A Prayer for the Church

God, be with our church, with those who are called by Your name. Help us to realize that You are the most important thing in our lives, and that You and You alone have the power to change people’s hearts. Help us to realize our calling to love the lost, heal the wounded, both in body and in spirit, feed and clothe the poor, encourage the broken-hearted, and in all we do, to guide those around us to You. Let us see beyond the actions, beyond the anger and the hatred and the skepticism of all who reject You; let us see as much as You allow us to of their hearts, that we may know their pain and have only compassion and love for them, as You had love for us. Give us wisdom in dealing with people and with situations in life; only You know what is to come and what is truly best for us. Let us accept Your judgments and Your answers to our prayers, even when that answer is not what we want to hear.

Help us, Lord, to ignore those things that don’t matter that we might live in peace with each other, not striving to outdo each other in any way, but striving only to serve you with all of our hearts, minds, strength, and souls. Teach us humility and contentedness, teach us patience and mercy, teach us faith and love, but first, Lord, give us the courage to pray for these things in earnestness, for we know that You will always answer prayers for things that are in Your will for us. Help us to understand Your ways, that You often teach us love by giving us difficult people to love, that You show us how to be patient by letting us want things immediately. Help us to grow, Father, that we might be closer to You.

For our church, Father, please strengthen our faith. Show us that Your Word is still alive today, that it is not void or outdated or false. Show us our sins, and then show us our hearts that cause us to commit these sins. Most of all, change our hearts that we may seek You first above all things. Help us to be different from the world, let them see that You do change people, and that what we have is something they need. Give us the strength to weather persecution, to not only endure, but to praise You when it comes that we are counted worthy to suffer for Your glory. For it is always, Lord, about Your glory, for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the honor forever.

Let Your will be done in our lives.

Amen.

Complaining

Lamentations 3:37-39 reads, “Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, when the Lord has not commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that woe and well-being proceed? Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?”

When we complain, we’re essentially voicing a grievance with God, accusing Him of some injustice in our lives. It doesn’t matter whether we’re complaining about traffic or our unfair boss; we’re saying that God is not enough to make us joyful in our circumstances. When Paul and Silas were in prison (Acts 16), they started singing. Earlier that day, they had been beaten with rods. Paul, being a Roman citizen, was imprisoned without a trial illegally. Yet they were still singing hymns to God.

What situation can we face that is worse than theirs? There are a few situations I would less like to be in, it’s true, such as losing my wife, but while we’re never commanded to always be happy, we are told to constantly think on “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Phil. 4:7). You’re also to cast “all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7).

When we complain, we take the cares of this world on ourselves. Doing that takes our mind of God and His power to make us content no matter our circumstances. It is often sinful, particularly if it leads to a grudge. And, though we can address a matter that’s unjust, merely complaining about it will never do any good, or at least, not nearly as much good as trusting in God will.

Paul could have demanded a trial at any point and he would almost certainly have gotten one. He didn’t because God had a plan that was greater than Paul’s back; God intended to save the jailer and his family. When you have a situation you want to complain about, think for a moment about Paul and Silas. God might have given you that situation to bless or amaze someone else with your peace through God or He might have allowed it to test your faith in and dependence on Him.

What You Know

I touched on this in the last post, but contentment is based on what you know. Your level of contentment is a relative thing, subject to change. For example, if you live in a 600-sq. ft. apartment, you might find an upgrade to a 1500-sq. ft. house to be heavenly. If you’re used to a 12,000-sq. ft. mansion in the Hamptons, the downgrade might be horrible.

With either case, though, the house is still just the house. It hasn’t changed. It still has the same yard, same rooms, same siding, same everything.

If you’re deciding whether or not to make a change, it might help to view what you’re looking for objectively first. You might find that you’re setting your goals too low. That house, for example, might be a great next step, but would it be big enough to raise four kids in? The same applies to your job. The promotion might be great, but is it where you want to end your career?

We have a tendency to do one of two things: shoot for the moon and get frustrated when we don’t get it or shoot for something too low. Instead, we should have a high, but reachable, target with several intermediate, smaller goals along the way. Each step will feel like a huge accomplishment and give an increased feeling of contentedness, but a high goal will keep you from saying, “This is as good as I deserve or as I’ll ever get.”

Another important thing with goal-setting is to remember where you’ve come from. Keeping your past successes in mind will help you deal with failures more easily and remind you that you have indeed made progress. My wife had to remind me of that this morning about my journey toward self-confidence. I was down on myself and she reminded me how far I’ve come in terms of both being a writer and in my confidence.

Lastly, remember that while forging ahead is a wonderful thing, it is not where our value comes from. Our value is set in stone, regardless of whether we succeed beyond our wildest dreams or completely fail. If your changes line up with God’s will, however, you cannot help but accomplish His purpose in your life.

The Frog and the Hot Water

If you take a frog and drop it into a pot of boiling water, the frog will immediately jump out. The situation it’s in is so uncomfortable and got that way so quickly that jumping out is a natural reaction. If you drop the frog in cool water, however, and slowly heat the water to boiling, the frog will sit there contentedly until it dies.

It sounds ridiculous, but most of us aren’t really that different. Think of a situation in your life that, if you could wave a magic wand and change it, you would. How did it get to be like this? In most cases, it probably wasn’t overnight. Perhaps you can’t even pinpoint when or how it began. You just know you’re dissatisfied.

If Queen Elizabeth were to wake up one morning to find herself living in a farmhouse in Kansas, she’d probably freak out a bit. At the very least, she’d be greatly confused and seek to change her situation immediately. For someone who graduated college, intent to make their mark on the world, but got roped into managing the family farm when their dad got too old or who married a farmer, the change was a lot subtler. That person would wake up at home and just wonder how they got so far from their dreams.

Our situations are rarely the result of instant changes. Even if your spouse leaves you, there were probably warning signs beforehand. Somewhere along the way, he or she (and probably both of you) became increasingly dissatisfied until the other person could take it no longer and left.

Likewise, it’s unreasonable to expect that our positive changes are going to instantly transform our lives. We have to change our habits, our thought patterns, and most of all, our hearts. This takes a lot of work.

Research shows that it takes 30 days to form new habits. Changing thought patterns can take longer, especially if they’re ingrained. Changing your heart can take years.

If you’re looking for a quick fix to your problems, it might be best to question how much that fix would actually help. It might change your situation, but that would be temporary if your heart and thoughts don’t change, too. It is better to find where your particular situation started and think of how to go about changing it, knowing at the onset that it will likely take months of hard work before you start getting the results you want. First, though, question whether you want to remain in this water as it slowly heats up.

The Heart of the Matter

The core reason we don’t change has nothing to do with procrastination, life’s distractions, or what others have done to us. We can blame all these things, but we do so to hide the real reasons we don’t change. Procrastination is a way to avoid both the work and risk of change. Distractions aren’t valid because we can always make time for what’s most important to us. If you can’t make time for it, then it’s less important to you than other things you’re doing, including your spare-time hobbies. And we have all been hurt by others, but if they could be justifiably blamed for our failure to change, nobody would change for the better.

The real reason we don’t change is because we don’t want to change badly enough. We may want the rewards of change, but we have a misconception about them or our likelihood of achieving them. We may overestimate the work required or underestimate our ability to do it. The underlying theme of even these excuses, though, is that we are, on some level, comfortable with our situation.

We have a fear of the unknown. We tell ourselves all kinds of lies about what will be out there, waiting to destroy us. From the monster in our closet or under our bed to the irrational fears of a hypochondriac to the fear we’ll be shamed at work over the slightest failure, we tell ourselves lies about what the unknown has for us. We may hope for good in our future, but we don’t often expect it until it actually begins to materialize. When we do expect it, it’s hard to not go the other way and see only the good.

Life will probably hand you something in between. Not all good, but not nearly as bad as you had feared. Think about all the things you’ve feared the last few years. How many of them have actually come to pass? For me, I was afraid I’d never get married and I’d die alone. Now, that fear is gone. I’ve been afraid that certain symptoms might be worse than I originally thought, but I’ve always recovered. Most of the things I’ve feared have never happened.

Your fear is slowly killing you. Many (though not all) of the changes you want to make are being hindered by your fear of the unknown. That fear is whispering to you that you’re better off where you are now because at least you know where you are. You know it hurts, but you also know you can live with it.

In the next post, we’ll look at how it got so easy to live with and what to do to change your expectations.