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!

The Tares of This Life

Tares and Wheat - 101 BlogA word for us to contemplate today: tares. The Bible refers to a specific “weed” as a tare; it is identical to wheat,only at harvest time, there is no head of wheat. Fruitless. Jesus mentions an enemy tossing weed seeds in among the farmer’s crop, causing mixture: tares growing among wheat. The result is, the farmer has to endure a season of pesky weeds stealing the nourishment from the real thing, unable to pull them up without risking damage to the entire crop. Those roots are so intertwined that if the farmer were to pull one, it would uproot the others. In the parable of the sower, some of the seed scattered fell among “thorns” …and those seeds could not produce because they were outnumbered before they even had a chance. Their root system was choked out by what? Tares. Why, even in our modern English, tare is a term used to describe “empty container;” specifically, the weight of that container before something is added, so that the weight of the filling might be calculated accurately. A big box with nothing in it…ever find disappointment in that? Sure you have! Pop the lid on that pizza box left on the table to find that it got emptied before you got any! I pondered these things last night after Pastor Mitch shared a powerful message on unity in the Body of Christ, in which he referenced the parable of the sower. However, my thoughts drifted to a tare, and the whole concept of something enticing which proves eventually to be fruitless: that counterfeit pursuit which looks legit all the way to harvest time, only to produce a big, fat nothing. It convicted me as I thought of the tares in my own life. So I go before my Father today and ask Him to set my affections on right things; to know the difference between a fruit-bearing seed and a vain distraction. Oh, they’re everywhere. And while we need relaxation, leisure, and even a little entertainment at times, how many tares do I nurture which will produce absolutely NO fruit? Your entire life will be wrapped around the choices you make. We all have an equal amount of seconds, minutes, hours in a day…even if the number of our years vary from one individual to another. Approach this day as if you must get a return on your investment, because today is all you really have this side of eternity. You might get another day tomorrow, but you might not; it’s a stark reality of our human existence. Confess 120 years, but live as if you could be gone tomorrow! Evaluate the gazillion little things that eat up your day, and stop feeding those activities and interests that have no true value. Don’t let your complicated, hurried, fruitlessness be a self-inflicted curse! Pray with me: Father, I am a spirit with a soul, dwelling in flesh. My soul (mind, will, emotions) is in a constant tug-of-war between my flesh and my spirit. You have such wonderful opportunities prepared for me, if only I will tune out the distractions and search You out! Whenever I am guilty of wasting time, send a way of escape from that temptation…bring to mind something worthy of that moment given to what won’t bear lasting fruit. I’m just as saved as I’ll ever be, and I know that my salvation can never be about my works; but Father, I want to produce because I love You! I don’t want to be an empty container. Fill me with Your love, Your favor, Your heart, Your desires, and may I go forth and sow, sow, sow! I am determined that I will not stand before You at the Bema Judgment with nothing more than an account of wasted opportunities. Purge my branches of dead things, trim off those ‘sucker sprouts” which steal nourishment from the fruit. I submit myself to You today willingly, and I say, “Make me a bumper crop fruit-bearer for Your Kingdom!” In Jesus name, Amen.

Velcro Devotion in a Teflon World

Velcro

“But if your servant says to you, “I do not want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life.”  Deut. 15:16-17 NIV

In these last days, it seems harder than ever to find people who will serve in any capacity—much less ministry–with lasting devotion.  In the era of contractual service, we seek an “out clause” in almost everything we say ‘yes’ to.  Marriages dissolve once the honeymoon is over; parents abandon their post and leave their children to be raised by the grandparents (an alarming trend); and, few places of employment are left where someone can hope to work clear up until retirement. We all tend to want to milk the best out of something and then discard it once it no longer profitable or fulfilling to us.  It makes me think of the Winans song, “Bring Back the Days of Yea and Nay.”

The above Scripture related to someone who had sold himself (or herself) into servant hood.   It was an understood law that in the seventh year, that person would be set free from the master, at which time the master awarded a blessing for the service before releasing the servant.  Now, I’m aware that sometimes it’s entirely fitting for someone to operate in a season, or an agreed time of service, and then be released from it.  I don’t wish to condemn anyone if that has been your chosen path; on the contrary, I respect and am grateful for all these days who sign on for any level of service, even the temporary!  Laborers in the field are often hard to come by!  What I do want to encourage in this writing, however, is for a special remnant of people to catch the vision of becoming a servant for LIFE.  Can we say to the Lord, “I will faithfully tend this patch of Your field, in good times and in bad, in season, out of season, when I’m praised for it and when I’m an unsung hero too.  I’ll be so predictable and so constant, You and my leaders won’t have to wonder if I’ll show up to serve…it’ll be a given!”

In terms of commitment in our service to the Lord, Who has so abundantly blessed us all, I would just challenge you today to examine yourself. Do you consider His work and His priorities something that you do ala carte, or is it an integral part of who you are?  You may never be called upon to sell completely out and go full-time into ministry, but if He were to ask, would you be willing?  What material possessions, hobbies, or other preoccupations would you find hard to push aside in favor of going to a higher level in your commitment to the Lord and His work?  Do you ever bow up and feel offense rising within your spirit whenever the pastor or a leader asks you to give up some of your closely guarded leisure time for a worthwhile investment in kingdom work?

Most of us who serve in the ministry do so on a purely volunteer basis; but may we, from this day forward, never look at it as a “favor” that we do for God.  Whether the time we invest in ministry is a few minutes a month or several hours each week, may we treat our offering of ourselves in this way as a holy thing unto the Lord.  May we not look at our service as something which we can do with less than excellence, or with less faithfulness than someone who is, for instance, a pastor.  May we not feel as if we are exempt from accountability just because we do what we do on a volunteer basis. The truth is, all of us are “paid” by the Lord.  As you are sowing your service into the work of the Master, He is returning blessing upon your life and upon your family’s lives in ways money can and cannot buy…and He has an excellent memory when it comes to keeping record of your faithfulness!

Those servants released at the end of the period of service walked away with their masters’ blessing—and reward–with no questions asked.  God will not withhold blessing from you for going no farther than what you may have originally pledged in His service. And He also knows that there are times in your life when you’ll be able to give less of yourself—He knows babies will be born, times of sickness may temporarily slow your pace, aging parents will need cared for.  He is not a tyrant Master! That said, in whatever capacity you choose to give yourself to kingdom work, I pray that, beginning today, you will do so with joy and with excellence, and with a renewed sense of zeal for His purposes.

Just know that you are a set-apart, unique, and treasured member of His household—bearing the mark of His awl, if you should choose to say, “Use me Lord, however You wish, for the rest of my life!” What a testimony of the goodness of our Master, when we declare to Him in the presence of a mixed-up and ambiguous, fickle world, “It’s unthinkable that I should ever be separated from my submission and service to You!’

My prayer today:

Heavenly Father, thank You for bringing us into Your family, both as sons/daughters and as Your servants.  I pray today that all of us will be consumed with zeal for Your house; may the plight of the lost and the destitute move us like it moves You.  I pray that we will always have a godly, meek attitude with regard to our giving of time, talent, and treasure—and that we will never look at what You ask of us as encroachment upon “our” territory.  Father, we love You, and we love being a part of Your family and Your work.  Whether our involvement is to serve in ministry in the church, or to be salt and light out in the secular world, we pledge to You that we will let our light so shine among men, and that we will take Your kingdom wherever we are planted.  We may not always be asked to serve in the same areas we start out in, and that’s ok–we realize the importance of times and seasons—but we yield ourselves in undying devotion to Your will, knowing that You’ll find ways to make us fruitful in every stage of our lives. You will never ask more of us than we are able to perform; Jesus assured us that His burden is easy and His yoke is light!  Bottom line, we make ourselves permanently available to You, to do with as You will.  With our ear against the door, willing to be pierced in covenant, we say to You, “Yours, unconditionally.”  In Jesus’ name, Amen.