoughts and opinions seem insignificant. That if we get enough people against us, we are overcome by sheer numbers. That scares us, and we won’t stand up for what we believe. In time this will break us down unless we can remember that God is greater than all the powers of the world. Nothing in the world can overcome the power of the Spirit inside.

History shows us times when the great powers of the world have been brought down by the power of God. There are many victories in history that can be directly traced to the prayers of the people of God. We can believe in divine intervention for nations. But do we believe it for ourselves? Can God slay our temper, allay our fears, and cure our resentments? If we believe God has the power to heal the whole world, do we believe that God has the power to heal our inner life as miraculously as our outer life? Great is He within us. He can change and heal what is within us. Any voice that says we cannot change or that we should not change, is not of God.

Verses 5-6 says, “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

Here’s the third rule. Listen to God’s word already given by the apostles and the church. 

If the first two rules speak mainly to the flesh and the world, this third one speak to the demonic voices who would deliberately deceive us. John reminded his readers to stick to what has already been taught, and what is tried and true, passed on by the Apostles. The Bible is our “plumb line” by which we measure everything we hear.  

I am amazed at how few Christians actually study the Bible, especially for themselves. They tend to take preachers at their word. Christians listen to preachers, but they ask few questions. They don’t think for themselves, but listen to the most persuasive person in the room. The only thing they listen to are people’s opinion of what the Bible says. They don’t listen to the Bible for themselves. 

I realize that you don’t always have the luxury of reading the Bible In its original Greek or Hebrew text. Even if you do, you have to depend on what other people say. If you must listen to someone, then listen to those traditions who have done the best job of preserving it. Go back to the universally held creeds, and listen to those who believe them. Stick with the Bible teachers who have been trained in study in reputable schools, and with those who reflect the historical teachings of the past. God has not allowed his word to disappear, but it has been passed down and refined though the ages by people who know Jesus and know God’s Word. 

Finding what God is saying is not hard. The hard part is to stop listening to the world, the flesh and the devil. Fortunately, we have a forgiving God who allows us grace when we fail to hear His voice. But in order that we do not fail, we need to stay in prayer, stay in the Word, and stay in touch with God’s people.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Beggar’s Game - Mark 8: 46-52

This story is found in three Gospels—Matthew 20: 29-33, Luke 18: 35-43, and Mark 10: 46-52. Each version is a little different. Only Mark includes the man’s name Bartimaeus, which means the “son of Timaeus.” 

Beggars don’t usually have names. If a man walks up to you on the street to ask for a dollar, he doesn’t give you his name, let alone his father’s name. He usually doesn’t want you to know it.  Today, we think begging is shameful.

But in those days, begging wasn’t necessarily shameful. Beggars performed a useful function in society. Beggars reminded people of their social responsibility to be good to others. They gave people a chance to feel good about themselves and be generous. So, if you were disabled like blind Bartimaeus and you couldn’t make a living any other way, then you or your family were not ashamed to beg.

But just because Bartimaeus was a beggar didn’t mean he wanted to beg. Some people don’t mind begging. I’ve met some people today who are content to live off the generosity of others. But if you’re blind and want anything else, begging is a miserable life.

Back in the Sixties, Eric Berne wrote a book called The Games People Play, in which he described social relationships as a series of social games. He wrote that we often get trapped in these games, acting out roles, repeating the same moves over and over until it becomes almost impossible to break out of them. But if we really want to find the best God has for us, we have to be willing to leave our old games and follow Him. If we are to become what God wants us to be, then we must quit playing games and get real.   

One social game is called, “helpers and beggars.” That’s what Bartimaeus was playing, begging on the street. Beggars seek money, attention and sympathy from helpers. Helpers get satisfaction and self-esteem by giving to beggars. It doesn’t matter if the giving helps the beggars, or if the beggars can make it without begging. Both sides benefit, but neither side needs to change. In Bartimaeus’ case, it was all he could do. Because he was blind and had no choice.  

But what happens if beggars no longer need to beg, or we if we run out of money or time to help?  Then something has to change. Rather than deal with the awkwardness of adjusting to a new situation, we often just keep playing the game. People resist change and just keep doing the same old things over and over again.  

 But following Jesus isn’t just sticking to the old rules of the game. We must break out of our old ways of thinking to find freedom. Jesus didn’t want to make Bartimaeus a better beggar--He came make people whole.

Psalm 37: 4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  That word “delight” implies a loving delicate, personal interaction with God, like being in a dance.  Think of it--Jesus is inviting you to dance with Him.  But the question is if you will accept the invitation, or turn it down? 

We have all kinds of excuses, “I’m not a dancer;” “I’ve never danced before;” “I’m too clumsy;” or “I don’t know if I’m allowed.”  We say this because we have been playing roles in life so long we’ve forgotten to have fun. Religion for most people seems to be one big formal game. But when the King of Glory invites us to dance, we should dance! Why be a servant at the feast when we are invited to be a guest? Why be a beggar when you can be a prince?  

Like Bartimaeus, we have been living within our disabilities. We have jobs we don’t enjoy, because we think it’s all we can do. We settle for abusive relationships, because we think it’s all we deserve. We put up with emotional limitations and quirks of our personality, because we think that they are permanent. From a human standpoint, they may be! No doctor on earth may be able to heal you.

But Jesus is the great physician. He has given us the great potential for happiness and health. We can enjoy life. We can help others. We can have all the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, self-control. We can make a difference in the world. It’s hard to do it when we are living within our perceived limitations.

The world is the Bibles name for the powerful forces of conformity around us. The world doesn’t recognize God’s power to change, but sees us mechanically, as cogs in a big machine. The world gives us labels and roles. If we don’t fit the pigeonhole we are assigned, then the world rejects us. The world doesn’t like us changing roles or thinking for ourselves.

When Bartimaeus called out to Jesus,   people tried to shush him. He was making too much of a scene. This is the voice of the world, telling us to accept our place. They saw Jesus as one more impersonal king, only interested in the people the world says are important.   

The flesh is the voice of our old habits and our old ways of thinking--that internalized voice of weariness and stubbornness. The flesh resists change and would rather keep our old habits and attitudes. The flesh always tells us that changing is too hard or just plain impossible. 

In the old days, farmers used to carry chickens to market by tying their legs together.  When they were cut loose, they didn’t start running around, but kept their legs stiff. Farmers would have to kick the chickens to get them started, because they didn’t realize they were free. 

Like these chickens, people act like captives, even when freedom is staring them in the face. Just like when our old ways of thinking causes us to forget that with God, all things are possible.

The Devil really exists, but he’s also a symbol of all the consciously evil forces that bind for their own purposes. These diabolical forces seek to use us and manipulate us for profit or just for their own love of control. They fill us with false hopes and desires, calling us away from the real hope we can find when we turn to Jesus.

A few years ago, a man sued the Anheuser Busch Company over their beer ads. The man argued before the court that beer ads had done him permanent damage by deceiving him into thinking that beer enhanced his social skills and made him attractive. He lost the suit, of course, because it was dumb. Whether he was really serious we can’t know.

Even so, the man had a point. Advertising is diabolical at its core, because it tempts us to spend on promises that won’t deliver. Like the Devil, it deceives us into thinking that conspicuous consumption and gluttony are going to make us happy in spite of our real problems. It promises relief, but really keep us as beggars, dependent on false luxury and temporary relief such as drugs, food, or luxury cars. We know that our real desire is to be free from harmful addictions, but we listen to the voice of the Devil and keep going back to them for relief.    Any frivolous whim is permissible, just so we don’t follow our real desires and find God’s mercy.

Bartimaeus was tired of the begging game, When he saw Jesus coming and had heard he might be the Messiah, he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The people around him told him to be quiet. Jesus told his disciples to call him so they did. 

There’s a small detail in this story that really excites me. It’s in verse 50:  “And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”

 Notice the cloak. Both Mark and Luke’s versions mentions him laying aside his cloak. 

Why was Bartimaeus wearing a cloak, and why did he need to throw it off? Jericho is a hot place. It’s the lowest spot on earth, and the hottest place in Israel. So, why would anyone in Jericho need to wear a cloak? 

Cloaks were part of a standard beggar’s costume. Cloaks kept the sun and dust off them while they lay beside the road. Cloaks doubles as a blanket at night and a tent in the daytime. Throwing off his cloak meant throwing off his old role as a beggar. It was a symbol of his worldly role.

We all have the symbols of our roles in life. They are our houses, cars, bank accounts, old friendships, and our occupations. Our beggar’s cloaks are the things we wrap around ourselves to make us feel warm and secure.  But in the end, they are just the things that keep us blind to the new life that God can give. 

Mark 8 is the story of a beggar who was healed and became a productive citizen through the power of Christ. Now, I want to tell you the story of a productive citizen who, by that same power of Christ, chose to go the other way. A man who became a beggar for Christ. His name was Francis and he lived in Italy in the Thirteenth Century.

Francis was a spoiled little rich kid who had everything he ever wanted. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant and was training his son to take over the business. But Francis gave his life to Jesus and was given a great desire to preach the Gospel and help the poor. Francis could not pass a beggar without giving him something.

 One day, his father sent him on a business trip to another town to deliver a wagonload of expensive cloth. Instead of delivering the cloth, he sold it and gave the money to the poor.

Francis told his father, and his father was furious. He had him arrested and dragged before the town square to humiliate him. His father reminded him that without his money, he would have nothing, not even the clothes on his back. 

Francis realized that his father was right, everything he owned in life came from his father. He was living entirely on his father’s money. While he did, he owed it to his father. So, Francis did something that was completely unexpected. He took off all his clothes and threw them back at his father. From that moment, he declared that he would live his life as a beggar, and that Jesus would provide all he needed. He would own nothing that Jesus didn’t provide. 

Fortunately, someone gave him a blanket, and St. Francis became a beggar, preaching the Kingdom of God. “God’s fool” he called himself.   Soon others joined him. For eight hundred years, Franciscan order has been following the example of St. Francis of Assisi. giving up worldly security to follow Jesus wholly.

Psalm 37: 4 says, “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” He will give you all you desire, but don’t think it will be easy. To receive, you stop playing the world, the flesh, and the Devil’s game, throw off you roles, expectations, and security blanket and give it all to Jesus.



Sunday, February 11, 2018

God’s Power Over our Shame - Luke 8: 43-48

 Luke 8:  43-45, “In the crowd that day there was a woman who for twelve years had been afflicted with hemorrhages. She had spent every penny she had on doctors but not one had been able to help her. She slipped in from behind and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe. At that very moment her hemorrhaging stopped. Jesus said, “Who touched me?”

When no one stepped forward, Peter said, “But Master, we’ve got crowds of people on our hands. Dozens have touched you.”

46 Jesus insisted, “Someone touched me. I felt power discharging from me.”

47 When the woman realized that she couldn’t remain hidden, she knelt trembling before him. In front of all the people, she blurted out her story—why she touched him and how at that same moment she was healed.

48 Jesus said, “Daughter, you took a risk trusting me, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed!”  (The Message)

Last week we talked about God’s guidance in and how to find it.
The first step is to know your desire.  Ps 37:4

“Delight yourselves in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” 

Delighting is a feeling we have towards God. To delight in Him is to recognize that His thoughts towards us is not judgment, but love and warmth. He doesn’t judge or hate the believer, but He likes us just as we are. We are His children and He wants us to be happy.  When our relationship with Him is based on love and delight, He gives us what we desire. 

Our lack of receiving is not because God won’t give, but because we’re ashamed to ask. Our misconception of God as a tyrannical ruler makes us afraid to talk to Him. He’s a scary, distant king--not a playful, tender Daddy. That’s why we are afraid to express our inner desires. 

This misconception means that we can’t accept the compassion and the love that’s behind everything He does. We don’t want to come to Him—we want to get away from Him! But when we bring Him our brokenness, He heals us.

Look at this woman He healed in Luke 8:43-48. He healed her body, but even more, He healed her shame, embarrassment and broken relationship to God. 

We read Bible stories like we are sitting in Sunday school. We think we are supposed to sit, listen and not ask too many questions, but this story invites us to ask questions. For example, if she was bleeding for twelve years, how was she still alive? She must have suffered from constant anemia. 
A more important question is this-- if her condition was not life threatening, then why worry about it? Why spend every penny you have to fix a problem that is just a minor inconvenience, especially if no one else knows you have it? 

It was important to her, because this physical problem interfered with her relationship to God.  Leviticus 12:7 and 15:25 mention what should be done with women who had an issue of blood. In Lev.  12:7 we read that because of the blood of childbirth, where the woman who had just had a baby was held in seclusion for forty days. Anyone or anything that touched her during the time of her bleeding was considered unclean. Leviticus 15:25 referred to a woman’s monthly discharge.  Made her unclean, untouchable. She could not attend worship or come out in public.  

That’s what was to be done with women who bled. Now, imagine bleeding for twelve years. According to the Law, she could never leave the house.

But she didn’t stay in the house. No one knew her secret. By being outside her house, she was technically breaking God’s Law. She might be the nicest, most God-fearing woman in church, but inside she was unclean and couldn’t help it. She was living a lie. 

Could you be living a lie?  Are there things that you keep hidden because you would be ashamed to have others know? It may not be your fault. People who have suffered physical, mental, or sexual abuse often carry shame that they can’t shake. They believe they can never be healed or forgiven, so they live in shame. We keep our shame locked away inside, in the darkest recesses of our heart, like the woman with her issue of blood--constantly bleeding on the inside.  The legalistic, moralistic, and literalistic reading of the Law that this woman had absorbed since childhood made her ashamed to even walk down the street.

But God isn’t as condemning us.  He doesn’t hold things against us that aren’t our fault.
 This woman felt defeat as well as shame. She had spent everything on doctors and they couldn’t help.  She had given up on being fixed. 

A great failure of modern Christians is that we think the human heart is unfixable.  When we can’t fix ourselves, we think that even God can’t fix us.  We accept depression, anger, fear, worry, and loneliness as things we must live with. Because we are broken we think that God has forsaken us. 
But He hasn’t. We don’t have to be healed to come to God, but we come to God to be healed. We don’t wait until we are clean to take a bath and we don’t wait until we are well to go to a doctor. We go to Jesus when we are sick and broken.

Inner change is hard, but it isn’t impossible.  God can remake our inside and heal the pain of our inner person.

The woman in this story didn’t really believe that anyone could help her, but even so she took the risk and reached out to Jesus. 

This incident happened when Jesus was in the middle of another miracle. The president of the local synagogue called on Jesus to heal his daughter. He was traveling across town to this man’s house, followed by a crowd of people. This woman lost herself in the crowd and tried to get close enough to touch Him. When the people crowded in, the woman saw her chance. In a crowd, no one would see her touching Jesus’ garment.  

In those days, people believed that kings and other famous people had the power to heal just by a touch. The Roman and Greek records record people buying sweat and spittle from the emperors as medicine.  The Jews believed the Messiah would have healing powers.  Even a touch of his robe was supposed to be able to heal.

It might not work but it was would worth a try. She reached through the crowd and touched Him.  Immediately, the bleeding stopped.   

Jesus stopped and said, “Who touched me? I just sensed power going out of me!”

The disciples didn’t understand. “What do you mean ‘who touched me? We’re in the middle of a crowd!”  But this wasn’t an ordinary touch. It was a holy touch.  Jesus felt power flow out of Him.
The woman’s reaction was a mixture of elation and terror.  Elation--because her biggest problem just went away. Terror--because in the process her most embarrassing problem was exposed. She was afraid that God would be angry with her. 

Not only was a woman with an issue of blood unclean, but everyone who touched the woman was unclean, too. By touching Jesus, did she make Him unclean? No wonder she was terrified!

Fear overcame her, and she blurted out, “I did it!” By admitting to touching Jesus, she was also admitting she had a problem. It would come out now that she’d been living a lie for twelve years.
But Jesus wasn’t angry. He praised her for her faith. Her desire to be clean was a holy intention. Her simple action be a reminder and example to others for thousands of years. 

Unless we admit to having a problem, God can’t fix it. The exposure of our brokenness is part of the process of our healing. But those who admit their struggles find God’s redemptive love.

Lately, I have been contemplating what Christ did for us on the cross and have come to believe that our current picture of Christ’s work on the cross is true, but inadequate. Christ did more than die for our sins. He also healed inner hurts.

Remember, how we said that in ancient times people believed even the spittle or sweat of a king had healing powers?  If the spit and sweat of a king could heal, what power would there be in the blood of the King of Kings? Caesar’s sweat was supposed to heal, but it really never healed anyone. But Christ used His spit to heal a blind man. The hem of his robe healed this woman. If his spit and His robe could heal, what could His blood, shed on our behalf, do for us? He didn’t just die for our sins, He shed His blood for healing our inner hurts. His blood was shed to mend our inner pain, close our inner wounds, and reshape our inner memories into something beautiful. In His blood virtue flows from Jesus into us.  His blood is strong enough to heal our own inner hurts and pains. 

All you have to do is ask and Christ’s healing will come to you, and work inside you. 

 Maybe there are hurts in your life that you are ashamed of, something no one else can know. Maybe they’ve come about because of something you know you have done wrong, or maybe they have been inflicted on you by others. It doesn’t matter. Jesus can heal them. No one else has to know them but Jesus. God’s power flows from the cross and into us. 

Anxiety, depression, worry, doubt, and other mood issues are not all from sin. We live in a broken world, and the brokenness inside of us isn’t just because of something we have done personally.  It may come from what others have done to us, due to abuse or neglect. It may come, because of a physical problem, like this woman experienced.  Chemical imbalances inside are often the reason for depression and anxiety.  Don’t be quick to call things sins that aren’t. 

But we don’t need to know where our brokenness comes from—all we need to know is what can end it. Christ can heal our brokenness through the power of His blood shed on the cross. That power can and will work miracles. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

God’s Will and our Desire - Psalm 37:4 and 1 Samuel

Psalm 37:4 
"Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."

Guidance is a subject I have been wanting to talk about for some time, but the Holy Spirit hadn’t given me permission. I originally had an outline of what I was going to say, but somehow, I never felt the time was right. Now, I begin to see why God never let me speak on the subject. I’m learning that the subject of guidance is much bigger than I ever imagined.  

We usually associate finding God’s will with big decisions—taking a job, getting married, obeying a call to the mission field, etc. But guidance really isn’t about just the big decisions. It’s about how we live every day. If we only seek guidance for big things, we’ll miss it.  Discerning God’s will is something that we do every day and every moment. It’s learning to tell which of our feelings are from God and which originate from ourselves or some other spirit.

When Jesus said, “Follow Me,” He didn’t give the disciples a printed schedule of where they were supposed to be for the next three years. He gave them a command to walk with Him day by day. They didn’t need a calendar-- they only had to know at every moment where Jesus was, and stay close to Him.  That’s real guidance—to know where Jesus is all the time. 

There are three key words in daily guidance—desire, discern, and decide. Desire is the first and most important of the three. We must desire God and make our desires known.   

Psalm 37: 4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  The word “delight” comes from the word meaning delicate or dainty. It means warm, tender feelings towards God. It’s that loving affection we have towards our wife, our children or out pet. “Desire” means what we really, really want. When God is our delight, and God delights in us, guidance is easy. God wants what we want, and we want what God wants.  But we must know that God loves us, and we must know our own desires. 

The problem with most of us is that we don’t know what we really want. This causes three problems. One problem is mistaking secondary desires for primary desires. Ask a homeless alcoholic what he desires, and he might say a fifth of scotch.  But if you give him that drink he will be even more miserable tomorrow. Ask a bored husband what he wants, and he might say a mistress, but he would hate himself tomorrow and probably ruin his hope for happiness at home. What we desire is not always apparent to us. But when God’s delight and our delight line up, then we are on the way to happiness, if not already there.  

The second mistake is mistaking lack of desire for sacrificial love. I once had a friend who was convinced God was leading her to the mission field, to a country where people ate bugs. She thought this because there was nothing more disgusting to her than eating bugs! She was sure that God was requiring her the ultimate sacrifice of herself, so she thought whatever He had for her had to be disgusting!

Discerning God’s will for your life doesn’t start with what you think you desire or don’t desire, but with learning how much God loves us and desires our happiness.

A third mistake is desiring from God without love. Before He grants the desire of our heart, we must ask in love, not coercion. 

This is not “name it and claim it.” I cannot demand my will from God based on a legalistic reading of some verse, as if I were suing God in court. God grants my desires out of delight, not rights. God doesn’t allow me to demand from Him, but he abundantly gives us what we ask, because he loves us. If there is something that will make us happier in the end, then He will gladly give us that instead. We do not demand from God—we do not have to demand. God already is on our side, and wants to give us everything. 

We see this in the Old Testament story of Hannah, Samuel’s mother, in 1 Samuel 1. 

Hannah was a young woman who was married to Elkanah--one of his two wives. Now we don’t practice polygamy today for a very good reason--it’s a stupid idea! It’s hard enough keeping one wife happy, let alone two, and it’s impossible to have two wives without jealousy. There’s not one case of polygamy in the Bible where everyone was happy!
Elkanah was a good man. He was very good to Hannah and gave her a double portion because she had no children. Even so, she desperately desired a child. 

The people around Hannah didn’t understand what her problem was. Elkanah was something of a jerk. He said to his wife “Aren’t I better than ten sons to you?” Men are always saying silly things like that to women. Was he so egotistical as to think that sharing a husband would satisfy her as well as having ten sons?

Elkanah was telling her what she ought to desire. People were always doing this to women of her time. Her father told her who she was to marry.  “Here, daughter, you are going to desire this man!”  He husbands said.  “if you can’t have children, so you should desire me even more!”   

Maybe the reason we don’t get what we desire from the Lord is because we haven’t been honest with ourselves about what we really desire. We’ve been told what we are supposed to want, but we haven’t told God what we really want.

In the movie The Runaway Bride, Julia Roberts plays a woman who was almost married several times. Every time she walked down the aisle, she panicked at the altar and ran away. Then one day, a friend asked her how she liked her eggs for breakfast. She didn’t know. Every fiancĂ© she had liked his eggs differently, and she went along with what her fiancĂ© wanted. If he liked scrambled eggs, she liked scrambled eggs. If he liked them poached, she liked poached. Then, she realized that she never knew how she liked them personally. Every time she married, she was ready to accept his desires as her own, giving up her individual desires in union with a man. What she really wanted in marriage was to be herself. She longed for a man who allowed her to be herself.

Ladies if you have ever felt this, I have good news for you! Such a man exists, and His name is Jesus!  When we delight in Him, He lets us be ourselves. The world forces us into molds, but Christ transforms us from the inside out.  He honors our desires and our personality.  We may not always get everything we want from the Lord, but He always hears our desires and works with our desires to give us more than we can imagine. 

The psalmist says, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” The word translated “delight’ means be tender or delicate. It doesn’t just mean obey, but to have a gentle, tender and delicate relationship, like a slow dance with the woman we love. Following Jesus is an invitation to a relationship, to a slow dance where one partner moves with the other. And (like any good husband) He listens to your desires and seeks to meet them.

Most people are afraid to make their desires known, so they censor them. Hannah could have prayed. “God, it would be nice to have a child, any child, but I know that you are always good, and I know I’m supposed to honor Elkanah, so just let me believe that my husband is as good as ten sons.”  That’s what a polite, cordial person would have prayed. But instead she owned up to her desires and laid before God her passion and pain. “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son,” In other words, “God, give me a baby—and make it a boy!”

We’re too gentle in our prayers, because we have accepted the lie that God expects from us a barren cordiality before Him. Sometimes the church seems to encourage dispassionate prayers. Eli, the priest personifies this squelching of spiritual desire.  Eli had a wrong idea in his mind about how much passion was “right” and “proper” before this. Anything more than normal must mean that the poor woman is either crazy or drunk. God doesn’t want so much passion in church.
With this kind of attitude, it comes as no surprise, that Eli’s children Hophni and Phinehas, never had much passion for God. They eventually became great hypocrites in God’s service. Their relationship to God was no more than a job, without passion or sincerity.

 In much teaching on prayer, it appears we are teaching people not to pray our desires, but to accept without question what others think to be impossible. We pray “God’s will be done,” before we ever dare reveal our will. We think God doesn’t care to know our desires. For fear of offending God, we fail to make our will known even to ourselves. Our relationship to God degenerates into passionless cordiality. Like Ralphie in The Christmas Story, we ask for a football when we really want a Red Ryder BB Gun!

Hannah is not satisfied being poor old helpless Hannah. She goes to God honestly and openly, letting Him know what she really wants. She seeks God with passion and desire. 

Hannah had a boy, but she didn’t raise him.  She gave her son Samuel to Eli the priest. In time, he became a prophet—one who dwells in union with the living God. Eli’s natural children. Eli’s own children, Hophni and Phinehas, never knew God, and became famous scoundrels later. But it is the child of the woman who took delight in God, who desired God, who grew to anoint two kings and begin the prophetic movement that led to John the Baptist and Jesus. 

 “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desire of your heart.” Christ died on the cross for you, so you could have a relationship with Him based on mutual delight and mutual desire.  He wants you to ask, because He delights in seeing you happy. 

If you want to know what God wants for you, first know what you want from God. Ask-don’t be shy. No real relationship can be sustained by the denying feelings. We must ask, to receive, seek to find, and knock to have the doors of God’s delights—of our delights—be opened.