My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
As I was getting up this morning this verse began running through my mind in response to worries that were trying to impress themselves on me. As I dialogged with God about this I began saying things like this.
“God, I want to know how to access Your riches, to embrace Your riches, to appropriate Your riches, to receive Your riches, not just talk about them. Teach me how to do this for Your name's sake.”
A few minutes later I picked up one of the morning devotionals that I am reading this year and discovered confirmation that it was God who had implanted this thought in my mind. Several of the key thoughts in this message had already been spoken to my heart as I had been discussing this with God while I was waking up. Here is what I read.
Come to Me with a thankful heart, so that you can enjoy My Presence. This is the day that I have made. I want you to rejoice today, refusing to worry about tomorrow. Search for all that I have prepared for you, anticipating abundant blessings and accepting difficulties as they come. I can weave miracles into the most mundane day if you keep your focus on Me.
Come to Me with all your needs, knowing that My glorious riches are a more-than-adequate supply. Stay in continual communication with Me, so that you can live above your circumstances even while you are in the midst of them. Present your requests to Me with thanksgiving, and My Peace, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your heart and mind.
Psalm 118:24; Philippians 4:19, 6-7 (NASB) (from Jesus Calling p. 18)
As I meditated on these thoughts, I again began to discuss them with God seeking to internalize whatever it is that God wants me to experience and know about Him. What came to my attention is that although I have been learning to focus my attention and increase my confidence in other aspects of God's character such as faithfulness, kindness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, etc., I have very seldom praised Him for His extravagant generosity. Oh, there have been times in the past when I have contemplated that part of Him and it was quite stimulating. But now I am realizing that there is a subtle filter still embedded inside of me that often prevents me from dwelling on this truth of God.
That filter is one that long ago was identified to me as one of Satan's schemes that often keeps us from entering into the kind of belief that can transform us from unbelief to radiant believers full of boldness like what was seen in the lives of the early believers after Pentecost. It is the habit of basing belief in some particular truth about God's character on outward circumstances or current feelings.
For much of my life I felt confused when it came to having a spirit of gratitude. After many years it began to dawn on me that the problem lay in thinking that unless there was something obvious that made my feelings respond with appreciation that it would be hypocritical to fake gratitude. How could that honor God? Am I supposed to just appease the expectations of Christians around me? That is not completely wrong. However, there are some missing elements in this logic that were finally addressed when a good friend pointed out something vitally important that has changed my life ever since.
It is true that at times God's blessings seem obvious and it is easy to praise Him and view Him as kind, generous, merciful, gracious and all those other positive things we can imagine Him to be when things are going well for us. But when darkness settles over our lives, finances began to fail, friends abandon us or turn on us with slander, gossip or betrayal and our emotions turn into roller coasters, it can feel very illogical to try to praise God for what seems to have little to no evidence in current circumstances.
What started becoming evident in this scheme of Satan that can block me from relating to God properly was the fact that God's character should never be subjected to interpretation by my circumstances. What is happening to me must never be allowed to become the criteria by which I judge who God is. That is the central lesson in the story of Job. When I allow feelings, circumstances or my reactions to negative or even positive stimuli around me to define my beliefs about God or His feelings towards me, then I am allowing my faith in God to fall into the diabolical hands of the enemy who can easily manipulate my faith in erratic ways like a puppet-master yanking the strings of a puppet lurching it from one extreme position to another.
Obviously it doesn't make any sense to allow Satan's manipulation of circumstances to define the truth about God's character or feelings about me. Yet I suspect most of us fall into that kind of thinking at least once in awhile, and possibly a vast majority of people live that way all of the time. Because we are so susceptible to assuming things about God based on our own feelings or circumstances rather than choosing to believe what God has revealed about Himself outside of our own current perceptions, we find it very hard to develop a consistent faith and trust in Him because He seems so fickle in our experience. I think that is what James calls double-mindedness.
What my friend pointed out that has helped me so much is that although it is not a bad thing to praise God and thank Him for any and all perceived blessings that we may be enjoying, it is far more important to praise God for who He is irregardless of anything that is going on in life. Circumstances are always fickle as most of us know from painful experience. But God never changes and therefore the real truth about who He is and how He relates to us never changes and can be relied on as stable foundations on which we can anchor our praises and gratitude no matter what our situations may seem to imply about Him. That is the only safe basis on which we can offer consistent and truthful praise.
Now, given that context of my need to base gratitude and praise and focus my attention and affections on God for the actual attributes of who He really is, it dawned on me that I need to do the same thing with this truth about His generosity. I have been learning to do this with other attributes of God like faithfulness, kindness and forgiveness. Doing so has produced wonderful reactions in my own heart as it has been able to warm and respond positively toward God as I disconnect my belief in His character from the confusing experiences of my daily life or the insinuations of the enemy. But evidently this truth about His generosity is still caught in the web of subjectivity and has not been yet been freed from the net of Satan's lies.
Just as with every other truth about God that I have been training myself to believe that is not to be subjected to feelings or circumstances, so too the truth about God's generosity – extravagant generosity – must be set free of any entangling suggestions to the contrary by anything coming from any other source. God is generous irregardless of whether I can perceive it currently or not. This verse at the beginning is a hint of that and the reason I am not experiencing it far more consciously in my life may well be because I am still subconsciously allowing this truth to be conditional on how evident it is in the way my circumstances seem to bear it out. Not a good plan for a growing Christian I would think.
Now I need my need to train my heart and mind to believe not only that God can be trusted to be faithful, to be kind, to always do the right thing (righteousness) and other things that have begun to become more real in my heart. I must begin training and disciplining my heart to focus on the truth that irregardless of how I feel or what others say or circumstances may suggest, God is both rich in resources and is never stingy or selfish but that He is consistently generous. If my experience is not that of living in a joyful embracing of His generosity, it is never because God's character is fickle or that it is untrue that He is generous; the problem will always be elsewhere, either in my own inability to receive of His generosity or in being deceived by circumstances that are manipulated by the enemy to convey a false picture of God to my soul and mislead me in this matter.
There is one more important aspect that emerged as I talked about this with God today. How can I relate properly to God's generosity without reinforcing the very opposite characteristic in my own heart? I sense that very often the reason I am tempted to doubt God's generosity is because when I seek help from Him, particularly in material blessings that I am sure I need, I never feel sure that they are going to materialize. This has been a sore spot not only for me but for most of my friends and likely millions of others. Job struggled with this problem of seeing God outside of current circumstances which is why that story is so important to study. So what do I need to learn yet so that I don't fall into the trap of thinking about God like the dark ways that Job's friends presented Him?
It occurs to me that much of the time the motives I have for asking things of God – claiming promises, ABC's of prayer or any other 'formula' that may come along – I am very often seeking things for myself most of all. I want to relieve the pressure of bills for everyday living, so I ask God for more money or a job or whatever. I want some empty place in my heart fulfilled, like desires for an intimate friend or in previous days a mate with which to share my life. But very often it seems that God is holding back or not even paying any attention to oft repeated prayers and petitions.
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:3)
Then the command of the Bible to always use thanksgiving to lubricate our petitions comes to mind. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6) Now I am confronted with the conundrum of how to be honestly grateful when I am not getting the things I want. Then I am convicted that I am making the mistake of conditioning my gratitude toward God on whether or not I get the things I desire for myself. And emerging from all of this morass of confusing feelings and emotions is the reality that everything I am doing is still largely motivated by the spirit of selfishness. I am asking mainly for my own benefit and am not reflecting the agape love that Jesus demonstrated that is the very essence of God's character.
Now I start to feel guilty, ashamed, even condemned. So I turn my attention to trying to be more unselfish. But anyone who has tried that route for very long will know that attempting to produce unselfish love, gratitude, praise or anything else from the human heart proves to be an exercise in futility. It might work for keeping up appearances, but it is impossible to produce agape love from a selfish heart. Unless the Spirit of God dwells in me supernaturally it simply is never going to happen. What I must have is a new heart. And that seems to be something I have to receive on a daily basis, not just one day in my life when I supposedly 'got saved.'
I don't have all the answers for these questions and conflicting emotions. I am processing them in real time as I write here. I am sure that some who read this will be able to resonate with my frustrations and others may feel like giving me more formulas to get me out of my confusion. I have certainly been through my share of formulas in my life and have become rather disenchanted with the whole notion of formula-based religion altogether. Formulas can sometime be helpful, but more often send us down dead-end rabbit trails. If a marriage is attempted through doing everything based on formulas while the heart is not engaged and enamored by a passionate attraction to another heart, very little benefit or bonding will be realized. The same is even more true with trying to live in right relationship to God.
How can I believe in God's generosity and embrace that truth independent of the fickleness of circumstances or whether my immediate prayers are answered that way I want them or not? How can I tap into God's riches in glory in Christ Jesus yet avoid strengthening my own selfish nature? I suspect that is precisely why I must die daily as I come into closer connection to agape love.
Nearly all of my prayers and petitions as well as most of those from people around me seem meant to satisfy our own needs and desires rather than on amplifying and improving God's reputation. I can hardly think of any request I have heard directed at God from any of us that is not intended to benefit our own cravings, to relieve our own pain, to enhance our own happiness more than anything else. Yes, we do pray for other people around us often. But it still makes me wonder if possibly even many of those prayers are not just a collective way of selfishly asking for things for ourselves that might only serve to increase our collective sense of selfishness.
I'm not trying to suggest that it is wrong to ask for healing of physical maladies, to ask for financial relief, to ask God to satisfy the deep cravings and desires of our own heart or those around us. Clearly Jesus was very much into relieving the pressing needs and eliminating the pain and suffering of thousands throughout His ministry. But one begins to wonder if that is the real intent and desire of God. I sense that He has to take large risks of being misunderstood as He addresses our temporal issues while we continue failing to sense our real need for things far more important for our eternal destiny. Many whom Jesus healed likely ended up not embracing the truth about God that Jesus came to reveal to the world and even ended up participating in crucifying Him later on. God is willing to address our immediate needs many times, but how often it is at great risk that we will turn away from Him as soon as our selfish desires are satisfied and go back to looking to other sources for fulfillment and value.
I can't imagine how difficult it must be for God to decide how to answer the selfish prayers that compose the vast majority of what comes to Him. If He answers them instantly He could quickly become viewed as simply a great celestial vending machine from which one can get whatever they ask for if they just use the right formula in asking. How many prayers from various sources are actually in direct conflict with prayers from others who are in opposition to each other? One of the classic objections that agnostics and atheists like to point out is how God is supposed to answer competing prayers for victory when coming from opposing teams in a sports game. How is God supposed to relate to patriotic prayers offered up by people of opposing nations as they go to war with each other, fully expecting God to assist them in killing and defeating their enemies. I have long been very uncomfortable with popular slogans urging people to 'pray for our troops' while never suggesting that we equally pray just a passionately for our enemies as Jesus clearly instructed us to do.
I believe (with my head anyway) that God is most certainly generous. The problem arises in the way in which we expect His generosity to be experienced by His children. Do I want Him to be generous with me by giving me more wealth while it is very possible I will make my own comfort and priorities more important than spending that money – if there is enough left over – for people in need? Somehow I suspect heaven may not think that is a very good investment of resources, any more than clear-thinking businessmen on earth would consider it a good idea.
God is not tainted with the selfish motives of capitalism like we are. He is responsible for providing the needs of all His children. But I believe He is even more keen on drawing us into a saving relationship of trust with Him, to attract us into a relationship that will benefit us for eternity while not reinforcing the very attitudes of selfishness and pride that prevents us from experiencing the transformation of salvation.
I want to enter into a right relationship with God, learn to embrace the truth about His generosity while at the same time making it easier for Him to invest His rich resources in my life without so much danger of having them misappropriated. I want to live from the heart Jesus gives me, a heart filled with a reflection of His agape love that looks out for the needs of others even more than for my own. I suspect that as I learn to live from a new heart with a new perspective on reality and with a fresh way of thinking and interpreting circumstances, God may be far more eager to direct resources my direction knowing that I can be trusted to be an efficient channel through which He can funnel blessings to others in need. I suspect the blockage is not in heaven's ability to open up the gates of blessing for me; rather the clog in the works is my own selfish spirit and penchant for absorbing too many of the blessings for myself before being willing to use them as God desires for them to be used.
God, help me to grow in this area of my life. You are consistently generous, but You well know that I am very delinquent in that area myself. At times I catch a glimpse of the depths of my own selfish heart and then feel despair than any power on heaven or earth can deliver me from such pervasive sin. I have to trust that You can do what You claim to be able to do and transform me miraculously from a sin-infested, nominal, selfish hypocrite into a man reflective of the generosity of the God that created and re-created him. God, do this in my life because You are the One who is consistently faithful, generous, kind, forgiving, compassionate and selfless.
Father, show me Your generosity much more clearly and make me a better reflector of what I see in You. Keep reminding me to be aware of my need to be generous as I learn to engage and receive Your generous riches in glory. Cleanse me of selfishness while replacing it with Your presence, Your agape love, Your passion to bless others. Do all of this for Your reputation's sake.