He May Not Come When You Want Him: Delays in the Manifestation of Answered Prayer

“Then he said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself waiting 2before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia. Now I am here to explain what will happen to your people in the future, for this vision concerns a time yet to come.”

(Dan 10:12-14 NLT)

One of the things the old folks where I come from used to say about God’s answering of prayer and God’s deliverance was: “He may not come when you want him; but he’s always on time!” And then, I heard Dottie Peoples singing a few years ago: “He’s an on-time God! Yes He is!” But, if we are to be honest, it seems that more often than not, God’s answers and God’s deliverance never come exactly when we want them to! One of the reasons for this may be because God is Infinite Spirit. God lives outside of the boundaries of time; God lives in the eternal now! And because of the way God has ordered the universe, God answers and delivers in spirit, but in order for us to benefit from the answers and deliverance; they must be transferred from the spiritual realm where God is, to the material or physical realm where we are. That translation is through a process called manifestation and manifestation, like all processes, take time.

But more often than not, the manifestation of answered prayer is not simply just a matter of time. Often there are other factors and forces at work behind the scenes that we may not be aware of. I was studying in the book of Daniel some time ago and I ran across this passage in Daniel 10:12-14 that incidentally provides some insight to the behind the scenes working of prayer. Here’s the setting: Daniel had a vision from the Lord concerning the end-times of his people. The vision was disturbing to Daniel because he could not determine what it meant, so he prayed for revelation and understanding. The text picks up at the point where the angelic messenger appears to Daniel with the answer to Daniel’s prayer. Here are some things, we should notice from this conversation:

Note that the messenger said to Daniel: “Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven.” Do you see that? Daniel’s prayer was not answered when the messenger came to give him the answer; Daniel’s prayer was answered the first day he prayed! That is what Jesus was talking about in Mark 11:24 when he said: “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” (KJV) One of the key factors to answered prayer is to believe; that is have faith that prayer is answered at the time (when) you pray! Therefore, if we are praying for the Lord to make a way, after we have prayed, our focus should then shift to thanking him for the way he has made! We may not see it, but we must believe that we’ve received it!  And when we don’t see it, it is not because we don’t have it; it is because it has not been manifested yet! And sometimes the reason for delay in the manifestation of answered prayer is because of demonic interference. Look at the text again! The messenger said to Daniel: “I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way.” Daniel’s prayer was answered immediately, but for 21 days (three weeks!) the manifestation was hindered by demonic forces! It was only after the messenger received help from the arch-angel Michael that he was freed to deliver the message to Daniel! Oh my friends!  The enemy will do all he can to run interference so that we might give up and let go of our faith! God’s delays are not necessarily God’s denials! Sometimes the delay in the manifestation of answered prayer is because of conflicts in the spiritual realm.

Now those are just a couple of reasons for the delay in the manifestation, here are a few more: Sometimes, the delay in the manifestation of answered prayer is because of lazy saints! Let me show you what I’m talking about! There is only one instance in the Bible where God rained down manna from Heaven! Most of the time and normally, God works through people. Therefore, it is important that we learn to obey the promptings and urgings of the Spirit of God quickly and completely because the timely answer to other people’s prayers often depend upon our prompt obedience. Many times the Lord may prompt us to do something for someone today, but we will put it off until tomorrow, not understanding that we may be hindering the manifestation of the answer to someone’s prayer. (By the way, we reap what we sow, so often the reason for the delay in the manifestation of the answer to our prayers could be because we are often too slack in obeying the dictates of God in promptly providing for the needs of others!)

Another reason for the delay in the manifestation of answered prayer might be because of “hard-headed” and “hard-hearted” saints! Unlike lazy saints who delay in doing God’s will, hard-headed and hard-hearted saints don’t do it at all! And because they don’t and won’t do, the Lord has to find somebody who will! And that, of course, takes time, which in turns, causes delays in the manifestation of answered prayer!

And then of course, there is always the possibility it is simply not God’s time! We could be asking for something that we are really not ready for! God knows what’s best for us! You wouldn’t hand the car keys to your 10-year-old would you? Sometimes it’s just not time because we are not ready yet and then sometimes it’s just not for us to have! Sometimes God does say: “No!”

But whatever the case, you can be sure that God does hear and answer prayer! And remember: He may not come when you want him, but he’s always on time! He’s an on-time God! Yes He is! But often-time the problem is that the same cannot be said of his children!

The Blessing of Abraham: Blessed to be a Blessing

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him . . .  (Gen 12:1-4 ESV)

I am writing this post in response to the overwhelming obsession people in the American Church world have today with the idea of being blessed. And I want to suggest that, in many cases, it is really not a desire to be blessed in a true biblical sense, but more so a desire to be comfortable and in most cases to be prosperous and affluent! I say this because when I hear most people talk about wanting to be blessed, they are not talking about wanting to be blessed with the blessings of love, joy and peace; they are talking about being blessed with houses, cars, money, and other material possessions. In other words, being blessed to them is having more of the “stuff” of life! In their minds, blessings equal possessions! They must not have read where Jesus warned: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15 ESV). At any rate, since being blessed is such an obsession, I thought it would be good to take a true “biblical” look at the subject by taking a closer look at the blessing of Abraham.

Now this is by no means an attempt to do an exhaustive and intensive exegetical study, that endeavor would require more time than most are willing to invest in reading this post. So, I shall restrict myself to a summary of the text cited: Genesis 12:1-4. For those who are familiar with the biblical text, this text contains what is known as the Abrahamic Covenant. I hear a lot of people today talk about being blessed with the blessing of Abraham, but many don’t realize that the blessing of Abraham was in a covenant context. The LORD made a covenant with Abraham with the following stipulations:

Abraham’s part: Leave his father’s country and all of his kindred and go to a land that the LORD would show him.

The LORD’s part: Make Abraham a great nation, bless him, make Abraham’s name great, make Abraham (to be) a blessing.

Note that the LORD called Abram to leave everything that was familiar to him; his homeland, his father’s house, his father, and the rest of his relatives! The LORD called Abram out of his comfort zone! And not only that, Abraham was not even told where he was going!  Therefore, the covenant was not totally unconditional: The fulfillment of the LORD’s covenant obligations required Abraham’s faithful obedience! And it took a great deal of faith to leave everything he had ever known, not even knowing where he was going! We want to be blessed, but are we obedient? Are we willing to move out of our “comfort zone?” Are we willing to step out on faith, and start without any discernible assurances of the outcome? We want the blessing of Abraham, but are we faithful and are we obedient as Abraham was?

We also might point out at this point, that the blessing of Abraham was really not just about Abraham! Dr. Henry Blackaby says in his work, On Mission With God: “When the LORD came to Abraham, he was on his way to the world!” In other words, when the LORD blessed Abraham, he had much more than just Abraham on his mind! God idea was not such much just to get the blessing “to” Abraham; it was to get the blessing to go “through” Abraham! That is why he said to Abraham: “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The problem with many who want to be blessed today is that they want to be a “pool” for blessings while God is actively seeking to bless people who are willing to be a “channel” of blessings! Most of us want the blessings to flow “to” us, but it is God desire for the blessings to flow “through” us! The principle is this: If we are faithful in distributing the blessings, God will make sure we have more than enough! But if we seek to keep it all for ourselves, not only will it not prosper and the supply will also be limited!

The purpose of our being blessed is not just to consume it with our own selfish desires! That is what James was talking about when he said: “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.” (James 4:3 KJV) We are blessed to be a blessing! The blessings are not just about or for us! God blesses us so that we might be in a position to be a blessing to someone else! The “blessed” of us are to help and be a blessing to the “rest” of us!

So, the next time you hear someone express a desire to be blessed, ask them why are they seeking to be blessed. Is it so that they might be more “comfortable” in life? (By the way, God’s ultimate concern is not our comfort, but rather the formation of righteous character within us!) Is it just the desire to have more of the “stuff” of life? If that is the case, they are asking and seeking “amiss!” But if they and we would concern ourselves with doing God’s will, if we would seek to do God’s will as much or even more so than we seek blessings, blessings would automatically flow into our lives. As Jesus said: “Your Heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things, but seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you!” (Matthew 6: 32-33)

Is Heaven Home?

heavenhome

Back in my early days of seminary, during the first weeks of class, our professor introduced our class to a concept he called “deconstruction.” The idea was to “de-construct” (not destroy) everything we had learn or been taught theologically in order to analyze and verify it. He said this was necessary because most of the beliefs we had adopted, we had accepted them without giving them any serious critical thought. In other words, we had accepted what we have been told as truth without doing any research or investigation to verify the validity of it. The goal of deconstruction was not just to tear down our “pop-theology” (the professor’s term for theology we had formed from what we were told and not from serious biblical study) but to analyze, investigate, and verify it. Within that process, ideas thought to be true but after serious study, found not to be, were discarded and ideas that were found to be true were strengthened and expanded, along with the adoption of new concepts and truths acquired through serious biblical and theological study.

Now, some might reason: Why is this process necessary? Isn’t this just re-inventing the wheel? No! It’s not “re-inventing” the wheel; ‘it’s making a better wheel! It’s taking apart the crude wagon wheel and reconstructing it with state of the art technology to produce a wheel with a more balanced and smoother ride! And beside this, most people are not like the Bereans in the days of the Apostle Paul. As Paul preached to the Bereans, the Bible says of them in Acts 17:11: “These people were more conscientious than those in Thessalonica. They received the message with unrestrained eagerness, daily and critically examining the biblical texts to determine the authenticity of what they heard.” (Acts 17:11 MIT <MacDonald Idiomatic Translation>) Do you see that? They didn’t just take Paul’s word for it! They carefully examined the biblical text to verify what Paul said! Now, as my Daddy used to say: “I said all of that to say this: I want to ask a question that challenges our traditional thinking: “Is Heaven home?”

In the circles I commonly travel, people don’t have “funerals” anymore!  Oh yes! They still have a service when someone dies, but it is not called a funeral; it is called a “home-going” service. The idea is that the person (presumably a Christian) has labored in the vineyard of life and now that God has called them “home,” instead of mourning their death, the fact that they have been called from labor to reward and that they are now at home (in Heaven): resting in the arms of the Lord is celebrated! But, I’ve been giving this some serious thought and study for a few years now! And my question is not whether or not they have gone to Heaven, my question is: Are they at “home?” Or “Is Heaven home?” What is “home?” By definition, home is the place of origin. Home is the place of residence, the final destination. With these definitions in mind, I want to go out on a theological limb and suggest that Heaven is NOT home! Now, before you brand me as a heretic and call a council to revoke my ministerial license, let me give you some reasons why I think Heaven is NOT home:

First of all, by definition, home is the place of origin. Home is where you come from. So the question that begs to be asked is: Did we come from Heaven? According to the biblical text, we didn’t! Genesis 2:7 says: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (KJV) The text suggests that man in his origin was a combination of the earthly (the dust of the ground) and the divine (the God-given breath or spirit <the particular Hebrew word in this text that is translated as “breath” is neshamah, which can be translated as “breath” and/or “spirit.”>). Man is a combination of Heaven and Earth, but man didn’t come from Heaven! Man’s origin is the earth! In fact, the whole Creation story seems to suggest that earth was created for man’s habitation and dominion! By the way, when Adam and Eve fell in the Fall, they didn’t fall “from Heaven!” They didn’t lose Heaven; they lost dominion!

We can also define home as the place of residence or the final destination. Using that definition, let’s see if Heaven is indeed home. Is Heaven our ultimate place of residence or our final destination? Again, I would like to suggest that although we commonly think so, the Bible really says otherwise! Genesis 1:26-28 says: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (KJV) Clearly, man (male and female) was made to have dominion over the earth. Also remember, at this point in the text, sin had not yet entered into the world, so this would constitute God’s original intent. God’s original intent was for man to have dominion over the earth! Psalm 115:16 says: “The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’S: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.” (KJV) Heaven is God’s home; not ours! And speaking of God’s original intent; it was not God’s original intent for man to die! Death came as a consequence of sin! The only way we can get to Heaven now is by dying!  And according to the Bible, death is not extinction; death is separation. Physical death is the separation of the soul/spirit from the body. So when the believer dies, the body is left on earth and only the soul/spirit goes to God. Now, stay with me here! God created us originally to live on earth in a body. We were created as a union of spirit and body. Therefore, when we die and our soul/spirit goes to Heaven, not only are we not at home, but in a sense we are also incomplete! The Bible says that Heaven is a place, but it is a spiritual place. In other words, as Paul says in I Corinthians 15:50: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” Our bodies cannot and do not go to Heaven, only our spirit/soul. When we go to Heaven, part of us is left behind!

Now, God doesn’t just discard the body and forget about it. You see, if Heaven was home, there would be no need for the resurrection! But there will be a resurrection (a reunion of the spirit/soul with the body)! Even the Old Testament Patriarch Job said: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (Job 19:25-26 KJV) Now, let me ask you this: If Heaven is a spiritual state and Heaven is our final destination, why go through the trouble of having a resurrection? Now some would answer at this point: “So that we might be judged in our bodies for what we did in our bodies.” But couldn’t God just as well judge us in spirit without our bodies? I would like to suggest that the purpose of the resurrection is not primarily for judgment! God has something even greater in mind! Let’s look at a few “resurrection” texts for some further insights. Now, we usually look at I Thessalonians 4:13-18 as a proof text for the “rapture” but it also sheds some interesting light on the resurrection. Verse 14 says: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” (KJV) Paul says that when Jesus comes, he will bring with him the spirits of those believers who had already died. Question: If Heaven is home, why bring the spirits with him when he comes back to earth? Why couldn’t he just say to them: “Wait here (in Heaven) while I go down and get the rest!” But he will bring their spirits with him! Why? Verse 16 gives us the answer: “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” (KJV) Wait a minute! Aren’t “those who sleep in Jesus” (the ones he will bring back with him) and “the dead in Christ” the same people? What’s going on here? It’s the resurrection! Jesus will bring back with him the spirits/souls from Heaven and their bodies will be raised from the graves so that body and soul might be reunited! Paul concludes by saying in verse 17, “and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (KJV) But wait a minute! Why would we need our bodies (even if they are glorified) if we are going to spent eternity in Heaven where we won’t need them? Because we are not going to spend eternity in a disembodied state in Heaven, but we will need bodies for where we will spend eternity!

Let me now conclude by lifting up the words of the Apostle John in Revelation 21:1-5 for us to ponder in regard to our question. John said: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.” (KJV) The first thing I want us to notice is that John said he saw the holy city, new Jerusalem “coming down from God out of heaven.” Where is it coming down to, John? Coming down to the “new earth” mentioned in verse 1! (By the way, a reference to a city can be a reference to not just the structures, but also to the inhabitants, here I think is a reference to the people of the city) Secondly, note in verse 3 that John said he heard a great voice out of heaven saying: “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” Do you see that? Three times in one verse: God is “with men,” he will dwell “with them,” God himself shall be “with them!” We’ve always preached and taught that the ultimate goal is for us to go and be with God, but according to this text, the ultimate end is God coming to be with us!

Now this is just a short summary of summary of why I believe Heaven is NOT home. I have much more that I could share with you, but in the words of Jesus: “You cannot bear them now!” But, it is for these reasons that where I serve as pastor, we don’t have a “home-going” service when a member dies; we have a “celebrations of life” service! I have even given my wife instructions that if I should die before she does, to make sure they don’t put my body in a casket that has the words: “Going Home” on the headboard. If anything, I want a custom headboard with the words: “Gone Away,” or “On Vacation” or even the words: “I’ll Be Back!” For as the Apostle Paul said: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring (back) with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1Th 4:14 ESV)

Your comments and critiques are welcomed! Tell me what you think! Is Heaven Home?

Unfair to the Prodigal Son

Some time ago, I posted a blog (see Give the “Lady” a Break!) in which I stated that I think we have historically and traditionally been unfair to the woman of Samaria because we have judged her according to our modern Western standards and not according to the context of her time. Well, I think we have done a similar injustice to the younger son in the parable that Jesus told in Luke 15! I want to suggest that we have been unfair to the Prodigal Son! Now, I know it was just a parable, but in the name of fairness, I feel compelled to give the young man a defense because we have actually treated him in the same manner he was treated by his elder brother! We have been unfair in our judgment of him!

Let me show you what I’m talking about:

The text according to the King James Version says in Luke 15:13, : “And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.” The English Standard Version says: “Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.” The New American Standard Bible says: “And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.” The New International Version says: “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.” So, down through the years, we’ve heard the text preached with preachers using subjects like: “The Playboy Comes Home!” But where do we get the idea that the boy actually spent his money on wild parties and women? It didn’t come from Jesus and his assessment of the boy’s behavior! We actually got the idea from the elder brother’s statement in verse 30. Look at the elder brother’s complete statement, starting with verse 29: “. . . but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes; you killed the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:29-30 ESV) Now, my question is this: How did the elder brother know how the younger son had spent the money? He wasn’t there! It could be that he accused the younger son of wasting the money in such a manner because that is what he would have done in that situation! My point is this: He really didn’t know because he wasn’t there! But historically and traditionally, we have arrived at the same conclusion while neither Jesus nor the text suggest it!

It is interesting to note that the word the English translators translated as “riotous living” (KJV), “reckless living” (ESV), “loose living” (NASB), and “wild living” (NIV) is the Greek adverb: asotos (pronounced: a-so-tos) and our text (Luke 15:13) contains the only occurrence of this word in the entire Greek New Testament! It means, “wastefully, a spendthrift lifestyle, pertaining to senseless or reckless behavior.” In the context of our text, it didn’t necessarily imply an immoral lifestyle, but rather a situation in which the boy was spending without restrain, spending all and saving nothing! He was spending his money as if he had an inexhaustible supply! He was spending today without any regard for tomorrow! Now let me ask you something: “How many times have you gone into a store and spent more than you intended or more than you really could afford? That was similar to what the boy did, he just did it on a grander scale!   And if that’s the case: We all, at some point have been guilty of reckless living!

Now, this is by no means an attempt to excuse the boy’s behavior, I just think we ought to be fair to him! It could very well have been that his sin was not that he lived an immoral lifestyle, spending his money on prostitutes and wild parties, but rather that he just was not very responsible with his spending habits! After all, we don’t know, because we weren’t there! But I think we would be more exegetically responsible to reach this conclusion than to echo the bitter resentment of the elder brother. Think about it, and let me know what you think! Have we been unfair to the Prodigal Son?

Already Blessed!

It seems as if there is a tremendous over-whelming preoccupation with blessings and being blessed in the American church world today! It is reflected in the songs, sermons, sayings, and teachings. Everybody and their Momma want to be blessed! We hear it in sermon topics such as: “Seven Steps to God’s Prosperity.” Songs and sayings such as: “When Praises Go Up; Blessings Come Down!” (You can read my take on that in my post: The Crazy Things We Say in Church!), and it is heard in the prayer requests of countless people seeking “blessings and breakthroughs!” But what does the Bible say about the idea of being blessed and seeking to be blessed?

Well according to the Bible, those who are “in Christ” are already blessed! Paul wrote in Ephesian 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (ESV) Note that the tense is past tense! Paul did not say that we “would” be blessed; he said we have been blessed! The words “has” and “blessed” are past tense forms in the English and is parsed as an aorist, active participle in the Greek. Note also that Paul said “every” or “all” spiritual blessing. If those in Christ already have “every” or “all” then what is left for them to have? Now, I hear you! You are probably saying at this point: “But Paul was talking about “spiritual” blessings, not material or physical ones!” But is it not true that everything “material or physical” is produced by the spiritual? Let me show you what I’m talking about: The house you live in is a material or physical product of the spiritual. That house first existed in the mind of the architect. When it was in the mind of the architect, it was in “spiritual” form. It was then transferred from the (spiritual) mind of the architect to a blue-print plan. The builders then built the house based on the blueprint which was produced from the mind (spirit) of the architect. So, actually your house is a spiritual blessing because there is nothing that is now physical that did not first exist in the spirit! Everything that is physical or material is a product of the spiritual. It is the spiritual that produces the material or physical and the material or physical cannot be produced except by the spiritual! So when Paul said that we have been blessed with all or every spiritual blessing, he was saying that everything we will need; we already have!

Now, the Bible says that a thing should be established out of the mouth of two or three witnesses. We just heard from Paul, now let’s listen to Peter. Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:2-3: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”(ESV) The KJV puts it this way: “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:” Do you see that? The text says that we have already been given all (every) things that pertain (have to do with) life and godliness through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!

The problem today is not that we need to be blessed: The problem today is, we don’t know how to access the blessings we already have! The Bible says: My people perish for the lack of knowledge! Oh how true! Oh what needless pains we bear; all because we do not know! We don’t know how to access the blessings we already have because we are ignorant of the principles of covenant and the laws of faith. The Anchor Bible Dictionary states: “In the Bible, the focus of blessing was not on the content, but rather the relationship. The primary factor of blessing is the statement of relationship between parties. God blesses with a benefit on the basis of the relationship. The blessing makes known the positive relationship between the parties, whether a single individual (Gen. 12:1-3) or a group (Deut. 7:14-16).” In other words, blessings are the results of a covenant-relationship with God. The Lord has blessed and continues to bless based on his covenant. Therefore, contrary to what many are preaching, teaching, singing and saying today: There is no direct correlation between praises going up and blessings coming down! Aside from the biblical truth that praise is product of blessings and not the other way around (We don’t praise God to be blessed; we praise God because we are blessed!), the fact that we have already been blessed means that God doesn’t need to “send it down!” He doesn’t need to give us what we already have! Jesus said in Mark 11:24 that the key to having what we ask for in prayer is to believe that we have received it when we pray.  So even though we already have it, we need faith to manifest it.

Did you know that in the Bible, there is not even one legitimate suggestion that we should even be pursuing blessings? (The prayer of Jabez, in my opinion, has been erroneously interpreted and made into a principle) In fact, the Bible says that blessings should actually be pursuing us! Deut. 28:1-2 says: “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God.” (KJV) The key to being blessed is being obedient! Did you read the text? It said that if we are careful to be obedient that blessings would come on us and overtake us! The picture is that of one being chased and overtaken by blessings! David said in Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (KJV) What many English readers don’t realize is that the Hebrew word that is translated as “follow” in that verse actually means: “to pursue, to follow after, to chase, to run after.” This is not a picture of goodness (blessings and benefits) and mercy (God’s covenant love and kindness) just passively tagging along, following after David; but rather it is a picture of goodness and mercy actively and persistently chasing after David (like a dog chasing a cat) all the days of his life!

And then finally, it would do us well to heed to the words of Jesus: “And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  (Mat 6:30-33 NLT) When we seek God! When we seek the Kingdom of God; God’s rule and righteousness (God’s way of doing things), all the things we need will be manifested in our lives!

I am grieved today because much of what we are hearing in the church today is really just worldly materialism wrapped in a thin Christian veneer! It is actually the same message that Wall St., is preaching! It is the pursuit of money and fame! James gives us the reason for the frustration that many are experiencing in their pursue of blessings today:  “You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet 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– you want only what will give you pleasure. You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the spirit God has placed within us is filled with envy? But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.” (James 4:2-8 NLT)

The Offering of Isaac: Another Look at Genesis 22:1-19

As long as I can remember, I have always heard this text preached and taught with the main point being: “The Lord will provide.” And it’s true; the Lord did provide a sacrifice for Abraham to offer in the place of Isaac. But is that really the main point of the story? It certainly is the climax as we read with anxious anticipation of Abraham binding Isaac to the altar with his hand at the apex of the swing as he prepares to cut Isaac’s throat! And then suddenly, just in the nick of time, Abraham hears the voice of the angel of the Lord, calling his name from Heaven! “Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the lad, and do not do anything to him, because now I know that you do fear God, for you have not withheld your son, your only child from me.” It is after Abraham hears this that he looks and sees a ram caught in the bushes by its horns. He then takes the ram and offers it up as a sacrifice instead of Isaac.

But contrary to tradition, I would like to suggest that the statement of the angel of the Lord provides the real main point of the story! That point being: “God will allow one to keep that which is nearest and dearest only if one is willing to give it up!” To prove my point, we might want to note the immediate context. It was because of family conflicts that Abraham had just sent Ishmael (the other son) and Hagar (Ishmael’s mother) away. The text in Genesis 22:2 accentuates the value of Isaac. Abraham was instructed to: “Take your son.” (Which one Lord?) “Your only son!” (Remember, since he had sent Ishmael away, Isaac was all he had left!) And just so there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings, the angel identified the son by name: “Your only son, Isaac.” And for further identification, Isaac is described by the angel to Abraham as being “Isaac, whom you love.”

We need to remember at this point that Isaac was the son of promise! He was the miracle child! He was the one that God had promised to Abraham! He was born passed time, yet he was to be the one through whom all of the promised blessings would flow! This is the son that the Lord told Abraham to sacrifice!

Now some have debated what Abraham was thinking but it appears that he fully expected Isaac to return home with him. He tells his servants in Genesis 22:5 “You stay by yourselves here with the donkey, while I and the lad will go on there, so that we can worship and return to you.” And chances are, he didn’t say anything about the real purpose of the trip to Sarah because she would have had a stroke! The Hebrew writer gives us a hint in Hebrews 11:17-19: “It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, even though God had told him, “Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted.” Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again.” (NLT)

Therefore, I think the real lesson of this story is that sometimes we will be tested to see where our true devotion lies! In this day when many in the world of Western Christendom, particularly here in America, are obsessed with blessings and being blessed, the question is: “Do we value the One who gives blessings more than the blessings themselves?” It could be that the only way we can really know is by being faced with the decision or possibility of having to give them up!  Are you willing to give up that which you have prayed so long and suffered so hard to get? Are you willing to sacrifice and give your “Isaac” up? If you are not willing, it has become an idol! And the last time I looked, the Bible says that God is a jealous God! He will not tolerate idols! He said: “Thou shalt have no other gods before (that is; ahead of and instead of) me!” And when we make something an idol, if we don’t repent, God will eventually institute his Divine Separation Plan! Either he will take it away from us, or he will take us away from it!

Look at the concluding statement in verses 15-18: “Then the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven. He said, “By myself I swear, (declares the LORD) that it is because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only child, that I shall really bless you. I shall really multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and like the sand which is on the seashore, so that you may possess the gate of your enemies. And all the nations of the world will find blessing in your descendants because you have obeyed me.” The truth is: We all want to be blessed, but if we really want to be blessed, we must be willing to give up our “Isaac.” Only then will it be known if we really love the Giver more than we love the gift!

Comments are welcomed!

Carrots, Eggs, and Coffee

by an unknown author:

A young woman complained to her mother about the hardships and difficulties in her life. She didn’t know how she was going to continue and wanted to give up. The young woman said, “I’m tired of fighting and struggling. It seems that as soon as one problem is solved, a new one appears.” In response, her mother took her to the kitchen and filled three pots with water, placing each one on the stove over a high flame.

Soon the water came to a boil. In the first pot she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about 20 minutes, she turned off the burners. The mother then fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She removed the eggs and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she said, “Tell me what you see.”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the daughter replied. Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After peeling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich flavor.

The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, Mother?”

The mother replied that each of these objects had faced the same adversity, boiling water, and each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile, its thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior, but after the boiling water, its inside became hardened. But the ground coffee beans were unique – after they were in the boiling water, they’d changed the water itself.

The message? The real issue is not what happens to you, but rather your response to what happens to you. You can be soft like an egg, but allow life to make you hard. You can be hard like a carrot, but allow life to break you and make you soft. Or you can be like  ground coffee beans; use your adversities to change life into something wonderful like the coffee beans changed the water! Instead of life changing you; you change life!