8 Seconds With God

goldfishWithout a show of hands, who here has managed to pray for more than ten minutes in row? Can anyone honestly say they’ve never fallen asleep in church before? Are you willing to admit that every once in a while, when you’re in a class or meeting, you are actually “re-watching” a movie on your internal movie screen rather than listening? Why is it so hard for us to focus?

Truth be told, it’s not completely your fault; we’re  created to move quickly from one task to another. Did you know the average attention span is eight seconds? Eight….whole….seconds.  Which is  one second less than a goldfish (seriously true; that’s kind of embarrassing for our species). Which means you’ll probably forget about this paragraph by the time you get to the end of the page. It’s no wonder that we have a hard time paying attention in class or church. It’s just natural. Of course, we are not completely subject to our natural inclinations – we can choose to “pay attention” for longer by “refocusing” on a single task over a period of time (though even then, some research suggests twenty minutes is the maximum effective time for even this “extended” attention span.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED?

So maybe we should forgive the poor disciples for their amazingly short memory in today’s passage. In Mark 6, we have the famous story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Right after that, Jesus sends the disciples across the lake, where he joins them without bothering with the hassle of actually walking on solid ground. And to finish off the day, He calms a storm that’s been upsetting the disciples.

But notice what the Bible says about the disciples: “they were amazed, because they didn’t understand about the loaves.” What does bread have to do with personalized weather patterns? Seems pretty random. Here’s the connection: Jesus had just shown that God was not limited by the natural laws we all live by – feeding five thousand people with just a few buns is pretty impressive, even if it was the big Italian ones. So it should be no surprise to the disciples that Jesus was not subject to the laws of surface tension or the jet stream. Yet they were surprised?

We may think the disciples are pretty dumb (and honestly, sometimes they are), but do we really act any differently? If we need a financial miracle, and God comes through, do we automatically trust that He will heal our broken arm? Or do we worry and doubt Him all over again? Even after God does a miracle, we believe “yes, He did that; but can He really do this?” Our trust has a shockingly short shelf-life.

AUTO-FOCUS

The good news is that we don’t have to be superhuman to overcome this tendency. All we have to do is develop the habit of coming back to God, over and over again as other distractions appear. This is why the Bible says we must be “continuously” praying – that doesn’t mean praying non-stop. It means repeatedly coming back and refocusing on Christ. The evangelist Smith Wigglesworth described this when people asked how much he prayed. He replied , “I don’t often spend more than half an hour in prayer at one time, but I never go more than half an hour without praying.”

Even if God has spoken to you in the past, you may find that you need to go back to his Word and hear from Him again. He has something new for each moment that comes along.  It’s so easy for us to rely on what Jesus has done for us before, we forget that He’s ready to do over and above it today. No matter how great the miracle was in the past, we still need to learn to trust that God is the God of right now, right here, right in the middle of what we’re going through, eight seconds at a time.

He is I AM, after all. He can do the miracle you need today.

That Deescalated Quickly

Click here to read Psalm 34 on BibleGateway.com

“Seek peace and pursue it.” – Psalm 34:14

slapThere are a lot of downsides to getting older. Joints get creakier, bruises take about six years to heal, the increasing bran in the diet, fashion gets more ridiculous, music gets more baffling every year, and so forth. But one downside you rarely hear about is boredom. It seems that every “new” thing is just an “old” thing with new pants on. Did you know that certain scholars have argued that every story can be broken down into seven basic plots? True story.

Hollywood finds even that too many, and it seems that every movie that comes out is a either a sequel or remake, or follows one of two plots. Wanna hear em? The first is one girl, two guys – she has to choose between the charming yet somewhat stodgy rich feller, and the unpredictable funloving rascal that is a little light in the wallet. The second?  Revenge. Oh, sweet revenge. Especially if the offenders are heavily armed and yet somehow can’t figure out how to shoot in a straight line and conveniently attack one at a time.

GREENLIGHT IT

Imagine with me if you will an alternative story. A man is out working in his field; the evil cattle baron comes along, burns down his house and kicks his dog. So the farmer picks up his tools, forgives the cattle baron, and moves out of state.

Sound like a good movie? Not to most of us probably. We want action; we want drama; we want justice; we want “the good guy” to end up on top. And yet forgiving and keeping peace is the command of the Bible. Most of us don’t have any problem with avoiding making idols, or even maybe giving up lives at a martyr. But forgiving those who do us wrong? Why do we find that so hard to follow?

Instead our response is “How dare they do that to me? I’m going to…” After all, that’s only fair, right? One bad turn deserves another. If She talks bad about me to that guy, I’m going to make sure he knows all about Her. If he cheapshots me in on the court, he’s getting an “accidental” elbow in the noggin. If we get pushed, we push back. It feels so good. We are taking control of our destiny; we won’t be a doormat for anyone. We are called to be more than conquerors after all. Surely God did not mean for us to be weaklings, right?

I WILL REPAY

The command is not to make things fair – as hard as that is to accept. Our job is more challenging than putting on our armor and standing up to tyranny. Our call is to love our enemies; turn the other cheek; do good to people who are jerks to us; live at peace with everyone. Are you seeing a pattern? There is no call to stand up and be a man (or woman). There is no call for defending your rights. That’s God’s job. Our job is seeking peace.

That doesn’t mean we will always live at peace with everyone. David did have to fight Goliath; Joshua did defeat jericho. But notice what they were doing. They were not taking revenge for their sake, or even for their loved ones. David tells Goliath that he is there because Goliath defied the Lord; when Joshua defeats Jericho, he burns the whole thing as an offering to God. Zeal for God is sometimes dramatic, but no where in the Bible is fighting back for ourselves seen in a good light. In fact, David is commended for not fighting back against Saul, even when he had good reason.

This is a tough truth for us in our society. We are rugged individualists; we want to do everything ourselves and rely on no one. We want to be respected, and in some regards, feared. But if the Bible says the Lord is to be feared, aren’t we putting ourselves in God’s place when we want to be the Godfather?

Seeking peace is not the weak way; it is far more difficult and takes more strength to trust God than it does to fight back. It strikes at our pride, and forces us to remember that we are not in control. It reminds us that our identity is in Christ, and not in what we can do in ourselves. That’s never easy.

But don’t worry; I’m pretty sure the peacemakers will be blessed. I think I read that somewhere…

The One Habit of Highly Effective People

Click here to read I Samuel 17 on BibleGateway.com

“All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s” – I Samuel 17:47

leaderBookstores are full of books on leading; biographies of great leaders, methods of leading, new approaches to leading, new terms for leading (hello “team management”), and so forth and so on. It seems that everyone has this desire to be one of the drivers instead of one of the oxen. Naturally, being the best book in the bookstore, the Bible has a thing or two to say about leadership, and manages to get right to the heart of the matter in a few sentences. Convenient.

One of the many great things about the Bible is the way in which multiple stories and points can be crammed into one little section. Obviously, the David and Goliath fight is the main point of the chapter today, but as always in the Bible, there’s more than the main point going on. We also get a glimpse of David’s older brother, Eliab, who makes a cameo or two in the preceding chapters.

WHO MOVED MY GOAT CHEESE?

So what do we know about Eliab (Can I call you Eli? No? Alright.)? He was the oldest in the family, the firstborn son of Jesse, and that in itself was a pretty big deal in the ancient world. Firstborns got the largest part of the inheritance, and were more or less seen as the successors to the father in the home (taking over the land, caring for the rest of the family if something happened to the father, etc). We also know he was tall and good looking; not a bad combination, or so I’ve heard.

So imagine one day, there you are being all attractive and not-short, and along comes Samuel, the most famous traveling preacher in all the land. He shows up at the house, and says “guess what, God sent me here because he’s picking a new king.” Don’t you think Eliab probably had a few thoughts running through his head? And then to hear “nope, not you, we’re going to go with your baby brother.” Had to be a mild letdown.

Jump ahead a bit, and now Eliab, being the man-of-the-house, is off fighting with Saul against the Philistines, taking his responsibility seriously; and here comes that little rascal again. David brings some sandwiches and soda to his brothers, and starts walking about the camp, asking “so, what you guys doin?” Imagine the thoughts running through Eliab’s head.

WHO WILL FIGHT ME?

And yet David was the one who faced Goliath. Why? Why wasn’t it Eliab? He’d had his chances; forty days’ worth at least. He could have stepped up to Saul and volunteered. He could have had the victory and admiration and perhaps a little of the glory he craved.

But he didn’t. Instead he got angry with the one who was willing. His disappointment became frustration rather than inspiration; and that’s when you lose sight of Who you serve, and start focusing on what you “deserve.” And God rarely uses people like that.

Real leadership isn’t the one with the best look, the best degree, the best family. Many times, it’s not even in the one with the best training or experience, though that helps. It’s the one who steps up and says “I will trust God; I will take the chance; I will be risky.”

REAL VISION

David recognized the real issue. This wasn’t a battle between the best men; it was a battle between men and God, and he already knew how that would turn out. Five times in a single response to Goliath he says “it is the LORD who will defeat you.” David was not seeking his own ambitions, or wealth, or even revenge. He was simply accepting to be the hands and feet of God.

That’s what leadership is. Not a seven-step plan, not a good “vision” of the future, not an MBA, not motivational speeches. Do you want to do great things for God? Learn to love the not-great things first. Leadership is knowing that you are first and foremost a servant of Christ; and being willing to do what he asks. That’s the kind of heart God is looking for. That’s what it takes to be a shepherd, or carry a meal, or face a giant.

That’s what it takes to be a king.