Unabridged Blessings

close up photography of four baseballs on green lawn grasses
Photo by Steshka Willems on Pexels.was com

A few years ago, it made the news when I some fellow caught a baseball at a big game, and he was giving it back to the player who knocked it out of the park—only, the gift tax on the market value of the baseball was so much that it would be impossible to keep it. I can’t remember all the details, but to me it was just so absurd that a tiny little leather ball could create so much of a conundrum.

If someone were to give me a big yacht, or a sprawling mansion, or for that matter, a pet giraffe, that person would be unthinkably generous. And while it sounds as if it would be nothing but a #blessing, in truth, the maintenance and upkeep of any of these things would be something that I could neither do myself nor afford to pay someone else to do.

You know, God, the supreme gift-giver, has something to say: “The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.” (Prov. 10:22). Wow. A blessing that’s not pulling a ball and chain behind it of regret, error, buyer’s remorse, penalty, dread, fear, painful toil, fractured relationships, high maintenance, or strife. Yeah, that’s got my attention.

He’s also not toying with us here…not humoring us or trying to use psychology on us. He’s not baiting us with the carrot-and-stick approach. He’s initiating trust and patience while He teaches us perspective on what’s really good and what’s…meh…only good at first.

Could it be that, as we look to Him for provision and blessing and the fulfillment of dreams, He knows exactly how to bless us without those blessings becoming a burden to us instead? Pause and reflect! We can’t get those sorrow-free blessings by the strength of our own hand–so we learn to patiently anticipate and petition them from the One who knows exactly what will satisfy our deepest longings, without cheapening our relationship with Him or stunting our spiritual growth!

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy. There’s nothing wrong with a Christian or even a preacher (uh oh, some religious bristles just rose on a few people’s necks) being wealthy. I want to be. I want to have the means to do some generous, righteous, benevolent things I can’t do on a grand scale on my limited income. I want to be able to buy necessities like a new car without making the lenders…wealthy.

But, even as I pray daily for my needs (and a few wants) to be met, and as I look to a very generous but wise Father, I trust Him to bless me in ways that won’t be a curse as well as a blessing.  Yeah, who wouldn’t want to get behind the wheel of a Maserati on a stretch of highway with no state troopers, and open it up just to see what it had under the hood…smile…even a few state trooper friends would have to smile at this fantasy…but do I want the insurance payment, property taxes, extra security measures, and the sheer cost to service that baby? Nope. Do I envy or judge the person who has the means to own one? Absolutely not! 

Lord, I pray for myself and my friends reading this today. We all have needs and we all have wants and dreams. And we all have to find a balance between our focus on this life and the eternal life to come. I ask You to meet our needs. Lord, for some, that need might be extra food to last through to the next month. For others, it might be money for college. Or healing from cancer. I’m asking You, Papa, to then bless us with a blessing that makes rich and adds to sorrow with it.

Your blessings always go above and beyond, because that’s just who You are. That overflow is meant to be used for a worthy purpose. I pray that we will have more than enough to meet our basic needs and reasonable wants—and that when You do pour out Your blessing, we will have the good sense to manage it well. You are not a God of waste and ostentatiousness even though You own the cattle on a thousand hills!

Teach us to stop envying others and coveting what they have! Teach us to stop railing on others who do have wealth and talking about them for how they spend their money. Teach us to be better planners with what we have. Teach us to have neither a poverty mentality nor an obsession with material things. Teach us not to judge others by what they have or don’t have. Teach us not to use our lack or thrift or frugality or even our better management as some measure of being holier than someone who has more than we have! Ouch! Conversely, teach us not to look down on someone who has less than us, as if our prosperity is a measure of our level of holiness compared to his or hers. Help us throw away the measuring stick, period! Destroy that comparison mentality which stems from pride, period! And send us the blessing in the form You know we can handle, that accomplishes great deeds but doesn’t take our eyes off of You. We will not rob You of what belongs to You, either!

Over and over again, You warned the children of Israel not to forget You when at last the blessing of the Promised Land would come. Some of us prayed to have healthy children and got them, and now we don’t even teach them about You. Some of us have taken job promotions that keep us so busy, we never have time to worship You or pray or spend time with our families. Some of us have received miracles and extended lives and we went on our merry way and forgot to come back and thank You, just like the other nine lepers Jesus healed. Some of us prayed for talent and we have squandered it or used it in ways that bring You shame. Lord, in whatever ways we have failed You—in whatever ways we have forgotten You and where our blessings come from—we repent.

Build in us great character so that You can entrust great blessings in our hands! Cause us to be faithful over what we have now—in our time, talents, and treasure—so that we can handle promotions, divine favor, and blessings, without our increase becoming our downfall. Who we are with little is who we will be with much, just on a bigger scale. May we be wise, generous, and ethical in all our dealings whether seen or unseen! We will do the right thing. We will be the servant capable of ten talents instead of misusing the one. Bless us, Lord, but in proportion to our character, maturity, and our ability to use that blessing wisely and not recklessly.

We receive today those things from You which money can and cannot buy…and we will put nothing or no one else before You. So as Jabez prayed, bless us indeed, increase us, and keep Your hand on us that we might not cause (or incur) pain. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Obedience Above All

Years ago when I was just starting out in my young adulthood, I acquired a secondhand hot plate that had only one temperature:  wide open.  It was this Frankenstein monster of a thing—big, heavy, and depending on what you needed, handy—well, handy perhaps if you were planning on smelting iron ore.  You didn’t dare turn your back on it for a second if you actually desired to EAT what you were cooking.  It was a dumpster dive contraption that served a very temporary purpose, and I was so glad to retire it at the earliest possible opportunity…before I burned out the whole neighborhood and not just the scrambled eggs.

Sometimes we as believers are a lot like this old hot plate.  We mean well; but we have no thermostat, no discipline to read, listen, and obey.  And for that reason, God can only use us for very limited purposes.  If we’re stubborn enough long enough, we may find ourselves completely disqualified for the Master’s use…still saved, but not submitted; still rescued, but restricted.  We may be offended and affected by anything that has the ability to tip off our emotions; so although our zeal for the things of God may be genuine, it’s all over the place…instead of targeted where and to what extent God actually wants it.

The Church in the Wilderness had a lot of testing to endure; but it was as much a mercy as it was a proving ground.  There were mindsets to change in between liberation from poverty and the stewardship of promise. God had to prove He could trust them for destiny.  Oh, He fully knew their capabilities, but their very survival as a people—HIS PEOPLE—would depend upon how well they listened and obeyed.  He wasn’t setting them up for failure:  no, to be certain, the try-and-try-again course they were on was setting them up to succeed.  He loved them; He was qualifying them for where He would take them, but He also required their allegiance.  He was aware that some would simply refuse to be obedient—further validating what He already knew about the incompleteness of the Law.  We would need a Savior.  Even then, however, with a Savior, we would still have to choose to be followers and not just freelancers!

James gave us the perfect example of how serious rogue Christianity can be:  But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. (James 1:22-24)  It’s very possible, if we just hit-and-miss with our time in the Word and prayer, to go away and forget who we are and why we’re here.  Our carnal impulses begin to render His commandments powerless in our lives because there’s no discipline to hold to the purity of obedience.  We become religious rather than submitted; self-righteous rather than humble and attentive to His every instruction.  James says we deceive ourselves at that point.  The knob is ripped off and we run wide open, so therefore God can’t trust us for a second.

God winked at (tolerated) our ignorance initially, but He’s calling us all to repentance now. Change must come.  We are in critical times where one misstep, one wrong “my way or the highway” attitude on our part can completely abort a mission, defer an entire movement.  His merciful, extended testing time offers us daily opportunities to grow, to strengthen, and to prove ourselves as fit wineskins to hold His anointing; or we can go around and around the same dumb issues in our lives, unchanged and burning everything entrusted to our care.  At some point, regardless, we must decide whether to follow Him wholeheartedly or be left in on the sidelines.  God won’t entrust His harvest to those who’ll let it be left in ruins while they bicker about who’s in charge, who gets credit.

While He’s pruning us for fruitfulness, you can be sure He’s going to test us by changing up our plans to see whether we’ll accept His will as the final call, or whether we’ll pout and get in strife.  I’ve seen it (and had it happen to me) time and again.  Work toward a particular end—maybe have a new song rehearsed and ready to use in the worship set—just to have the Holy Ghost show up and shut it all down for a different direction entirely.  When it happens, can we joyfully handle submission, or will we instead defy Him by trying to “get ours” while we’ve got the chance to do so?  How you and I respond in these these testing moments either adds to or depreciates our stock value!  Can God trust us?  Is He REALLY Lord of all?

In my prayer time last night, God gave me the perfect example of how critical our obedience really is.  Imagine a “SWAT team” trained for duty, who’ve rehearsed every scenario and know every drill.  But someone on that team is overzealous for a chance to use that newly-acquired skill.  Frustrated.  Impatient.  Chomping at the bit.  In a hostage situation where lives are at stake, that drive to break bad can override the Commander’s instructions; and the undisciplined desire to ACT can result in unintended casualties–maybe even among that rogue member’s own unit.

We are in the spiritual world war of the ages; and if there were ever a time to be with our faces to the ground seeking God’s instruction, it’s now.  Captives are in peril and He’s calling us to pull them from the very jaws of death.  Many are in vulnerable, volatile situations.  It’s just as important to recognize and obey the command, “stand down,” as it is the command to “open fire,” because our spotter has a better vantage point than we do.  If we go by merely our own driven-ness and instincts, we can even forget who the enemy really is.  We then stop engaging in heavenly warfare and just turn on anyone earthly who appears to oppose us and what we preach.

If we crucify our tendency to run wide open all the time (some things go out only by prayer and fasting), we can come out of this with more than just ourselves intact; we can rescue lives.  If we have the attitude of “Don’t tell me to pull back, Lord.  I came here to git-er-done and I’m not going to waste all this adrenaline on waiting and patience and doing it Your way,”  however, then we forfeit His ability to use us in those very ways we long to be used.

Remember, God will always choose the most obedient, least ego-driven to carry out His will and establish His kingdom. Believe it or not, obedience will prove to become the greatest skill in your arsenal of spiritual warfare.  Your qualification to open the valve all the way in those appropriate times will be determined by your willingness to hold a controlled, unambitious grip during the slow-and-steady maneuvers.  If you can contain all that power but handle it with delicate precision that hears only one Voice calling the shots, God will entrust you to complete great exploits in His name!  Remember, obedience above all.  Master it.

Worth Its “Wait” in Gold

pot pieDear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete.  (James 1:2-4 TLB)

One of my favorite treats as a kid was a pot pie.  Mom didn’t buy them very often, but I thought they were among the most wonderful things in the world.  These weren’t the microwave, done-in-60- seconds hockey pucks in today’s grocery freezer section…and, back then they still came standard with a bottom crust, too.  Lots of things were of higher quality before companies decided that they could make more money by giving you less.  The wait was sweet agony.

Now that I’m well into my adult years, I make my own everything; so I can’t tell you how the 21st Century pot pie is prepared.  Back then, you took a rock solid frozen single-serving pie, punched a few vent holes in the top, put it on a pizza tin, and popped into the oven for probably 45 minutes or so.  In my case the 45 minutes probably stretched out to nearer an hour, because I would keep opening the oven door to see how far along the baking had progressed.

Pot pies had a double-indemnity wait clause.  First, you had to wait for them to bake all the way through; and then you had to wait again, that much longer, for them to cool off just to be able to eat them.  Those of us who had patience for neither would wind up with soggy pie and a burned tongue.  Yes, I burned my tongue almost every single time Mom made them.

We are so conditioned, in every aspect of life, to disdain the wait.  A letter is an antiquated thing now that we have instant messaging.  We order some worthless gadget on the shopping channel, we pay extra so that we don’t have to WAIT.  We go into ridiculous debt for things we can’t afford, because laying something away until it’s paid for, why, we’re too good for that!  Gotta have it all right now.

Waiting is an art in the spiritual realm, as well; and one that, if you’re like me, is an ongoing process to develop. There is relationship built with God as we wait.  There is maturity and strength gained in the struggle that we won’t acquire if we have a microwave mentality.  In the pause before the answer to prayer comes to pass, we get to study and observe His process.  As we obediently step away from the controls, we come to appreciate His meticulous knack for do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think.  Quality is yet another reward for learning to wait…because there’s no such thing as rushed perfection.

I once had a coworker who could find a good meal in the most surprising places.  His advice to me was this:  when you go into a new town, talk to the locals.  Ask them where the best place to eat is, and when they offer the usual “tourist dives,” you tell them, “No, not where you send the tourists.  Where do YOU go when you want a good meal?”  Sometimes those secret gathering places were little hole-in-the-wall basement establishments.  Routinely, he would go in, sit down, and instead of taking a menu, asked the cook to surprise him.  There’s something about asking a chef to do what he or she does best—create!  It’s a welcome, refreshing, thrilling opportunity: to receive a request without restrictions, without picky substitutions, or conditions about how the customer wants the finished product to appear.  Because he considered dining to be an event rather than a means to an end, he didn’t care to wait a little longer.  The meals, according to him, were almost always something off-the-grid, because he dared trust the one doing the cooking to his or her best judgment.

What huge thing are you asking God to do today, if at all?  If you’re not asking for something big, I challenge you to ask Him for what “can’t be done.”  Ask Him to change the very person whom everyone around you says cannot or will not ever change.  Ask Him for something that brings Him glory, and surrender the how, when, and where to HIM.  Give Him an opportunity to roll up His sleeves and reveal what He is REALLY capable of.  Ask Him to do great exploits, and don’t set up conditions or a deadline for Him to have to adhere to.  We’re so shallow in our asking…we order straight off the menu, asking for the small things which require little if any faith.  God wants His children to boldly approach His throne, to ask Him to accomplish what HE wants in the earth.  After the asking, He wants us to wait.  Oh, He hasn’t lost our request in the shuffle.  He hasn’t forgotten or disregarded our prayers as unimportant.  He’s just waiting for the time He knows is best to bring it all to pass.

Make your petitions known to your caring Father today.  Don’t settle for a watery, freeze-dried, or second-rate blessing just so you can have it sooner.  Don’t get burned by trying to take what He’s promised before it has had time to cool down to the perfect moment.  There is blessing in the wait.  If you can allow Him to bring you His best in His time, it will be so worth the discipline.  Right place, right time?  Better than the best pot pie you ever ate!

Vine-Ripe Perfection

One thing I look forward to every summer, which I place right up there among the great simple pleasures of life, is a good garden-ripe tomato…you know, one that runs all over the counter top when you cut into it.  Oh, I tolerate the store-bought rubber balls in January when I have to have something to round out a sandwich; but honestly, folks, is there anything as tasteless as a tomato speed-grown in some greenhouse, minus real sun and rain, picked green, and shipped off to market?

Just as any fruit or vegetable is at its best when it’s allowed to draw nutrients from rich soil right up to the ripening time, then harvested at its peak of flavor, so it is with the blessings God has prepared for those who love and trust Him.  We often get ahead of Him, and interrupt the ripening process by our lack of patience.  We wind up then, with a little, puny, less-than-perfect version of what He willed to give us in glorious fullness.  Sometimes we even pass His slowly-maturing blessings completely up for a quick fix from some other source, and the ripened blessings fall to the ground uneaten.

Our instant-gratification culture has diluted the purity of quality in pursuit of quick quantity.  We seemingly have a lot more (and I say “seemingly”), but more of what, exactly?  The result of excess is evident in our bloated egos, our fat bellies, our maxed-out credit cards, and our empty bank accounts. Our spirit man is often as unhealthy as our physical man, for all that overindulgence of substandard things leads to a life lived just short of ever having real completion.  It’s like that tasteless tomato…a bite will never cause your eyes to close in satisfaction; it will never drip off your chin the way a blessing delivered in God’s timing would.  At best, it will always be just a means to a second-rate end.

If you’re seeking God for a particular desire of your heart, and you can see that He’s already at work cultivating the answer, leave well enough alone and don’t pick that blessing from the vine before its time.

True patience says that we are willing to surrender even the timing of a blessing to God’s wisdom.  A mature believer has learned that, given a choice of mediocre and the miraculous, he or she will reap a bountiful, blue ribbon-worthy blessing for having waited.  Does it require discipline?  Most definitely.  Is the reward worth the perseverance?  Take the salt shaker, roll up your sleeves and taste the difference for yourself.  Ripe is right!

“So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”  James 1:4 (NLT)

©2012 Lisa Crum